Crime Films


REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

FLAXY MARTIN. Warner Brothers, 1949. Virginia Mayo, Zachary Scott, Dorothy Malone, Tom D’Andrea, Helen Westcott, Douglas Kennedy, Elisha Cook Jr., Douglas Fowley. Monte Blue. Director: Richard L. Bare.

   Speaking of Douglass Fowley, he plays a snide cop with an exaggerated opinion of his own brains in Flaxy Martin, one of those great Warner’s B’s like they just don’t do no more. Zachary Scott is an underworld lawyer who wants to quit working for gangster Tom D’Andrea, but can’t tear himself loose from chanteuse Virginia Mayo, who — unbeknownst to Scott — has a business/pleasure relationship with D’Andrea herself, and is being well-rewarded for keeping him on the string.

   Tom D’Andrea [later best known for playing Chester A. Riley’s close buddy on TV] does a fine job as a virile, half-sharp gangster, kind of in the nasty-Ronald-Reagan mode, and stands up quite nicely against noir archetypes Scott and Elisha Cook Jr., who is a bit scarier than usual here as a sawed-off wanna-be who keeps calling Scott “Shamus” – shouldn’t it be Mouthpiece?

   Director Richard Bare is best remembered for his work on 77 Sunset Strip, but he does a workmanlike job here, making the most of bits like Scott being stalked through the streets by Cook Jr., a roof-top fist-fight, and a really memorable scene of our hero leaping from a speeding train and plummeting down a ravine.

   Anyway, the story offers no surprises whatever, and the characters seem motivated by nothing so much as a need to move the plot along, but there’s enough old-fashioned Style here, backed up by a syrupy echt-40s Musical score, to make it lotsa fun.

— Reprinted from A Shropshire Sleuth #71, May 1995.

   

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:

   

DUFFY. (Columbia Pictures, 1968. James Coburn, James Mason, James Fox, Susannah York, John Alderton. Screenplay: Donald Cammell and Harry Joe Brown Jr., both of whom are credited with the story along with Pierre La Salle. Directed by Robert Parrish.

   Nothing ages worse than old hipster unless it is old hipster comedy, dripping with pretension as only hipsters could drip pretension, and imagining mostly overage pre-hippy/Eurotrash types planning a big caper.

   Luckily for everyone involved this one has James Coburn and Susannah York (“I may be a hooker, but I am absolutely not a slut.”) to deliver actual cool and real sensuality to what would be without them as painful to watch as John Alderton’s rather thick English twit performance here.

   Coburn is Duffy, a former con man and smuggler recruited by half brothers Stefane and Antony (James Fox and John Alderton) and Stefane’s girl Segolene’s (York) plot to play pirate robbing the ship the Osiris out of Tangiers carrying a fortune belonging to their cynical and cruel father J. C. Calvert (James Mason).

   It would help if Mason’s character was at least nasty. As is his greatest sin seems to be rightly thinking his sons are useless and a dunce, and he isn’t far off.

   And I would point out that since this is an English film with English characters it would help if the characters weren’t given silly names like Stefane, Antony, and Segolene with no explanation.

   The boys remember Duffy who was a mate on their father’s yacht when Stefane and Segolene come up with the idea and convince the retired crook to go into the caper with them despite his reservations. While they stay in Tangier at Duffy’s place (decorated in porn chic for lack of any other description to fit the absolutely tasteless decor), York and Duffy become involved as the time for the shipment grows closer and their plans go into effect.

   Among the better things about this are the location shooting and gorgeous cinematography, if only someone had told Cammell and Brown (whose career is as spotty as Cammell’s) they weren’t actually the least bit hip, and Parrish had not let himself be convinced they were this might have been a pretty good caper film, but as it is the heist itself is anti-climactic and boring.

   As it stands everyone is too old and stuck with terrible dialogue:

      “I hope Stefane is okay. I hope Stephane hopes I’m okay.”

      “It has occurred to me I’m getting used to you finally, and I probably love you in the worst possible way, I guess.”

   It’s no “We’ll always have Paris.”

   Cammell did somewhat better with his own film Performance (still pretentious, but interesting) and Demon Seed (which he hated and tried to make into a comedy), but basically this film is as problematic as his career. Even Coburn stumbles over some of the dialogue that sounds as if it was written as a Mad Magazine parody of Jack Kerouac.

   But Coburn can’t help but be Coburn and even here is ultra cool, while York is incredibly sexy despite it all, those icy eyes fascinating, though she and Coburn both scored better in the altogether more satisfying Sky Riders.

