Serpico1Serpico, Dir. Sidney Lumet, 1973, 130 mins

We’re staying in the 1970s one more time with Sidney Lumet’s Serpico, from 1973- the same year that High Plains Drifter was released, curiously enough. Serpico is one of those films that I hadn’t seen before, that slipped through the net, so to speak. I knew of it by reputation, naturally. So in 1972, Al Pacino appears in The Godfather, the following year he stars in Serpico, and the year after that in The Godfather Part II; I guess those were wild times for Pacino. and he was one of the hottest actors around at a time when some great films were being made. I think its likely true that his generation of actors benefitted from the 1970s being such a great decade for American cinema, it must have been so exciting for them to just read so many great scripts and work with such directors, I think it perhaps got trickier for actors in succeeding decades to make their mark in ‘lesser’ pictures.

Pacino looks so young in these films its almost alarming- I find it tricky to reconcile how he looks in these films and how he looks and acts later in life; its probably unfair of me, but perhaps its inevitable that an actor with his intensity can fall into the trap of a certain onscreen persona, like what seemed to happen with Jack Nicholson? It got to a point with Pacino that he rather irritated me with his increasingly larger-than-life intensity in  later films – his Lt. Hanna in Michael Mann’s Heat is, for all that film’s greatness, one of the things that bothers me about that film. There’s something unnecessarily scene-stealing about it; in many of his later films, Pacino the actor becomes the thing rather than the character he’s playing? I guess its just his style, his screen persona… but I must say watching his earlier roles I enjoy his calmer intensity.

Because Serpico is a 1970s film, its brutally honest in its sense of time and place- New York was such a character all its own back then, as evidenced in so many 1970s films (The French Connection from 1971 immediately springs to mind, as does The Taking of Pelham One Two Three and Taxi Driver, among many others). Its a city on the brink of ruin, before it was cleaned up and turned into something of a tourist-friendly Disney theme park. Its not that there’s anything endearing, exactly, about New York in the 1970s but there is something fascinating, a convincing reality about it that in turn just makes the films filmed on the streets of that decade so strangely appealing. Maybe its a neo-noir aspect, some nightmarish fascination. The dirt, the decay, there is some kind of truth to it which feels refreshing. Likewise the actors are all pretty great, looking as ‘real’ as the city does; balding, overweight, middle-aged, worn-out… drinking and smoking too much, nowhere near a gym….  and the women feel real, there’s no glamour here, just a different kind of beauty to that seen in Hollywood films in decades before and after.

Serpico was directed by Sidney Lumet, who also directed 12 Angry Men (which reminds me, I have Kino’s 4K edition of that yet to watch), Fail-Safe, The Anderson Tapes, and Dog Day Afternoon and Network, both of which are films I should have, but somehow haven’t, yet seen… Yeah there’s my credibility in the gutter, not having seen those two but hey, its great to think that, as with Serpico and Klute, there’s some great films from the 1970s still waiting for me. The thought that Serpico is fifty years old now  and had escaped me all this time is rather alarming, mind, but hey,  I got there in the end.

Family Plot Revisited

Family Plot, Dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1976, 120 mins – 4K UHD

We’re staying in the 1970s with a rewatch of Alfred Hitchcock’s light-hearted caper Family Plot. Its a great decade for movies, the ‘Seventies: it gave us Irwin Allen disaster movies, The Godfather films, Star Wars, Rocky, Taxi Driver, Apocalypse Now, The Exorcist, Chinatown, The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three,  Days of Heaven… so many others, it’s a great decade of films to lose oneself in.  I could spend the next few months just watching films made during that decade and I’d have a great time.

I’m not suggesting Family Plot deserves to be considered as a great 1970s film or deserves to be in that list I just rolled off, its Hitchcock’s last film and not one of his best. I watched it for the first time a few years back and wasn’t hugely impressed, but its inclusion on the second Hitchcock 4K UHD boxset meant that it was inevitable I’d give it another go.

