Classic Film Review: Walter Neff Confesses

Double Indemnity (1944) - IMDb

Double Indemnity is a 1944 film that is considered the definitive film noir where the ending isn’t all that warm, and the protagonists are lacking in morals.  There is a lot of history and unique acclaim attached to this.  It was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won none.  It did make a lasting mark on cinema history, so the makers had to live with that.  Billy Wilder was the director of the screenplay which he co-wrote with Raymond Chandler.  It was based on a novella written by James M.Cain.  The cast includes Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, and Edward G. Robinson.

Most of the story is told in flashback when MacMurray’s Walter Neff staggers into an office, sets up a dictaphone, and starts telling his story of infatuation and murder.  Neff meets the wife of a client who later asks about setting up a life insurance policy without the husband’s knowledge.  Neff figures out that Phyllis Dietrichson is setting up a big payout following the murder of her husband.  He decides that Phyllis is just attractive enough for him to lend a hand.  Not only does he have to  make sure the police has no suspicion, but he has an older colleague who is a good deal sharper than many.

A double indemnity is a clause in the insurance policy which would double the payout depending on how subject meets their death.  That was kind of fun to learn.

This is worth the reputation.  The performances aren’t bad at all.  I particularly enjoyed Edward G. Robinson as Barton Keyes, who is the colleague who is just a little too nosy for Neff’s good.  All of the cast did pretty well.  Apparently, James Cain thought the movie was better than his original story.  I haven’t read the novella, but I would probably take his word for it.

This is one of those films that I should have been long before now.  It may struggle a little with plausibility, but the overall experience was too well crafted for me to mind all that much.

Film Review: Grace Falls Hard And Faces Hard Time

Tyler Perry's A Fall From Grace ending explained | Netflix movie ...

A Fall From Grace is the latest film written and directed by Tyler Perry and was released on Netflix a couple of months ago.  Perry himself takes on a supporting role with a cast that includes Crystal Fox, the always welcome Phylicia Rashad,  Bresha Webb, Cicely Tyson, and Mehcad Brooks.

Crystal Fox plays a middle-aged woman awaiting her trial for the murder of her younger husband.  Bresha Webb is the young attorney who is doubting her career choice and is afraid of trial.  She’s young, nervous, and somehow astute enough to sense there is a story that needs to be told since her new client just wants to take a deal.  Phylicia Rashad plays the ever helpful best friend of the hapless Grace Waters, who is facing life in prison.  Much of the movie unfolds in flashback as Grace is convinced to tell her tale of renewed hope in love and a subsequent horrible betrayal.

This is a mess, and it saddens me because I actually really like Tyler Perry.  I think he has good ideas, and the basic premise of this film actually isn’t bad.  The problem is I don’t think Perry does much research when it comes to police and court procedure.  I understand the films do need to take some creative license with those, however Perry’s depiction her is almost completely implausible.  Once again, the resolution seems rushed and just way too out of left field.

There is a talented cast here, and some interesting performances.  Perry’s dialogue is a bit cliche at times and just flat out unrealistic at others.

I really tried to like this movie just because I like Tyler Perry during interviews.  I found the lack of authenticity in what would actually happen in the courtroom really distracting.  Some of the clues being missed by the main characters was just annoyingly absurd.

I was just reading that a lot of technical mishaps such as boom mikes being visible and some continuity errors had occurred in the final film.  I guess I missed those because I was too perturbed about how the story is being told.

Some of these criticisms I have expressed before in other Tyler Perry projects, however I found this particular film to be the most glaring example of  his more questionable film making decisions.

Classic Film Review: Even The Bad Guys Want To Save The Children

M (1951) - Coins in Movies

is a thriller released in theaters in 1951.  It is based on a German film from 1931.  The particular version was directed by Joseph Losey with a screenplay that was written by Norman Reilly Raine, Leo Katcher, and Waldo Salt.  David Wayne plays the child murderer who everyone is looking to stop, even the criminal underground of Los Angeles. The cast also includes Howard Da Silva, Martin Gabel, and Raymond Burr.

Los Angeles is being terrorized by a killer of children, which is also having the police interfere more than usual with other criminal aspirations among the mobsters and racketeers.  The organization decides to conduct their own somewhat brutal investigation to find the serial killer.

Raymond Burr plays one of the hoodlums looking for the murderous inconvenience. David Wayne plays the murderer that is causing such disarray. Burr doesn’t have a significant role here, but he still manages to display some diversity here as one of the hoods.  Not much Perry Mason there.  Wayne gets a little shrill at times when he gets into a desperate situation.  He comes close to some hammy over acting.

