June 9, 2016

BODYGUARD (1948)



Lawrence Tierney’s hallowed reputation as the real-life embodiment of a film noir tough guy endears him to most movie fans and generally insulates him from criticism. Hard core enthusiasts often establish their noir bona fides by slinging stories of his off-screen exploits. He’s the cinematic equivalent of a made guy. If you can’t get with Tierney, it seems at times, you might as well leave film noir well enough alone — it probably ain’t for you. In spite of all that, beyond Tierney’s unique one-two punch — leading man good looks and his spectacular ability to project menace — he wasn’t much of an actor. When a role came along that he couldn’t charge into with his head down and his fists up, as was the case with director Richard Fleischer’s Bodyguard, his performance comes up a few shells short of a stacked clip.

There’s little to care about here by way of story: Tierney plays a detective who gets pink-slipped on account of his strong-arm tactics, then framed for the murder of his lieutenant. That’s the extent of Bodyguard’s noir statement: wrongly accused ex-copper has to get out from under on his own steam. The rest is just running time. Along the way Tierney gets mixed up in some intrigue surrounding a murder cover-up at a meat-packing plant, and the wealthy owners who may or may not have had something to do with it.

Nevertheless, the critical mass surrounding Bodyguard is generally favorable, owing to some slick dialog and several deft directorial touches by Fleischer, just beginning his career. As far as Tierney is concerned, most other reviewers rehash the same tough mug platitudes that one bumps into when reading about Dillinger, The Devil Thumbs a Ride, or Born to Kill. In this case the praise isn’t merited. Tierney is miscast; and Bodyguard would have been a better movie with a more capable leading man. Woe is us that Paramount had Alan Ladd locked up at the time, because this is the kind of part that he was made for. Tierney is one-dimensional and flat; Ladd had something else. I’ll stop — I know the comparison is unfair.

Tierney had more in common with film noir’s iteration of Raymond Burr, and maybe even a leg up on him. Admittedly, this comparison is also unfair because Burr, in spite of his wide range and other special gifts as an actor, didn’t look like Ben Affleck. But can you imagine Tierney instead of Burr in Pickup? It’s at the very least intriguing. His air of corruption, the rough edges, the cheapness, and that hair trigger? Bodyguard asks him to holster all of these things, to sit on his hands, and one wonders if Priscilla Lane — she’s too perky not to like — wasn’t cast as the girl Friday in order to soften Tierney. After all, if we like her, and she likes him, we ought to as well, right? The hard sell goes even further: Tierney plays big brother to some neighborhood kids, tosses a ball back and forth with another, and drinks his milk like a good boy. But we’re unmoved; as an actor Tierney just wasn’t meant to be liked. Perhaps it took this movie to make sure of it.

* A note or two about the poster: In spite of the artwork, Tierney doesn’t rough up any women in the film. (For that matter, he never actually works as a bodyguard either.) Certainly the RKO brass were hoping the artwork would pull in the audience from his successful turn the previous year’s Born to Kill. And the image of Lane — it couldn't be less flattering. 

Bodyguard (1948)
Directed by Richard Fleischer
Screenplay by Fred Niblo Jr. and Harry Essex, based on a story by George W. George and Robert Altman.
Starring Lawrence Tierney and Priscilla Lane
Produced by Sid Rogell
Cinematography by Robert De Grasse
Released by RKO Pictures
Running time: 62 minutes


May 18, 2016

I WOULDN'T BE IN YOUR SHOES (1948)



It opens, this thing, on death row. A nameless penitentiary squats next to a river that turns over and over, churning like the guts of the suckers wasting away inside its walls. Three hours to go until the lights flicker and the warden once again flips the switch on the vacancy sign. It’s Number Five’s turn tonight, and he’s got no taste for the meal that arrives hot under a silver platter. Number Three puts on a record, hoping to take Number Five’s mind off the ticking of the clock, which echoes so loudly that not even the crashing of the river can drown it out. The other doomed men whisper to him from up and down the block, “Talk boy, tell us how you got here. Talking takes your mind off things when you’re up close to it.” So Number Five hunkers down onto the rack, probably for the last time, and gives. It has to do with a dead man, a wallet full of big bills, and a pair of dancing shoes.

“Where you been?” he remembers asking her.

“Around the world in a rowboat.” She said, her lips barely moving, tired after yet another night on her feet, eyeballing the bed and longing for the numbness of sleep. Give her a few hours and she’ll come back to life, having momentarily forgotten the too-tight heels, the threadbare dress, those same old tired records, and the wretched breath of lonely, clutching men.