My feeling remains the same: it a very slight feature; indeed, it often has the look of a 1970s TV Movie, it lacks pretty much any sense of cinematic scale or ambition. But it is a 1970s movie: so it has a great cast, Bruce Dern, Karen Black, William Devane, Ed Lauter, faces we grew to know over that decade watching films and television shows. Its that weird thing about generations of actors through the decades, their time in the limelight. There were decades where James Stewart, Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, would feature in films,  or Henry Fonda, Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, or Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, and Jack Lemmon, or later on Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Al Pacino. I think I refer to the 1970s as a great decade of films not just because it simply WAS a great decade for films, but also because it was the first decade in which, as I was growing up, I began to recognise and enjoy seeing familiar faces time and time again in various films and American TV shows. Some fifty years later now, the nostalgia is like some fine wine to be savoured.

In the 1970s, actors didn’t need to be impossibly beautiful and perfect, they didn’t need to be bulked-up in the gym as some model of physical ideal. They could still be greasy-haired, bald, overweight, wrinkled… there was a reality to the actors mirrored in the reality of their flawed characters, a reality mirrored in their tense dramas.

Anyway, back to Family Plot: at times its great fun, and others its pretty excruciating (the scene with Barbara Harris and Bruce Dern, their car tampered with and careering down a winding mountainside road, the actors hamming it up with horrible front projection work behind them, is one of the worst sequences Hitchcock ever did). On the whole its light and entertaining, but a lot of that is that 1970s nostalgia, those old cars, those familiar faces, and that languid pace in which scenes were allowed to breathe and not cut to a breathless frenzy as they are so often now. The film also looks quite splendid in 4K- the Blu-ray was very problematic but having been remastered in 4K it looks really fine and filmic. Yeah, there’s that strange double-take when one realises that a (to be kind) very average film such as this gets a 4K UHD release before so many other more deserving films just from that same decade, but hey, we’re living in a world where The Sword and the Sorcerer gets a 4K disc before there’s even a whiff of Milius’ Conan the Barbarian ever getting one.

I enjoyed Family Plot much more second time around than I did watching the Blu-ray disc a few years back (the poster cheekily advises ‘you must see it twice!’). Maybe its diminished expectations and all that, maybe it was the prettier picture, in 4K. Maybe it was appreciating the John Williams score a bit more than I did before (its a weird thing, William’s familiar music style married to a Hitchcock film, it feels a bit odd). But yeah, it was rather fun. And William Devane is such a great slimy bastard, his voice just dripping with slippery menace: I first knew him from that 1980s TV show Knots Landing (American TV soaps/drama were so big that decade it feels rather peculiar now, and hard to explain, looking back) but of course he was great in The Marathon Man and the later Mel Gibson flick Payback.  There’s a guy who deserved better movies, and less TV work, in his career. As for Bruce Dern, what a joy that actor is, always (soft spot for Silent Running and The ‘Burbs, obviously).


High Plains Drifter

high2High Plains Drifter, Dir. Clint Eastwood, 1973, 105 mins – 4K UHD

There’s a ghost in High Plains Drifter– on first or second viewing, you might decide its Eastwood’s character, a wronged town Marshall betrayed and killed in cold blood now returning as a nameless drifter to exact vengeance on those who killed him and those that allowed it. While that’s patently true, the film variously described as a Gothic Western or a Western Ghost Story, there’s another ghost lurking, in every frame- its the ghost of the way films used to be. 1973. Imagine that. Clint Eastwood in his prime. Directing and starring in a Western. Does it get any better?

In 1970s American Cinema, a decade of cynical, brutal antiheroes, the drifter of this grim film is possibly the biggest antihero of them all. Here’s a guy who kills in cold blood, rapes a woman, bullies and belittles with utter disdain the morally bankrupt town that betrayed him. There’s things in this film -such as when the drifter drags a woman into a barn and forcers himself on her- that you couldn’t get away with in film today without howls of protest from all sorts of groups.  Who are audiences intended to identify with and root for here? The people of Lago all share guilt in allowing a good man to be murdered, and didn’t lift a finger to help him, but this drifter is hardly someone we can identify with either.

