Monday, November 22, 2021

NOIRVEMBER HOTEL: Tight Spot, 1955

It was interesting to discover recently in the decades between my first and second viewing of Tight Spot, 1955 how much of the movie remained vivid in my memory; a true sign that something is working. In my opinion, that something was director Phil Karlson whose way with a well-paced western or crime picture truly came to a peak in the 1950s with pictures such as Gunman's Walk and The Brothers Rico.

William Bowers (Cry Danger) screenplay was based on a play by Leonard Kantor titled Dead Pigeon which had a brief run of 21 performances on Broadway over the Christmas holiday of 1953-1954. The three person drama set in a single hotel room featured Joan Lorring (The Corn is Green) as a potential trial witness with Lloyd Bridges (The Sound of Fury) and James Gregory (The Manchurian Candidate) as her police detective guards.

The Samuel French synopsis reads: "Two detectives bring a young lady from the penitentiary to a secluded seaside hotel and hold her in protective custody before her appearance at a murder trial. Actually, the girl knows nothing about the murder of a gangster but has turned state's witness in order to get a day's vacation from prison. But the underworld does not know this: nor do the detectives who are in league with the underworld and who are ordered to kill the girl. But the younger of the men has a heart and a bit of a conscience left. He upsets things when he falls in love with the girl. The menace that night comes from the other detective who is undeterred in his mission of murder."

Sherry Conley played by Ginger Rogers is in a tight spot. She has less than a year left on her five year prison sentence, having assisted a less than honest boyfriend in a payroll robbery. How was she to know what he had in mind? Sherry has information that can assist the Feds in getting a conviction on a mobster. It is an undesirable alien rap that can only result in deportation, but it is better than nothing. Until now witnesses have disappeared or been killed. The prosecutor has one weekend to convince Sherry to "do her duty." Sherry doesn't think it is worth it although she will take advantage of the sudden plush accommodations. Of course, the mob only wants to tie up loose ends and that means Sherry Conley must die.

Ginger Rogers was perhaps ten years or so older than the character as presented through the dialogue. The tweaking of a line here or there would have assisted in her characterization. In fact, though no means a hag (We should all look so good in that polka dot dress.), her been-around-the-block status assists with the character of Sherry.

Ginger brings her considerable professionalism and instincts to the role as the actress was always adept at the quips which make up a lot of film noir dialogue. The character of Sherry Conley finds sisterhood with much of Ginger's filmography, the neglected and abused Ellie May Adams in Primerose Path, the vainglorious Roxie Hart, and the vulnerable convict Mary Marshall in I'll Be Seeing You.

Detective Vince Striker played by Brian Keith is in a tight spot. He's worked hard on this case but he realizes what is at stake for the reluctant witness. It is the sort of detail he would rather avoid. His reasons are many and varied, but suffice to say he is in as tight a spot as he has ever been in his life.

Brian Keith was breaking out of the uncredited portion of his career with a number of fine and tough-minded characters during this period, mostly at Columbia. See The Violent Men, 5 Against the House, and Nightfall. Ruggedly handsome and adept at his craft, Vince Striker is a character that gives the actor a myriad of emotions to convey and some nice action sequences.

Prosecutor Lloyd Hallett played by Edward G. Robinson is in a tight spot. The mob has all the power and the means of getting information that should be secret. The mob is powerful and committed. Killing isn't an option they use occasionally; they are brazen with the tactic. The deportation isn't what Hallett has spent years building up a case for, but the time is now and he needs this witness.

Edward G. Robinson channels a bit of Barton Keyes from Double Indemnity as he deals with his resistant witness and the leak in his department. Particularly satisfying is a scene with the mobster's lawyer where Hallett holds nothing back in his feelings about the criminal.

Mobster Benjamin Costain played by Lloyd Greene is in a tight spot. Every time he gets rid of one "loose end" the Feds come up with another. This time it is some dame he doesn't even remember who can finger him for this stupid deportation. Sherry is merely another nuisance to be taken out. Costain has no doubt in his power and is an angry man, but can he keep all of his team in line?

