Happy Noirvember, mugs and dames!
What’s Noirvember? It’s a celebration of all things film noir. It was started by @oldfilmsflicker eight years ago and it’s taken on a life of its own. This year, I’m really committing to Noirvember here on the blog. I started on Wednesday by watching a new-to-me noir each day until Sunday as I decided to break up the month with different themes each week. I was so glad to finally sit down and watch these films that I’ve been wanting to see but haven’t gotten the chance to.
Here’s a recap of the films I watched during the first week of Noirvember.
Not all noirs are created equal. For every masterpiece that is Laura, there are probably 10 bad noirs around. I really wanted to like Union Station but this fell flat to me, which is surprising because it stars…WILLIAM HOLDEN. Union Station was the second film pairing of Holden and Nancy Olson. The duo made this one right after another noir masterpiece, Sunset Boulevard. In this film, Holden plays the top cop of the Union Station railroad police. Olson, on a train, notices a man with a gun and her instincts tell her he’s up to no good. She alerts the police and this helps them in their search for her friend, a blind heiress who has been kidnapped. Union Station has some really great suspenseful moments, and a few scenes are actually quite brutal but there were some aspects of Holden and Olson’s performances that didn’t do it for me. Not for one second did I buy Holden as the lead of a railroad police force. He didn’t seem to have the commanding presence I’m used to seeing. Also, a majority of the film he’s wearing a fedora and coat that are much too big. The ill-fitting costume honestly made it hard for me to take seriously. I wanted to really like Olson’s character, a sharp female who isn’t afraid to track down criminals in order to do the right thing, but she came across as annoying to me. In some scenes, I kept thinking that she should go home and let the police do their jobs. When it comes to the film noir canon, Union Station isn’t exactly memorable when it comes to story but the climax of the film is suspenseful and again, there are some standout moments so I still recommend it but I was disappointed in its two leads, two actors who I adore.
I don’t know what took me so long to see this one! WOW! This film just left me with my jaw on the ground. Peggy freakin’ Cummins! My goodness! She is so good in this film. Her beauty and cooing perfectly masquerade her ice cold interior she’s hiding underneath. She has such presence here, you feel her power. The sexual tension between her and John Dall is electric from their very first scene together. It’s not just the performances that make Gun Crazy a masterpiece of the genre. Lewis’ direction is outstanding. The final bank heist that ultimately dooms the couple is one shot and it adds so much to the film’s suspense.
In a Lonely Place (1950, Dir. Nicholas Ray)
In a Lonely Place is another highly regarded noir that I hadn’t gotten around to watching. What I didn’t expect from this film was how genuinely moved I was. To me, this is one of Humphrey Bogart’s best performances. He easily comes across as a hollow jerk but as the film progresses there is a vulnerability to his character that is heartbreaking. But the real star here is Gloria Grahame. Grahame is excellent in a very difficult role that you don’t fully understand how hard of a job she has to put together her character until the film’s final scenes. She comes into the film as a mysterious woman but the more you learn about her, the more you’re drawn in. What I love about this film is that as much as it is a film noir, it has deep psychological comments on love, loss and loneliness. There’s an extra layer there that really packs a punch in the end.
Lured (1947, Dir. Douglas Sirk)
This Douglas Sirk film blends a strong cast and element of mystery, horror, light comedy and film noir. Lucille Ball plays a dancer who, get this — is enlisted by police to help them find her missing friend who they believe might be the latest victim of a serial killer. I feel like “women helping the police” inadvertently became the theme this week. The killer is murdering young women he meets through personal ads in the newspaper. He announces their killings with poems. Ball is great in her part, in one of her dramatic roles that are often overshadowed by Lucy Ricardo. She’s tough and no nonsense. George Sanders, Boris Karloff and Charles Coburn round out the cast. Karloff’s part is kooky but he’s given time to chew the scenery as only he could do and it’s great, he’s one of many characters Ball meets on her quest to find answers.
Phantom Lady (1944, Dir. Robert Siodmak)
1944 was a banner year for film noir. Along with Phantom Lady, Laura, Murder, My Sweet, Gaslight, and To Have and Have Not were all made. That’s crazy! Phantom Lady is considered a “B noir” and is elusive when it comes to home video. I think the only official DVD release is in a TCM boxset, which is disappointing because it’s excellent. In the film, Ella Raines plays a secretary in search of a woman who may prove that her boss didn’t murder his wife. Raines’ performance is what I was missing out of Olson’s in Union Station. Raines commands the film as a strong woman who goes head to head with authorities and puts herself in danger to try and solve the murder. Raines is also Franchot Tone, who receives top billing, doesn’t appear in the film until 45 minutes in and he makes the most of his role turning in a chilling performance. If that doesn’t convince you to see this movie, noir regular Elisha Cook Jr. (best known as the “gunsel” in The Maltese Falcon) plays a drummer in a jazz band and there’s one scene in particular that is worth the price of admission alone.
Next week will be dedicated to the queen of film noir herself, Barbara Stanwyck, with a marathon of her noirs.