Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Bound, or: Blood Money

It’s no secret that we L O V E film noir on the Blog Collab, particularly when our story involves a femme fatale who can expertly fire a pistol between drags on a cigarette perched in a dainty silver holder. This week, we have more than enough 1940s noir ambience to go around, along with a butch ex-con, illicit schemes and affairs, and elegantly crafted scenes of violence. Oh, and it’s the first film by the Wachowskis. Have we died and gone to heaven or, you know, been resurrected Matrix-style?

The Film:

Bound (1996)

The Premise:

A woman seeking freedom from the mafia begins an affair with another woman whose former life of crime may help them escape the mob with a case of stolen money.

The Ramble:

Out of prison and keeping a low profile, the excellently named Corky finds work renovating a recently vacant apartment and completing general building maintenance in Chicago. Quietly minding her own business doesn’t seem like a feasible option for long when Corky catches the eye of neighbor Violet, who lives with Caesar, a man who is quick to anger and heavily linked to the mafia. A winning combination indeed.

Corky, a woman with shaggy dark hair wearing a dirty A-shirt style tank top, leans against a kitchen sink. She is gazing intently into Violet's eyes, a woman wearing a low-cut black dress with a curly 1940s-style bob and makeup.

After Violet pulls the classic earring-down-the-sink maneuver, she and Corky begin a sexual relationship, sharing an unspoken and intense connection. Based on their understanding and Violet’s long-held desire to leave the mob life behind, she loops Corky in on a plan to fool everyone and escape the mafia with millions of dollars.

As Violet explains, recently tortured and murdered schemer Shelly was skimming money from his own mob crew with serious commitment–to the point that these funds fit nicely into a suitcase worth over $2 million. For a brief window, all of the money will be in Caesar and Violet’s apartment before big boss Gino Marzzone passes go and collects it. In a rather gruesome turn, all of the money has to be cleaned and air-dried first as Gino’s hothead son Johnnie shoots and kills Shelly, covering the cash in blood.

Wearing a black spaghetti strap top and dark red lipstick, Violet sits with one hand propping up her head. She is staring contemplatively at the many $100 bills clipped to fishing line as they air dry.

Like any film noir-style hard-boiled detective worth their salt, Corky is pretty fucking suspicious of Violet’s motives in all of this. However, the allure of both the money and Violet herself soon have Corky returning to her life of crime, outlining a brilliant, foolproof plan that of course could never go wrong in a million years.

Mob associate Caesar embraces Johnnie with a fake smile. Johnnie is wearing a bandage on his nose from an earlier punch Caesar gave him.

What follows is a very tense unraveling of the game plan as Caesar proves to be way more of an unhinged, trigger-happy murderer than expected. I will leave it there–but is it because I’m tired, bad at explaining heists, or terrible about planning my time this week? No doubt the answer to this question generates as much suspense as the film itself.

The Rating:

4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Violet’s character is the closest we get to a 1940s femme fatale in a 1990s setting, so she is now our new idol. At least I can only presume. What’s truly excellent about both of our leading ladies is their approaches to navigating a violent, male-dominated world; they each have different strategies, and they work together in perfect harmony. There’s no pitting these identities against each other or implying there’s a more appropriate way to be a woman and express one’s identity. Both Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon are wonderfully cast.

From virtually the first minute of the film, suspense is driving the narrative forward, whether because of the tension between Violet and Corky or the increasingly troublesome case full of cash. As such, the pacing never slows down, and my interest as a viewer never waned. Some of the scenes are horrifically violent yet beautifully and even lovingly filmed. I’m such a fan of the last few scenes of the film and some of the brilliant one-liners these characters have…but also every scene, to be honest.

A couple of criticism do come to mind. First, though the film pivots on a lesbian relationship, the film is quite overwhelmed by white, male, and heterosexual characters. This film could pass the Bechdel test more comfortably as well as include more diversity, especially as it takes place in Chicago. Another drawback that comes to mind is that the relationship between Violet and Corky is a bit too easily established, and the trust between them not wholly earned. However, they’re so vividly drawn characters that it’s impossible to be mad about that. The romance between our two leads is hot (and definitely R rated) without being creepy or voyeuristic.

