Kansas City Confidential (1952)

As the 1940s turned into the 1950s, things happened with the film noir genre. It has something to do with the lighting, and with the camera angles. Perhaps there is something about the plots as well. Anyhow, a good example of this “new wave” of noirs is Kansas City Confidential.

John Payne and Lee Van Cleef in Kansas City Confidential (1952)

The plot is superficially similar to one of Alfred Hitchcock’s favourites, where a man is falsely accused of a crime and has to clear himself of suspcion. In this case, however, the plot is twisted in several ways, not least because the accused is an old jail bird, and there really is no-one in the film who has an entirely clean consciousness. Well, except maybe Coleen Gray in the role of the romantic interest, although as a woman studying at law school, that role is interesting for being representative of the growing women’s rights movement.

There are quite a few films with the word “Confidential” in the title, but as far as I have been able to figure out, Kansas City Confidential may have been the first with a city name in the title. It must have been fairly popular, because Chicago Confidential, New York Confidential and others like it followed within the next few years.

This film is best enjoyed for the good actors and the wonderful characters. The plot is a bit weak at times, but those characters, along with solid directing, more than make up for that.

John Payne and Coleen Gray in Kansas City Confidential (1952)

Kansas City Confidential
Download link
Year: 1952
Running time: 1 h 39 min
Director: Phil Karlson
Stars: John Payne, Lee Van Cleef
Image quality: Excellent
Resolution: High (960×738)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: Matroska (4.4 G)

D.O.A. (1949)

Life is tough for Frank Bigelow. Not only is he uncertain about his feelings for his girlfriend and secretary Paula, but he is also dying after having been poisoned by a radioactive substance slipped into his drink. The film D.O.A. begins famously with a long tracking shot as we follow Bigelow into the police station where he goes to report the murder of himself. The rest of the film is one long flashback, explaining all about how he came into such circumstances.

Edmond O'Brien and Pamela Britton in D.O.A. (1949)

The abbreviation DOA stands for “dead on arrival”, and that is basically what Bigelow is as he enters that police station. This gives the whole film a sense of impending doom, one which is strengthened by the protagonist’s clothes. From the beginning of the film to its very end, Bigelow wears the same elegant double-breasted suit. Only, the further the film progresses, the more beat up Bigelow gets, and the suit with him.

In addition to its many other good qualities, D.O.A. is gifted with an abundance of quirky personalities. Frank Bigelow himself is certainly among these, and in many ways he fits the archetypal cynical noir “hero”. About the only sane person in the entire film appears to be his sweetheart Paula.

This film is best enjoyed if you like a good story with lots of nice and unexpected twists. This one has them in abundance, even for a film noir. Sure, it may be a little improbable at times, but that is easily forgotten and forgiven.

Neville Brand and Edmond O'Brien in D.O.A. (1949)

D.O.A.
Download link
Year: 1949
Running time: 1 h 23 min
Director: Anthony Mann
Stars: Robert Cummings
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (640×482)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: MPEG4 (953 M)

Suddenly (1954)

When I think about Frank Sinatra, I think about him as a singer. But he also acted in dozens of films, mostly during the 1950s and 1960s, and he was not a half bad actor. Today, his acting is perhaps best remembered for roles in classics such as From Here to Eternity (1953), Ocean’s Eleven (the 1960 original) and The Manchurian Candidate (1962). But he made many other memorable performances, not least so in Suddenly.

Frank Sinatra in Suddenly (1954)

Here, we see Sinatra as a cynic war hero who has turned into an assassin, taking money for doing what he does best – killing people. He has taken on the job of shooting the president of the United States, and decided to do so in a small town named Suddenly. There his chosen firing position forces him into a close encounter with the local sheriff and the sheriff’s sweetheart, the widowed Mrs. Benson who lives with her father-in-law and her son.

During the first part of the film, the acting feels a bit stiff, especially by Stirling Hayden, who plays Sinatra’s nemesis, the sheriff. Hayden was an excellent actor, and the stiffness was no doubt deliberate on his part. He must have wanted to create a slightly boring but totally dependable and patriotic hero, just what American movie-goers needed at a time when the world seemed a very dangerous place to live, and the president was much more of a symbol for the entire nation than is perhaps the case today.

Suddenly was remade in 2013 by Uwe Boll, but the remake is said to be far inferior to the original.

This film is best enjoyed when you understand some of the political undercurrents of the time. The moral message of this film is perfectly clear: Unless you have a bigger gun than your enemy, and unless you are prepared to use it, he is going to make you suffer. In that respect, you can see this film as a metaphor for the entire Cold War. Sinatra and his gang represent the communists, and his sniper rifle represents their nuclear arsenal. It is a good thing there were still righteous Americans around in the 1950s.