Lorne Greene, the legendary Canadian broadcaster appears in his second Hollywood feature as the mobster Costain. His barely contained anger makes the character a frightening antagonist. Despite the might of the law collected against him, Costain's arrogance will not imagine defeat.

The play is opened up from the hotel room to give the audience views of the penitentiary, city streets, and the intrusion of television. The prison shows us Sherry's present circumstances, how she has adapted, and why she would like a break. The city streets bring us shop windows, people, and sudden violence. The television intrudes with an insipid telethon with a mediocre entertainer to contrast the life and death stakes facing our characters.

I find Tight Spot an engrossing and fascinating crime drama with an outstanding cast and taut direction. If you haven't seen it, give it a try. If, like me, you saw it eons ago, surprise yourself with a revisit to the Noirvember Hotel.

Of note:

Actress Katherine Anderson is a ray of sunshine in the dark environs as prison guard Willoughby. According to online sources, Ms. Anderson turns 99 on December 11th. 

Friday, November 12, 2021

THE DISTRACTION BLOGATHON: Sherlock Holmes in Washington, 1943


Rebecca Deniston of Taking Up Room is hosting The Distraction Blogathon from November 12th to 14th. Join the fun HEREBlogathon Wrapup

Rebecca's blogathon mandate: "MacGuffin's. Red herrings. Dangling carrots. Bait and switch. Whatever. We all know how movies mess with our heads."

My contribution to the blogathon includes both a distraction and a MacGuffin.

Basil Rathbone

Putting the distraction in The Distraction Blogathon is Basil's "do" as Sherlock Holmes. It is not the first time he has startled us in this way but, thankfully, it will be the last.

Gerald Hamer

Meet John Grayson, an unassuming law clerk who is in actuality Alfred Pettibone, secret agent. He is transporting vital information from the U.K. to the American government. He and the document are in danger.

Marjorie Lord, Thurston Hall, Gerald Hamer, Clarence Muse

Onboard the train from NYC to Washington, Nancy Partridge innocently asks for a light and gets more than she bargained for as Agent Pettibone slips his matchbook, which is more than a matchbook into her handbag. 

Clarence Muse, Marjorie Lord, John Archer

At the journey's end, Nancy meets her fiance Lt. Merriam. In three days' time (he only has a three-day pass), the happy couple will be married.

Gerald Hamer

While the happy couple celebrates, our brave Pettibone is whisked away by enemy spies. The agent is doomed.

Basil Rathbone, Holmes Herbert

MacGuffin: "The thing that the spies are after but the audience don't care about."

- Alfred Hitchcock

Mr. Ahrens from the Home Office: "Grayson was carrying a document of a very confidential nature. Its contents are of such grave international importance that I am not at liberty to reveal them. But if that document falls into the hands of the --- I can only say that it would be absolutely disastrous for this government and our allies." If that doesn't spell "MacGuffin", I don't know what does!

Nigel Bruce, Basil Rathbone

Prior to leaving for America to join the FBI in the case of the kidnapped agent, Holmes and Watson search the agent's home. Holmes determines the brilliant Pettibone has reduced the bulky document to microfilm, and its hiding place in a V for Victory matchbook. Aha! We know that matchbook is currently in the possession of Washington socialite Nancy Patridge.

Gavin Muir, Basil Rathbone, Clarence Muse

Sherlock Holmes questions the porter on the train during the fateful trip. He learns of the people with whom Pettibone came in contact, including a senator, a woman with a book, a woman with pet mice, and a woman who asked for a light. He learns of an upcoming wedding and the fact that the spies have not yet recovered the document.

Basil Rathbone

Holmes avails himself of the FBI laboratory discovering much that the FBI lab man overlooked. Vital clues are now forming his hypothesis. Note: Holmes has yet to look in a mirror.

