The Lady From Shanghai [1947] wallpapers

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2 1920 x 1080 wallpapers for Orson Welles’ “The Lady From Shanghai“, a film which is laughably bad at times but interspersed with moments of sheer genius.

Case in point : the final showdown in the funhouse. Welles’ ludicrous Irish brogue, messily explaining the twists and turns of the convoluted plot, but shot with tension and vision in an unsettling backdrop of a hall of mirrors. Keep an eye out for possibly the most over-acted false limp in movie history at around the 3 minute mark.

Black Narcissus wallpaper

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1920x1080 wallpaper

A 1920 x 1080 (1080p HD) wallpaper for Powell & Pressburger’s Black Narcissus. Enjoy the film Simon.

Dead Reckoning [1947]

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Apologies to anyone who isn’t a fan of Humphrey Bogart – this blog is rapidly turning into some kind of Bogie homage. I did nothing to avoid this by watching yet another Bogart film last night – John Cromwell‘s rather disappointing “Dead Reckoning“.

I really cant work out what went wrong here. On the surface John Cromwell might as well be making a Sam Spade film, and seems to have all the right ingredients. Bogart’s character has been lifted with minimal change from The Maltese Falcon, and has some brilliantly dark and cutting lines. Unfortunately Bogart -along with his well-written dialogue and delivery – is the only positive point.

After a strong and intriguing start, the film’s plot begins to meander and flatten, and at times becomes downright convoluted and confusing with too many red herrings and false leads. There are a few great scenes – Bogart coolly avoiding a murder set-up, and demonstrating some awesome skill at dice – but they are strung together so flatly, in such a contrived, derivative plot that it is easy to lose interest.

Lizabeth Scott appears in a role that was obviously designed with an actress such as Lauren Bacall or Rita Hayworth in mind, and proceeds to put in one of the most wooden and cringe-worthy performances I have seen in a film-noir, highlighted by one of the most awkwardly mistimed lip-synch songs that I have ever seen. I believe this is the first performance of Scott’s that I have experienced, so I may be doing her a disservice, however there is nothing here that makes me want to check out any of her other roles.

I have been very fortunate with film choices recently, and have had a good run of some great films, but Dead Reckoning was an average, nay below average, experience for me. It’s testament to Bogie’s skill that he was able to remain thoroughly convincing and entertaining amidst a sea of (admittedly stylish) mediocrity. If it wasn’t for his faultless performance it is likely I wouldn’t have finished watching. For die-hard Bogart fans only.

Even the trailer is corny…

Sahara [1943] wallpaper

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1920 x 1080 wallpaper for Sahara [1943] starring Humphrey Bogart .

Considering this film was made while WWII was still underway, you would be forgiven for approaching Sahara as nothing more than a patriotic propaganda film, and for the most part you would be right. But while there is plenty of allied camaraderie, back-slapping and pulling together to beat the Hun, its message never really gets in the way of what is essentially a solid military movie. Anyway, watching Bogie is always worth your time, and he is his usual charismatic, dependable self here.

In summary, there is nothing mind-blowing here, but the film doesn’t really put a foot wrong either. An easy to watch film and a typically strong performance from Bogart.

Bogart gets ready for a take in Sahara

Oh, and the score is great.

The Woman in the Window [1944] wallpaper

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Woman in the Window was my first experience of Fritz Lang‘s American films. It’s not often that a film splits my opinion so much.

On the one hand, it’s a story of a gentle, intelligent, middle-aged man foolishly chasing youthful fantasy. Edward G Robinson perfectly portrays a man driven to an arguably justified murder, and as he attempts to cover it up he finds himself in a spiralling web of deceit. It’s a simple but satisfying suspense film of Hitchcockian proportions.

On the other hand, there is that ending. To write about it would ruin the experience for someone who has yet to see the film, so analysis is difficult. Needless to say the first twist ending is dripping in pathos and would be a beautifully dark poetic finish, but is marred, for me, by a second twist which leaves a slightly corny taste in the mouth.

Fans of Lang’s earlier works should not expect any of the trademark expressionist flair found in his UFA and Nero films, but can expect a well-crafted, well-paced suspenseful drama which raises some interesting ideas and captures a great mood. Well worth a watch even if the last couple of minutes sours the film a little.

Force of Evil [1948]

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While it is easy to slot it into the noir bracket, there are a lot of aspects that set Abraham Polonsky‘s “Force of Evil” apart from the crowd. Perhaps most obviously, rather than focus on the underbelly of society and all the shades of grey therein, this is a film which shows the usual noir character flaws and tendencies and superimposes them upon the high-fliers, the lawyers and the bankers.

