Monday, September 11, 2017

COME AND SEE (Elem Klimov, 1985, Russia)


COME AND SEE is the most brutal and disturbing war film ever made: we experience Florya’s fiery baptism from boyhood into insanity. Director Elem Klimov shows us the horror of the Great Patriotic War untainted by Western propaganda (or at least its ignorance). 

Klimov films in a tight 4:3 frame and packs every shot with information: we are not spared the bodies, the slaughter, the deep wailing sorrow, and the emotional filth of war. His close-ups into vacant eyes and burned faces croaking reprimands are unsettling. The soundtrack is often an ambiguous thrum, a deep scream through nature; when music is revealed it is often ironic. Florya is a young man who wishes to defend his country from terrorists, these Nazi invaders who are destroying everything in their path. We experience the film entirely from his perspective; we feel what he is unable to put into words. His heartbreaking scream as he tries to shut himself out from the world, hands clawing futilely at his ears, to refuse the knowledge of his family’s gruesome butchery, is utterly compelling and unbearable. He and another young girl join the survivors of his village who are hiding in a swamp, starving, without hope. 

Klimov gives us pure instinctual survival, he defines the human animal, and Florya stumbles directionless through the film becoming less and less human. Klimov films mostly with a Steadicam with minimal editing giving the film a very realistic rhythm, choreographing complicated sequences with hundreds of people. The final half-hour is almost too much: the retreating Nazis burn an entire village including a church full of women and children in vivid detail. Klimov packs us in this tight space with Florya and we smell the stench of fear and gasoline, and the cries echo in our hearts forever. This dichotomy is mercilessly crosscut with laughing and taunting soldiers, who not only feel no remorse but are jubilant and ecstatic, whose joy at this murderous parade is gut wrenching. Florya survives and witnesses the Partisan’s retribution as they execute the Nazis but they take little happiness from this act. 

Florya never fires his rifle the entire film until the end when he discovers a muddied picture of Hitler. He points the weapon into the camera and shoots, reversing time, the Great Patriotic War rewinding, the Blitzkrieg retreating back into Germany, the Versailles Treaty being unsigned, and back to Hitler’s childhood. He pulls the trigger and each time these images rewind and his face glows with madness. But the final picture of Adolf as a child, cradled lovingly in his mothers arms…Florya can’t kill this image. Unlike the Nazis, he has retained his humanity; he is no child killer. The film ends as the Partisans march into the forest: the Steadicam follows them from the muddy road of fall, through the trees, and suddenly the snow is falling and a new season beckons. A wonderful shot without an edit, as the Russian winter is their final weapon that defeats the monstrous invaders. 

Final Grade: (A+)

Sunday, September 3, 2017

A MAN ESCAPED (Robert Bresson, 1957, France)


Fontaine struggles to help himself, seeing coincidence as element of an unknowable and mysterious alchemy. Director Robert Bresson washes away all pretense and melodrama to reveal the sparse determination of the human soul, allowing the audience to project their own fear and anxiety upon the silver screen.
The first scene of the film is flawless as Bresson introduces the protagonist Fontaine, detained in the back seat of a moving car. Bresson creates tension visually with close-ups and editing: from steady hands slowly reaching for the door handle to a gentle pan of handcuffs upon the wrists of Fontaine’s companions, cut to the point-of-view shots as the car speeds past sudden obstacles until Fontaine weighs his chances and leaps from the car. His recapture is shown off screen punctuated by gunshots, and as he’s thrown back into the car he is cuffed and pistol-whipped. This entire sequence is devoid of dialogue and denotes the cinematic style: actions speak louder than words.

Bresson eschews suspense and instead centers exclusively upon Fontaine’s claustrophobic perceptions: after all, the very title gives away the ending. But it’s not the result of Fontaine’s struggle that concerns Bresson, but the struggle itself. The film becomes an exercise in repetition, a forlorn soliloquy like a prayer muttered to a deaf god. The viewer becomes engrossed in the daily activities and begins to comprehend the crushing despair of the prison, trapped in the story with Fontaine. Though the other prisoners lack faith, carrying the weight of their mortality, the protagonist’s persistence is inspirational. Fontaine’s belief is in himself because it’s the only thing he can control, and if there is a higher power help will only come through action. Bresson keeps the German soldiers to the periphery of the screen like ghosts. The use of sound equates a spoon with a key, the click of steel as the tumblers seal Fontaine’s fate, or the gunshots heard from the courtyard passing their terminal judgment.

