The Big Sleep

Big Sleep 1The Big Sleep

The Film Noir Odyssey

Writer: Michael Winner

Based on the novel by Raymond Chander

Director: Michael Winner

Cinematographer: Robert Paynter

Music: Jerry Fielding

Cast: Robert Mitchum, Sarah Miles, Candy Clark, James Stewart

Release: March 13, 1978

Studio: United Artists

Percent Noir: 60%

As you are probably aware if you read last week’s article, I am not the biggest (heh) fan of 1946’s “The Big Sleep,” despite its critical status as one of the finest examples of noir. But I will give it credit for this – it looks like “Citizen Kane” when compared to the abortive 1978 remake.

The storyline is essentially the same here, with Philip Marlowe (Robert Mitchum) hired by rich dude General Sternwood (James Stewart in an extended cameo) after someone begins blackmailing him. The more pressing mystery involves Sternwood’s daughter Camilla (Candy Clark), who is both mentally deranged and a nymphomaniac. While she was drugged, she had pornographic photos taken of her, and the guy who took them was shot in the head right in front of her. But as the film progresses, a second mystery takes precedence – this one involving the other daughter Charlotte’s (Sarah Miles) missing husband.

Big Sleep 2Right off the bat, screenwriter/director Michael Winner (“Death Wish,” “Appointment With Death”) makes two decisions that fundamentally make no sense. The first was to modernize the story for no apparent reason. The second was to switch the action from the United States to London for (wait for it) no apparent reason. I would have been fine with these changes if they were exploited in interesting ways, or brought out new wrinkles in the story, but neither does. Like, at all. This is especially odd since the movie, while not being an official sequel, was made in the wake of 1975’s Chandler adaptation “Farewell, My Lovely.” That adaptation, which also starred Mitchum as Marlowe, was set in ‘40s Los Angeles, creating an even greater disconnect. Yes, I know they were made by different creative teams for different studios, but audiences obviously took “The Big Sleep” as a sequel, and would have been confused by the disconnect when the film started.

That said, that disconnect would quickly give way to bigger frustrations. The original Chandler novel is confused in its storytelling, and the 1946 film compounds those problems threefold, but Winner seemed to make it a personal goal for his adaptation to make complete sense. Here, everyone explains. Then explains again. Then explains in voiceover. Then tells you once or twice more for good measure. I like my mysteries to be mysterious, but throughout it feels like I’m being spoon fed information I could have figured out myself.

Winner lifts dialogue and voiceover from Chandler’s novel, which is great. But the difference between the quality of Chandler’s dialogue and Winner’s new stuff is not only noticeable, but totally jarring. You find yourself engaged by a moment but then a line will stick out like a sore thumb and take you completely out of the movie.

Before I transition into Winner’s problems as a director, I will give the two good moments in the film fair praise. The first is when Marlowe says the immortal line “She tried to sit on my lap while I was standing up.” Winner cuts to Sternwood, and the old guy breaks into laughter. It’s the first time I can remember in a Chandler adaptation (heck, maybe any noir) where a character will give in and laugh at someone else’s hardboiled line of dialogue, and it brought a wide smile to my face. The second is the climax of the film, which is kept much closer to Chandler’s novel and, for my money, is more interesting morally than the 1946 version.

Winner’s screenplay is mostly inane, but his work as a director is downright terrible. Collaborating with his cinematographer Robert Paynter (you know that can’t be his last name, right?), they give the movie all the depth of an episode of “Quincy M.D.” No atmosphere, no excitement, and even the fights are shot so haphazardly (especially one involving Mitchum, Clark and Joan Collins) that they come across as funny. This is not a pretty movie. And don’t even get me started on the magically appearing pigeons near those ancient ruins!

Every now and then you write a sentence that you honestly never expected to find an occasion to write during your lifetime. That last sentence was one of those times.

Big Sleep 3The acting is, on the whole, just as bad as everything else. Mitchum can pull off jaded in his sleep, and excels at that in a few scenes. But mostly something different comes across in his performance – boredom. Poor, poor Miles is given one of the worst hairstyles I’ve ever seen on film (not an exaggeration) and seems genuinely adrift here. There’s one moment where she licks her lips while gambling which is riotously funny… but isn’t supposed to come across as such. Poor, poor Clark is astonishingly bad, but doesn’t hold a candle to Oliver Reed (!), who whisper-threats almost every line of dialogue, which comes across almost as funny as the lip licking. Stewart isn’t in the film long enough to make much of an impression, which might be a blessing in disguise.

This is bad. Like, unusually bad. Winner is infamous for directing the first few installments of the “Death Wish” franchise, of which the second is generally considered one of the most disgusting films ever made. I wouldn’t know because I haven’t watched. His filmography is fascinating – sure, several of his movies are unwatchable, but there are some super interesting choices here. He directed a prequel to “The Taming of the Shrew” called “The Nightcomers,” which starred Marlon Brando. His “The Sentinel” is not at all politically correct but still truly traumatic to watch. He remade “The Wicked Lady” as a comedy (!?) starring Faye Dunaway. This is a guy who was willing to try anything, even though his reach always exceeded his grasp.

Don’t watch this movie. The end.

Score: *

P.S. The music is awful.

P.P.S. At one point Marlowe knocks someone out with a karate chop to the neck. I don’t have anything to add but felt like it needed to be said.

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Unforgiven

Le locandine di Bill GoldAFI Top 100 Ranking: 68
Year: 1992
Writer: David Webb Peoples
Director: Clint Eastwood
Star: Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman

The Western genre has always been unique in the way it embraces its characters’ histories. The other genres, from horror to period drama to comedy, tend to sidestep backgrounds and history, giving the viewer the feeling that the characters began existing the moment the film began, complete with one or two quirks or traits, but not much else. That is not so with the Western. Every Western on the AFI Top 100…hell, every great or even good Western…involves what happened long before the movie began just as much as what happens during the film itself. “Unforgiven” is no exception.

Clint Eastwood (who also directed) plays Bill Munny, who was, long ago, a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad man who was drunk most of the time and had a tendency to kill people when drunk. But that was before he fell in love and married a woman who set him on the right path. As the film opens he stands near her gravestone. He has two kids to take care of now and little money to do it with, so when a young man named the Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett) rides up with a very enticing offer, Munny finds it hard to refuse.

