Cornered (1945) Review

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One of the more interesting aspects of Film Noir is to what extent the genre is reflective of a world shaped by World War II and its aftermath. On one level this is fairly obvious as the era for Film Noir ran from roughly the early 1940s to the late 1950s, an era defined by the War and the transition of the world in the years after it ended, particularly as it relates to the rise of the United States as the new premier economic and military power and the uneasy peace with the Soviet Union. It was an uneasy world, and Film Noir, with its tales of femme fatales, hard bitten detectives, and criminals laced in a world of intrigue is reflective of that world. Typically though, this is just subtext, as most Film Noir makes only passing reference to these events, thus allowing World War II and the post-War world to inform the background of the film if not the main story. Such is not the case with Cornered, a 1945 film from Edward Dmytryk that takes what often informs the background of a Film Noir into the foreground as the film essentially acts as an examination of the world after World War II, especially how it relates to the role of France in this new order, a country that was just coming to grips with the role so many French people played in the collaborationist Vichy government. In the film Dick Powell plays Laurence Gerard, a member of the RAF who returns to France to find his new bride. When he arrives he discovers that his bride has been murdered. Seeing as his wife was a French Resistance fighter, fascist collaborators are suspected, in particular Marcel Jarnac. Seeking justice for his wife, Laurence seeks out to find Marcel Jarnac, but this will not be an easy task as Jarnac is believed to be dead, but Powell, taking cues from his father-in-law is unconvinced and sets out to find Jarnac and bring him to justice.

 

As I said before, Cornered is one of the more interesting examples of Film Noir. I use my worlds very deliberately here as it is not one of the best Film Noirs, and I would not even go as far to call it a classic or great either. It is however a good film that borders on the very good. The final product ultimately suffers from being overly confusing and it probably goes on for a bit too long, but there is no denying the film gets a lot right. First and foremost among of what the film gets right is how it examines life in post-War France. France was of course an allied nation and many Frenchmen and Frenchwomen fought bravely against the German occupation. But there were also collaborators, and in France after the war, bridging this gab and coming to grips with what happened was the single biggest question facing French identity in the post-War era. Such a question was made even more difficult by the amount of collaborators who were doing everything they could to erase their actions, making themselves look like mere spectators. By making the central question of post-War French society an important point of the film, Cornered is able to create one of the more intriguing films of the post-War era. That the Allied victory is good is not questioned, but the film also is willing to ask questions on just how easy the new peace will be by looking at French society and the results are very strong.

 

By examining how French society will understand itself, Cornered is able to set itself apart. But there are other aspects of the film that help to further solidify the film. For one, as one expects out of the genre, the film looks gorgeous. Harry J. Wild’s cinematography is beautiful with its crisp, clean look that helps the black and white photography really stand out. The use of shadows and fog are also very good, giving the film a dark and foreboding feel that is very apt considering what this film is about. An early scene of Laurence searching through rubble is a particularly well photographed scene, largely thanks to its striking the balance between beauty (as seen in the film’s photography) and ugliness (as seen in its depiction of destruction). All in all it makes for a very well done movie in terms of its look.

 

The acting is quite good here. Dick Powell gives an engaging performance at least, and he is an easy guy to cheer for. After that there is a bunch of French people, with most of the cast giving able performances at least. And anchoring the film as a whole is director Edward Dmytryk. Now, Dmytryk is an interesting director who turned out many films before his career was, temporarily at least, destroyed when he refused to testify to HUAC about communist activity in Hollywood, thus becoming one of the “Hollywood Ten.” That aside, he does do a fine job here as he gives the film its strong narrative voice that really allows for some of the film’s idea concerning French collaborators to really come out and permeate the film without becoming overly preachy.

 

Still, this is not a perfect film. As already mentioned the film is confusing and really does go on for too long. I do not necessarily have a problem with a film being confusing, provided it feels like the film is working to some larger point. But in the case of Cornered, it does not feel as if this is the case, the film just feels like it is overwritten. A more straightforward narrative could have made for a meaner, meaner film that worked better as a whole instead of what Cornered currently feels like, which is a good film that is undermined by it trying to do too much. And drawing from this, yeah the film could have used some editing as scene feel at times as if they go on a bit too long, particularly towards the middle of the film.

 

Despite those few flaws, Cornered is a good film and often feels as if it will become very good. It never quite reaches that level, but the film is at very least interesting thanks to the film’s examination of French life in the years after the War, during a time when the question of collaborators were very much an important one. Still, this is a well-acted and photographed film that has actually managed to age rather well. Check it out!

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Dillinger (1973) Review

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In many ways, the 1973 film Dillinger functions as sort of an Exploitation film version of Bonnie and Clyde from 1967. Both films take a similar subject matter, a period piece focusing on famous gangsters of the 1930s and use the idea as a template in which the cinematic side of crime during that era, the Gangster film can be explored. In essence, both films function as not only retellings of real events, but also as tributes to films such as Public Enemy and Scarface. In the case of Dillinger however, the seedier, more Exploitation qualities of the idea become more apparent, something befitting a film made by American International Pictures, as opposed to Warner Brothers as in the case of Bonnie and Clyde. This is not to say that Dillinger is simply a Bonnie and Clyde retread made with a more explicitly drive-in audience in mind. For one, Bonnie and Clyde was one of the more violent films of its day, and despite the artistic love put into the film, it was the younger filmgoers, those whose cinematic tastes were at least partially formed by the drive-in, that championed the film and helped turn it into a classic. But more importantly, Dillinger is a very good movie that stands up very well on its own.

 

At the very center of what makes this film work is its actors. Dillinger is blessed with an incredibly array of acting talent, including some of the best character actors of its day. For starters and most importantly there is Warren Oates in the title role. Oates has long been a favorite actor of mine and here he further shows why that is the case. He exudes a sort of cynical quality about him, yet he is also beaming with self-confidence. He is a man getting to live out his childhood dream and is having the best possible time with it; all the while Oates’ face gives off a feeling of being world-weary. Ben Johnson is also on hand here as Melvin Purvis, the FBI agent tasked with bringing Dillinger down and once again does a wonderful job. Johnson has a certain quality bout him that allows him to excel at not only playing law enforcement, but a special breed of tough as nails and take no shit kind of law enforcement officer, as seen in The Town that Dreaded Sundown from a few years later. And then there is Harry Dean Stanton as Homer Van Meter. Now, Oates and Stanton would reunite a couple of years later in Cockfighter, a longtime favorite of mine and here they further show that chemistry that made Cockfighter such a wonderful film. Here Stanton gives a more squirrely performance, he lacks much of the confidence and public personal Oates does as Dillinger, which allows them to better play off one another.  Michelle Phillips is also very good as Billie Frechette, giving a sort of sweet and sympathetic performance that helps to greatly humanize Dillinger, something that largely allows the film to work as well as it does as it allows the audience to see past Dillinger as a gangster, meaning the character can be sympathetic for reasons other than Oates’ performance.