Would my blog wife devise a convoluted plan with this one or smoke a cigarette around it with no small measure of disdain? Read her review to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Most Assassinated Woman in the World, or: Frenchy McFrenchface

This week’s film brings Horror Month to a close (say it isn’t so)!  In true French spirit, this film does horror with style (and is based on a true story!).

The Film:

The Most Assassinated Woman in the World

The Premise:

Paula Maxa, famous for dying onstage in every performance, may be the target of a real-life killer.

The Ramble:

Welcome to 1930s Paris, a world full of cigarettes, drama, religious zealots, and…murder?  The (in)famous Paula Maxa has the distinction of being murdered every night at the Grand Guignol Theatre, much to the dismay of a die-hard group of protestors.  Believing her violent act will yield acts of real violence, the protestors only seem to create more intrigue around the scandalous show.

You have to give credit to the theater crew for keeping things fresh–Paula’s deaths are always gruesomely staged with a disturbing amount of attention to detail.  Whether being stabbed, choked, or beheaded, the stunts always look real.  Possibly because the blood and body parts involved aren’t props but harvested from human victims…?

A woman looks in horror at another woman who has just lost an eye, the wound bleeding profusely.

On this particular evening, there are several audience members of note watching the show.  First is an older man with his young lover in a private box.  The man in question seems much more interested in Paula’s bloody death than anything his lover has to offer.  That can’t be good.

Another person of importance is a journalist, Jean, writing a story about the Grand Guignol as a den of depravity.  After the show the next night, Jean meets Paula at a bar straight out of a film noir.  He’s immediately intrigued and determined to learn more about the glamorous, aloof star.

Meanwhile, Paula is having flashbacks to her younger days, and they aren’t particularly happy memories.  These seem to be influenced in part by the awful director who is determined to drive Paula insane for some reason?  Mostly because he’s a douche?

A woman looks at herself in the mirror of a dressing room, a picture of a man and woman on the beach hanging on a wall behind her.

As Paula opens up to Jean, she reveals the tragic secret in her past she’s held onto for so many years.  She also hints that she’s ready to leave the theatre and will do so with an appropriate amount of dramatic flair.

A man and woman lie at opposite ends of a bed, heads next to each other.

Unfortunately, someone else seems ready for Paula to exit, stage left, in real life.  The choice to re-create Paula’s past onstage seems rather ominous.  Like Paula’s past, will this story end in tragedy?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

More film noir than horror, this film has a wonderful aura of mystery.  The gory effects paired with the melodramatic onstage deaths are impossible to resist.  As an added bonus, the film fits in nicely with the blog collab’s unoffical subtheme:  Women Who Look Good Smoking.

However, there are a lot of elements that never feel fully fleshed out.  I expected more to happen with the religious zealots, and almost all of the character motivations are confusing.  This is the kind of film where I anticipate a clever twist, but the end is just…a very French ending indeed.  (Not in a dirty way.)

Would my blog wife resurrect this act for a grand finale or let it die IRL?  Find out in her review here!

a man in a hard hat holds the phone in a phone booth to his ear
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Blow Out, or: Another Reason to Celebrate the Death of the Pay Phone

April brings us another round of Blog Free or Die Hard, one of my favorite themes next to Ewan McGregor/Hellraiser month…and every other theme of the blog collab.  This week we opt for a throwback featuring John Travolta, dramatic ’80s scores, and sketchy, sketchy payphones.

The Film:

Blow Out

The Uncondensed Version:

John Travolta has been the sound editor for low-budget horror for the past couple of years.  It’s a living.  The latest picture is presenting a challenge, as he can’t seem to get some of the sounds right, in particular the screams of the slasher victims in the film.  To gather sounds for the film, he decides to somewhat sketchily hang around parks at night and record general nature sounds.  What could possibly go wrong?  You might ask.  Naturally, JT (conveniently, for both John Travolta and his character, Jack Terri) sees something he’s not supposed to see…or rather hears something he shouldn’t.