By the early 1970s, the American Western was already changing, had been for years, but this film seems to be a further quantum-shift to that end,  Eastwood seems to have been deliberately kicking all the old tropes of the noble Western, with its moralist tales of Good and Evil, into the dust. Everybody deserves their damnation here, it seems: painting over the town’s sign from ‘Lago’ to ‘Hell’ seems fitting indeed. Is Eastwood dismantling the myth of the American West here, or the American Dream in general? I’m not at all surprised to have read of John Wayne’s response to this film and his resultant feud with Eastwood.

high1This was my first time watching this film in widescreen, having only seen it on television years ago- it looks great on Kino’s 4K disc; there’s lots of detail, the HDR gives a great sense of depth in daytime scenes, Eastwood often framing scenes with the big blue sky and the lake behind the wooden structures; its a bright, handsome picture at times quite at odds with the darkness of the story. In night time scenes here’s some black crush evident but that seems to be how this film was photographed, the scenes shot at night under limited lighting (as opposed to that day-for-night nonsense) plunges so much into darkness, as if the film is ironically trying to protect us from seeing what’s happening.

There is no-one today working in Hollywood who has the presence of Eastwood in his prime; he is an icon of Cinema and this film is obviously a precursor of his later Unforgiven, another subversive film that questions the heroic shooters of the Western. There is so much to enjoy in High Plains Drifter – the cast is great, they are all middle-aged and their faces often craggy, nobody has been anywhere near the gym (and there’s something so refreshing in that); there’s nothing remotely aspirational here. Only darkness and bankrupt morality- Eastwood suggesting that maybe that’s all there ever was in the West. High Plains Drifter may be one of the grimmest, darkest Westerns ever made and I suspect it just gets better with age.

Troll (2022)

TrolaTroll, Dir. Roar Uthaug, 101 mins, 2022 – Netflix

A Norwegian film…. well, I watched it because there’s a few I enjoyed in the past, films like The Wave and its sequel, The Quake, and The Tunnel, that was another… European/Scandinavian disaster flicks… there’s not a lot to them but they were serviceable thrillers, and freshened by their geography, a change from the usual American-centric Hollywood flicks we see.

Alas, this one was pretty poor, even with reduced expectations. Actually, at the start I thought it looked pretty promising, especially when I saw Billy Campbell (of Cardinal fame) turn up, but his appearance was pretty much just a cameo and thus frankly all the more mystifying. You get him involved and you DON’T make him the star of the movie, its protagonist? Doesn’t make any sense to me, especially when the actual protagonist, Nora (Ine Marie Wilmann) is such a typically underwritten character with a formulaic arc (estranged daughter who’s crazy father perhaps wasn’t as crazy as everyone thought, ensuring an ’emotional’ rapprochement when his wild theories of Trolls from fairy tales actually being real are vindicated). To be frank though, pretty much all the characters are one-dimensional in the extreme (stupid politicians, dim military chiefs, it could almost have the tone of a parody), the writing is really very poor and the narrative so overly familiar (its obviously indebted to the Jurassic Park movies and many other monster films like King Kong) that it all becomes very tiresome indeed.

I actually struggled to get to the end of it, frankly. Its only real appeal is its sense of being a throwback to sci-fi ‘B’ movies of the 1950s like Them! or The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms and the like, and while the personal mileage of said appeal no doubt varies, its really pretty damning that genre films haven’t grown up a bit more over the decades since. Instead they’ve taken the silly plots of those films and spruced them up with CGI spectacle, nothing more. This is definitely one to avoid, then.

Judgment at Nuremburg

Judgement1Judgement at Nuremburg, 1961, 179 mins, Blu-ray

Three years into the Nuremburg trials, the most important Nazi leaders have already been tried, and most executed.  Retired provincial judge Dan Haywood now has the daunting task of leading a trial of four judges who used their authority to allow the Nazi leaders of the Reich to conduct policies of sterilization, subjugation and mass murder- crimes against humanity somehow made lawful in German courtrooms that robbed victims of any justice.