 

I also quite enjoyed how the film handles its socio-political elements. One of the more interesting aspects of the Gangster film of the 1930s is that audiences were largely cheering for the gangsters. You must keep in mind that these films were made during the worst years of the Great Depression, and because these films were focusing on people who has acquired self-made wealth and were robbing banks that many Americans blamed for the economic conditions they found themselves in, such films allowed a great deal of vicarious living for much of the audience. This was so much of the cast that J. Edgar Hoover publically denounced the Gangster film and when the Hays Code can into effect during the mid-1930s it was largely the Gangster film that it was targeting. Such sympathies also went beyond the screen and for the gangsters of that era themselves.

 

Such an idea would be ripe for political commentary, particularly during the tumultuous 1970s. But Dillinger does something interesting here as it put the idea on the backburner and lets it sit. The idea of John Dillinger and his gang as folk heroes is there, but it is also subdued and as such does not overwhelm the film’s major theme of offering a frolicking throwback to 1930s Gangster films. By placing the potential commentary in the background, rather than the foreground the film is able to have several of its other themes come up much more clearly. One of the most important here is just how much Dillinger plays like a Western, something that Dillinger makes explicit during a key scene at a grave.

 

Tying this film together is John Milius’ steady and sure direction. He has a strong idea about what kind of film he wants to make and does a fine job realizing this goal on the screen. In particular, he realizes that though Dillinger has a great story, the real strength of both the film and the real life events that inspired it, is the characters. The film thus offers well drawn out characters, with its two major characters being rich and complex individuals. Neither Dillinger nor Purvis are heroes or villains. Neither man is even an anti-hero. Rather they are complex and well thought out people with clear motivations, but the film has no clear sense whose side it is on. One may be on Dillinger’s side, or one may be on Purvis’ side, but this is not a matter of the film siding with one or the other, but rather one of those two men appealing to an individual on a little deeper level. Such an idea gives a richer depth to the characters and their interactions that help drive the film home as a classic. It is a story about two men on opposite sides of the law locked in a battle, and on this point the film excels.

 

Looking back at Dillinger it is clear to see it as API’s attempt to cash in on the spate of Gangster movies kicked off by Bonnie and Clyde. But the film is also more than that, thanks in large part to its stellar cast anchored by the great one-two punch of Oates and Johnson. This, along with some excellent direction, help to solidify Dillinger as something of an unsung classic. Check it out!

Desperate (1947) Review

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Anthony Mann is something of a strange figure. Fans of 1940s and 1950s genre films at the very least like him, if are not outright fanatical about his work, while he remains largely unknown to the general public. He was largely ignored by the critical establishment, at least during his early days; largely because he was not only working in genre film, mostly Film Noir and Westerns, but doing so often for smaller studios and almost always with small budgets. Towards the end of his career he did make a few Epics like El Cid. It was also during this time his work began to achieve more critical attention. Still, he did have a fine career, making movies such as the 1947 Film Noir Desperate. In the film Steve Randall (Steve Brodie) is an independent trucker hired to pick up some good at an old warehouse. When he gets there though, he realizes that he has been hired to deliver stolen goods and wanting no part of it resists, but in the ensuing struggle a cop is killed and one of the gangsters is arrested for the act. Not wanting to see one of their own go to the chair, the mob gives Steve an ultimatum, he either confesses or they will cut up his wife’s face. Steve, seeing no other option decides to take his wife and run, leading to a cat and mouse chase with not only the young couple and the mob, but also the young couple and the cops after Steve steals the car used in their escape plan.

 

Desperate is one of the more interesting films of 1940s Film Noir, and at the very center of what makes the film so interesting is that it takes two seemingly contradictory ideas and combines them making them work. On one hand, much of the film takes place in the open road, but the film also works through its claustrophobic feel. Now it is true that the technological limitations of the day meant that the film does not contain the wort of wide angled lenses often associated with the Road film, but all the same the open road feeling though well adapted for a chase, is not as apparently as well adapted for the sort of claustrophobic feel Anthony Mann does such a brilliant job crafting. In these sense, it is very much like the later Ozploitation film Road Games. Still, Mann does a fine job here cranking up the tension with each scene. We know that things are getting tighter for the young couple, but because if the limited amount of information the audience is given, we cannot be sure just how close the mob and the cops are, simply that they are close. What is more, the presence of the mobster on death row gives a sort of internal clock to the entirely of the events of the film. But instead of this clock acting as some sort of always on plot device that the characters can be aware off, this is only given is brief glances, mostly via newspaper headlines. That is an important move because it essentially puts the mob on the clock as well, thus helping to up the tension in the film In particular this can be seen during the film’s final reel, when everything comes to a head. It as if the film was a spring getting tighter and tighter, and the final reel represents the moment at which the spring is about to break lose. It can happen at any time, but it is that same sense of unknown that powers the film, something that Mann is aptly able to tap in to.

 

Desperate is also a well-acted film. Brodie gives a highly likable, if not ground breaking performance here and anchors the film nicely. He is a fairly broadly drawn character in many respects, but at the end of the day, it gives him a sort of “everyman” quality that works more than it does not. Audrey Long is good as his wife Anne. Or at least she is as good as she can be, considering how little narrative Anne is given here. Simply put, she is not given much to do, and considering how important she is to the story, such a characterization feels very incomplete in what is the single biggest flaw of the story. Still, Long does at least give an amiable and sweet performance that is basically inoffensive and does not damage the film any more than her character’s shallow representation. This is not to say this kills the film but it is disappointing. Special attention must be given to Raymond Burr as Walt Radak, the leader of the mobsters. Now Burr had a very long and illustrious career, both in film as well as in television, and he does a fine job here, giving a thoroughly menacing performance that really helps to sell the tension that underlines the film.

 

A taut little Thriller utilizing a cat and mouse game structure, Desperate is a fine film from Anthony Mann. It is not a perfect film, with the characterization of Anne being its single biggest weak point, but it does manage to accomplish what it set out to do. The film works through Mann’s brilliant crafting of its claustrophobic feel, but it also manages to do a bit more. Add to that a couple of great performances, namely from Raymond Burr, and the film works better than I expected. Check it out!   

Dr. Strangelove (1964) Review

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Along with Howard Hawks and Jack Hill, Stanley Kubrick is one of only a handful of directors that appeared to have a real knack for delivering a great film no matter what the genre was. And indeed throughout his career, Kubrick excelled at many different types of genres including Crime (The Killing), Science-Fiction (2001: A Space Odyssey), War (Paths of Glory), and Horror (The Shining). The man was even able to work in the often derided Historical Epic genre and pull it off, as in the case of Spartacus. And of course he also showed his chops for crafting Comedy films in his 1964 effort Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, a film that was able to take a very serious subject, nuclear war during what may have been the tensest period of the Cold War, and turn it into a very funny film by highlighting just how absurd it all was.

