ReReview: Female on the Beach (1955)

025192118982OH MY GOSH LADY CALL THE COPS. (throw him out first). (and before that, make him give you back his key.) (and then, buy a gun.) OH MY GOSH. This isn’t going to end well.

Although it’s no wonder he’s got an inflated opinion of himself, if he knows he’s able to drive women to attempted murder-suicide and this isn’t even a chick he slept with….this really isn’t going to end well.

Ladies, when you are talking to a creepy little f*cker, even if he’s managing to be less creepy and explain himself, DO NOT APOLOGIZE FOR BEING QUOTE RUDE UNQUOTE. Especially when he’s explaining to you that he’s a gigolo who is chasing you for your money and oh yes he was involved with the previous tenant, who, BY THE WAY, fell to her death mysteriously FROM YOUR BALCONY. Two days ago. I mean, seriously, they haven’t even fixed the railing yet, good grief!

(This isn’t going to end well.)

Zing! I like this detective. He’s going to be the guy who picks up all the pieces afterwards, isn’t he? (Unless he’s the AKTUAL MURDERER, but I doubt that.)

EFF OFF YOU CREEPY LITTLE F*CKER! AND TAKE YOUR PUSHERS WITH YOU…oh good, she sent them packing. BUT NOT HIM, SHEESH LADY. Oh, this isn’t going to end well….Oh. Kay. Riiiiiiiiiiiight.

Getting zinged by the cleaning lady: you ain’t doing well.

Lady, that’s just embarassing. All that? At your age?

OKAY, the detective is definitely smelling fishy, and it isn’t because of the shark hook.

Okay, we have now progressed to a) romantic bridal carrying, b) the detectives now have binoculars. What the heck is up with this movie?

You pimps are annoying.

I’m on Team Detective….

This scene in its native tongue:
– Meow grr hiss.
– Meow?
– Hissss
– Meow, mew, mew, licks paw.
– licks paw, cleans ear, licks paw again: mew?
Hissssss, flicks tail, leaves, tail still flicking.
As entertaining as that was, in hindsight, it’s kind of obvious that the writers didn’t actually know how to end this script and were fishing around for an actual villain.


Ugh you pimps are really annoying. Ahaha. Gosh. That guy’s even more of an obvious loser than Drummond is.

Okay, explain to me how you managed to knock him all the way to the floor with one slap? He’s a foot taller than you and made of stacked muscle. Seriously? You also gave him a concussion??

Gah, I really hate you catty lady. Oh no! She switched them! She set them up it was her doing OH MY GOSH!

Oh, and the detective is watching.

(Oh whew she’s okay. ((How did she make it out the water without even getting her hair wet?)))

Ugh gross it’s another kissing scene.

Well, that was underwhelming. I expected someone was going to die.

Rated: it’s a romance, we’ll be generous. 3/5 stars.

Watchlist: noirish

Vicki (1953) – a noirish film starring Richard Boone, Jeanne Crain, and…others. Quite good, except I started mentally screaming for everyone to GET A LAWYER YOU IDIOT about three minutes in and never stopped. Apparently a remake of I Wake Up Screaming. 

– Ten Wanted Men (1955) – Richard Boone, Leo Gordon,  Lee van Cleef, and Randolph Scott. Not very good, even though that’s an excellent Western bad-guy lineup.

The House on Telegraph Hill (1951) – also a noirish film, starring….Richard Basehart? Possibly.

– Episodes of Have Gun, Will Travel – Why can’t we make TV shows like this any more? They’re short, intelligent, interesting, and they seem to have been made on a shoestring budget that mostly went to Richard Boone’s wardrobe and stunt doubles.

Sailor of the King (1953) – starring Michael Rennie, and a mostly-shirtless Jeffrey Hunter.

– Currently working on Shockproof (1949) – with what looks like Cornel Wilde – instead of going to the gym.


the-tale-of-genji-4– The Tale of Genji (the public domain translation via Project Gutenberg) is unexpectedly engrossing and readable. 

– Alternating between Judith Herrin’s Byzantium and (sigh) Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass

– Watching: the 1957 Noir-Western Man in the Shadow with Orson Welles and Jeff Chandler. (Also starring Leo Gordon as, what else, burly bad guy who beats people up.)

