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

June 5, 2015

TWO OF A KIND (1951)

Please pardon the infrequent posting here at Where Danger Lives. Following the release of Film Noir 101, I've just begun work on a follow-up book for Fantagraphics. This new book will be out in 2016 and will also be a large-format collection of mid-century images—though I can’t say more just yet! As ever, thanks for visiting and reading! 



Talk about a sheep in wolf’s clothing. Two of a Kind, released by Columbia in 1951, is a perfect example of how a Hollywood ending can derail a promising noir. The premise is enticing: three grifters try to work an inheritance scam on an elderly California couple. They plan to pass off a fellow con-artist as the couple’s long-lost son and claim a huge inheritance when the aged millionaires finally kick over. The cast is rock-solid, and includes noir icons Edmond O’Brien and Lizabeth Scott, as well as President Woodrow Wilson himself, Alexander Knox. 

Two of a Kind moves with verve and is characterized by tough talk and slick Burnett Guffey photography. It establishes itself as a noir early on, with a wonderfully memorable scene involving the two leads, a car door, and some great banter. Two of a Kind also foreshadows doom in half a dozen different ways, including a slew of references to the game of craps, yet in the end it fails to deliver on its dark promises — instead wrapping up like an MGM musical, where boy and girl hop into a ragtop and ride off into the setting Pacific sun, leaving the audience jilted and angry.

The opening finds Brandy (Lizabeth Scott), searching for a man she’s never met, a very specific kind of a man who fits the requirements that she and her accomplice Vincent (Alexander Knox) require to orchestrate a swindle of gigantic proportions. It seems that many years ago, a wealthy California couple, the McIntyres, lost their son during a trip to Chicago. Mrs. McIntyre had a dizzy spell and cracked her head on the sidewalk outside Marshall Fields. When she woke up her toddler son was gone. She wasn’t without hope though — the tip of little fellow’s left little finger is missing, making him easy to recognize. Yet despite this unusual telltale, after more than three decades the McIntyres have never been able to locate their son.

The McIntyre family attorney, who turns out to be none other than Brandy’s partner Vincent, has long been in charge of the search for the boy. And it’s Vincent who first sees the opportunity to make a grab at the McIntyre family millions; he and Brandy just need to find the right man to play the part of the prodigal son: white male, early thirties, from the Chicagoland area, raised in an orphanage, and finally: willing to pare his pinky for a big payoff. Enter Mike ‘Lefty’ Farrell (Edmond O’Brien).


Throughout film history there have been countless scenes when a character loses some limb or another, and most such films exploit the suspense-filled moments before the axe falls, the knife slashes, or the chainsaw rattles to life. In this case the exchange between Brandy and Mike leading up to the “ouch” is just as compelling. The scene occurs early on, just after Brandy discovers Mike drearily checking cards at an L.A. bingo joint. In a brief sequence of impressive narrative economy, Brandy manages to catch Mike’s eye, test his mettle against a hired thug, get him arrested and bailed out, clue him in on the potential scam, and convince him to put his little finger in the path of a car door. Considering the pair just met, Mike seems too eager to go along with her plan. It’s a weak point in the story that relies on the seductive power of the femme fatale to make believable — after all, how many men will maim themselves for a woman they’ve just met? It’s a hard pill to swallow, and Liz Scott isn’t the girl to help it go down any easier. Scott was certainly a wonderful actress — she could outperform most fifties crime pic ingénues with her eyes alone, but she lacked that Rita-esque brand of raw sexuality necessary to close this deal. 

Nevertheless the sequence is Two of a Kind’s best — though it’s the doom and gloom dialogue which brings the whole thing off. The outcome is never in doubt; we know the finger has to come off for the story to move forward, but the film carves out mucho character development before the big moment. Brandi pulls up to a shadowy curb, the emergency hospital quietly looming a block ahead. She cuts to the chase: “It has to look like an accident — you walk in with a smashed finger and tell them you caught it in a car door.” “And how does it really get smashed?” Mike asks, to which she deadpans, “In a car door.” Brandi leans across Mike’s chest and pushes open his door, while he eyes her warily for the first time. She removes the lipstick from her handbag and paints an aiming line on his little finger before announcing, “You’d better have a cigarette.” Still gregarious, Mike asks, “Who gets to make with the door?” To which Brandy’s curt “I do” not only establishes her clear control of the situation but also that Mike (like other noir protagonists) is in way over his head. Her final admonition, “Look the other way” comes just a second before she crushes his finger. The scene is certainly the most noirish in the film, particularly in how it parallels Mike’s predicament with that of a man about to be executed. The cigarette, the turning of the head, the willing submission, and finally, the moment’s sexually-charged, emasculating violence are quintessentially noirish, and ensure that Two of a Kind would be much better-remembered if only it didn’t shoot itself in the foot so soon after chopping off Mike’s finger.