 

One thing great directors like Kubrick know how to do is how to make the right decisions for their film based on the specific circumstances they find themselves in, and as such there are no hard and fast rules for making a film. Such was the case in Dr. Strangelove, where Kubrick, realizing he had been blessed with an incredible team of acting talent- Peter Sellers in multiple roles is the most famous here, but that should not obscure just how good George C. Scott and Sterling Hayden, and Sim Pickens are- decided the best course of action was to let his actors have at it, giving the film its anarchic feel that not only allows much of the comedy to come through, but also adds another layer of satire as the chaotic, anarchic feel of the film mimics nicely the similarly chaotic and anarchic world of international relations.

 

It really is hard to overestimate just how important the actors are to the success of the film. Sellers here further shows just how great of an actor he really is by playing three roles, And while any actor having the stamina to pull off such a feat is impressive, what Sellers does is even more remarkable as not only does each character feel completely distinctive to the point it at times is hard to believe one man is playing all three characters, but all three are also funny in their own unique way, showing that Sellers could adapt his very sense of comic timing to best suit each character. George C. Scott is also very impressive here, giving a decidedly over the top performance that is very much unlike what we are used to with Scott, but it works wonderfully and Scott sells it very well. Likewise Sterling Hayden is also very good. Hayden’s character is a man just from much of the same conservative cloth as Scott’s character, but now with paranoia replacing energy and once again it works with Hayden’s slightly unhinged, yet somber performance creating a nice balance with the shenanigans of the other characters. And of course Slim Pickens, though he has less screen time than the other major character, is still one of the more memorable parts of the film thanks to just how all out Pickens is willing to go for a laugh.

 

Here it certainly is tempting just to attribute all of this to Kubrick being lucky enough to work with such a talented team of actors. And at least partially this is true. But that is not all there is to the film as Kubrick has a great eye for pulling great comedic performances out of these actors. I mean getting a great comedic performance out of Sellers or Pickens is one thing. Both men were incredibly gifted comedic actors and Sellers is one of the best to ever live. But Scott and Hayden are then, and now known for dramatic roles, so for Kubrick to pull the sort of performances out of them he does here is really quite something. Kubrick understood how to craft his films for his actors, and Dr. Strangelove is a great demonstration of this as he is able to make two actors look so comfortable doing something they were not used to doing.

 

But what makes this film so unique is how well it satirizes the notion of nuclear war, and in particular the concept of mutually assured destruction (MAD). Keep in mind this film came out during one of the tensest periods of the Cold War, shortly after both the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Assassination of John F. Kennedy. It was a tense, scary time where for all the progress that had been made, it was known that it could all be over in an instant. In the mind of Kubrick and his co-writer Terry Southern this was all absurd, and from this absurdity laid a great Comedy. As such the film constantly mocks the attitude, which was very real at the time, that both sides of the Cold War were deathly afraid of the other side having the ability to destroy the world more times than they could. Of course it is clear that anything after one time is pointless, but in the politics of the Cold War, and of Dr. Strangelove, none of this matters. What does matter is being out on top in a constant game of escalation. The fact that this also includes the Soviet construction of a doomsday device, and the subsequent American fear that the United States is falling behind in the “doomsday gap” further illustrates is basic point. Also on hand is Sterling Hayden’s rantings about how the Soviets are using water fluoridation to turn Americans into communist stooges, something that was actually popular among certain anti-communist hardliners, most notably the John Birch Society. Regardless of what specific element of the Cold War the film appears to be taking aim at, it is all very poignant. Even more impressive is just how fresh and relevant it feels, even now as an entire generation has grown up after the fall of the Soviet Union.

 

Ever the master of diverse filmmaking, Dr. Strangelove shows just how talented Stanley Kubrick was in working with Comedy. Yes, he had a great cast to work with, but he not only 1) gets great performances out of them, he also 2) also has a keen eye for seeing that beneath all the fear the Cold War produced, was ultimately absurdity and in the absurdity was comedy. Sr. Strangelove is a very funny movie, but it is also a very intelligent and thought provoking one, one that manages to stand strong even as the particular set of historical circumstances it was parodying, have long vanished. Check it out!               

 

Dial 1119 (1950) Review

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Made during a time when MGM was struggling as a studio and cash strapped, the 1950 effort Dial 1119 is an apt demonstration of how to take a desperate situation and turn it into a very good slice of Film Noir by taking what could be weaknesses of the film and turning these weaknesses into strengths. The film is about an unstable escaped mental patient named Gunther Wyckoff (Marshall Thompson), who after killing a bus driver goes into a bar. When he realizes that the bartender recognizes him from the newscast about the murder, he kills the bartender and holds the other patrons hostage, all people with their own personal stories. Gunther, feeling rejected by society holds a standoff with the cops while this former psychiatrist  John Faron (Sam Levene) tries to convince the police to use peaceful means to end the standoff, while the cops, led by Henry Keiver (Richard Rober) presses to use more confrontational tactics.

 

Dial 1119 is a great example of how to take a little and make a lot; it is a movie that embodies the very axiom of “less is more.” It is a film that is largely confined to a single location and features only a handful of actors, none of whom were particularly well known. Yet, the movie exceeds far beyond what it should be able to considering just how low the budget was and just how deeply in trouble MGM was at the time. And tying into all of this is just how much the film is able to do in a short period of time. The film is a scant 75 minutes long, which was increasingly becoming less common as the post-World War II American cinema landscape developed. Even more striking is how long the film takes to get to the meat of the action. At first, aside from the opening scene where Gunther kills the bus driver, the film insists on introducing all of its characters and allowing them to develop. This does of course allow the audience to become better acquainted with these characters, and thus more sympathetic to their plight, but it also helps establish this night to be like any other quite night at a local neighborhood bar, a peace that is disrupted by a hostage situation. In this respect, Dial 1119 is a film about the disruption of normalcy.

 

This theme, the disruption of normalcy is a powerful one considering the political climate in which Dial 1119 was made. Remember, this movie was made in the immediate aftermath of World War II, an event that shattered hopes that World War I had ended war for good. This, combined with the them emerging Cold War, singled a “new normalcy” that was unlike the normalcy of the interwar period in which there was an understanding that peace could end very quickly and what was normalcy was at its core fleeting. For an America that was just coming to grips with a new reality in which a day could begin normally and then end in nuclear destruction thanks to forces well outside their control, the idea of an apparently normal night at a local bar turning into a hostage situation carries a great deal of resonance. The bar patrons are all ordinary people. By placing them in this situation the film is able to achieve its feeling of “this can happen to anyone, anywhere.” This point is driven further home through the use of the fictional and utterly non-descript Terminal City, further driving home the Anytown USA feeling of the film.