The offer is $1000 to any man or men who kill two roughians who have sliced up a sex worker’s face. After some initial resistance, Munny goes to his old partner Logan (Morgan Freeman) and the three of them set off together. Little do they know the town they ride toward is run by a sadistic devil of a sheriff named Little Bill (Gene Hackman), who will beat a man within inches of his life for carrying a gun into the town, but does nothing to penalize the two men who cut up the woman.

Much is made of who Munny was before and his effort to not be that man anymore. He sounds rehearsed every time he talks about the evil things he’s done and how he was saved from his wickedness. He refuses whiskey even when hit with a horrible fever. Munny seems to be over-insisting that he’s a changed man, and even though he is trying to deliver justice, he can only kid himself for so long since he will be murdering two men he has no personal vendetta against. When the film focuses on that inner turmoil it is at its best.

Unforgiven 2We want to know more about the Logan character and his relationship to Munny, especially since Logan’s death is the turning point for the entire movie, but writer David Webb Peoples is stingy in developing him much more than that he’ll cheat on his wife with sex workers. What gravitas is brought to the character is thanks to Freeman’s performance, and the character simply acts as someone to speak his deep thoughts to.

It’s a shame, because Peoples had the opportunity to deliver a really emotional sucker punch, but instead keeps shifting around to other characters. Richard Harris appears as English Bob, shoots some birds and then gets beaten by Little Bill. Harris is great, but his character has nothing to do with the drive of the story other than to show us Little Bill’s craziness (something perfectly illustrated elsewhere). He never encounters Munny or Logan, and nothing has changed after he’s left the movie.

The time spent with English Bob would have been better spent on Logan, or even on the fascinating, also under-developed, Strawberry Alice (Frances Fisher), mistress extraordinaire, who puts the bounty out when Little Bill refuses to do anything.

Peoples seems to be trying to paint a diverse, interesting canvas of characters, and does to a degree, but the ultimate result is that the movie becomes unfocused when tension should be building. Luckily, the acting throughout is uniformly excellent and sometimes manages to make up for the scattershot script. I must admit, though, that there are a number of fantastic details Peoples presents us with that impressed me. Making the Scofield Kid near-sighted felt refreshing since ocular abilities is almost never addressed in Westerns, shocking since it is so important to everyone who owns a gun in those movies. Giving Little Bill a whip to further drive his horrors home. The Writer character explaining why Munny chose to shoot who he shot in what order after the fact. All great moments.

Unforgiven 3Eastwood is the most consistent of directors. He rarely shows off with the camera, and instead of using tricks or quick-cutting allows the scenes to breathe. This results in an even pace and slow build, both of which feel refreshing in an era where we are force-fed wild changes in pacing thanks to a generation afflicted with filmmaking ADD. What else Eastwood’s even-handed approach gives the film is a tonal consistency that might otherwise be missing. For instance, the film opens with a static distant shot of Eastwood standing over the grave of his wife while we read about his history with her. A moment later we are in a brothel watching a woman’s face be sliced up and urine being thrown everywhere. In any other movie, this kind of shift would bring everything grinding to a halt, but since it’s Eastwood and because his direction is so sure, we accept it simply as another part of the world he’s slowly presenting to us.

Despite not seeming to show off, Eastwood’s films have a style that is instantly recognizable. This film couldn’t be more different than “Changeling,” which couldn’t be more removed from “The Bridges of Madison County,” and yet they still feel like the same, sure hand guided them.

“Unforgiven” doesn’t match the same quality of the Westerns Eastwood did for Sergio Leone, like “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” but it’s an entertaining, well-acted and directed film. I wish that the script had managed to rise to the quality around it, but even with that I still enjoyed myself a lot. Still, can I think of at least a dozen other Westerns that would be better placed on the AFI top 100? Yep.

My Score (out of 5):
 ***

The Big Sleep

The Big Sleep 1 - CopyThe Film Noir Odyssey

Writer: William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, Jules Furthman

Based on the novel by Raymond Chander

Director: Howard Hawks

Cinematographer: Sidney Hickox

Music: Max Steiner

Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Martha Vickers

Release: August 23, 1946

Studio: Warner Bros.

Percent Noir: 70%

And here is where I fear my “Film Noir Fanboy” badge will be torn off of me – I do not like “The Big Sleep.”

Look, I want to love it. I’ve watched numerous times, wanting to be captured by the spell it casts on many others.

And yet, every time I do, I am left wanting.

Certainly the film is stocked with the kind of talent that makes it impossible to dismiss. You’ve got Bogie & Bacall fronting it and Howard Hawks directing it. It’s from the classic novel by Raymond Chandler, and the trio of screenwriters lift much of the dialogue directly from the novel. And who are those screenwriters? Well, William Faulkner for one. The other two are Leigh Brackett, who wrote little movies like “The Long Goodbye” and “The Empire Strikes Back,” and Jules Furthman, who penned “Nightmare Alley” and “Shanghai Express.” I mean… holy fuck!

Bogart stars as iconic dick Philip Marlowe, who is hired by a rich man named Sternwood (Charles Waldron) to investigate a blackmailer. Marlowe becomes entangled with Sternwood’s two daughters – first up is Carmen (Martha Vickers), who is quite friendly with gentlemen and has had pornographic photos taken of herself, and then there’s Vivian (Bacall), who may be there to help Marlowe but also has an agenda all her own. I’m keeping things vague here because the plot is confusing, labyrinth-like and it’s often difficult (even after repeated viewings) to understand just what is at stake in any individual scene.

The Big Sleep 2 - Copy“The Big Sleep” seems to be the exception to everything that critics and historians normally complain about. Warner Bros. caved in to an agent’s pressure for reshoots to emphasize Bacall at the expense of Vickers’ performance. Said reshoots convoluted the already nonsensical plot to the point where things stop making sense by the midpoint. And yet nearly every major modern critic simply swats those pesky facts away, instead focusing on the dialogue and Bogie & Bacall’s chemistry.

And, make no mistake, the dialogue here is cracking. “She tried to sit on my lap while I was standing up,” which is straight from Chandler’s book, is a perfect line, and there are dozens of such lines all over the film. And Bogart and Bacall do very, very good work in their scenes together. It’s just everything else that doesn’t work for me.

