Police Story 2

policestory2Police Story 2, 125 mins, 1988, 4K UHD

Starring & directed by Jackie Chan – The Cannonball Run, Police Story,  Rush Hour, Rush Hour 2, The Foreigner

Starring Maggie Cheung – Police Story, In the Mood for Love, Hero, 2046

Well it only took me close to six months, which is ridiculous really considering what I paid for it, but I finally got back to Eureka’s Police Story boxset and watched Police Story 2. There’s three cuts on the disc, I went with an extended Hong Kong cut with original Cantonese dialogue/English subtitles (the foreign cuts are apparently much shorter).

Maybe thanks to having watched the first film (which had proved something of a disorientating experience) and thus knowing what to expect, I actually enjoyed this one more. Its as daft as the first, none of the characters behave normally and none of the relationships really convince but its clear that films like this are operating on some other level compared to most films. To a degree that also applies to action films in general, as this is far more Buster Keaton than, say, John Wick, which, tonally alone, is a pretty big distinction. To be sure, the stunts and action sequences are easily just as impressive but its clear that the action choreography is as nuts as the writing of the plot, the dialogue and the characters. Thankfully (for me, anyway) the humour, which seemed particularly off-putting in the first film, is toned down in this one… not that this is the Empire Strikes Back of the Police Story saga, you understand, but it did seem, well maybe a little darker, more grounded. I wouldn’t say more realistic, really, but… well, this film is definitely less of the cartoon that the first film seemed to be.

The costly carnage that police officer Chan Ka Kui (Jackie Chan) wrought apprehending the first film’s criminals has resulted him being demoted to a traffic cop, and to make matters worse for him, the crime boss Mr Chu, who he put behind bars, has gotten out due to health issues.  Mr Chu tasks some of his men to harass and threaten Chan’s long-suffering girlfriend May (Maggie Cheung).  Meanwhile, Chan’s old bosses consider reinstating him to save them risking their own careers when a group of terrorist bombers blow up a shopping mall and extort a major real estate corporation for $10 million, threatening more bombings.

I did have such a good time with this. Maybe I was primed by the increasing daftness of those recently-viewed Rocky films, but I also think the film had been reined in a little from the mad theatrics of the first. It certainly seemed less slapstick, or maybe it was just that I was better attuned to it – some of the humour was terrific (Bill Tung as Chan’s police boss Uncle Bill was a delight), and as a madcap action flick, the film works brilliantly. You don’t critique these films for plot, that seems clear. Its all about engineering elaborate stunt/action scenes as increasingly spectacular as possible. Its all about entertainment and on that level, yep, this works very well.

Regards those stunts though- the end-credits sequence shows us those same stunts going wrong and the injuries they result in (particularly an horrific one for Maggie Cheung). Its sort of like an outtake reel, which only serves to reveal how much riskier they were than I had thought-  I had watched the film assuming there was some kind of trickery to most of them;  the pyrotechnics were pretty astonishing, so I assumed some fakery there (maybe its the use of CGI these days making us more relaxed/complacent about stunt work in films). But it turns out they were much more dangerous and intimidating than I had originally considered possible for what is, essentially, a daft action movie, but I imagine they do make these films eminently rewatchable.

Well, just one more to go- Police Story 3: Supercop. Maybe I won’t be waiting as many months to get around to that one.

Vertigo remake? Say it isn’t so…

vertigo2I thought at first that it was merely clickbait; I’m always getting suckered by Google into reading articles that are 90% fancy with a few breadcrumbs of fact. But it’s actually true- Paramount are in talks with Robert Downey Jr and writer/producer Steven Knight (Peaky Blinders) regards a remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece Vertigo. I don’t think I’ll ever read anything else so surprising (and horrifying) all year.  I thought Hollywood couldn’t sink any lower but there you go, it always seems to manage to dig into fresh abysses in its greed for a fresh buck.

Vertigo wasn’t even a success when it came out. It disappeared for years. It didn’t make money then so why would you think it would now? If its not about making money, then what is it? Surely there’s no artistic reason to be remaking Vertigo. It’d be like remaking Citizen Kane or Casablanca or  Gone with the Wind (well, the latter would be so problematic I’d be curious to see them try). These are what film enthusiasts consider to be the genuine, gilt-edged classics, one-of-a-kinds, and surely immune from the horrible Hollywood preoccupation with remakes and reboots and sequels and prequels. Well, so we thought, but if Vertigo is now considered fair game then all bets are off.