The story does have a pretty compelling premise in that the police and the criminals are somewhat allied in their desire of finding the killer, although the mob bosses’ motives are not that altruistic unsurprisingly.

Some of this is a bit of stretch when it comes to plausibility, as so much is out of Hollywood.  It would be interesting to see German version.  I may look that up at some point.

Still, this movie has some pluses.  The performances are pretty good for the most part.  The kid who gets kidnapped toward the climax of the film was pretty stoic for someone who is stuck with guy who is unraveling significantly while trying to make his escape.  Janine Perreau was perhaps not the most thought out casting decision here.

The movie has a pretty engaging idea and some noteworthy performances, but it does drag at times and seems a little disjointed.  It’s by no means a terrible film, but it just didn’t quite keep my attention as much as I expected.

Film Review: Roman And Jake On Their Own Collision Course

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Aftermath is a very slow-paced thriller based on events surrounding the tragic airline collision over Uberlingen which occurred in 2002.  This film was written by Javier Gullon and directed by Elliot Lester.  Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as a construction supervisor who lost his wife and daughter in the airline disaster. Scoot McNairy plays the air traffic controller who got distracted at a crucial moment which led to this tragedy occurring.  The cast includes Maggie Grace, Martin Donovan, and Hannah Ware.

Schwarzenegger’s lead role of Roman Melnyk is based on a fellow named Vitaly Kaloyev, who took matters into his hands when he felt the response to his family’s demise in the disaster was not handled as sympathetically as he would have liked.  McNairy’s Jake Bonanos is the air traffic controller who ends up facing the brunt of the scandal and of Roman’s outrage.

This is a very slow, ponderous journey in spite of the film not having a long running time. Schwarzenegger doesn’t put in a bad performance, but the script does not really have him all that compelling.  McNairy seems to have a much more interesting emotional range to follow.  It’s a fascinating subject, but the film itself just didn’t keep my interest as much as I was hoping.  It may be that I am too used to Arnold in his usual shallow but witty action hero mode.

So this film ended up being a mediocre take on what is really a more fascinating tale in real life.

 

Film Review: Murder And Madness In 1922 Nebraska

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1922 is a film based on a novella written by Stephen King.  The screenplay was written and directed by Zak Hilditch.  Thomas Jane leads a cast that includes Molly Parker, Dylan Schmid, and Neal McDonough.

Thomas Jane plays a farmer in an unhappy marriage and near financial ruin.  His wife inherits some property, which he wants to have sold.  When she refuses, Wilfred James concocts a plan to kill her and enlists the aid of their son.  After the deed is done, there are rats, discord, and rebellion.  It’s a Stephen King tale, so Wilfred isn’t going to escape the consequences all that easily.

This is one of the better adaptations I have seen recently.  Jane serves as a narrator as the main plot is framed by Wilfred sitting alone in a room writing out his confession.  He also manages a pretty convincing working man’s Midwestern dialect and does carry the bulk of the movie quite effectively.

Although there is not much suspense in what Wilfred has done, it is interesting to see how the consequences unfold.  I have said for years that few can depict madness as convincingly as Stephen King.  The director seems to make good use of its time. Although there are some slow moments, I didn’t find myself minding it that much.

This is a pretty good film.  Most of the decisions on how it plays out does work quite well.  The cast was well chosen.  I have always considered Thomas Jane to be a competent actor, but he handled this role better than usual.  There were no extraordinary visual effects, but this film didn’t need all of that.  There were some interesting twists as to how the characters fared by the end of the tale. I think most King devotees will appreciate this adaptations.  I am not a King devotee, but I have read quite a bit of his works and seen several of the films created from his pages.  I have read and seen enough to recommend this one to those of us willing to explore the macabre side of literary and cinematic arts.

 

Doctor Who Audio Review: The Rocket Men Have Another Blast

Return of the Rocket Men is a Doctor Who audio play from Big Finish Production and is another episode from the range known as The Companion Chronicles.  Matt Fitton is the writer with Lisa Bowerman directing.  Peter Purves returns as Steven Taylor and main nattator.  The guest actor is Tim Treloar as the psychopathic leader of the Rocket Men, Van Cleef.  Treloar is now a semi-regular presence at Big Finish since he fills in for the late Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor.

