This four-disc box set of film noir from the 1940’s displays a rare kind of diversity and depth. Of course we know that noir sprang from the cynicism and uncertainty post WW2 and these films are not only brimming with double crosses and dames you can’t trust, but also a morality, a sense of family that is rare in the genre.

Henry Hathaway’s The Dark Corner, possibly the most conventional noir here, manages to marry many conventions, a private detective caught in a frame, an innocent dame who loves him and mysterious dapper gentleman possibly behind it all. Interestingly the dame is actually Lucille Ball in a rare dramatic role. “I feel all dead in side. I’m backed up in a dark corner and I don’t know who’s hitting me,” mourns the detective as the police and the criminals close in.

Cry of the City, directed imaginatively by Robert Siodmak is so much more than the sum of its parts. In fact it’s hard not to see parallels with Michael Mann’s Heat in it’s portrayal of the complex of the complex relationship between a cop and a criminal in the dark expressionist streets New York’s lower East Side.

House of Strangers is a flashback tale of an immigrant patriarch Edward G Robinson in a breakout performance, who’s success and a banker and standing in the community blinds him to the anger and greed of his sons, forced to endure their fathers old world habits. It’s the tale of a family at war with itself and previously has been labelled as The Godfather in reverse.

The standout though is Nightmare Alley, a dark tale of the rise and fall of a gifted con man who begins as a low life Carney, using his friends as a stepladder on his rise to the top. This is probably the most mean spirited in the collection, grim and harsh, a world way from stylised expressionistic private detectives and crooked cops. This film is dirty and mean and doesn’t hold back.

Bob Baker Fish

Fragmented Films 9th April 09


Just so we’re clear that Import Export (Accent) is an art film, it contextualises its shocking and gratuitous moments, then acts all innocent and pretends not to enjoy them, leaving us to do its dirty work and cast judgement. Yet it still goes much further than it needs to, such as when the young Austrian drop-kick walks in on his sleazy stepfather having what he refers to as an ‘anatomy lesson,’ bending over a Ukrainian prostitute and telling her to stick her fingers in her ass – and that’s only the beginning of a scene that gets much much worse. There’s a matter of factness to the way it’s all filmed, like it’s simply a collection of events that just happened to be captured on film. It’s a grim exploration into poverty and morality from Ulrich Seidl (Dog Days), delving into those uncomfortable prejudices that we’d prefer not to think about. It’s a tale of two journeys, a young Ukrainian woman leaves her child and a career in nursing and internet porn behind for the promise of a better life as a cleaner in Austria and our aforementioned Austrian drop-kick gets a job delivering candy machines with his step father in the Ukraine. The scenes in an elderly hospital in particular are incredible, the patients are impossibly old and it’s difficult to imagine they are even acting. And maybe they’re not, as Seidl in the extra features mentions he uses non professional actors and never writes dialogue, offering what some critics have called a ‘grotesque realism,’ to the film. Despite the grimness of the economic inequality, Seidl mines unexpected moments of humor, warmth and beauty within the despair. His film is messy like life, highly stylized and beautifully crafted, though also an intensely powerful and confronting cinematic experience.

Patrick (Umbrella) is one of the seedier (read better) examples of Ozploitation, where a comatose young murderer develops the horn for his nurse and conspires to wreak havoc on any of her prospective suitors. He does this of course without moving a muscle, without blinking, just spitting occasionally. He’s evil, telekinetic, immobile and horny, a pretty special combination. He’s also not altogether subtle in letting the object of his desires know how he feels. Whilst typing a memo his nurse drifts into a daydream. She then looks back at what she’s written. ‘Patrick wants his hand job now.’ It all comes across as a b-grade Alfred Hitchcock homage (rip off), something director Richard Franklin (Psycho 2) acknowledges proudly in his commentary, and he should be proud. Patrick is a cracker.

Ministry of Fear (Directors Suite) is an incredible film noir from German expatriate Fritz Lang (Metropolis). It’s a 1944 adaptation from a Graham Greene novel that sends you on your ass immediately and has you breathlessly playing catch up from then on in. It’s equally measured and ludicrous with great performances from Ray Milland wondering why everyone is so obsessed with cake, and dapper noir sleaze-bag Dan Duryea. Lang’s Western Union (Directors Suite) however is a little less exhilarating, a by the numbers matinee Western which despite some curious point of view shots from buffalos at the beginning plays it nice and predictable for your sunday afternoon viewing.

If the sight of Ghandi attempting to bone Mary Kate Olsen isn’t disturbing enough then perhaps the fact that Sir Ben Kingsley plays a psychiatrist swapping therapy for pot may give you some insight into the disarray at the core of The Wackness (Madman). It’s self conscious American indie cool cinema with a Cameron Crowe like nostalgia for 1994, for coming of age and for troubled folks finding solace in each other. There are some genuine moments of humour and invention here and Ghandi is like we’ve never seen him before, repeatedly hilarious, totally unhinged, swallowing every drug he can find and dispensing curious advice and counseling to our dope dealing teen hero.