A close-up of an owl's face at night. Behind the owl stands a man with sound recording equipment.
Owl be seeing you?  (Not sorry.)

Just before a car dives headlong into the river, passengers inside, JT hears a gunshot and realizes this crash isn’t an accident.  His deep sense of moral conviction doesn’t permit him to remain a bystander, so he jumps in shortly thereafter to help the surviving passenger, a young woman (of course).

While at the hospital, JT learns the victim of the car crash was none other than the fictional Governor McRyan, top contender for the presidential nomination in the upcoming election.  JT is encouraged to keep quiet about the presence of the young woman as this news would only upset McRyan’s family further.  He reluctantly agrees to do what seems like the honorable thing…but is it?

The young woman, Sally, is very confused and agitated in the hospital and eager to leave.  JT brings her to a motel so she can rest, but also so he can obsessively play his recording of the crash to figure out what happened with the accident and why.  Meanwhile, we learn someone really is destroying and covering up evidence surrounding the crash.  Spoiler alert:  It’s John Lithgow.  As we learn soon after, John Lithgow escalates things super fucking quickly.

a man in a trench coat stares down the length of a hallway
Damn it, John.

JT tries to get more information out of Sally about her relationship with McRyan, but she doesn’t take well to this line of questioning.  At this point JT does get really fucking irritating and insists they get a drink since he did save her life and all.  FFS, save a woman from drowning because it’s the right thing to do—not because you expect her to get a goddamn drink with you.

Annoyingly, they do get a drink, but mostly so we can learn about JT’s tragic backstory investigating police corruption.  I sometimes worry about the lack of empathy I have for characters in realistic scenarios, but his story came off as a bit melodramatic and led to some pretty cringey Travolta overacting.

a man smiles at a woman seated next to him in a restaurant booth
Nice rabbit foot…

As it turns out, Sally has a dark past of her own, and was part of a conspiracy to ruin McRyan’s political career.  This is apparently all too much for the honorable JT, who you know…probably never saw anything worse in his days of investigating police corruption.

But to return to John Lithgow.  Remember how he was going to take shit too far suddenly?  As part of the conspiracy to eliminate McRyan from the competition, John Lithgow decided to just straight-up eliminate him by shooting out his car tire.  But the plan included Sally’s death and, since she’s one of the few people who can tie all of this back to the conspirators, she needs to die.  John Lithgow actually becomes a serial killer with a fucking garrote watch and all, targeting sex workers who look like Sally so her death won’t seem too out of the ordinary.  TWIS.  TED.

What will happen when John Lithgow poses as a journalist trying to get all of the evidence connecting him to the crime?  If you’re squaring off with someone who has a garrote watch, it’s probably not going to end well.

The Review:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

The plot is solid, and John Lithgow is obv a delight.  To the extent sociopathic serial killers with goddamn murder watches can be considered a delight.  In true film noir style, the entire movie is incredibly dark, and the ending doesn’t shy away from that.  This is an indictment on politics, Hollywood, the media…virtually every angle of American life.  Since some of the elements of this film are right out of the ’80s thriller playbook, I expected a cop-out ending, but ended up really impressed.

On the other hand, there’s just something that vaguely irritates me about John Travolta no matter what…?  I think I watched Grease too much growing up, and he was one of the first men to disappoint me with his stupid expectations for women.

I also had such a problem with the roles for women in this film, who are all props without exception.  I really wanted to like Sally, but she just felt like a pawn with no real dimension, and she was soooooooooooooooooooooooo naïve for a woman who agreed to a sleazy plot to set up a politician, And as a minor point of irritation–her voice was really grating.  She brought up shades of Lina Lamont from Singin’ in the Rain to me.  Is it me or is Lina Lamont still more of a feminist icon than Sally in this movie?

