Tag Archives: noir film

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Deadly psycho horror German movie “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” (1920) directed by Robert Wiene and starring Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, Lil Dagover among others.

Considered as a legend especially in the German expressionist cinema, which is basically films which focus on “themes as bizarre madness or obsession, particularly through the use of visual distortion” (wikipedia). The film has an unusual visual style in the sense that the roads and houses etc. are all “twisted with sharp pointed forms oblique and curving lines, structures and landscape that lean and twist in unusual angles and shadows and streaks of light painted directly onto the sets” (wikipedia). The set design and art direction of the movie is simply outstanding.

Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss) wants permission from a rude town clerk to have his stall in the town fair. He is basically presenting a somnambulist Cesare (Conrad Veidt), who has slept continuously day and night and will give predictions. Alan (Hans Heinz V. Twardoswki) and Francis (Freidrich Feher) are vying for the attention of Jane (Lil Dagover) and Alan wants to know from Cesare how long he will live. He is shocked with the answer “upto next dawn”.

In the night Alan is murdered and a string of murders take place. Francis is distraught and starts investigating with Jane’s father. Jane also goes and visits Dr. Caligari in his cabin. That night Cesare comes to kill Jane but strangely he abducts her instead. Upon the villagers raising a cry, he drops her. Dr. Caligari escapes from his cabin. Francis follows him and finds that he is the mental asylum director obsessed with an ancient story of an Italian monk who uses his somnambulist to commit murders.

There is an interesting twist in the end of the story. It is a cult classic and probably the most famous Expressionist cinema. It broke new grounds in that era. Its probably the first ever psycho horror movie, the first noir movie. Production values for a 1920 movie are pretty good. The print that i saw on youtube is probably a remastered one and they might have added music to the movie later on, which is again quite good.

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Stray Dog

An Akira Kurosowa classic “Stray Dog” (1949) starring Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Keiko Awaji, and Isao Kimura among others.

The story starts with rookie police officer Detective Murakami (Toshiro Mifune) losing his colt gun in a busy jam packed tram. Upon realising his loss, he immediately gets down and pursues one guy, but loses him after some time. Amply commiserated, he reports his loss to his superiors who have a benign attitude towards him and give him some clues to follow.

He manages to snag the lady who was crushing him on the tram, but that trail proves to be cold. She advises him to roam the village looking for second hand gun and dealers will lead him to the right person. Doing that for many days in an exhausted and weary state, he finally manages to catch a woman who had sold the colt to somebody else for his ration card.

By now he is helped by senior inspector Sato (Takashi Shimura) and through his experience Murakami is able to make some head way. They come to know that one Honda is interested in baseball games, so they stakeout a baseball game and arrest him. He leads them to Yusa (Isao Kimura) who is a war veteran and frustrated and angry at lot of things. He has a girlfriend Harumi Namiki (Keiko Awaji) who refused to co-operate with the police first.

Fantastic acting by both Takashi Shimura, Toshiro Mifune and they are the central characters in the movie throughout the camera dwells on them. Kimura and Awaji have short roles in the movie.

The cinematography and dialogues are quite excellent – way above what you can find for a 1949 movie. Its a bit of a noir film and the length is way too long.

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The King of Comedy

Satirical noir comedy directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, Shelley Hack, Sandra Bernhard, Diahnne Abbott among others.


Rupert Pupkin (Robert de Niro) is a fan obsessed upcoming stand up comedian fully smitten by Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis) a famous stand up comedian of that time. He is psycho obsessed to the point of stalking Jerry and getting into his car to ask him to give him a shot. He has got a friend Masha (Sandra Bernhard) who is similarly mad about Jerry but she only wants to love him.

A desperate Rupert imagines that he is having a conversation with Jerry and that he has been invited to Jerry’s office to meet him and give a demo. He also imagines that Jerry is mightily impressed with him and sees him as the next big wave. He somehow gets into Jerry’s office but unable to meet Jerry because he secretary Cathy Long (Shelley Hack) sees no appointment for him with Jerry.

Rupert thinks he loves his childhood sweetheart Rita (Diahnne Abbott) who works in a bar and convinces her that Jerry has invited them to his weekend home to spend the weekend there, only to realise that truth is something else. When they arrive unannounced at Jerry’s home, Jerry asks them to leave. Rupert being pig headed is unable to understand but Rita understands the situation well.

Showdown towards the end with a kidnapping, forced entry into the comedy show, arrest, incarceration and subsequent revival of Rupert’s life as the King of Comedy.

Jerry Lewis has acted brilliantly in this film, de Niro his usual self to perfection and others are OK. For Martin Scorsese its a different kind of genre from his usual intense movies, but there is a creepiness to the plot.