It stings to look at her, to think about what she does for the rent. He isn’t pulling his own weight — they live off her sweat and tears. They both used to be real dancers, but that was a lifetime ago. The city was magnificent when the war was on, bright and abundant with six-week contracts, every grinning theatrical man’s door wide open. Not now though. In the months since it ended and the naval yard in Brooklyn began to teem with men again — older now, their eyes different — the nightclub gigs dried up and the city boiled down to this one room apartment and the dark alleys that surround it on all four sides.

He remembers his anger that night, the tangy flavor of it, remembers throwing one new dancing shoe, then the other after the alley cats bleating on the fence outside their window. The shoes were a gift from her, a sign that she still hoped, but to him they were just another reminder of his failure. He shut his eyes thinking he’d either get the shoes back in the morning or he wouldn’t, but when he dragged himself out of bed they were already there, leaning neatly up against the flat’s scarred door. He should’ve figured the shoes’ reappearance was fishy. If he wasn’t such a dumb cluck he would have thrown them in the incinerator.

Maybe he should have gotten wise later that afternoon, when he found the wallet and the money on the street. Third-rate hoofers like him didn’t catch breaks, there was something else at work here. It was if the thing had been put there just for him, where only he would find it. He had pounded this stretch of sidewalk, from one dour theatrical man’s locked door to the next, so often that he could do it through the haze that his life had become. He could have, should have turned it in — he wanted to, really — but she lit up when she saw the bills. She thought of the money as their ticket out, to the coast and maybe a chance in the movies, and what good was a man if he couldn’t give his girl the things she wanted?


But the cops had his number. They had taken a plaster of the footprint at the murder scene — in the alley right outside the apartment window. They knew it was a tap shoe. They knew the damn thing belonged to a man of his size and build. They started watching him and waiting for him to spend the money. It was a Bakelite radio that fouled them up, and not even a good one. Can’t a man buy his wife a radio without being hauled in for murder? Not in this nightmare. Now in a few hours, at midnight, this first Tuesday after Christmas, the lights will flicker and a day or two later some other sap will take his place, and the others will call him Number Five. He’ll have a story of his own to tell, and a river that listens.   


I Wouldn’t Be in Your Shoes (1948)
Directed by William Nigh
Screenplay by Steve Fisher
Story by Cornell Woolrich
Starring Don Castle, Elyse Knox, Regis Toomey
Cinematography by Mack Stengler
Released by Monogram Pictures (Walter Mirisch Productions)
Running Time: 70 minutes

October 3, 2015

Film Noir Movie Posters: ROBERT RYAN!

Here’s a 30 poster set of film noir posters featuring the one and only Robert Ryan. The great actor bore little resemblance to many of the characters he played — though everyone knows he was a fine amateur fighter in real life. Ryan was truly a great America, and a bona-fide icon of film noir. Enjoy!

Things have been really slow around here lately as I’ve been dedicating every spare moment to writing the text and digitally restoring the images in my upcoming book — thanks for sticking with me! I should be able to make an announcement (with links) giving the exact title of book within the next few months. But until then I can say that it’s primarily concerned with mid-century comic books! 

Hope you cats and kittens enjoy the posters! 


Crossfire (1947), French

The Racket (1951), Italian
Crossfire (1947), Italian
Act of Violence (1948), One-sheet

Berlin Express (1948), Six-sheet

Berlin Express (1948), One-sheet

Beware, My Lovely (1952), One-sheet

Born to be Bad (1950), Italian

Caught (1949), Half-sheet

Caught (1949), One-sheet

Clash by Night (1952), One-sheet

Crossfire (1947), Belgian

Crossfire (1947), One-sheet

House of Bamboo (1955), Belgian

House of Bamboo (1955), Italian

House of Bamboo (1955), One-sheet

Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), Japanese

Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), One-sheet

On Dangerous Ground (1951), One-sheet

Act of Violence (1948), Three-sheet
The Racket (1951), One-sheet

The Secret Fury (1950), Australian Daybill

The Secret Fury (1950), One-sheet

The Set-Up (1949), Italian
  
The Set-Up (1949), One-sheet


The Woman on Pier 13 (1949), Lobby Cards

The Woman on Pier 13 (1949), One-sheet

The Woman on the Beach (1947), Half-sheet

The Woman on the Beach (1947), Insert

The Woman on the Beach (1947), One-sheet