Tag: crime

June 7, 2010 / / Main Slate

By William Benker

Touch of Evil – 1958 – dir. Orson Welles

A film’s ability to remain timeless nearly fifty years after its release constitutes a work of brilliance that only few films possess.  Specifically, in relation to recent political wars of immigration and borders, Touch of Evil divides a fine line between crime and innocence.  Orson Welles’ Hank Quinlan, at first sight, appears unbreakable – entirely devoid of any sort of empathy, as he strolls onto the screen, off balance from an old wound he obtained defending his friend.  But as the classic noir unwinds, the director himself reveals a moral conundrum any and all face when questioned by the notion of “authority.”  The overarching theme is never once mentioned, but left to the elaborate set design that the story encompasses within itself.  Touch of Evil is a noir that still casts a luminescent shadow on issues that are far from outdated, signifying Welles’ keen insight into the issues of both past and present America.

November 12, 2009 / / Main Slate

By Peggy Nelson
Pickpocket – 1959 – dir. Robert Bresson

He sidles up to her.  A quick glance, suspicious, complicit.  Does she know?  Does she notice? Ostensibly they are betting on the horses. His long fingers spread, ever so slowly, over the purse. The pressure is subtle, slight, relentless.  His fingertips tease the edge of the clasp.   Gently, gently, yes! he pops it open.  His eyes flicker.  Her face is still calm, a nimbus of white against his dark intensity.  The fingers slip inside the folds: one, two, three . . . we suddenly hear the horses thundering along the track.  Louder, more insistent, until—he emerges with the money!  The horses are unstoppable!  The finish line is breached!  And, it is over.  The crowd disperses, he blends into the Brownian motion.  He has gotten away with it!  Drained by the effort, he walks/stumbles away.

And is immediately caught.  End Scene One.

August 10, 2009 / / Main Slate

Footsteps in the Dark – 1941 – dir Lloyd Bacon

A smart, breezy romp cut from the same cloth as The Thin Man series, Footsteps in the Dark marked a change in the actor Errol Flynn’s career.  Until this movie was made, the very popular matinee idol was known primarily for his rousing, period piece swashbucklers and he jumped at the opportunity to trade in his Robin Hood tights and swords for a chance to prove himself as a deft comedian. He more than succeeds.

June 22, 2009 / / Main Slate

The Long Goodbye – 1973 – Dir. Robert Altman

The late, great Robert Altman once again lends his distinctive, experimental style to what has come to be regarded as this definitive interpretation of Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye. It’s a winner!  Thirty-six this year, the film still plays as fresh and as contemporary as it did the year it was made.  The tale of a double murder and the unfortunate detective who gets dragged, kicking and screaming, into the thick of it is filled with a permeating cynicism, underhanded absurdities and shattering acts of violence.  Crime author Raymond Chandler, like his contemporaries Dashiell Hammett and Ross McDonald, created glamorous worlds of danger and intrigue where a usually hapless, albeit decent guy, finds himself way over his head in the soup. Here, Chandler’s anti-hero, Phillip Marlowe, is helmed by the underrated Elliott Gould. A huge star in the 60s and 70s (Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, M.A.S.H.), Gould brings a bizarrely effortless spin to a  role played in more traditional ways by everyone from Bogart to James Garner.  His dopey, befuddled schmuck look assists him ably in Altman’s clever conceit of placing a 1950s-style detective into a 1970s-style world.  It is as if this “Rip van Marlowe”, waking from a long slumber, has been transported via some private eye time tunnel twenty years into the future — a future he does not understand and is more than a little bit lost in.

June 22, 2009 / / Main Slate

The Public Enemy – 1931 – dir. William A. Wellman

It’s one of my favorite Old Hollywood vignettes, and I don’t know if it’s apocryphal or not. I stumbled across it in the Turner Classic Movies glossy Leading Men: The 50 Most Unforgettable Actors of the Studio Era, and it revolves around the famous scene in director William Wellman’s 1931 gangster classic The Public Enemy where James Cagney spontaneously shoves a grapefruit into co-star Mae Clarke’s face. According to the book: “The scene made Clarke’s ex-husband, Lew Brice, very happy. He saw the film repeatedly just to see that scene and often was shushed by angry patrons when his delighted laughter got too loud.” I love the story because it’s silly and ridiculous and not-outside-the-realm-of-possibility: spiteful exes have been known to do worse. But the story also gets at some of the key elements of an uncommonly enduring movie scene, one so memorable that, as critic Carlos Clarens notes in his book Crime Movies: “Not one reviewer failed to mention it, and it undoubtedly contributed to the film’s success.”  (Even Pauline Kael’s pithy two-sentence capsule review of The Public Enemy namechecks Clarke as “the girl who gets the grapefruit shoved in her kisser.”) The grapefruit bit remains a shocker, and was even more jarring in its day, but, as Brice certainly understood, it’s also kind of humorous in its utter nastiness. It catches many a viewer – if not Brice on his hundredth viewing – off-guard, leaving them helpless to do anything but gasp or laugh.

May 19, 2009 / / Main Slate

By Melvin Cartagena 

The Wild Bunch – 1969 – dir. Sam Peckinpah

It doesn’t matter that the credits state that it’s a screenplay written by Sam Peckinpah and Walon Green, a fiction developed from a story by Walon Green and Roy N. Sickner. It doesn’t matter that Pike Bishop’s (William Holden’s) command to his men in the robbery that opens the film is “If they move, kill ‘em.” And that this is followed by DIRECTED BY SAM PECKINPAH, simultaneously a bold statement and a way to defuse Pike’s order. It doesn’t matter that the fight sequences are entirely subjective in their staging and editing, we want to believe that there were once guys like these running around loose. We want to believe that these weary, battle-scarred men are the cowboys that made the west wild, as their name implies.  They are not above shooting civilians (as they do, when we see the parade marchers mowed down in the crossfire between the Bunch and Harrigan’s bounty hunters), but they’d rather not. They stand by each other against the world, and in their circumscribed universe (which is shrinking with the paving over of the west) that is the loftiest ideal they can hope for. It’s this commitment to each other that drives Pike and company to forsake their retirement score and engage in a suicidal shootout with Mapache’s men after Mapache slits Angel’s throat.