Chandler famously demeaned Agatha Christie once, writing that her Rube Goldberg-ian plots prevented the books from being able to dig into the real meat of stories – the characterization. Which is a fair criticism (though one that has never prevented me from loving her work), unless you look at a book like “The Big Sleep,” which has all of the unnecessary plot mechanics of a normal Christie novel, but a third act that does not properly pay off everything set up in the first two acts. Instead of everyone acting like a suspect, everyone is acting like a dick here, which is just as two-dimensional. And say what you will about Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple, but their quirks defined them, whereas Marlowe in the film version of “The Big Sleep” is nothing but a placeholder for Chandler, lacking any depth or character traits aside from “jaded.” Okay, there is one other – every woman in the film is so turned on by Marlowe that they’ll immediately begin hitting on him, no matter what else they were doing before. This makes Marlowe seem more like Bond than Bogart, who was famous not just because he was a good actor, but because he wasn’t conventionally handsome. It’s a weird way to portray the character and doesn’t support Bogart’s persona.

The Big Sleep 3And then there’s the whole plot aspect of the film, which I’ve already touched on several times. Roger Ebert famously wrote that the film “is about the process of investigation, not the results,” which sounds great but makes little sense when you think about it. If “The Big Sleep” were really about that, then there would not contain a real payoff… things would remain unclear at the end and we would be purposely left with a sense of incompleteness. This has worked before – look at “Hollywoodland.” But “The Big Sleep’s” third act purports to solve everything – it pretends as if the case is solved satisfactorily and hopes you weren’t paying close attention. And as detailed and meticulous as the first act is in setting up characters who seem super important and clue threads that Marlowe spends minutes of the film investigating, the rest of the movie seems to care little about them. Vivian all but takes over the movie, with Carmen first an afterthought before becoming completely irrelevant, which is a shame because her plot thread was more engaging.

Hawks is one of the best directors in film history, and his “Bringing Up Baby” is my favorite comedy. Here he works well with the actors and applies a straightforward visual approach with his cinematographer Sidney Hickox (“To Have and Have Not” “Dark Passage”). Iconic composer Max Steiner does well with the score, save for a few moments where he presses the emotion too hard when the performances are more than adequate.

In case you can’t tell, approaching “The Big Sleep” was exhausting for me. Individual scenes are wonderful, but others (like when Vivian gets her token song-and-dance-for-no-reason moment) are super cringe-worthy. I very much enjoy other Chandler novels, and many of their adaptations (several of which I’ve already covered on this site). In fact, that sentiment serves just about every member of the creative team… I love them elsewhere. Every time I try to love “The Big Sleep,” and try to do what audiences and critics have done for decades by waving away the faults. I want to surrender to it… but I can’t. It’s so star-studded in front of and behind the camera that I understand why it is considered first-tier noir, but that does not make it a good movie.

Score: **1/2

Tootsie

tootsie 1AFI Top 100 Ranking: 69
Year: 1982
Writer: Larry Gelbart, Murray Schisgal (screenplay), Larry Gelbart, Don McGuire (story)
Director: Sydney Pollack
Star: Dustin Hoffman, Jessica Lange, Charles Durning

“Tootsie” is a great comic film to begin with, filled with excellent performances and smart writing. But the filmmakers were interested in making something more than just a cross-dressing comedy. You’re watching discussions about sexism, sexual and gender identity, personal identification and emotional maturation…but you don’t really notice it because the film is just so damn good. Though the main character preaches, the movie doesn’t seem to, and though many of these topics have long since become softball subjects, the film is so well-told that it doesn’t matter. As soon as it was over, I wanted to watch it again.

Dustin Hoffman plays Michael, a great NYC actor who is so difficult to work with that his personality has blacklisted him with every producer and director in the city. He’s desperate. He’s also a fantastic acting teacher and no one apparently told him that he’d be a good director, but forget that. His solution to finding work is to create Dorothy, a spunky woman who is immediately cast on a horrible daytime soap opera. To his shock, Michael finds that Dorothy seems to have a mind and values of her own (“I think she’s smarter than me,” he admits at one point), and these values actually help him improve as a human being. To the studio’s shock, Dorothy becomes the new star of the show, her unwillingness to be a female cliché refreshing to all the women watching at home.

Tootsie 3Also in play is Julie (Jessica Lange), an actress on the show who befriends Dorothy and is inspired by her new friend to blossom as a human being while her father (Charles Durning) begins to crush on his daughter’s new BFF. Michael finds himself attracted to Julie as a man, but she’s in a bad relationship with the soap’s director, played by Dabney Coleman, who does another fine version of his “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” character from “9 to 5.” Oh, and Sydney Pollack (who also directed) is excellent as Michael/Dorothy’s agent, who always seems to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

By this point we’ve all seen what we expect is every variation on the cross-dressing comedy there could possibly be. The formula seems to be quite limited, and though it has resulted in two masterpieces (this and “Some Like It Hot”), can you think of another version that is even halfway decent? And yet “Tootsie” finds a way to feel fresh and engaging despite the apparent limitations of its genre. A big key to this is that there is no “transformation” scene leading into the first appearance of Dorothy. There’s simply a cut from the male Hoffman to the female version walking down the street. By doing this, screenwriters Larry Gelbart and Murray Schisgal (best worst last name ever) immediately establish Dorothy as a distinct character from Michael and that we should approach her that way. When we later see Michael transforming into Dorothy, he remarks about her as if she’s a real person (“She would live alone!”) because she “feels” like a real person to us.

Tootsie 2I cannot underline enough how excellent Hoffman is as Michael/Dorothy, simply because he doesn’t overdo it. These are two different people and he treats them as such. He doesn’t overplay the little winks and nudges to the audience, which makes them all the funnier when they come. It’s weird, because he’s almost passable as a fairly ugly woman, and it’s odd how quickly we become used to his southern high voice. And I love how the screenplay uses both of these things to make the movie even more multi-dimensional.

It would be easy for Hoffman to steal the show, but the supporting cast is all-around aces. Durning is quite genuine throughout and we really feel bad for the guy when he proposes to Dorothy. Bill Murray brings the right amount of cynicism and snark to his brief scenes, and I’m very happy to see the film doesn’t overdo his shtick, because any more would feel overboard. Teri Garr is suitably hysterical as a woman Michael uses early in the movie before maturing, but the interesting thing is that Garr doesn’t turn her into a dumb blonde. She’s hysterical, but not stupid.