But the stakes are so low! One of the reasons the car door scene resonates is because it’s the only exciting moment in the movie — and all it involves is a busted up little finger! The film is otherwise light on crime, and the inheritance scheme fails miserably. No one gets killed, and when the plan is unraveled Mr. McIntyre doesn’t even press charges, even knowing that Vincent secretly hoped to kill him in order to get rich even quicker. McIntyre simply demands that the larcenous lawyer close up shop and leave town, while he actually invites the repentant Mike to perpetuate the ruse for the sake of the forlorn Mrs. McIntyre’s newfound happiness. As a matter of fact, the stakes are so low that everyone would likely have been better off if the hustle had succeeded: The McIntyres would have lived out their final years in the happy knowledge that their son had returned, while the already-rich Vincent and Brandi would have just gotten richer and Mike would have endured a guilty inheritance. Considering that the McIntyres had no other potential heirs, perhaps the only real losers would have been the charitable organizations that would have otherwise inherited the funds.

Yet if a deeper reading is made, an important question comes to mind, though it’s one that potentially destroys the film, or at least makes it awfully difficult to like: What about the McIntyre’s real son? It’s not that viewers would expect this lost child to joyously reappear after thirty years to throw a monkey wrench into Brandy and Mike’s plans (though that may have made for an interesting twist). Postwar audiences were as aware as any of the potential for horror in the world, and the details of the Lindbergh case still lingered in the public mind, as would the circumstances of the Wineville Chicken Murders (known to contemporary audiences thanks to Clint Eastwood’s Changeling) and many other newswire scandals of the period. In giving Two of a Kind such a happy denouement, fate can’t mete out the justice required by the noir universe. Sometimes the happy ending is an important part of the noir journey, as in the redemption-oriented Tomorrow is Another Day. Yet here Vincent, Brandy, and Mike contrive a terrible crime: they casually and unremorsefully attempt to cash in on the grief and hope of a decent family that has lost its only child, in all likelihood to a horrible death. The film trades justice for romance, and no two stars, even O’Brien and Scott, possess screen chemistry sufficient for us to forgive a crime that involves preying on the heart of a bereaved mother. We are left to wonder how the title, Two of a Kind, is intended to represent Brandy and Mike, though in some dark, accidental way conjures thoughts of Mike and that vanished little boy, a plot device of so little consequence to the film that he’s denied even the human dignity of a name.

Two of a Kind (1951)
stripe
Director: Henry Levin
Producer: William Dozier
Cinematography: Burnett Guffey
Screenplay: James Edward Grant, James Gunn and Lawrence Kimble
Starring: Edmond O’Brien and Lizabeth Scott
Released by: Columbia Pictures Corporation
Running Time: 75 minutes

February 17, 2015

OUT OF THE STORM (1948)


In order to understand how important typecasting was in classic Hollywood, how it could make or break a movie — even a cheap B picture with a twelve-day shooting schedule — look no further than Republic’s 1944 crime programmer Out of the Storm, starring Jimmy Lydon. Lydon gained fame playing comic strip teenager Henry Aldrich nine times for Paramount Pictures throughout the war years. After the fighting ended he signed a contract with Republic Pictures (which he jokingly referred to as Repulsive Pictures!) and made several low rent crime films, the most notable of which was Edgar Ulmer’s Strange Illusion (1945). From time to time Lydon appeared in supporting roles in major studio productions, including a pleasantly funny turn alongside Elizabeth Taylor in the 1947 William Powell hit Life with Father, and, believe it or not, as Ingrid Bergman’s little brother in Victor Fleming’s 1948 colossus, Joan of Arc. Lydon enjoyed a lengthy acting career in Hollywood films and on television before transitioning into a significant role as a producer. He even did a stretch as vice-president of the Screen Actors Guild. As of this writing he’s approaching 92 and living happily in California with his wife of 62 years.