   James Mason is James Mason no matter what he is in, and that is always a bonus.

   There is a twist if you make it that long, but it really isn’t enough to lift this above the level of interesting. And honestly, if you didn’t guess the twist from the start, you weren’t paying attention.

   But I will give it that the end and Coburn being Coburn plus Lou Rawls singing “I’m Satisfied” end it better than the rest of the movie deserves.

   Arguably this might have been better seen in a theater in 1968 when I was 18, but I don’t think so. I didn’t take drugs then either, and only that could help this.

   What a huge waste of talent and beautiful scenery.

   

RED EYE. DreamWorks, 2005. Rachel McAdams, Cillian Murphy, Brian Cox, Jayma Mays. Director: Wes Craven.

   This is first and foremost a Wes Craven movie. It’s beautifully photographed, the shots are well taken, the music is well-chosen and perfectly timed, and he’ll almost have you believing the story, too.

   Which has to do with a gang of terrorists forcing a young female hotel manager to make sure their target in is the right room at the right time. I hate to tell you more about the story than I knew when I started watching the movie, but suffice it to say that she is on an overnight flight back to town, and their means of coercion has to do with her father. Watch the clip below:

         

   Cillian Murphy is the coercive factor, charming at first when the two meet “accidentally” at the airport, but turning into the evil twin brother of Illya Kuryakin, once they are on the plane, in the air, and he in the seat next to her.

   She’s trapped in the air with him. Once he tells her what he needs to have her do, what can she do? Enough to fill 60 minutes of flight time, more or less, he the cat, she the mouse. But she’s resourceful to just barely keep the PG rating for this movie.

   Once off the plane, the action is nearly non-stop, leaving the viewer little time to wonder about small little details, not until the movie’s over. If you had as much fun as I did along the way, you may not care. Otherwise all bets are off.

   

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:

   

BOILING POINT. Warner Brothers, 1993. Wesley Snipes, Dennis Hopper, Lolita Davidovich, Viggo Mortensen, Seymour Cassel, Jonathan Banks, Dan Hedaya. Screenplay: James B. Harris, based on the novel Money Men by Gerald Petievich. Director: James B. Harris. Currently streaming on Starz & Amazon Prime.

   The first thing you should know about Boiling Point is that it was written and directed by veteran Hollywood producer James B. Harris, who is still perhaps best known in some circles for producing Stanley Kubrick’s iconic noir film The Killing (1956). I say that’s the first thing you should know because, in many ways, Boiling Point is a 1950s film noir embellished in bright neon 1990s colors. It’s got a lean screenplay, a coterie of great character actors, a seedy Hollywood setting, and a plot that features a cop and a criminal both involved with the same call girl.

   Based on the book Money Men by Gerald Petievich (whose novel To Live and Die in L.A. was brought to the big screen by William Friedkin), the film stars Wesley Snipes as Jimmy Mercer, a tired and jaded Secret Service Agent obsessed with tracking down the man who killed one of his colleagues. Snipes is an actor that I like very much, but his performance here is neither exceptional nor mediocre. It’s just solid. Nothing more, nothing less. Dan Hedaya, one of the most familiar faces for those immersed in 1990s film and television, portrays Mercer’s partner. He’s good here. As he always is.

   The real star of the movie is Dennis Hopper who really sinks his teeth into the role. He portrays Red Diamond, a perpetual loser and down on his luck criminal always developing his next scheme. Released from prison and in debt to a mafia sort, Diamond teams up with the amoral enforcer Ronnie (Viggo Mortensen) to get into the “paper” (counterfeit dollars) game. There’s a bunch of subplots, all involving various criminal sorts. These include the old timer Virgil Leach (played to the hilt by Seymour Cassell); crooked lawyer Max Waxman (a perfectly cast Jonathan Banks); and a bag man (Paul Gleason) who conducts his dirty deals in a parking lot. Diamond, who has a special fondness for big band music, also begins an affair of sorts call girl Vikki Dunbar (Lolita Davidovich).

   As it turns out, Jimmy Mercer – now estranged from his wife – is in love with Vikki. Unfortunately, the woman that ties these two men together is not a well-developed character. In addition, the film never really explores this ill-fated love triangle aside from showing us that it exists. Part of this, I suppose, is due to the relative short running time (92 minutes).

   I don’t know that there’s too much more than I can say about this film other than that it exudes atmosphere and never condescends to the audience. It’s a solid crime film. One that, with a few changes here and there, could just have easily been a moderately successful 82 minute black and white Columbia Pictures film from the 1950s.

