Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Movies for the week ending 7/30

My review of The Set-Up (1949, directed by Robert Wise) is up at my web site. Here's the link: A short abstract:

"The Set-up is a compact masterpiece, running some 72 minutes in real time. The real-time structure of the film is a virtuoso act that trumps similar gimmicks in High Noon or Rope by virtue of playing like a movie rather than as an experiment. Subtract the shots of clocks that remind the audience that the film is unfolding in the time it takes to watch it and the movie still works. Where the "gimmick" really comes into its own is during the boxing match. We get the whole match, rather than a match as edited for a movie a la Rocky. Sporting events--particularly fights--have their own drama to them and the movie seizes hold of that drama and milks it for all it's worth."

From the same boxed set: John Huston's The Asphalt Jungle (1950) is the talkiest damned film noir I've ever seen. Good performances, but low on cinematic style. Marilyn Monroe is sure easy on the eyes in this, though. Of the films in the first Warners film noir box, it's the one I like the least. Sterling Hayden fared better in Kubrick's similarly themed The Killing.

House of Strangers (1949, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz) is a film noir-ish reworking of King Lear with Edward G. Robinson as Lear and Richard Conte as Cordelia. Robinson is watchable in anything, as is Conte, and the movie is certainly attractive. This is noir as a generational family drama (a type that culminates in The Godfather). It's also a film where noir shows its roots in the Gothic traditions, mainly in its lush set design. Very entertaining.

The Spiral Staircase (1946, directed by Robert Siodmak). One of the most stylish of the old-style "old dark house" thrillers, this one shades into the modern serial killer genre, with mute Dorothy Maguire targeted by a murderer who kills women who are "imperfect." This sucker lays on the style--the shadows cast by the titular staircase puts a distinctive stamp on the proceedings--and turns the screws tight. One of my favorite movies from the 1940s.