Forgive me a stupid question, but has Hollywood no class, no style, no shame? Surely some things are sacred, even in Tinseltown. What director would dare? What actress?  Vertigo is almost less a film and more a work of art. Its beautiful to look at, beautiful to hear, its of its Time and Place and really utterly alien to 2023, so much so that I can imagine modern audiences watching it today even being repulsed by it. I suppose one could argue it has already been remade (Brian De Palma’s Obsession from 1976) but that film didn’t call itself Vertigo, or feature the same characters, it just continued De Palma’s fascination with riffing on Hitchcock as if working out some mental anxiety all his own. No, this thing if it ever gets made is going to call itself Vertigo and somehow tell a story about a damaged man who abuses a woman in a world which has changed so much its surely impossible to purposefully tell that story.

I still can’t quite believe it (check the calendar; it must already be April 1st). Oh Hollywood, you’re breaking my heart. Vertigo is one of my top five favourite films of all time. Its a twisted fever-dream and its unique and you can’t have it, you can’t sully it with a modern-day remake that tries to make it contemporary. Call it something else, make it about some film nut who’s so obsessed with the film Vertigo that he’s haunted by it and it drives him to try remake his girlfriend as Kim Novak and in so doing real-life mimics art (i.e. it really doesn’t end well). But don’t call it Vertigo and don’t remake Hitchcock’s masterpiece. Leave it alone. Go remake Lucas’ 1977 Star Wars, you know you want to.

The Weekly Summary #12

rockyIVaThis week likely saw the last boxing film for awhile… Just as well- they have been pretty exhausting.

42. Day of the Outlaw (1959) – Blu-ray

43. Rocky IV: Rocky vs .Drago (1985/2021) – 4K UHD

44. The Man from Laramie (1955) – Blu-ray

45. The Suspect (1944) – Blu-ray

Jack Ryan Season Three, Episodes 1 -2 (2022) – Amazon Prime

Star Trek Picard Season Three, Episode 6 (2023) – Amazon Prime

Creed II (2018) – 4K UHD

It seemed inevitable, watching so many films from the Rocky franchise over the past few weeks, that my unlikely run of boxing movies (have you noticed the lack of sports films on this site over the years?) would end with watching both Rocky IV and Creed II in the same week. It seemed the perfect way of winding it up for awhile, since the two films fit together so well. For reasons that are likely obvious, I’d not seen Rocky IV since the distant days of VHS rentals;  this time around I took the opportunity to watch what is essentially a directors cut for the film- the  Rocky vs. Drago so-called ‘Ultimate Cut’ that apparently dates back from a few years ago (to be honest, I didn’t even know of its existence until learning it was included in this 4K edition).

Well, its clearly a better movie, but it’d be hard NOT to improve on that monstrous Reagan-era cheese-fest that was Rocky IV. That is not a good movie, although I know it does have its fans (something mostly down to the charm of nostalgia for those that grew up with it). Its actually rather fascinating, the distance in style and approach from the first, fairly gritty and grounded Rocky film from 1976 to the glorified pop video fantasy that is Rocky IV, which surely got carried away with all that 1980s excess (that ‘Living in America’ sequence has to be seen to be believed – my jaw dropped this time around). This new cut doesn’t entirely save the film, as its still essentially the same broken, cynically dumb nonsense that increasingly marginalised Stallone’s career, but it does benefit from better focus and toning down some of the 1980s tomfoolery (that bloody robot, ugh).

Bringing it a little bit more down to Planet Earth (well,  relatively) also helps it fit better alongside Creed II’s own narrative that moves the Rocky/Creed/Drago story onwards. I’m sure many Rocky fans will settle down to a double-bill of these two back-to-back for years to come, and surely it’ll be with that new Rocky vs Drago cut than the original version.  Although I hear a Drago spin-off film may be in the works, so that double-bill may become a trilogy yet. Be afraid.

As usual I had a bit of fun watching the original Rocky IV  and comparing the changes; I find that sort of stuff quite fascinating, how editing existing scenes can change so much, or taking some out entirely and replacing them with others. I was surprised how much of the earlier films were used in flashbacks, but I guess part of that may be because we didn’t own films back then, and audiences maybe had to be pushed into remembering stuff they hadn’t seen in possibly years in-between instalments.

