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Movie Reviews: Noir/Crime Films

Updated on July 26, 2020

THE ROSARY MURDERS (1987)

Director: Fred Walton
Cast: Donald Sutherland, Belinda Bauer, Charles Durning, Tom Mardirosian
Plot: A serial killer whose victims are priests and nuns baffles the police
Mood: There’s a killer on the loose, but hey, unless you’re a man of cloth, there’s nothing to worry about
Tags: Killer’s signature, Bible clues, Revenge

Found at the scene of the crimes are rosaries wrapped in the victims’ hands. Father Koesler (Sutherland) finds himself embroiled in the mystery and when the killer confesses to him, he struggles to keep the Church’s seal of confession as the murder continues. This vow of silence by the confessor is the centerpiece of the movie which makes this more drama than horror. Don’t expect this to be about the devil or devil worship or something connected to the supernatural for it is very grounded on human issues (i.e. morality, church politics). But it is nonetheless a crime thriller but no gory stuff and the killer is just average and while the story presents him as Koesler’s arch-nemesis doesn’t reach a point of climactic battle.

The Verdict: 6/10. It is not your gripping, edge-of-your seat thriller, but Donald Sutherland’s presence makes it watchable. But missable? Yes. For trivia buffs, musician Jack White of the White Stripes appears as an uncredited 12-year old altar boy.

THE GIRL IN THE FOG (2017)

Director: Donato Carrisi
Cast: Toni Servillo, Alessio Boni, Jean Reno, Lucrezia Guidone, Michela Cescon, Lorenzo Richelmy
Plot: In a small Italian town, a 16-year old girl goes missing and a middle-aged detective arrives to investigate
Mood: A sleepy town suddenly gets awaken by fear
Tags: Serial killer, Flashbacks, Twist ending

Agent Vogel played by Toni Servillo, is a middle-aged detective who likes to sensationalize his cases by creating a media hype around them. When a 16-year old girl in a small town disappears, Vogel and his team points to a possible abduction. They assume the girl might even be dead already. Pressured by the media attention he created, Vogel tries to pin the crime on a timid professor even without solid evidence. As story progresses, the professor may not be as innocent as he looks. A solid directorial debut by Donato Carrisi who also wrote the screenplay based on his own book La Ragazza Nella Nebbia.

The Verdict: 9/10. The movie unfolds like a classic mystery thriller, characters and situations get introduced neatly, the pacing is just wonderful. Truly absorbing. It helps that Carrisi is the author of the source material because he really knew how he wanted it to be. And he is very fortunate to have the great actor Toni Servillo in the lead. It is just so hard to take ones eyes off him, the guy has a larger than life presence.

CHAMELEON (2019)

Director: Marcus Mizelle
Cast: Joe Hogan, Donald Prabatah, Alicia Leigh Willis, Jeff Prater
Plot: An ex-con restars a life of crime through kidnap-for-ransom
Mood: Modern Los Angeles with an old noirish feel
Tags: Two man crew, Intimate sex, On-the-run

Fresh out of prison, Patrick (Hogan) agrees to a criminal scheme wherein he lures attractive, mostly married women into an intimate relationship only to have them kidnapped by his partner (Prabatah). After the ransom is delivered and the woman returned to her husband, Patrick disappears to yet again seek other victims. The MO becomes a habit until they cross the wrong people—a.k.a. the police. Chameleon is the brainchild of Marcus Mizelle who produced, wrote, photographed and directed. He is a virtual unknown and with this movie he’s making a name as a genre filmmaker, making the most out of a minimal budget and with unknown actors.

The Verdict: 7/10. Surprisingly sleek. The story is tight, even ending tastefully. Some great camerawork, the acting is okay. I could imagine that if this movie had stars on it, it would really reap some benefits, but what you see is what you get, and its pretty good.