Hardboiled review: Laura – by Vera Caspary (repost)

Laura is a 1942 novel by Vera Caspary, better known for the movie starring the lovely Gene Tierney and the “Ohhh, okay, ooooo, I’m seeing it now. He fiiiine” (direct quote) Dana Andrews, not to mention Cliffton Webb, Judith Anderson, and a pre-horror icon Vincent Price. The movie is a film noir classic, for a very good reason, but the book is pretty darn good too.

Plot: up-and-coming detective Mark McPherson is assigned to the murder of advertising executive Laura Hunt, who has been killed at the door to her apartment…by a shotgun blast to the face. That nails down the means; the opportunity came due to some rather inconsistent behavior on Laura’s part–canceling two dinner arrangements and ostensibly leaving town, only to return to her own home afterwards.

The obvious suspects are the two closest men in her life: the smug and supercilious Waldo Lydecker, her mentor; and the charming but resentful Shelby Carpenter, her fiance. Not on that list but rounding out the cast are her loyal maid Bessie, and an aunt (Judith Anderson fleshed out the role a lot more in the movie.)

As for the motive, there isn’t one. Laura was, McPherson discovers, sincerely valued by her relations, employees, peers, and many friends; owed money to no one but her (already wealthy) aunt, and had, overall, no shadow on what McPherson can’t help but realize was an attractive, vibrant character.

And then Laura turns up, alive–she did go out of that night, on vacation, and hasn’t been back since; had no radio or newspapers, took no phone calls, and didn’t see anybody or receive visitors at her country cottage from the time she left the train station. One hell of a weak alibi–especially when the body is identified as a model from her ad agency–a model who had a completely public and unrequited crush on Shelby Carpenter. And then evidence appears that shows the crush was not, in fact, unrequited.

But if Laura didn’t kill Diane Redferne, who did and why?

– Fast, solid story with a hell of a twist (…now spoiled beyond belief, alas),
– Strongly drawn characters
– Evocative mystery
– The initial reason for murder is much clearer in the book than the movie: the sequence of events that pushed (spoiler for a 60+ year old novel) Waldo over the edge the first time is set up nicely. In the film, the murder is just kind of…random.
– There’s quite a bit of snarky humor, especially in Waldo’s portion; but some of the situational humor had me snickering.
– Strong female characters existed before #CurrentYear. Laura manages to be convincingly sweet, kind, and thoughtful, while also being ambitious, clever, hard-working, a self-made woman–who also struggles with jealousy, disappointment, and poor taste in men.

– The multiple first-person POV doesn’t work all that well. What makes it worse is that Waldo is a twerp and a third of the novel is from his perspective.
– It’s unfair to add this, but Ms. Caspary couldn’t really write action scenes. Still, there is a nice finality to how Lydecker finally goes down.
– McPherson in the film feels a lot more proactive than the book, not to mention did we mention Dana Andrews was fine? 

Rated: Four shotguns out of four.

Reblog: Happy Birthday to Leigh Brackett!


Cirsova observes that the Queen of Mars and hard-boiled Babe of Film Noir would have been 106 today and that there are plenty of ways to celebrate, whether by watching one of the many award-winning movies she scripted (HATARI! happens to indeed be an excellent choice, bravo Cirsova; but so is The Big Sleep, or Rio Bravo, or Rio Lobo, or Eldorado), or by reading one of the many memorable books she has written.

Stranger at Home is a possibility, if you want a combination hard-edged melodrama or romance-infused noir; or No Good From a Corpse if you just want straight-up, hard-boiled, smack-talking, straight-shooting, private-detective-starring noir.

Or perhaps, if you are in the mood for a glimpse of another future, where time has worn even the dust of aeons away from the shattered palaces and crumbling walls: there is Shadow Over Mars/The Nemesis From Terra.

Or if you want just plain space opera, the stories of dangerous, laughing women and grim, conquering men, evil geniuses and star traders and space-sickness and stowaways, try Starmen of Llyrdis.

Happy Birthday, Ms. Brackett. Thanks for the stories. You gave us a glimpse of the stars as they should be, not as they are.