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Strangers on a Train

Deadly psycho thriller from Alfred Hitchcock “Strangers on a Train” (1951) starring Farley Granger, Ruth Roman, Robert Walker, Patricia Hitchcock, Kasey Rogers among others.

Guy Haines (Farley Granger) is a tennis player of some repute and he meets on a train with Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker) who is a kind of a possessive, inquisitive, fiendish chap. Guy is going through some marriage problems with his wife Miriam Joyce Haines (Kasey Rogers) a diabolical scheming woman out to get her pound of flesh. She is double crossing Guy while going around with others. Bruno does not like his father. He suggests to Guy crossover murder i.e. both of them murder each other’s enemies, thereby the motive will be lost and both will be free.

Guy scorns at such an idea but Bruno does not give in. He follows up relentlessly and goes after Miriam and kills her in an amusement park. Guy’s cigarette lighter was left behind by him in the train which is used by Bruno as evidence at the scene of the crime. Guy does not go to the police immediately as Bruno warns him about their crossover plot.

Somehow Guy’s present love Anne Morton (Ruth Roman) comes to know of little things as Bruno seizes up when he espies Anne’s sister Barbara Morton (Patricia Hitchcock – daughter of Alfred Hitchcock in a delightful cameo role) as Barbara looks almost alike Miriam Haines.

Things get to a pass and there is a deadly climax scene involving the merry go around, which spins around uncontrollably after the operator is shot dead. Superb natural acting by Robert Walker, Farley Granger, Ruth Roman, Patricia Hitchcock and Kasey Rogers. I thought there would be a twist in the tale towards the end, typical of Hitchcockian suspense. Unfortunately Robert Walker died immediately after this film was released, himself suffering from alcoholism and mental illness.

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Badlands

Deadly movie by Terrence Malik, Badlands (1973) starring Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek among others.

It is loosely based on the true crime spree by Charles Starkweather and his girlfriend Caril Ann Fugate in 1958. This one is more or less the same. Kit (Martin Sheen) is a garbage pick up worker and Holly Sargis (Sissy Spacek) a 15 year old girl in South Dakota living with her father.

Kit meets Holly and falls in love with her instantly. He meets up with her father and asks for favours. The old man refuses to have anything to do with him and tells him off. He returns later and kills her dad and they burn the house to look like an accident. Both Kit and Holly escape and their spree starts there, killing so many people wantonly.

Lot of rides later they end up in Montana and a deadly car chase follows in which Kit is caught, after Holly goes with the police. Dramatization of the story is quite superb, with awesome photography and cinematography, this one is a cult classic.

Both Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek lend credence to their roles quite admirably. Sissy Spacek lends her voice over to her part in the movie. Holly had his own sense of self importance in the world like the murders were a show off for his talents. In the end he gives away his various things like pen, and comb as souvenirs to the police officers.

Terrence Malik has kept the interest alive in the movie through his taut direction.

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Detour

Detour, a 1945 noir film starring Tom Neal, Ann Savage, Claudia Drake and Edmund McDonald and directed by Edgar G. Ulmer. Tom Neal is Al Roberts a dissatisfied pianist in a small night club in New York and in love with Sue Harvey (Claudia Drake) a singer in the same night club. Sue wants to make it big in Hollywood and leaves him to try her luck there.

Deeply anguished Al decides to reach California by some way, hitch hiking all the way because he had no cash for bus or train. In one such hitch hike he meets Charles Haskell (Edmund McDonald) who is also on his LA to try his luck at the race horses. Al drives during the night when it starts raining and Al decides to close the car top. When he comes around to Charles side to open his side of the car door, he slumps down to the ground and Al finds that he is dead.

In trouble Al decides to dump his body somewhere and take his clothes and money and car and ride out to LA to be with Sue. But a little later he meets another hitch hiker Vera (Ann Savage). Vera had earlier taken a hitch hike with Charles and knew all about him. From then it becomes a cat and mouse game between Vera and Al, with she blackmailing him and he trying to get out of it.

Things get more bitter, but then would not want to release the suspense. Its an out and out noir film throughout, with Al’s character being the moody, depressing one Vera a fighter to the core. Others don’t have any major roles in the film. Ann Savage has acted out of her skin in the movie as a vicious, scheming, diabolical lady out for her pound of flesh. Tom Neal has played his part beautifully as frayed young person caught in a maelstrom not of his making.

It was a much acclaimed and much talked about noir of that era.