   

REVIEWED BY MIKE TOONEY:

   

THE STRANGERS IN 7A. Made for TV film. CBS, 14 November 1972. Running time: 74 minutes. Cast: Andy Griffith (Artie Sawyer), Ida Lupino (Iris Sawyer), Michael Brandon (Billy), James A. Watson, Jr. (Riff), Tim McIntire (Virgil), Susanne Benton (Claudine; billed as Susanne Hildur), Connie Sawyer (Mrs. Layton), Virginia Vincent (woman in bank). Writers: Eric Roth, based on the novel by Fielden Farrington. Music: Morton Stevens. Producers: Mark Carliner Productions and Palomar Pictures International. Director: Paul Wendkos.

   Artie Sawyer is the superintendent of an apartment house. The marriage between him and his wife Iris has taken a downturn, so when she leaves town to visit her sister, Artie moseys down to the local bar to “relax.” It isn’t long, however, before his relaxed mood is dissipated when he encounters Claudine, a pretty young thing who uses every available (and some not readily available) feminine wile to coax Artie into letting her spend the night in one of his apartments — at which she is predictably successful, since it’s plainly obvious what’s on Artie’s mind.

   It’s while she and Arnie are experiencing a really close encounter with each other that three men (with, we soon learn, brief cases containing sawed-off shotguns and something even more explosive) barge in and spoil the mood; the only thing these three have on their minds is that $800,000 in the vault of the bank that just happens to be next door to Artie’s apartment house . . .

   And that’s the first third of this movie, which takes its time to get moving. Like John Payne and Dick Powell before him, Andy Griffith must have been anxious to change his well-established small-town persona to something a little more adult and cashable; this one succeeds in doing that by having Griffith’s character engage in an extra-marital affair — although, to be clear, there isn’t enough time for it to go anywhere. Griffith would later do a few more made for TV films like this one before landing the plum role of Matlock.

   The most impressive cast member isn’t Ida Lupino, ordinarily a splendid actress and director, who surprisingly doesn’t have much to do here. The standout is Michael Brandon, who almost steals the show as the passive-aggressive ring leader; what happens to his character is fitting but comes off as anticlimactic considering what has gone before.

   All in all, The Strangers in 7A is a fairly standard but efficient low budget caper movie; no plot surprises, of course, but well acted and definitely not a waste of time. It’s available on video from Synergy Entertainment and, for now, YouTube’s Cult Cinema Classics channel.

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

   

PETE KELLY’S BLUES (Warners/Mark VII, 1955) with Jack Webb, Janet Leigh, Lee Marvin, Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, Edmond O’Brien, Martin Milner, and Andy Devine. Screenplay by Richard L. Breen; based on the 1951 radio series of the same title. Directed by Jack Webb.

   I knew Jack Webb could be funny — screamingly funny on the Tonight Show — and I knew he could be preachy and boring — like his late-60s revival of Dragnet — but I never thought he could be exciting till I saw this.

   The year is 1927:  Gangster Edmond O’Brien starts squeezing Kansas City jazz musicians for protection money. When they resist, he has one of them killed and the others knuckle under. He even pressures bandleader Webb into using his mistress in the act. At last, sickened by O’Brien’s brutality, Webb rebels in a violent shoot-out.

   
   
   

   A plain tale, simply told, and kudos to writer Breen and director Webb for adding just enough depth to keep it real, and just enough action to keep it moving. Webb himself is effectively laconic, in the Dick Powell style, with one of the great lines in the Movies:

      “Call the police and get someone to help bring Joey in.”

      “Joey? What’s wrong?”

      “It’s raining on him.”

   Watching this, I never figured out why Janet Leigh fell helplessly in love with Jack Webb. I mean, he’s not as dour as usual here, but he’s still no Errol Flynn. More like an Americanized Henry Daniell. But the other characters ring true: Peggy Lee’s lush chantoosie, Martin Milner’s hothead, and even Andy Devine, unrecognizable as a tough cop.

   Best of all, there’s Lee Marvin as a laconic clarinetist. This character does almost nothing to advance the story, but he’s there anyway, with his droopy eyes and laid-back attitude, lending an authentic jazz-band tone to the proceedings. And he handles the licorice stick convincingly. The fact of his existence in this film — in a medium where every character is a bit of added time & expense — speaks volumes for Breen’s writing and Webb’s knowing production sense.

   Add the lush WarnerColor and some real fine, down-home, goat-ropin’ music, and you have a film here well worth your time.

   

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

   

“C”-MAN. Laurel Films / Film Classics, 1949. Dean Jagger, John Carradine, Harry Landers, Lottie Elwen, Rene Paul. Director:  Joseph Lerner.