Would Christa dive off a bridge for this one or let it sleep with the fishes?  Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Scarlet Street, or: Lack of Perspective

True confession:  I picked this week’s film and couldn’t remember why until I looked up old movie reviews (besides the obvious point in its favor as a film noir).  Our film this week was banned in several US cities for its questionable moral message, and one of the first mainstream Hollywood films to feature a serious crime going unpunished (er, spoiler?).  I’ve also finally accepted that I’m never actually going to watch Metropolis, and a Fritz Lang noir must be the next best thing, right?

The Film:

Scarlet Street

The Premise:

A fairly white bread man  with artistic aspirations becomes obsessed with a mysterious young woman whose main interests are money and looking aloof.

The Uncondensed Version:

Note:  One thing you just have to live with in this film is the lead’s name, Chris Cross, which works on a symbolic level but also might make you giggle every time you are reminded that this is his full name.

Chris Cross is a good little worker bee—he’s just been recognized for 25 years of loyal service by his boss, cares for his wife Adele, and looks upon his boss’s affair with vague disapproval.  On the other hand, Chris dreams of being recognized as an artist, freedom from his loveless marriage, and the admiration of a young woman that comes so easily to his employer.  The answer to his problems seems to come via a chance encounter with a young woman named Kitty.

a woman descending outdoor steps wears a poncho over her dress as a man with a fedora holds out a hand to her
Perhaps the only American in front of a camera to make the poncho look effortlessly classy (and easy to use).

As Chris emerges from the subway following a sort of a work bros dinner party, he sees a violent altercation between a man and woman.  He rushes towards the scene and sort of taps him with an umbrella, which somehow knocks the man flat.  Chris then rushes to alert the police, but returns to find the other man has vanished.  Kitty, the young woman, tells the officer the man was a stranger who demanded her money and ran away.

Chris has more than a casual interest in Kitty and takes her out for a drink before bidding her good night.  Alcohol decidedly does not strip away their inhibitions, as everything they reveal to each other is a complete crock.  Chris claims to be a successful artist who goes around selling $50,000 paintings and buying works by Cezanne to hang on his wall.  Kitty, on the other hand, is very concerned about finding Johnny, though she later insists he’s no one.  According to Kitty, she’s an actress…but it’s heavily implied she’s a sex worker.

Soon after, we learn Johnny is none other than the scumbag who beat her up at the beginning of the film, and is sort of her boyfriend and pimp.  Seeing the potential for a scam, Johnny persuades Kitty to get more and more money from Chris, and she even manages to have a fab studio/apartment set up where she can live.  In reality, the oodles of money Chris is shelling out is stolen from his wife and workplace.  Surely no one will notice significant amounts of money missing.

a woman looks on as a man wearing an apron chops food for dinner
Chris does get points for excellent apron…but that’s about it.

Kitty is vaguely uncomfortable with asking for all of this money, but is very devoted to her horrible boyfriend and their schemes to get rich and settle down.  When Johnny gets the idea to sell the valuable paintings, Kitty objects but ultimately goes along with it.  Unsurprisingly, Johnny’s first attempts to sell work by a “famous” artist no one has heard of doesn’t go well…until a collector likes the paintings and recognizes their potential.

a man sits next to a woman on a bed, who is holding a glass of alcohol in her hand
Alcohol is the only thing pictured here you really need, Kitty.

When pressed to identify the artist, Johnny points out Kitty.  This complicates their scheming as Kitty must now explain where Chris’s paintings have been disappearing and why Johnny is perpetually hanging around her.  Chris doesn’t like Johnny to begin with (as virtually no living human being could) and becomes increasingly jealous and suspicious of his relationship with Kitty.  Nevertheless, he chooses to ignore his doubts and is convinced she’ll marry him if he can find a way out of his marriage with Adele.

Things finally seem to be going Chris’s way when a mysterious stranger from Adele’s past offers a clear path to ending the marriage and living happily ever after with Kitty.  …Unless, of course, the truth comes out…

The Rating:

4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

This isn’t quite up there with my noir favorites (Laura, Out of the Past, Sunset Boulevard, Notorious), but Christ, it’s close.  There’s not a single likeable character to be found, all morality is skewed, and the ending is pitch black.

