My weekly movie reviews. You can also read these on letterboxd.
This week focuses on three films, all directed by Henry Hathaway, programmed as part of Criterion Channel’s “Noirvember”
Kiss of Death (1947)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
I can’t believe I have overlooked this terrific crime picture for so many years. Perhaps blinded by the mediocrity of the 90s remake, I dismissed the original. But Kiss of Death is a shining star of its genre and one of director Henry Hathway’s best films.
Talk of this picture often relates to Richard Widmark and the infamous wheelchair scene, a focus that misses how good the picture is overall. Don’t get me wrong, Widmark is electrifying as Tommy Udo. He gives one of the best bad guy performances of the era. However, it’s Victor Mature who runs away with the picture in my opinion. Want a lesson in film acting? Watch the scene where Mature is visited by Coleen Gray in prison. He does very little with his face or his voice; it’s all in his eyes. This is a performer who knows the camera, who understands cinema, and this role ranks up there with his excellent work in My Darling Clementine.
I can also see why Eleazar Lipsky’s story was nominated for an Oscar. In the most simple terms it has everything a picture needs: a man we’re desparately rooting for, a woman we desire, and a villain we’re afraid. That’s it! Storytelling at its most basic and most effective. Speaking of the woman, I am slowly falling in love with Coleen Gray after seeing her in two Westerns and now this film. She is not only a versatile actress but her sincerity on screen makes me want to time travel and seduce her into my arms…
Watched on Criterion Channel
The Dark Corner (1946)
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
I’m excited to explore Henry Hathaway’s filmography, the Westerns but also his work in other genres, and was thrilled to see three of his entries in the Noir genre programmed on Criterion Channel.
The Dark Corner is an excellent mystery, featuring a pre-I Love Lucy Lucille Ball. No, she isn’t a Femme Fatale-type but rather a sincere, dedicated love interest for leading man Mark Stevens. I’m not too familiar with his other work but Stevens carries the hell out of this movie as his private detective character moves through a series of twists and turns. Hathaway handles the complex plot with a careful touch, never letting things get too convoluted or confusing. One of the refreshing things about this movie is that other than Ball, the cast is filled with recognizable actors but not stars. This allowed me to completely lose myself in the narrative and submerge my mind in the wonderful darkness of the world Hathaway created.
This is a gem, not talked about enough, and a must see for any fan of classic crime cinema.
Watched on Criterion Channel.
Call Northside 777 (1948)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
This film isn’t “Noir” by estimation, not by a longshot. But nowadays, any crime picture in B&W with some high contrast lighting is considered Film Noir. Alas, the war is lost. Now, moving onto the movie which is pretty good.
James Stewart starts Call Northside 777 with a rare skeptical outlook. He’s a semi-jaded reporter, the kind of role William Holden played to perfection. Stewart is less hopeful, less optimistic than usual for the first third (which is refreshing) and then he switches into the crusader we’re more used to seeing in pictures like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. The picture loses a little steam when Stewart goes this direction, transforming a little too quickly in my opinion, but nevertheless remains an entertaining procedural. The story of the falsely accused man, played by Richard Conte, is hard to not be touched by, especially since it’s based on true events. Henry Hathaway, employing some of the same documentary realism of Kiss of Death, does a fine job of telling this story, but ultimately it’s an unsurprising crime drama.
Watched on Criterion Channel