Also, where the majority of noir thrillers and dramas are content to dwell in melodrama and escapism, this is a pretty thinly-veiled political film condemning capitalist culture. The message is clear here – the money-men, lawyers, and wall street are written alongside gangsters and hoodlums, dragging the working man down into the gutter, and to their graves, for their own gain.

I’m not opposed to political films (I adore Punishment Park), but in a drama or thriller I appreciate a little subtlety and ambiguity. Sam Fuller’s “Pickup on South Street” for example, uses satire to poke fun at right-wing sensibilities without ever preaching or becoming overbearing. Force of Evil though is a full-on assault of capitalist values. This film in itself must have been pretty strong fuel for McCarthy to blacklist Polonsky (as abhorrent as HUAC ‘s processes were).

Message-making aside, this really is a technical beauty. Shot under the watchful eye of George Barnes (DP to films such as Hitch’s Rebecca and Spellbound), light and shadow are used beautifully to contrast between the luxurious offices, and the underground gambling banks. To add further distance to usual noir style, a few location shoots pepper the film, akin to the documentary-esque shots found in Jules Dassin’s “Naked City“.

The dialogue here is pleasingly sharp and biting, with many killer lines delivered through John Garfield‘s internal narration :

“A man could spend the rest of his life trying to remember what he shouldn’t have said.”

There are also a couple of stand-out scenes. One in particular – set to Beethoven – where we see Howland Chamberlain‘s nervous, innocent character brutally slain by rival gangsters, is a perfect harmonious marriage of emotion, image and music for about 60 seconds. This is also unfortunately where the emotional connection is lost though, as the only likeable character in the film is taken out of the picture.

The film’s pièce de résistance follows shortly after this scene. Two men against one, in a small, totally dark office, each wielding a gun. They are only feet from each other yet totally blind, no-one willing to take the first shot and give away their position. Dripping in tension, the scene is nail-bitingly exciting.

Taken individually, the aspects of the film would seem exemplary. Great dialogue, a densely plotted yet easy to follow screenplay, beautiful neo-realistic noir visuals, and a couple of great set-pieces ultimately do not add up to a masterpiece. The film’s lack of empathy due to its heavy-handed political assertions, and middle-of-the-road “safe” performances from the majority of its cast (including John Garfield) hold the film back. It’s still worth your time though, and essential for any fans of Martin Scorcese, being a film he personally champions and cites as a great influence.

Crossfire [1947]

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Click the above image for full 1920×1080 resolution wallpaper.

IMDb summary : “Homicide Capt. Finlay finds evidence that one or more of a group of demobilized soldiers is involved in the death of Joseph Samuels. In flashbacks, we see the night’s events from different viewpoints as Sergeant Keeley investigates on his own, trying to clear his friend Mitchell, to whom circumstantial evidence points. Then the real, ugly motive for the killing begins to dawn on both Finlay and Keeley…”

More message-movie than conventional film-noir (is there any such thing?), this is a cracking detective story that tunes in to the anti-semetic sensitivities of 1940s America.

It is worth noting that while Crossfire makes a (rather obvious and heavy-handed) statement renouncing antisemitism, the book that the film is based on actually focused on homophobia. As the Hays Code forbade any kind of discussion or representation of homosexuality, and tapping into the zeitgeist of 1940s America (the film arrived more or less alongside the similarly-themed “Gentleman’s Agreement“), the film changes a homosexual victim to a Jewish victim, but in truth the film could be about any form of extreme prejudice and would arrive at the same conclusion.

There are still a couple of remnants of the original focus on homosexuality however. Armed with this knowledge it makes a lot more sense as to why a Jewish man would invite a young upset squaddie back to his room alone. It’s also clear why this young soldier would then go out looking for female company to assert his masculinity after this encounter with a Jewish man. While watching the film it isn’t really noticeable, but the pieces slot together even better when in hindsight you replace “Jewish” with “homosexual”.

With a simple plot and a strongly played message, Crossfire’s strength lies in the characterisation of its main players, none more so than the intelligent portrayal of Captain Finlay by Robert Young. The Oscar winning Gloria Grahame is earthy, sassy and alluring as card-girl Ginny. Robert Mitchum‘s character is solid, but as later stated by Mitchum himself, could have been played by anyone. Robert Ryan is utterly believable as a drunken war vet who seems to be covering something up. The fantastically well-written characters, a swiftly paced screenplay, some great acting and the noir-style visuals elevate the film above what could be a conventional message movie, into a very entertaining detective drama.

A great film. Big thanks to iluvcinema for another spot-on recommendation. To finish up, here is a great little propaganda trailer / teaser, which shows you just how it was perceived by audiences and the studios at the time.

 

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