Abraham Lincoln

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Noir City 2023 and an Aubrey Plaza Double Bill

August 29th, 2023 | 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.


Call Northside 777 (Film, US, Henry Hathaway, 1948) Crusading reporter P.J. McNeal (Jimmy Stewart) re-investigates the case of Frank Wiecek (Richard Conte), convicted cop killer. Propulsive true-crime thriller full of real-life Chicago locations ignites thanks to Stewart’s patented slow-burning outrage. Not actually noir, but shot like one by Joseph MacDonald. –KH

Emily the Criminal (Film, US, John Patton Ford, 2022) Beleaguered food service worker (Aubrey Plaza) accesses her repressed dark side after she becomes a runner for a credit fraud gang. Socially aware, character-driven crime drama with Plaza’s intense, layered performance as its centerpiece.—RDL

Force of Evil (Film, US, Abraham Polonsky, 1948) Numbers-racket lawyer Joe Morse (John Garfield) sticks his neck out for his small-time brother Leo (Thomas Gomez) as the mob and big business forcibly consolidate the numbers rackets in New York City. A superb noir in which the transgression is (selfish) brotherly love against a soulless capitalist system, it manages both a crime-insider and romantic tone without breaking stride. –KH

He Walked By Night (Film, US, Alfred L. Werker, 1948) Electronics nut Roy Morgan (Richard Basehart) graduates from burglary to murder and armed robbery in L.A. while staying one step ahead of the cops (Roy Roberts and Scott Brady). Basehart’s feral charm and John Alton’s noir lensing keeps you watching this (actual) proto-Dragnet as the twists and turns of the case accelerate. When an uncredited Anthony Mann shot the climactic storm-sewer chase, I bet he thought “This is going to be the best noir sewer chase filmed in 1948.”  Based on the real-life case of Erwin “Death Ray” Walker and featuring the dawn of the Identikit. –KH

The Last Duel (Film, US, Ridley Scott, 2021) The events surrounding a rape accusation resolved through trial by combat in late 14th century France are retold from the varying perspectives of the impetuous, self-concerned husband (Matt Damon), the sleazy, well-connected perpetrator (Adam Driver) and the outraged, determined victim (Jodie Comer.) Historical drama varies the Rashomon structure by depicting revealing but relatively subtle differences in understanding between the focus characters.—RDL

Unfaithfully Yours (Film, US, Preston Sturges, 1948) Convinced of his wife’s (Linda Darnell) adultery, conductor Sir Alfred de Carter (Rex Harrison) plans her murder. A weird but very funny slapstick domestic comedy perhaps best understood as a parody of noir, its high point is musical director Alfred Newman’s synchronization of the diegetic classical score (both thematically and rhythmically) with de Carter’s fantastic thoughts of revenge, and the return of those scores as farce in the final act. –KH

The Velvet Touch (Film, US, John Gage, 1948) Broadway actress Valerie Stanton (Rosalind Russell) murders her grasping producer Gordon Dunning (Leon Ames) and watches her unhappy rival Marian (Claire Trevor) take the fall. As great as the murder triangle is, the real highlight of this Broadway noir is Sydney Greenstreet as a proto-Columbo (and the least New York NYPD cop in history). Leo Rosten’s script often achieves proper wit and bite, disguising a fairly straightforward story. –KH


Burst City (Film, Japan, Gakuryū Ishii, 1982) In the proto-apocalyptic outer slums of Tokyo, rival punk bands do battle as yakuza press quasi-mutants into forced labor on a construction project. Frenetic, assaultive extreme cinema piece documents the vibe of the original Japanese punk scene.—RDL

Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre (Film, Guy Ritchie, 2023) Ultra-competent operative (Jason Statham) trades barbs with his luxury-loving handler (Cary Elwes) and glamorous techie (Aubrey Plaza) as they pursue a high-tech macguffin about to be sold off by a roguish arms dealer (Hugh Grant.) Sleek, breezy celebration of its performers’ charisma.—RDL

Road House (Film, US, Jean Negulesco, 1948) Spoiled sociopath Jefty (Richard Widmark at his Widmarkiest) hires new flame Lily (Ida Lupino) to sing at his nightclub/bowling alley, to the consternation of his friend and enabler Pete (Cornel Wilde). The architecturally insane road house set is a visual gift that keeps on giving, Celeste Holm is charmingly snappish as good girl Susie, and Ida Lupino lovers should definitely bounce this up to Recommended. –KH


Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (Film, US, Joaquim Dos Santos & Kemp Powers & Justin K. Thompson, 2023) Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) reunites with Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) and discovers that he’s been left out of the interdimensional spider-hero league as a dread mythic development barrels his way. On one hand, features many engagingly animated spider persons; on the other, is 15% longer than Citizen Kane and consists entirely of set-up for another movie, without even the courtesy of a decent cliffhanger.—RDL

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