   “C”-Man is what we film-lovers call “an enjoyable little B.” Dean Jagger, in a Wig that would embarrass Howard Cosell, plays a rugged Customs Inspector looking for the smugglers who killed his buddy. Second-billed John Carradine gets about five minutes’ screen time as an alcoholic Doctor, and someone named Harry Landers, who was never heard of since, puts in a high-key, tightly wound performance as a barely-controlled psycho. Director Joseph Lerner covers the bare-bones budget with some interesting camera angles and rapid-fire location shooting, but that raised an interesting question for me:

   Irving Lerner was an energetic fast-paced maker of really impressive, really cheap films like Murder by Contract. Katz’s Film Encyclopedia credits Irving Lerner’s oevre to Joseph, apparently assuming they are one and the same, and it’s easy to watch “C”-Man and pick out the odd bits of style that turned up later in Murder by Contract. But Style is a fickle mistress. Does anyone know for sure if Irving and Joseph are one and the same?

               

   Directorial flourishes aside, the best part of “C”-Man for me was seeing mild-mannered Dean Jagger cast so violently against type. Kind of interesting, actually. Jagger somehow adds a layer of depth to the film, suggesting that maybe Tough Guys can be soft-spoken, gentle sorts without losing too much credibility. Works for me.

— Reprinted from A Shropshire Sleuth #66, July 1994.

   

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

   

BLOOD MONEY. 20th Century, 1933. George Bancroft, Judith Anderson, Frances Dee, Chick Chandler, Blossom Seeley. Director: Rowland Brown

   Where a movie like SOUND OF FURY (reviewed here, and Sweet Lord, how I hate that title!) tries to analyze its characters, a dandy little film called BLOOD MONEY seeks only to understand them, with much happier results: fast-paced and thoughtful, cynical and sentimental, BLOOD MONEY deals out the tale of a bail bondsman (flamboyantly played by beefy George Bancroft) and his sadder-but-wiser gal — a remarkable tum by Judith Anderson, better known for prim, patrician parts in REBECCA and LAURA, in slinky gowns, brassy makeup, and weary sang-froid.

   This is a film that sustains itself on attitude rather than plot, but what story there is spins around Bancroft’s sudden infatuation with debutante Francis Dee, who (the script hints) likes men who play rough. Bancroft jilts Anderson for Dee, who ditches Bancroft for a fling with Anderson’s kid brother (Chick Chandler) a bank robber out on bail, then connives to have him betray Bancroft, thus heading the whole cast into shootings, gang war and general aggravation.

   That’s the crux of the thing, but BLOOD MONEY doesn’t waste a lot of time on it; what it does is limn some vivid cameos of colorful characters and let them live and breathe on the screen a while. Chandler and Dee do a fine, understated sketch of flashy self-destruction, and there are some memorable bit parts of gang bosses, bent politicos and crooked cops. There’s even a flamboyant lesbian. But what stays in the mind is the relaxed and altogether real-feeling relationship between Bancroft and Anderson, as written by Hal Long (who also wrote ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES) and directed by Rowland Brown, a talented director whose penchant for violence got him black-listed.

   The scene where Anderson and Bancroft break up tugs at all the right strings: it’s upstairs at Anderson’s speakeasy, with everyone partying down below. Bancroft tries to let her down gently, she grimly hands him his hat, and he slowly walks downstairs, feeling like a heel. As faded, jaded Blossom Seeley croons “Melancholy Baby,” he tosses off a last drink at the bar and mutters, “That song kills me,” before walking out of her life. It’s a moment worthy of the great romantic films, and all the more moving for showing up in a film as fast and tough as this one.

— Reprinted from The Hound of Dr. Johnson #40, September 2005.

   

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:

   

MADONNA OF THE DESERT. Republic Pictures, 1948. Lynne Roberts, Donald Barry, Don Castle, Sheldon Leonard, Paul Hurst, Roy Barcroft. Screenplay: Albert Demond. Story: Frank Wisbar. Directed by George Blair. Currently available on YouTube.

   This low budget film about crime and faith and retribution is almost the stuff of a good movie. Anyway it would be a good movie with just a touch here and there and a better director, cast, and budget.

   Nick Julian (Sheldon Leonard) is a slick dealer in dubious art who cheats and if necessary, steals the art he needs. He’s recently discovered that Joe Salinas (Don Castle) a New Mexico rancher owns a fabulous Madonna statue believed to be a product of the Renaissance brought here by his Conquistador ancestors.

