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Monthly Archives: June 2009

The Killers

Although some noir movies came earlier and some came later, to me, the 1940s was the decade of the film noir. There are any number of great ones to choose from this period: Double Indemnity, The Third Man, The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, Out Of The Past, and the list goes on.

As for me, I can only focus in on one (for now), and my goal here isn’t to direct you toward the obvious. I consider the movies I’ve mentioned above to be classics of that genre. But what to do once you’re done with those? I’m recommending you start by checking out The Killers.

Before I begin, I should clarify that I don’t mean to imply that The Killers is some undiscovered gem. It was nominated for four Academy Awards the year it was released, and was selected to the National Film Registry just last year. So clearly people appreciated it then, and still do today. Even so, I don’t think it garners quite the same degree of recognition that other similar films from the same period do. If you ask most people to name a noir film, this is unlikely to be the first one to come to mind.

Released in 1946, The Killers stars Burt Lancaster (in his first feature film), Ava Gardner, and Edmond O’Brien. The screenplay was partly based on a short story by Ernest Hemingway. The rest was written by Anthony Veiller (who was nominated for an Oscar), Richard Brooks, and the legendary John Huston, although Brooks and Huston were uncredited.

The first scene in the movie sees two gangsters with murder on their minds breeze into a small town one evening. They terrorize the occupants of a diner while they wait for their quarry to come to them. When he fails to show, they opt for a more direct approach.

This film grabs you right from the get-go. Charles McGraw and William Conrad have a great time playing the two gangsters. Their dialogue is taken directly from Hemingway’s writing, and it’s delivered convincingly and menacingly. The original story ended after the opening diner scene, so the aforementioned trio of writers extrapolate what happens from there. Thankfully, it’s a pretty skillful extrapolation that preys heavily on noir conventions, including the femme fatale, the tireless investigator, and the traditional convoluted ending of double crosses galore. Although Veiller’s writing is solid, some of the dialogue lacks the snap that was evident in Hemingway’s portion. Fortunately, the film’s brisk pacing helps to keep the movie from getting bogged down.

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Drag Me To Hell

I’ve never been overly scrupulous when it comes to following guidelines, particularly those I set out for myself. So, on that note, I interrupt your regularly scheduled review of some golden oldie to present my thoughts on something that’s still in theatres (in fact, it just opened).

He’s back again, armed with a bigger budget, a young and talented cast, and enough buckets filled with blood, bodily fluids and other assorted nastiness to send the squeamish running for cover. Who am I referring to? The answer of course is director Sam Raimi, and the film in question is Drag Me To Hell. It stars Allison Lohman as Christine, a loan officer who is cursed by an old gypsy woman after Christine refuses to grant her a third extension on her mortgage. The nature of this curse? The movie’s title pretty much tells you all you need to know.

Drag Me To Hell represents an opportunity to see Raimi returning to his roots. His last three movies prior to this one were the Spiderman films, but Raimi cut his teeth making low-budget horror films. Of these, the best known is the cult classic Army Of Darkness, which featured a career-defining performance from Bruce Campbell. Unfortunately, Campbell is not among the cast in this film, but Lohman proves to be a fitting substitute.

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