DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

In a Lonely Place

As a Hollywood screenwriter burdened with a hair trigger temper and seemingly psychopathic predilection to violence, Humphrey Bogart delivers one of his great late-career performances. 'In a Lonely Place' marries the mysterious tension of the unknown in Hitchcock’s 'Suspicion' and 'Shadow of Doubt' with director Nicholas Ray’s interest in brooding and damaged enigmatic characters.

In a Lonely Place (1950) dir. Nicholas Ray
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame, Art Smith, Martha Stewart, Frank Lovejoy

By Alan Bacchus

The central idea of this picture is a straight out of Hitchcock’s playbook, an attraction of the story’s hero, Dixon Steele (Bogart) to his lovely single (and blonde) neighbour is threatened by a looming investigation to a murder of another lookalike ingénue who may or may not have been murdered by Steele. The opening scenes establish Bogart as a suave yet strangely anti-social screenwriter seemingly courting a coat check girl at dinner who has read the novel on which Dixon’s next screenplay will be based. He takes her back to his apartment complex as research. Is Dixon putting the moves on her, is he taking advantage of his position of power? Ray cleverly keeps us in the dark for much of these scenes, carrying this simmering tension throughout the whole picture.

When the girl turns up dead the next day Dixon becomes a suspect. Enter Dixon’s old pal Brub Nicolai (Lovejoy) who is a police detective in the case. Strangely, despite Nicolai’s involvement in the case, their social friendship continues, perhaps in an effort to sniff out more evidence. Meanwhile Dixon courts a neighbour, Laurel Gray (Grahame) in his complex who is serving as his alibi that evening. Again, a strange relationship in light of the gruesome association the two have together, develops. Amidst these allegations is a lurid romantic melodrama of Dixon and Laurel, who seem linked mutually by their own solitude and murky pasts of relationship failure.

Gloria Grahame gradually takes over the picture when we begin to see the relationship through her eyes. As more information about Dixon’s violent past gets revealed the more she suspects him as the murderer. And yet, she still stands by him. Ray crafts a number of tense sequences along the way which reveal the danger Dixon poses to Gray. Bogart (also a producer of the film) moves effortlessly between the Hollywood cool of his Sam Spade or Rick Blaine roles to that of a menacing psychopath and later to an empathetic loner trying to find love and escape his demons.

As an early film in Nicholas Ray’s prolific career in the 50’s and 60’s, like They Live By Night and On Dangerous Ground, In a Lonely Place is fashioned as a classic post-war noir. And yet, as much as the mystery surrounding Dixon’s involvement in the murder creates most of the suspense, it’s Bogart’s internal demons and issues with anger management which carries film. Ray and his writer Edmund North and Andrew Solt are crystal clear with their point of view and disregard any temptation to deal with the investigative/procedural details of the case. Ray takes the road less traveled and examines the pathology of violence from the internal perspective of Dixon himself.

In the end the mystery of who murdered the coat check girl is answered without fanfare. Ray saves his climax for Dixon and Grahame melodramatic reconciliation as psychologically tortured lovers.

In a Lonely Place is available on Blu-Ray through the Criterion Collection.

***½

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Strike up the Band

Mickey Rooney is an electrifying dynamo in this foot-tapping, often astonishing musical which helps cement for me why the pre-war period was the absolute creative peak of Hollywood. This Rooney/Garland vehicle, the second of many musical pairings charts the journey of the young teenage pair to make something of their fledgling big band. The magic of the Busby Berkeley choreography matched with Rooney’s electrifying performance, as singer/dancer/actor /musician and Judy Garland’s youthful energy gives this film a pulse rarely seen in movies today.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Only Angels Have Wings

The exotic lands of South America provide the location for one of the big adventure films of Hollywood’s most famous year (1939). Cary Grant as an adventure-seeking enigmatic airline pilot running mail into dangerous regions of an unnamed town in the Andes established his Hollywood star status as a true leading man, game for comedy, romance and adventure. Howard Hawks’ recurring themes of male comraderie and his knack for wordy rhythmic dialogue elevate this straight-ahead actioner into something memorable and resonant.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Over the Edge

A sublime time capsule of the era, Over the Edge, exists as a rarely-seen cult classic, plugging nihilistic punk-like anger into the conventions of a teen rebel movie. Based on an actual incident in which the teenagers of a dreary Midwestern town unite and use anarchic violence to take over their school, director Jonathan Kaplan and his team create an angst-fueled ride of adolescent rebellion. The soundtrack featuring Cheap Trick, The Ramones, Van Halen and the Cars, exemplifies the pitch perfect American suburban flavor of this film.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Sorcerer