In Out of the Storm, set during the war, he is perfectly cast as Donald Lewis, a clerk at west coast naval yard. Amidst the tumult of the never-ending stream of tankers, freighters, and liberty ships sliding into the Pacific, Donald spends his days in the relative calm of the payroll office, endorsing checks for the yard’s ten thousand workers. It’s Christmastime as the movie opens, and Donald has just taken possession of $125,000 in folding money, when a crew led by Stubbins (familiar hood Marc Lawrence) hurries up the stairs and into the payroll loft. Stubbins shoots the guard, beats another man unconscious, and then forces Donald to grab stacks of bills from the safe. After the gang flees Donald telephones security, but before they arrive he gapingly realizes that the crooks overlooked the $100,000 intended for the workers’ Christmas bonuses and made off with significantly less: the $25,000 in fives and tens meant for check cashing. Donald hesitates for just a moment, and then hides the money. He returns later, in the dead of night, and smuggles it home. The remainder of the movie vacillates between the predictable and the surprising as Donald tries hard to hang onto the loot before eventually coming around — though Out of the Storm pleases even when it treads this familiar ground.

Let’s momentarily imagine the challenge faced by Out of the Storm’s producers, needing to fill the lead. Here we have a fairly straightforward morality tale about a war worker who steals, albeit passively (everything about Donald is passive), and most importantly, whose crime becomes the catalyst for his coming of age. We need an actor who can sell two key characteristics: the audience must be able to understand his motivation to steal, and in time they must be able to forgive him. The movie never explicitly tells us why Donald isn’t in the service, though there are two possibilities: he could have received a 2-B deferment from service as an employee of the war industry, or his designation could have been the dreaded 4-F: “registrant is not acceptable for military service.” The casting of Jimmy Lydon, neither a tough guy nor a dreamboat, makes it clear exactly which weak-kneed designation the filmmakers wanted us to assume, and it shows us why the casting process is vital.

What kind of a guy would take this money? What kind of guy would end up in the payroll office in the first place? Donald lacks the physical strength required to man either a rivet gun or a machine gun. And he’s bitter about it. Here’s a kid with guilt. The movie’s opening narration, in which he resignedly laments his situation over stock footage of the smoking wreckage of Pearl Harbor, and then over images of countless ships under construction during the big buildup of 1942, is a self-pitying diatribe about how some young men “went to the fighting lines [and] some went to the assembly lines.” Donald feels left out of both groups, resenting not just the servicemen overseas, but also the blue-collar workers who make more money than he does:

“Seemed like everybody in the yard was making money. Everybody else was really building something, really doing something. But me? I got stuck in the payroll department with a lot of adding machines and file records and a salary of $40 a week. How far can you make that go?”

And yet Donald is still a good boy — he mails a chunk of his meager earnings home to his mother and struggles by on the rest. We get the impression that all would be well if only he could strap on a uniform and get in the fight like everybody else. All of his simmering guilt is cleverly ratcheted up by the presence of his girlfriend and coworker Ginny (Lois Collier, sort of a poor man’s Gail Russell). Ginny’s a real doll, and entirely out of Donald’s league. They’ve been together for nearly a year, after bumping into each other during lunch. Here's how it needles: it’s a mismatched relationship only made possible by the war, and Donald knows it. He constantly uses his small salary as an excuse not to get married, but we suspect that he really believes he doesn’t deserve such a great girl in the first place. Ginny, for her part, is strangely desperate to get hitched, Donald’s finances be damned. (It’s terribly easy to imagine a dead Marine on Guadalcanal with her picture in his breast pocket.)

At any rate, the film excellently establishes Donald’s angst at being left out of the fighting and his disappointment at not landing an appropriately butch spot in the war effort, and then being saddled with a devoted girlfriend whom he doesn’t feel he deserves. Such a character could easily come across as a weasel. We’d hate Donald if we didn’t think his heart was in the right place, if he didn’t so obviously love his mother, if he hadn’t fretted and called the guards after the theft, and if he wasn’t just a dumb, jealous, understandably immature kid. But we do like him, and we also feel sorry for him. We understand, just as he does, that Captain America is just a comic strip character and that there wasn’t a place on the front lines for every weak-kneed kid who wanted to get in. Perhaps the movie’s best, most transformative moment comes near then end, when Ginny looks Donald in the eye and calls him a coward, and the sting of the remark compels him to finally understand something that all of us ultimately have to come to grips with: that life ain’t fair, and that not getting all the things we want isn’t an excuse to act out.

Out of the Storm presented a complex casting problem that, in this instance, the filmmakers solved perfectly. Jimmy Lydon is nearly flawless as one of the countless fellows left to grapple with self-worth while fighting the war from home. He successfully spins the confused, frustrated angst of youth into the moral ambiguity and misguided choices that lie deep within the tangled heart of film noir.

Out of the Storm (1948)
Directed by R.G. Springsteen
Screenplay by John K. Butler
Story by Gordon Rigby
Starring Jimmy Lydon, Lois Collier, and Marc Lawrence
Cinematography by John MacBurnie
Released by Republic Pictures
Running Time: 61 minutes