 

But moreover, by confining so much of the film to a single bar, Dial 1119 is able to achieve a highly claustrophobic feel where paranoia is able to run deep. Now, in this case, the threat is known by all the character from the beginning, which makes the paranoid feeling in this film different than say The Thing where the paranoia arose from not knowing who the threat was. It is a different sort of paranoia, but all the same it works because the film creates a feeling of knowing who the threat is, but not knowing when said threat will go off. Watching Dial 1119 is like watching a bomb that may go off at any time. Where the threat is coming from is no mystery, but when it will happen is, and this is something the film utilizes to its advantage. Holding all this together is Gerald Mayer, who while never a major force for theatrically released films, did have a rather prolific career in television and here he shows himself to  be a real master at not only working on low budgets, but also with a single set, both traits a television director desperately needs.

 

Dia1 1119 is very well-acted with Marshall Thompson giving a fine performance in the lead. Remember, Gunther is by far and away the most important character in the film. It is his character that the other characters are defined by their relationship to him (a point that further underscores the randomness of the act) and is the character in which the film will revolve around. What this means effectively is that without a good actor in this role, the film will fall apart no matter how good everything and everyone else is. This is something cooked into the basic structure of the film. Luckily though Thompson is very much up to the task, giving an off kilter performance that manages to both sell him as a credible threat, but also shows his humanity, something that is very important to the film working as well as it does. I was also impressed with Levene and Rober. Both actors do fine jobs, but there debates are an important aspect of the film as they touch on not only liberal vs. conservative methods of criminal justice (a narrative baked into the very DNA of any movie where a psychiatrist and a cop discuss law enforcement), but also utilitarian vs. deontological ethics. And while this is yes, an interesting move the script takes, it cannot be overstated just how important these two actors are in making this feel like an organic part of the film, and they sell the hell out of it.

 

The film however does have one central conceit that does prevent it from being a classic. Throughout the film it is implied that Gunther is a veteran of World War II who snapped sometime after the war, presumably due to the psychological pressures of war, particularly killing other men. And this is a very interesting idea, as it does touch on the moral distinction between soldiers (and cops) killing versus ordinary citizens doing the same. It also touches on the subject of PTSD, something that was simply ignored back then and is still largely ignored when discussing World War II, thanks in large part to the war’s status as “the good war.” Oddly enough, wars like the Vietnam War that went horribly and are largely seen as a waste have a far stronger connotation by the general public as producing soldiers that can no longer function in society. It as if these soldiers are yet one more punishment for fighting a needless war. But World War II? Because the War is seen is so justified, the idea of soldiers coming back unable to function seems unfathomable. Punishment in the form of soldiers with long term mental problems is understandable for the Vietnam War. This is not the case for World War II.

 

All interesting ideas that could make for a powerful film, a film that beat similarly themed films about Vietnam veterans like Taxi Drive to the cinema by several decades. But then the film abandons this and declares that Gunther was never really a soldier but instead was rejected by the draft board and as part of his coping mechanism, became a soldier in his mind, something that gave him, at least to him, the right to kill. I understand that the Hays Code may have made pulling this off extremely difficult, but all the same it does come across as extremely disappointing that the film looks as if it is going to break new grounds, only to not do so. None of this is a killer of the film of course- Dial 1119 is still a very good film. But it is not a groundbreaking film, and it feels as if it could have been, save for one revelatory scene.

 

At the end of the day though Dial 1119 gets far more right than it get wrong and it is for this reason Film Noir fans will enjoy it. The film represents the smaller, more intimate side of the genre, but because it utilizes the maxim “less is more” so well, it ends up being a taut little Thriller to boot. Aside from one conceit the film makes, Dial 1119 is one of the better unknown examples of Film Noir. Check it out!

 

The Phenix City Story (1955) Review

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Representing the gritty and Southern-fried side of Film Noir, Phil Karlson’s The Phenix City Story has the added advantage of being mostly true. Yes, it is indeed so that the quite Southern town of Phenix City, AL was for around 100 years the center of American vice, mostly due to the impact of Fort Benning in nearby Columbus, GA. All that changed when John Patterson (Richard Kelly) returned to his hometown with his wife and two kids to help with his father, Albert’s (John McIntire) law firm. Albert Patterson is like many of the people in Phenix City. He is a law abiding and basically good man who never the less feels powerless facing the syndicate, taking the attitude that nothing can ever change the way Phenix City is and the best course of action is to look the other way and make due with life the way it is. John Patterson sees things differently however, and tries to join some of the already existing organizations that are trying to clean up the city, hoping to convince what are vigilante groups into groups focused on change through peaceful means. Albert’s more passive approach though is thrown out when the mob, in hopes of stopping John Patterson murders two people, including a young black girl, throwing her body on John’s front lawn. At that point, Albert Patterson decides to run for attorney general of Alabama on a campaign to clean up Phenix City. He wins the Democratic primary (at this time the Democratic primary was tantamount to election) despite the use of voter intimidation, at which the mob decides to kill Albert Patterson before he can become AG, leading his son to finish the fight, cumulating in martial law being declared and the mob’s power being broken.

 

Without a doubt The Phenix City Story is one of the most intriguing films of Film Noir and a large reason for this is just how realistic it all is. I do not mean just in terms of it sticking close to what actually happened, the film does more or less tell what happened, though the syndicate had not yet gone to trial, so the names were changed, but its realism also goes much deeper than this. The film was shot on location, which helps give the film a sort of gritty and run down feel. The entire feel of the film is far removed from the glamor of Hollywood, even in the world of low budget productions, which Film Noir often was. Instead the film’s look invokes a feeling of a town that has been rundown by a handful of people and the majority of the city feels as if they have lost all power. The people of Phenix City are basically good people, but have had their voice taken from them by forces far more powerful than they are, leading to two basic paths of the citizens of Phenix City- 1) do nothing/ play along or 2) use violence to smash the syndicate. From this foundation, Phil Karlson is able to craft a highly intriguing and relevant story.

 

What really stands out here is just how well The Phenix City Story works as a civil rights allegory. I do not mean the film is explicit in this regard. At most the civil rights allegory is an undercurrent that occasionally bubbles just under the surface of the film. Still, it certainly is there, and this is made all the more impressive when one considers the time period in which this was made. This film was made in 1955 just one year after the city was cleaned up. This is also only one year after the Supreme Court struck down segregation with Brown v. Board. It was also in 1955 that Rosa Parks was arrested. What I am getting at here is that though the Civil Rights era was underway at the time this film was released, it was also a movement very much in its infancy and it was still unclear if the movement would have any sort of lasting impact.

 

Despite all of this, The Phenix City Story still very much works as a civil rights allegory. One clear way this stands out has already been mentioned- the idea of a people being made to feel as if they have no voice through violence and intimidation. In the case of The Phenix City Story, the vast majority of people just accept this as the way things are, just as many people did before the civil rights era. Some people however decide to do something about the corruption, but these people are split along legal and violent means, something that is made all the more interesting as this similar divide would manifest itself quite clearly as the civil rights movement progressed, as seen in the debates between Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. And then there is the idea, said many times in the film, that the mob’s powers are so entrenched they never be challenged. In the words of many of the characters in the film, it was this way for them, their fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers and will thus be the same way for their children. Not only is this a similar mentality that was often on display during both before the civil rights era as well as its early days, it is also mentioned that Phenix City has been like this for round 80-100 years. In other words, Phenix City became a haven for vice around the time segregation was set up, forging a strong, if subtle link between the two concepts. The civil rights allegory is again seen when the little black girl is killed. Now, this is several years before the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, so this scene was not intended to be a commentary on that, but all the same it works within the film’s civil rights allegory thanks to the nonchalant attitudes the cops take to the case, including referring to her as a “dead n—– kid.” Again, this is all allegory. What civil rights themes the film has is all undercurrents going through the film. There are no signs that Phenix City is segregated, i.e. separate water fountains, but all an allegory the film works strikingly well.