Best film of this week will likely be no surprise, as its the only one I managed to find time to review- Day of the Outlaw, which was pretty tremendous, albeit it really deserved a better package than it got with its UK Blu-ray release. I appreciate its a fairly niche, lesser-known film and maybe I’ve been spoiled by what Indicator have been doing over the past few years (for, to be frank, far worse films), but still, its noticeably lacking a commentary in particular (hey, we may not get around to listening to them, but its good to have them).

Worst film of the week, well, it doesn’t matter how much Stallone tinkers with it, nothing can save Rocky IV. It really hasn’t aged well… although it wasn’t anything special back when it came out, as I recall (I hated films back then with all those rock music montages).

Day of the Outlaw (1959)

Outlaw 2Day of the Outlaw, 1959, 92 mins, Blu-Ray

Directed by Andre de TothPitfall

Starring Robert RyanThe Woman on the Beach, Crossfire, The Set-Up, The Woman on Pier 13, Born to be Bad, The Racket, On Dangerous Ground, The Naked Spur, House of Bamboo, Odds Against Tomorrow,

What a remarkable actor Robert Ryan was, what a presence he had. Having watched several of his films over the past year or so, I never fail to be amazed every time just how formidable he is, the tension in every moment, his conviction. He has so quickly become one of my favourite actors, in a mould quite all his own. A quite remarkable talent, and its sad that he’s likely largely unknown outside of film-lover circles: how many of the current generation even bother watching films fifty years old,  with the majority of Ryan’s filmography older even than that? I described him once as Gods Angry Man and that still remains true, most of his roles being complex, haunted, stormy characters at odds with the world around them. Absolutely fascinating: what modern-day equivalent do we have today in film?

Very often Ryan’s face is as cold and hard as the bleakest winter, so he’s perfectly cast here in what is, if nothing else, the definitive winter western; Day of the Outlaw is a terrific film, photographed in stark black and white to accentuate the harsh coldness of the setting and its characters, and really, there’s no-one here colder than Ryan’s Blaise Starrett, a rancher who is looking for trouble right from the start. “I’m through being reasonable,” he tells his foreman, Dan, when they arrive in the desolate, winter-blasted town of Bitters, Wyoming. Long, lingering panning-shots of the small town lost in the desolation easily establish what might as well be the End of the World; the road ends here, there is nowhere left to go.

Blaise is in town to settle a score with farmer Hal Crane (Alan Marshal) who is putting up barbed-wire fences around his property. Blaise attests it is because his cattle will have nowhere to graze and it will block his annual cattle drive through the area, but does it instead have something to do with his recent ill-fated love affair with Helen (Tina Louise), Crane’s beautiful young wife? The first reel of the film progresses like its going to be a character drama about a doomed romantic triangle; an interesting one, certainly, but nothing suggests what is going to happen next.

Crane is a middle-aged farmer who has recently moved into the area like a few settlers have, civilization finally coming to the West mainly because cowboys like Blaise have cleaned up the area of scum and thieves through their blood and sacrifice over several violent years. Now with peace at hand, Blaise sees his possible prosperity threatened by these civilised families from out East who are coming in and taking over. Here we have the transition of the Western frontier to civilised society, and the cowboys questioning their part in it, what will be left for them.

Outlaw1Clearly, Crane is no match for the ruthless Blaise who doggedly insists on a showdown even though Crane’s wife regrets their affair and begs Blaise to leave her husband be. However, the gunfight between Blaise and Crane is interrupted by the sudden arrival of a gang of outlaws led by Captain Jack Bruhn (Burl Ives). Bruhn is a notorious ex-army captain who was responsible for a bloody massacre of Mormons a few years prior, and the gang of thieves he is leading are plainly degenerates, lecherously eying the town’s women.

The gang has committed a robbery and have been pursued across the snow-swept wilderness by cavalry who are a day or two behind. At Bruhn’s orders, the outlaws take over the town, seizing and destroying the townspeople’s weapons, while Bruhn enlists the aid of the town’s vet to treat his wounds from a recent skirmish. Bruhn’s men are anticipating civilization’s pleasures of drink and women, but Bruhn manages to hold them to his word that there will be no drinking and absolutely no raping of the town’s five women.

But Bruhn’s injuries are fatal-  after treating him the town’s vet, Doc Langer, confides in Blaise that he doesn’t think Bruhn will live more than a day or so, leaving the town at risk of the gang wreaking rape and murder if let loose upon Bruhn’s death (it is obvious they would not hesitate to kill everyone in the town to hide any evidence of their rapine crimes). Fearing the bloodshed which would inevitably follow Bruhn’s death, Blaise realises he is the only one who can save the townspeople, people he really didn’t care for at all just hours before.

