Summary Noir Reviews: when Pushover comes to Whirlpool

Tomorrow Is Another Day

Tomorrow Is Another Day (1951) A rare Warner-b. Felix Feist ( The Man Who Cheated Himself and The Devil Thumbs a Ride) helms a redemption noir with true pathos. The redemption is played out in a farm-worker’s camp with shades of The Grapes of Wrath. The two leads, Ruth Roman and Steve Cochran, are great and deliver with real grit and integrity.

The Glass Key (1942) A very flat adaptation of Hammett’s novel starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake. But William Bendix is a knockout as a queer sadistic hood in the darkest scene, which succeeds because it is faithful to the novel. The scene opens in a basement dive with a soulful black singer Lillian Randolph (uncredited) on a piano performing a bluesy number, and climaxes in a seedy private room with a drunken Bendix strangling his hoodlum boss, while Ladd looks on holding a “roscoe”.

Pushover (1954) is a wide-screen noir as hip as an LA martini, where an LA cop redefines Double Indemnity, with bravura direction by unknown stringer Richard Quine. Fred MacMurray and Kim Novak in her first role are awesome! Darkly forlorn like an empty city street at the witching hour.

Lured (1947) is an entertaining camp thriller set in London. Douglas Sirk (!) directs a virtual cavalcade of talent, George Sanders as a good guy, a luscious Lucille Ball as the serio-comic heroine, Cedric Hardwicke as the bad guy who writes Baudelaire-like poetry, Charles Coburn as a wily police inspector, with an over-the-top cameo from Boris Karloff as an off-the-wall washed-up fashion designer!

Fallen Angel (1945) is as tight and elegant noir as you would want. Otto Preminger steers a solid cast through an ethical labyrinth: Dana Andrews in perhaps his best role as a grifter on the skids, Linda Darnell is a femme-savant whose sexual chemistry sends the male protagonists’ libidos haywire, Broderick Crawford is a deadly cop, and Alice Faye is the salvation angel.

LA Confidential (1997) is a visually stunning thriller: great direction, production design, score, camera-work, and editing. Strong performances all-round. But it has no real soul and lacks a true noir sensibility. The screenplay is hopelessly contrived, and the ending is pat. Mickey Spillane on steroids.

The Blue Gardenia (1953) is a minor Fritz Lang melodrama which has some noir elements. Anne Baxter shines as a young woman who thinks she has killed a guy, but Lang was not really interested, and Richard Conte as a cynical reporter delivers yet another weak performance. The saccharine ending disappoints. Nick Musucura’s contribution as DP is sadly undistiguished, though some moody scenes impress.

You Only Live Once (1937) also from Fritz Lang is a fascinating movie. Henry Fonda and the luminous Sylvia Sidney as star-crossed lovers become desperadoes on the run, and the stunning ending presages Gun Crazy’s fog-bound denouement by a full decade. As a relentless fatalistic melodrama moodily shot by virtuoso DP Leon Shamroy, it is a real contender as the first poetic realist film – beating the French by a full year. Consider this, Carne’s Port of Shadows was released in 1938, and Pépé le Moko debuted in France on 28 January 1937, while You Only Live Once opened in the US only a day later on 29 January 1937! The amour fou of Lang’s feature I think bumps the less romantic Pepe Le Moko.

Witness to Murder (1954) directed by Roy Rowland and lensed by John Alton is a minor but involving thriller with a noir angle. Barbara Stanwyck as the witness and a deliciously sinister George Sanders as the murderer hold it all together. Alton’s contribution is subdued, but the opening scenes around an LA apartment building on a breezy summer night are nicely atmospheric.

Laura (1944) is elegant noir melodrama. Gene Tierney is an exquisite iridescent angel and Dana Andrews a stolid cop who nails the killer after falling for a dead dame. Clifton Webb as the homme-fatale is his annoying best.

Citizen Kane (1941) Its sheer audacity always amazes. Though the scenario is beginning to feel dated with the episodic nature of the narrative less than satisfying.

Kiss the Blood Off My Hands (1948) is an atmospheric noir set in London directed by Norman Foster and lensed by Russell Metty with a great Miklos Rózsa score. Burt Lancaster and Joan Fontaine shine as two loners. The trauma of the returning WW2 vet is given an original treatment and Foster’s direction is polished. Norman Foster started out in the 30’s directing Charlie Chan and Mr Moto features, and does not have a high profile. He got directing credit for the Welles’ scripted Journey Into Fear (1943) starring Joseph Cotton, but the cognoscenti claim that Welles is the real helmsman. Foster also directed the sharp b-noir Woman on the Run (1950), and he deserves high praise for Kiss the Blood Off My Hands, which ranks with the best of Siodmak and Tourneur.

Black Angel (1946) is a visually elegant psycho-noir from a Cornell Woolrich story. Dan Duryea and June Vincent investigating the murder of a female blackmailer are impressive, with good support from a suave Peter Lorre as a ‘good’ bad guy. An hypnotic dream climax is the highlight – with kudos to director Roy Neill (his last movie) and DP Paul Ivano.

Whirlpool (1949) is directed by Otto Preminger, and stars Gene Tierney, Richard Conte, and José Ferrer in another psycho-noir. Lensed by Arthur Miller with a wonderfully dramatic score from David Raksin. Preminger turns a preposterous frame-up by hypnosis premise into a polished melodrama. Tierney is vivacious but does little more than the role of a dupe demands. Conte is incredibly wooden and a real disappointment, while Ferrer steals the picture as a suave homme-fatale, who has real wit and cunning. Broderick Crawford is good as a skeptical scruffy cop. Preminger uses mise-en-scene deftly to expose the truth below the surface. In an early scene, we have Tierney in close-up while Ferrer delivers lines of seductive poison, and as he approaches Tierney with his promises of sincerity his shadow fall across her face…

7 thoughts on “Summary Noir Reviews: when Pushover comes to Whirlpool”

  1. Hi! Tony,
    Nice summaries of each film, but of the fourteen films that you have summarized here on the following… three films I must “seek” out to watch for the first time are Tomorrow Is Another Day (1951), Witness to Murder (1954), You Only Live Once (1937)

    …I watched the 1947 film Lured, for the first time only after you, “tweeted” the film on Twitters.

    I also watched the 1997 film LA Confidential, with my mother (mère), she liked the ending, but I ‘am not quite sure if author (James) Ellroy, liked the ending of his film LA Confidential.

    By the way, do you have a Widget for

    DeeDee 😉


  2. This is a beautifully-penned and engrossing round-up, which hopefully willusher in at least a modest return of this altar for film noir lovers. The writing is informed, polished and unpretentious. I guess I can say the only major disagreement I have with you here is with L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, which for me vied with GATTACA as the best film of 1997. But you’ve been steadfast on this position and I respect it. I haven’t seen every film here, but most, and can only issue effusive praise for the insights posed. You even boldly issued a disclaimer for CITIZEN KANE. LOL! THE GLASS KEY and THE BLUE GARDENIA deserve the slight of hand.


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