 

The more nuts and bolts of The Phenix City Story are also very good. It is a well-acted film, with Kelly and McIntire both giving highly engaging performances as the Pattersons. Edward Andrews is also very good as Rhett Tanner, the boss that is given the most attention in the film. He fits that classic Film Noir villain archetype and sells it well. But I was really impressed with John Larch as Clem Wilson, one of the muscles for the mob. Larch is a very intriguing character actor and he sells the hell out of his role here, thanks in large part to his face and frame giving him a highly imposing look. The script is also quite good and I love the dialogue in the film.

 

Still, this is not a perfect film, and I do have a couple of problems with it. The first one is completely nitpicky I will admit, but it still bothered me all the same. In the film, John refers to his father as “Dad.” The problem with this is that in traditional Southern English, even adult men refer to their fathers as “Daddy” (“Dad” is considered Northern), and consider that this is set in the 1950s South and that realism is supposed to be a major selling point, yeah the “Dad” stuff did strike me as a bit off. The other problem is that when the little black girl is thrown from the car onto John Patterson’s front yard, it is clearly a dummy. Now, I am not one to mark movies down thanks to technological limitations that were outside of what the filmmakers could be reasonably expected to do given the time and budget. That being said, yeah it does undercut the scene somewhat, which is made all the worse by the fact that this is supposed to be one of the major dramatic moments of the film and one of the moments when the civil rights allegory really starts to almost break the surface, and to see a rather obvious dummy being used, does feel like a bit of a letdown. It is not a letdown that sinks the film, or even that particular scene, but all the same, yeah I wish it had been reshot.

 

There is one other issue the film has that I would hesitate to call a flaw because 1) there was no way for the filmmakers to know this and 2) it would be difficult to fix without changing the narrative of the film, but in the film John Patterson is depicted as being accepting of black equality to some degree at least. In reality John Patterson would use both his efforts to clean up Phenix City as well as the film to launch a big for the governor of Alabama in 1958. He ran for office as a staunch segregationist against a young lawyer and judge who had a very decent record on civil rights for the time who was actually endorsed by the NAACP. Patterson was for his part indorsed by the Klan. Patterson won and the young lawyer vowed in his words to “never get out n—-r” again and came back in 1962 as an arch segregationist who would define Alabama politics, Southern politics for the next decade at least with his influence being felt long after that. I am speaking of George Wallace.

 

Regardless of those minor issues, The Phenix City Story is a triumph of Film Noir, doing a fine job of showing the seedy underbelly of a genre that existed to show the seedy underbelly in the first place. Its emphasis on realism works wonders, but what may be the most fascinating aspect of the film is the civil rights allegory going on just under the surface. Be sure to watch the full version of the film, which contains a 13 minuet prolog about life in Phenix City after it was cleaned up. Check it out!

Hell is for Heroes (1962) Review

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Its fall was largely the result of forces beyond film, but I really do dig this particular class of War films that arose in the 1960s and died in the 1970s, especially outside of Italy. You know the film, the movies that focus on being cool and feature detached anti-heroes that are focused on fighting for something other than defending democracy- stuff like The Dirty Dozen, The Great Escape, Where Eagles Dare, and Kelly’s Heroes. The films were very much a product of the era as just enough cynicism had crept in to render the more earnest older films like Sergeant York obsolete but the genre was still largely working from a pre-Vietnam War mindset, even as the actual Vietnam War was raging during this time. Like I said, these films are very much a product of the era and can therefore never be fully recreated, but they are a lot of fun and hold up very well. Once such film is Hell is for Heroes, a 1962 film from Don Siegel that takes advantage of its small budget to do some very interesting things with the War film.

 

The film is set near the Allied-Axis lines in 1944 where a small group of American soldiers is asked to defend this particular part of the Siegfried Line, something that is made even more difficult when they discover that they are facing off against an entire Germany company. Realizing that the situation looks hopeless, the men, led by Sgt. Bill Pike (Fess Parker), Cpl. Frank Henshaw (James Coburn), Cpt. Roger Loomis (Joseph Hoover), and Sgt. Jim Larkin (Harry Guardino)- along with Privates John Reese (Steve McQueen), Dave Corby (Bobby Darin), James E. Driscoll (Bob Newhart), Stan Kolinsky (Mike Kellin), and Joseph Cumberly (Bill Mullikin), not to mention the displaced Pole Homer Janeczek (Nick Adams), decide that their best defense is to play a game of diversion. In short they will do everything they can to make the Germans think that they are actually far more numerous than they really are. The hope is that the Germans, fearing taking on a large group of soldiers head on, will refrain from attacking, thus giving time for the reinforcements to arrive. But this is a very tricky endeavor as if the Germans catch on at just how small the number of soldiers is that they are facing, they will go in for the kill, and the outnumbered Americans will be defeated very quickly, leading to a greater German advance.

 

The most central idea in Hell is for Heroes is also its best idea, namely to see if a War film can be made small and still work. Keep in mind this is the era when film, in an attempt to compete with television went bigger and more epic, with the War film being a favorite genre of choice for this task. But Hell is for Heroes is different, instead of telling a big, sweeping story filled with some of the biggest stars of the time, it is smaller, more interment film. Hell is for Heroes is largely confined to a single, relatively small location and focuses on a small cast of characters. And interestingly enough, the film is filled with actors who reflect this mood with much of the cast being lesser knowns, with much of the cast being far better known for their work on television and B-movies, at least at the time of the film’s release. Even the film’s biggest star, Steve McQueen, though gaining in popularity had not quite reached the heights of his popularity that he would within a few years of this film’s release. In many ways, Hell is for Heroes is a film like Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory as both films are at their heart, an attempt to take the War film and emphasizing its humane qualities by shrinking the scale in which the story is told.

 

It is a risky move in many respects, for while Paths of Glory was able to fall back on an art film crowd use to slower, smaller, and more humane movies, Hell is for Heroes is a film that looks as if it should be just another entertaining War yarn meant to entertain pre-teen boys on a Saturday afternoon. The fact that the film goes in such a different direction to make something that feels so different is commendable. But what is really praiseworthy is just how well it all works. The man most responsible for making the film work as well as it does is its director, Don Siegel. Now Siegel is something of an unsung talent in many ways. He is well known to cinephiles, but is not as well known to the general public despite making the very well-known and cultural defining The Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Dirty Harry as well as the also excellent Two Mules for Sister Sara and The Killer just to name a few.