Marnie – Winston Graham – Book Review (repost)

Marnie is a 1961 novel by Winston Graham (no, I’ve never heard of him, either) which was adapted into a movie by Alfred Hitchcock (who does sound familiar) in 1964. The movie met mixed success, despite starring Sean Connery and Tippi Hedren. The book apparently has been mostly forgotten.

The book is way better than the movie. I know, shocking.

Plot: Margaret “Marnie” Elmer, an attractive, intelligent, perceptive young woman, steals money from the companies she has worked for to support her crippled, widowed mother. She’s done three so far and is confident in her abilities to lie as readily to her employers as to her mother, but taking a job as cashier to [COMPANY] turns out to be the step too far.

Marnie is twisted–although not lacking in empathy, she is remote and distant enough that it might as well be the case. On this job, however, she starts to connect with people, interacts with people (especially: male people), and this starts to change: she has conversations, makes friends, and the firm’s part-owners, Mark Rutland and Terry Holbrook, take an interest in her. Terry is an affable slimeball, but Mark is a gentleman–and also sincerely in love with Marnie. Enough to cover for her when she makes her move, search when she disappears, haul her back by the ear, and….

….blackmail her into marrying him.

Mark’s also an idiot, because he thinks that this will all work out fine, somehow.

Marnie, however, has what TVTROPES helpfully categorizes as Paralyzing Fear of Sexuality. She goes absolutely berserk at the thought of consummating the marriage, a state of affairs which continues through the honeymoon until Mark gets fed up and–Trigger Warning–rapes her. (He apologizes after.)

He also insists that she see a psychiatrist.

Marnie’s sparring with the psychiatrist, with Mark, with Terry (who is smart enough to suspect something is up with his partner’s new wife when it’s that bloody obvious), her alternating escape plans and tentative efforts to acclimatize herself to her situation–and efforts to find a new source of cash to bring home to Mother–take most of the novel’s second half.  Despite heroic efforts of resistance on Marnie’s part, the good doctor makes some progress at helping her realize that she really is missing something: there are in her past events that don’t add up, memories that can’t be real, wrong dates, unlikely coincidences. It takes genuine tragedy to make the breakthrough, but, finally, at the extreme end, Marnie finds the key to it all….

The end reveal is different in the novel than the film (again, the film was dumbed down a lot), enough so that I didn’t expect and won’t spoil it here. In the movie, the issues are resolved by a chat with Mother and a good cry, and Marnie is now at peace with Mark and mankind. (Or, er, humankind.) Here…the reveal doesn’t so much show all to the audience as it does give Marnie the tools she needs to understand what others have told her about herself: that she isn’t evil or crazy–just, in a highly specific and also harmful way, sick.

Marnie finds this knowledge, Mark’s support, and her own newfound awareness, empowering enough to walk through a door and face down her enemies at the cliffhanger climax of the novel. We don’t know if Marnie will go to jail after all, but now she has the stability to handle a trial, and is able to accept Mark’s love (no, his feelings) at last.

The book, which is first person, is primarily a character study of Marnie…and she’s a fascinating character. She lies easily and smoothly. She can remember the day and hour she decided to steal for the first time. She loves her mother, but also somewhat despises her. She loves her horse. She’s extremely intelligent, good with numbers, a quick learner at whatever she turns her hand to. She was raised in poverty by a poorly educated and unintelligent woman with a twisted view of the world.  And Marnie was twisted by that worldview, shaped by it, and yet grew up all right mostly, except for the few little parts in her that bent a little too far out of shape and broke.

Mark is an interesting character well, although as the novel wears on, Marnie’s loathing for him does not diminish, and his patience never fails, he does strain credulity. The version of him played by Sean Connery is actually quite good, either because Connery’s charisma pulls it off, or because he does lose his temper occasionally.

Terry Holbrook, a book-only character, is someone who might have been excellent when  played by George Saunders. My exact notes on Terry state: “affably despicable when he’s bad, affably smug when he’s being nice.” Marnie headbutting him in the nose was a definite high point for the book and his character. Focusing the book more on corporate intrigue, backstabbing, and blackmail, would have been interesting. A different book entirely, but interesting. In the movie, Terry’s character is converted into Mark’s jealous step-sister, Lil Mainwaring, either because Diane Baker was more photogenic or Saunders was too expensive.