This is another of those films that it feels almost shameful to admit that I somehow hadn’t seen it until now. Why do some films escape us for so long? Even having finally bought the film on Blu-ray disc, it then sat on the shelf waiting for more than two years for me to finally get around to it. I can only suggest I was daunted by the film’s three-hour running time, in just the same way that I struggle to find time to rewatch Once Upon a Time in America and other longer films. I suppose in some ways we are victims of our own flexibility these days, we fool ourselves into thinking we can get a round to these discs anytime we want. If I were limited to airings on television like in the old days pre home-video, then I would have to exercise sufficient discipline to give the time when the schedulers demanded it; instead, with a disc up on the shelf, its more a case of thinking there would be other opportunities soon enough… but it keeps on being put off instead.

Well, I finally came around to it. Stanley Kramer’s commendably nuanced and powerful courtroom drama is riveting viewing,  and should probably be mandatory at secondary schools or annual airings on television. It asks several questions and doesn’t provide any answers, really, but the main question it asks is one that feels endlessly relevant- what turns men, even the most civilized and educated of men, into monsters – or an entire country mad? How can the most evil and horrible of causes be made to seem righteous or desirable? How did the Nazi’s do it? How can the Germans live with it?

To be honest, I was just expecting a tense courtroom drama about the horrors of war and bringing guilty war criminals to justice. I had no idea that the film would prove so complex and air so many conflicting points of view. It even questions the short length of the trials as a whole, and America’s increasing desire to end the trials as quickly as possible, as if to forgive and forget, distracted as they were by the onset of the Cold War. There is one incandescent moment, in which the defence counsel questions the victimization of the German public for Nazi crimes, suggesting that all Nations share part of the guilt for allowing the Nazi rise to power and the horrors those Nazis committed (declaring that leading industrialists in the U.S. contributed to building the Nazi war machine, European governments encouraged Hitler’s  expansionism, the Soviet Union’s treaty with Germany invited the invasion of Poland, and even the Vatican actively collaborated with the Nazis)?

The cast is remarkable; Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Marlene Dietrich, Maximilian Schell, Judy Garland, Montgomery Clift… and yes, a pre-Star Trek William Shatner. All are at the top of their game, really (Shatner genuinely restrained) but I must point out the clever (or cynical?) casting of Garland and Clift, two actors whose personal real-life troubles were channelled onscreen in disturbing performances that feel like their own genuine fragility is being exploited by the film-makers.  Quite extraordinary moments from both of them, as if their personal wreckage is being thrown up onto the screen. And yet to Kramer’s credit, none of it seems to slip into melodrama, not Widmark’s boiling anger or Schell’s furious outbursts for clemency and empathy. Tracy’s calm serenity seems to ground the picture like some kind of counterweight to all the furies around him.

Could this film be made today? I actually doubt it. Maybe Oliver Stone’s JFK came close, it was surely influenced by Kramer’s drama. I try to imagine someone like Spielberg remaking it, and I wonder what the cast would be from our current crop of talent (I admit, I’m coming up short regards modern analogues for Tracy, Dietrich, Widmark or Schell). The truth is, they just don’t seem to make films like this anymore. I suppose studios might suggest there is no longer an audience, certainly at the multiplex, for films such as this. They are probably right- not enough explosions or crazy stunts, or caped characters flying around. So sad. Of course, Stanley Kramer’s Judgment at Nuremburg doesn’t need a remake, but I am troubled that we don’t see films like it anymore. Films like it need to be made because films like it need to be seen.

