Cleaning Out the DVR #17: Film Noir Festival 3

To take my mind off the sciatic nerve pain I was suffering last week, I immersed myself on the dark world of film noir. The following quartet of films represent some of the genre’s best, filled with murder, femme fatales, psychopaths, and sleazy living. Good times!!

I’ll begin chronologically with BOOMERANG (20th Century-Fox 1947), director Elia Kazan’s true-life tale of a drifter (an excellent Arthur Kennedy ) falsely accused of murdering a priest in cold blood, and the doubting DA (Dana Andrews ) who fights an uphill battle against political corruption to exonerate him. Filmed on location in Stamford, CT and using many local residents as extras and bit parts, the literate script by Richard Murphy (CRY OF THE CITY, PANIC IN THE STREETS, COMPULSION) takes a realistic look behind the scenes at an American mid-sized city, shedding light into it’s darker corners.

Andrews is solid as the honest DA who pumps the brakes when the politicians, fearing the wrath of the voters demanding action, pressure the police chief (Lee J. Cobb ) into arresting somebody – anybody – for the murder. But it’s Arthur Kennedy who steals the show as a down on his luck WWII veteran caught up in the hysteria, put on trial for a crime he didn’t commit so political hacks can save (as Mel Brooks would say ) their phoney-baloney jobs. The cast is loaded with marvelous actors, including Jane Wyatt as Andrews’ wife, Cara Williams as Kennedy’s bitter ex-girlfriend, Ed Begley as a shady pol, Sam Levene as a muckraking reporter, and a young Karl Malden as one of Cobb’s detectives. Cobb sums the whole thing up best: “Never did like politicians”. Amen to that, Lee J! BOOMERANG is a noir you won’t want to miss.

Director Nicholas Ray contributed a gem to the noir canon with IN A LONELY PLACE (Columbia 1950) . Noir icon Humphrey Bogart stars as Dixon Steele, a Hollywood screenwriter suspected of murdering a hat check girl. Steele has a violent history well-known to the police, but new neighbor Laurel Grey (another noir icon, Gloria Grahame ) provides him with an alibi. Bogart, as the obviously off-center writer who may or may not have killed the girl, goes deep into his dark side, giving one of his best screen performances – and that’s saying a lot! The viewer is never quite certain if Dixon Steele did the deed until the very end, as Bogart’s psycho scenarist keeps everyone off-balance.

Grahame is one cool customer at first, but as things progress and Bogart’s rage rises to the surface, she becomes more and more frightened of him. Grahame and Ray were married while making IN A LONELY PLACE, but the union was becoming unraveled by this time, and they would soon separate. Frank Lovejoy, whom I’ve always thought was a very underrated actor, plays Steele’s former Army buddy, now a cop on the case. I especially enjoyed Robert Warwick as Charlie Waterman, the alcoholic former screen star who relies on Steele for handouts. Other Familiar Faces include Carl Benton Reid, Morris Ankrum , Jeff Donnell, and famous restaurateur ‘Prince’ Michael Romanoff, a friend of Bogie’s playing (what else?) a restaurateur. If you love movies about the dark side of Hollywood, IN A LONELY PLACE is for you!

Joseph Losey’s THE PROWLER (United Artists 1951) gives us Van Heflin as an obsessed cop who falls for married Evelyn Keyes after responding to a peeping tom call. Heflin delivers a dynamite performance as the narcissistic ex-jock turned officer, unhappy with his lot in life, who has most everyone fooled he’s a “wonderful guy”. Keyes is alone most nights because her husband works the overnight shift as a disc jockey. After he tries (and fails) to put the make on her, he returns to apologize. The lonely housewife dances with him while the song “Baby” plays on the radio, cozying up cheek to cheek, and then… well, you know!

