REVIEW – Stranger on the 3rd Floor (1940)

Videovista have my review of Boris Ingster’s Stranger on the 3rd Floor, which was co-written by Nathanael West of Day of the Locust fame.

Another slice of film noir goodness, Stranger on the 3rd Floor is one of a number of films from that era that flirted ideas of madness and surrealism before eventually surrendering to the strictures of the genre. The root of the madness, in this case, is guilt.  Guilt for participating in an unjust system and guilt over feelings of hatred so intense that it is easy to imagine why someone would stoop to murder:

Mike’s guilt is so intense that it seems to take on a physical form as Mike stumbles across a strange man leaving the neighbour’s apartment. Was the man there? Is the neighbour actually dead? Did Mike murder the old man while drunk? Mike’s guilt and self-doubt are so intense that, without actually checking to see whether the old man is dead, Mike is already dreaming about the possibility of being rightly executed for being a murderer.

Part of what makes this surprisingly short film so satisfying is the fact that despite the film ending in such a way as to dispel the possibility of projection, the resolution is ambiguous and strange enough that we are left with more than enough critical space in which to dream.

REVIEW – Born to be Bad (1950)

Videovista have my review of Nicholas Ray’s sensationally subversive film noir Born to be Bad starring Joan Fontaine.

The film revolves around a young woman who preys on a couple’s insecurities in order to manipulate her way into landing a wealthy husband.  So far, so femme fatale.  However, what makes this film so strangely compelling is Ray’s abject refusal to turn his femme fatale into a misogynistic punching bag.  Instead, Ray continuously stresses the woman’s basic humanity and her yearning to be loved and understood for what she really is:

The double-standard behind the femme fatale trope is made clear by virtue of the fact that both disreputable Nick and cynical Gobby use their charms to get what they want but nobody seems to think any less of them for it. Indeed, when Christabel encourages Curtis to think of Donna as a gold-digger, she is not summoning this belief from out of this air, she is tapping into Curtis’ quite legitimate concerns about his fellow humans: is anyone ever completely honest, or do we all bend the truth in order to make our lives a little bit easier?

Ray is perhaps best known for Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and the history of that film sheds an interesting light on Ray’s methods as a filmmaker.  The title for the James Dean classic is actually drawn from a book by the psychiatrist Robert M. Linder entitled Rebel Without A Cause: The Hypnoanalysis of a Criminal Psychopath (1944), a book that reportedly inspired Ray to write the story that would become Rebel Without a Cause. James Dean’s character in that film is still considered to be one of the great manifestations of misunderstood youth, but if the character was based upon a case study of a criminal psychopath, what does that say about the character? Both Rebel Without a Cause and Born to be Bad take characters with negative traits and humanise them through a leap of empathy and understanding leaving me wondering whether Born to be Bad should not, in fact, be seen as a companion-piece to Rebel Without A Cause.

REVIEW – The Fallen Sparrow (1943)

“To shoot people, sweetheart!”

And with those words… my heart soared with joy.

Richard Wallace’s The Fallen Sparrow is very much an overlooked gem.  One of a series of novels by Dorothy B. Hughes that were adapted for the screen during the hey-day of the film noir, The Fallen Sparrow is a demented psychological thriller in which a tortured veteran of the Spanish Civil War cuts a swathe through New York high society as he attempts to solve the (possible) murder of the man who helped him escape the clutches of the Gestapo.  As the veteran moves from reconnecting with his old friends and into a world of sinister academics and crusading noblemen, the lines between reality and delusion blur and then finally disappear.  Boasting a fantastic script and some rather surprising performances, The Fallen Sparrow deserves its place in cinema history.

Videovista have my review.