And then there’s Lange, who must have been quelling chuckles in just about every scene with Hoffman, even the dramatic ones. Because she’s so genuine with Hoffman in drag, we create genuine feelings for the character, and when the chips fall and Dorothy is un-wigged at the climax, I was surprised at how invested I had become in the relationship. The final scene, involving Lange and Hoffman out of drag, is beautifully balanced, written brilliantly and surprisingly understated. It feels just right.

In case I haven’t mentioned this yet, in addition to everything else, the movie is fucking hilarious. I was in tears from laughter during the magazine photoshoot montage, and for every bit of slapstick there is a really smart line worth quoting. It’s a mix that could have gone horribly wrong, but because every part of the creative team rose to the occasion, it works. And the writers avoid plot holes (well, fudge plot holes) by turning them into jokes about Dorothy having to do her own make-up or getting no close-ups on her show (“I’d like to make her look a little more attractive, how far can you pull back?” “How do you feel about Cleveland?”).

Yeah, it’s not quite as good as “Some Like It Hot” (there is one quite obvious weak point in the way the film treats the soap’s lead actor), but how many comedies are? “Tootsie” is the type of movie that feels irresistible. It feels universal. And it feels deep, which you never would expect of a movie about a dude in a dress.

My Score (out of 5): *****

Body Heat

body heat 1The Film Noir Odyssey

Writer: Lawrence Kasdan

Director: Lawrence Kasdan

Cinematographer: Richard H. Kline

Music: John Barry

Cast: William Hurt, Kathleen Turner, Ted Danson, J.A. Preston

Release: August 28, 1981

Studio: Warner Bros.

Percent Noir: 50%

Lawrence Kasdan, who has done as much as any single filmmaker to help shape the modern film industry, has many, many gifts as a writer and sometimes director. But perhaps the greatest is his ability to take something old and breathe new life into it, tapping into what made it good inn the first place while making it feel fresh in the same instant. Look at what he did with stale old “Flash Gordon” across four “Star Wars” movies, with adventure/explorer serials in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” or with dusty Westerns in “Silverado.” The same holds true for his directorial debut “Body Heat,” which takes great glee in upping the ante for classic noir.

Like those other movies, Kasdan doesn’t much care if you are familiar with noir when you walk in the theater – he’s going to present you with a good story, well told even if you’ve never heard of Barbara Stanwyck (gasp!). But if you are a fan of the genre, the film’s 113 minutes offer an endless supply of Easter eggs and treats. You laugh when Kasdan calls out the clichés of noir while concurrently surrendering to them, making “Body Heat” one of those rare neo-noirs  – like “Chinatown” or “Brick” – which manages to be self-aware but also a cracking example of the genre.

body heat 2If you’ve seen “Double Indemnity” (and if you are reading this site, chances are you have. Several times.), you know the plot of “Body Heat.” Ned (William Hurt) is a pretty awful insurance attorney in coastal Florida, and one night during a heat wave meets the married Matty (Kathleen Turner). The ring on her finger doesn’t stop them from penetrating, and soon Ned is in over his head. He and Matty plot the death of her husband Edmund (Richard Crenna), and after the murder the case is investigated by Ned’s friends Peter (Ted Danson) and Oscar (J.A. Preston).

The story is nothing new, though Kasdan offers up some interesting wrinkles and twists, the best one involving an extended cameo by Mickey Rourke as an arson specialist named Teddy, who first informs Ned how to create a bomb and later warns Ned that Matty has come to him for similar advice. The real fun of the production is seeing all the nasty stuff that filmmakers couldn’t show in the ‘40s because of the production code.

And by that I do not mean the fact that there is nudity, though there certainly is a lot of it. The sequence where Ned murders Edmund is the high point of the film because Kasdan shoots it like an explicit sex scene, fully aware that killing is even more intimate than sticking your dick in someone. Both men are sweaty as they roll all over one another, their clothes getting torn or pulled off as they struggle. The cherry on top is Matty watching the entire thing with erotic bliss.

body heat 3Another scene that is both laughable and wonderful comes just before Ned and Matty sleep together for the first time. Matty has invited Ned over “to listen to the wind chimes” but insists he leaves. She locks the door after he exits, then stands by the stairs, staring at him seductively and posturing herself like a prize he needs to claim. Unable to get back in through the front door, Ned has worked himself into such a sexual frenzy that he throws a chair through the front window (!!!) and stomps inside to pull Matty into a passionate kiss. It’s wildly over the top and yet works as a perfect metaphor for Ned’s arc in the film (and, hell, men’s arcs in noir in general).

Hurt is fine as Ned – I feel like most of Hollywood’s leading men could have done the role just as good if not better. His main draw is some legitimate chemistry with chemistry with Turner in the first act, though he could work on his “I am so fucked!” face in the third act, because the beat gets repetitive after awhile. It helps immensely that Kasdan surrounds him with some wonderful character actors, most notably Preston, Danson and Rourke. Preston in particular, with his forehead glazed from sweat and a beaten-down optimism, could have starred in his own spinoff and I would have happily watched it. Danson is given comparatively more to do and displays all the hints that he would become one of the most valuable character actors in the industry.

But the movie is Turner’s. Though she worked on soaps before, it is astonishing to me that this is her first major film role… and it’s doubly impressive because Kasdan was a first time director. This is a performance for the ages – Matty’s character could have gone wrong in so many ways, but Turner brings such an intimacy to her character’s interactions with the rest of the cast that you can’t help but get swept along. As the movie climaxes with Matty declaring that she loves Ned one more time before she (ostensibly) explodes herself, we actually buy it, despite all the evidence to the contrary. And you’ve got to love that Kasdan doesn’t need to off Matty at the end like so many femmes fatale in the ‘40s – she gets the last laugh and also ends the movie somehow looking fabulous sporting her dead husband’s fugly glasses, which is a miracle in and of itself.

Also John Barry needs to get a shout-out for his fabulous score, which never quite matches the noir standard of Jerry Goldsmith’s masterpiece “Chinatown,” but comes damn near close in many respects. Barry, who at that point in his career was mostly scoring big action movies (‘76’s “King Kong” and “The Black Hole”) or straight romance (“Somewhere in Time”) seems to be having a ball exploring the complexity of noir, creating themes that are sexy but certainly not romantic.