Directed by Stanley KramerOn the Beach, Its a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, Starring Spencer Tracy – Its a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, Burt Lancaster – The Killers, Brute Force, Criss Cross, The Swimmer, Field of Dreams, Richard WidmarkKiss of Death, Night and the City, Pickup on South Street, Maximilian Schell– Cross of Iron, A Bridge Too Far, The Black Hole, Deep Impact

The Trouble with Harry

TWH3TWH1The Trouble With Harry, 1955, 99 mins, 4K UHD

Dir Alfred HitchcockRebecca, Saboteur, Shadow of a Doubt, Rear Window, Vertigo, Torn Curtain, Family Plot, Starring John Forsythe, Shirley MacLaineThe Apartment, Irma La Douce, Edmund Gwenn, Music score by Bernard HerrmannCitizen Kane, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Vertigo, Taxi Driver

The trouble with Harry is that, well, he’s dead. He’s lying out in a field just outside town, a well-dressed corpse on a pretty spot with a lovely view. Unfortunately for Captain Albert Wiles (Gwenn) who has been out shooting rabbits (and upon finding Harry’s body is convinced he must have accidentally shot Harry dead), its also a spot frequented by many of the townsfolk. The Captain’s attempts to hide the body are constantly thwarted by people walking by, but everyone seems to behave rather oddly.  Single mother, Jennifer Rogers (MacLaine in her first film role), brought along by her son Arnie (who discovered Harry earlier while playing out in the field with his toy gun), knows who Harry was but also seems to be glad he’s dead and leaves him there, taking Arnie back home. Spinster Ivy Gravely, stumbling upon the Captain while he is dragging the corpse to the bushes, immediately vows to keep the Captain’s secret (under the proviso the Captain pays her a visit for tea later that afternoon). Struggling artist Sam Marlowe (Forsythe) then comes upon Wiles and the body, and he doesn’t freak out either: instead he casually sketches the corpse and then helps the Captain bury it. They are interrupted by the town doctor, who walks by and is so engrossed reading a book that he doesn’t even spot the body lying at his feet. Its all very odd indeed- I’m getting dizzy just summarising the basic plot.

One thing is immediately clear- The Trouble with Harry looks utterly gorgeous on this 4K UHD disc; the golden Autumnal colours of New England are simply ravishing,  the film looking like a work of beauty throughout. Its really quite stunning; filmed in Vista Vision, its another of those classic 1950s films that looks better here on 4K disc than many new films do.

The film itself is a little more problematic, unfortunately, but funnily enough, it proves so endearingly unusual that I can see it becoming one of my favourite Hitchcock films, over time and repeat viewings.  Definitely one of Hitchcock’s quirkier efforts, its a very dark comedy displaying his British sense of humour; it reminded me greatly of Ealing’s The Ladykillers  (and a bit like imagining Twin Peaks as a 1950s comedy). Certainly a far cry from the tense thrillers that Hitchcock is more famous for, it has most probably been an acquired taste even for Hitchcock’s fiercest fans over the years.

Its one of those disorientating situations where coming to a film blind can initially be an issue, as it took me a little while to tune into just what kind of film I was watching. I imagine audiences back in 1955 found themselves feeling much the same way, as I understand the film confounded both audiences and critics, proving to be something of a financial failure back then. Maybe it was a film ahead of its time? These days it just feels outside of time, a curious artefact.

I certainly feel like I shall be able to enjoy the film more second time around now that I’m familiar with its tone, able to understand its characters often odd behaviour and the films quite macabre situations (I think Harry gets buried and dig up, what, three times?). Its such a very odd film. Its about life, death, young love, old love, guilt, innocence… all wrapped up in a comedy posing as a Hitchcock murder suspense/mystery film. Absolutely as bizarre as that sounds, it works, somehow. I just never appreciated how perfect Hitchcock would have been to direct an adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes: chalk that up as one of the great film ‘what-ifs’ that I’d never considered before.


