Tag Archives: for the love of film (noir)

Five Reasons to Donate, for the Love of Film (Noir)

Over at Self-Styled Siren and Ferdy on Films, the For the Love of Film (Noir) blogathon rages on, raising money for the Film Noir Foundation and the preservation of our dark cinematic heritage. However, despite all the gorgeous, noir-loving prose being churned out by the blogathon’s dozens of contributors, they’re still behind on donations. And not enough donations means they can’t save Cy Endfield’s The Sound of Fury. But all is not lost. You can help. Do you love film noir? Do you have any excess income whatsoever? Then donate. Please. I’m a poor, beleaguered college student and I still managed to scrounge up $5.

But I won’t waste your time just begging. I’ll prove to you why you should donate your hard-earned $$$ to this most worthy of charitable causes. So, properly illustrated with high-contrast images pulled from some of the best noirs that Netflix Instant has to offer, here they are: The Top Five Reasons You Should Donate to the Film Noir Foundation.

5) For the way Rita Hayworth’s curls bounce when she raises her head

And, by extension, for all the fiery, erotic moments tucked inside great film noirs. (By the way, did anyone ever resolve that pluralization problem?) This may just be a tiny, half-second-long gesture on Hayworth’s part, but it’s still one of those indelible introductions, as she vertically enters the frame (and our hearts) with an unmistakable mix of coyness and confidence. Regardless of the movie’s garbled sexual politics, we can all concur that Gilda is more than decent.

4) For narrow stairways and back alleys around the world

When the soon-to-be-blacklisted Endfield was making The Sound of Fury in America, Jules Dassin had already emigrated to England and made the grimy, beautiful Night and the City, starring Richard Widmark as cheap hustler Harry Fabian. Although it has some great demonstrations of betrayal and desperation, the film’s most memorable images are of Fabian racing across London like a trapped rat. We know he’s going to end up dead; it’s just a matter of when. Film noir has a way of taking the claustrophobia we feel on a day-to-day basis and distilling it into deliciously anxious cinema. Doesn’t that deserve your support?

3) For the eight million stories in the naked city

Noir may tend toward the pessimistic and the criminal, but it’s still a decidedly populist genre. By poking into the seedy underbelly of postwar society, noir filmmakers told stories about the have-nots who still desire, about how good people turn bad, and about what life is really like in dives and cramped apartments—albeit often through a distorted lens. It’s no coincidence that one of the first Italian neo-realist masterpieces was also a European variation on film noir, Luchino Visconti’s Ossessione. To varying degrees, film noir was about dismantling glossy Hollywood fictions and telling it straight.

(Also, I think the inclusion of two Jules Dassin movies on this list proves that Dassin is the man when it comes to noir. If Night and the City and The Naked City pique your interest, you should look into Brute Force and Thieves’ Highway as well!)

2) For future generations, so they can remember a long-gone era when men wore hats

The thugs, hoodlums, and crooked cops who populate John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle may be stuck in a cycle of violence and crime, but at least they have snazzy wardrobes! This is one of film noir’s big appeals: no matter miserable the characters are, they still make fantastic fashion choices. Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity might be riding that trolley to the end of the line (and have to wear that ugly wig), but that can’t stop her from donning angora sweaters and revealing nightgowns. Who doesn’t envy all those trench coats and fedoras? They might not be very comfy, but they look awesome.

1) For the expression on Orson Welles’s face after he realizes he’s been spotted

OK, I might be biased because The Third Man is easily amongst my three-or-so favorite films of all time. But just look at that face! Welles is so intensely charming, and that caught-with-his-hands-in-the-cookie-jar expression is the icing on the cake. (Whoops, just mixed some dessert-related metaphors there.) Add in Anton Karas strumming on the zither and a perplexed Joseph Cotten, and you’ve got a scene that single-handedly justifies donating money to the Film Noir Foundation.

So do it! Click on the Maltese falcon below and give your spare ducats to a needy cause! For the sex appeal, the rain-soaked streets, the untold stories, the 1940s apparel, and Orson Welles’s roguish grin… for the love of film noir, donate.


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Force of Evil and the Love of Film (Noir)

Around this time last year, I participated in the “For the Love of Film” blogathon, which was devoted to one of my favorite causes—film preservation. It’s happening this year, but with a dark and wonderful twist: it’s centered on film noir, which is my bread and butter, my métier, my love. In other words: let’s raise some big money, folks. Let’s pretend we’re like Sterling Hayden in The Asphalt Jungle, and Cy Endfield’s forgotten noir The Sound of Fury (1950) is the Kentucky farm we’re trying to buy back. Or if that’s too confusing, maybe we could be Elisha Cook, Jr. in The Killing.