THE LADY IN CEMENT (1968)

Director: Gordon Douglas
Cast: Frank Sinatra, Raquel Welch, Richard Conte, Dan Blocker
Plot: Scuba-diving private eye discovers the corpse of a woman underwater, her feet encased in cement, and investigates.
Mood: Light, almost whimsical.
Tags: Mysterious murder, Femme Fatale, Shady characters

Frank Sinatra plays gumshoe Tony Rome for the second time with the movie Tony Rome released a year earlier and both movies were directed by Gordon Douglas from the novel by Marvin H. Albert. The character is a good fit for Sinatra not just because he’s Italian, but Rome is the type that’s not physically gifted but boy, does he have balls, and gets around with ample street smarts and enough charm to get the dame, here represented by the voluptuous Raquel Welch who has a knack for getting introduced in bikinis. But what immediately strikes me with the movie though, is the music. Loud space age pop conducted by Hugo Montenegro that I felt was distracting and seemed incongruously un-Sinatra. But, probably that’s why they call this neo-noir. It’s the 60s where the women, with their big hairs and false eyelashes were more forward. The first thing Welch said to Sinatra the first time their characters meet was “Do I scream rape now or wait and phone a complaint?” The dialogues are indeed snappy and delivered with much gusto, but the entire story just kinda floats and nothing really happens.

The Verdict: 5/10. Sinatra did play other detective roles that were significantly better, with more mature themes and fits his brooding nature. The Detective (1968) with Lee Remick and Jacqueline Bisset and The First Deadly Sin (1980) with Faye Dunaway should be better options.

7/3/20

CRIME AGAINST JOE (1956)

Director: Lee Sholem
Cast: John Bromfield, Julie London, Henry Calvin, Patricia Blair
Plot: An innocent man is accused of murder and sets out to find the real killer
Mood: Sleepy small town rocked by the gruesome murders of pretty women
Tags: Innocent Man, Serial Killer, Heroes playing detectives

John Bromfield stars as Joe Manning, an unemployed war vet trying to make something out of painting portraits. An unusual choice especially for soldiers who might have PTSD. But he does, and lives with his supportive mother, to whom he is very dependent. At nights, he goes to bars to unwind, casually flirts with girls (he is good-looking after all) and goes home drunk. When a series of attacks against women occur in town and one that led to murder, it only takes a case of being at the wrong place at the wrong time for Joe to be voted by the police as suspect no.1. A false alibi given by a pretty diner waitress (Julie London) who has a secret crush on Joe afforded him time to look for the real killer who might be someone from his alma mater. It becomes a guessing game. But the script doesn’t provide us with enough clues to ponder, and with no real threat to Joe’s life or those close to him, there’s a definite lack of mystery and suspense.

The Verdict: 5/10. It’s lightweight as far as noir movies go but John Bromfield is very engaging in the role. Credit to him for acting his heart out.

6/26/20

"Hello, 911? Oh, it's you, operator."
"Hello, 911? Oh, it's you, operator."

SORRY, WRONG NUMBER (1948)

Director: Anatole Litvak
Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Burt Lancaster, Ann Richards, Wendell Corey

Plot: A bed-ridden woman inadvertenly listens to a murder plot in a crossed line and tries to do something about it.
Mood:
Paranoia increases as time expires
Tags:
Woman alone, Phone call murder, Conspiracy, Suspicious husband

The helpless woman left alone in her room with only a telephone as her lifeline. It’s an alluring prospect that found success as a short radio play by Lucille Fletcher. Agnes Moorehead voiced the lead and it was a thrilling drama ahead of its time that Orson Welles gave it praise. Fletcher also wrote the expanded screenplay for the movie and naturally some of the lines were copy-pasted and delivered to the hilt by Barbara Stanwyck. But I find them too wordy and descriptive that it was exhausting. All those flashbacks and characters that need not necessarily be given faces all add to the confusion and kind of waylaid the suspense. But, the movie is still thrilling in that the old rotary phone and the switchboard operators play such important roles that you’d want to see how it all pans out.


The Verdict: 8/10. It remains an essential noir watch. You can't go wrong with its stellar cast.

6/16/2020

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