The atmosphere is tense AF, the dialogue is so spot-on (Chris has this brilliant line about how he never could manage perspective that is too fucking real), and the acting is quite subtle considering the high melodrama involved in the plot.

My biggest complaint is that Kitty isn’t quite as cool as I wanted her to be–I found myself wishing she had more agency.  All of her decisions revolved around Johnny even though he was a despicable human being.  It’s frustrating to watch a very street-smart female character make awful choices while remaining blind to reality.

However, we do get perhaps the most progressive film noir scene ever when Chris paints Kitty’s toenails (though, of course, this is also a symbol of her power over him and his emasculation).


Did my blog wife find this one mysteriously alluring or express as much disdain as Kitty’s resting bitch face?  Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Phoenix, or: A Miraculously Creepier Version of Pygmalion

Christa and I were unanimously decided the lead in Barbara, Nina Hoss, was the highlight of the film.  Since this week’s film is essentially a cast reunion in a suspenseful film noir war drama, we are absolutely in.

The Film:


The Premise:

After facial reconstruction surgery changes her appearance, a Holocaust survivor sets out to find her husband, the man who may have turned her in.

The Uncondensed Version:

Our film opens as two women cross back into the German border immediately following WWII.  The driver, Lene, explains her passenger, who rests semi-unconscious and covered in bandages, is a survivor from the camps.  After being seriously wounded by a shot to the face, Nelly is returning to Berlin for facial reconstruction surgery.

Nelly learns she can afford this expensive surgery only because of a large inheritance left to her as the only surviving member of her family.  Though the results of the surgery will be quite impressive, her face will no longer be the one she knows.  In a beautifully shot scene, Nelly sees her new face for the first time reflected in a broken mirror in the bombed ruins of her former home.  “I no longer exist,” she says without emotion.  Her desire to recapture what was lost contrasts sharply with Lene’s conviction that creating a new future in Israel is the only option for them.

A woman looks at her reflection in broken shards of glass on the groud.
Chills, man.

Before the war, Nelly was a singer of some renown.  Unlike Lene, she never really considered herself Jewish and feels no connection to the new Jewish state.  Nelly also dreams of reuniting with her husband, Johnny, which Lene dismisses.  As it turns out, Johnny was arrested days before Nelly…then released as soon as she was arrested.  This is straight out of Hitchcock and would’ve had me running a mile from this shady dude.  However, Lene keeps this information hidden for a while…along with the fact that Johnny filed for divorce before Nelly’s arrest.

Two women embrace in a living room.
A true friend will help you obtain a visa and give you a revolver as a gift.

Nelly, oblivious to all of this, becomes determined to track down her husband and live together as the devoted couple once again.

When Nelly finds Johnny, he’s working at a shady AF night club, called—guess what—the Phoenix.  Conveniently, her face is different enough to dodge recognition, though she still bears some resemblance to her former self.  This gives Johnny the idea to bring Nelly, now known as Esther, in on his scheme to claim his supposedly dead wife’s inheritance.  They will split the money if they can pull off this scam, which seems like a great idea to Nelly…mostly so she can prove once and for all Johnny really loved her.  IDK, I feel like knowing your husband has a scheme to collect your inheritance because he thinks you’re dead is a major tip-off…?  But Nelly has a more trusting nature than that and wants to believe in her husband and the possibility of a return to a normal life.

A man with a moustache stands looking at a woman whose face he holds in his hand.
I won’t get mad–tell me your honest opinion about the ‘stache.

While Esther trains to be Nelly, she isn’t allowed to leave Johnny’s apartment.  It’s quite a twisted version of Pygmalion, with Johnny’s insistence that Nelly will dress glamorously and remain unchanged by her experience as a Holocaust survivor creating a bitter irony.  He chillingly reassures her that what may have happened in the camps won’t matter as no one will ask about them.  In a scene that’s almost funny but not quite, Johnny calls off the scheme when he decides no one will ever believe she’s the real Nelly.

