Olive Films releases classics old and new (but mostly old) on a monthly basis, and it’s not uncommon to find pockets of a theme at times – same actors, similar genre, etc. – and their selection of titles that hit shelves this week are no different.
The seven films can be broken into two groups as four of them are film noir examples from the late ’40s and early ’50s, and the three more recent titles are all directed by Otto Preminger. My exposure to both is not nearly as deep as I’d like, so these offered up a great sampling of the noir genre and Preminger’s resume. Three of the films are genuinely fantastic, but none of the seven seem to enjoy wide popularity – this is somewhat baffling when you look at the powerhouse casts including the likes of Alan Ladd, Charlton Heston, Burt Lancaster, William Holden, Michael Caine and others.
Keep reading for a look at Appointment With Danger, Dark City, Rope In the Sand, Union Station, Hurry Sundown, Skidoo and Such Good Friends.
Appointment With Danger (1951)
When a postal inspector is murdered by unknown assailants a fellow USPS agent (Alan Ladd) is assigned to the case. His investigation leads to a witness who happens to be a nun, the discovery of a plan to rob a million dollar delivery in the near future and an undercover assignment into the murderers’ lair.
Director Lewis Allen (The Uninvited) delivers an exciting and suspenseful slice of film noir that shifts things up a bit by having its lead female be a penguin. It works well though as the removal of a love interest doesn’t reduce the effect of a woman in danger at the hands of dastardly men in fedoras. The main narrative follows Ladd’s undercover work investigating the gang – including Dragnet‘s Jack Webb and Harry Morgan – and there are some tense moments throughout. The third act isn’t short on action either, but even before the gunplay kicks in the character work and tension keep our focus tightly wound.
Dark City (1951)
Suicides happen everyday, but the last, desperate act of one man sets in motion a chain of events that threaten to take down several others with him. Those in danger of the fallout include a gambler named Danny (Charlton Heston) and the girl who loves him, but neither know the extent of what’s heading their way. It seems the dead man has someone in his corner seeking revenge, and soon Danny is betting on his very life.
This is the better of the two William Dieterle films released this week due almost entirely to its story and script. Rope of Sand is the more attractive film thanks to its locales, but the drama and suspense here are somewhat more exciting and interesting. Heston does good work as the morally flexible protagonist, and he’s joined by Jack Webb and Harry Morgan – who appear to have made a career out of playing criminals in films before becoming cops on TV. There aren’t any real stand-out set-pieces, but the narrative and mood keep things engaging throughout.
Rope of Sand (1949)
The exotically-named Mike Davis (Burt Lancaster) returns to the African continent in search of the diamonds he stole and buried there two years prior, but his planned reunion with the gems is stymied and interrupted by local officials and schemers (including Claude Rains and Peter Lorre).
This late ’40s noir offers some attractive exteriors and late thrills, but it’s something of a convoluted slog making it through. It feels every one of its 100+minutes, and while certain sequences work to alleviate the humdrum it too frequently returns to ineffective character interactions. Part of the problem is the roster of characters – well-acted as they are – who never quite hold the interest. We’re never all that invested in Mike’s quest, and the bounty of side characters weaving in and out do little to change that.
Union Station (1950)
A young woman (Nancy Olsen) notices something suspicious about a pair of men on the same train as her and quickly notifies the authorities who meet her at the next stop. Lt. William Calhoun (William Holden) is the station’s lead detective, and he soon discovers that Joyce’s tip has alerted them to a kidnapping in progress. As they race to foil the crime and rescue the blind woman being held captive it all comes back full circle to Union Station.
Like Appointment With Danger above, this is another thrilling, firecracker of a suspenser as the clock ticks down towards the poor woman’s murder. Calhoun is a tough guy cop caught off guard by Joyce’s help – and lets not kid ourselves, she helps the police a lot here – and concern, but it’s a developing softness that works to add character without ever becoming a distraction. The focus here is the crime and the police’s efforts to save a life. There are some great foot chase sequences including a third act that brings us into the bowels of New York City beneath the station.
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Hurry Sundown (1967)
Henry Warren (Michael Caine) is a landowner on the brink of making a big deal, but there are still two plots of land he needs to acquire. One belongs to a white relative’s family, and the other belongs to a black family whose lineage traces back to time spent as slaves to Mrs. Warren’s (Jane Fonda) relatives. Those times have passed, but 1940’s Georgia isn’t that much more enlightened, and as Warren’s efforts conflict with those of two families struggling to make the most of their homes and farmland racial tensions and civil expectations are tested.
Preminger‘s all-star look at Southern relations leans heavily towards melodrama at times, but it works well all the same. The cast – which also includes Faye Dunaway, John Phillip Law, Diahann Carroll, Burgess Meredith and George Kennedy – do fine work conveying the ignorance and humanity of the time and the people. At over two hours the film takes its time with the characters allowing them to settle in and establish their relationships to each other before culminating in an entertaining court scene and a powerfully exciting finale. Is it a little bit simplistic? Maybe, but that doesn’t lessen the intent or effect.
Tony Banks (Jackie Gleason) is an ex-hitman and current family man, but his retirement takes a sharp left turn when his old mob boss (Groucho Marx) tasks him with one more job. He resists at first, but the murder of his friend is enough to pull him back into the game and soon he’s in jail in order to get close enough to kill an old acquaintance.
That synopsis makes this sound like a serious affair, but one early murder aside this is a goofy, occasionally surreal and psychedelic comedy that doesn’t quite work. The highlight is found in the number of recognizable faces here including Carol Channing, Frankie Avalon, Mickey Rooney, John Phillip Law, Peter Lawford – there’s even something of a Batman villain reunion going on with appearances by Burgess Meredith, Frank Gorshin and Cesar Romero. The cast and a handful of solid gags keep it from dragging, but it’s more madcap free-for-all than comedy gem as its broad nature doesn’t gel well with its observations on culture, relationships and drug use.
Such Good Friends (1971)
Julie Messinger (Dyan Cannon) is a happy housewife and mother of two, but her world hits a bump in the road when a routine operation leaves her husband in a coma. She discovers that he’s been having affairs, some serious and some not, and struggles to face what that means for their own relationship. It all comes to a head when he takes a turn for the worse.
This Elaine May-scripted film starts off with a heavy comedic bent before shifting in tone somewhat to more serious endeavors. There are still attempts at humor, but they aren’t as healthy or successful. It’s Cannon’s film though, and even as the comedy falters she remains a strong core for the story about a woman forced to look beyond the bubble she placed herself in so many years prior. Unfortunately though, the more comedically in-your-face moments repeatedly deflate the drama and emotion that she works so hard to create resulting in a film that’s not nearly as affecting as it should be (or thinks it is).
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