He suggests to Bruhn that he knows a pass through the mountains through which the outlaws can evade their pursuers, but its a lie- he’s intending a one-way trek into the icy wilderness to eventual suicide (or his murder if the outlaws realise his gambit). Bruhn knows his grip on his desperate outlaws hangs in the balance, so welcomes the opportunity to leave the town behind. What follows is some thirty minutes of perilous journey into white doom.

Outlaw 5Outlaw 6Day of the Outlaw is just astonishing to look at.  The difficulties filming it must have been tremendous technically, and no doubt physically exhausting for everyone in front and behind the camera.  The very landscape becomes one of the films most major characters. Undoubtedly a great Western, its also a fascinating character piece, full of tension and emotional dynamics. The film was released in 1959, foreshadowing Peckinpah’s Westerns, most notably The Wild Bunch that was released ten years after, and of course Leone’s Westerns, and the Eastwood Westerns of the 1970s like High Plains Drifter and The Outlaw Jose Wales. The anger of the outlaws and the threat of rape and violence is palpable: this is an amoral West that has seized the town of Bitters, hinting at the savagery and misogyny of the Italian spaghetti Westerns that would come after. Was this film an indicator of the end of the old West?

There is a sense of grim reality to Day of the Outlaw, right down to the exterior set of the town being built a few months prior to filming to enable it to be convincingly weathered by rain and snow, and the rough emptiness of the interiors. Its perhaps more an American Nightmare than an American Dream of the West.

Outlaw 3Where better, then, to find grim anti-hero Robert Ryan grudgingly saving the day? Here’s a man who finally stared too long at his own reflection and didn’t like what he saw- at least, that is how he justifies his act of sacrifice to the confused Helen. It really almost feels like a film noir, no doubt a feeling increased by its black and white photography, but also because this film doesn’t have anything near traditional heroes. Its two chief characters, Blaise and Bruhn, seem morally dubious at best (Blaise was intent on cold-bloodied murder early in the film, and while Bruhn carries pretensions of military nobility he’s clearly under no illusions what he really is). There is a bleakness in their hearts as grim as the wilderness they plunge into towards the films finale. This may be one of Ryan’s best films, certainly one of his best performances, in a role that seems written just for him. Absolutely riveting.

Mind, while I’ve mentioned how amazing this film is to look at, I would be remis not to note that Tina Louise is so gorgeous, she looks like she could melt all the snow just walking across the landscape…

Outlaw 4

Cry of the City (1948)

cry5Cry of the City, 1948, 95 mins 

Directed by Richard Siodmak – Phantom Lady, The Killers, The Dark Mirror, Criss Cross

Starring Victor MatureKiss of Death, Samson and Delilah, The Robe, Richard Conte – Whirlpool, The Big Combo, The Brothers Rico, The Godfather, Fred Clark – Sunset Boulevard, The Curse of the Mummy’ s Tomb

Cry of the City, so typically of noir, had me wondering at the start just where my allegiances lay. There’s often an almost unconscious tendency to root for the bad guys, especially in narratives such as this, which opens on some poor guy in hospital getting served the last rites with his family looking on. This is Martin Rome (Richard Conte), and it transpires he’s a crook who just shot dead a police officer, so even if he survives his wounds (which he does) it will be for naught as he’s certain to face the death penalty. Well, so you’d think- but Rome is a supreme opportunist who manages to break out of prison and gets hold of a stash of jewellery from a corrupt lawyer, with which he’ll finance a getaway out of the country with his latest girl, Teena (Debra Paget, in a fairly thankless role). Rome has an innate charm with which he uses people whether it be family (younger brother Tony idolizes him ) or gullible ladies, like Brenda (Shelley Winters) or Frances, a nurse at the hospital who falls under his spell. Conte is very good here, warm and smooth when he needs to be and yet tough and heartless; he’s clearly a streetwise thug who isn’t quite as smart as he thinks he is.

