November 3, 2013

Noirvember: What to Watch, And Where

Since there's no official watch-list for Noirvember, it can be kind of daunting deciding which films noir to dig into, especially considering that everyone is at a different level of noir proficiency. To remedy this slightly, I've compiled here an abbreviated and nowhere complete listing of the films noir you can find online (via pay sites and streaming free). The list is organized by location, except in the case of public domain noirs, which can be found on multiple sites (I've tried to link the highest quality version). Enjoy! Happy Noirvember!


Classic Noir:
Double Indemnity
The Naked City
Call Northside 777
Scarlet Street (also in the public domain)
Raw Deal
Crime of Passion
You Only Live Once
A Kiss Before Dying
99 River Street
The Big Knife
The Big Caper
They Made Me A Fugitive
Crime Against Joe
Cage of Evil
Fashion Model

The Long Goodbye
In The Cut
The Killer Inside Me
Dressed to Kill
Fear City
The Grifters
Black Widow
King of New York
Reservoir Dogs
The Ice Harvest


list of film noir titles (subscription required)


list of film noir titles (subscription required)


Strange Impersonation


Black Book aka Reign of Terror


The Third Man 


Click here to see a listing of more than 30 films noir you can watch for free online (some of these also appear in the Public Domain listing below)


The Strange Love of Marther Ivers
The Stranger
Kansas City Confidential
The Big Combo
The Hitch-Hiker

**You can many of the public domain titles other places online, including YouTube. The links I've provided are generally good quality, but it might be worth it to search for a different viewing format with higher quality.

If you know of any films noir available online, please drop me a note in the comments and I'll add it to the post!

October 28, 2013

The Vincent Price Blog-A-Thon: WITCHFINDER GENERAL (Michael Reeves, 1968)

It was two years ago, almost to the day, that I was sitting in the Aero Theater in Santa Monica, totally agape and unable to move from my seat. The lights were up, people were trailing out the isles, but I was just totally stuck down dumb. I had just seen WITCHFINDER GENERAL, which I still consider one of the most powerfully disturbing films I've ever seen. WITCHFINDER capped off a weekend-long celebration of the Vincent Price Centennial at the American Cinematheque; that Sunday night, Reeves' film was paired with a much hammier Price performance in THEATER OF BLOOD. The juxtaposition of Price's over-the-top Shakespearean killer in THEATER and his subdued but ruthless inquisitor in WITCHFINDER cemented his status as one of my favorite actors, and one far more gifted than he is usually given credit for.

WITCHFINDER GENERAL, released in 1968, comes at an interesting crossroads, both in film history, and in the career of Vincent Price. In America, 1968 marked the year of the desolution of the production code (long since languishing) and the establishment of the MPAA ratings system. Around the world, youth was in revolt. Revolutionary fervor was reflected in the cinema of the time: BONNIE & CLYDE broke boundaries in screen violence, THE GRADUATE and MIDNIGHT COWBOY in screen sex. No longer were explicit sex and violence relegated to the drive-ins and exploitation films.

That's where Price comes in. Having successfully built up a career as a camp-horror icon with Roger Corman's Edgar Allen Poe series of films in the early to mid '60s, Price had more recently back-slid into mad scientist self-parody with the Dr. Goldfoot films (personal opinion, of course). When Corman's American International Pictures became co-producer on WITCHFINDER GENERAL, they demanded Reeves hire Price over his first choice for the role of witchfinder Matthew Hopkins, Donald Pleasence.


Michael Reeves, only 24 at the time of filming, was a hot up-and-coming British horror director in the late-to-post Hammer Horror years, having directed Boris Karloff in THE SORCERERS the previous year. Due to AIP's meddling, Reeves was furious at having Price on the picture and the director and star clashed constantly throughout filming. Price resented Reeves' youthful arrogance and Reeves, for his part, refused to give Price any concrete direction on his character. The production was fraught with other difficulties, including a razor-thin budget, a tight schedule, a lack of extras, and the inclusion of exploitative nude scenes the producers required for the German version of the film (oh, those kinky Germans!).

