Friday, September 19, 2014

Weekend Entertainment: Film Noir at Its Best

Film: Blood Simple, Coen Brothers
The Coen Brothers' first film, Blood Simple, is a noir involving the murder of a bar owner by his wife and her boyfriend.  Once they commit the murder, they make one stupid mistake after another and become "blood simple" as in simple minded due to being murderers. This phrase was coined by mystery writer Dashiell Hammett but the Coens made it their own with this film. 

The scene with the husband crawling crab like along the road in the desert while the boyfriend stands there with a shovel, the lights from his pickup glaring to illuminate the scene, is now a classic in film lore.  The cast, including Frances McDormand, became a who's who in film. It is also the first time I saw M. Emmett Walsh play one of his good old boy roles as the detective or Elias Koteas play someone repellant, a specialty of his. 

Frances McDormand as a femme fatal is also the quirkiest interpretation of that archetype you'll ever see in film noir.

When I first saw this film it was at a film festival as no one knew who the Coen Brothers were. It was just the kind of oddball indie film which film festivals champion. No one expected these guys would go on to become major success stories.

I've seen this several times and love it anew each time.

Film: The 4th Man, Paul Verhoeven
Paul Verhoeven's film, starring Jeroen KrabbĂ© as a writer who visits a hairdresser who has had three husbands who died tragically, is one of my top ten ever films. He is gay and attracted to the blonde hairdresser's boyfriend but is increasingly convinced that she murdered her husband(s). He suspects the boyfriend and he are next in line for murder by her. Meanwhile she is both equally enigmatic and seductive at every turn with both. 

This is a foreign language film which is subtitled. This was done before the director turned into an American film director and started shooting in English. His first big hit in America was the English language Robocop which changed him from doing a beautiful noir film such as this to American action adventure films instead. He made much better films as a Dutch film director and this one is his very best in any language.

Film: Notorious, Alfred Hitchcock
Hitchcock's film Notorious, is with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in a love and spy story. Bergman's father is convicted as a Nazi war criminal in the USA. She is asked by CIA agent Grant to join his German cohorts in South America and spy on them for the CIA. 

Grant and Bergman have a real love-hate relationship which hits boiling point as the CIA sends her after the weak, German Claude Raines with the strong mother and the equally strong brutish German sidekicks, all Nazis and in hiding. Raines and the mother are also superb, especially in their rendering of strong Nazi-her shielding weak, spineless Nazi-him. If you never thought you could picture a sniveling weasel of a Nazi, Claude Rains shows how it is done!

Good as it is as a spy story, it is magnificent as a love story. They both look gorgeous in the film too. It is set right after WWII when the hunt was on for Nazis who had escaped to Buenos Aires. Bergman's costumes are gorgeous.

This is one of my very top Hitchcock films and I have loved it every time I've seen it.

Film: Freeway, Reese Witherspoon, Kiefer Sutherland
Reese Witherspoon is a teenager who has to make her own way in the world.  She manages to take on all comers but meets her nemesis in Keifer Sutherland who is a serial killer preying on young women. This is like no serial killer movie you've ever seen though!  It is based on the fairy tale, Little Red Riding Hood. This was made when both of these actors were starting out in their careers. 24 was far into the future for him and no one was thinking Oscar for her. Then I saw them in this and thought, Wow!

I especially like that she is no one's dummy. She's got a real bad hand to play in life, not only up against him but up against her family, the legal system and just about everything else. But she is equal to it and Kiefer is just marvelous in his serial killer role up against his match. 

Kiefer's acting in his Big Bad Wolf mode at the end is a tour de force.

1 comment:

  1. I love love noir films, so thanks for these recs, Carol! I saw Blood Simple when it first came out and loved it, being shocked and entertained in the same moment, which I experience a lot watching Quentin T's movies. Can't wait to watch it again--and to watch those you also recommended that I haven't seen yet.