Recent Additions

P1110328 (2)My first package of 2022 from Indicator Films arrived late last week- the latest in their excellent Columbia Noir collections, this time devoted to Humphrey Bogart, and The Pemini Organisation, a set that was released in May which caught my interest but had to wait until I could bundle it with something else to qualify for the free postage (and use the reward points I’d accumulated last year). These releases are, as usual, limited editions, and if the numbers I received are anything to go by, the noir is as successful as ever (1150 of 6000, and only officially out today) but the Pemini set (719 of 6000) seems to be a sign Indicator could be finding it a struggle shifting them- expect it to be around for the Autumn sale.

I suppose the latter is predictable- who remembered Pemini these days, or had even heard of the three films it produced, let alone seen them? Pemini was a  film production company set up by three freinds (Peter Crane, Michael Sloan and Nigel Hodgson, the company name constructed from their first names) who wanted to work in film, so decided to be devilishly proactive: Pemini only operated between 1972 and 1974, producing just three films that pretty much disappeared when the company disbanded. All those points, of course, are why I found it so intriguing, and as ever for Indicator, its a remarkable set, the films restored and lavishly presented with an in-depth book and a bounty of on-disc extras- there’s plenty more prestigious and famous films that would be envious of such treatment. Its like a little film school in box.

I’m not familiar with the contents of the Bogart set, as I haven’t seen any of them before (I was never much of a fan of Bogart), and I understand some of them are a bit of a stretch regards defining them as noir. As usual though its a beauty of a package and a welcome companion to sets 1 to 4. The next noir box is the first of a new series, leaving Columbia behind in favour of noir from Universal Pictures, which looks fantastic but isn’t out until mid-September.

Alas, I could be awhile getting around to watching these new arrivals. After a weekend with the television hijacked for Glastonbury, its now restricted to two weeks of Wimbledon tennis: regular readers will know that during this fortnight I become a Wimbledon Widower every year, and getting to watch anything that isn’t tennis is pretty tricky. We’ll see how that goes, but its important to keep the wife happy, obviously.

In A Lonely Place (1950)

lonely22016.96: In A Lonely Place (Blu-ray)

One of the pleasures  of being a film-fan is discovering old films that you haven’t seen before and simply falling in love with them. Its like they’ve been waiting all those years just for you. In the case of Nicholas Ray’s film noir masterpiece In A Lonely Place it’s been 66 long years- it’s in like those movies where a character asks “where have you been all these years?”, it seems incredible that this film has been out there and I’d been ignorant of it. Thanks to Criterion’s recent Blu-ray release of this classic noir, and subsequent rave reviews that got my attention, I’ve finally fallen under its spell.

(Its the ‘magic’ of disc releases of catalogue titles; many of them don’t seem to appear on tv anymore and its only through these releases, like so many by Warner Archive and Arrow Films, Eureka etc., that these older films get my attention. It’d be such a shame if disc releases get replaced by streaming and downloads, as I’m sure these older films will suffer. You can’t rely on late-night television screenings anymore (they just don’t seem to happen these days)).

lonely3The genius of In A Lonely Place is that while its film noir, its really a story of a doomed romance, a tragic love story. Humphrey Bogart plays Dixon Steele, a washed-up screenwriter with a vicious temper. He becomes the prime suspect in a Hollywood murder, and his alibi proves to be his seductive, beautiful new neighbour  Laurel (Gloria Grahame). The two of them are lonely, broken souls and they start a passionate affair while the police continue to try to pin the murder on Steele. As the film continues, the romance is clearly good for Steele- he gets back to writing again, and gets a whole new zest for life, but Laurel’s happiness starts to unravel as she begins to witness Steel’s temper and his hair-trigger for violence. Doubts start to form in her mind -and in the audience- regards Steel’s innocence. Are the police right after all?

Its all very dark and complex, with elements that would later surface in Hitchcock’s masterpiece Vertigo a few years later. Indeed it very much feels like a film noir Vertigo, and in some ways In A Lonely Place seems actually superior to that classic, concluding with a similar dark and tragic inevitability. Of course, as Vertigo is one of my very favourite ‘Top Ten’ movies, it’s inevitable that I would fall in love with this noir masterpiece that shares so many of that film’s themes.

lonely1Bogart delivers a brilliant, complex and subtle performance, displaying both a vulnerability and a simmering darkness. Grahame is equal to Bogart with a sultry swagger that slowly becomes something more tender and then fragile. Both are phenomenal, both are perfect- its one of those films where you cannot possibly imagine any other actor inhabiting the roles they take. Bogart is not an actor I ever had much interest in when growing up; other than his early  gangster roles I was pretty much ignorant of his films- I only finally caught up with Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon this year. I think I’ve been missing out on something. I think thats something I will have to rectify.

