Tag Archives: Film Noir

Noir of the Week

I love, love, love film noir.

I’ve probably gobbled up every book about it, have perused every film guide including it, and over the years have devoured novels from Cain to Ellroy. I’m thrilled that so many from the classics to the borderline “B” movies have appeared on DVDs here and abroad, many with commentaries almost as enjoyable as the films themselves.

The only thing that could make the experience better would be seeing the films with a crowd and then participating in a discussion over a cup of joe (or more likely a belt of bourbon)…but to shamelessly borrow from one such classic title…I Watch Alone.

So I always appreciate finding a site where these great movies are reviewed with passion, and for those of you who feel the same, I offer you Noir Of The Week.

The site has been around for years, so for some of you this might be old news, and I’m certain I stumbled across it before at one time or another myself when researching a film before purchase. But if I didn’t tout this site before now, shame on me. Great writing.

For those who would prefer to scour an alphabetical list of entries, click here.

“What’s the matter? You look like you’ve been on a hayride with Dracula.”

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Under The Radar: Venus Throw

As soon as I saw this cover I knew I had to buy the CD.

When I first heard the title track, I was wondering if Venus Throw was one of my favorite cowpunk bands performing under an alias. Damned if Bruce Smith’s voice didn’t call to mind E*I*E*I*O, Jason and the Scorchers and The Accelerators. All the songs were written by Smith, who also handled guitar and bass duties; Johanna Boulden played keyboards and Herbie Gimmel manned the drums.

The title track is a greasy, garagey tribute to its title, even bastardizing a bit of the “Peter Gunn” theme in the mix. That same pulsating downbeat is used to great effect in “Black Cherry Blues“, so guttural in tone that it sounds like the woofers in your cabinet are already blown out. (Attention kids – woofers are part of real speakers.) Love the humor in “Ten Horn Devil” as well; these guys have that roadhouse roots rock thing down. Swamp rock? Noirbilly?

Walk Dumaine” is a more kinetic paced rocker, but even that is ambling compared to the Webb Wilder meets Jerry Lee Lewis vibe of “Get Hot Or Get Gone“, a perfect closer that leaves you wanting more (and by “more” I mean “hit the repeat button while you Google for other albums”).

Film Noir is a tight and rocking appetizer, but now I have to get my hands on a copy of Raised Right, Gone Wrong, which came out last year after an apparent eight year hiatus.  The band is now completely different except for Smith; Dirk Laguna is now on bass, with Eddie Brown on drums and Bill Motley on keyboards.

If it’s as good as this one, it’s another reward for my incessant tangent tracking and blind faith purchasing. Once again, how could I not buy a CD with a cover like that? Both covers were illustrated by Robert Ullman and I hope he and the band signed on for life.

Drop a mere fin for this great EP on CD Baby or Amazon.

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Happy Birthday, Edward Hopper!

I’m sure you’ve seen this iconic painting, “Nighthawks

I love this painting. A great quote about Edward Hopper’s work says it  “depicts loneliness and beauty in a uniquely stark yet pleasing fashion“…man, that’s just perfect.  Happy Birthday, Edward Hopper!

I even love the famous takeoff on it featuring Elvis Presley, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe and Humphrey Bogart as the four characters; it’s called Boulevard of Broken Dreams“. The obvious explanation for the title is that these are four icons of music and film sadly gone too soon.

I was given a coffee cup with both images on it as a gift; I can’t bear to use it for fear the images will fade from washing. Another gift, the two versions on crisp 6×9 postcards, framed and matted, hangs proudly over my right shoulder as I type this. (I guess when it comes to gift hints I’m as subtle as a cabbage fart.)

There are many other takeoffs on this famous painting, several are listed at this great site called Nighthawks Forever.

My favorite is the one featuring The Simpsons.

But enough about me! Today’s post celebrates the birthday of Edward Hopper, the man who painted that famous image I fell in love with the first time I saw it. Hopper’s style was very unique; if you enjoy noir films and period programs like Mad Men, you really should check out his work.

Did you know that Steve Martin is a Hopper collector? Check out this DVD.

Looking at these again today also made me pull out my old copy of Rock Dreams, the book by Guy Peellaert and Nik Cohn that is loaded with great caricatures of rock stars. Peellaert did the covers of Diamond Dogs and It’s Only Rock And Roll (by David Bowie and The Rolling Stones, respectively). Grab a copy if you can find one.

Hell, he knew Keith was a pirate thirty years before Johnny Depp did!

Who said art had to be stuffy, anyway?

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I Know Noir, But What Am I?

Who is cooler than Lee Marvin, anyway?

Who is cooler than Lee Marvin, anyway?

I was thinking about how it’s been a year since we lost Jules Dassin and Richard Widmark, both of whom lived into their nineties and died within a week of each other. Dassin, of course, was blacklisted in the famous McCarthy-influenced purge in Hollywood but moved to France and had a tremendous career. Widmark is one of the greatest actors to ever grace the silver screen, from his debut as psychotic killer Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death through a litany of westerns, war films and crime movies. In 1950, they collaborated on Night and The City, about a street hustler who tries to gain control of the wrestling racket in London, but of course is way over his head. It was a brilliant film, and like most noir features less-than-savory characters trying to make a move, and getting tantalizingly close before everything starts to fall apart. In a way, these are twisted morality plays, but I was first attracted to the genre because the stories seemed to be far more realistic than the typical Hollywood happy ending.

The noir era was before my time, but as an avid reader I devoured books by Jim Thompson and James M. Cain, and when lucky enough to catch them on pre-cable TV I would be mesmerized by Double Indemnity and D.O.A. and Out Of The Past. Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing is a masterpiece, and one of the first instances of retelling of the plot from each character’s perspective. Now, thanks to cable channels like TCM and AMC, many of these films found a whole new audience, and the advent of DVD made most available for fans like me. With few exceptions, these aren’t going to be at Blockbuster, but I’m thrilled to be able to buy and enjoy them in my own home. Recently both Fox and Warner Brothers issued film noir series, and apparently sales are good, because more surface every day. The Criterion Collection also releases many noir titles and they’re meticulous about print quality, bonus features and whatever extras (booklets, interviews, etc.) they can assemble to present as complete an experience as possible. Their releases can be a bit pricey, but you can find many of them at decent used rates, and better library systems will probably carry quite a few.

One of my favorites, and a steal even at the retail price, is The Killers, with both the 1946 film starring Burt Lancaster and the 1964 TV movie directed by Don Siegel and starring John Cassavetes and Lee Marvin, the latter having one of the greatest closing lines in movie history. Oh yeah, and there was this Ronald Reagan guy playing a bad man, which some Americans swear he did again years later in real life. And today – the event that led up to all those thoughts about noir and Widmark and Dassin – Criterion announced the April release of one of the best post-noir classics, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, starring Robert Mitchum and Peter Boyle. I am geeked!

I could list dozens of great films and probably fill a book about my love of film noir…and perhaps I will someday. But I wanted to use today’s blog feature to pay tribute to some of my film heroes like Widmark, Mitchum, Marvin, Lancaster and Cassavetes, as well as directors like Dassin, Sam Fuller, Don Siegel and Jean-Pierre Melville. I am so thankful that they were inspired to create such wonderfully vivid stories that are as thrilling to watch today as they must have been at the time. So if you are one who can appreciate that a great film is a transcendent journey, I encourage you to make the time to immerse yourself on the dark side of the street.

A series of noir and neo-noir films are being featured by Criterion  right now.

FOX studios has a noir series.

Warner Brothers does too.

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