Heflin resorts to anything to get what he wants, including setting up Keyes’ hubby and shooting him. After being found innocent in a coroner’s inquiry, literally getting away with murder, he convinces her of his innocence and the two get married. Heflin buys a motel in Vegas, and is ready to live the American dream, but there’s a hitch to his plans when Keyes discovers she’s already four months pregnant, and her deceased hubby was impotent! Realizing questions will be re-raised regarding their relationship while she was married, the two take off to a deserted ‘ghost town’ in the desert to have the child, away from prying eyes. I won’t spoil the ending, except to say it packs a wallop! THE PROWLER is essential viewing for film noir lovers, written by blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo under the name of “front” Hugo Butler (and as an inside joke, Losey hired Trumbo to provide the radio voice of Keyes’ disc jockey husband, without the knowledge of anyone involved!).

Last but certainly not least, we come to WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS (RKO 1956), directed by the legendary Fritz Lang , who knew a thing or two about crafting film noir! Casey Robinson’s extremely cynical script shows us the power struggle at a New York newspaper, with whoever discovers the identity of “The Lipstick Killer” terrorizing the town being named Executive Director. The characters are sleazy and unlikable, with everyone sleeping with everyone else, and only the top-notch cast makes them palatable, led by Dana Andrews as a Pulitzer Prize-winning TV broadcaster, Thomas Mitchell as the sly old-school pro, George Sanders at his smarmy, sarcastic best, Vincent Price as the dilettante son who inherits a media empire, Rhonda Fleming as his slutty wife (who’s banging art director James Craig on the side), Sally Forrest as Sanders’ secretary in love with Andrews, Ida Lupino as a gossip columnist Sanders sics on Andrews to seduce him, and Howard Duff as the lead cop on the case. You can’t get much better than that cast!

As the sex-killer with mommy issues, John Drew Barrymore (billed a John Barrymore, Jr.) looks more like Elvis than he does his famous father. Barrymore’s career never reached the heights of his dad, mainly due to his excesses, and his was a tragic life. Towards the end, he was cared for by daughter Drew, who’s had quite a career of her own. WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS is arguably Lang’s last great film, with moody cinematography by the great Ernest Laszlo (DOA, KISS ME DEADLY ). With that cast, Robinson’s pessimistic script, and Lang’s deft direction, it’s another must-see for film noir fans. Oh yes, before I forget, if that stylized ‘K’ for Kyne, Inc. looks familiar, it’s because it’s leftover from another RKO film:

That’s right, CITIZEN KANE! Who says RKO didn’t get the most for their money?


Five Films From Five Decades

Five Films From Five Decades 2

Those Swingin’ Sixties!

B-Movie Roundup!

Fabulous 40’s Sleuths

All-Star Horror Edition!

Film Noir Festival

All-Star Comedy Break

Film Noir Festival Redux

Halloween Leftovers

Five From The Fifties

Too Much Crime On My Hands

All-Star Western Roundup!

Sex & Violence, 70’s Style!

Halloween Leftovers 2

Keep Calm and Watch Movies!

Take the Money and Run: GUN CRAZY (United Artists 1950)


GUN CRAZY is a thrill ride that will have you hanging on for dear life as it takes its protagonists on a downward-spiraling roller coaster ride that turns straight downhill into rock bottom. This is the ultimate noir, moving at breakneck speed towards its inevitable conclusion, a sordid tale of sex and violence that’s second to none. GUN CRAZY was a huge influence on many later films, especially 1967’s BONNIE & CLYDE, right down to the fashion style of lead Peggy Cummins.

Bart Tare loves guns. So much so that, as an adolescent, he smashes a store window to steal one. Busted by the cops, he’s sent to reform school until he’s of age. After a stint in the Army, Bart returns to his hometown, and with old pals Dave and Clyde, attends a carnival. It’s there he meets Annie Laurie Starr, a trick-shot artist. There’s immediate heat between the two, as their mutual love for guns is surpassed only by their unabashed lust for each other. Bart bests Laurie in a shooting contest, and he’s asked to join the carny. When Bart catches owner Packy trying to put the moves on her, he shoots, shattering the mirror behind the boss, who promptly fires them both.


