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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Hybrid Nomads, Jane Birkin and Loads More Noir

August 28th, 2018 | 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.

Recommended

Keep On Keeping On (Nonfiction, Alan Bennett, 2016) The latest collection of diary entries from lauded playwright Bennett (The Madness of King George, The History Boys) covers 2005-2015, including historic church visits, the perils of privatization, funerals for lost colleagues, crap architectural renovations, bad reviews, aging, and what various birds are up to. The best two anecdotes feature Bennett’s fellow Beyond the Fringe alum Jonathan Miller’s quixotic stands against public urination.—RDL

Jane B. by Agnes V. (Film, France, Agnès Varda, 1988) Deconstructed documentary profile of actress and singer Jane Birkin interweaves quasi-conventional interviews with clips from hypothetical films ranging from a western and an art heist thriller to a Joan of Arc biopic. A visually lush exploration of star charisma from cinema’s most playful formalist.—RDL

Pickup (Film, US, Hugo Haas, 1951) Elderly railroad dispatcher Jan Horak (Haas) meets gold-digger Betty (Beverly Michaels), who plays him for a sap, of course. Or worse, if she can get Horak’s co-worker Steve (Allan Nixon) to do her dirty work. Often derided as a kind of 1950s Russ Meyer, Haas was actually a great actor and director in Prague before the Nazi takeover; both qualities show here in this stark moral fable. Beverly Michaels’ marvelous disdain helps power the film past its Poverty Row budget. –KH

The Scarlet Hour (Film, US, Michael Curtiz, 1956) After overhearing a planned jewel theft, adulterous lovers Marsh (Tom Tryon) and Paulie (Carol Ohmart) plot to hijack it to fund their escape from her husband (James Gregory). Curtiz peppers this capable noir with some simply amazing shots; based on her wonderfully feral performance, Ohmart deserves more fame than she got then or now. Elaine Stritch is only the best of the stalwart supporting players. –KH

The Turning Point (Film, US, William Dieterle, 1952) Naïve crusading special prosecutor John Conroy (Edmond O’Brien) needs help from cynical reporter Jerry McKibbon (William Holden) to bring down racketeer Neil Eichelberger (Ed Begley, Sr.). Superb noir narrative punishes feckless good and ironic detachment, along with the regular sins of corruption and cheating, amidst great LA location shots. Well worth seeing. –KH

Good

Empires of the Silk Road (Nonfiction, Christopher Beckwith, 2009) This enthralling narrative history of Central Eurasia from the proto-Indo-Europeans to the War on Terror fills notable gaps in world historiography, not least by its sympathy with the hybrid nomad-sedentary cultures of the area often libeled as “barbarians.” Beckwith is a Tibetologist and linguist, so while the book is cranky, it is not a crank book. That said, two whole chapters fulminating against Modernism (basically the post-1900 section) stand out as particularly weak regardless of one’s sympathies, and even I know you can’t just posit that Old Chinese began as an Indo-European language and expect to get away with footnoting your own work. –KH

I Was a Shoplifter (Film, US, Charles Lamont, 1950) Judge’s klepto daughter Faye Burton (boring Mona Freeman) gets pinched for shoplifting, drawing her into a ring of thieves headed by Ina Perdue (Andrea King). King runs this movie like she runs her criminal enterprise, with raised eyebrows and clever patter; her sizzling repartee with detective Scott Brady is what the Breen Office should have been concerned with, not the nugatory shoplifting advice. –KH

The Man Who Cheated Himself (Film, US, Felix Feist, 1950) When rich Lois Frazier (Jane Wyatt) kills her husband, her cop boyfriend Ed Cullen (Lee J. Cobb) helps her cover her tracks while his brother (John Dall) investigates the crime. Cobb and Dall and some terrific San Francisco location shots make this film worth watching despite the casting misfire of Wyatt as the femme fatale. –KH

The People Against O’Hara (Film, US, John Sturges, 1951) Shortly after recovering from a stress-related alcoholic breakdown, attorney James Curtayne (Spencer Tracy) takes a murder case defending Johnny O’Hara (James Arness). Despite noirish lensing by John Alton, its domestic subplot lumbers this fully conventional courtroom drama, which gains tension only when it becomes a policier in the last act. Future squire of Gothos William Campbell has a star turn as an improbably Czech hoodlum. –KH

The Spiritualist (Film, US, Bernard Vorhaus, 1948) Pining for her dead husband, Christine Faber (Lynn Bari) proves an easy mark for fake spiritualist Alexis (Turhan Bey). Bey gives good charming weasel, and the script and John Alton’s cinematography go the extra mile despite the limitations of the budget and Bari (cast at literally the last minute). Worth extra notice for genuine magician Harry Mendoza as a detective, and the attention to the details of Alexis’ racket. –KH

Okay

Suspiria (Film, Italy, Dario Argento, 1977) American dancer (Jessica Harper) newly enrolled at a strange German dance academy suspects a malign connection between the murder of her predecessor and various ominous manifestations. Commanding soundtrack and visuals, including a super-saturated color scheme, overshadow a rudimentary script.—RDL

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