Hustle (1975)

To modern eyes, Hustle tries way too hard to be edgy, though it’s all in the service of creating a gritty take on films noir and early police dramas. Continue reading

Murder, My Sweet (1944)

Murder, My Sweet is frequently considered to be second-tier film noir (when it’s not being forgotten entirely), and that’s a shame, as it’s a fine example of the film noir cycle. Influential and entertaining, this psychological thriller is a must-see for classic film fans. Continue reading

Criminal Court (1946)

Criminal Court is a tight little noir directed by Robert Wise, starring Tom Conway as a hot-shot attorney who accidentally frames his girlfriend for murder. Continue reading

Wolfen (1981): Now on Blu-ray from Warner Archive

Burned-out police detective Dewey Wilson (Albert Finney) gets reluctantly called in to investigate the murder of high-profile millionaire Christopher van der Veer (Max M. Brown) in Wolfen, the 1981 sociopolitical horror film directed by Michael Wadleigh. Van der Veer, his wife Pauline (Anne Marie Pohtamo), and their driver Harrison (Jeffery V. Thompson) were found sliced to death in a public park, but police coroner Whittington (Gregory Hines) knows almost immediately that the weapon wasn’t metal. Wilson tosses around a few ideas about synthetic or plastic weapons and ritualized killings, before more dead people start turning up with similar wounds. They’re found all over New York City, however, from all socioeconomic walks of life; as one policeman says, they can’t possibly be connected, because “it’s a big jump from the South Bronx to Wall Street.” But they are connected, says Whittington, because all the victims’ bodies have unidentified hair or fur on them. A trip to local zoologist and wolf lover Ferguson (Tom Noonan) gives Wilson and Whittington their final clue: the fur is lupine, but wolves have been extinct in New York for decades. Still, there are radical elements in New York that would have wanted to take down van der Veer, who owned companies on every continent and had disrupted holy grounds and burial sites many times; as an investigator wryly noted, he was not exactly a friend to all nations. Most recently, he had been planning on developing an area of the South Bronx, coincidentally — or not … Continue reading

Once a Thief (1965)

Ralph Nelson’s jazzy, hard-boiled noir Once a Thief stars Alain Delon as Italian (!) immigrant Eddie Pedak with a criminal past who’s just trying to go straight, but his gangster brother Walter (Jack Palance) keeps dragging him back into the fold. Opening with the cold-blooded killing of grocery store owner Lisa Wing (an uncredited actress), we discover her husband (also uncredited) has seen the killer, and his description catches the attention of Inspector Mike Vido (Van Heflin). Seems Vido knows exactly the kind of car Eddie drives, the kind of coats he wears, and the kind of bullets that come from his gun, because one of those bullets was dug out of his gut a few years prior. When the bullet that killed Lisa Wing matches the bullet that shot Vido, he goes after Eddie. But Eddie is being framed by his brother as incentive to get him back into the game for one last million-dollar heist. Eddie resists at first, but he loses his job when Vido drags him off for questioning. Then his wife Kristine (Ann-Margret) has to go to work as a waitress at a bar to make ends meet, and Eddie starts feeling all the testosterone draining out of his body, what with having to rinse off dishes while she’s working and all, so he drags Kristine from her job, essentially sexually assaults her and beats her up in front of all the patrons, then tells Walter he’ll do the big heist after all.   As … Continue reading

June Bride (1948)

Carey Jackson (Robert Montgomery), foreign correspondent for a huge magazine conglomo, has found himself in his employer Carlton Towne’s leather-lined office (“Must be like living in a wallet”), about to be fired. The company is closing their Vienna office because of post-war censorship, but there’s no work for him back home, either. At the last minute, Towne (Jerome Cowan) offers Carey a job with their women’s magazine Home Life. But this is June Bride, a 1948 Warner Bros. romantic comedy, so there’s a little snag with this plan: Home Life’s editor Linda Gilman (Bette Davis) is not only exceedingly difficult to work with, but Carey’s former flame. She’s so tough, in fact, that Carey maneuvers himself into a $200.00 per month raise, just for doing Towne the favor of telling Linda that Cary is her new columnist, so Towne doesn’t have to do it himself. And just as predicted, Linda loathes the idea of working with Carey, while Carey is both smooth and hostile to her, in hopes of keeping his job. “I’m gay, I’m lovable, and I have nice teeth,” Carey says. “What more do you want?” – Linda’s having none of it.   Carey of course makes moves on Linda immediately, slipping into her apartment after a dinner out and turning off all the lights, because dumping her without saying a word three years prior is a total turn-on, you know. She knocks him down; he’s lucky he landed on his padded butt on her padded couch.   … Continue reading