Or let me just put it straight: we need to raise money to preserve a great film. A great film about mob justice that stars Jeff Bridges’ father, Lloyd. See Ferdy on Films and Self-Styled Siren, the blogathon’s co-hosts, for more information. In the meantime, you can do two things: 1) click on that Maltese falcon at the left to donate any amount of money (please, please donate!) and 2) let me tell you all about another great, underrated film noir, Abraham Polonsky’s Force of Evil (1948).

Like The Sound of Fury, Force of Evil was made by a filmmaker on the cusp of being blacklisted, and Polonsky wouldn’t receive another film credit for twenty years. It’s a tragedy that such a promising career should be cut so short, yet it’s not surprising; Force of Evil is not just well-made, but also bleak, brave, and dangerous. It proves that Polonsky, as an artist, was unafraid to indict the greed and corruption he saw around him, and do it in the most caustic, unwholesome way imaginable. He was totally willing to “speak truth to power,” and in the process create one of the the blackest noirs. In Force of Evil, the saving graces of love, humor, and family are gone. All that’s left is the bad, and the worse.

At the center of all this is Joe Morse, the lawyer for a big-time numbers racketeer, played by the always-dynamite John Garfield. Like Polonsky, Garfield was just a few years away from the blacklist, not to mention his own death, and his performance bleeds desperation. His introductory voiceover is deceptively optimistic—”Tomorrow I make my first million dollars,” he claims—but that optimism, and any chance for the fulfillment of Joe’s American dream, is premised entirely on a series of cold-hearted deals he’s made with his boss, Tucker (Roy Roberts). Ironically, it’s Joe’s brief glimmers of humanity and altruism that destroy him and bring down his whole wicked world.

Joe, you see, is conflicted. His brother Leo (Thomas Gomez), a fatherly salt-of-the-earth type with heart trouble, runs a small numbers “bank” that Tucker plans to absorb into his combination on July 4, unless Joe intercedes. But when Joe stands up for him, Leo wants no part in it. So Joe has to force him in, straining their already troubled relationship, and accidentally driving his brother straight into an undignified grave. Gomez gives the performance of a lifetime as the sweaty, palpitating Leo, a man who only wants the best for his employees, and who sees his brother as a dirty gangster. Force of Evil is filled with hungry-eyed men who make the realtors of Glengarry Glen Ross look downright serene, and Leo is the hungriest, most panic-stricken of them all.

When Joe takes a romantic interest in Doris, Leo’s innocent surrogate daughter, Leo is understandably pissed. And he may be in the right. Force of Evil forces the viewer to ask the question: would you rather be Joe, the ambitious black sheep, who has sacrificed his scruples and his self-possession for that “first million dollars”? Or Leo, who’s bound to end up dead amidst the trash and seagulls, who may in fact be a small-time crook, but at least retains the vestiges of a tarnished soul? The film provides no easy way out, and no absolution through a cutesy Hollywood love story.

Even the “good” characters, like the mousy accountant/informant Bauer (Howland Chamberlain), have compromised themselves in the worst possible ways. Before he ends up as a bloodied corpse on the front page of a newspaper, Bauer is castigated by Leo as a “dumb, rotten dog” who should’ve left everything alone. In Force of Evil, everyone is complicit in Tucker’s overarching corruption, and redemption is always just out of reach. Tucker’s wife, played by femme fatale extraordinaire Marie Windsor, wears that corruption like a perfume, and manages to sound seductive even as she plants seeds of paranoia and betrayal in Joe’s brain.

And, as you might expect, Force of Evil ends in a big, loud mess as the crooks double-cross one another, leaving Joe with nothing but rubble and guilt. As this synopsis might suggest, the film is relentlessly downbeat; it’s all but nihilistic in its chilling vision of American life. For Polonsky, the real crimes aren’t just muggings and murders, but all the backroom arrangements made by amoral bureaucrats with more concern for statistics and legal loopholes than all the lives they’re ruining. Between its unflinching darkness and beautiful distillation of noir style, Force of Evil is a confirmed masterpiece, which I see as a likely influence on On the Waterfront (directed by Polonsky’s nemesis, Elia Kazan) and The Godfather, especially considering Force of Evil‘s bloody diner scene.

As such, it’s one more important piece of the film noir heritage that Marilyn Ferdinand, Farran Smith Nehme, Greg Ferrara, and all the rest of the intrepid blogathoners are fighting to save. So please, help the Film Noir Foundation makes its first million dollars. Give generously to save the movies that you and I love. For the love of film (noir), click the button below and donate!

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