Fontaine’s narrow escape is a violent poetry, his willpower infectious. When he is assigned a new cellmate it’s apparent the newcomer will either join him, or be murdered by him: nothing will stop his attempt. Bresson depicts the meticulous transmutation of mundane items into miracles: bed sheets slowly wound into rope and the metal frame into grappling hooks, slowly and secretly, time lost and unaccounted for in this microcosm. Finally, Fontaine must murder not out of hatred but necessity, and he and his young companion fade away into the ethereal mist.

Final Grade: (A)

Sunday, August 27, 2017

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (Tobe Hooper, 1974, USA)


Flash bulbs burst the dark curtain revealing sickening glimpses of death, the remains of unearthed corpses, twisted, rotting, putrid reminders of our own mortality. The foreground narration overlaps these quicksilver images with a matter-of-fact voice, a newsman repeating the top story about grave robbers…he may as well be talking about the weather. The film establishes this horrific dichotomy in the very first few minutes blurring the boundaries of what we accept as normal, the chainsaw’s edge that separates madness and the mundane.

Cut to: five friends traveling to this cemetery to check on a relative’s remains, cramped together like cattle unknowingly on their way to the slaughter. Franklin is crippled, bound to a wheelchair and is a metaphor for the audience…bound to their seats and unable to escape. Tobe Hooper brings the camera in for close-ups, confining the characters to a coffin-like hermetic space inside the van. The tension quickly mounts when they pick up a hitchhiker who proves to be rather unbalanced…to say the least. The girls are reading an astrology magazine while Franklin and the stranger discuss their work in a slaughterhouse, foreshadowing the fate of our five protagonists. Their future is already written in blood, digesting in the belly of the beast. Once they discard this human refuse and are low on gas, they eventually drive to a relative’s house, a decaying shell whose timbers are exposed like broken bones. Now Hooper opens up the frame and gives us some medium long shots to establish their isolation as the smothering darkness settles upon them.

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE is a film with little blood or gore but the masterful editing and, dare I say, quick cutting subliminally convinces us that we see more then is actually shown! One by one, they find their way to a charnel house and become victim to a psychopath in a leather (or human skin?) mask. They become dinner to a family of cannibals. Sally is the last survivor and is sadistically tortured; slashed and gouged while grandpa suckles her blood in an orgy of repressed sexuality. The gallows humor is quite “heavy-handed” as the old man tries to bash her head in but it brings an uneasy laugh…as does the family’s backwoods caricature. She escapes (I suppose her stars were aligned accordingly) and the final scene of her bloodied face and hysterical laugh is chilling. We cut to black with the killer’s gasoline powered danse macabre contrasted against the sunrise which is violently beautiful and disarming. The film’s minimal score adds an eerie sublime quality and the chainsaw’s deafening roar becomes our prime-evil epitaph.

Final Grade: (A+)

Monday, August 7, 2017

GOJIRA (Ishiro Honda, 1954, Japan)


Caveat: This is the original uncut Japanese version. To fully appreciate this film, you must understand it on its own terms; you must put to rest the campy films spawned by this classic. GODZILLA is a parable of the atomic age, a monster awakened by science tainted with moral lassitude; a destructive and dire warning that mankind stalks the nightmare’s abyss. 

The giant Jurassic creature stirs from its millennial slumber because the United States is testing atomic bombs in the Pacific Ocean: this beast the rises from the murky depths and ravages Odo Island before advancing upon mainland Japan…and laying Tokyo to ruin. It is also a metaphor concerning science run amok: Dr. Serizawa fears that his volatile creation the Oxygen Destroyer, though it will kill Godzilla, will be used as a weapon to escalate the arms race and obliterate mankind, he laments “Bombs versus bombs, missiles versus missiles, and now a new superweapon to throw upon us all. As a scientist-no, as a human being-I cannot allow that to happen”. 

Dr. Yamane (superbly portrayed by Takashi Shimura!) believes that this creature should be captured alive and studied, even at the risk of total catastrophe: knowledge is more important that human life. While the debate rages, so does Godzilla as millions die in the ensuing firestorm of Tokyo, eerily reminiscent of the Allied firebombing of Japan only a few years earlier. When one woman on a train compares this war with her survival at Nagasaki, the chilling catharsis is finally revealed. 

The film is deftly directed by Ishiro Honda and focuses upon the characters and their moral dilemmas…not a rubber-suited monster amid crushed dioramas. When Godzilla is filmed in medium and long shot, the towering silhouette is reminiscent of a rising mushroom cloud as the cities fiery tendrils rake the darkening sky. The creature’s nightmarish roar is like Munch’s scream, a discordant reverberation as nature fights back to reclaim the world. But science does not fail us: Dr. Serizawa burns his research and utilizes his desperate weapon to kill the Beast and makes the ultimate sacrifice for Japan…and the whole damned human race. He takes his secrets to his watery grave. But if these nuclear tests continue, Dr. Yamane asks, will another Godzilla awaken? Or something worse? 

Final Grade: (A+)

Thursday, July 13, 2017

THE BIG RED ONE: RECONSTRUCTION (Sam Fuller, 1980, USA)



"While this is an expensive epic, he hasn't fallen to the temptations of the epic form. He doesn't give us a lot of phony meaning, as if to justify the scope of the production. There aren't a lot of deep, significant speeches. In the ways that count, "The Big Red One" is still a B-movie – hard-boiled, filled with action, held together by male camaraderie, directed with a lean economy of action. It's one of the most expensive B-pictures ever made, and I think that helps it fit the subject. "A" war movies are about War, but "B" war movies are about soldiers." –Roger Ebert

 
Sam Fuller wasn’t a journalist or merely an observer during the Second World War: he was a Dogface, an infantryman in the 16th Regiment, 1st Infantry Division…The Big Red One. He wrote this film from his own experiences: from the initial landing in North Africa, the bloody route of the Kasserine Pass to Sicily and eventually Omaha Beach (3rd wave), the Hurtgen Forest and finally the liberation of Falkenau Concentration/Death Camp.  Fuller wrote in his Autobiography A THIRD FACE that this film, made 35 years after the events, helped him deal with the nightmares that still kept him awake most nights. But he made a fiction film based on factual death because the true face of war is just too damn awful. He has made one of the greatest and most underrated war films of all time.
Ebert’s quote above is spot-on: Fuller shrinks the war from the epic to the mundane, focusing upon the five men (four Doggies and their nameless Sgt.) as they fight from battle to battle. He takes us to the short downtime between the fighting as the men laugh and joke but never pontificate about the meanings of the war or their lives without it. These are men who live only in the moment, who have learned to live with a realistic expectation of dying violently, at any moment, at any time. Yet they struggle to remain human beings and not animals. The enemies are the animals. As the gruff Sgt. tells Griff, We don’t murder animals. We kill them.” This insight into the soldier’s psychology and day to day trauma is quite revealing and subverts typical heroic conventions of the genre. These soldiers aren’t afraid so much of dying as having their cocks shot off! Gone are the super-hero actions and overt dramatizations as each soldier is presented as an individual but with a common goal: survival. They have no plan to die for their country or some vague definition of Democracy. This existential theme is quite subversive because World War 2 films typically depict the Greatest Generation as full of chest-pounding righteousness while suppressing the human factor. Fuller sets the record straight. This is the anti-THE LONGEST DAY or the polar opposite of flag-waiving John Wayne propaganda and anathema to the trite melodramatic flourishes of FURY or SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. 
Fuller may have had a limited budget for such an elaborate story so he films mostly in medium close-up to extreme close-up. Adam Greenberg’s framing is exceptional as he may film violent sequences with hundreds of extras in medium shot, yet never loses coherence of the action. Fuller cuts in the close-ups often for tight reaction shots which brings us into the trench with the soldier. It’s anxious and chaotic. Though Fuller didn’t have the budget to use actual vintage tanks and equipment this in no way diminishes the impact of the drama. The score is anything but patriotic and underlines some of the transitions yet doesn’t slather the film in John Williams’-like sentimentality.  It’s a nearly perfect marriage of music and image as one compliments the other.
Fuller also mirrors the war-weary Sgt. with a Nazi Officer and gives us unique insight into the mantra of a soldier regardless of nationality or patriotism: they are just killing the enemy, after all. Once the uniform and ideology are stripped away Fuller depicts them as not too dissimilar. The Nazi Officer even echoes the Sgt.’s statement about murder to one of his own squad…before shooting him for not following orders. If this seems like Fuller is making a moral statement about the contemptuous Nazi-Code, he later shows us Omaha Beach on D-day were the Sgt. practically murders Griff because the young soldier is too scared to follow orders. Soldiers are all the same indeed!
Morals and Murder aside, it’s really the quiet moments that shine in Fuller’s story. Here, the squad relaxes amid the destruction and sometimes celebrates with liberated civilians. But it’s the children whom Fuller focuses upon the most. The little boy who wants a four-handled casket and “taxi” for his dead mother who lays rotting away in a wooden cart, the little girl who puts flowers in the Sgt.’s Helmet or the little girl who stares hungrily while he eats his rations. There’s even a pregnant woman who gives birth inside of a tank! (Which is a true story; Fuller just placed he experience into a fictional context) Lastly, the malnourished little boy whom they save from Falkenau Death camp who dies on the shoulders of the weary Sgt. These innocents suffer but don’t dredge tears from our soldiers. The soldiers don’t talk wistfully of their civilian life or dead comrades or pray to a higher deity. There is no time for that Hollywood nonsense. There is only fear, lust and survival. What finally draws a reaction from the “coward” Griff is the sight of the inmates at Falkenau. So he finds a Nazi hiding in one of the ovens and is finally able to kill…not murder. Even the Sgt. seeks to make amends for his killing of a Hun soldier in the First World War by saving a Nazi officer he bayonetted after the recent Armistice.
Sam Fuller’s Reconstruction deliberately deconstructs the genre conventions of the War Film by portraying the fight for survival as the driving human force and not raging patriotism. He does not waive the flag in the audiences’ face. There are no profound jingoistic exclamations. Fuller dedicates THE BIG RED ONE to those who shot but didn’t get shot because surviving is the only glory in war, after all.
Final Grade: (A+)
 

 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

L'ARGENT (Robert Bresson, 1983, France)


When greed becomes the currency of the human soul, the final balance ends in the red. Director Robert Bresson adapts Tolstoy’s THE FORGED COUPON, choosing to focus mostly on the first half of the story: Bresson’s concern is with the act and consequences, not epiphany and salvation.

The film begins with a young boy asking for his allowance from his busy father. The boy asks for more to pay off a debt but the father dismisses the plea. In need of money, the boy trades his watch to a friend for a forged bank note; thus setting into motion the machinations of murder. Bresson shows callous regard for human nature when values are replaced by dollar signs. Every character who touches the bank note becomes corrupted, as if the desire for profit was a deadly biological virus without a cure. Bresson depicts the boy, store clerk, store owners, and ultimately Yvon as superficially innocuous but ultimately debased. Each character has a chance to redeem themselves and speak the truth but are motivated by selfish desires or the fear of punishment. Yvon is convicted of the misdemeanor because others would not tell the truth: it is ironic that he bears the burden of innocence but falls the hardest. Contrast his fate with the store clerk who perjures at Yvon’s trial then burglarizes the business: he ends up wealthy and comfortable, buying forgiveness. Yvon loses everything; his wife and child, his freedom, and finally his soul. Unable to seek vengeance upon his accuser, he lashes out at society and ends up destroying the one person who offered him kindness. Bresson implies that this evil is inherent within every person and can awaken with the proper stimuli.

The final shot reveals Yvon’s capture after the grisly murders, being led in handcuffs by the police. A crowd gathers for the spectacle and Yvon is marched away but the crowd doesn’t see him; they still search the empty doorway for enlightenment.


Final Grade: (B+)

Thursday, June 29, 2017

JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (Don Chaffey, 1963, USA)


Only the gods could create a magical object that both heals and preserves peace…yet is also an instrument of war. Jason seeks to avenge the death of his father King Aristo and claim back the throne to Thessaly, to bring prosperity and justice once again to his homeland and destroy the tyrant Pelias who usurped his throne. The story begins with a seer receiving answers from the gods, and the ambitious Pelias condemning the wishes of Zeus and attempting to alter his own destiny. Pelias is told that one of Aristo's offspring would survive the siege so he orders that all children be executed. He then profanes a temple of Hera by murdering Aristo’s daughter. Pelias is finally warned by a mysterious woman to beware the man with one sandal. A wicked prelude to a children’s film!

Director Don Chaffey and the now legendary Ray Harryhausen team up to create one the greatest fantasy films of all time, their magical alchemy resulting in a wonderful adventure story infused with breathtaking special effects. Though the acting is adequate but not exemplary, it’s Harryhausen’s vibrant creatures that come to life: from the creaking iron giant Talos to the Children of the Hydra’s Teeth, these stop-motion characters are realistically articulated and beautifully designed, reacting and moving with human emotion. In one scene, Jason discovers the giant’s Achilles’ heal and, as Talos’ lifeblood gushes onto the hot sand, the iron behemoth sways and grabs his throat in pain. Another fine example is the final scene as a group of skeletons attack Jason and his cohorts: one skeleton is stabbed through the heart and reacts accordingly and another clutches a wounded arm, like vestigial pain remembered from a previous life. The monsters are an extension of Harryhausen’s brilliance as an artist: he breathes his own life into the soft clay of nonliving matter. Bernard Herrmann adds the final touches to this extravaganza with a bombastic score devoid of his usual string section, utilizing clashing symbols and percussion to accentuate the Argonauts heroism while allowing subtle woodwinds to create suspense and melodrama: this is one of his best scores. 


Jason curses the gods though he accepts the services of Hera to complete his quest, but it’s his own relentless courage that allows him to persevere…and win the heart of the lovely woman. Jason believes that he is a free man...but the vicious gods have other plans. 

Final Grade: (B+)

Monday, June 26, 2017

GET OUT (Jordan Peele, 2017, USA)


Chris Washington is a photographer who captures the world in black and white; little does he know he will soon become victimized by the same dichotomy. First time Director Jordan Peele develops a masterful narrative that works both as a suspenseful horror/science fiction film and as allegory concerning contemporary racism and entitlement.

The story premise is rather quite simple: Chris and Rose are going to spend the weekend with her family but she has not yet divulged the fact to aforementioned family that they are an interracial couple. Though Chris, a black man, shows some slight hesitation Rose assures him that her white parents are not judgmental or prejudiced. It’s within this situation that Director/Writer Jordan Peele begins to dissect the habeas corpus of seemingly superficial prejudice that may disguise the true cancerous intentions and beliefs. Peele successfully accomplishes this by slowly constructing the relationships between Chris and Rose’s family through disquieting though not overtly intentional prejudice. Her family seems like affluent Liberals who have good intentions but come off a bit heavy-handed in their desire to show that they’re not bigoted. It’s a nice critique from Chris’ perspective because his reactions are rather mundane and unsurprising as if he’s been through this type of social interaction before. Yet it should be embarrassing from a Liberal perspective as it holds a mirror up to the culture of Entitlement. But it soon becomes obvious that their motives are specifically odious and far from inclusive.

The first two acts brilliantly build the tension through disarming and uncomfortable dialogue and possibly misunderstood observation. Chris begins to believe that something sinister is happening but his fears are put to bed by Rose, who seems to say all of the right things to allay his concerns. Though there are a few contrivances, credibility in Chris’s actions seem rational. Peele has written a solid script that on one hand defies scientific plausibility yet creates realistic characters that act uniformly intelligently within its fictional boundaries. Then it’s in the final act that blood is shed by all involved.

So what is the film about? Firstly, this is a nerve wracking thriller that is a joy to watch. All of the actors are excellent but Daniel Kaluuya as Chris Washington truly steals the film as the empathetic protagonist. He has to balance sensitivity and bitterness and not portray himself as prejudiced himself by jumping to conclusions or losing patience with the family too quickly. Alison Williams as Rose also has the task of being the perfect girlfriend but not "too perfect" thus calling attention to her true intentions. And Lil Rel Howery is excellent as the best friend that we all wish we had! Secondly, the film is about relationships and social convention. What is truly unsettling is that Peele writes a very natural and loving relationship between two people and agonizingly subverts it. That is part of the real horror. Can we ever trust the one we love? Roses' nuclear and extended family are also ripe with smug condescension and kindly superiority, treating Chris like an outsider but expecting him to not be bright enough to realize it. Lastly, the film is about slavery. It’s about subsumation of an entire race and culture hidden neatly behind a Liberal façade. The Armitage family doesn’t just own their victims’ physicality; they literally own their minds too.

GET OUT balances uncomfortable humor and violent thrills and gives us an ending that is neither benign nor resigned. We are left pondering Chris’ fate and hope that the conspiracy isn’t able to rearrange the crime scene before a Just verdict is allowed. Fortunately Chris finds the strength to resist and fight back and doesn’t need a well-intentioned white intervention to save him: he has transitioned from victim to survivor.

Final Grade: (A)

Thursday, June 22, 2017

WHITE DOG (Sam Fuller, 1982, USA)



A parable condemning racism’s vicious bite as being much worse (though no less immoral) than its bark. Director Sam Fuller’s mauling narrative begins with a neutral gray screen haunted by simple black and white text. Suddenly off-screen, tires screech on rough blacktop and we hear the painful whimpering of an injured animal.