Marjorie Lord

Thanks to the fluff part of the newspaper, i.e., the society news, Holmes now knows where to find the engaged couple. Unfortunately, so do the spies!

George Zucco

The mysterious head of the spy ring knows not what he holds in his hand. That which he seeks is his.

Marjorie Lord

When the kidnapped socialite Nancy Partridge clues into the importance of the matchbook, she bravely keeps silent in spite of threats and violence. Will rescue come in time?

George Zucco

Holmes, through cleverness and disguise, confronts international spy (since the days of the Kaiser) Heinrich Hinkle, known for many years in Washington as antique dealer Richard Stanley.

Basil Rathbone, Marjorie Lord

The gags and makeshift handcuffs indicate that Holmes' rescue attempt goes awry. However, he had the forethought to send Watson for the FBI and a dramatic shootout ensues during which Hinkle escapes with Holmes in pursuit. 

Edmund MacDonald, George Zucco, Nigel Bruce

Hinkle faces the ignominy of capture - and that's not all.

Basil Rathbone

Sherlock Holmes serves up the microfilm as a coup de grace. He's allowed the brag. After all, he broke the case.

Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce

Holmes quotes Winston Church to conclude this picture. After all, it is 1942 and a little "hands across the sea" bonding keeps up morale when you are fighting Nazis.

Of note:

Our romantic subplot leads Marjorie Lord and John Archer were married from 1941 to 1953 and were the parents of actress Anne Archer.

George Zucco

Hinkle/Stanley in Sherlock Holmes in Washington is played by George Zucco, who is my favourite Moriarty in the series, having played him in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, 1939.

Henry Daniell

Henry Daniell is in Sherlock Holmes in Washington as William Easter, Hinkle's top henchman. He had played a British politician in The Voice of Terror, also 1942, and would later play Professor Moriarty in The Woman in Green, 1945.

Gerald Hamer

Gerald Hamer, Pettibone in Sherlock Holmes in Washington is pictured above as he appeared in the outstanding Holmes picture The Scarlet Claw, 1944. See also Sherlock Holmes Faces Death, 1943, Pursuit to Algiers, 1945, and Terror by Night, 1946.

Ian Wolfe, Basil Rathbone

Sherlock Holmes in Washington was the first of four Holmes pictures for Ian Wolfe followed by The Scarlet Claw and The Pearl of Death in 1944 and Dressed to Kill in 1946.

Monday, November 1, 2021



Here is the oft-told tale of a young fellow of dubious background and hard-scrabble existence finding his way in a cruel and judgmental world. In fact, you might even call our hero a stray.

Wildfire is a bull terrier and we become part of his life's journey through the sassy narration of Vic Morrow. The turn of the 20th century Bowery is no place for gentlefolk or gentle dogs. Separated from his mother and only knowing the name of his grand champion father, Regent Royal, Wildfire falls in with the tough and abusive Patch McGill played by Jeff Richards (Seven Brides for Seven Brothers). Patch is out for the quick buck and doesn't care who gets hurt along the way.

Eventually, Wildfire becomes part of the circle of kindly trainer Jeremiah Nolan played by Edmund Gwenn (Foreign Correspondent) and learns of a different sort of life and a different sort of human. Life is no less complicated as Nolan works for the emotionally conflicted and wealthy Wyndham played by Dean Jagger (Pursued). 

Where will this twisted road take our hero? Will he find resolution or redemption? As the cold autumn wears on, you will enjoy a familiar story told in an unfamiliar manner. Sometimes that is what we need, plus the studio sheen of MGM and some Eastmancolor.

Richard Harding Davis (1864-1916)

It's a Dog's Life is based on the 1903 novel The Bar Sinister by Richard Harding Davis. In my youth, I found a compilation of the noted foreign correspondent's journalistic endeavours at a second-hand bookstore and lived the adventures and tragedies of history through his eyes. Davis's plays and novels were no less successful and influential, forming the basis of several films, shorts, and features. This screen telling was adapted by John Michael Hayes (The Trouble with Harry) and directed by Herman Hoffman (The Invisible Boy).