What else do I have to say about this….Oh yes. So I’m working on a thesis that the difference between an OK work and a great one is: horses. Fort Dobbs? Last Train from Gun Hill? No focus on horses, and they’re…OK at best. Quantez? With a comparable cast, budget, and script, + horses? It’s much better than OK. Maybe not “great”, but very good. The Subtle Knife books? OK but then sharply declining in quality: no horses. Narnia? Not only horses, but Talking Horses; a classic. The Dragaera novels? No horses. The hero even has to do his wandering the earth on foot. They absolutely don’t hold up to re-reads. Lord of the Rings? You have Bill the Pony, the entire country of Rohan, and Shadowfax. LOTR is a seminal work on which the entire modern fantasy genre is based. The Blue Sword? It’s literally swords-and-horses fantasy and it won the Newberry. (…a blue ribbon…?) So. Yeah, um, back to the topic.

Marnie’s love for her horse, Forio, is one of the most human things about her, and the thing that motivates her the most. A reviewer elsewhere derided Marnie’s going to an injured Forio first, instead of her husband, as evidence of a terrible person, and as  unrealistic. That reviewer has obviously never owned a horse before, or heard one screaming.

Anything else…Well, Marnie is an excellent narrator. Objectively, she’s a terrible person–a liar, impersonal, resentful, a thief–but from the inside she’s understandable and even sympathetic. Her steps toward finding her own identity, settling into the role and community of “Mrs. Rutland” are actually rather heartwarming to read.

And I’m out of things to say about this book, except that I was up until about 1:53 a.m. reading it.

Rated: Five stolen payrolls out of five.

Desperate (1947) – Movie Review

Desperate is a 1940s film noir, directed by Anthony Mann, whose filmography contains a rather long list of films much better than this one. And basically, honestly, that’s what I’ve got to say about it. It’s not bad; it’s just one of those movies that is less than the sum of it’s parts.

The plot is simplistic: trucker Steve (played by Steve Brodie) is hired for a job that turns out to be a set-up for a robbery. He resists, resulting in one policeman dead, one gang member arrested for it, and the rest of the gang dead set on making him–or maybe just just his sweet young wife Ann (Audrey Long)–pay for it. They also put in an anonymous tip that Steve was in fact in on the job from the beginning, information which the inept cops latch on to with both hands. Before he can get nabbed, Steve grabs Ann and makes a, wait for it, desperate bid to get her to safety before turning himself in to explain things properly.

The detective (Jason Robards? Huh, I totally don’t recognize him as Cheyenne from Once Upon a Time In the West.) doesn’t believe him for an instant, but he turns Steve loose anyway…as bait. And then things happen more or less as we imagine they will from there.

Pros: The actors are unforcedly likeable and their characters hit the “Guy/Girl Next Door” category in a way that makes them very identifiable. Their chemistry is great, too, and whether it’s Ann attempting to bake a cake or Steve pretending to be the gas man (“When you’ve only been married four months, that’s still cute.”) establishes both them and their relationship, and it really is totally cute. You can totally understand why Steve is not going to let anything happen to his gal, and you can get why she trusts him implicitly even through the lack of any concrete explaination as to what’s going on, exactly. On the other side of things, Raymond Burr is grimly menacing as an old-fashioned “heavy” villain; and then there’s also a wonderfully slimy private detective whose name I didn’t get, who refuses to be pushed around by Burr. They are quite good.

Next, the filming is good. I didn’t notice anything spectacular, possibly because during the last half of the film I was also reading a book, but the picture is crisp, clean, clear, and you can always tell what’s happening from A to B.  So score one for the director, who, I guess, was destined for greater things. Um. Other good things….I dunno, it didn’t have any bad language, fountaining gore, or gratitu gratious gratitous gratuitous sex: it gets all the antisocial behavior, menace, and romance across quite nicely without it.

Cons: The word that keeps leaping to mind is shoddy. This movie isn’t well-constructed; it’s not tightly-written, and even its most intense sequences lack impact because of it. Part of it is in the timing of events–the script switches from the frenzy of a getaway from immediate danger to a fairly peculiar time-skip, and then tries to turn the peril on again. It doesn’t work, because the other part of the equation is the villain isn’t very strong. Burr does his best, but he comes across as a) hobbled by the script, b) pointless. While he does have the proper instincts of a villain (“me shoot!”), he’s continually being advised not to, held back, or outright stopped by coincidental twists of the plot. Now, plot twists are fine…but not when they override an established character and force them into a different set of actions than they would ordinarily take. Radek has an established mode of action (“me shoot”): and yet he keeps being forced to run/hide/not shoot, not because anyone else is any cleverer than he is, but because the script demands it.