Kristy McNichol plays Julie, an aspiring actress, whose compassion in rescuing the injured animal soon saves her own life…and eventually takes another’s. As she begins to understand the complexities of this beautiful dog, she seeks the help of a professional animal trainer names Keys, wonderfully portrayed by Paul Winfield. Fuller’s metaphor is as subtle as the Holocaust, showing the killing ovens of the local animal shelter, the possible fate for this German Shepard; a fate that Julie will do anything to avoid, her heart bursting with empathy for this animal whom she believes is victim, trained to be something that is inherently against its nature. Fuller often cuts to extreme close-up of all three characters: Keys, Julie, and the dog, as they share such intelligent and profound deep brown eyes, a two-way mirror to their souls. The violence is brutal and unflinching as the dog’s white fur becomes matted with bright red gore, its menacing snarl exposing the sharp incisors that cut and tear like cruel weapons. When a black man is killed by the dog (in a Church under the watchful avatar of Saint Frances of Assisi, no less!), Keys, Julie, and Carruthers (another dog trainer), become accomplices to this savage death even though their goal is to cure the dog. It’s a moral dilemma that the characters continue to struggle with throughout the film and Fuller doesn’t offer any tepid answer.

Through ferocious trial and error, Keys risks his own life to break the dog of its racist upbringing by showing it love and kindness. And here I believe the film is misunderstood: as the dog is finally freed of its inhumane bondage, it escapes Julie’s heartfelt embrace and attacks Carruthers, bulbously acted by Burl Ives. But Fuller introduces us to the original master of the dog a few minutes earlier: an overweight middle-aged man with two freckled daughters, and he looks very much like Carruthers. Does the dog now attack any white man, its training irrevocably reversed, or was it seeking revenge by mistakenly identifying Carruthers as its original racist mentor? Depending on your interpretation, the whole mood of the film is altered. And herein lays the power of Art, to examine these subterranean deep-rooted issues, as we should seek to come together as the human race and obliterate racism and bigotry.

Final Grade: (A)

Monday, June 19, 2017

PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET (Sam Fuller, 1953, USA)


The brash and maniacal pickpocket Skip McCoy, who soft hands hit like bricks, knocks out Candy’s sweet tooth. Director Sam Fuller’s communist exposé is as subtle as a punch in the jaw, dirty as one-room flophouse, and laced with profane dialogue that punctures like a Tattoo shop’s bloody needle.

The mundane plot device is a roll of microfilm unknowingly lifted from Candy’s purse; just another mark for three time loser Skip McCoy who gets more than money: his life now becomes a desperate negotiation as flammable as nitrate. Fuller centers his narrative upon the seedy characters that inhabit this dank underworld of society, the predators who live in the rush of the moment with violent death as their obligatory destination. Candy is a prostitute who vainly attempts to separate herself from an abusive boyfriend, her last favor to finalize some shady business deal.

Fuller begins the film with a claustrophobic tenseness aboard a rushing subway, cutting to extreme close-up and crowded medium shot, his visual exposition clearly introducing the setup: two detectives stalking Candy. Then in wanders the wild card, a pickpocket who by happenstance lifts her wallet and gets the big score. Fuller expertly cuts to medium shot and again to close-up of Skip’s hands massaging the purse, wicked eyes searing the screen, as the clacking of steel assaults the soundtrack. As a neat aside, look for the soldier from the Big Red One, Fuller’s regiment during WWII, as an extra aboard the congested train. Skip makes his escape and the police bring in Moe, an elderly woman who sells inexpensive silk ties as a front, like nooses upon those deserving of their fate, but her information doesn’t come cheap. Thelma Ritter as Moe steels the film, imbuing it with a graceful humanity, a woman of character and charm who only wants to be buried in a real cemetery and not a Potter’s Field. Richard Widmark as Skip is a brutal and leering man, full of selfish desires. His nemesis is Captain Tiger of the NYPD who knows another minor conviction will put this scumbag away for life. And poor Candy is a woman who has lost her flavor, but never her morals.

Fuller wants to show that there is indeed honor among thieves, but patriotism to the collective government who punishes them is running on empty. Though criminals, the anti-heroes of the story remain honest to their own testimony, and once Skip understands that Candy sacrificed herself for him, and Moe sadly did the same, he is out for vengeance. Fuller depicts the tough talking police as a streetwise gang, professionals who are becoming the very thing they prosecute. But even these losers look down upon Communists who wish to betray their country, and the hierarchy from police to criminal to Red is fundamental. But more importantly, Skip and Candy get the last word and remain true to themselves…while Moe is buried with respect. 

Final Grade: (B)