The Weekly Summaries (# 17 & 18)

forall3A belated addition to the weekly summaries, mostly due to available viewing time over the first of the two weeks being wholly dominated by a certain TV series (so much so that actually getting back to watching some films the following week proved to feel something like a treat)-

For All Mankind Season Three, 10 episodes, 2002 – Apple TV

54. Six Bridges to Cross (1955) – Blu-ray

55. Abandoned (1949) – Blu-ray

The Last of Us Season One, Episodes 4 – 5, 2023

Citadel Season One, Episodes 1 – 3, 2023 – Amazon Prime

56. Deported (1950) – Blu-ray

Citadel is the latest big-budget ‘event’ series being shown on Amazon Prime (six episodes costing around $260 million seems pretty ‘big’ indeed) and three episodes in its clearly so batshit crazy that I can’t decide if its utter trash or absolutely brilliant. Maybe its both.  I mean, how do you take this stuff seriously anyway? Some kind of bastard-child of The Bourne Identity, Mission Impossible and the sillier James Bond movies, this kind of nonsense operates on some other level than traditional drama, in just the same way as most modern blockbuster movies do. Are we on the brink of the death of western culture or just witnessing some kind of deviously ingenious exercise in exhausting action/spy movie tropes until viewers are beaten into submission?

To be honest, I was thinking For All Mankinds third season was pretty daft and stretching disbelief/goodwill rather too far, but then Citadel came around and set me to thinking that Ron Moore’s alternative history of the space race was actually fairly restrained, all things considered (it would seem that everything is relative, it all just depends upon what you compare things to). To be frank, I did enjoy For Al Mankind; its daft and sprinkled with characters that irritate no end (and a whole new definition of ‘real science’ that makes me wonder what technical consultants actually do) but on the whole… well, there’s certainly something regards how its written, some of the performances,  the narrative arcs and cliff-hangers ensuring its entertaining enough.  I’m wondering with some trepidation just where season four will be going- I’d originally expected the show to be an alternative history of Apollo (which is certainly how it started) but in hindsight, maybe this show should have been titled How the Solar System Was Won instead.

So anyway, film-wise I went back to film noir, finishing the contents of both Arrow’s second noir box with Six Bridges to Cross and finally Indicator’s first Universal Noir collection (curiously both boxes, from two seperate labels, are devoted to Universal Pictures films) with Abandoned and Deported. So those boxes finally completed can join the others on the shelf while I pull down Indicator’s Columbia Noir Vol. 5 set, which STILL, after several months, has two titles I have yet to watch.

Film connections can be a curious thing, as there is a link between Deported and Sirocco, the latter being one of the two films in the Vol.5 box that I haven’t yet seen, finally giving me a genuine push to get around to it (the link is a very sad one, it being that both films starred Märta Torén, a Swedish actress who lived a very short life – she died suddenly at just thirty years old in 1957).

The Weekly Summary # 16

Here we go, another week.

Finch (2021) – Apple TV

For All Mankind Season Two (2022), Episodes 1 -8 – Apple TV

52. The Sleeping City (1950) – Blu-ray

53. Thunder on the Hill (1951) – Blu-ray

Star Trek Picard Season Three (2023), Episode 10 – Amazon Prime

Finch was of course a rewatch, as Claire’s mum was over for Sunday dinner and we thought she’d enjoy it (and she did). I have to confess, my appreciation of the film probably increased second time around; its a solid old-fashioned sci-fi picture. Rewatching a film so soon afterwards is something of a rarity these days. There was a time when I’d watch a film and if I really enjoyed it, I’d be back on it in just a few days. Part of this was the novelty of VHS changing how we watched things, either replaying something recorded off the television or hired from a rental store over a weekend or, a little later on in the format, being able to buy a film on sell-through and watch it, rewatch it and rewatch it…  Back then of course, we had much less access to ‘new’ films, we could spend more time focused on what we had before moving on to the ‘next’ thing, but these days its hard to keep up. No matter how hard I try, I just can’t keep up with the many television shows on the various streamers, so many seasons of shows like Stranger Things etc just inexplicably waiting. That’s just the shows on the streamers I have access to, never mind the likes of Disney+ or those additional subscriptions on Prime.

So best/worst of… I’m afraid its pretty pointless once more, as yet again my viewing has been dominated by a television series. Best film is clearly the excellent The Sleeping City, but the other film I watched, Thunder on the Hill in no way qualifies as the worst of any week, its just too good a film for that.

