Deckard is a true noir detective and Rachel is a different kind of femme fatale: she's not bad, but there is something bad about her.
Isn't sugar better than vinegar?
**SPOILER ALERT - The last paragraph makes reference to a 1940s film that constitutes a spoiler. **
There rarely seems to be anything in between where Brian De Palma films are concerned, cinematic lovers of all kinds by and large either trash or laud his films. Femme Fatale is no different, one critic - both professional or amateur - will have it as a 1/10 movie, another will have it at the maximum rate available. Femme Fatale is high grade stuff if one is either a De Palma fan or a lover of film noir. Conversely if these two things don't tick your film loving boxes then the law of averages suggests you should have - or should - stayed/stay away from it.
De Palma opens up the doors to his fun house and invites noir lovers to come on in and enjoy. It's difficult to write about the plot because it holds many twists and turns, it's a veritable supply of uppers and downers, twisters and benders, all sexed up and pumped full of De Palma's trademark tricks and devilish rug pulls. In truth the story and set-up is predictable, but the journey is what makes the pic ooze quality and bare faced cheek, with the director giggling away like a schoolgirl in the background.
Opening up with a sequence that sees our titular fatale (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) watching famed noir classic Double Indemnity, De Palma proceeds to homage and love the film noir world. As he uses split-screens, canted angles, up-tilt shots, shadow plays etc, the narrative pulses with eroticism and impending cruelty, this really is a femme fatale based movie of the grandest kind. As events unfurl, with hapless photographer Nicola Bardo (a fun packed Antonio Banderas) caught in the web, Ryuichi Sakamoto's magnificent classical based score swirls around like some sort of peeping tom. The latter of which finds a shifty accomplice in Thierry Arbogast's noir photography.
It's a picture awash with dupes, dopes and vengeful criminals, where the themes of identity, duality, sexuality and distorted perceptions gnaw away at those investing fully in the viewing experience. Some critics (prof and amat) have lazily likened the film to David Lynch's Mulholland Drive, as if De Palma in 6 short months watched Lynch's movie and then knocked this film out! The copy-cat charge as funny as the rug-pull that De Palma pulls here. Besides, as any film noir lover will tell you, this has more in keeping with Fritz Lang's 1944 noirer "The Woman in the Window" than Lynch's film, which is no bad thing at all, and De Palma knew that. 8/10
Everyone was peeing on my head and telling me it's raining.
Devil in a Blue Dress is written and directed by Carl Franklin, who adapts from the book written by Walter Mosley. It stars Denzel Washington, Tom Sizemore, Jennifer Beals, Don Cheadle and Maury Chaykin. Music is by Elmer Bernstein and cinematography by Tak Fujimoto.
Carl Franklin had already laid down a considerable neo-noir marker with his searing 1992 thriller One False Move, here he goes more traditional but garners equally impressive results. Plot has Washington as a WW2 veteran who has lost his job and desperately needs money to keep hold of his pride and joy - his house. Taking on a job offered by shifty DeWitt Albright (Sizemore), to find a missing woman, Rawlings quickly finds himself in up to his neck in murder and deception, he must turn ace detective to save his skin.
Set in late 1940s Los Angeles, what instantly stands out is the period detail. The clothes, the cars and the establishments frequented by Easy and company. With voice over narration also provided by Washington, in dry and sardonic tones, it's every inch a loving ode to the film noir movies released at the time the pic is set. There's plenty of neon signs about the place, some bad ass cops, good sex, brandy and sharp suits, smoking and coolness and of course a psychopath in the classic mould (Cheadle excellent).
But of course noir dressage is only that if you haven't got a good pot boiling plot, thankfully this has one. The story takes unexpected turns, always remaining interesting, the distinctive characterisations breathing heavy, managing to off set the run of the mill stereotypes in the supporting ranks. It can be argued that Beals as the titular femme fatale of the title is under written, but the character comes with an air of mystery that serves Franklin's atmosphere very well. Tech credits are high, something of a given with Bernstein and Fujimoto on the list, while Washington turns in another classy show of subtlety and believability.
Lovers of film noir should get much rewards from Devil in a Blue Dress. 7.5/10
The female of the species is more deadly than the male.
Black Widow is directed by Bob Rafelson and written by Ronald Bass. It stars Debra Winger and Theresa Russell. Music is by Michael Small and cinematography by Conrad L. Hall.
Two women. Catherine marries men for their money, then murders them. The other, Alexandra Barnes is on her tail, getting in close to hopefully expose her crimes...
Rafelson's neo-noir homages the film noir femme fatales of the 40s and 50s with a high degree of success. There's much potency in the screenplay that puts it firmly in the noir universe. Flip flopping the misogyny angles of yesteryear, pic pitches the ultimate femme fatale destroyer of men into a cat and mouse scenario with a sexually repressed opponent - or is she a jealous but secret admirer? The transformation of Winger's dowdy Justice Department Agent into a blossoming lady at Catherine Black Widow's (Russell super sexy and sensuous) side brings in the doppelgÃ¤nger effect, a good old noir staple. The sexual tension is a constant, particularly when Paul Nuytten (Sami Frey) is brought into proceedings, something which shifts the piece still further into noirville.
