Patterns (1956): Corporate Noir

Ruthless machinations in the executive suite.  An older executive with a social conscience is ‘pushed’ to make way for a younger talented manager from a regional office. Murder by another name.  Rod Serling’s 1954 tele-play hit the big screen in 1956 with powerhouse performances from Van Heflin, Ed Begley, and Everett Sloane.

Patterns (of Power) United Artists (1956) Dir: Fielder Cook | DP: Boris Kaufman

The Black Cat (1934): Erotic nightmare

The Black Cat (1934)

Edgar G. Ulmer’s trash-noir Detour (1945) has a cult following. The film relates a fatalistic story of a guy so dumb he blames fate for the consequences of his own foolishness. Anne Savage, as the street-wise dame who incredulously falls for the sap, is memorable.

Earlier in 1934 Ulmer directed The Black Cat starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Loosely based on a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, the movie is a camp masterpiece.  Set in the wonderfully gothic modernist house of a sinister architect, it is a mad expressionist tale of abduction, revenge, sexual obsession, camp horror, and unbridled eroticism.  Sex is the primary motif and there is a sense of unreality with the action moving with the strange fractured incoherence of a dream. In a sense Ulmer prefigures the oneiric and sexual motifs of the classic noir period. A must-see.

This trailer I have created focuses on the pervasive eroticism… see the shapely legs of the comely heroine get the Von Sternberg treatment!

Noir Comic Moments #2: Not Sylvester the Cat but Nicholas

Hollywood Story (1951) is a programmer from Universal International that has a 50s television feel.  Richard Conte is a producer in LA who wants to make a movie about the murder of a big silent movie director 20 odd years before, and his delving into the past has violent consequences.  A strictly b-effort that plays well as a whodunit with noir atmospherics, and some really funny lines.

The actor who plays Sylvester  in the scene featured here is, Joseph Mell,  a 50s bit-player in his first part (uncredited):

Caged (1950): “the plot of our life sweats in the dark like a face”

Caged (1950)

… the plot of our life sweats in the dark like a face
the mystery of childbirth, of childhood itself
grave visitations
what is it that calls to us?
why must we pray screaming?
why must not death be redefined?
we shut our eyes we stretch out our arms
and whirl on a pane of glass
an afixiation a fix on anything the line of life the limb of a tree
the hands of he and the promise that she is blessed among women…”

Patti Smith – Dancing Barefoot (1979)

Caged (1950) is a gritty hard-hitting social problem picture from Warner Bros. A young woman is jailed after she is an unwitting accomplice in a gas-station robbery with her husband, who is killed during the heist.  The sheltered girl on admittance to a women’s prison discovers she is pregnant, but her condition does not protect her from the humiliation and brutalisation of prison life. Melodramatic but with a strong social conscience that targets corrupt authorities, the movie is downbeat and pessimistic.  Eleanor Parker in the lead is powerfully convincing, and is supported by a strong female cast, including Agnes Moorehead as a compassionate and crusading  superintendent, and Hope Emerson as a corrupt and sadistic block matron.  Though set-bound the regimentation and claustrophobia of incarceration is given a strong expressionist treatment by director John Cromwell and DP Carl Guthrie.  A moody evocative score from Max Steiner adds emotional depth.

The trailer which I have put together  is deliberately impressionistic and focuses on the anguished transformation of Parker’s character from scared girl to street-wise dame…

Blues in the Night (1941): Noir Counterpoint

Blues in the Night (1941)

Blues in the Night (Warner Bros 1941) is a fascinating musical noir melodrama about a budding white jazz band scripted by Robert Rossen, directed by Anatole Litvak, and atmospherically lensed by Ernest Haller, with a b-cast, including a very young Elia Kazan, as a dizzy jazz clarinetist. These impeccable leftist credentials are reflected in the plot and the resolution which talk to personal integrity and the values of solidarity and loyalty. Amazingly for the period an establishing scene in a police lock-up respectfully credits the music’s black roots. Tied up in all this is a noir arc with a hood played by Lloyd Nolan and a killer performance by Betty Field (an actress who sadly went nowhere) as a cheap femme-fatale.  The socially aware feel-good ending is tempered by the noir-like denouement for the hoods and the femme-noir.

This movie is a serious contender as a seminal film noir,  remembering The Maltese Falcon was made in the same year, Stranger On the Third Floor only a year earlier in 1940, and Double Indemnity a full three years later in 1944.  Check out the trailer: