Stray Dog

This is a 1949 film by Akira Kurosawa, and is supposedly a precursor of the buddy cop film genre, as well as one of the earliest police procedural films.

The story is about a rookie cop whose gun is pick-pocketed while he on a bus. He reports the theft to his superior and feels so much remorse that he tirelessly follows any lead to get his gun back. Things get worse when he finds out that his gun was sold in a black market and used in two shootings, one fatal. He is told to assist an older detective (Takashi Shimura), and together they track down the murderer.

Mifune, Shimura, and Keiko Awaji.

The film is mostly about the desperation and guilt Mifune’s character feels as he desperately tries to track down the murderer. Mifune was absolutely brilliant (this was his second Kuorsawa film), and his portrayal of a desperate man reminded me a lot of the main character in Bicycle Thieves, which was released a year earlier.

Takashi Shimura too was absolutely fabs. He appeared in many Kourosawa films, 21 in all, compared to 15 for Mifune. I have one of his Kurosawa films Ikiru on DVD somewhere, I must watch it.

Looking through the cast list for this film it came as no surprise that all of the cast passed away some time ago, but with one exception. A woman who was in one scene and is called “Wooden Tub Shop woman” is still alive at the age of 107 (the English version of Wikipedia says 108, but the Japanese version says 107), Noriko Honma is her name.

Noriko Honma

Compared to later Kurosawa films this is more crudely made, but even so it is still a well crafted film. It was very interesting to see post-war Japan. There were very few cars on the roads (dirt roads, even in the city), and the houses in the poor areas were just wooden shacks. I was surprised to see a rich part of town, apart from the dirt roads it looked like another world. Apparently, the black market scenes were filmed in real black markets.

Despite having been defeated in the war only five years previous to this film, Japan while being very poor seemed to be a vibrant and busy place. This was most evident in the baseball game scene which was actually filmed by a newsreel crew rather than Kurosawa himself (for authenticity). So it was an actual game filmed at Tokyo Stadium with a crowd of 50,000 people. The crowd were all wearing white (I guess there was clothes rationing or something) and the fervour of the crowd was obvious.

A most excellent film, one that I will watch again some day. I can’t quite give it a full score because there are better Kurosawa films, but not by much.

Date watched: December 15th
Score: 9.5/10
Film count 2018: 82

The Inner Circle

This is a 1946 film-noir mystery starring a bunch of mostly unknown actors, except for William Frawley who appeared in a few well-known TV shows back in the fifties and sixties.

The story was about the moider of a gossip radio announcer (they didn’t call them DJ’s back then it seems), and a rather intricate plot in which the leading blond has appears to be covering up the murder when in fact she is actually trying to cover-up the fact that her sister involved in the murder (but innocent of course) which is not a good thing as their father is a congressman, so she first gets herself the job of secretary for a detective who just happened to be looking for one, then she gets the detective to investigate the crime and while doing so she hits him over the head at the scene of the yet-unreported crime. A fuzz chief arrives and immediately suspects the detective but the blond comes along and gives a convincing story to the fuzz chief that in fact the crime was perpetrated by a mysterious woman in black, but it was actually the blond with a mourning dress on because she was pretending to be the moider victim’s grieving wife, when in fact he was not married as the fuzz chief noted. From there the story goes on all sorts of tangents and soon we have a cast of potential moiderers.

“I didn’t moider nobody!”

It was all told in a jovial and humourous manner with plenty of one-liners and sassy jokes from the witty blond, who was the highlight of the cast. This is not Bogart level stuff, but it was nonetheless quite entertaining with decent acting. Unfortunately the quality of this film on YouTube was pretty bad.

The ending though was a bit weird and second rate. To find the moiderer the detective came up with a plan. He got all of the principal players to go to the scene of the crime where a live radio broadcast was already set up. An announcer starts the broadcast explaining that the moider will be solved by the detective, and each of the people involved in the crime will be reading from a script of the actual events. So they all go through the script and the detective gets the moiderer to unwittingly reveal himself. The moiderer though was not the character that the story had up to that point suspected, so that at least was good.

But, apart from the unconventional and rather contrived ending, this was a quite fun way to spend 57 minutes.

Date watched: November 10th
Score: 6.5/10
Film count 2018: 72

The Brasher Doubloon

This is a 1947 crime film and is based on a Raymond Chandler story called “The High Window” (also the film’s title on release in the U.K.).

It is a B-grade film starring George Montgomery, who had a reasonable career, but worked mostly in low budget films. He was though an excellent wood craftsman and opened his own successful furniture business, so that is nice. He retired from acting in 1972.

At first the film felt rather B-grade, and George was definitely not A-grade leading-man material. But, I quickly warmed to both the B-gradiness as well as George’s take on Philip Marlowe, which The Bogart would of course have done better. But George did all right. It was light-hearted for most of the film with little violence although there was some black and white blood in one scene, a thug with a funny eye, and a good amount of sleuthing,.

“You laughing at my hat, bud?”

The cinematography was pretty decent, and the all-important crime-noir lighting was also worthy. For a B-grade film is was really well-done.

The Brasher Doubloon if you are wondering was a rare and expensive coin that the story revolves around. There is also blackmail, a gangster, a damsel, a crotchety old lady, three dead bodies, and plenty of other characters and plot twists in the story to keep you on your toes. I really must read a Raymond Chandler book sometime.

George and the damsel.

Favourite line:
Mrs. Elizabeth Murdock: There you are and I hope you’re worth it. To tell you the truth, I was expecting an older man – more intelligent looking.
Philip Marlowe: I’m wearing a disguise.

An enjoyable 72 minutes. You can watch it here.

Date watched: July 13th
Score: 7.5/10
Film count 2018: 40

Target for Today

Browsing through YouTube for something to watch I found this 1943 propaganda film made by the U.S. government about the preparations for bombing raids over East Prussia (North east Germany). Something different for a change.

Like any other propaganda film it of course did not show the human side of war, we did not see any of the suffering of those that were ultimately injured or killed in the raids, although there was some footage of injured aircrew as they were taken off the planes. It was all told in documentary style and made us feel proud of the job the airforce boys did in those days.

I was quite surprised at just how much prepration went into the bombing raids, and the amount of detail they went into to make sure everything went swimmingly. The aircrews had about four hours of briefings where they were told about the weather, where they were likely to encounter flak, what type of bombs to use and how the fuses will be set, and a whole bunch of other things.

All of the people involved in the film were actual airforce people, from the generals down to the tail gunners. A lot of it was obviously staged with some pretty wooden acting, but some of them were actually quite good.

There was plenty of footage from the bombing raids which looked pretty nasty for the people in the factories being bombed, some of the explosions were huge.

Fascinating stuff if you like a bit of WWII history.

Date watched: November 17th
Score: 8/10
Film count 2017: 129

The Upturned Glass

I watched this primarily because it starred James Mason, who is on the MBMS Page of Fame for good reason. He also co-produced this film, which when it came out in 1947 was a success, so he would have done very well for himself.

It is the story of a surgeon who falls in love with a married woman even though he too was married. She dies though in what seemed to be suicide, but he is convinced she was murdered and sets out to get revenge on the killer. The story is quite routine for the most part, but James’ acting is what makes the whole thing worth watching, he was most splendid. The ending was pretty good though, his character realises that he is a nutjob psycho, so he throws himself off the White Cliffs of Dover, which I must go and see some day.

Even though this film is seventy years old now the picture and sound were both very good, even on YouTube.

Reading up about James Mason I found some interesting facts:
– He was a conscientious objector in World War Two.
– He never had any formal acting classes.
– He was a mentor to Sam Neill in the 1970’s.
– He loved cats and had quite a few of them.
– In 1952 he bought a house that had previously been owned by Buster Keaton. In the house he found lots of old nitrate films which he had transferred to safety stock. One of these films was “The Boat”. Yay James Mason!
– He had a son named Morgan Mason who would go on to be “Special Assistant to the President of the United States” (Ronald Reagan), and is married to Belinda Carlyle (she was the drummer in The Germs as “Dottie Danger” for a short time don’t you know?).
– He and his wife allowed their daughter to smoke cigarettes at age three, and their son to drink beer at age five.

From Wikipedia: She (daughter) enjoyed a luxurious upbringing in her parent’s Hollywood mansion, being allowed to wear makeup, stiletto heels and owning her own Mink coat and diamonds by the age of nine. Her highly publicized life began with her father becoming violent towards a photographer at the little girl’s christening. When she attended high-school, Mason was dropped off every morning by a Rolls-Royce and picked up every evening by a white Cadillac. Reportedly, her father introduced her to smoking at the age of three in hope it would put her off it in later life.

He died in 1984 at the age of 75.

I wouldn’t say this is an essential watch as far as the story goes, but it is worth it for James alone.

Date watched: August 23rd
Score: 7/10
James-O-Mason score: 9/10
Film count 2017: 94

The Woman in the Window

Browsing through YouTube I found this 1944 film noir starring Edward G. Robinson (real name Emanuel Goldenberg), and directed by Fritz Lang.

In fact, this film was one of the first to be termed “film noir”. From Wikipedia:

The term “film noir” originated as a genre description, in part, because of this movie. The term first was applied to American films in French film magazines in 1946, the year when The Maltese Falcon (1941), Double Indemnity (1944), Laura (1944), Murder, My Sweet (1944), and The Woman in the Window were released in France.

The story was pretty standard, and quite predictable for the most part, often spelling out key points for the audience very clearly. The acting was fine, Edward was doing his usual thing, and Joan Bennett as the femme fatale was worthy to play opposite Eddie.

The story got more and more suspenseful as it went on, even though it was clear where it was going. But, the ending was one of those “It was all a dream” endings so that was disappointing. The way the ending was going up until that point was pretty tense, and had it concluded normally it would have been a bittersweet ending, which is how the book this film was taken from ended. The ending though was changed by Fritz to conform to the Production Code.

This gets 95% on Rotten Tomatoes which is more than I would have expected, mostly because of the ending, and films like The Maltese Falcon or Double Indemnity (I must watch it again, fantastic film) are much better. Still, it was a good film.

Date watched: August 20th
Score: 7.5/10
Film count 2017: 93

Six years ago – Convoy

The Dark Path

I have not managed to get back into watching films recently after a long break, so to break my drought I decided to watch this 1948 psychological thriller film noir last night.

This one is about a police psychologist played by Lee J. Cobb who is held hostage by a troubled crim played by William Holden who just busted out of the joint. It is all rather melodramatic, poorly written, and despite the good cast the acting is overdone. I cringed several times at the corny dialogue and silly situations, but mostly at the forced dramatic acting of Cobb and Holden who seemed to be trying for Oscar glory, but failing miserably.

One highlight though was recognising Ellen Corby of The Waltons fame, although her role mostly involved snivelling.

Skip this, unless you are an Ellen Corby fan.

And here is Ellen Corby with Will Geer. He was an interesting chap, read about him on Wikipedia.

Date watched: June 15th
Film count 2017: 69