I am not a big fan of the Rocket Men for the most part.  They are just a little too campy for my liking, however this story was kind of interesting in that it also tells of a prior encounter Steven had with them before he met the Doctor.  This turned out to be a pretty complicated story but in a rewarding way.  Purves has continued to provide a steady, compelling narration.  Fitton also provided some perspective from the bad guy.  Treloar has already proven his vocal skill to me by his performance in the Third Doctor Adventures.  Of course, this episode was actually recorded before his casting in that other range.  I may not become a devotee of the Rocket Men as a whole, but I did enjoy this episode more than I expected.

Doctor Who Audio Review: New Adversaries For Classic Doctors

Classic Doctors New Monsters Volume One is a Doctor Who audio box set from Big Finish Productions.  The theme here is to match Doctors from what is now known as the classic era to the enemies introduced since the 2005 revival from the BBC.  There are four stories here all directed by Barnaby Edwards.  It’s an inevitable and fun premise.  So what do I think of the stories? Well, let’s get into it, shall we?

Fallen Angels starts this collection off with Peter Davison’s version taking on the Weeping Angels, arguably the most popular menaces of the new series.  Phil Mulryne is the writer here who presents a pretty decent episode.  Sacha Dhawan, who is now the current incarnation of the Master in the television series, is paired with Diane Morgan as a young married couple get caught up with the Angels and the Doctor, transported back to the seventeenth century where they meet a temperamental artist known as Michelangelo, played by Matthew Kelly.  Joe Jameson, Dan Starkey, and the director himself, Barnaby Edwards, round out the guest cast.  This is a great start to the collection with a fairly complex paradox story mixed in here.

Simon Barnard and Paul Morris continue with the second entry entitled Judoon In Chains which stars Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor.  Nick Briggs lends his vocal talents as the Judoon.  The guest cast includes Kiruna Stamell, Nicholas Pegg, and Trevor Cooper.  The Judoon resemble rhinoceroses and they’s sort of mercenary bureaucratic law keepers.  I like them because they are not necessarily inherently evil beings looking to conquer anyone, but they are quite single-minded and ruthless.  One of their number ends up stranded in Victorian England in the hands of a circus ringmaster.  The Judoon have their own grievance with their wayward captain and are on the way to reclaim him, however there needs to be trial.  The Doctor ends up defending the Judoon captain who dared to show some compassion and individual thought.  Stamell sort of fills the void of the companion as someone known as Thomasina Thumb, the diminutive circus attraction with a large spirit. To lend some authenticity to the role, Big Finish found an actress who actually has dwarfism.  The story has a bit much going on that can easily confuse the listener, however Baker’s usual bombastic energy and charm helps the minor incoherence become more forgivable.  The setting of Victorian England could be a bit overused for this series, but it’s still a favorite era that I enjoy learning about.  The story has a few cracks, but Colin Baker’s presence and a well-chosen guest cast does make it very easy to overlook them.

Harvest of the Sycorax is the next entry written by James Goss.  Sylvester McCoy is tasked with bringing his Seventh Doctor toe to toe with these ritualistic, space-faring barbarians.  Giles Watling plays the Sycorax chief.  Nisha Nayer plays the young woman who gets swept up in the Doctor’s challenge to the Sycorax.  She has the unique moniker of Zanzibar Hashtag.  Alex Deacon, Jonathan Firth, and Rebecca Callard.  The episode was not terrible, but I just find myself not all that interested in the Sycorax.  McCoy was pretty good, but he ought to be after all of the hours he puts in with Big Finish productions.

Finally, Andrew Smith finishes this collection off with The Sontaran Ordeal.  Paul McGann returns as the Eighth Doctor.  The Time War has started, and the Sontarans want in.  Dan Starkey returns as a Sontaran named Jask.  Josette Simon, Christopher Ryan, and Sean Connolly also lend their talents here.  The Doctor and the Sontarans see the consequences of the Time War on a planet caught in the crossfire.  I found this to be a pretty interesting idea.  I have been following the other audio sagas about the Doctor’s participation in the Time War.  It also gave Jask a bit of depth which is sometimes hard to convey considering the militaristic mindset of the Sontarans.  Of course, having the Sontarans in this collection is a bit baffling since there were introduced in the classic era.  The Sontarans may not have had the frequency of appearances as the Daleks or Cybermen, however they did make their mark decades ago.  Oh well, it’s still a decent story to complete this set.