Spenser: For Hire Season Two on DVD

After years languishing in greymarket DVDs, the 1980s private detective series Spenser: For Hire finally got an official release from Warner Archive in 2014. Just a few weeks ago, Warner released Spenser: For Hire: The Complete Second Season on DVD, with the third season surely arriving soon. Featuring Robert Urich as the titular detective, Spenser: For Hire was based on the novels by Robert B. Parker. Fans of the novels often weren’t fans of the show, primarily because a one-hour episode couldn’t even begin to cover the kind of detail and nuance a full-length novel could. Still, the character of Spenser on screen was a compelling one: a former police officer turned private eye who enjoys cooking and literature and boxing in his spare time, and who comes to the aid of people that would frequently fall through the cracks of the system. In a genre where tough-talking, hard-drinking womanizers with iffy pasts reigned, Spenser was a breath of fresh air. But the show didn’t feature as many wet, neon-lit streets as the public wanted — nay, demanded — in the 1980s, and the show only lasted three seasons. The second season is arguably the best, though the credits reveal a big, and still controversial, cast change: the addition of Carolyn McCormick as Rita Fiore, a new assistant district attorney. Gone is Susan Silverman (Barbara Stock) from the first season, at least for now. Also gone is the old fire station Spenser had for an apartment last season; the building … Continue reading

“Wanda at Large: The Complete First Season” Now on DVD from Warner Archive

Once again digging into their television vaults, Warner Archives brings us the complete first season of the surprise 2003 Fox comedy hit “Wanda at Large,” now out on DVD. Starring comedian Wanda Sykes as Wanda Hawkins, an outrageous stand-up comedian and local television personality in Washington, D.C., “Wanda at Large” was known for its combination of feel-good family situations and edgy humor. Originally slated to be a six-episode filler show for an open timeslot after “The Bernie Mac Show” on Fox, “Wanda” was intended to move to The WB permanently for its second season. After garnering huge ratings, however, Fox decided to keep “Wanda” for itself. A second season was ordered, but the show disappeared halfway through its second year, only to turn up months later in reruns on TV One. In the pilot episode, Wanda Hawkins (Sykes) is a comedian who has just quit her day job with the government, and with gigs few and far between, is getting perilously close to running out of money. It’s a semi-autobiographical premise, actually, as Sykes had been working for the National Security Agency a decade prior. Unhappy with her job, she started writing jokes in between filling orders for what she could later call “spy stuff.” Her first time on stage, she wowed the audience, and her career took off. The fictional Wanda Hawkins only briefly mentions her government job, but has a similar path to success thanks to her friend Keith (Dale Godboldo), a segment producer at the fictitious WHDC. … Continue reading

Black Patch (1957)

Black Patch is a dark and serious film, which is why it has an adorable little line drawing of the marshal and his badge on the poster.   Directed by Allen H. Miner, known primarily for his television work, Black Patch (1957) is a strange and wonderful little Western, a true independent film that took the kind of risks one rarely sees in this particular genre. Conceived by Leo Gordon, a hard-working character actor who also appears in the film as co-star Hank Danner, it seems the development of the script happened almost by accident. Gordon had never sold a script before when he casually mentioned he had an idea for a TV show: “When Charles Marquis Warren was directing the pilot for “Gunsmoke,” I told him I had an idea for an episode. ‘Don’t tell me, write it,’ he answered. I went home and the next thing I knew I had 110 pages. I showed it to my agent. Next thing I know, George Montgomery wanted to buy it. That was ‘Black Patch’. Gene Corman negotiated the deal. That’s how I came into contact with him and Roger Corman.” – Leo Gordon (from here / quoted here in a fine review by Toby at 50 Westerns From The 50s) Gordon would go on to write deliciously schlocky B-movie classics like Attack of the Giant Leeches and The Wasp Woman, which, in conjunction with his distinctly non-writerly demeanor, may account for the dismissive attitude many hold toward Black Patch. Leonard … Continue reading

42nd Street (1933): Now Out on Blu-Ray From Warner Archive

In 1933, at the height of the Depression, a nation in desperate need of distraction broke box office records for the lavish Hollywood musical 42nd Street. This unabashed slice of wish fulfillment is an undisputed cinematic classic, the granddaddy of all Hollywood backstage musicals, and now out on Blu-ray courtesy Warner Archives. Theater director Julian Marsh (Warner Baxter) has one last shot at creating a hit on the stage. Despite a lofty career, the recent economic downturn has tapped his resources; moreover, he’s in ill health and on the verge of another nervous breakdown. He gets financing for a play called “Pretty Lady” which he hopes to turn into a smash hit, and at the demands of Abner Dillon, a horndog old financier (Guy Kibbee), the beautiful Dorothy Brock (Bebe Daniels) is brought in as the lead. Dorothy has taken up with Abner — hey, a girl’s gotta survive — but she’s also seeing her old flame Pat Denning (George Brent) on the side. Abner’s cuckolding threatens the production; if Dorothy isn’t his and his alone, he has no interest in financing “Pretty Lady.” The love triangle is all but a subplot, as most of the action in 42nd Street is backstage and during the rehearsals, focusing on the naïve young Peggy (Ruby Keeler). A member of the chorus thanks to the unlikely assistance of two wise-cracking chorus girls, Lorraine (Una Merkel) and Ann (Ginger Rogers), Peggy attracts the attention of the juvenile lead, Billy Lawler (Dick Powell)… and also … Continue reading