So my natural tendency was to root for Rome to find some way out, to beat the system and escape justice, but as the film progresses any empathy for him starts to wane as it becomes clear what a user he is and the negative effect he has on everyone around him. He’s bad, he needs to come to an ill end,  and we have to start rooting for the good guys, even if one of them is Victor Mature.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I seem to have a dislike for Victor Mature- I’ve no idea why, but I suspect it may simply be because I may have seen him in a film when I was very young and just took an instant dislike to whatever character he was playing, and it stuck with me ever since. Anyway, as irrational as that may be, I have to confess that I may now be warming to him a little, because he’s really very good indeed here. He delivers a strong and rather sensitive performance as a frustrated Detective, Vittorio Candella. He’s from the same neighbourhood as criminal Rome and is angry that Rome blames his own behaviour on the tough streets he grew up in, as if Rome himself is the victim. “Oh, save it for the jury, Marty,” retorts Candella. “Who do you think you’re kidding? l was brought up in the district too. I’ve heard that dialogue from you poolroom hotshots ever since l was ten years old. Get hip… only suckers work… don’t be a square… stay with the smart money,”  For Candella its a matter of choice, knowing good from bad, and Rome’s criminal activity is a bad example to the other kids growing up there and a bad representation of the largely law-abiding immigrant community that calls those streets home.

cry4Maybe Mature’s excellent performance is down to his director- Richard Siodmak, no stranger to me as I’ve at this point seen a number of his film noir and I rate them as amongst the very best I’ve seen. While his noir  typically have strong visual flourishes – the expressionistic lighting and composition so synonymous with noir, they are also graced by strong performances;  Siodmak certainly seems to have had a knack of getting great work from his cast, so perhaps its no surprise that even someone I don’t usually like in films is so good here.  Even the minor players, such as Shelley Winters in one of her earliest credited roles, really shine (Winters in particular absolutely makes an impression, even though she’s only onscreen for ten to fifteen minutes- albeit I still can’t rationalise that that (lets be kind) mature lady in The Poseidon Adventure was so hot back in the day).

Cry of the City is a very strong noir- it has a great storyline with plenty of twists, some genuine surprises, and some really interesting characters being played by great character actors. I expect that the book this story was based upon was a great page-turner. There really isn’t much to find fault with here, and even the film’s inevitable moralising doesn’t feel forced, but rather deftly handled as a natural extension of the plot and how Rome’s misdeeds are impacting those around him. I’m quite surprised that this film isn’t as popular a noir as some others, its yet another example to current film-makers with their bloated movies of just how much can be naturally fitted into what is pretty much a ninety- minute film: there’s no padding, and it doesn’t feel rushed. Maybe pacing is something of a lost art?  This film really hasn’t aged at all and I must just point out how much I was impressed by some of its lovely location shooting, so evocative of a lost era/lost world. There were moments where an establishing shot would quite take my breath away, and I’d find it hard to resist reaching for the pause button to soak it in, that sense of time and place, just a little more. Some shots were like looking through the window of a time machine. Its something so typical of noir but which I always find so seductive. So yeah, this is a really good, solid film noir. I guess I should start looking for a copy on Blu-ray. Oh my wallet.


The Weekly Summary #11

cry2I’m afraid I’ll need to keep this a bit shorter than normal, but here’s how the week’s viewing went-

38. The Naked Spur (1953)

39. Shock Waves (1977) – Amazon Prime

40. Cry of the City (1948)

Rocky III (1982) – 4K UHD

41. The Narrow Margin (1952)

Star Trek Picard Season Three : Episode 5 – Amazon Prime

While the worst of the week is an easy one this time around- clearly its Shock Waves, albeit with the caveat that it was not a total stinker and that I still rather enjoyed it. However,  picking a best of the week was actually a bit tricky, as I saw some really good films this week – by chance more than by design, to be sure, but hey that’s the magic of films, always a surprise around the corner. Both Cry of the City and The Narrow Margin were very good noir.

Can get a bit expensive though- The Naked Spur was so good it galvanised me into ordering a  Blu-ray copy from the Warner Bros online store  (a store discount made it cheaper than waiting for Amazon to get it next month). Film collecting is a terrible thing for one’s wallet; you see a good film and its hard to resist the need to physically own a copy. Damn, its a hard habit to break.

But anyway, The Naked Spur it is. When the Blu-ray disc arrives it’ll give me a good excuse to watch it again. Meanwhile, there’s a few more Blu-rays of Westerns on the way too…



Time-travelling through film

CC1One of the delicious pleasures of watching film noir is the escapist element, which is a bizarre thing when I think about it, considering how dark and gloomy they tend to be in subject-matter. Regardless of how cautionary the narratives are, for me the ‘escapist’ element is simply of seeing and ‘being’ in a different world, one that is is another country and also another time. These are images of a reality and world far removed from my own.

