Category Archives: Film Noir

Warren Oates, Gloria Grahame & other subjects for fiction anthologies

OatesThe recent release of Crime Factory’s LEE, an anthology of crime fiction inspired by the life of iconic actor Lee Marvin, has got me thinking about who else would be a good subject for similar treatment.

There’s already been a bit of chatter on Twitter about other actors people would like to see as the subject of their own fictional anthology, and several authors have contacted me with ideas.

There are only two criteria involved I can think of in choosing a subject.

First, the subject concerned has got to be deceased, preferably passed a while ago. It’s just too complex, legally and other ways to do an anthology based on someone living.

Second, there’s got to be something about them. Not just an interesting body of cinematic work and an interesting life, but an ongoing cultural resonance or zeitgeist that sets them apart from other actors and allows crime writers discuss broader issues.

Here are my picks for actors I think would be good subjects. And I should stress, these are just my musings and in no way reflect what Crime Factory will do in the future.

That said, you never know….

Warren Oates

There’s already been a bit of social media chatter about the possibility of a Warren Oates inspired anthology.… Read more

The heist always goes wrong, part 2: reader picks and other favourite heist movies

ST 2My recent post The heist always goes wrong – ten of the best heist movies ever made, generated some great reader feedback. The best thing about the response was that it pointed me in the direction of a number heist films I hadn’t seen or that I need to revisit.

Based on your comments and the thoughts I’ve had on the subject since the original post, here are follow up list of other films that could be included in a best of heist films list (and my shameless editorialising regarding what I think about the merits of not of them).

Straight Time (1978)

A huge thanks to West Australian crime writer David Whish Wilson for alerting me to Straight Time, which I’d seen previously but forgotten. Dustin Hoffman plays a career criminal just out of prison, trying to stay on the right side of his ball breaking parole officer, masterfully played by one of my screen heroes, M. Emmet Walsh, and avoid the temptation of re-offending.

Straight Time is based on the book No Best So Fierce, by real life con Edward Bunker (who has a small role in the film). Everything about this film works, the script, the down at heel late seventies feel, the cast, which includes Theresa Russell, Gary Busey, Kathy Bates and Harry Dean Stanton.… Read more

The heist always goes wrong, part 1: ten of the best heist movies ever made

asphalt01I love a good heist film.

I love the genius and intricacy of their plots and the variations they come in, whether it be the all star team assembled for a job or the desperate ex-cons trying for one last score.

But most of all I love them because of the golden rule of all good heist films – for whatever reason, the heist always goes wrong.

What do you need for a good heist?

You need a plan for actual heist itself, the getaway, and moving, storing and fencing whatever it is you’ve stolen. The more complicated the plan, the more likely it is that something will go wrong.

You need a crew of people; one man or woman alone cannot do a heist. This introduces the human element and all the problems that come with it, the greed, suspicions, jealousies and uncertainties.

I’ve been thinking for a while now about what my top ten-heist films would be and the following list, in no particular order, is it.

The robbery itself is almost immaterial to how I rate a good heist film. What I like is the context and atmosphere in which the heist takes place and inevitable problems that arise after it’s been pulled off. And the darker and more broken things get, the better the film is in my book.… Read more

The Killers 1964 & 1946

The following is posted as part of Furious Cinema’s Scenes of the Crime Blog-a-Thon. It originally appeared in the Fall 2012 edition of Noir City.

One short story, Ernest Hemingway’s The Killers, which appeared in 1927, two film versions.  Robert Siodmak directed the first in 1946. Don Siegel helmed the later in 1964. Both films begin with the premise of Hemingway’s 2951 word piece; two anonymous professional killers hired to murder a man, but in most other respects are completely different.

Siodmak’s movie opens, to the accompaniment of Miklos Rozsa’s brassy jazz score, with the arrival of the killers in a small town. It’s night and all we see are their silhouettes backlit by streetlights. First they check the filling station. Finding it closed, they cross the road, go into Henry’s Diner. You can tell they’re professionals, each enters a different way, cutting off any possibility of their quarry escaping.

In the space of a few minutes, Al (Charles McGraw) and Max (William Conrad), establish a sense of menace and disorientation as good as any classic noir cinema has to offer. After rubbishing the diner’s food and the customer’s small town ways, they tell George, the man behind the counter:

“I tell you what we’re going to do, we’re going to kill the Swede.”

Read more

The Shanghai Gesture

Melbourne Cinematheque is currently screening a series of films by the legendary Viennese-born auteur Joseph von Sternberg. It’s as good an opportunity as any to post this great review of one of the strangest and most powerful film noirs I have seen, von Sternberg’s 1941 classic, The Shanghai Gesture, starring Gene Tierney, Victor Mature and Walter Huston.

Unfortunately, this is not one of the films being shown by Melbourne Cinematheque, although it’s not hard to get on DVD and it’s definitely worth it. I won’t spoil what follows by saying any more. This review originally appeared as Back Alley Noir’s Film Noir of the Week in September 2010. It was written Sheila O’Malley, whose excellent blog The Shelia Variations is well worth checking out. Thanks to Sheila for permission to reprint her work.

Josef von Sternberg’s The Shanghai Gesture, his last major picture, is characterized as a noir, but this is a film noir staggering through a cloud of opium smoke with fresh bruises on its hipbones. The film’s focus on an investigation into a nighttime world of corruption is one of the reasons for its noir status, not to mention the strong spider-woman in the lead, but in many respects the film eludes classification.

Based on a play by John Colton, the script of The Shanghai Gesture was problematic from the start, and von Sternberg was forced to make extensive cuts.… Read more