Even though I’ve used it before (including in this article), I always have hated the term “neo-noir” because “Body Heat” does not feel like anything other than a classic noir. Sure, it’s self-conscious, but even in the ‘40s and ‘50s filmmakers knew exactly what genre they were working in and often created their movies because of audience expectations. It deserves its place among the best examples of the genre, damn it, and you’ll never convince me that it should be placed in this different category because it wasn’t made in the proper time period.

Score: ****1/2

Cause for Alarm!

cause for alarm 1The Film Noir Odyssey

Writer: Mel Dinelli and Tom Lewis

Based on the Radio Play by Larry Marcus

Director: Tay Garnett

Cinematographer: Joseph Ruttenberg

Music: Andre Previn

Cast: Loretta Young, Barry Sullivan, Bruce Cowling

Release: March 30, 1951

Studio: MGM

Percent Noir: 50%

It’s always interesting to consider the reasoning behind putting an exclamation point in a film title. Sometimes, like in the minor noir “Ransom!”, there seems to be no reason whatsoever. In “Moulin Rogue!” it seems to set a mood for extravaganza. Here, in “Cause for Alarm!” it seems like a plea for legitimacy – insisting that it is a thriller because, well, look at the punctuation!

Generously, this is not a good film. It is a ludicrous concept with an awful lead performance whose main complications involve the intricacies of mail collection.

Have you moved on yet? No? Okay then, let’s dive in.

Loretta Young stars as the boringly named Ellen Jones, a woman who must constantly care for her long-ill husband George (Barry Sullivan), who is mostly bedridden. George believes that Ellen is having an affair with his doctor, Ranney (Bruce Cowling) and also thinks that the duo is conspiring to murder him by slowing poisoning him. One day, George writes a detailed letter to the city district attorney stating the above as facts (they are not) and has Ellen mail them. Moments later, he confronts her with his suspicions, tells her what he has done, pulls a gun on her and then dies of a heart attack. Oh crap – Ellen has got to get that letter back.

cause for alarm 3Young is passable in the first act of the film because she is acting normally. The screenwriters Mel Dinelli and Tom Lewis decide to give Ellen really Really REALLY long voiceover in order to pad out the running time — at only 70ish minutes, this barely registers as a feature. But the moment her husband dies, Ellen seems to lose her shit, and Young likewise turns it up to 11. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Young’s performance makes it seem like every line of dialogue in the script was written in all caps with multiple exclamation points at the end. I began to wonder what someone like Ida Lupino or Barbara Stanwyck could have done with this role, but then I realized I would never wish this film on my worst enemy, so I stopped wondering. I’ve seen Young in several films prior to this, and she’s always at least competent, but her work here is so bad it’s actually making me reconsider if I was correct in assuming she was a good actress. Yes, it’s one of those performances that is so bad that it almost becomes iconic… watching Young nearly assault the mailman in order to get her letter back is camp close to “Mommie Dearest.”

But perhaps you are thinking that her elevated performance makes the film worthwhile, if only in a so-bad-it’s-good way. Nope! Everything surrounding Young is super bland and boring, even at the film’s climax, where the mailman who yelled at Ellen earlier arrives back at the house… to give her the letter because it didn’t have enough postage. Oh, the twist! The surprise! I gasped! No wait, that was a yawn.

I’ll set aside the fact that Ellen married such a gross dirtbag because, let’s face it, you never know the circumstances surrounding an abusive relationship and I don’t want to jump to such conclusions, even though the screenplay does nothing to warrant such goodwill. I will, however say, that she must be pretty fucking stupid not to notice her husband has gone insane with jealousy or the fact that the bedridden guy has somehow gotten his hands on a gun and has hidden it in his bed, despite the fact that she’s in charge of changing the sheets and sits with him there for hours every day.

cause for alarm 2Despite the fact that the film goes out of its way to show Ellen is isolated in her big idyllic white-picket-fenced home, on the day her husband tries to kill her, thanks to bad plot machinations she becomes the most popular woman in town. The doctor? Check. Pharmacist? Check. Nosy neighbor? Check. Sweet kid in a cowboy outfit who doesn’t understand boundaries? Check. Awful aunt who has brought jello (or something) and has no problem breaking into the house while Ellen is not home? Check. Insurance salesman who was told by Ellen’s husband to ignore her and force his way inside if she tried to block him? Check. I mean… COME ON.

And then there’s the crux of the “suspense,” which is so jaw-droppingly wheel spinning I actually almost turned off the film twice. Instead of boring you with an entire paragraph about the rules and laws about how one can retrieve an already-mailed letter before it is processed, I will simply ask you to picture your hand being smashed with a claw hammer multiple times and tell you that is what watching these long (long!) sequences felt like.

Director Tay Garnett (“A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”) obviously had no idea how to handle actors and was even less successful at creating suspenseful scenarios. Cinematographer Joseph Ruttenberg lensed “Gaslight” and “Mrs. Miniver,” so you know he was good, but his collaboration with Garnett results in a palate so bland that badly shot episodes of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” are more visually interesting.

I’m struggling to find a single thing that makes the film noteworthy. Actually, I’ve struggled enough – time to move on. “Cause for Alarm!” is the type of movie it’s best to have on in the background when you are doing chores like vacuuming, where Young’s performance can be drowned out. Or, better yet, just don’t watch the film. There are millions of entertainment options out there – pick something else.

Score: ½*

Hangover Square

hangover square 1The Film Noir Odyssey

Writer: Barre Lyndon

Based on the novel “Hangover Square” by Patrick Hamilton

Director: John Brahm

Cinematographer: Joseph LaShelle

Music: Bernard Herrmann

Cast: Laird Cregar, Linda Darnell, Faye Marlowe

Release: February 7, 1945

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Percent Noir: 60%

Most consider “Hangover Square” to be a spiritual sequel to “The Lodger,” which was a surprise smash made by much of the same creative team a year prior. True, both are period and feature Laird Cregar as a murderer, but in all honesty, this feels more like a brother of something like “Scarlet Street.” Despite the fact that it’s not spoken about much today – probably because it lacks the Hitchcock connection “The Lodger” has – “Hangover Square” is actually much better than its predecessor, and worthy of reexamination.