What a strange and wonderful picture, a thrilling remake of Clouzot’s Wages of Fear, made with the documentary-like realism which embodied most of Friedkin’s films. At a cost of nearly $22m of 1977 dollars, Sorcerer exemplifies the hubris of those celebrated 70’s mavricks who at the beginning of the decade shook up the studio system with the New Hollywood movement then through a series of expensive flops saw the end of the progressive scene at the onset of the 1980’s. Sorcerer survives magnificently over time as one of Friedkin’s best films, now revered by cineastes around.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Southern Comfort

Walter Hill’s Cajun siege picture, for a long time barely registering on the cultural radar, for cinephiles now sits nicely in the highly influential late 70’s-early 80’s period of Hill’s filmography. At once a retelling of the wolfpack themed pictures Hill nearly perfected around this time ('Alien', 'The Warriors', 'The Long Riders'), but also sharp allegory to American foreign policy, 'Southern Comfort', like all of Hill’s films resonates on multiple levels – historical and social commentary, cinematic legacy and a good old fashioned movie thrills.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Sweetie


Sweetie, the title character of Jane Campion’s idiosyncratic and typically Aussie -quirky first feature, is the house guest from hell, the firebrand bi-polar sister of Kay who shows up unwanted at Kay and her boyfriend's door thus disrupting her attempt at a regular life of independence from her thoroughly messed up family.  Strange but inspired, Sweetie admirably showed the signs of a director with a unique voice and laid the thematic sign posts for Campion's future works.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Blackhat


It’s impossible not to watch a Michael Mann film these days without the context of his previous work in mind. Because virtually each and every one of Mann’s films connect so intimately with one another in theme, character and tone. Blackhat is no exception, a crackerjack procedure crime picture about a different kind of thief, tracking a different kind of criminal essentially retelling the cat and mouse chase antics of obsessive cops and robbers on ultra-grey sides of good and evil as in Mann’s previous films.

Friday, 12 February 2016

The Gold Rush



The second of Chaplin’s feature films (after 1921’s 'The Kid') loses nothing over time, easily gliding past all technical innovations (sound, colour, widescreen, 3D). And with Chaplin’s natural gifts as a filmmaker and performer, he crafts a hilarious adventure epic with heartbreaking emotional sentimentality.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

The Hunger

Overwhelmingly beautiful but cold, Tony Scott’s The Hunger, once dismissed back in the day, now resounds as a seminal film of the vampire genre. Consciously aloof, Scott seemed to be striving for what Ridley Scott strove for in his early days, expressive, moody and supremely visual tone pieces. For better or worse Scott would never make a film this again, quickly moving into the Bruckheimer brand of cinema.

Friday, 29 January 2016

52 Pick Up


This underseen Elmore Leonard-penned project about a prominent LA industrialist blackmailed for his infidelity cruises through the seedy LA crime underworld in the same way Chinatown and other LA-based noir films before it. But as a time capsule of the decade, for better or worse, it’s also burdened with the vulgarities of 1980’s cinema.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

The Revenant

Perhaps more admirable and commendable than moving or masterful, the large scale frontier adventure tale visualized with eye-popping wide angle realism doesn't quite to add up to something greater than the sum of its parts. This is the power of that indescribable piece of storytelling/cinematic magic which when missing can make even the boldest, visionary works of art feel strangely inert.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Elvis on Tour


You don't have to be an Elvis fan to be thrilled by this treasure of a documentary depicting the elder Elvis, in the twilight of his career - the jumpsuit, the rhinestone belts, the rings, the cape, the sideburns, and the choral grandiosity of his performances - revving it up on the quintessential road trip rock doc.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Best of 2015

IT FOLLOWS (dir. David Robert Mitchell)

David Robert Mitchell’s exercise in horror minimalism masterfully pulls off the best retro movie experience of the year. Much like the resurrection of Mad Max, and 70’s era Star Wars Mitchell deviously recreates the terror of the 70’s/80’s silent stalker character. Mitchell takes inspiration from the hypnotic Yul Bynner/Richard Benjamin walking foot chase in Westworld, Michael Myers' terrifying stalking of Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween I and II and relentless onslaught of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 1984 Terminator. Mitchell’s premise is deceptively simple and with nil backstory, his ghostly baddie simply exists without question. If Mitchell painted film with just this brush he’d still have a terrifying picture, but what elevates the film is his pitch perfect depiction of the millennial malaise. Mitchell manages to make the relationships of the four central youngsters as compelling as the genre components. Mitchell’s application of the melancholy tone from the his previous picture Myth of the American Sleepover to his ironclad horror premise is a sublime cinematic marriage.