Night Movies

The Killers: adapted by Anthony Veiller, John Huston, and Richard Brooks from the short story by Ernest Hemingway; directed by Robert Siodmak; starring Burt Lancaster (Swede), Ava Gardner (Kitty Collins), and Edmond O’Brien (Jim Reardon) (1946): Burt Lancaster managed to get first billing in his first movie, but it’s Edmond O’Brien’s investigation of the death of Lancaster’s character that drives the plot. And that plot owes more to Citizen Kane than to the Hemingway story that inspired the movie. Capable direction and a sharp script make this a fine early example of film noir. Recommended.

Bullitt: adapted by Alan Trustman and Harry Kleiner from the nove Mute Witness by Robert L. Fish; directed by Peter Yates; starring Steve McQueen (Frank Bullitt), Jacqueline Bissett (Cathy), and Robert Vaughn (Walter Chalmers) (1968): On the plus side, Bullitt has its iconic, 10+ minute car chase and a stoic, macho yet sensitive leading turn by Steve McQueen. On the negative side, the plot is a bit thin, Jacqueline Bissett is wasted in the thankless role of McQueen’s girlfriend, and certain aspects of the police work in the movie stagger the imagination. Only three officers total assigned to witness protection? And how the Hell does McQueen get to stay on the case after the literally explosive (and improbably dead-innocent-bystander-free) result of that iconic chase? Oh, well. For those who enjoy film continuity errors, count the number of times Bullitt passes the same slow-moving green car during the car chase. For those who enjoy standard transmission, listen to all the shifting! Recommended.

Night Moves: written by Alan Sharp; directed by Arthur Penn; starring Gene Hackman (Harry Moseby), Jennifer Warren (Paula), Susan Clark (Ellen Moseby), James Woods (Quentin), Kenneth Mars (Nick), and Melanie Griffith (Delly) (1975): Grungy, sun-bleached, almost quintessentially 1970’s film noir. Arthur Penn (Bonnie and Clyde) directs in a fast-paced manner that requires quick wits to keep up with at times as he leaps from scene to scene. Gene Hackman is suitably grumpy and world-weary as our private detective whose unusual (for the genre) back-story is that he was an NFL player. Early turns from James Woods and Melanie Griffith and a remarkable amount of casual nudity are some of the highlights. Recommended.

Stranger on the Third Floor: written by Frank Paros and Nathanael West; directed by Boris Ingster; starring John McGuire (Mike), Margaret Tallichet (Jane), and Peter Lorre (The Stranger) (1940): RKO B-movie burned off the last two days of Peter Lorre’s contract with the studio — top-billed, he only has one speaking scene. Instead, the protagonists are reporter John McGuire and plucky girlfriend Margaret Tallichet. There’s murder afoot in New York! An extremely expressionistic nightmare sequence made me wonder if director Boris Ingster was yet another German director who had fled Nazi Germany for Hollywood. He wasn’t, but the sequence sure suggests such a conclusion. Lightly recommended. Also, only about an hour long.

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