The two get hitched, despite Laurie telling Bart she’s “no good”. They live it up awhile in Vegas, but when their money runs out, Laurie suggests they turn to robbery. Bart’s reluctant, but Laurie’s sexual sway over him is too powerful, and they go on a mad crime spree. They start small, and wind up pulling a bank job. This scene is done in one long take, shot from the backseat of Bart and Laurie’s hot car, and the tension is ratcheted high as can be from start to finish. It’s a pure adrenaline rush of a scene, and the thrill in Laurie’s eyes as they make their getaway says more about her character than words could do justice.


They plan out one last score, taking jobs in a meat-packing plant in order to rob the payroll. Bart tries to play it cool, but kill-crazy Laurie shoots her supervisor and a guard during the escape. They separate into two cars, planning to meet later. But the codependency they have for each other is too great, and they can’t even make it down the street without rushing back to each other.  The duo plan on heading to Mexico with their loot, but go out for a night on the town first, where the serial numbers on the bills lead the FBI to them. Scramming out of town, leaving their money behind, Bart and Laurie hop a freight train to Bart’s sister’s place. Bart’s childhood friends, now a reporter and sheriff, confront Bart, hoping he’ll give himself up. But it’s no use, as Bart and Laurie speed off, police in hot pursuit, driving up into the mountains where they meet their final destiny.


Peggy Cummins as Laurie is the baddest of film noir bad girls. When she tells Bart she’s never been good, she means it. There’s something in her eyes that tells you this is one sick chick, not afraid to kill to get what she wants. It’s a tough, realistic performance that puts Cummins in the pantheon of femme fatales with Claire Trevor and Ann Savage. The Irish actress tried her hand at Hollywood a few years, but moved back to England after this film. Her most notable other role was in Jacques Tourneur’s horror classic CURSE OF THE DEMON. As of this writing, Peggy Cummins is still with us at age 91, occasionally granting interviews to fans who’ll never forget her as the wild, sensuous Annie Laurie Starr.


John Dall (Bart) made his debut in 1945’s THE CORN IS GREEN, earning an Oscar nomination in the process. He was one of the young murderers in Alfred Hitchcock’s underrated ROPE, but his film career never quite got off the ground. His Bart is a conflicted man, an expert marksman afraid to kill (a flashback tells us why), and unable to say no to Laurie. Bart knows he’s doing wrong, but his desire for her is so strong, he’s willing to go to any lengths to keep her. It’s a tricky part, but Dall is more than up to the task. Adolescent Russ Tamblyn plays Bart as a youngster. Other cast members include Berry Kroeger, Morris Carnovsky, Anabel Shaw, and Nedrick Young, who was blacklisted and became a screenwriter under the alias of Nathan E. Douglas, penning Elvis Presley’s JAILHOUSE ROCK, THE DEFIANT ONES (for which he won an Oscar), INHERIT THE WIND, and SECONDS.

Screenwriter Millard Kaufman was actually another victim of the blacklist, Dalton Trumbo, now relegated to B-movies. Director Joseph H. Lewis was a veteran of the B’s, learning his craft on Westerns and East Side Kids flicks. He was in the director’s chair for THE INVISBLE GHOST, the best of  Bela Lugosi’s Monogram series (which is faint praise, given the quality of the others). Lewis made the well-regarded MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS and THE BIG COMBO, but GUN CRAZY is his magnum opus. Using every trick at his command, Lewis (along with cinematographer Russell Harlan and editor Harry Gerstad) keep the pedal to the metal as Bart and Laurie fall farther and faster into a life with no way out.


And finally, let’s talk about the producers. Frank and Maurice King (née Kozinski) were a couple of shady characters straight out of Damon Runyon. Turning their slot machine empire into an entry to Hollywood, the King brothers hit the jackpot with 1944’s WHEN STRANGERS MARRY,  a noir thriller starring Robert Mitchum and Kim Hunter directed by William Castle. The film got noticed, as did the King’s next, 1945’s DILLINGER with Lawrence Tierney as the notorious gangster. They went on to produce low-budget but moneymaking pictures right up until 1969’s HEAVEN WITH A GUN, starring Glenn Ford. A third King brother, Herman, is credited in GUN CRAZY as “technical advisor”. I don’t even want to guess what that means in a movie like this!





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