Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Laura, or: Unintentional Smoking Month

Can we agree that last week was awful and never to speak of it again?  This week has to be better.  Has to if only by virtue of this week’s film:  Laura.

Incidentally, this month’s edition of Blog Free or Die Hard has morphed into a month of women who look insanely good smoking (to be clear, it’s gross IRL and will make you smell like a sad 1970s couch in a motel room).

As always, Christa’s thoughts about this film are greater in number than all of the cigarettes smoked in all of the films we’ve watched this month.  (That’s a lot.)

The Film:


Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

A 1940s detective tries to solve the murder case of a young woman, seemingly by staring at her portrait and smoking a lot.

The Uncondensed Version:

As soon as the credits started rolling, I realized what an unfair pick this was.  First, it’s almost impossible to review this one without ruining absolutely everything.  Secondly, this is one of my absolute favorite films, and it’s beautiful and perfect.  I have watched this film, uh, a lot.  It’s like wrapping a blanket around myself.  So obv the following review is not the most objective post I’ve ever penned (typed).

If it hasn’t become abundantly clear from this blog, I love classics, film noir, and pretty 1940s dudes.  All bases covered with this one.

Our narrator, Waldo Lydecker, is an extremely ambiguous newspaper columnist.  He is charming, sarcastic, witty, and incredibly sketchy.  But this is noir, so literally everyone in this film is sketchy as fuck.

A man wearing a trench coat and fedora faces away from a man wearing a suit.
Everyone except you, Dana Andrews, 1940s man of my dreams.

Lydecker is about to reveal us the events of the weekend the titular Laura died.  To begin with, the obnoxiously good-looking detective, Mark McPherson, arrives to question Lydecker.  Mark is the archetypal 1940s detective:  silent, constantly smoking, and dropping sarcastic one-liners like it’s his job.  With the bonus interests of solving those ball bearing balance puzzles and taking fragile objects out of display cabinets.

When Mark arrives, Lydecker is just sort of chilling and taking a bubble bath.  He makes absolutely no move to get out of the bath and put on a robe during their conversation—he just keeps hanging out in the bath.  Neither man is particularly fazed.  Maybe 1940s dudes were just used to having conversations over the tub.

A man in a fedora smokes a cigarette, facing a man in a bathtub who is using a typewriter.
I probably would never leave that tub either, though.

As both a columnist and former friend/mentor to Laura, Lydecker has a keen interest in the investigation.  Because it’s the ‘40s and basically anything goes, Lydecker tags along with Mark even though HE IS A SUSPECT.  I know very little about police work, but even I know that is really unethical.

Our next suspect is Laura’s aunt, aka her fiancé’s benefactor.  It seems Aunt Ann has been making large cash withdrawals around the same time the fiancé, Shelby, has been making large cash deposits.  Suspicious.  On a side note, Shelby is played by a suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuper young Vincent Price, and it’s somewhat jarring to realize that VP was both really young and incredibly attractive at one point.  I mean, he was always attractive, but in a rather pretty way.

At a party, a woman smiles at a man who is making a funny facial expression.
Also the king of goofy facial expressions.

So anyway…Shelby is yet another suspect, especially when it comes to light that Laura was planning to go to the country to think their relationship over.  Apparently it’s cool for both Lydecker and Shelby to join Mark as he investigates Laura’s apartment, though.  Because if detective work has a motto, it’s “The more, the merrier.”

So it’s clear that everyone is a suspect, right?  Hold on because we’re about to get some backstory.  According to Lydecker, he celebrated Laura’s 22nd birthday with her, but had met her 5 years earlier?!?!  Which means she was SEVENTEEN.  PLEASE let that be incorrect.  That’s way too young to have an allegedly platonic relationship with a MUCH older newspaper columnist.  Let’s just ignore that math, ok?

As it turns out, Laura, novice in business and social finesse, approached Lydecker in an effort to gain his endorsement for her company’s pen advertisement.  Lydecker initially behaved like an insensitive ass, but changed his mind because of Laura’s natural charm, sincerity, and, I mean, probably at least a bit because she was super young.

Lydecker does this whole My Fair Lady thing in which he introduces her to all of the important society people, tells her how to wear her hair, and what clothes to choose.  It veers into creepy territory pretty quickly, but Laura is not at all interested in a romantic relationship with Lydecker.

Since he’s a reasonably creepy dude, Lydecker takes the totally reasonable approach along the lines of “If I can’t have her, no one will,” and proceeds to sabotage all of her relationships.

A woman wearing a striped suit stands behind a seated man.
That striped power suit:  number one reason the ’40s should make a comeback.

