REVIEW: Moonrise [1948]

Anyone can make a mistake. Danny Hawkins (Dane Clark) kills a man. This is indisputable. Was it self-defense? Maybe. While his victim (Lloyd Bridges‘ Jerry Sykes) picked up the rock that would be his own demise first, it’s Danny who restarts what was a fair fight after already being soundly defeated. So while Jerry raised the stakes, Danny clearly instigated the need for escalation. Where things get even grayer, however, is the fact that Jerry has been picking on Danny for years—leading chants around the schoolyard about how the new…

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REVIEW: Strangers on a Train [1951]

I certainly admire people who do things. The idea is a provocative one. Two strangers meet and talk about a person in their lives that would objectively be better to them dead than alive. The conversation evolves towards murder in seeming jest until one presents the possibility that they could trade targets and do the other’s dirty work. With nothing connecting them, displaced motives, and airtight alibis thanks to neither actually killing the object of their personal vitriol, it revealed itself to be a perfectly drunken plan. Where things get…

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REVIEW: Miller’s Crossing [1990]

I’ll think about it. The mob is a business like any other. Leadership must be strong and decisive, employees must be loyal to a fault, and every once in a while you have to cut someone you like loose in order to not anger someone you might like less but definitely need more. Despite everything we learn as kids that ends up being useless, the concept of “choosing the lesser of two evils” will forever prove as useful as breathing and yet we have trouble reconciling such dilemmas due to…

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REVIEW: The Killing [1956]

Just a bad joke without a punch line. After test screenings left audiences confused and frustrated, writer/director Stanley Kubrick and producing partner James B. Harris decided to return to the edit bay and turn The Killing‘s overlapping, repetitious structure into a more linear A-to-B narrative. You can’t blame the former for wanting to do everything possible to make the film a hit since it was his first project with a real budget positioning his career forward (he’d disavowed Fear and Desire as amateurish and sophomore effort Killer’s Kiss proved almost…

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REVIEW: Scarlet Street [1945]

So you won’t forget me. There’s a great horror concept within Fritz Lang‘s Scarlet Street. Unfortunately it’s pushed aside for a film noir that never quite gains traction. The problem as I see it stems from the fact that screenwriter Dudley Nichols tries to frame aging pushover Christopher Cross (Edward G. Robinson) as a sympathetic character throughout—an unsuspecting victim in the making rather than the haunted figure he becomes at its end. The latter is his most interesting form, a desperate man with nowhere to turn as a voice from…

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REVIEW: Sweet Smell of Success [1957]

No. You’re dead, son. Get yourself buried. The hook is simple: Steve Dallas (Martin Milner) and Susan Hunsecker (Susan Harrison) are in love, but big brother J.J. (Burt Lancaster) doesn’t approve. He hasn’t supported her with penthouses and fur coats to watch a young guitarist whisk her away, but he can’t be caught stopping them with his formidable clout to make and break people on a whim as New York’s premier lifestyle columnist either. Putting his name on the boy’s metaphorical death certificate would risk losing Susan further than it…

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REVIEW: In a Lonely Place [1950]

There’s no sacrifice too great for a chance at immortality. Just because you might be innocent of one crime doesn’t mean you’re a saint who’d never commit another. We’ve seen this type of complex premise as recently as “The Night of”, a miniseries about racial prejudice and police neglect wherein the accused (and audience) is unaware of whether he committed murder. And as facts of the evening in question are put into context, details also surface about the defendant to color him in a different light than initially assumed. Our…

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REVIEW: The Killers [1946]

“Stop listening to those golden harps, Swede” “The Killers” is a dialogue-driven short story by Ernest Hemingway that describes the melancholic criminal comeuppance of a man long-removed from the deeds that signed his death warrant. It reads like a fast-paced and stripped-down script whose intrigue is built out of that which we’ll never know. Context provides motivations rather than meaning, the underlying sorrow ingrained within its matter-of-fact, gangster machinations conjuring existential empathy rather than good versus evil justice. The men tasked with killing a Brentwood resident they’ve never met aren’t…

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REVIEW: Touch of Evil [1958]

“Your future’s all used up” Back in Hollywood a decade after his The Lady from Shanghai debacle, Orson Welles‘ Touch of Evil almost met the same fate. He presented his rough cut on time yet Universal brought in Harry Keller to reshoot scenes—replacements and brand new—and truncated it to 93-minutes nonetheless. While the studio destroyed any unused footage, they did let Welles take a gander before its bow. Their cut was ultimately released, but seeing it early allowed Welles the opportunity to write a 58-page memo outlying its problems. He…

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