 

A common thread running through Siegel’s best films are there sense of humanity and the loss of it and in this respect, Hell is for Heroes is no exception. In The Invasion of the Body Snatchers this question is very basic, i.e. humanity as a physical entity vs. humanity as spiritual or mental ideal and how the latter being lost would spell the end of humanity even as the corporal being remained. Likewise in Dirty Harry the audience is given a character that has, in his desire to protect humanity, has lost his own and has become a shell of a person. Hell is for Heroes also utilizes this theme, though in a more subtle way. War is of course dehumanizing and it is this dehumanization that soldiers must fight against, for both themselves i.e. becoming just a cog in the military’s machine as well as their opponent, i.e. seeing the opponent as something less than human. Hell is for Heroes continues Siegel’s theme of dehumanization in two important ways.

 

The first way is as already been mentioned, focusing on small group of soldiers facing overwhelming odds. By doing this Siegel invites the audience to become personally acquainted with the soldiers on a small, interment scare. There is another way Hell is for Heroes addresses dehumanization and it is in many ways the more interesting of the two. The German enemy you see, it literally faceless. The audience does not even get a good look at what their equipment looks like. This is, as it were, dehumanization taken to its logical conclusion. It also creates a nice dichotomy in which the film can build off between a small group of American soldiers that the audience is invited to intimately know and a faceless German military whose true numbers are unknown. In many ways it gives the film almost a feel of an Alien Invasion film and it works very well. This is something that only really works in a World War II setting, as the sheer inhumanity of the Nazis means that the war lacks the moral grey area that characterizes almost every other war in human history. But how well this basic set up would work in a film about say Vietnam is beside the point, it works well here and creates a rather unique look and feel for the War film.

 

Beyond this basic theme, Hell is for Heroes is also a very well-acted film with the cast all giving very engaging performances. Bobby Darin and Fess Parker are particularly good here and I was also quite impressed with James Coburn. All three men deliver the good here with Darin going a particularly able job at applying his expertise in television Comedy to this film. And of course Steve McQueen is on hand here, being cool as always. As I said, this is right before he really blew up, but all the same watching this it is easy to see who he became so popular. Few men have ever been as built to be an Action star as McQueen was. Hell is for Heroes is a unique film but it works really well, and other than a disappointing, but understandable use of stock footage for much of the film’s final battle, it really does work from start to finish.

 

By taking the functions of the War film and bring it down to such a small scale, Don Siegel is able to craft a highly rewarding experience that harkens back to some of the major themes in his best known films, namely dehumanization. And seeing how few things are more dehumanizing that war, such themes work very well here. It is also a well-acted film that still holds up very well today. And it has Steve McQueen, which is reason enough to watch anything. Check it out!

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) Review

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Even though Lorelei Lee (Marilyn Monroe) and Dorothy Shaw (Jane Russell) are both showgirls and best friends, the two could not be more different in many respects as while Lorelei is dead set on finding a rich husband, Dorothy is more focuses on finding Mr. Right Now than Mr. Right. It appears though that Lorelei’s patience is finally paying off as not only is she set to marry a man from a wealthy family, her fiancé Gus Esmond (Tommy Noonan) is an awkward, though kind hearted man who will do anything to make her happy. To celebrate her engagement, Lorelei and Dorothy take a cruise ship to Europe so that Lorelei can be married in Paris. Things are not 100% ok however as Gus’ father has hired a private eye, Ernie Malone (Elliott Reid) to gather incriminating evidence against Lorelei in hopes of forcing his son to call the marriage off, and after an innocent moment with a wealthy South African businessman is taken out of context, Gus’ father gets what he wants, leaving Lorelei and Dorothy in a desperate struggle to get the evidence out of Ernie Malone’s hands themselves before he can release the evidence, but this is easier said than done as Lorelei and Dorothy keep getting into trouble, trouble than continues as soon as they reach Europe.

 

After the Western, the genre Howard Hawks is best remembered for working in is the Comedy, and with good reason thanks to classics such as His Girl Friday and Bringing Up Baby to his credit. In particular though, he is noted for his work in the Screwball Comedy genre, a genre that saw its Golden Age run from the earliest days of the sound era till about Word War II, even as films continued to be made in this mold after the end of the golden age. The Screwball Comedy film is noted for many things, among them being rapid paced dialogue set against a humorous battle of the sexes, essentially playing as a more comic version of the femme fetal in Film Noir, though now with the female character taking on a much stronger role. It has also been described as “Sex Comedy without the sex.” If these various definitions for the Screwball Comedy genre, I think it may be that last one that is the most interesting one in regards to Gentlemen Prefer Blondes because this film with its near constant barrage of  innuendo comes as close as a Screwball Comedy can without being a full on Sex Comedy.

 

But what is more is just how well this all works. A Howard Hawks Comedy is actually difficult for actors to pull off because it is full of rapid paced dialogue full of subtle jabs, giving each actor the difficult task of not only keeping pace, but also know just how much to let on to the joke. If they let onto the joke too little, then the joke is lost, but if they are to overbearing here, the subtly is lost and subtly is the very foundation of Hawks’ approach to Comedy. Thankfully though both Monroe and Mansfield are very much up to the task, with both ladies getting what Hawks is going for here. They also have great chemistry together, and while part of this is to give them opposite perspectives on dating, I think it also goes beyond this. They appear to interact with each other very well. The entire promise of the movie is that these two are best friends despite being so different in regards to dating, and in many ways the entire movie depends up the audience being willing to buy their friendship. Monroe and Mansfield both do a wonderful job selling this, giving their relationship a feeling of opposites attracting that I can really groove on. And while I know Monroe is the best remembered part of this film, and she is very good, special attention must be given to just how good Mansfield is here. She plays a character who is both a party girl, but is also down to earth and far more world-weary than her counterpart, something that Mansfield sells by giving a performance that suggests that though Dorothy is not looking for Mr. Perfect and does not believe he exists, she has also decided to look at this realization as liberating and embraces her love life with a sense of gusto.

 

Almost all of the humor in this film comes via the dialogue, and most of the humorous dialogue comes from either Lorelei or Dorothy with both doing a marvelous job at getting the jokes and making them work. Still, the rest of the cast is also doing a fine job. One thing about Gentlemen Prefer Blondes that really stands out is just how much fun everyone appears to be having, allowing the film to have a sort of goof time feel that helps it maintain its light and airy feel. This film, much like much of the major studio offerings outside of Film Noir during the 1950s, is escapism to be sure. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is a film that first and foremost desires to entertain. There is however a difference between good escapism and bad escapism, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, with its focus on rapid paced dialogue jam packed with what was for the time, some rather risqué innuendo falls in the former camp.