Back to the present:  Mark has sort of moved into Laura’s apartment given the amount of time he’s spent there trying to crack the case.  As Lydecker points out, A LOT of this time has been eaten up staring at the portrait of Laura painted by one of her former lovers.  Lydecker tells Mark to get a life or he’ll end up in a psych ward as the first man in love with a corpse.  Pretty sure he wouldn’t be the first, but ok…we get it, Lydecker.

This is all leading up to an EXTREMELY DRAMATIC PLOT TWIST THAT CHANGES EVERYTHING.  I would really hate to ruin the fun of this film, so just watch it, ok?

Also you’ll get to see propaganda for war bonds at the very end, which I consider pretty exciting.

The Rating:

5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I think the only film noir I like better is Out of the Past.

I find the commentary on how incredibly twisted people’s ideas about what love is to be absolutely perfect.  Almost all of the characters have foggy motives, and the mystery will keep you guessing.  Unless you’re really fucking good at Clue.  The real power of this film, however, is the story of Laura’s search for independence and assertiveness.  Not that I’d know anything about that.

See if Christa agrees in her review here!  She might even get out of the tub before you visit, but no promises.

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Man Who Never Was, or: Operation Mincemeat Is a Terrible Codename

The next few weeks on the blog are basically anything goes as we Blog Free or Die Hard. Freedom, carpe diem, etc. This week I picked a WWII thriller because I didn’t think I could handle two Polanski films in a row. I do really love Chinatown, though.  Our film for the week is the nonsensically titled The Man Who Never Was.

As usual, find Christa’s review here!

The Film:

The Man Who Never Was

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

Those sneaky Brits come up with a plan to mislead the Nazis about where the invasion of Sicily will occur.

The Uncondensed Version:

Based on the introduction, this film is going to be super melodramatic. These two military dudes are talking, and the younger dude (Montagu) gets stuck with the job of tricking the Germans into thinking the invasion of Sicily will be somewhere else (NOTE: I was trying to place the younger guy, Montagu, and I finally Googled him [bad librarian]. He’s that really sketchy journalist in Laura!)

Even though he is apparently a reasonably important naval commander, Montagu seems to have a staff of two to accomplish this. But maybe that’s normal for the military, IDK.

A man reads from a portfolio in a basement office as two employees look on.
Understaffed? Underfunded? Check and check.

Staff = assistant Pam and this lieutenant who is also an assistant. I felt he wasn’t particularly important in this film, so I didn’t really make an effort to figure out exactly what his role was. Pam is def important, along with her roommate of loose morals, Gloria Grahame. Obv Lucy/Gloria Grahame is American b/c no Englishwoman would have such low standards of morality. It sucks to be Lucy as the dude she’s dating is a pilot, and she is way more into him than she’d like to admit.

But back to the military strategy side of things. Montagu decides he will fool the Nazis by planting the body of a downed pilot off the coast of Spain. This is Operation Mincemeat, aka one of the worst codenames for a military operation in history. There are two major obstacles to overcome for the plan to work: 1. Montagu needs a body, and 2. The strategic meeting pretty much exists for all of the important military dudes to criticize Montagu’s plan and person.

A man with military decoration rests his hand reassuringly on another man's arm.

However, Montagu eventually manages to wrangle a body from a Scotsman. He and his crew have to spend quite a lot of time deciding what the pilot should be carrying: passport, love letters, picture of Gloria Grahame, etc.

After Montagu sets the body on its way, he is troubled, which you know because there are shots of him thinking about the ocean while everyone else is laughing and having a jolly old time.

Surprisingly, things go according to plan, and the Greeks or Italians or whatever find the body. (It took me a while to figure out what nationality these ‘50s people were going for, but it’s Spanish.)

In a dramatic twist, a Nazi spy arrives in London and starts stalking Gloria Grahame. Will GG be able to fool the Nazis, save England, and preserve life as we know it? (Sorry, Christa, I just stole your blog technique.)

I’ll give you a hint: GG comes in really drunk and starts reciting Tennyson and half-assedly playing the piano and crying.

A woman looks blearily around her as she sits at a piano.
Oh, girl. We’ve all been there.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I expected this to be a bit more on the thriller/film noir end of the spectrum, but there were quite a lot of lengthy logistical discussions. Ex: there was a scene where Montagu was rubbing a letter on a cabinet to make it look old, followed by a discussion about why exactly he was doing so. Not the most gripping dialogue in the history of cinema.

And, typically, Montagu ends up with a medal and GG doesn’t even get a fucking mention.

Have you read Christa’s review yet? Well, why not? You can find it here!