gothic/noir environment, 20 films (cont'd):
Grifters (Stephen Frears) - 1990
[Anjelica Huston, John Cusack, Annette
Bening, Pat Hingle, J.T. Walsh]
screenplay: Donald E. Westlake
source: novel by Jim Thompson
camera: Oliver Stapleton
music: Elmer Bernstein
grifters with intimate ties and conflicting agendas raise
the stakes from money to life itself.
adaptation of Jim Thompson's novel. Angelica Huston is at
her absolute best. Thompson had possibly the bleakest outlook
of any noir writer. Catching him on film would seem impossible,
but it's been done a number of times. This movie is a prime
example, but see also Série noir ('79), Coup
de torchon ('81) (Thompson has a solid French following),
and After Dark, My Sweet ('90).
Clayton) - 1961
[Deborah Kerr, Peter Wyngarde, Megs Jenkins,
William Archibald, Truman Capote, John Mortimer
source: novel by Henry James, The Turn of the Screw
camera: Freddie Francis
music: Georges Auric
to be governess to two children in a remote mansion, Miss
Giddens begins to believe that two troubled lovers, now deceased,
are trying to possess the souls of the youngsters.
differentiate between gothic and horror largely on the basis
of whether atmosphere or shock is the prime mover. As regards
atmosphere, this is as gothic as it gets. I'm very fond of
Deborah Kerr, particularly in this and Black Narcissus ('47).
It's worth noting that the woman who excelled as nuns and
governesses is also known for the most famous screen kiss
ever, on the beach in the waves in From Here to Eternity ('53).
Killing of a Chinese Bookie (John
Cassavetes) - 1976
Gazzara, Timothy Carey, Seymour Cassel]
source: story by Cassavetes, Martin Scorsese
camera: Mitch Breit, Al Ruban
music: Bo Harwood
strip-club owner with gambling debts he can’t pay is
given an out: commit a murder to clean the slate.
noir aspects of this movie make it an atypical Cassavetes
flick. Ben Gazzara in the lead role had difficulty relating
to his character, who is sleazy and not very bright, so he
was surprised to find that Cassavetes intended this strip-club
operator to be the director's own alter-ego.
Lisa (Neil Jordan) - 1986
[Bob Hoskins, Cathy Tyson, Michael Caine, Robbie Coltrane]
screenplay: Jordan, David Leland
camera: Roger Pratt
music: Michael Kamen
is a high-class call girl, but the world she inhabits is
run by men motivated by greed and supported by violence.
She forms a bond with her driver George, but their mutual
affection can’t overcome their environment.
chemistry between Hoskins and Tyson is odd and wonderful,
something with which director Neil Jordan seems quite comfortable
(see The Crying Game ['92]). Michael Cain is a cold-blooded
business hood in another of his many impeccable performances.
and the City (Jules Dassin) - 1950
Widmark, Gene Tierney, Googie Withers, Hugh Marlowe, Francis L. Sullivan,
Herbert Lom, Stanislaus Zbyszko, Mike Mazurki]
screenplay: Austin Dempster, Jo Eisinger
source: novel by Gerald Kersh
camera: Max Greene
music: Benjamin Frankel, Franz Waxman (US)
Fabian concocts a plan for cutting in on the London wrestling
scene. His ability to execute can’t keep up with
his ambition, and he sinks deeper and deeper into the
black hole of the city’s underworld.
plays a business hood, but he's not all that cold blooded.
He's pretty much one step behind the cold-blooded guy all
the way. And that would be Herbert Lom. Two actors in great
form play the untrustworthy proprietors of a night club,
Googie Withers and Francis L. Sullivan. This deserves to
be on the short list of noir classics with Out of the
Past ('47) and Double Indemnity ('44), but
it doesn't normally show up that way.
Chanwook) - 2003
[Min-sik Choi, Ji-tae Yu, Hye-jeong Kang,
screenplay: Jo-yun Hwang, Chun-hyeong Lim, Joon-hyung Lim, Chan-wook
source: comic by Minegishi Nobuaki, Tsuchiya Garon
camera: Jeong-hun Jeong
music: Yeong-wook Jo
man has been kidnapped and held in a sealed apartment for
fifteen years. He is suddenly released and sets out to
find out who did this and why.
its startling and outrageous moves right up to the moving
and romantic conclusion. There's no disconnect, though. The
latter issues quite naturally from the former. A very fast
and devious movie.
Shindô) - 1964
[Nobuko Otowa, Jitsuko Yoshimura, Kei
camera: Kiyomi Kuroda
music: Hikaru Hayashi
women in war-ravaged 14th-century Japan rob and murder
lost samurai for their own survival. A returning veteran
and a diabolical mask play havoc with what little equilibrium
against the forces of war, of nature, of the unknown is not
here a matter of avoidance. Instead it's a matter of weaving
in and out of all the primal forces. But sooner or later
you'll weave in and you won't weave out.
Boorman) - 1967
Marvin, Angie Dickinson, Keenan Wynn, Carroll O'Connor, John Vernon]
Alexander Jacobs, David & Rafe Newhouse
source: novel by Donald E. Westlake, The Hunter
camera: Philip H. Lathrop
music: Johnny Mandel
trying to exact revenge on the friend and wife who betrayed
him, Walker gets help from a mysterious man with plans of
noir is what you have here. I don't know whether Boorman
was imbibing in something exotic or if it was an offshoot
of the times. In any case, the movie combines techniques
of disorientation with a hell-for-leather plot. Marvin is
terrific, simultaneously bewildered and aggressive.
Seventh Victim (Mark Robson) - 1943
[Tom Conway, Jean Brooks, Isabel Jewell, Kim
Hunter, Evelyn Brent, Elizabeth Russell]
screenplay: DeWitt Bodeen, Charles O'Neal
camera: Nicholas Musuraca
music: Roy Webb
Gibson, searching for her sister Jacqueline in Manhattan,
runs into a group of satanists who also want Jacqueline
and mean her no good.
perfect blend of gothic and noir. Produced by the great
Val Lewton. Various members of his crew (known as the snake
pit) went on to make significant contributions to film
noir. For example, the year after this was filmed, composer
Roy Webb scored Murder My Sweet. Cameraman
Nicholas Musuraca shot Out of the Past in '47. One of
the glories of the Lewton canon is character actress Elizabeth
Russell. Watch for her as Mimi.
Dog (Akira Kurosawa) - 1949
[Toshirô Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Keiko
Awaji, Eiko Miyoshi]
Ryuzo Kikushima, Kurosawa
camera: Asakazu Nakai
music: Fumio Hayasaka
gun of a young homicide detective is stolen and used
in a series of crimes. An older detective helps him gradually
zero in on the criminal.
noir films (Drunken Angel ['48], Stray Dog, The
Bad Sleep Well ['60], High and Low ['63]) are
as impressive as his samurai outings, if not as spectacular,
and both genres employ the talent and personality of Toshiro
Mifune. This is one of the greatest partnerships in movie
isn't a "best of" list as such, but each of these
is a movie I revere. I don't think that's putting it too
strongly. I admit to being a bit promiscuous with my reverence.
These were taken as representative of a larger
list, which recently ran over 570 entries.