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Werckmeister Harmonies

Werckmeister Harmonies, a Hungarian film made in 2000 in black and white and directed by Bela Tarr and Agnes Hranitzky. Its a kind of an allegory on the post World War II communist Hungary. Apparently, the movie is shot in 39 long takes. As a result of the long takes, there are unusually long shots of a subject such as two men walking down the road, a protest coming down the street, a man walking on the railway tracks. Don’t know what it signifies but after a point, it becomes too much. The movie is shot in natural light throughout. Not much of a story to go by, but the first scene is an enactment of a solar eclipse wherein men are placed as in the universe and solar eclipse explained and finally the hero says, there is light after much darkness. Georgy Eszter (Peter Fiz) is a pianist of repute and a fan of the German composer Andreas Werckmeister. But his piano is not tuned properly and with the result that he is not getting the right tunes of his favorite master. His wife Tunde Eszter (Hanna Schygulla) is cavorting with the government side and both of them are practically not seeing eye to eye with each other. She wants to come back but with a pretext that he procures the list of all those loitering in the town hall and fomenting trouble. Georgy is not bothered with that and does’nt want her to come back. Janos Valuska (Lars Rudolph) is their nephew looking after Georgy and another uncle. A circus comes to town, which is a metaphor for trouble. Strangely the circus has a dead whale and a character named Prince, who is ostensibly a disfigured person, but we don’t get a glimpse of him in the film except in shadows in one shot. Prince has lot of followers amongst the common folk apparently. In the end, arson and riots break out and protestors go about destroying hospital assets and beating up the patients. The cycle gets complete in the end with the army taking over completely and these two protagonists losing out.

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The Seventh Continent

Very strange and macabre Austrian movie “The Seventh Continent” (1989) directed by Michael Haneke, starring Dieter Berner, Birgit Doll, Leni Tanzer among others . It was apparently based on a true story which happened earlier. Georg is a successful executive in a company, slated for promotion and doing very well financially. Anna, (Birgit Doll) his wife is running a business in downtown and Eva their daughter is a bright and precocious child. Georg visits his parents at their family home and sometime later quits his job. Anna also hands over her business to her brother Alexander who has had some depression problems earlier on. Eva is pulled out of school. They systematically go about destroying every bit of property and valuables in the house. No method to the madness, no clue why they are doing, no explanations why it has happened. There are long shots of car being washed at a car wash, Eva eating her breakfast. The early part of the movie is focused on their daily activities, like brushing teeth, tying shoe laces, There are very few shots of the family together, except towards the end. The name Seventh Continent is reference to Australia, the family apparently wanted to migrate to Australia, they have shown some beach shots, but no indication whether the family actually applied for migration and it was rejected. This movie was given as an entry in the foreign language film category at the Oscars of that year, but was not accepted by the Academy. It won some award at Locarno and Ghent, but i would’nt call it as an award winning category movie at all. Ending is macabre.

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A Life at Stake

A 1954 noir film starring Angela Lansbury, Keith Andes, Claudia Barrett among others. Edward Shaw (Keith Andes) is an out of work architect and having lost lot of money in his last business. He get a proposal to go into business with Doris Hillman (Angela Lansbury) of developing properties with his expertise and their money. She is married to a much older Gus Hillman who is ready to put up big money to finance the venture. Keith has some natural doubts about the venture, and that is buttressed when he meets Madge (Claudia Barrett) who spills the beans on Doris’s first marriage which ended when her husband drove off a hill and the insurance money came to Gus Hillman. From here on the story becomes interesting. Of the cast, Claudia Barrett has done a good role though even Angela has acted well for her part in the movie of a cool professional seductress. A good movie to watch.

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The Stranger

1946 psycho drama film starring Orson Welles, Loretta Young and directed by Orson Welles himself. The film has dark shades as Charles Rankin (Orson Welles) a school teacher in Harper, Connecticut could possibly be an ex-Nazi criminal by the name of Franz Kindler. He is about to marry Mary (Loretta Young) the daughter of one of the judges of the US Supreme Court. UN War Commission is after Kindler who has left Germany without leaving any trace behind, save for one of his associates Meinike who is a prisoner in a Czechoslovakia prison. Meinike is released in the hope that he will try to contact Kindler and as expected he does go after him to Connecticut. Wilson (Edward G. Robinson) who is heading the UN Commission goes after Meinike in order to prise out Kindler. Wilson plays the waiting game for Kindler to fall into his trap. Nice noir movie with Orson Welles playing a super role that of a hard core, unrepenting criminal, Loretta Young as the confused and disbelieving wife and Robinson as the cool and composed cop. The film was released in 1946 which means production must have taken place sometime in late 1945, when the war had just ended with the Hiroshima & Nagasaki bombing in August 1945. Quite a brilliant effort for that era, when many movie goers must not yet have realised the depravity of the Nazi concentration camps.    

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