Saturday, November 28, 2009
Color Noir Part Two
One thing I should have done in talking about color noirs in the last post was to point out a few great films that were overlooked. Herewith, I will remedy that oversight:
1. Party Girl-This tough 1958 gangster flick was directed by Nicolas Ray (In A Lonely Place) and stars Cyd Charisse as a nightclub dancer who gets involved with a lawyer for the mob. Shot in wide cinemascope, bursting with color, and hard as nails. It looks like a musical, but it is a gritty piece of business.
2. Bigger Than Life-Speaking of Nicholas Ray, don't miss his 1956 melodrama starring James Mason as a normal husband and father going crazy with a drug addiction. It's over the top (not uncommon for a Ray film), but Mason is terrific.
3. Point Blank-Lee Marvin is great in The Killers, but the best color noir he made was this mean little John Boorman flick from 1967. Based on the Westlake "Richard Stark" novel The Hunter, it's Marvin at his brutal best. It was remade as Payback with Mel Gibson with mixed results (the director's cut of Payback, released a year or so ago, is a radical reconstruction of the film and is frankly much better than the original version. Read more on that here.)
4. The Friends of Eddie Coyle- In my last post, I slammed the remake of Farewell, My Lovely with Robert Mitchum. Instead, see Mitchum's great 1973 Peter Yates crime drama. It puts the grit in gritty--and the cinematography has the washed out look of the period--but Mitch is beyond superlatives as a past-his-prime crook trying not to go back to jail. The title is ironic. The film is dark and moving, and Mitch--the King of Noir--gives his last great noir performance.
5. Devil In a Blue Dress-Walter Mosley's novels featuring investigator Easy Rawlins are the best thing anyone's done in the private eye genre since Lew Archer was walking the mean streets. Carl Franklin's 1995 film version of Mosley's first novel stars Denzel Washington as Rawlins and Don Cheadle as his psychotic sidekick, Mouse. This film often gets lost in the shuffle between Chinatown and LA Confidential, and while its not a perfect film, it is swinging in their weight class.
5. A Simple Plan-This unduly overlooked drama from 1999 gets my vote as the most underrated of all neo-noirs. It stars Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton as two brothers who find four million dollars in the cockpit of a crashed plane. Their descent into hell is made all the more chilling by taking place in a small rural town in winter. Proof that Sam Raimi can do more than direct comic books. A masterpiece.