In anycase, In A Lonely Place may be 66 years old, but its one of the very best films that I have seen all year. Its one of those films that lingers in your head for days- “I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me.” Dialogue and sentiments like that, in tragedies like this, it’s pure Hollywood magic. If  you are as ignorant of this film as I was a little while ago, really, this film is not to be missed. Its simply brilliant, and I can hardly wait to watch it, live it, all over again.

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

falcon1.jpg2016.20: The Maltese Falcon (Blu-ray)

Another of those classic films that somehow I’d never gotten around to, the steelbook Blu-ray I’d bought has patiently sat on the shelf for something close to two years until now. Having enjoyed Casablanca so much a few weeks ago it was inevitable that I would get around to finally watching this at last (and yes, I’m certainly getting through the ‘to-watch’ list this year).

The Maltese Falcon is no Casablanca, but it nonetheless deservedly merits its status as a film classic. I was actually surprised how demanding this film is. From the very start you have to pay keen attention to the twists and turns of its fairly labyrinthine plot (though I’m told its by no means the most confusing of the noir thrillers of the period). Its fascinating to consider how sophisticated its script is compared to the simpler fare that gets made today; I certainly cannot imagine many modern-day multiplex-goers sitting through a film this dense without walking out perplexed.

Hardboiled private detective Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart), is hired by mysterious femme fatale Ruth Wonderly (Mary Astor) to tail a man who has ties to her estranged sister. When Spades business partner Miles Archer is murdered that evening, Spade finds that he is a police suspect and is thrown into a complex web of lies and double-dealing concerning the location of the Falcon of the title. Along the way we meet some remarkable characters- notably Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre in possibly his finest role) and Kasper ‘The Fat Man’ Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet in what is, incredibly, his first screen role, stealing every scene he is in and defining the silver-screen ‘evil criminal mastermind’ forever).  The economy with which this film tells its tale and divulges its secrets is quite breathtaking, it’s really a very little film with a small cast and minimal sets but it packs quite a punch. A film like this could really teach modern-day screenwriters and directors something about scale and storytelling.

If only because the film answered some decades-old questions of my own regards a Jon & Vangelis song, I rate this film as something special, and it’s certainly a classic. You can see it creating the film noir/private eye genre right before your very eyes. All those films that came afterwards owe so much to this film.Funny thing is, and something that I had no idea of until I watched some of this excellent blu-ray disc’s special features, is that this is not the first screen attempt at filming The Maltese Falcon. It’s actually the third film made based on the story. Well, you learn something new everyday…

Casablanca (1942)

cas1

2016.13: Casablanca (Blu-ray)

It’s really a crime against cinema that this film has remained on my to-watch list for so long. I bought it on Blu-ray back in 2013 (the receipt was slipped inside the case, as if I’d put it there to shame myself when eventually watching it years later). How I managed to miss ever watching it prior to 2013 though, on any one of its many tv showings over all the years before (or even afterwards, while the disc gathered dust on the shelf) will remain another mystery. Its strange how some such films slip through the net,  but in some ways it’s a good thing that such classics can still be discovered for the first time. I have to admit, this is a film that surpasses all expectations, it’s a wonderful film. Perfect even. Naturally it leaps into my list of fifty great films.

Naturally for a film as old as this one, and so well-known as this one, it is pointless describing the plot and anything positive I have to say about the film is utterly redundant. Surely all has been said. The script… goodness, the script is simply perfect, and somehow despite being set in 1941 hasn’t dated at all. It’s a genuine example of why a good script is the foundation of any good film. The film is perfectly directed and lovingly shot. The cast are perfect. Have used the word ‘perfect’ enough?

It’s one of those films that was made at just the right time, when just the right talent in front and behind the camera came together at just the right time. It’s a film that defies criticism, that seems perfectly formed- cinema magic, a timeless work of art. There’s not many films this good; masterpiece is an over-used term these days, especially regards films, but in this case it is more than justified, its essential.

cas2So anyway, now I can truly understand all the fuss. One thing I must just mention; Ingrid Bergman- she just glows. Her performance is just… priceless. The rest of the cast are no slouches; Bogart impresses, as does Claude Rains, but it is Bergman that steals the show for me. It’s a phenomenal performance from -incredibly- seventy-four years ago. That thought just makes me pause a moment. Seventy-four years ago. Good grief.

Thats the magic of movies I guess. Some moments, some performances. They are frozen in time forever, truly the nearest a human can get to immortality. In this film Bergman shines forever.