Meanwhile, Star Trek Picard finally reached its grand conclusion for season three, which means I can finally finish my mammoth guide to the entire season. I just need to edit it down to a manageable, digestible size, and cut out the majority of my ranting, but it will hopefully be ready for tomorrow.

Next week: another attempt to actually watch a few films instead of getting seduced into binge-watching a whole season of a television show…

The Sleeping City


The Sleeping City, 1950, 86 mins, Blu-ray

Directed by George ShermanLarceny, Starring Richard ConteCry of the City, Whirlpool, The Big Combo, The Brothers Rico, The Godfather, Coleen GrayKiss of Death, Nightmare Alley, Kansas City Confidential,  The KillingRichard TaberKiss of Death, Alex Nicol – The Man From Laramie

An ambulance, siren wailing, arrives at a New York hospital – the tired intern having delivered his patient from the ambulance, announces that he is taking a break. Wearily he walks back outside for a smoke, walking up towards the pier that the hospital backs onto, with its grey, early-morning view of the east river.  A sudden noise of hurried steps behind him causes him to spin around, to see a gun raised to his head, shockingly aimed right in his face. The gun fires. Its a pretty brutal way to start a film, I’m a little surprised they got away with it back then- its staged so well, I found it quite shocking.

Shortly after,  Inspector Gordon of the 9th Precinct arrives; his initial investigation in which he talks to those who worked with and knew the intern finds no obvious leads, but Gordon senses something is wrong at the hospital. He presses his superior to agree to placing an undercover cop in the hospital posing as an intern. The man he has in mind is Detective Fred Rowan (Richard  Conte), whose medical background from his army days in the war ensures he has sufficient knowledge to safely practice in the hospital wards. Posing as Dr. Fred Gilbert, Rowan moves into lodging shared with fellow intern Dr. Steve Anderson (Alex Nicol) and slowly familiarises himself with how the hospital is run and its staff working within. Eventually he learns of a gambling and blackmail racket, and suspects nurse Ann Sebastian (Coleen Gray), whom he’s been getting romantically attached to, may be  involved. Events, however, begin to spiral out of control, and he himself becomes a suspect when Anderson is found dead in the river.

The Sleeping City pretty much represents everything I love about 1940s/1950s Film Noir: the sense of time and place is so tangible and haunting, its like falling into another world. When I was very young, the appeal of escape to another world found me buried in Marvel Comics and watching the original Star Trek series, or Gerry Anderson’s shows. Now I’m older and (inevitably?) more jaded, I seem to be still feeling the same urge but find myself turning away from the fantastic and more succumbing to the draw of the past and these noir.  Probably its as much the great writing and acting typified by these dramas as much as the expressionist cinematography and vivid sense of other time, other place (genre stuff feels mostly far too juvenile, these days, dominated as it is by Marvel, DC and Disney). Like the very best noir, The Sleeping City perfectly captures a feeling of paranoia and distrust, of shadowy secrets lurking behind the facade of an otherwise efficient, professional hospital.

Regards that last point, while the extensive location shooting at the famous Bellevue Hospital in New York ensures a sense of gritty reality, it did give the producers something of a problem once the hospital realised what the the storyline involved (murders, racketeering, drugs smuggling and blatant malpractice such as leaving desperate patients without any pain relief). Makes one wonder if the Hospital trustees and board had bothered to read the script, something I commented upon midway through watching the film- I couldn’t believe they’d actually been able to use a real hospital for the shoot. In any case, the Hospital’s inevitable concerns required a hasty prologue with Richard Conte addressing the audience (“Hello, everybody, my name is Richard Conte. In the picture you’re about to see….”) assuring them that the film in no way reflected the integrity or practices of the Bellevue Hospital (tellingly the setting is never actually referred to by name in the film). Its a pity this enforced prologue remains with the film- I’d have preferred an opportunity to watch the film sans prologue, without the fourth-wall breaking of Conte promising us nothing that follows is real: I can understand why it was there in 1950 but now it just feels a little anachronistic. I appreciate that it being there maintains the integrity of the original film but wonder that the film might prove even more powerful without it…