   Nick wants the statue and will get it anyway he can, and after a trip to New Mexico ends in a failure to buy the statue cheap he decides to steal it, but not by main force. Instead he has his forger make an expensive copy and will have tough but slick Monica Dale (Lynne Roberts) work her way into the arms of veteran Salinas and switch the statues.

   If you think you know where this is going, you have obviously seen this plot unreel a few hundred times in books, films, and television episodes.

   Monica arrives and goes to work, while Nick and his hired thug Buck (Roy Barcroft) wait nearby in a cabin. When she tries to make the switch at a wedding where Joe has loaned the statue out, the altar bursts into flame and Monica’s dress catches fire. But the Madonna does not burn and miraculously Monica is not burned.

   About this time, Tony French (Donald Barry) shows up, a bitter con just out of prison who has found out about Nick’s plans. His appearance complicates things for Monica who is suffering doubts and a major change of heart and falling for Joe despite his foreman Pete (Paul Hurst) being suspicious.

   You can figure out from here than Nick and Tony will cancel each other out, and there will be a happy ending after a little gunplay. Joe even turns out to be less of a sap than you think.

   This is just barely a medium time passer so long as you aren’t actually paying to see it. Leonard and Barry could do this in their sleep, and don’t, but it’s a near thing. Roberts isn’t quite up to the lead here, or is betrayed by the direction and having no one better than Don Castle to play off of in her best scenes. In any case she falls flat both as a bad girl and a reformed bad girl, and has little to work with anyway.

   Castle is a nice looking guy, but he delivers his lines like he was in a high school play. That’s enough to kill the big emotional scenes where he talks about the Madonna saving him after he was crippled and in a wheelchair when he came back from the war. I’ve heard car insurance pitches delivered with more emotional impact. Roberts tries hard but must have been fighting a yawn the whole time.

   This kind of story requires more than just a flat presentation. Add some moody photography, a couple of leads with a modicum of charisma, and a push here and there to the corn, and it would work. This one is too cheap to even manage an inspirational musical score. There’s not even a closeup of the Madonna using effective lighting, just as well as it looks like a plastic replica from a Vatican souvenir shop.

   I’ve seen episodes of half hour syndicated television series from the Fifties filmed more imaginatively.

   It’s almost a good enough plot to work, almost a decent little movie. Unfortunately pros like Leonard, Barry, and Hurst can’t save it from Castle’s bland hero or Roberts miscast bad girl, and even a charismatic pair of leads would have trouble with this direction and unimaginative production.

   I will give it this, though. Barry puts some real energy into his scenes, and if the movie had concentrated on his character it might have been a solid little B crime drama. It doesn’t, and it isn’t, and nothing relieves the flat-footed production.

   

SHOOT ’EM UP. New Line Cinema, 2007. Clive Owen, Paul Giamatti, Monica Bellucci. Screenwriter-director: Michael Davis.

   There’s a host of other people in this movie, mostly of them ending up dead, but the three that I listed above are all that really matter. Clive Owen is the man who witnesses a pregnant woman being run down and attacked; he rescues her, she dies, but somehow in the confusion he manages to deliver the baby. He needs assistance, and quickly, but where? Monica Bellucci as Donna Quintano, a prostitute who agrees to help.

   Their problems are not over, however. Paul Giamatti, as brilliant as always, is the head of the squad of men who are on their trail from that point on — until the end of the movie, and who end up wholly frustrated in what turns out to be an entirely useless chase. For as we all know, the good guys always aim right the first time, and the bad guys couldn’t hit the inside of a barn from inside the barn.

   

   Cannon fodder is all they are. What seems like thousands of bodies pile up, but I’m sure I read somewhere that there were only 150. Some people have little else to do with their time than to create statistics like this. Don’t look at me. All I did was watch it.

   The sexy scenes are minimal. There are a few gross out scenes, that is true, but other than that, this is a movie filled with non-stop movie violence. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

   What I think is that this is a even better Jack Reacher film than Jack Reacher, the film itself, the one with a pint-sized Tom Cruise trying to fill Jack Reacher’s shoes. He did surprisingly OK, but Clive Owen does an even better job playing an antisocial and psychotic hero, the kind of guy who drifts into town and waits for trouble to find him.

   Which it certainly does in this film, along with a girl who detests him at first — no, that’s unfair — actively dislikes him, but then as she’s also caught up in their plight together, she learns to like him a lot better.

   My purpose here is not to tell you how much I liked this film, or not, but to let you know what to expect if you decide to watch it anyway, in which case, my job is done.

   

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