The Bar Sinister was earlier adapted as the 1927 film Almost Human. One can see its influence as well in Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey the 1993 remake with animal narration of The Incredible Journey the 1963 film of Sheila Burnford's 1961 novel.

TCM is screening It's a Dog's Life early on Tuesday, November 9th as part of a slate of films devoted to Man's Best Friend. Perhaps your favourite is already among the lineup and perhaps this movie will join that list.

Friday, October 29, 2021

THE BERNARD HERRMANN BLOGATHON: Jason and the Argonauts, 1963

Ari, The Classic Movie Muse is hosting The Bernard Herrmann Blogathon. This not to be missed event runs from October 29th to 31st. Click HERE for the tributes to the legendary composer. BLOGATHON WRAP UP

SEE! The Adventure That Stunned the World ... And the Mighty Men Who Conquered It!

Apollonius of Rhodes wrote stories with legs. Legendary deeds of Hercules and in the epic poem Argonautica, the adventure of Jason and his crew of the ship Argos. Little could he have imagined the influence of his work would transcend centuries. The literate screenplay for the 1963 adventure film Jason and the Argonauts by Beverly Cross (Half a Sixpence) and Jan Read (First Men on the Moon) would take the familiar names and mythological characters from the 3rd century to the 20th century and beyond to a new sphere of storytelling. 

Ray Harryhausen, Charles Schneer

Producer Charles H. Schneer began his movie career at Columbia Studios and there collaborated and encouraged stop motion animator and wizard of special effects Ray Harryhausen in his envelope-pushing endeavours. Of their many collaborations which extended to Schneer's own production companies, the producer considered Jason and the Argonauts their finest. 

Jason: "The Gods want their entertainment."

A golden fleece awaits at the end of the world. A gift of the Gods to the far country of Colchis, the fleece has guaranteed its prosperity and peace. Jason hopes it will do the same as an inspiration to the people of Thessaly. The usurper Pelias has ruled Thessaly for twenty years after killing King Aristo, Jason's father. Now come of age, Jason desires to take back the throne and free the minds and hearts of his people.

The shipbuilder Argos builds a mighty ship for the voyage to the end of the world and a contest is held to select the crew. Among the crew is a spy and saboteur, Acastus, son of Pelias. Brave men and foolhardy men will join Jason and each has their part to play. 

The Goddess Hera is Jason's champion. Zeus has granted her the gift of five times in which she may assist our intrepid and righteous hero. Jason will need that help despite his independent streak that some on Mount Olympus see as blasphemy.

Ray Harryhausen and friend

The cast of Jason and the Argonauts is an interesting mix of British actors steeped in tradition and Shakespeare, the glamorous Nancy Kovak as Medea, Honor Blackman a year before Goldfinger, a beginner for the lead in Todd Armstrong, and Italian speaking extras. The older more mature I become, the more I appreciate those acting against special effects they have yet to see. If it were not for their commitment, the audience would be unable to get caught up in the action.

The Italian location shoot, the production, and set design, plus the clever screenplay that surrounds Harryhausen's eye-filling and memorable creatures are combined with the magnificent score of Bernard Herrmann, creating an indelible classic motion picture.

Bernard Herrmann and friend

Jason and the Argonauts was the final of four Schneer and Harryhausen films scored by Bernard Herrman following The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, 1958, The Three Worlds of Gulliver, 1960, and Mysterious Island, 1961. 

Stentorian and martial, tender and sweet, and rousing and frightening, Herrmann's score is inextricably linked to the movie's visuals creating an exciting and memorable movie experience. As is a musician's purview, Herrmann made liberal use of what they would have called on Broadway, trunk songs. The child in me was unaware of the snatches of Vertigo or North by Northwest and other scores now familiar to the adult film fan. Their recognition somehow makes the experience grander.