The film belongs in that very specific sub-section of noir that involves artists losing their souls. Think “Humoresque,” “Sunset Blvd.” or the aforementioned “Scarlet Street.” Cregar stars as a popular composer named George in 1903. He’s working on his masterwork concerto when gets waylaid by a singer femme fatale named Netta (Linda Darnell), who only wants him for the cute little songs he writes for her that can help her launch into stardom. The more George gets caught in Netta’s web, the more he ignores his friend/good girl Barbara (Faye Marlowe).

Oh, and I should probably mention that George is a murderer.

hangover square 2When his stress level is high and he hears a loud noise, George tends to go into a rage blackout where he kills people then covers up the evidence very well. Aside from this, George is actually a good guy, so he goes to a therapist friend Allan (George Sanders) to see if he could be the person behind the recent string of killings. Allan checks the evidence (badly) and clears George’s name (wrongly).

All the while, Netta continues to manipulate George for her own ends, keeping him from finishing his concerto until he proposes… only to discover she is actually engaged to another one of her stepping stones. Looks like she fucked with the wrong composer.

In my article on “The Lodger,” (which I wanted to like – I really did) I complained that the film would have been more successful had it been told entirely from the point-of-view of the murderer. And – huzzah! – that’s what “Hangover Square” does! Screenwriter Barre Lyndon, loosely adapting Patrick Hamilton’s novel, works hard to turn George into a three-dimensional, tragic figure, and Cregar gives an astonishing performance inhabiting the character. By the film’s finale, where Cregar sets a building on fire in order to finish playing his concerto, you are genuinely moved by what the filmmakers have done.

But at only 77 minutes, all that extra character development for George equals all the other characters getting the short shift. Darnell is… fine… as the femme fatale, playing up her disgust with George a tad too much and content with being callous instead of seductive. It also doesn’t help that Cregar is way hotter than the guy they cast as her fiancé. If Sanders was wasted in “The Lodger,” he’s nothing more than an afterthought here in a role literally any actor in Hollywood at the time could have played. Marlowe does what she can with a nothing role, but at least nails the climactic moment where she takes over the concerto piano work from George.

hangover square 3If director Brahm’s work with the actors besides Cregar leaves something to be desired, he more than makes up for it with his visuals. Working with Joseph LaShelle (“Laura,” “Where the Sidewalk Ends”), he really embraces the atmosphere and darkness of 1903 London. The title piece of real estate, which has been mostly dug up as the city lays gas lines, is very memorable, and all the major set-pieces fully engage the viewer. The first, where George carries Netta’s body to the stack of refuse about to be burned for Guy Fawkes Day, manages to be both suspenseful (is the mask he has put over her face going to fall off?!) and visually stunning. The other set-piece (also involving fire… hmm, could it be a metaphor?) is the climax, where George continues playing his concerto as the building burns around him, and it may be one of my favorites in all of film noir. The way Brahm slowly establishes the concerto and event, then weaves in the chaos of the fire, is masterful. And that final shot? Wow.

The concerto, of course, was written by maestro Bernard Herrmann, who composed the music to most of your favorite Hitchcock movies as a myriad of other classics like “Taxi Driver,” “Citizen Kane” and “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.” It’s a stunner, one of the best in his career of bests, and it’s probably not a coincidence that this “Concerto Macabre” has become more well-known than the film itself. But it’s not just that last piece – throughout the film Herrmann throws in many wonderful little moments – look at his interesting note choice when George holds a knife up to his face early in the first act.

This would, of course, be Cregar’s final film role… he died two months before the film premiered. Going from “The Lodger” to this movie, it’s obvious he lost a ton of weight, and that ultimately caused complications that would claim his life. And what a shame – a career snuffed out just as he was breaking through into stardom, but at least we have this wonderful final performance, and that iconic final image of him engulfed in the smoke and flames of the inferno he created.

So yeah, this is way better than “The Lodger” in just about every respect. It’s a flawed movie, but also a very good one with a few moments of transcendence. If you’ve never seen a film with Cregar, or didn’t really care for “The Lodger,” I beg of you to give this a shot anyway. I’m so happy I did.

Score: ****

Key Largo

key largo 1The Film Noir Odyssey

Writer: Richard Brooks & John Huston

Based on the play by Maxwell Anderson

Director: John Huston

Cinematographer: Karl Freund

Music: Max Steiner

Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Claire Trevor, Lionel Barrymore, Lauren Bacall

Release: July 16, 1948

Studio: Warner Bros.

Awards: Claire Trevor won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Also nominated in that category was Agnes Moorehead in “Johnny Belinda.” Director/Co-Writer John Huston won Oscars for Best Director and Best Screenplay… but for “The Treasure of The Sierra Madre.”

Percent Noir: 60%

I remember loving “Key Largo” when I was a kid, and that amazing penultimate shot of Lauren Bacall throwing the shutter open to allow in the sun is engrained in my mind in the same way other iconic film moments are to the public consciousness. Even though I remembered almost nothing else about the film, I have been so eager to get to it since the inception of the Odyssey, even though a tiny part of me kept whispering that there was no way it could ever live up to expectations.

And it didn’t – but that doesn’t mean it’s not still a damn good movie.

Humphrey Bogart is Frank, a former officer in the war who has come to a hotel in Key Largo to speak to the father and widow of a friend of his who died in the war. The father is James (Lionel Barrymore) and the widow is Nora (Bacall), and both run a hotel which is getting shut up for an incoming hurricane. Also there are a group of criminals led by notorious gangster Rocco (Edward G. Robinson), who hold the others hostage and wait out the storm so they can pull off an illegal money exchange.

key largo 3Though “Key Largo” has many good things in it, Robinson is by far the best. In fact, this may well be my favorite performance in his career of great performances. Screenwriters Richard Brooks and John Huston (who also directed) smartly keep Rocco offscreen for the first act, building up suspense until his first appearance, and boy is it a doozy! Robinson seems to be relishing every syllable of dialogue… every soulless move… every cocky gesture. It’s one hell of a lot of fun to watch. Here is a man who at first appears like a blunt object but, as the movie progresses, you realize his real insidiousness.

He’s central to the best scene in the film – his “girlfriend” Gaye (Claire Trevor) is an alcoholic going through major withdrawal… she can barely function without a drink. Rocco offers her one, but only if she’ll sing for it. So Gaye sings “Moanin’ Low” a capella, summoning up all her strength to push through the lyrics… she needs that drink. She finishes and Rocco refuses to give it to her, then berates her – her looks, her voice… her everything. Rocco is terrifying here, and Gaye is so pathetic that our sympathy is through the roof.

