#103 The Asphalt Jungle

Watched: May 06 2017

Director: John Huston

Starring: Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, Jean Hagen, Sam Jaffe, James Whitmore, Barry Kelley, John McIntire, Marilyn Monroe, Marc Lawrence

Year: 1950

Runtime: 1h 52min

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Dix Handley (Hayden) has three things in life: a gambling problem, a potential girlfriend named Doll (Hagen), and a dream to buy back his family’s old farm. However, he tends to gamble away all his money whenever he has some, so the family farm seems far from his reach, and he’s not necessarily as into Doll as she is into him.

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Doll and Dix. There’s a (possibly disastrous) movie title in there somewhere…

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When Doc Riedenschneider (Jaffe) is released from prison with a plan for a big caper, he goes to see an acquaintance of Dix’s for funding. Dix and Doc (another potential title, by the way) cross paths and Doc is adamant that Dix is the right man to be the muscle in the heist. This job will give him the money for a farm, so Dix agrees and joins Doc’s team along with a safecracker and a getaway driver, as well as financial backers Alonzo Emmerich (Calhern) and Cobby (Lawrence).

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You just know they’re doing criminal stuff when there’s a pack of cigarettes on the bed, a bottle of booze on the table, and two of them have removed their jackets.

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While the robbery itself goes off with only one small hitch, the double crossings start pretty much right away. With the police chasing them and everyone backstabbing each other, who will come out of this alive?

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And who will get to wear the pretty, pretty necklaces?

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A criminal who wants a quiet, peaceful life; a high-stakes heist with a cast of hand picked experts; a doomed romance; a corrupt businessman with a gorgeous blonde mistress; a dirty cop and double crossings galore – this movie has it all. Clichés they may be, but when they’re done this well it doesn’t really matter. Films like this are the reason people keep coming back to the same clichés – sometimes they really work.

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Like blondes. Blondes always work to confuse young investigators. We’re not sure of which gender that’s most condemning…

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What we learned: There’s no honour among thieves. Also, ’50s slang for explosives is “soup”. It’s fun stuff like this which keeps us coming back. (Well, that, and the obligatory dance/music scenes in Film Noir.)

Next time: A Place in the Sun (1951)

#89 The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Watched: March 7 2017

Director: John Huston

Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt

Year: 1948

Runtime: 2h 6min

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Fred C. Dobbs (Bogart) is down on his luck, roaming around Mexico without a penny to his name. After finally being paid by a scam artist he worked for (a beating proved necessary to get the money he was owed), he teams up with Bob Curtin (Holt) and old prospector Howard (Huston) to dig for gold in the Sierra Madre.

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If you came to this film looking for a 1940s Brokeback Mountain you’ll be sorely disappointed. Despite the tension, the clothes stay on at all times.

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They head up into the mountains and within a few minutes of run time (though several days for the characters) they strike it rich. Setting up their operation, Howard warns the newcomers about the effects of gold on a man, but Dobbs shrugs it off, stating that he will never be corrupted. He could not possibly be more wrong.

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This perpetual scowl on his face is not the look of a man indifferent to the prospect of wealth

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The three gold diggers stay in the mountains for the better part of a year, and the tension and distrust between them grow exponentially in that time. When a fourth man shows up intent on joining their operation, they unite for a short while in the face of a common enemy, but their comradery does not last once the threat is gone. With each of them, especially Dobbs, growing concerned with the intentions of the others, they are soon fighting for their lives against both the elements and each other.

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And bandidos. They also fight bandidos.

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The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (or, as our DVD cover says, El Tesoro de Sierra Madre – thank you, Amazon Marketplace) is the first Western on the list and we loved it. There are saloon fights, shoot outs, bandidos, treacherous nature and friends, Indians, and Federales, and it’s tense, dark and dirty. There’s a lot of foreshadowing going on, so from the start you can make fairly educated guesses as to what will happen, but that doesn’t take anything away from the viewing experience. It’s a great watch, and we do love it when Humphrey Bogart plays slightly more villainous characters.

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Let’s just think back on the time before it all went wrong, shall we…

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What we learned: Gold will poison a man’s mind and heart.

Next time: Caught (1949)

#58 The Maltese Falcon

Watched: November 04 2016

Director: John Huston

Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Gladys George, Jerome Cowan, Lee Patrick, Sydney Greenstreet

Year: 1941

Runtime: 1h 40min

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Samuel Spade (Bogart) is a San Francisco P.I. working with partner Miles Archer (Cowan). One day, a dame (Astor) walks into their office. And what a dame. Legs up to here and an air of desperation about her. Just the way Spade likes’em.

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Desperation and a stole. Spade smells an easy payday.

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Now, this dame is looking for her missing sister, and she knows the lowlife who has her. She pays up for a stakeout and Archer, whose wife Spade is incidentally screwing, ends up dead on the job. Spade has a fairly laissez-faire attitude about the whole thing and proceeds to remove Archer’s name from the company window and door. He is nothing if not efficient and practical.

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The whole brooding private detective thing works better as a solo act anyway

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Of course, the dame isn’t telling the truth. She’s lied about her name, her intentions, and the identity of the man she wanted located. In fact, she’s caught up in an international conspiracy involving a golden falcon artefact, more than a few shady characters and several murders. It’s not long before Spade has a new visitor – Joel Cairo (Lorre) who tries to get the jump on the P.I. But one does not simply walk into Spade’s office and threaten him. Or, if one does, one leaves with one’s tail between one’s legs. Or in a body bag. Luckily for Cairo, the former is the option Spade goes with. This time.

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He’ll take you out without even dropping his smoke

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Once Spade is properly roped in, the dame, whose real name is possibly Brigid O’Shaughnessy, although she goes by several pseudonyms, drops her act and comes clean. More or less. Meanwhile, Spade has his own fun, pitting the various bad guys against each other and playing on their greed to manipulate them.

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“You know you need to sacrifice your little pet here, right?”

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The Maltese Falcon is a classic for very good reasons. It’s a wild ride from start to finish and Bogart is amazing in it, as are the others, but he really steals the show (along with his secretary Effie (Patrick), who we also loved). Spade is cynical and tough, but he also has a lot of fun and seems to enjoy his work and the challenges his opponents throw at him. Despite his methods (and his relationship with his partner’s wife) he has his own moral compass, and not even a desperate dame can make him stray from his convictions.

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All this drama for a statuette. Foreigners!

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Love this one – can’t wait for more noir!

What we learned: don’t get caught up in a drama revolving around a figurine. Also, never try to make a detective into a criminal.

Next time: Cat People (1942)