PelhamTo be sure, this is a seductive facet of all films; when one watches Dirty Harry, we’re seeing and experiencing a San Francisco that largely doesn’t exist anymore, likewise the same with the New York depicted in The Taking of Pelham One Two Three or Taxi Driver.  Films can sometimes qualify as historical documents as much as entertainments (see Saturday Night, Sunday Morning or Get Carter). Its certainly something more pronounced the further removed in time that the films were made, as the (often everyday) world of their own time is increasingly gone forever (hey, ‘Progress’). Hence part of my particular fondness/fascination with film noir.


In some ways its not far removed at all from my youthful excitement for science fiction and its futuristic worlds. Its much the same thing, really- as I have noted before, an odd thing about the best films that are set in historical periods (like Roman epics) is how the people and locations are as alien to us as in most science fiction films. Sometimes I think its all science fiction. Worlds in which people absolutely and fervently believe in pagan Gods and how They interfere in human Fate (can we ever really think or behave as a Roman or a Viking would?) are just as strange to us as anything in some exotic far-future fantasy.

vaertigo1But there is a magic in those visuals, those moments in time frozen forever, especially, as I have noted, in those 1940s/1950s noir. Its travelling in time. People dress different, society is different, the streets are different, the cars and  trucks and trains are different. Familiar, yes, but still different, something apart from the reality outside of my living-room window.

I wonder if somebody watching our current films in eighty years will watch them with a similar, peculiar fascination.

The Suspect (1944)

The Suspect, 1944, mins, Blu-ray

Directed by Richard Siodmak – Phantom Lady, The Killers, The Dark Mirror, Cry of the City, Criss Cross

Starring Charles LaughtonWitness for the Prosecution, Spartacus, Ella Raines– Phantom Lady, The Web, Brute Force

The first film in Arrow’s second Film Noir boxset, which is a collection of four minor film noir from the Universal vault- that ‘minor’ tag fits this one quite well, as in all fairness The Suspect is a pretty slight melodrama with as much an Hitchcockian tone as a genuinely film nor one. Its saved from possible mediocrity by its cast, particularly Charles Laughton and the great Ella Raines, who manage to suspend our disbelief. Then again, considering my comments with regards Cry of the City last week, it may well be that the performances are as much due to director Siodmak, who does seem to have had a knack at getting fine work from his casts.

Laughton plays middle-aged businessman Philip Marshall who is in a loveless marriage in an otherwise idyllic Edwardian England. He is constantly nagged by his bitter wife Cora, who is played with scenery-chewing relish by an icily shrewish Rosiland Ivans. When their son has finally had enough of his unpleasant mother and leaves home, Marshall takes the opportunity to move to his son’s vacated bedroom in an effort to begin distancing himself from his wife. He has evidently put up with a cold and thankless marriage for his son’s sake and now that is done, now wants to make his own life.

Harper meets and befriends a pretty young stenographer, Mary (Raines); its an unlikely attraction (there certainly doesn’t seem to be any chemistry between the two actors) but it pushes Marshall to demand a divorce from his wife, and of course Cora refuses. Soon after, Marshall kills her, framing her death as an accidental fall so that he can marry Mary, but the police are suspicious. Marshall’s neighbour sees a chance for blackmail having heard Cora and Marshall arguing. Backed into a corner Marshall has to deal with the blackmailer whilst reputing the investigations of Inspector Huxley (Stanley Ridges), who remains convinced Marshall is guilty even if there is no proof and like some dog with his bone, refuses to let it go.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of The Suspect is how it suggests the lie of its Edwardian idyll; in a slightly Lynchian mode, it dares reveal the dark underbelly of Edwardian life vaguely akin to what Blue Velvet did with wholesome American suburbia. In just the same way as Marshall initially plays the role of happily married businessman while hiding his actual misery, Marshall’s pleasant neighbour Mrs Simmons (Molly Lamont) hides the bruises dealt her from her abusive husband, who is a drunk and a bully at home. It suggests an unpleasantness behind the mask of domesticity that is likely the films most noir aspect.

I won’t pretend though that The Suspect is anything more than a minor film noir; director Siodmak tells its story with great efficiency and really, its probably best considered a Hitchcockian thriller more than it is a noir. Laughton and Raines are fine, albeit Raines leaves little indication of how brilliant she was in that same year’s Phantom Lady (again with Siodmak). I really can’t believe I haven’t written a post investigating Phantom Lady, that was a very impressive noir with a great story, cast and marvellous visual flourishes that had me buying a copy on Blu-ray. Regards the visual side of things, The Suspect is fairly routine, although its beyond hilarious what Hollywood thinks Edwardian London looked like- limitations of the Universal backlot I guess. I almost expected to see the monster from Frankenstein peering from an alleyway.