Sleepc12Its also little strange how much The Sleeping City feels like a film hampered by a bad title, because to my mind it doesn’t really fit anything about the film or its story. For all I know, its actually the original title by the writer Jo Eisinger (who also wrote Gilda) but I rather suspect it was an attempt (presumably by the producers) to attract people who enjoyed noir thrillers like The Naked City or Cry of the City. Sure, the film is an urban-set noir, and shot most entirely on location ensuring a gritty, convincing setting, but other than that, The Sleeping City doesn’t seem to fit at all. That being said, I’ve wracked my brain for the past few days trying to decide what else it COULD have been titled and have come up short, so I’ve every sympathy for whoever had to come up with a title.

The story is great, with genuine twists and interesting characters, and the cast is uniformly excellent with some familiar faces from the period (Conte, obviously, but Gray is very good and so is Nicol). Its certainly a much better film than I expected, going in. How often these noir surprise and reward. This Blu-ray edition I have watched is part of Arrow’s recent, second film noir set, containing films from the Universal Pictures library, and includes some interesting extras, particularly its audio commentary by Imogen Sara Smith which as usual I have as yet only sampled.  Sometimes in these noir box sets, even the Indicator ones, some of the included films are only tangentially noir, but in this case, this is a film that is absolutely genuine noir, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.


All Quiet on the Western Front (2022)

westernf1All Quiet on the Western Front, 2022, 145 mins, Netflix

Can’t say I enjoyed this one at all, really. Are we SUPPOSED to enjoy films like this, though? Perhaps we’re supposed to SUFFER films like this, like some kind of penance. War is bad, war is horrible, let this film show us the ways. The nightmare that the poor souls who suffered this Great War can really only be approximated, but let this film do its damnedest to show us the life and death (and the suffering inbetween) of the Trenches of the Western Front.

I experienced a somewhat curious realisation, about midway through this film. “I’m not enjoying this at all,” I commented. I’ve watched Apocalypse Now, Platoon, The Thin Red Line, Come and See, Saving Private Ryan, 1917, so many war films that have reminded us over the years of the horrors of war, in ever more graphic detail. This was something new. Have I reached some kind of saturation point with regards war films?

Maybe its a cumulative thing- I have, after all, been watching so much post-Apocalypse stuff of late; The Last of Us, Station Eleven, Finch... so much of my recent viewing has concerned the end of the world and all the misery of that. Maybe I’ve become sensitive to this kind of thing, I guess we all have our limits. Maybe its real-life encroaching on things. I couldn’t face watching Imprint’s new edition of Jacob’s Ladder when it arrived last week, instead quietly putting it away onto a shelf in my back room, to be faced another day.

So halfway through this new version of All Quiet on the Western Front, so revered at awards season (Four Oscars, Seven BAFTAs), I announced “Maybe its time to dig out that Toy Story boxset.” Maybe I really do need something lighter, more cheerful. Of course, I stuck through the film to its end, but I maintain I didn’t enjoy it at all. I think I endured it.

The film owes a debt to Come and See, that much is certain – maybe that film has ruined me for war films  (I only just realised that I never wrote a review of that film – I watched the Criterion Blu-ray edition about a year ago), or maybe I just need to watch something lighter. I guess what perplexes me now is; was it the film, or was it me? Is there only so much misery that we can take? All Quiet on the Western Front is quite relentless in its depiction of the hell of war. I think maybe it should have heeded the lesson of Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter – this film needed some perspective, a half-hour of the young men at school, at home, fooling around, enjoying normal life, before launching them into the hell of the war (goodness knows it could have lost half-hour of its war/torture porn, blood and misery and not missed it).  That may or may not have been faithful to the original book, I don’t know, I never read it, but what’s the point of being entirely faithful when you’re the third attempt at dramatizing it? At this stage maybe the whole point of doing a third version is ABSOLUTELY to do something different.