Trevor (“Murder, My Sweet,” “Born to Kill”) is the other standout performance of the film, and I suspect her role was much smaller as production began and then expanded once Huston saw her excellent work. At the beginning she stumbles when actually playing drunk, but watching her go through alcohol withdrawal and become the heroine of the film is quite amazing – watching her beg and plead to go with Rocco on the boat near the climax is heartbreaking… until you realize she was stealing his gun. It’s the “stand up and cheer” moment of the movie, and the look in Trevor’s eyes as she secretly hands the gun to Bogart’s character is astonishing – you can’t teach that.

key largo 2Bogart’s role isn’t as showy because it’s so interior – the entire emotional arc hinges on him making the choice to battle Rocco, and he acquits himself well. I doubt many other actors could have pulled it off, actually – they would be drowned by Robinson and Trevor. The news is less good for Barrymore and especially Bacall, who appears to be in the movie because… uh… er… I know that Nora is supposed to represent goodness and steer Dick into action, but with a little cutting and pasting, her character could be deleted and the emotional arc could be absorbed by James and Gaye. What’s worse, Bacall seems to realize that she’s the odd man out here, and doesn’t give a good performance as a result. A pity.

Also a pity is the Native American subplot, which has a members of a local Seminole tribe friendly with James. They are subservient and seek guidance from him in all their decisions, which is problematic enough, but things get super-awful when they spend the entire hurricane on the porch of the hotel! Denied entry by Rocco, the Native Americans become nothing more than a plot mechanism to show Rocco’s awfulness, which would have come across perfectly clear without it. Worse, I fundamentally do not buy the conceit that a group of people (one of whom is 104 years old!) could survive a hurricane sitting on a porch next to the beach. It is so unrealistic it grinds the movie to a halt every time Huston cuts back to it.

Speaking of Huston, he collaborated with iconic cinematographer Karl Freund (“Metropolis,” “Mad Love”) here, and I was surprised how flat the hotel seemed. Freund does solid work in the larger spaces with shadows, but the smaller rooms and hallways do not feel properly claustrophobic. There are a couple great shots outside on the dock after the storm subsides that linger long after the film ends, though. And as for the hurricane itself, it is suitably terrifying, with some impressive miniature special effects work driving the horror of the storm home (and underlining that there is no way those Native Americans could have survived). Apparently some of the effects were either recycled in or recycled from (it’s unclear who stole from who) another noir called “Night Unto Night,” which is unseen my me.

“Key Largo” is a very good movie but, considering its pedigree, it should have been a masterpiece. Robinson’s performance is so amazing that it should be mentioned in the same breath as The Preacher in “Night of the Hunter” or the Joker, but unfortunately I think the role has gotten lost in the shuffle of history because the movie isn’t on that same level. Sure, it won’t blow you away (no pun intended… actually, maybe a little), but it’s still essential noir. Just watch all of John Huston’s other great films first.

Score: ****

Moontide

moontide 1The Film Noir Odyssey

Writer: John O’Hara

Based on the novel by Willard Robertson

Director: Archie Mayo

Cinematographer: Charles G. Clarke

Music: David Buttolph, Cyril J. Mockridge

Cast: Jean Gabin, Ida Lupino, Thomas Mitchell, Claude Rains

Release: May 29, 1942

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Awards: Charles G. Clarke was nominated for Best Black & White Cinematography at the 1942 Oscars (also nominated were “Kings Row” and “The Magnificent Ambersons”), but lost to “Mrs. Miniver”

Percent Noir: 30%

What a clusterfuck.

Just because a film has a tortured production process does not at all imply that the movie is going to be bad. Quite the contrary, as evidenced by classics like “Gone With the Wind,” “The Wizard of Oz” “Apocalypse Now” and just about everything Werner Herzog or Terry Gilliam has done. On the other hand, every frame of “Moontide” is a convoluted mess. Badly written, grossly miscast and unevenly directed, this is a bad car accident you want to look away from, but cannot.

Jean Gabin stars as the unfortunately named Bobo, a drunken drifter who one day rescues Anna (Ida Lupino) from killing herself, and the two fall in love while living a simple life in a bait shack connected to a water break. Bobo’s “best friend,” the also-unfortunately named Tiny (Thomas Mitchell), who is also lightly blackmailing him, tries to break up the couple. Claude Rains plays Nutsy, who has the least appealing name of the bunch, but is a kind watchman who encourages Bobo and Anna to marry. And then there’s this vague noir plot in the background about some character no one cares about being killed and the police hunting for the murderer.

moontide 3Yikes, where to begin. I suppose I’ll start with the one thing that genuinely works, which is the barge on the water-break. Here is an interesting, original, visually engaging location which sticks in the memory long after the film ends – one which can be lit for romance, dread or suspense easily. It’s a wonderful place.

And that’s where my compliments will end.

Let’s begin with the plotline, which is technically based on a like-named novel Willard Robertson that was so dark and fucked up that it could have never been adapted to the screen properly, but the producers apparently didn’t care. Every interesting concept from the novel has been watered down until it’s a non-entity. What is left is a mishmash of genres that don’t work at all together. It’s a sweet romance that reminds in broad strokes of “Modern Times.” But it’s also a murder mystery about who killed whatshisname. But then it’s also a rape drama…? And then there’s the storyline where Bobo is giving love advice to a friendly doctor whose boat keeps breaking down. Ugh, I give up. And the romance stuff is done with such a heavy hand that it almost comes across as parody… characters state their feelings, restate them and then tell them again to supporting characters just in case we didn’t understand the first two times.

moontide 2Then again, maybe the characters are stating and re-stating things because the actors aren’t giving us what we need. Both Gabin and Lupino are very talented actors… but they are all wrong for these roles. Gabin’s first ten minutes onscreen are excruciating to watch as he plays a completely different tone than the movie around him, trying to seem like a dashing scoundrel while attempting (and failing) to balance that with acting completely plastered. Even after Bobo sobers up, Gabin shares no chemistry with Lupino’s Anna. Lupino is shockingly miscast here – she gives off a powerful, gutsy persona even when she tries to act meek, and you don’t for a moment believe that she is the innocent waif her character is written to be.  Mitchell was cast against type as the villain, who is probably gay and obsessed with Bobo (that name just doesn’t get better, no matter how many times I type it), and later brutalizes Anna. It could have worked in theory, but Mitchell was always cast as a sweet guy for a reason. He struggles mightily here to seem menacing… and fails. In the scene where he brutalizes Anna, you don’t buy it at all – if this was happening for real, Lupino would drop kick this fucker in no time flat.