Shock Waves (1977)

shock2Shock Waves, 1977, 85 mins – Amazon Prime

Directed by Ken Wiederhorn– Return of the Living Dead Part II

Starring Peter Cushing – The Curse of Frankenstein, The Abominable Snowman, Dracula, The Revenge of Frankenstein, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Mummy, The Brides of Dracula, Suspect, Cash on DemandCaptain Clegg, The Gorgon, The Skull, The Blood Beast TerrorCorruption, The Vampire Lovers, Twins of Evil, Dracula AD 1972, Horror Express, And Now the Screaming Starts!, The Satanic Rites of Dracula, The Devil’s Men, Star Wars.  John CarradineThe Howling, The Monster Club, Brooke Adams – Days of Heaven, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), The Dead Zone.

Shock Waves is a surprisingly effective 1970s horror, with plenty of mood thanks to some remarkably atmospheric locations, some great visuals, and an old-school synth score that drips menace. It shouldn’t really work, but it does- I really quite liked it.

Part of this film’s success is its surprisingly  intriguing premise, that would no doubt work better in the 1970s than if it were done now (the Second World War still being a fairly recent memory back when this film was released), although these days we’re possibly more accepting of that entire ‘Nazi’s experimenting with supernatural forces’ thing (thanks to Mike MIgnola’s Hellboy etc.) that has since  pervaded so much of genre culture in the years since 1977.

A prologue suggests that supernatural research by the Nazi’s during WWII resulted in a corps of the SS being formed of dead solders and criminals resurrected into Zombie killing machines. Put onboard a cargo ship in the last days of the war, the ship was sunk off a tropical island and long forgotten, except by its aging SS commander (Peter Cushing) who abandoned the sinking ship all those years ago and has waited on the island over the decades since, convinced his Undead corps will one day return. However, the rusting hulk finally releases its Undead Nazi’s just as a yacht of holidaymakers is shipwrecked on the same island.

shock3Its basically just the good old  Ten Little Indians horror-trope set on a remote island, with a few hapless civilians hunted down one by one by Nazi zombies who rise up out of the sea. The film is very low-budget, shot very quickly (both Cushing and Carradine only filmed for five days and have fairly limited roles) but benefitting immensely from using an abandoned hotel for a location, adding production value and atmosphere that belies the films humble origin.  The imagery of the silent Nazi horrors rising up from out of watery depths is really effective, too. This isn’t a gory film; its really more one of moody horror and the threat of violence- the slow pace (dictated no doubt by budgetary limitations) possibly even raising the tension.

While they don’t have much to do, both Cushing and Carradine add some weight to the proceedings in their limited screen time- its a shame they never appear onscreen together. Their limited time onscreen results in individual storylines that are short, but the film works this in its favour, giving them abrupt ends that surprise. Brooke Adams is very good in an early role, and the rest of the cast (I was amused by the -unintentional? who knows?- similarity in appearance of two of the main leads to James Caan and Robert Redford) largely just function as one-dimensional characters, hapless tourists who will prove bait for the Undead.

Those Undead are a big plus point for the film: I thought the moody shots of their black-goggled, rotting faces rising up out of the waves was very effective. They don’t express any emotion or talk, they just move relentlessly and coldly kill, providing a great sense of threat. These days if a film like this was made and proved to be a success, I can imagine it would result in all sorts of spin-off films, a mini-franchise of rotting SS zombies, but this film seems to have largely sunk (sic) without trace back in the 1970s. I must admit, I wouldn’t have come near this film if it had not been for noticing Peter Cushing in the credits, but I’m so glad I did. I have a liking for these kind of moody horrors, and while its up on Amazon Prime Shock Waves is likely worth a shot for anyone in the mood for a late-night Friday fright. Far superior to that same year’s Empire of the Ants, anyway.

