Abraham Lincoln

Ken and Robin Consume Media: 13 Titles from Noir City Chicago, Only Murders, and the Fascinatingly Terrible House of Gucci

September 6th, 2022 | 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 a little podcast segment we like to call Tell Me More.


The Argyle Secrets (Film, US, Cy Endfield, 1948) After columnist Allen Pierce (George Anderson) tips off reporter Harry Mitchell (William Gargan) to the red-hot Argyle Album, Mitchell winds up framed for Pierce’s murder. Simultaneously over-the-top and tongue-in-cheek, this riff on The Maltese Falcon manages to combine ironic humor and genuine tension. Special shout-out to Jack Reitzer, the troupe’s wonderful discount Sydney Greenstreet. –KH

Detective Story (Film, US, William Wyler, 1951) During one long evening in a NYPD precinct house, Detective Jim McLeod (Kirk Douglas) finds himself strained to the breaking point. With a  murderers’ row of supporting actors including Lee Grant, Joe Weisman, and William Bendix, the film transcends its stage-play origins with the ultra-noir tale of a man condemned by his refusal to break his moral code. –KH

Flesh and Bone (Film, US, Steve Kloves, 1993) When itinerant  vending-machine proprietor Arlis (Dennis Quaid) meets trainwreck Kay (Meg Ryan), he awakens his deadly and horrible past, embodied to perfection by James Caan. A perfectly balanced daylight noir character study that would fall to pieces if any of the four actors (Gwyneth Paltrow as a cold young hustler completes the quartet) were less than superb in their roles. –KH

Jane by Charlotte (Film, France, Charlotte Gainsbourg, 2021) Documentary portrait of actor/singer Jane Birkin by her daughter, actor/singer Charlotte Gainsbourg. Moving and intimate, but very much for the initiated: if you need background exposition on its principals, this is not your starting point.—RDL

A Monkey in Winter (Film, France, Henri Verneuil, 1962) Ex-alcoholic innkeeper in a sleepy resort town (Jean Gabin) sees his former self in a hard-boozing off-season guest (Jean-Paul Belmondo.) Were I hardened to the embracing charms of this comedy-drama superstar two-hander, I’d point out that it handwaves away the central conflict of one of its characters, but I’m not so I won’t.—RDL

Only Murders in the Building Season 2 (Television, US, Hulu, Steve Martin & John Hoffman, 2022) The unlikely trio of crime-solving podcasters (Martin, Selena Gomez, Martin Short) work to solve the slaying of building president Bunny Folger before the killer pins it on them. Replete with jokes about second season slumps, this outing preserves the mix of cozy mystery, comedy and melancholy that made the first one work so engagingly.—RDL

Scandal Sheet (Film, US, Phil Karlson, 1952) Tabloid editor Mark Chapman (Broderick Crawford) assigns his protege Steve McCleary (John Derek) to cover the story of a murder he committed. Pitilessly tense noir adapted from a Sam Fuller novel barely slackens its pace even for a winning supporting performance by Donna Reed as the conscience of the paper. Crawford dominates the screen, willing you to become an accessory to his character’s desperation. –KH

Street of Chance (Film, US, Jack Hively, 1942) A near-miss by falling rubble reawakens Frank Thompson’s (Burgess Meredith) memory – he’s been living another life for the past year. Based on a Cornell Woolrich novel, it essentially expands Hammett’s Flitcraft parable. Meredith’s growing comfort in his lies provides a resonant moral bass line to an otherwise straightforward amnesia-crime proto-noir. –KH


711 Ocean Drive (Film, US, Joseph M. Newman, 1950) Phone company tech Mal Granger (Edmond O’Brien) rises to L.A. racket boss based on his superior ability to wire a sports book. Intriguing technogangster film features a delightfully underplayed Otto Kruger as the Syndicate boss and a wonderful third-act heist but doesn’t quite achieve takeoff velocity. Perhaps O’Brien’s meaty affect, or the too-long Hoover Dam chase scene, weighs it down. –KH