However, Esther convinces him to keep going when she quickly masters Nelly’s handwriting.  She tries to draw as much information from Johnny as possible, but he’s extremely reluctant to talk about the past.  A sudden, dramatic complication arrives in the form of Lene finally revealing the truth about the divorce to Nelly.

The revelation leads to an incredibly final scene that unfolds painfully and heartbreakingly clearly.

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

Despite all of the melodramatic film noir elements (facial reconstructive surgery, a sketchy night club, an inheritance scheme, a case of mistaken identity), this film takes quite a realistic approach to betrayal and the lasting impact of war.  The ending of the movie is haunting and understated in spite of the enormity of the revelation.  Partly because it’s not a surprise to the audience, but also because it’s much more ambiguous than a revenge plot or a dramatic noir ending.  It becomes clear Johnny will never see a dime of Nelly’s inheritance, but will he be punished for his role in Nelly’s harrowing experiences as a Holocaust survivor, and does he even feel the slightest remorse about it?

To pick a bone, however…even though a lot of the dramatic tension comes from the audience knowing the truth about Johnny quite early on, it still would’ve saved SO MUCH goddamn time if Lene had just fucking told Nelly what she knew to begin with.  I wonder if Lene suspected Nelly wouldn’t believe her or possibly she didn’t want to break her heart completely with that knowledge?  Either way, the revelation that your friend’s husband turned her into the authorities (presumably to die) seems like a pretty important detail to share.

It’s also really painful to watch Nelly blindly ignore the facts for so long, but it does make a degree of sense as acknowledging the truth means accepting that it’s no longer possible to return to the life she had before the war.

Nina Hoss is incredible in this and, as Christa noted, bears almost no resemblance to the character she played in Barbara.  And not because the actress went method and really had facial reconstructive surgery.  As far as I know.

Would my blog wife run an inheritance scam with this one or walk away slowly and deliberately?  Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Sunset Boulevard, or: Christmas Party for Two

We’re kicking off what was intended as a month of Christmas-themed classics with…Sunset Boulevard.  HEY—a Christmas party happens in the course of this film PLUS there are so many horrible financial decisions that it’s basically the story of my Christmas every year.

The Film:

Sunset Boulevard

The Premise:

Please tell me you know this.  Lie if you have to.

The Uncondensed Version:

I’ll try to keep the summary short since this is possibly THE movie classic and I really feel you need to watch this if you haven’t.  It’s so good, and Gloria Swanson’s performance makes life worth living.  This is that film about an aging star deluding herself, grooming and controlling a much younger man, and uttering that line about being ready for her close-up.

It can’t be spoiler-y to reveal our protagonist Joe’s death—for one thing, this film is 60+ years old, and for the other, the narrator tells us within 5 minutes of the beginning that the body floating in the pool is his own.

As a result, the mystery here is not who was murdered, but how, why, and by whom.  Rather interestingly, the way Joe frames his story, he offers the facts to those who want the truth.  …So that may not be a hell of a lot of people in these post-truth times (to get just a teensy bit topical).

Flashback to 6 months earlier, when Joe was a broke, unsuccessful screenwriter trying to scrape together $300 to save his car from being repossessed.  His last effort to make money honestly is pitching an original story about a baseball player who must throw the World Series, which is flat-out refused to his face by a woman named Betty, who will be important later.

a man stands in front of a large Spanish-style mansion
“I remember Manderley…”  Oops–wrong film.

As Joe leaves, he runs into his creditors and loses them by parking in an empty garage that appears to be part of an abandoned estate.  However, as Joe quickly learns, this creepy old house belongs to none other than former silent movie star Norma Desmond.  Like Miss Havisham, Norma lives in the past and, since she never appears to leave the house, she is both literally and figuratively detached from reality.  God, but she’s a fucking brilliant badass and quite honestly my personal hero.  In Norma Desmond’s words, “I AM big—it’s the pictures that got small.”