There's also other characters straight out of film noir. Be it Alexandra's boss (the always reliable Terry O'Quinn), who's a lech harbouring desires for Alex, or sleazy Private Investigator H Shin (James Hong) who has a needle habit, it's clear that Rafelson and Bass know their noir. Unfortunately most of the play is in daylight, meaning missed opportunities for some psychological shadow play is passed up. Though it should be noted that Hall's photography is slick and tonally in tune, especially when lighting scenes involving Russell as prime focus. It all builds to a splendid finale, the makers pulling us both ways as to where it will lead. Sure, some of the plot devices are weak, but in the main this is sexy, intriguing and tricksy in narrative, whilst tech credits stay at the higher end of the scale. 7/10
Take a swing at me Harry the way Sam Spade would.
Night Moves is directed by Arthur Penn and written by Alan Sharp. It stars Gene Hackman, Jennifer Warren, Susan Clark, James Woods, Melanie Griffith, Edward Binns, Harris Yulin, Kenneth Mars and Janet Ward. Music is by Michael Small and cinematography by Bruce Surtees.
Former footballer turned private detective in Los Angeles Harry Moseby (Hackman), gets hired by an ageing actress to track down her trust- funded daughter Delly Grastner (Griffith), who is known to be in Florida. With his own personal life shaken by his wife's infidelity, Harry dives into the Grasten case with determination. Unfortunately nothing is as it first seems and it's not long before Harry is mired in murky goings on...
It sounds kind of bleak. Or is it just the way you tell it?
The locale is often bright and sunny but that's about the only thing that is in this excellent neo-noir. Harking back, and doffing its cap towards, the noir detective films of the classic cycle, Night Moves is ripe with characters who are either dubious or damaged. Protagonist Harry Moseby is thrust into a melancholic world that he has no control over, but he doesn't know this fact. As the mystery at the core of the dense plot starts to unravel, there's a bleakness, a 1970s air of cynicism, that pervades the narrative. Culminating in a finale that's suitably dark and ambiguous.
Harry thinks if you call him Harry again he's gonna make you eat that cat!
Alan Sharp's (Ulzana's Raid) terrific screenplay is appropriately as sharp as a razor. Dialogue is often hardboiled or zinging with wit, and the conversations come with sadness or desperation. Be it chatter about a fateful chess move, sexual enlightenment or the pains of childhood and bad parenting, Sharp's writing provides fascinating characters operating in a tense thriller environment.
Listen Delly, I know it doesn't make much sense when you're sixteen. Don't worry. When you get to be forty, it isn't any better.
Arthur Penn brilliantly threads it all together, as he hones a great performance out of Hackman and notable turns from the support players, he smoothly blends action with pulsing unease. There's nudity on show, but in Penn's hands it is never used for gratuitous purpose, it represents dangerous fantasies or dented psyches. Small's jazzy score is a fine tonal accompaniment, and Surtees' Technicolor photography provides deft mood enhancements for the interior and exterior sequences.
Biting and bitter, Night Moves is essential neo-noir. 9/10
Experiment in Terror is directed by Blake Edwards and adapted to screenplay by Mildred and Gordon Gordon from their own novel called Operation Terror. It stars Glenn Ford, Lee Remick, Stefanie Powers and Ross Martin. Music is by Henry Mancini and cinematography by Philip H. Lathrop.
Film begins with bank teller Kelly Sherwood (Remick) driving home through night time San Francisco, over head shots capturing the cityscape for backdrop purpose. Henry Mancini's haunting soundtrack hovers over Kelly's car in spectral fashion, until she arrives home in Twin Peaks and enters her garage, things fall silent as she gets out the car. She senses she's not alone, and she's right. A man whose face is obscured grabs her and puts one hand over her mouth, he tells her in his asthmatic voice that he knows everything about her and her young sister, and that if she doesn't do as she is told then pain, misery and death awaits them. She's to steal $100,000 from the bank where she works, he will even cut her in for 20%, what a swell fella eh?
It's a brilliant opening, stylish film making meets a thematic atmosphere full of fear, tension and sexual menace. What follows is a superbly crafted movie, a bona fide thriller that is concerned with characterisations, concerned with wringing out maximum amounts of suspense by way of suggestions and conversations, there is no need to spill blood here, the threat and the fear is palpable throughout. The police procedural aspects of the story, headed by Ford's trusty and stoic detective, are played out with intelligence and always hold fascination appeal. Especially as the little snatches of time we spend with the villain leaves us in no doubt about how cruel and vile he can be.
Edwards takes his time to build the story, stopping every once in a while to unfurl a special scene to reinforce the drama. Stand outs include a classic sequence in a room of mannequins and a genuinely chilling piece where our villain dresses in drag. Then there is the justifiably lauded finale played out at Candlestick Park during the culmination of a major league baseball game, thrilling in its execution and a fitting closure to the screw tightening approach favoured by Edwards. All the while Mancini's musical accompaniments act as a foreboding presence, dovetailing with the themes and characterisations at work in the play.
Visually it's also impressive, filmed in gritty black and white, Edwards uses intense close-ups to ramp up the tension, dallies with angles to enforce emotional turmoil, while Lathrop always keeps the lenses stark, the contrasts rich and the use of angled shadows is most striking. Cast are superb, Remick makes for a strong heroine in spite of the constant peril she faces, Ford is a bastion of strength and virtue and Powers exudes youthful vulnerability without appearing as a whiny adolescent. Then there is Martin, turning in one of the most menacing villain turns of the 60s, it's a lesson in how to play evil without actually being extremely physical. As the character shifts from being a murdering predator to a man of heart who cares for a girlfriend's child, Martin convinces enough to make it a frightening proposition.
Highly recommended. 8/10