The Naked Spur (1953)

nakedspurThe Naked Spur, 1953, 91 mins

Directed by Anthony MannRaw Deal, El Cid, The Fall of the Roman Empire, The Glenn Miller Story

Starring James Stewart – It’s a Wonderful Life, Rope, Rear Window, Vertigo, Anatomy of a Murder, The Flight of the Phoenix (1 965), Airport ’77.  Janet Leigh – Touch of Evil, The Vikings, Psycho. Robert RyanThe Woman on the Beach, Crossfire, The Set-Up, The Woman on Pier 13, Born to be Bad, The Racket, On Dangerous Ground, House of Bamboo, Odds Against Tomorrow, Ralph Meeker-  Kiss Me Deadly, Paths of Glory, The Anderson Tapes

The Naked Spur is a superb Western –  usually Hollywood Westerns from this ‘classic period’ tend to leave me a little cold, they often seem to be overly simplistic Good vs Evil morality plays, the American dream painted as noble frontier endeavour, with unconvincing actors in clean pressed clothes, and with an often racially questionable treatment of Native American Indians that never ages well. Clearly these films are products of their time, and I have little issue with that of itself (indeed many no doubt feel that’s part of their appeal), but it does leave me feeling cold towards them. I guess I’m more inclined towards the morally bankrupt/twisted-fate dramas painted in Film Noir, regards 1940s and 1950s Hollywood film-making.

But contrary to what one might be inclined to expect, considering it was released back in 1953,  The Naked Spur turns out to be surprisingly complex, and feels very ‘modern’ (save for its treatment of Janet Leigh’s character, but perhaps more on that later).  Notwithstanding its utterly gorgeous colour cinematography, this is a Western that is painted in shades of grey with genuinely interesting, three-dimensional characters, distinct from possibly expected Wild West tropes With drama in spades, it features some great action sequences that are filmed and edited consummately well, and it even manages to treat Native Americans with respect. This is no doubt a top-tier Hollywood Western.

The film begins with Howard Kemp (James Stewart) doggedly on the trail of killer Ben Vandergrift (Robert Ryan). Kemp encounters a down-on-his-luck prospector, Jesse Tate (Millard Mitchell) and shortly afterwards a dishonourably discharged Union soldier, Roy Anderson (Ralph Meeker) who decide to help him, both assuming Kemp is a lawman. However when they capture both Vandergoat and the young woman accompanying him (Lina- Janet Leigh), the killer reveals to them that he has a $5000 reward on his head, a fact Kemp has avoided informing them of because he’s actually a bounty hunter intending to keep the reward for himself. Both of his recruits decide they deserve a share in the bounty and maintain they will accompany Kemp as he returns Vandergroat to Kansas in order to collect, and Vandergroat sees this as an opportunity to appeal to each man’s greed. He starts to sowing doubt and temptation between them (“Money splits better two ways than three,” he suggests) while scheming with Lina to make their escape on their long journey back.

nakedspur3The film is a fantastic character piece, the film thriving on the tensions between them. I found each actor to be brilliantly cast in clearly defined, yet refreshingly ambiguous roles. Each character has flaws. Stewart is typically excellent as the bounty hunter; this is a morally conflicted man with a hidden past that is slowly torturing him; once revealed this provides much insight into him and really makes the finale work. Tate is a good-natured, affable prospector who is easy to like but whose greed finally gets the better of him, while Anderson is a charming rogue who avoids becoming what could easily have been a one-dimensional character.  Naturally as Vandergoat Ryan pretty much steals the show- Ryan is so good at roles such as this, full of charm and disarming humour, albeit still displaying the cold snake underneath.  That face that limited him from the leading-man roles he craved (which he rued for all his career) serves him so well in roles like this; he looks like he stepped right out of the actual wild west, that he’s lived it and breathed it.  Janet Leigh’s character is problematic and doesn’t entirely convince- she’s fine in the part but really she’s there as a function of the plot, and as beautiful as she is, she’s the one element that betrays the era the film was made. She’s obviously been put in to provide some romantic dynamic between herself, Kemp and Vandergoat, but one can forgive that as it thus provides the desperate Kemp some kind of redemption at the end, and therefore helps the film work as well as it does.

Indeed, The Naked Spur works brilliantly; other than the awkwardness inherent in fitting Leigh’s character into it, I must say the film is pretty much perfect and one of the best ‘classic westerns’ I have ever seen. It certainly looks astonishingly beautiful: I watched the film in HD on TCM, where it looked vibrant and terrific with great detail and vibrant colours, but I will certainly be looking to get the Warner Blu-ray (which is being released in the UK this month). Its just a pity this film doesn’t seem destined for the Indicator treatment- I’d love to  see that; some video appreciations of Stewart and Ryan, a commentary track, one can imagine what an Indicator disc would be like.