The first meeting is incredibly surreal as Norma believes Joe is there to bring a monkey-sized coffin for her dead monkey (not a euphemism).  Things deteriorate when she discovers Joe is a screenwriter and gets the question all Hollywood types must dread:  Can you read my screenplay?

an elegantly dressed woman looks angrily down at a man sitting in front of a typewriter
How can you possibly find the nude scenes for the aspiring screenwriter gratuitous?

Norma’s screenplay is a retelling of the story of Salome, starring its writer in her comeback role (“I hate the word; it’s a return”).

Joe agrees to this, but is immediately incredibly weirded out when Max, Norma’s all-purpose maid, chauffeur, butler, and provider of organ music, moves all of Joe’s belongings into the house overnight.  Their relationship gets more uncomfortable for Joe as Norma pretty much Pygmalions him with a new wardrobe, gold-plated watches and cigarettes, and moves him to the room where her husband used to sleep.  Norma is becoming dependent on Joe to the point of obsession, but Joe continues to hold her at arm’s length with a mixture of pity and disdain.  But not enough disdain to refuse the rent-free stay in her mansion or the many gifts she bestows on him, of course.

The tension amps up when Joe runs into Betty again and Norma fears losing both her return to the big screen as well as her man (admittedly something of a wet blanket).  All of this leads to a spectacular mess that is just so goddamn fun to watch fall apart and full of opportunities for Gloria Swanson to flash some major crazy eyes (and do her best Charlie Chaplin impression for some reason), which is of course swept along by sudden, dramatic music in true ‘50s noir style.

a woman dressed as Charlie Chaplin holds up a cane while a man with a duster looks on in the background

I’d be happy doing Noir 2.0 for this month—fuck, I love film noir.

The Rating:

5/5 Pink Panther Heads

There’s a reason this is a classic.  This is a perfect movie AND a brilliant film noir with a career-defining performance from Gloria Swanson.  I don’t like William Holden at all, but that never detracts from this film in the least.  In fact, I reluctantly admit this was a good role for him as it requires a balance between being a total sleaze vs sticking to his principles, which creates some of the film’s carefully crafted dramatic tension.

That being said, Gloria Swanson is clearly the star here, and pulls off completely delusional yet sympathetic and arguably somewhat heroic.  She is the underdog here, and I think it’s impossible not to root for her return to the screen.  Hollywood has taken her youth and talent to leave her wasting away in her mansion/prison.

Serious question:  are there any other films dealing with ageism in Hollywood or ageism at all?  Advantageous, as reviewed for the collab, comes to mind, but that’s the only other movie I can think of.  I’m glad we see older ladies on the screen like heroes Judi Dench and Helen Mirren, but Sunset Boulevard’s interest in Hollywood ageism still holds up.

The role reversal in this film is great too; it feels much like the inverse of Rebecca or My Fair Lady but with a much more tragic twist, esp. re: women holding the power in a romantic relationship.  I imagine this story wasn’t intended to question gender roles at the time given its ending, but it leaves things just ambiguous enough for viewers to draw their own conclusions.  Was it wrong for Norma to take advantage of Joe’s situation, or were they both disenfranchised by the Hollywood movie machine?  Watch this film and write 500 words in response.

Did Christa think this made a big return or did it fail to make a comeback?  Find out by reading her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The House on Telegraph Hill, or: Cold (Stare) War

Let’s be honest: The Man Who Never Was let me down in terms of noir-y elements. This edition of Blog Free or Die Hard is an attempt to find a better film noir as Christa and I agree the genre is pretty fab when done well. Melodrama, flawed/awful human beings, and old time-y swearing are crucial elements of a film noir. Did my pick deliver this time? Read my review or, better yet, Christa’s.

The Film:

The House on Telegraph Hill

The Premise:

A Polish survivor of the Holocaust steals another woman’s identity in order to immigrate to the US. Complications arise in the form of the woman’s family members, the fate of a rather large inheritance, and serious bitch face.

