Dead End [1937] wallpaper

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1920 x 1080 wallpaper of William Wyler‘s big screen interpretation of Dead End, featuring Humphrey Bogart.

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Dead Reckoning [1947]

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1920x1080 wallpaper

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.

Force of Evil [1948]

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1920 x 1080 wallpaper

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.

The Public Enemy [1931] wallpapers

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Thought I would follow up yesterday’s Scarface post with a couple of 1920×1080 wallpapers for another great pre-code prohibition gangster story, “The Public Enemy” starring the legendary James Cagney in one of his most iconic roles. 3 are very similar, but I couldn’t make up my mind which one I preferred.

“Twenty-four eyes” wallpaper

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Click the above image for 1920×1080 desktop wallpaper.

What do the films Seven Samurai, Godzilla, and Sansho the Bailiff have in common? They were all beaten to the coveted Blue Ribbon award in 1954 by Keisuke Kinoshita‘s “Nijûshi no hitomi” a.k.a Twenty-four eyes. An achingly beautiful and tragic story spanning two decades, “Twenty-four eyes” is a study of the passing of time, the student-teacher relationship, and a moving commentary on how war is paid for by the lives of our children.

Along with the Blue Ribbon, this film is also the current holder of the (less coveted) “last film to make m00ch cry” award. Yeah go ahead, laugh it up. This is a heart-wrenching film and I defy anyone with a soul to not be moved by its tragedy and poetic story. The film is a reminder that we were all innocent children once upon a time, and will make you long for the naivety and blissful ignorance so intertwined with youth.

This is a solid 5-star film, and while it may sound pretentiously cliche, I can think of no better phrase to describe 24 eyes than a journey through life itself. Not to be missed.

Five Graves to Cairo [1943] wallpaper

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I’m a huge fan of Billy Wilder, owning pretty much all of his films that are possible to obtain on DVD. While he is known for churning out hit after hit of hugely popular and artistically credible films as Sunset Blvd, Some Like it Hot, Sabrina and Double Indemnity (I could go on) there are also a few gems in his oeuvre that are often overlooked. Five Graves to Cairo is one of them.

Click the above picture for a full 1920×1080 resolution wallpaper.

IMDb summary : “June, 1942. The British Army, retreating ahead of victorious Rommel, leaves a lone survivor on the Egyptian border–Corporal John Bramble, who finds refuge at a remote desert hotel…soon to be German HQ. To survive, Bramble assumes an identity which proves perilous. The new guest of honor is none other than Rommel, hinting of his secret strategy, code-named ‘five graves’, and the fate of the British in Egypt depends on whether a humble corporal can penetrate the secret…”

This is early Wilder – following up from the kitsch but charming Ginger Rogers vehicle “The Major and the Minor” – but it still oozes with his trademark screenplay writing skill and his innate sense of rhythm and perfect pace. Its origins as a play are sometimes felt in a slightly “stagey” mise-en-scène, but this is a star-laden, tense wartime drama that is very entertaining.

Even at this very early stage in his Directorial career, Wilder had a knack for attracting star power to his films, or creating stars overnight. As you would expect from the actress who held her own alongside Bette Davis in All About Eve (no mean feat!), Anne Baxter‘s sultry looks and acting skill shine through even with her slightly phoney French accent. Franchot Tone owns the lead role that Cary Grant famously turned down, but the real star here is Erich Von Stroheim, whose larger than life self-caricature slots perfectly into the role of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel.

Any fans of Billy Wilder cannot truly call themselves a fan until they have seen this film. While it may not match the undeniable qualities of his more critically acclaimed works, it is still a fitting example of his output, and shows that even an average Billy Wilder film is leaps and bounds ahead of the opposition.

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