Click on the highlighted word or phrase to hear selections from Bernard Herrmann's score, such as Jason and the Argonauts TITLE MUSIC.

TALOS is peeved.

Phineas's plague of HARPIES

Phineas: "They speak for themselves, don't they?"

The Golden Fleece is protected by the HYDRA

The Argonauts BATTLE the Hydra's teeth.

King Aeetas: "Hecate, Queen of Darkness, revenge yourself against the Thessalians. Deliver to me the children of the hydra's teeth; the children of the night!"

Zeus: "Let them enjoy a calm sea, a fresh sea, and each other. The girl is pretty and I was always sentimental. But for Jason, there are other adventures. I have not yet finished with Jason. Let's continue the game another day."

Of interest: Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975) and Ray Harryhausen (1920-2013) were both born on June 29th. It is said of those born under the sign of Cancer that they are emotional, sensitive, and self-protective. Diligent and loyal once committed to their work these creatives are unstoppable.

Friday, October 22, 2021

THE THIRD HAMMER-AMICUS BLOGATHON: Taste of Fear aka Scream of Fear, 1961

Thank you to our hosts, Barry at Cinematic Catharsis and Gill at Realweegiemidget Reviews who present The Third Hammer-Amicus Blogathon running from October 22nd to October 24th. Day 1  Day 2  Day 3  Encore

Taste of Fear released in the States as Scream of Fear is an elegant thriller written and produced by Jimmy Sangster (The Brides of Dracula) and directed by Seth Holt (The Nanny).

Susan Strasberg as Penny

Our film opens with the body of a young woman recovered from a lake while another young woman returns home after a long absence. Penny, played by Susan Strasberg (Picnic) has a complicated history. After the divorce of her parents, she moved to Italy with her mother and has not seen her father for a decade. Her closest friend was her nurse Maggie, who was hired to assist the wheelchair-bound Penny following a riding accident.

Ann Todd as Jane

Arriving at her father's villa in France, Penny is told that her father is away on business and has not set a return date. She is also told that her father has been ill and under a doctor's care. Penny is meeting her stepmother Jane played by Ann Todd (The Passionate Friends) for the first time. The relationship between the two is a strained one. Is Jane over solicitous? Is she hiding something? Perhaps Penny is paranoid about her strange situation. She is reputed to have always been an over-imaginative and skittish girl.

Ronald Lewis as Bob

Penny is putting what trust she has in her father's chauffeur Robert played by Ronald Lewis (Mr. Sardonicus). Robert is kind and romantic, and a plus in Penny's eyes, he doesn't like his employer's wife. When Penny is frightened by the sight of her father's corpse, it is Robert who believes her while Jane calls in the local doctor Pierre Gerrard played by Christopher Lee (The Gorgon). Dr. Gerrard seems fixated on her mental state and keeps pushing sedatives.

Christopher Lee as Dr. Gerrard

It is a case of who and what to trust for both Penny, and for the audience. Is her vulnerability making Penny susceptible to nefarious persuasion or is that fragility the root of hallucinations and paranoia? Penny leans into the comfort offered by "Bob" and backs away from Jane's attempts to be a friend. Will proof be found to establish the truth of these people and the mysterious events at the villa? 

It is not a contradiction to say that the four leads in Taste of Fear play their duplicitous roles with straightforward honesty bringing the intriguing and twisting script to life. The tasteful and shadowy cinematography by Douglas Slocombe (Julia) and the stylishly classic score by Clifton Parker (The Blue Lagoon) subtly support the story.

Taste of Fear was an international success for Hammer from a box office standpoint, from a critical standpoint, and for the audiences who have discovered it in the 60 years since its initial release. It is the very definition of a horror classic.

NOIRVEMBER HOTEL: Tight Spot, 1955

It was interesting to discover recently in the decades between my first and second viewing of Tight Spot , 1955 how much of the movie remain...