 

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is not just a Comedy, but also a Musical and on this point to the film succeeds. Now, because both Lorelei and Dorothy are showgirls, the songs are of course show tunes. It is a genre that I am not a very big fan of, but it does work in this context largely because Monroe and Mansfield are so entertaining selling their show. But that should not obscure that fact that though I am not personally a fan of the genre, the songs here are quite good, with perhaps the best known song in the movie “Diamonds are a Girl’s best Friend” also being the best song. Moreover, the dances are also well choreographed, and while this does further the film along in its escapist themes, once again this is escapism done right.

 

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is a good film. It is a very good film in fact. But it is not a perfect film, and while the film does not have many flaws, and certainly nothing that harms the film it should be noted that the third act needs some work. It is not bad, but it does feel like the best bits in the film are disproportionally found in the first and second acts, with the third act having less highlights, the two biggest being the song “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” and the final scene, which is one of the best in the film. But there is still an inescapable feeling that the movie, though still very good, is not as memorable as soon as the characters get off the boat, at least partially because the cruise background provide the best context for Lorelei and Dorothy to play off both each other and the rest of the characters.

 

A slightly disappointing third act aside, nothing can take away from this being one of the better Comedies of the 1950s. Hollywood cinema in the 1950s has a reputation for being overly commercialized and willing to sacrifice all other elements of film to special (i.e. color and wide screen) and while this is a bit of an oversimplification, there is also a kernel of truth to it. But this does not have to be a bad thing and Hawks made a career out of making films that were deceptively crowd pleasers, while being far more compelling under the surface. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, much like Hawks’ later Rio Bravo is an example of Hollywood (i.e. mainstream American commercial cinema) done right. Check it out!

Red River (1948) Review

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Howard Hawks is one of the most versatile directors of the studio driven, pre-late 1960s classic era of Hollywood, having done notable work in several genres such as War, Crime, and Comedy. But perhaps the genre he is best known for working in is the Western, due in large part to his partnership with John Wayne. One of his best known Westerns is Red River, and while it was not the film that transformed the Western into a serious art form, it was the first Western that Hawks saw to completion, having left the filming for Viva Villa! and The Outlaw before either of those films could be completed. More importantly however, it would be this film that would set the foundation for what a Howard Hawks Western would be, not just because of the presence of Wayne, but also in the film’s major themes of duty, honor, and professionalism, particularly in how these concepts relate to masculinity.

 

The film opens in the Old West in the years right before the Civil War with Thomas Dunson (John Wayne) and Nadine Groot (Walter Brennan) deciding to ditch the rest of the expedition party so that they can homestead land in Texas, specifically near the Red River so that Dunson may fulfill his dream of becoming a major cattle rancher. While setting up camp, the men come across a young boy, Matthew (Mickey Kuhn) whose family was killed by American Indians. Dunson, wanting a son and an heir to what he hopes will be a cattle fortune adopts the boy. The film then flash forwards fourteen years later with Dunson having fulfilled his dream along with his son (played by Montgomery Cliff as an adult). But things are not going so well for Dunson, despite his large cattle herd as his market was mostly in the South, and thanks to the now sudden poverty in the region thanks to the Confederacy’s defeat in the Civil War, Southerners can no longer afford beef, putting Dunson on the edge of bankruptcy. The way he sees it, the best chance for success is to make a daring cattle drive across the Chisolm Trail to Missouri where he can fetch much higher prices. And off Dunson and his men set, but as they go further and further along the trail, Dunson becomes increasingly power mad and is increasingly easy to anger, almost taking joy in giving out harsh punishments to all those who get in his way, eventually bringing him into conflict with Matthew as they compete for power over the cattle drive.

 

Red River is one of the greatest Action films of all time in terms of just how exhilarating it all is. It is an exciting and well-paced film built on a solid foundation of a great story and interesting characters. And more importantly for how Hawks’ later Westerns would develop, the film is also saturated in themes such as honor, duty, and professionalism. At its core, Red River is a film about a group of men on a mission who are willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done.

 

At the very base of this film is a great story. Adapting a story that had been serialized in the Saturday Evening Post called “Blazing Guns on the Chisholm Trail” by Borden Chase, the script, also by Chase working with Charles Schnee has the kind of story Hawks excels at telling. Perhaps one of its most interesting bits is how it chooses to handle its origins. The film introduces the audience to the characters briefly early on and as soon as this basic work is done, it jumps forward to the heart of the story. In a very real way, this allows Red River to be a “rags to riches” story with the rise cut out, something that should be the most important part of any such story. Instead we are given the rags part of the story and then the attempt to recover from a devastating loss of an important market. The cutting out of what could have easily been an important part of the movie, or at the very least a few quick scenes, helps the film to establish it’s no nonsense style that serves it so well. But beyond what it does on that point, Red River simply has a compelling story that connects to the American experience on a deep level. One reason is because it tells a story about one of the key events in American history, but this connection to the American experience goes beyond the film’s mere historical setting. Red River is a film at its core about love of family and love of capitalism, concepts that American’s tend to put a lot of stock in, but what Red River does is show a world where both are combined to complete a task, but soon it becomes apparent that the completion of that task will bring both into conflict. That conflict is at the very heart of Red River and while the film does have global appeal, it is also a deeply American film.

 

Propping up the story are several well written characters being played by fantastic actors. For right or wrong, John Wayne has become known for playing simplistically good, white hat type characters. And while some of his characters may have been this way, several of his characters were also complex and troubled individuals, such as the case in Red River. Wayne’s character here becomes power mad and a brute, changing from the kind hearted, if tough optimist early in the film. In the meat of the film, he becomes more world-weary and violent. But this is not a simple case of the fall of a hero, because all of Dunson’s faults, they all serve a greater purpose. Dunson is a flawed character trying to do the right thing, even as he is allowing his judgment to be clouded. To make matters even better, this may be Wayne’s best performance and does a fine job at showing his range.

 

Montgomery Cliff is also great as Matthew, giving an engaging and sympathetic performance. And while Cliff was of course a great actor, the script gives him a lot to work with. Cliff anchors the film wonderfully, and the scenes with him and Wayne feature some wonderful scene chewing. But moreover, Matthew gives the film its sense of morality. While Dunson represents good motives being used to do evil thanks to blind ambition, Matthew represents a more pure attempt to achieve those same ends. The two characters are able to mess up nicely, essentially showing two men going about the same goal via different means. The conflict between them forms the central conflict of the film and drives it.

 

Also important is just how well the rest of the characters are written. Movies with fairly large casts such as this have a tendency to have a lot of interchangeable characters, and while several characters in Red River are only extras, all the characters with at least one line feels as if they have a place in the film and have a personality. Red River is a film about many men doing the impossible, and the film excels because of how seriously it is willing to take all of its characters.