Radek’s motivation shifts from “trying to save baby brother from the Chair” by framing Steve, to “avenge baby brother” by killing Steve…but when he gets the opportunity, launches into an elaborate dance that includes feeding Steve a last meal and waiting until the stroke of midnight to shoot him. It’s dumb.

So between the jerky, inconsistent pacing, and the dumb, consistently hamstrung villain, this movie isn’t particularly good, interesting, scary, or intense. The lead couple is very cute, though, and worthy of a better movie.

Rated: Me, I’d only recommend it if you are….


Riders, do you have any good movies?

The Far Country is very good.”
“Who is in it?”
“Jimmy Stewart.”
“John Wayne. I like John Wayne. Do you have anything with him? What else do you have?”
“How about Vera Cruz?
“Who is in it?”
“Gary Cooper.”
“…he just like Jimmy Stewart, you know.”
“He don’t look like no cowboy! Even when he got them clothes on.”
“How about The Law and Jake Wade?”
“What is it about?”
“It’s about this guy who used to be an outlaw and now he’s a marshal and his old friend who is an outlaw is very upset about it and also about the twenty thousand dollars that went missing along with him when he ran off.”
“And then what happens?”
“So he takes him and his girlfriend hostage and they go out to get the money and there’s injuns.”
“Who takes the hostage?”
“Mom, who takes people hostage? Does a good guy take people hostage?”
“Oh, okay. Who is in it?”
“Robert Taylor and–”
“He is in the same class as Jimmy Stewart, you know.”
“What else do you have?”
Captain Blood.”
“I know who is in that. Errol Flynn. He looks like Jimmy Stewart.”
“Do you have something that’s not a Western?”
“Okay, how about Where The Sidewalk Ends. It has Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney….mom, okay, look, name three actors you actually like. JUST SAY IT PLEASE?”
“John Wayne. But I do not want to watch a John Wayne movie. They are too scary. Kirk Douglas. I like Kirk Douglas. Do you have any movie with him in it?”
“I don’t like Kirk Douglas.”

Storm Fear – 1955 – Not Actually A Review

A family–whose marital relationships are already strained, given wife Liz’s beauty, hired hand Hank’s obvious crush on her, husband Fred’s illness…and personal failures…and –hits real trouble when eighty thousand dollars and three hoodlums on the lam show up. And one of said bums is the kid Davey’s Uncle Charlie…and a potential strong contender for Davey’s actual father.
And then they get snowed in, and the fun begins.

Now me, I’d have called the cops to begin with.

– Who plays a harmonica at breakfast? That’s cause for murder if ever there was.
– Liz protesting to Hank that she’s a good mother, how dare he! is a pretty affecting scene (and then Charlie facepalms when Fred walks in.)
– Don’t come between a despairing author and his fireplace. That way lies madness.
– The ditzy moll actually being kind of a nice girl (or at least just wanting to) makes her role ultimately pretty tragic. The kid has a pretty good role and does well in the job. Cornel Wilde does pretty well and makes himself sympathetic as much as is possible for a bank robber on the run manipulating an eleven year old into guiding him across the mountains. Dan Duryea, on the other hand, is embittered, a failure at every level of his being, gets pushed into the background, and never given a chance to redeem himself.
– Charlie reminding Liz that he used to–and apparently still can–whistle have her come running is a low blow. Apparently Cornel Wilde and Jean Wallace were real-life husband and wife. She’s very pretty but spends the entire movie hanging on to a stony-faced but raw-edged emotionalism which is fine for a while but then starts to grate.
– While it starts out pretty strong with the psychodrama, the film starts to lose steam at the halfway mark; everything that could be said has been, and no apparent change has occured, so….
– ….And the final emotional resolution–a new family unit forming with the man Davey has already had a paternal relationship with–is kind of unsatisfying, given that poor Hank is barely in the picture any more than Duryea is.

Rated: The best brother is a pile of money.