Frank Sinatra in Suddenly (1954)

Suddenly
Download link
Year: 1954
Running time: 1 h 17 min
Director: Lewis Allen
Stars: Frank Sinatra
Image quality: Excellent
Resolution: High (1488×1090)
Sound quality: Excellent
Best file format: MPEG4 (1.5 G)

The Stranger (1946)

An agent for a war crimes commission decides, in desperation, to let a German war criminal out of prison in the hopes that he may lead them to another German who committed atrocious acts against humanity during World War II. This other German is suspected to hide under assumed identity somewhere in the United States. He must be found before he can commit new crimes.

Orson Welles and Loretta Young in The Stranger (1946)

Thus begins Orson Welles’ The Stranger, a film where Welles both played one of the leading roles (the German in hiding) and directed. It is one of rather few Orson Welles films that can be found at the Internet Archive, and for that reason alone deserves our attention.

This is a typical film noir in many ways, such as its dramatic camera angles and lighting, and also the script which is full of cynism and human evil.

The version of the film I link to here is an excellent quality MPEG4. If you strive for nothing short of perfection, then there is also a Matroska copy made from the same source, but it is almost five times as large, and I doubt if you will notice the difference.

This film is best enjoyed for Orson Welles, even though many of the supporting cast are also very good. Welles is, as always, excellent in his acting as well as in his directing. And if the plot happens to be just a bit too improbable for this to be any of Welles’ best films, then that just goes to show that this film is a child of its time.

Orson Welles in The Stranger (1946)

The Stranger
Download link
Year: 1946
Running time: 1 h 35 min
Director: Orson Welles
Stars: Orson Welles
Image quality: Excellent
Resolution: High (960×738)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: MPEG4 (963 M)

The Scar (1948)

There are several very good film noirs at the Internet Archive. Since I have previously only written about five of them, the latest over a year ago – the “historical noir thriller” The Black Book, which is not exactly a “pure” noir – it is about time for another. The turn has therefore come to the exellent The Scar, originally titled Hollow Triumph.

Paul Henreid in The Scar / Hollow Triumph (1948)

When John Muller is released from prison, he and his companions decide to rob a casino. The heist goes awry, however, and he is now a wanted man. The casino owner wants to get even. In a stroke of good luck, Muller meets a psychoanalyst who is his doppelgänger, except for a large scar on one cheek. He decides to take over the man’s identity in order to disappear from his hunters. But this is a noir. Things are bound to go wrong somehow.

Just like any good example of the genre, this film is ripe with suspense and drama. The minds of most people who populate its black-and-white world are as dark as the dramatic shadows falling across the screen. The actors are really good, too, so even though the plot has some not so brilliant moments, this is not to be missed if you are a fan of the genre.

This film is best enjoyed whenever you need something to make you happy. Even though film noir tend to be pretty downbeat in many ways, they never fail to improve my mood.

Paul Henreid in The Scar / Hollow Triumph (1948)

The Scar
Download link
Year: 1948
Running time: 1 h 41 min
Director: Steve Sekely
Stars: Paul Henreid
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (640×480)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: Cinepack (900 M)

The Black Book (1949)

This week’s film is best known as Reign of Terror, and it is so listed at the Internet Archive. However, it was also widely distributed as The Black Book, and it is that title which is used on the actual copy at the archive.

Robert Cummings in The Black Book / Reign of Terror (1949)

The plot of this film is fairly intricate; perhaps at times too much so, as rather too many things are left unexplained or unresolved. D’Aubigny is sent to Paris in order to thwart Robespierre, who is executing his political enemies one by one, as well as some friends, for whom he no longer has any use. Robespierre plans to make himself dictator, but he has lost his Black Book, with the details of those he wishes to execute. It must be found, or all is lost. He gives the mission to judge Duval, but Duval has been killed by D’Aubigny, who now impersonates him. Does this seem a bit overworked? It is only the beginning, and simplified, at that.

The actors are all good, and some are excellent. My personal favourite is Arnold Moss as chief of Robespierre’s secret police.

Made shortly after World War II, I cannot entirely escape the suspicion that the film may have been partly a political comment on Hitler and Mussolini. The European setting and Robespierre’s greed for power seem to suggest as much.

The Black Book was made at the height of the Film Noir movement. It uses much of the typical lighting and camerawork of Noir, and the protagonist is also in many ways your typical cynical and streetwise guy. The historical setting, however, makes this a sort of genre blend, and it is not always classified as a true Noir.

This film is best enjoyed as long as one does not try to analyse too much. The story twists along at a good pace and excitement is always kept up. Just sit back and allow yourself to get carried away.

The Black Book / Reign of Terror (1949)

The Black Book
Download link
Year: 1949
Running time: 1 h 15 min
Director: Anthony Mann
Stars: Robert Cummings
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (720×480)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: MPEG2 (1.1 G)

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
Download link
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
Download link
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
Download link
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
Download link
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)