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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Sometimes Charles McGraw Week Just Happens

August 23rd, 2016 | Robin

Ken and Robin Consume Media is brought to you by the discriminating and good-looking backers of the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff Patreon. Each week we provide capsule reviews of the books, movies, TV seasons and more we cram into our hyper-analytical sensoriums. Join the Patreon to help pick the items we’ll talk about in greater depth on our new podcast segment, Tell Me More.

The Pinnacle

Los Tallos Amargos (The Bitter Stems) (Film, Argentina, Fernando Ayala, 1956) Frustrated reporter with neurotic hero complex Gaspar (an excellent Carlos Cores) joins Hungarian immigrant Liudas (Vassili Lambrinos) in a correspondence-course swindle, becoming by turns suspicious, murderous, and desperate. Along with the Hitchcockian direction and superb cinematography, the jazz-inflected score by Astor Piazzolla drives the film into a Mannerist noir tour de force. –KH

Recommended

Charles McGraw Chews And Spits Out Media

Charles McGraw Chews And Spits Out Media

Armored Car Robbery (Film, US, Richard Fleischer, 1950) Reptilian mastermind Dave Purvis (William Talman) plans the titular heist to a ‘T’ but doesn’t factor in his weak-sauce accomplices or the relentless pursuit by LAPD Lt. Cordell (Charles McGraw at his most jut-jawed). This best-of-breed B crime film emphasizes the mechanisms of both law and crime, and revels in its superb Los Angeles location shots. –KH

Hollow Triumph (Film, US, Steve Sekely, 1948) Paul Henreid plays a criminal mastermind on the run who discovers his double, a psychiatrist with a scar on his cheek (also Henreid), in Los Angeles — and simultaneously discovers  Joan Bennett, the psychiatrist’s secretary. An archetypal example of psychological noir, and a standout Nietzschean turn from Henreid, who also produced and co-directed. –KH

The Narrow Margin (Film, US, Richard Fleischer, 1952) Tense LA cop (Charles McGraw) must guard a gangster’s wife (played by Marie Windsor) on the train from Chicago to LA so she can testify before a grand jury, but Syndicate thugs and possible love interest Jacqueline White ratchet up the difficulty. Fleischer shot with handheld cameras on moving train-car sets and no musical score; the result is a realistic grounding for the plot’s genre artifice, and real suspense on an RKO budget. –KH

Roadblock (Film, US, Harold Daniels, 1951) Hardboiled insurance investigator discovers his bent side when he falls for a lovely scam artist with a taste for mink. Low budget noir keeps its stripped-down sights on the moral cratering of its protagonist, curtly played by that most improbable of Hollywood leading men, gravel-voiced lug Charles McGraw.—RDL

Side Street (Film, US, Anthony Mann, 1950) Expectant father Joe Norson (Farley Granger) impulsively steals a $30,000 blackmail payoff, launching him into a dizzying chase through lower Manhattan. With a full cast of MGM stalwarts (including Charles McGraw as you guessed it a cop) and Mann at the helm, this noir policier always serves up more to watch than you can take in. Dioramic location shots (beginning with a bravura credits sequence shot from a blimp) and rich character action fill this poison-pen love letter to New York City. –KH

Good

Deep Valley (Film, US, Jean Negulesco, 1947) Young, sullen farm girl Ida Lupino falls in love with the escaped convict (Dane Clark) hiding out in her remote cabin. The melodrama shifts interestingly (though very slowly) from imprisoning Lupino in a dysfunctional family to imprisoning her in an increasingly happy one. Fans of Ida Lupino, high Romanticism, and cute dogs may consider this Recommended. –KH

Flesh and Fantasy (Film, US, Julien Duvivier, 1943) Triptych of short supernatural-inflected films on the themes of love and destiny: a homely girl wears a magical mask at Mardi Gras; Edward G. Robinson becomes obsessed with a palm-reader’s unsavory prediction; and aerialist Charles Boyer dreams of Barbara Stanwyck and death — and meets his dream girl before a big performance. All are beautifully and sometimes eerily shot, but a studio-added framing device (involving a bibulous Robert Benchley) and the high saccharine component of the first and third bits make the whole less than the sum of its parts. –KH

Satan Lives (Film, Canada, Sam Dunn and Scott McFadyen, 2015) Interviews and archival footage trace the role of Satanism in the popular imagination from Anton LaVey to the Exorcist fad to 80s Satanic panic and beyond. Interviewees in this sober-minded cultural studies doc include Kenneth Anger, falsely imprisoned daycare managers Fran and Dan Keller, and LaVey’s daughter, now a convert to Buddhism.–RDL

Okay

Crimson Peak (Film, US, Guillermo del Toro, 2015) Mysterious baronet (Tom Hiddleston) coaxes anti-social aspiring writer (Mia Wasikowska) into married life at his decaying manor with his creepy sister (Jessica Chastain) as forbidding housemate. Compared to del Toro’s last couple of entries, this gothic ghost story has subtler structural problems, like its heroine’s fuzzy dramatic arc. Also, there’s a reason why the young woman’s arrival at the dread old house generally happens right away instead of at the start of act two.–RDL

Destiny (Film, US, Reginald Le Borg, 1944) Universal chopped the first segment out of Flesh and Fantasy (q.v.) and hamfistedly expanded it into this 65-minute film, in which wrongly accused ex-con Cliff Banks (Alan Curtis) narrates his life story to a succession of women. As in Goldilocks, the third girl,  blind dowser Jane Broderick (Gloria Jean) is just right. In Duvivier’s original story Banks kills Jane’s father; the “dream” sequence (directed by Duvivier) in which she arouses the elements to harry and destroy him is magnificent but badly out of place in this flat fixup. –KH

The Midnight After (Film, HK, Fruit Chan, 2014) Driver (Lam Suet) and passengers aboard a minibus go through a tunnel and come out the other side to find Hong Kong suddenly and utterly deserted. Metaphysical mystery with elements of the ghost and pandemic genres turns into a different headtrip movie about every fifteen minutes, with a couple of standout sequences but no concern for paying off what it sets up. With Simon Yam.–RDL

Riffraff (Film, US, Ted Tetzlaff, 1947) Boy I sure hope Pat O’Brien was drunk during this whole film, in which he plays a Panama fixer and P.I. hired to find a map to some oil wells. (An hour into the 80-minute running time, O’Brien announces “I’m going to start looking for that map!”) Anne Jeffreys is lovely and game as a gold-digging singer half O’Brien’s age, lending extra awkwardness to the shambolic story. Percy Kilbride’s dry comic turn as a cab driver and an over-the-top role for Walter Slezak as the heaviest of heavies (along with the occasional gorgeously shot sequence) do keep the viewer interested and even occasionally rooting for this most anti-GUMSHOE of noirs. –KH

3 Responses to “Ken and Robin Consume Media: Sometimes Charles McGraw Week Just Happens”

  1. Phil Masters says:

    If the young woman’s arrival at the dread old house generally happens at the start of act two, might somebody perhaps have been influenced by Rebecca?

  2. Phil Masters says:

    (Sorry, strike the “generally” in the preceding.)

  3. jfrauchert says:

    Very Noirie list, makes me wonder if someone is not boning up for some sort of game in a Noir setting.

    I am also kind of addicted to “Nordic Noir” right now, so I am re-watching the first three seasons of the Bridge.

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