It was inevitable that Big Finish would indulge themselves once the licensing restrictions with BBC were alleviated.  Although I have become to enjoy all of the Doctors featured in this set, my enjoyment of the stories varied quite a bit.  I will say that none of the stories I found particularly terrible.  There is a second volume out there, and I hope that one will have more of a punch.  Either way, I will let you know.

Classic Film Review: Forensics Wins The Day

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Kid Glove Killer is a crime film released in 1942 and was directed by Fred Zinnemann.  The screenplay is the work of John C. Higgins and Allen Rivkin.  The cast includes Van Heflin, Marsha Hunt, Lee Bowman, and Samuel S. Hinds.

Something shady is going in some unnamed city, and forensic scientist Gordon McKay is in the middle of it.  Van Heflin isn’t the traditional leading man for a film of this era.  His sardonic yet charming performance as McKay is actually pretty intriguing.  Marsha Hunt plays his lab assistant and has quite a meaty role as well.  They do have a charming banter going on throughout the film.  This is one of those thrillers where the audience knows the identity of the culprit.

Anyway, an ambitious attorney played by Lee Bowman is in deep with the mob.  The district attorney and mayor of this once again unidentified city are murdered.  Bowman’s character is also good friends with McKay, which could make the relationship a bit strained once his culpability is unearthed.

There’s a young kid about to be framed for all of this, and McKay is not sure the police are on the right track.

The film doesn’t have a long running time, however it does seem a bit slow at times.  I did like the chemistry between Heflin and Hunt.  I’m not sure about the authenticity of the science at the heart of this, but I found myself not really caring that much.

The film is actually quite charming. It also has Ava Gardner in an uncredited appearance.  This was before she was Ava Gardner.  The story was somewhat interesting, but the charm of the lead characters is what helps this piece out the most.

Anyway, in spite of a few flaws, this one turned out to be a pretty good distraction if a pandemic is creeping through the nation.

Film Review: Tom Walker Returns Home To Where The Madness Began

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Delirium is a horror film directed by Dennis Iliadis and written by Adam Alleca.  It was released in 2018.  Topher Grace, Patricia Clarkson, Geneva Rodriguez, and Callan Mulvey are part of the cast.

Grace plays a young man named Tom Walker who is released on house arrest from a mental institution where he spent twenty years after being involved in a murder.  Walker is confined to the house and electronically monitored through the pesky ankle bracelet.  Clarkson is the stern parole officer who may have a heart after all.  Of course, Tom’s new prison is a rather impressive mansion.  If his life wasn’t tragically complicated enough, his father had just committed suicide days before his release.  Tom, of course, has some trouble adjusting to such isolation in spite of the opulent surroundings.  The creaks and groans throughout the house do not help, especially when he finds the place riddled with secret passages and peepholes.

Now that I am seeing this in writing, it does seem a little more absurd than when I was watching the movie.  The pretty girl played by Geneva Rodriguez has some problems of her own and of course bonds with our troubled protagonist.

Tom has an older brother with much more alarming appetites, and he turns up. Of course, the writers intended it to be uncertain if the psycho was really there or if Tom was hallucinating.  So that explains the presence of Callan Mulvey.

Once again, the movie starts off with a pretty gripping premise.  Topher Grace does put in a pretty convincing performance.  Clarkson is also a welcome presence to this film.  The revelations are meant to be quite shocking but end up causing some exasperation as this film reaches its gruesome climax.

The film does have some interesting ideas, and I sort of like films with big spooky houses even if it’s an overused trope.

The film still suffers from some of the same missteps of many in this genre, but the performances weren’t that bad, and it did start off pretty promising,  It ended up not being a terrible cinematic diversion, but as I find myself noting quite repetitively, it’s not likely going to be a memorable one.

Classic Film: Karloff Lives Yet Again

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The Walking Dead being addressed in this post has nothing to do with the popular TMC series that I have to watch.  I just watched the 1936 film that starred Boris Karloff, Ricardo Cortez, Marguerite Churchill, and Barton MacLane.  The director is Michael Curtiz, and curiously this rather short film has four screenwriters attached to it. Ewart Adamson, Peter Milne, Robert Andrews, and Lillie Hayward all share the writing credit for this disappointment.

Boris Karloff plays a guy wrongfully convicted and executed for murder.  He is revived by a scientist but has no memory how he had died before.  He does eventually seek out those responsible for his frame-up.

Of course, Karloff is most famous for his performance on the 1931 adaptation of Frankenstein and a few sequels.  This film just carried too many echoes of that prior piece.

Just about everything felt like a rehash when watching this.  It just felt like something to see once, shrug and go on.