Scarlet Street (1945)

Scarlet Street is an excellent Film Noir, one that would easily defend its place even if it did not happen to be directed by legendary German director Fritz Lang, during the period that he worked in Hollywood.

Edward G Robinson and Joan Bennett in Fritz Lang's Scarlet Street (1945)

Fritz Lang’s Hollywood career is somewhat overshadowed by his early German works. Many of them were silent, like Metropolis (1927), but Lang also had time to make a couple of sound movies, M – Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder (1931) being one of the best-known, before he had to leave Germany to get away from the Nazis. With deathlessly classic pictures like the ones above, Lang wrote himself into cinematic history.

But Lang’s Hollywood career of about two decades should not be disregarded. His films from that period may not be as revolutionary as his German masterpieces, but they are for the most part solidly crafted. Good, sometimes first-rate, acting; interesting plots; and, not least, even an uninspired and tired Lang was still a brilliant director.

This is where Scarlet Street comes in. A typical example of Lang’s Hollywood – one of his better, actually. The actors do excellent work. A very positive surprise is Dan Duryea, whom I had not seen before that I can remember. The story, about an old and somewhat shy clerk who is seduced by a young girl who only wants to use him together with her somewhat crooked fiancé, is very neatly played out by the creative team.

This film is best enjoyed if you want to explore Fritz Lang after his German period, or if you just enjoy a solid Film Noir.

Dan Duryea and Joan Bennett in Fritz Lang's Scarlet Street (1945)

Scarlet Street
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Year: 1945
Running time: 1 h 41 min
Director: Fritz Lang
Stars: Edward G Robinson, Joan Bennett
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (640×480)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: MPEG2 (2.1 G)

The Big Combo (1955)

Film noir is a strange and wonderful thing. It is a genre that is more packed with clichés than most, many of which are effects to increase suspense and drama. One film which offers its share of such effects is The Big Combo.

Lee Van Cleef, Jean Wallace and Earl Holliman in The Big Combo (1955)

Here we can see a beautiful showcase of especially lighting effects that were often used in Noirs from around this time. There are contrasts between light and shadow, for example, as well as long shadows cast on background walls, and even ceilings. You can choose to admire the craftsmanship that lies behind these beautiful effects, so typical of this time and genre. Or you can laugh at the exaggerated melodrama that they help to produce. Both reactions are valid, and neither needs detract from enjoying this very neat and well executed Noir.

The Big Combo is well worth watching and well worth remembering, and perhaps not mainly because of its nice lighting, but at least as much for its many well developed characters, such as Cornel Wilde as the tough and stubborn cop or Jean Wallace as the girlfriend of the crime boss. These are also cliché, but they are so well played that if you love Noir, you will love the characters.

The version mostly linked to from this post has a slight synch problem, which can be easily fixed with many viewing programs, such as VLC. If you need better synch another copy is available, but the images are less crisp and clear in that one.

This film is best enjoyed if you like Film noir, or if you want to explore this wonderful and fascinating genre.

Cornel Wilde and Robert Middleton in The Big Combo (1955)

The Big Combo
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Year: 1955
Running time: 1 h 24 min
Director: Joseph Lewis
Stars: Cornel Wilde
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (576×432)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: Cinepack (679 M)

Woman on the Run (1950)

Film noir is a genre which I tend to watch far too rarely, so it is a good thing that there are several good ones at the Internet Archive. One of them, and one which is pretty much forgotten today, except by the real enthusiasts, is Woman on the Run. It deserves to be better remembered, though.

Ann Sheridan in the film noir Woman on the Run (1950)

Woman on the Run begins as artist Frank Johnson, while walking his dog, happens to witness a murder. But the murderer has seen him, too, and rather than trust the police to protect him, Frank, who also has a lethal heart condition, starts running. At the centre of this plot we find Eleanor, Frank’s wife in a crumbling marriage. As she starts searching for her husband, she finds out more and more that she did not know about Frank, but at the same time she becomes attracted to Daniel, a reporter who wants Frank’s story.

The film’s title is perhaps a bit strange. After all, it is Frank who is running, and indeed it turns out that the short story upon which it was based was actually titled “Man on the Run”. One can only assume that the producer wanted to put the spot on Eleanor, who is the focal character of the story.

Woman on the Run contains some really neat dialogue and is generally well done, with good actors. Ann Sheridan’s cynical dame is a genre cliché, but she holds it up well.

Well crafted as Woman on the Run may be, truth be told it is not terribly original. It mostly follows the standard film noir recipe. All the way, that is, until just near the end. There is a climactic roller coaster ride which is like nothing else I ever saw in a movie, and which can only be described as a little dramaturgical masterpiece. This section alone makes the film worth watching.

This film is best enjoyed if you like film noir. Even without the roller coaster, it is well made, exciting and enjoyable in every aspect.

Dennis O'Keefe and Ann Sheridan on a roller coaster ride in Woman on the Run (1950)

Woman on the Run
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Year: 1950
Running time: 1 h 17 min
Director: Norman Foster
Stars: Ann Sheridan, Dennis O’Keefe
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (720×540)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: MPEG4 (638 M)

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

German expressionism, which on film had its peak in the 1920s with directors such as Fritz Lang and F.W. Murnau, has had a tremendous impact upon Hollywood film. One of its footprints can be seen in the Film Noir movement of the 1940s and 1950s.

The Noir filmmakers, just like their expressionist forerunners, explore the dark and hidden sides of the human mind. The Noir movement, which was not to any great extent identified and named during its heyday, can sometimes be difficult to define and pinpoint, but to me, this focus on the inner demons and fears is perhaps its most important defining element.

Take the excellent Noir The Strange Love of Martha Ivers for example. Like in so many other Noirs, we see a cynical anti-hero, the gambler Sam Masterson (played excellently by Van Heflin). By chance he runs into his childhood sweetheart Martha (Barbara Stanwyck, also excellent), who seems to have everything a woman can dream of, but hides a dark secret together with her husband (a young Kirk Douglas, absolutely brilliant).

Barbara Stanwyck, Van Helfin and Kirk Douglas in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

As if the tension in this meeting was not enough, Sam also takes an interest in the paroled woman Toni (Lizabeth Scott, good, though not as stellar as the others). Thus, the plot of this film revolves around two love triangles, with Martha and Sam still attracted to one another, though separated still by the terrible events of the past.

Add to the mix the patent dramatic photography found in the best Noirs, an excellent script with good dialogue, and competent editing. Stir, and you get what is perhaps one of the top ten or fifteen Noirs of all time.

By all means, there are a few occasions when the film touches on the overly sentimental, the action sequences are a bit stiff, and there is some rather superfluous Gideonite propaganda, but those are minor quibbles, which do not significantly decrease the overall impact of this classical and powerful movie.

This film is best enjoyed as soon as possible. This is one Internet Archive experience you will not want to miss!

Kirk Douglas, Van Helfin and  Barbara Stanwyck in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers
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Year: 1946
Running time: 1 h 56 min
Director: Lewis Milestone
Stars: Kirk Douglas, Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (720×540)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: MPEG2 (1.4 G)