 

But perhaps most important is the film’s themes of duty, honor, and professionalism. Hawks was known for being a no nonsense and to the bone director who could get the job done, something that was reflected in his films. And while this created a tendency to see his films as nothing more than technically competent work from a studio man for most of his life, working beneath these exterior is a wonderful cinematic mind capable of turning his ideals into art. What is interesting here is that unlike in Rio Bravo, these themes are not explicitly stated for the most part. Instead they arise through the actions of the characters. But in the film they are, these themes saturate the film in fact. The world of Red River is a world where all of the major actions by the characters are in some way related to these themes, with the morality of the film essentially being tied up in two key questions 1) are these themes being fulfilled and 2) are these themes being fulfilled at the expense of another important theme. And it is important to remember that for Hawks, his favorite themes are explicitly tied to masculinity, though it is done in a fundamentally healthy way. The themes of honor, duty, and professionalism must be used for a greater end through honorable means, something that fundamentally divides Dunson and Matthew. In the world of Hawks, both the means and the ends matter, and even as these are masculine in their origin, it is still interesting to note that Hawks does make time for his women characters, far more than was typically seen during the era, especially from a director who worked mostly in more stereotypically masculine genres, i.e. Crime, War, and of course Western, as Hawks did.

 

Simply put Red River is a masterpiece of the genre and stands as a testament to just how good Hawks was. Add to this a great story and an outstanding cast and Red River holds up every bit as good as it did in 1948. But more importantly, it also stands as a testament to the themes that would make Hawks work, particularly his work in the Western genre so unique. It is also one of the most exciting films of the era and a true masterpiece. Check it out!

Some Kind of Hate (2015) Review

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Lincoln (Ronen Rubinstein) is a severely bullied teenager who one day gets enough and attacks one of his tormenters by stabbing him in the eye with a fork. The school frowns up such shenanigans and Lincoln is sent to a remote camp in the desert where he continues to be picked on, despite catching the attention of another camper Katie (Grace Phipps). One day while being picked on, Lincoln wishes that his tormenters were dead, which causes the vengeful spirit of Moira (Sierra McCormick), a former camper who killed herself after being bullied, to come back and seek bloody vengeance on those who tormented Lincoln, but soon Moira’s bloody revenge gets out of control, leaving Lincoln unable to stop it.

 

Alright, with exception of a few rare occasions, I always want to say something positive about a movie, and I have no reason to break this rule here. First off let me say that the actresses in this film are very attractive, especially Phipps. More to the point though, I do like two key aspects about the movie. I would like to congratulate the movie for taking on the subject of teen suicide. It is an unpleasant subject, and one that films, particularly teen focused Horror films have had a tendency to avoid. Granted, the film does not do much with this, but I am glad they tried to do this. But what impressed me most was how Moira killed her victims- she would cut herself with a razor, causing them to receive an identical wound. This is something I have not seen a lot of, and it is one of the more interesting ideas in the film, primarily in how it plays on the idea of bullycide and the idea that bullies would receive the same wounds that those they tormented inflicted upon themselves.

 

Beyond these three elements however, Some Kind of Hate is a mess. It is kind of interesting that Lincoln looks kind of like Glenn Danzig from The Misfits considering this film shares a title with a Misfits song, but this one little factoid cannot hide how uninteresting Rubinstein is here. I know he was supposed to be a quite loner, but there are ways to do that in which the audience can become invested in the character and he fails to do so. And besides at this point the goth/ emo stereotype for bullied, depressed teens is incredibly lazy. The rest of the actors in the film give similarly bland performances, with the one exception of McCormick who is so over the top the film borders on becoming an unintentional Comedy without actually doing so.

 

As bad as the performers are in this film though, it is also not entirely their fault as the lifeless script gives them nothing to work with. Each and every character feels interchangeable and is given no more depth that “bully”, “victim”, or “oblivious idiot” and while something interesting could be done with this, Some Kind of Hate just leaves everything hanging. This is most pronounced in the character of Lincoln. The film fails to develop him in any real way beyond his status as “weird loner” and it makes it very difficult to form any kind of connection with him, something the greatly harms the film considering how important he is. More time really needed to be spent with him before he was sent to camp to allow the audience to get a better feel of the character. As things stand now, it all feels far too rushed. And the film being full with trite dialogue does not help matters either.

 

It is also a confused script in that it is also very hard to tell just what the movie is trying to say, at times it feels like it wants to be some kind of cathartic release for the victims of bullying, and at other times it feels like it wants to be a more straightforward Horror film. Some Kind of Hate never makes up its kind and as a result the film feels narratively incoherent. Part of this is how society has changed since the 1970s. You see, at its heart Some Kind of Hate is a Misfit’s Revenge film, a genre that largely immerged in 1970s and featured misfit getting revenge on those who tormented them- think stuff like Willard, Stanley, and most famously Carrie. And while the genre never died, it can also never been as cathartic as it once was because well, we have seen what it looks like with misfits get bloody revenge on those who tormented them now, and it is not good. So I can understand why the film might have some difficulties in this regard, I really do. But what cannot be excused is what a mess the final product is. Taking on difficult subjects is great, but taking on these subjects must still be done well and in this regard Some Kind of Hate completely fails.

 

The film could have also used a proofreader. For example, when everyone first gets to camp, they are all asked to give up their cell phones. Now I have no problem with this as 1) it is fairly common and 2) it is a quick way to solve the “cell phone problem” of modern Horror, i.e. the increased ability for the victims to be able to call for help. But throughout the film the kids are shown with cell phones, and while it is mentioned that Lincoln was able to steal his back, nothing is said of this sort about the other kids, and even if it had, there would still be the problem of how none of the adults figured out what was happening.

 

The man ultimately at the center of the failure of Some Kind of Hate is director Adam Egypt Mortimer. As I said before, I very much like what he is trying to go for, and the whole idea of making a film about the effects of bullying and teen suicide through the prism of a Slasher/ Misfit’s Revenge film, is an intriguing idea and should work, but it fails to do much with this idea. For all the film’s faults with the acting and script (which he co-wrote) Some Kind of Hate could have at least been a nifty distraction for Horror fans not wanting watching Halloween for the 50th time had Mortimer been able to generate any sort of mood or suspense. Instead, with one kind of cool scene in a barn, the direction is every bit as lifeless as the acting and the script. The film has no sense of dread or any real mood; instead the film just opts to meander around, somehow getting lost despite its short runtime. Hell, the film even lacks any good jump scares. And then there is the matter of the gore. The film is kind of bloody, but not of it is very impressive as the film goes for fake blood and nothing else. It is disappointing when any low grade Horror film does this, but it is made all the worse by just all the possibilities that the film could have done on this point considering its plot, and it fails on every one of them. I get what he was going for in trying to make what amounts to Friday the 13th meets Carrie, but the final product fails to deliver on this promise.

 

Despite having a premise that could have led to an interesting film, Some Kind of Hate fails to deliver on this promise. The acting may not be very good, but ultimately it is the script and direction that sink this puppy. There just really is little to like here, and what there is to like mostly comes in the form of ideas that are never properly developed. This may very well be one of the worst Horror films of the decade so far, and while it is unlikely is could have been a classic, in better hands it could have at least been an obscure gem to seek out. Check it out!