Tag Archives: Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

Not so black & white: the exhibition of classical film noir in Melbourne

Today I’m celebrating Noirvember with a terrific guest post by my friend Dean Brandum, film scholar and the man behind the wonderful site, Technicolour Yawn: Melbourne cinemas of the happening years: 1960 – 84. Dean looks at the myths and realities around the exhibition of classical film noir in forties and fifties Melbourne. Film noir is often seen as mainly comprising B-movies that would never have graced the screens of reputable Melbourne cinemas. But, as Dean makes clear, for the most part this was not the case.

Gun Crazy“You could always find me in the theatre round the corner. People like me liked our pictures dark and mysterious. Most were B-movies made on the cheap, others were classy models with A-talent, but they all had one thing in common, they lived on the edge. They told stories about life on the streets, shady characters, crooked cops, twisted love and bad luck. The French invented a name for these pictures – Film Noir.”

Richard Widmark narrating The American Cinema’s episode ‘Film Noir’

Whilst this TV overview of film noir was an excellent production and was immeasurably aided by the gravitas of the (then otherwise retired) voice of Richard Widmark’s narration, his opening introduction has always rankled with me, for it perpetuates a myth about film noir, one which has been developed to be shoe-horned into a narrative – that film noir was not a mainstream commodity.… Read more

The Burglar and unbearable anxiety of late film noir

burglarlc8What I love about the canon of cinema known as film noir is just when you think you’ve seen the all important films, along comes something and blows you away.

Thus was the case recently when I watched the 1957 film The Burglar, based on the book by one of the doyens of classic noir fiction, David Goodis, who also wrote the screenplay.

It begins with a cinema newsreel story titled “Estate sold to spiritualist cult in strange bargain”. The breathless voiceover tells cinemagoers how a millionaire called Bartram Jonesworth has died and left his estate, including a mansion and an emerald necklace, to an aging spiritualist called Sister Sarah.

In the cinema audience is career burglar Nat Harbin (long time TV and movie actor, Dan Duryea). So keen is he to get to work on what could be the score of a lifetime, he doesn’t stay for the feature, he bolts outside and starts thinking about how they can steal the necklace.

He gets his stepsister, Gladden (Jayne Mansfield) to case the mansion under the pretences of visiting to make a donation to Sister Sarah’s work. Gladden informs Harbin and his associates, Baylock and Dohmer, the necklace is kept in a safe in Sister Sarah’s bedroom. The best time to make a move is the fifteen-minute window at eleven o’clock each night during which the spiritualist always watches her favourite news show.… Read more

Emperor of the North

A couple of months ago I stumbled across the existence of Melbourne-based independent movie distribution company, Bounty Films. The movie that introduced me to them was their release of the hard to get 1955 heist film, Violent Saturday.

Following on from that, Ben Hellwig, Bounty’s Acquisition Manager, was good enough to send me a few of the choice selections from their rapidly expanding catalogue, including a film I’ve been wanting to see for ages called Emperor of the North (or Emperor of the North Pole as its otherwise know).

Made in 1973, Emperor of the North has three big things going for it.

First, Robert Aldrich, who did The Dirty Dozen and one of my all time favourite film noirs, Kiss Me Deadly, directed it.

Second, it stars one of my cinematic icons, Lee Marvin.

Third, it has steam trains. Lots of them.

Emperor of the North takes place in the Pacific Northwest of the United States at the height of the great depression. Economic chaos has created an army of drifters and hoboes who roam the countryside hopping trains when they can.

Except for the number 19, watched over by a sadistic train guard known as Shack (played with eye popping intensity by Ernest Borgnine). With the aid of the large hammer he carries in his belt, Shack ensures that no one rides the number 19 for free.… Read more