The Uncondensed Version:

I was trying to figure out what nationality the lead actress was, and I finally just Googled it. Italian. She looks and sounds a bit like an Ingrid Bergman knock-off, honestly.

However, for the purposes of our film, our protagonist, Victoria, is a Polish Holocaust survivor. This film is approximately 800x darker than I expected it to be, even for a film noir.

After losing her home and husband in the war, Victoria is a refugee. The Americans want to help her return to Poland, but Victoria is quite resourceful. She has stolen the identity of Karin, a friend who died in the camps, and who happens to have wealthy family in San Francisco. Family = son who was sent away before the war for his safety + Aunt Sophie, matriarch of the family.

However, Aunt Sophie dies, leaving everything to Karin’s son. Victoria is quick to realize she stands to gain safety, an opulent lifestyle, and a damn nice house, if only she can put up with raising this admittedly quite irksome child as her own.

The pieces fall into place quite nicely when Chris’s guardian, Alan takes an interest in her. He is rather shadily only related to her through marriage, which makes it okay. From a legal standpoint, anyway.

Two men face a woman standing in an office who wears a beret and holds an envelope.
It’s really unfair how well she pulls off the beret.

After like 3 days, BOOM, Karin/Victoria and Alan are married. Karen finally gets to meet her son, Chris, for whom she demonstrates a healthy level of disdain. She obviously hates playing catch with Chris and looks so incredibly uncomfortable when he calls her mom.

I think this is actually a remarkably well thought-out plan, but remember how this is film noir? Shit’s about to go horribly, horribly wrong.

Karin, who is haunted by guilt, wakes up one night to find Alan having a heated argument with Margaret, the governess. Alan, obv, makes up some really unconvincing lie, so you know there’s way more to that story than you really want to know.

Karin and Alan have a party one evening, and who should arrive but Mark, an American major who helped Karin get to the US. Mark and Alan are the original frenemies and do this annoying territorial douchebag thing with Karin.

In an effort to bond with Chris, Karin brings him ice cream from the party even though he isn’t supposed to eat after 8:00. As soon as he utters these words, it’s like Margaret is magically summoned, and the two ladies have a fucking face-off over this ice cream. Ultimately, Margaret is the master of mind games and plays the trump card by allowing Chris to make his own decision.

A woman in fancy dress looks down at a woman and young boy sitting down. The seated woman holds out a bowl of ice cream to the boy.
Make your own decision, Chris.  But if you eat that ice cream, you’re dead to me.

Karin makes one last attempt to outmaneuver Margaret when she discovers there was an explosion in the playhouse years ago that could’ve killed Chris. Margaret apparently knew about this but kept the details to herself. Proving herself the queen of the disdainful Bette Davis bitch face, Margaret gives zero fucks when Karin fires her. The following day, Alan reinstates Margaret as governess.

Two women face each other, with one looking scornfully at the other.
Tell me I’m fired one more time…

After a confrontation with Alan about the explosion, Karin’s has a brush with death when someone cuts her brakes. She realizes Alan is trying to kill her and confides this in Mark. He actually sort of believes her, which leads to several tension-filled outings all 3 attend. Plus they start having an affair.

The rest of the film is ridiculously full of tension as certain facts come to light about the attempted murder of Karin as well as the death of Aunt Sophie.

I don’t want to completely ruin the ending because it’s so suspenseful and got really annoyed when I realized it was time for lunch and had to pause the film for approximately 3 minutes while I reheated a burrito. The end is quite like fucking Notorious but without the terrifying German mother-in-law: full of suspense and nasty things in drinks.

Suffice it to say everything comes to a rather dramatic conclusion and there’s a refreshing moment of female solidarity at the end.

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

I loved this one. It’s not necessarily a new favorite, but I’m so glad Christa and I experienced this one together. Margaret’s bitch face is something I will probably never master, but I will try damn hard to do so.

I wish there were way more film noir options on Netflix b/c this would be noir blog all day, every day.

Does Christa agree or will we have to wax our brows, apply some bright red lipstick, and stare each other down? Read her review here to find out!