What if you woke up one day to find that you couldn’t speak, couldn’t move, and—even worse, perhaps—had no idea who you were? And that when you set out to find out, you opened up a can of worms? That every other person you met seemed to be wanting to beat you or kill you (or ended up dead)—and you had absolutely no idea why?
Some years back, watching Hitchcock’s excellent Lifeboat, I was fascinated by John Hodiak. It was the first time I’d seen this actor, and I wanted to see more of him. After some searching, I discovered this intriguing example of film noir which starred Hodiak as the amnesiac who sets out to discover his identity—and ends up with some even more baffling answers.
Last week, chatting with a group of friends (equally mad about old cinema) on Facebook, I was stumped by a quiz question posted by one of them. Which was the first Indian language feature film to be made without any songs? Most of us who attempted to answer that question could only think of Hindi films, and the earliest Hindi non-songs film we came up with was Kanoon (1960). That wasn’t the answer—the correct answer was the Tamil film Andha Naal (That Day), made six years before Kanoon, and (like Kanoon) blending suspense—in the form of a murder mystery—with weighty issues about society and politics.
[Edited to add: According to blog reader and blogger AK, of Songs of Yore, the correct answer to that question is actually the 1937 Wadia Movietone film Naujawan].
I’d meant to review this film in time for Lana Turner’s birthday on February 8. But other things kept me busy, and what with trying to meet a deadline for my novel and write a short story before I lose the thread of it and watch an irresistible film (The Black Rose) which I’d just gotten hold of… well, better late than never. Belated happy birthday, Ms Turner! And RIP.
Every time I’ve reviewed an old Hollywood film (come to think of it, any old film) that either deals with racism or has tones—overt or covert—of racism, I’ve ended up being reminded of The Crimson Kimono. Invariably, I’ve noticed, to the advantage of The Crimson Kimono. It was time, I decided, to publicise this little-known noir film a bit. Not merely because it’s a decent noir with a somewhat shocking (for its time) beginning, but also because it is far ahead of its time in addressing the subject of racism.
Through much of his career, Tyrone Power bemoaned the fact that his ‘pretty face’ resulted in him being typecast—usually as the swashbuckling hero, sometimes as the dramatic hero, but always the basically good guy, even if he had his weak moments.
Which is why Nightmare Alley was the film of which Tyrone Power was most proud. He was a pretty face in most of the film (well, he couldn’t do much about that, could he?), but he also had more going for him: a very powerful, negative character that allowed Power to show that he could, despite that pretty face, act.
This probably sounds really weird, but The Maltese Falcon (based on a novel by Dashiell Hammett) reminds me of a landed fish. Fresh out of the water and flapping about like mad, its tail swishing from side to side at breakneck speed. One twist here, another twist there, one turn here and another there, never still for a moment. Possibly not the best simile for a film, but I can’t help it: the speed of this film is just so frenetic. I saw it again last night, and found myself struggling to keep pace.
The Maltese Falcon begins with a quick introduction, a paragraph scrolling down the screen to the effect that in 1539, the Knight Templars of Malta paid tribute to Charles V of Spain by sending him a golden falcon encrusted from beak to claw with jewels—but pirates seized the galley carrying it, and the Maltese Falcon was lost, its fate a mystery.
If I have one major failing when it comes to selecting films to watch, it is the stubborn (naive?) belief that any film which has good songs and a good cast must also necessarily be good. This has been proven to be a completely baseless criterion for film selection, but I plod on optimistically, buying and renting films that have superb music but fall absolutely flat on other fronts: House No. 44, for example, a Dev Anand starrer that tries to be noir but doesn’t quite make it.
I’d been toying with the idea of a `star week’ for a while now, and who better to launch one with than Robert Mitchum? Mitchum was born on August 6th, 1917 (which is why I’m dedicating this week to him on my blog), and is one of my favourite Hollywood stars. Though burdened with—as he himself mentioned—lizard eyes and an anteater nose, not to mention a gut he was perpetually trying to hold in, Mitchum acted in some memorable films: drama, Western, war, comedy, and, most famously, noir.
Over this week, I’ll be reviewing a handful of Mitchum films, showing off some of my favourite Mitchum screen caps (yes, I do find this guy very handsome), and more. You’ll get a glimpse of why I like ‘Old Rumple Eyes’ so much, and I’m hoping some of you out there will be converted!
But, to begin with: Macao. A typical Mitchum noir, somewhat reminiscent of the Bollywood noir one got to see in the late 50’s. Exotic, sinister, not always coherent, but entertaining nevertheless.