Fritz Lang (“M,” “Scarlet Street,” “The Woman in the Window”) began directing the movie but famously left a few weeks into filming, with Archie Mayo (“The Petrified Forest”) taking over. Without any other choice, Mayo tries to ape Lang’s style, but the results are all half-realized. Never is this more clear in the climax, which sees Bobo stalking Tiny across the water break until Tiny slips into the sea. Though it’s shot well by Charles G. Clarke (who was nominated for an Oscar for his work here), Mayo whiffs on any sort of emotion. Instead of having Gabin devastated and furious, Gabin wanders after Mitchell like the Frankenstein’s monster, his face completely blank. We get no sense that he’s righting a wrong, and when Bobo reaches out to help Mitchell, who has fallen into the water, the scene implodes.

Salvador Dali was famously brought in to design a sequence where Bobo blacks out while drunk, but it retains only two bits – a spinning clock where everything spins and a woman who disappears, leaving her dress standing straight up. The rest of the sequence is low-rent drunk effects we’ve seen hundreds of times before, and since the expressionism of the scene is only partially-maintained (and never utilized again), I don’t know why they used any of Dali’s work.

In case you can’t tell, I do not like “Moontide.” It was made by a bunch of creators whose work I respect and love elsewhere, but this was a low point for all of them. The film is getting critical re-evaluation recently, but I cannot imagine why. Avoid this one – you’ve been warned.

Score: *

Red Light

red light 1The Film Noir Odyssey

Writer: George Callahan, Charles Grayson

Based on “This Guy Gideon” by Don Barry

Director: Roy Del Ruth

Cinematographer: Bert Glennon

Music: Dimitri Tiomkin

Cast: George Raft, Raymond Burr, Virginia Mayo

Release: September 30, 1949

Studio: United Artists

Percent Noir: 50%

“Red Light” is a trainwreck, but one you can’t look away from. It’s one of those movies that doesn’t work at all, but it has… something. A quality. It lingers long after many other bad films fade, and is so visually impressive at times that its beauty is jaw-dropping. There are other, better films you should definitely watch first, but how many of those movies climax with the bad guy electrocuting himself on a neon sign?

red light 2George Raft unfortunately stars as Johnny (because of course his character is named Johnny), a businessman with a dark past who has been put on the straight and narrow by his beloved priest brother Jess (Arthur Franz). Jess is shot and killed in a hotel room and Johnny believes he wrote the killer’s name on a page in the room’s bible, but when he gets back to the hotel, the bible is gone. Johnny tries desperately to hunt it down, unaware that the guy who ordered the hit, Nick Cherney, is working for him. His first clue should have been that Nick looks a lot like Raymond Burr. Oh, and Virginia Mayo is also in the movie, playing a token female character.

I was so onboard for a film noir that contrasted the darker aspects of human existence with the hope for redemption represented by faith in God. It is such a fresh perspective for the genre, and climaxing the film by having Johnny choose not to take revenge for Jess’ murder could have packed a huge emotional wallop in a better movie. But we’re not in a better movie… we’re in “Red Light.”

red light 3And though the screenplay by George Callahan and Charles Grayson whiffs the religious aspects by lacking proper depth, most of the blame squarely needs to be placed on the wooden shoulders of Raft. I have encountered this “actor” several times on this Odyssey so far, and though he is always awful he has never been so bad that he has sunk a movie before. That changed here. Raft, oddly caked in so much white makeup that he looks like a corpse, gives a performance so bad it is not even funny. It’s just awful. There isn’t a scene where he is believable. You read that right… not a single scene in the entire film. When his character must show affection for his brother, Raft seems to be pretending Franz is his love interest instead of a sibling, giving a really icky undertone to their relationship. When he is in ass kicking mode, Raft seems to be stifling a yawn. And in the emotional low point of the film, Johnny shouts to God and the heavens of his disbelief, picks up a candelabra and throws it through a stained glass window. He looks like a mannequin in the scene and reads the lines as if a robot was attempting feeling.

Raft is paired with poor, poor Mayo, whose character has no purpose. She basically just reiterates important plot points, gives us necessary new exposition and in general stands there. It’s as if a studio executive said “Hey! All the characters here are men! Bring in a woman!” and the writers quickly added her character while not changing the plot one iota. Mayo makes no impression onscreen, which I suppose is better than the impression Raft makes.

Much better is Burr, playing another variation on his tough guy character. He could sleepwalk here but instead chooses to invest his considerable talents into the role, and as a result is central to the three best scenes in the movie. In the first, Burr stalks a man through the streets and, when he realizes his prey has hidden under an elevated trailer, kicks out the jack to crush him to death. In the second he is arguing with one of his lackeys on a moving train and, when he begins to lose the argument, simply picks the guy up and throws him off the train. The third is the aforementioned climax. I was thinking of making a bad pun and calling it electrifying, but chose otherwise – aren’t you proud of me? It certainly helps that those three scenes are the most visually engaging of the film, but still, Burr’s intense presence makes them transcendent… and the shadows of noir fit perfectly with his face.

The director is Roy Del Ruth (the original “Maltese Falcon,” “DuBarry Was a Lady”), who guides the enterprise with a sure hand, almost as if he thought he was making a better movie. He’s paired with cinematographer Bert Glennon, who started in silents and is most known for his iconic pairing with Josef Von Sternberg on everything from “Underworld” to “Blonde Venus.” There are couple odd shots, like one scene where they cut from a two shot to another two shot that is four inches closer, but for the most part the movie looks astonishingly beautiful. That finale should be studied in cinematography classes, and I love the visual touch of adding “The End” under the “24 Hour Service” neon sign.

Fucking George Raft. To imagine Edward G. Robinson in the lead here is to imagine a much better movie… the guy could have brought suitable depth to his character’s arc and landed even the most leaden dialogue of the screenplay. We could have had a minor classic on our hands. But instead we have a subpar film with great things in it, but that excellence is far outweighed by the crap around it.

Also, as far as I can see, the title “Red Light” has nothing at all to do with anything in the movie, unless the neon sign at the end is supposed to be red.

Score: **