Among the Living (Film, US, Stuart Heisler, 1941) When his tyrannical father dies, John Raden (Albert Dekker) returns to his decrepit family mansion – and discovers his twin brother Paul (also Dekker) still alive and insane! A firecracker performance by a young Susan Hayward energizes this would-be Southern Gothic. Patches of atmospheric scenes work well, despite the cast all sounding like they come from southern Philly at best. –KH

The Face Behind the Mask (Film, US, Robert Florey, 1941) Horribly burned in a rooming house fire on his first day in America, immigrant watchmaker Janos Szabo (Peter Lorre) turns his skills to crime – until he meets a blind girl (Evelyn Keyes) who loves him. Lorre and Keyes’ performances keep this entirely rote formula flim interesting, if seldom compelling, until a hard, hard fourth-act turn lifts you out of your seat. –KH

Smooth as Silk (Film, US, Charles Barton, 1946) Egotistical lawyer Mark Fenton (Kent Taylor) watches his actress girlfriend Paula Marlowe (Virginia Gray) social-climb out of his orbit – and resolves to bring her down. A fine crime story casts ample shadows and intriguing character bits, but actually needs another 20 minutes to grow it into a truly first-rate film. Sadly, it was a B-picture, so it didn’t get them. –KH

The Sniper (Film, US, Edward Dmytryk, 1952) Dry-cleaner delivery man Eddie Miller (Arthur Franz) resents women, and a callous system tumbles him into serially shooting them. Magnificent San Francisco location shots and a world-weary Adolphe Menjou as the detective hunting him (named Frank Kafka for no reason) redeem a relatively unadorned narrative. Richard Kiley plays the psychiatrist whose “sympathetic” solution apparently involves mandatory mass institutionalization. –KH

The Trip (Film, Norway, Tommy Wirkola, 2021) Disaffected couple (Noomi Rapace, Aksel Hennie) go to the cabin for a weekend, each planning to kill the other, only to be interrupted by a trio of escaped convicts. Sags in the second act, as it resets from a fresh premise to an overly familiar one, picking up steam again with the over-the-topness of its gory finish.—RDL


So Dark the Night (Film, US, Joseph H. Lewis, 1946) In the French country town of St.-Margot to relax from overwork, Sûreté detective Henri Cassin (Steven Geray) falls in love and finds a murder he can’t seem to solve. The relentless cheapness of the production matches the uninspired story; only Burnett Guffey’s rich noir cinematography makes it at all worth seeking out. –KH

Southside 1-1000 (Film, US, Boris Ingster, 1950) Secret Service agent Riggs (Don DeFore) hunts a crew of counterfeiters as a narrator intones the virtues of sound currency. Nobody involved quite overcomes the inertia of the pseudo-documentary format, although occasionally Andrea King gives it a sly college try as the head of the gang. –KH

Not Recommended

The Cruel Tower (Film, US, Lew Landers, 1956) Beaten up by hobos, acrophobic lunk Tom Kittredge (John Ericson) falls in with a steeplejack crew run by surly “Stretch” Clay (Charles McGraw) – and with Stretch’s girl Mary (Mari Blanchard). Absolutely rote film on every level does nothing with its thin premise. The highlight is a big scar on Alan Hale Jr.’s head. –KH

Dr. Broadway (Film, US, Anthony Mann, 1942) Dr. Tim Kane (Macdonald Carey), beloved by the denizens of Broadway, gets in hot water when he saves a phony suicide (Jean Phillips) and gets framed for murder by conniving clothier-gang boss Venner (J. Carroll Naish). Between the sycophantically boosterish script and Carey’s smug performance, we spent the whole film wanting to punch the ostensible hero so very much. A very few touches show the genius Mann would become. –KH

Fascinatingly Terrible

House of Gucci (Film, US, Ridley Scott, 2021) Ambitious accountant for her family’s trucking firm (Lady Gaga) creates a monster when she woos an awkward member of a fabled fashion clan (Adam Driver) and kindles his suppressed interest in the business. A glorious epic of misjudged kitsch, with a tone constantly crossing over the center line between intentional satire and ridiculous seriousness. Driver somehow never puts a foot wrong as all around him go back for second and third helpings of ham. Worth sitting through the 2 hour 38 min run time for the spectacle of a prosthetics-buried Jared Leto valiantly attempting to out-overact Al Pacino.—RDL

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