This collision of Vincent Price, famed American horror icon, and Reeves (and the tradition of British Hammer & post-Hammer Horror), create an utterly unique film, both in Price's career, and in the annals of British film horror history. WITCHFINDER marks a distinct turning point in Vincent Price horror (post-Corman, pre-PHIBES), which is unlike any other role in his filmography. It is also in a unique position in British horror history, as a non-Hammer film and a non-monster movie (no Dracula or Frankenstein during the English Civil War!). Some critics have dubbed WITCHFINDER, which primarily takes place among the ferns and tall grasses of East Anglia, as part of a series of "folk horror," which also includes THE WICKER MAN.

In truth, the staying power of the film lies in its depiction of the banality of evil. WITCHFINDER GENERAL presupposes the horror films of the '70s and '80s where the boogey man could be the boy or girl next door (HALLOWEEN, CARRIE), rather than the traditional supernatural villain (DRACULA, THE WOLF MAN, THE MUMMY). As Quentin Turnour explains in an essay for Senses of Cinema, in WITCHFINDER GENERAL, "there is no Evil incarnate; only perpetual corruption explains social misery" (Tornour). The category of the "historical horror film" is still rather under-explored and there are a scant number of films that deal with the persecution of witches in Europe, let alone in America. WITCHFINDER GENERAL remains the most powerful film on the subject of witch hunts, an unrelenting examination of institutional prejudice and bureaucratic violence.

In America, WITCHFINDER was released under the title THE CONQUEROR WORM as an attempt to tie it into the Corman/Price/Poe films ("The Conqueror Worm" is a poem by Poe). Besides tacking on an excerpt from the poem to the beginning of the film, Reeves' film naturally has nothing to do with Poe. (There are no worms to be found in the film.) The film was a success in the States (unlike its release in the UK, where it was decried by critics as sadistic trash), and launched a short-lived revival in AIP's Poe series. This included the 1969's THE OBLONG BOX, which Michael Reeves was prepping to direct until his tragic and untimely death of an accidental drug overdose at the age of 25.

Finally, to the film itself: Price plays Matthew Hopkins, a very loose interpretation of the real-life 17th century witch-hunter who terrorized Eastern England and was almost single-handedly responsible for the "convictions" and executions of more people for witchcraft than in the previous 100 years. Hopkins' preferred method of torture included "pricking," which consisted of pricking the skin of a suspected witch, looking for "The Devil's Mark." Any mark on the skin, including moles, freckles, warts or scars could be considered a mark of the Devil and a sure signal that the suspect was a witch.

The local priest in the film runs afoul of Hopkins in just this manner and is about to be executed, when his niece Sara interjects and offers herself up to Hopkins in order to spare the life of her uncle. Hopkins is called away from the town before consummating Sara's offer, however his fiendish assistant witch-hunter Stearne rapes Sara anyway. When Sara's fiance, the young Roundhead Marshall hears of his injustice, he swears vengeance against Stearne and Hopkins. Meanwhile, the witchfinder and his assistant continue to scour the countryside condemning witches with abandon.

One of the most chilling scenes in the film features the burning of a suspected witch in the town square. Reeves emphasizes the blank faces of the townspeople who crowd around, watching impassively as an innocent woman is burned to death. The scene reminds me of the witch burning in Ingmar Bergman's SEVENTH SEAL; but instead of focusing, as Bergman does, on the demented woman as the last flickers of humanity and cognizance flash across her face, Reeves purposefully isolates the viewer from the victim, implicating us along with the townspeople in the abuse of justice that allows her to die.

The casualness of the violence in WITCHFINDER GENERAL creates a deeply disturbed atmosphere of disgust and revulsion. The casting of Vincent Price as Hopkins was, as it turned out, a stroke of genius. Not only did Price give one of his greatest performances, he even lent a modicum of humanity to a man whose greed and amorality lead to the demise of hundreds of innocents. In his Corman/Poe roles, Price usually played the villain, but he was never unlikeable. We always somehow rooted for him to succeed, even when we knew he was a murderer and a fiend. Price's performance as Hopkins is so matter-of-fact, absent the winking camp that became the hallmark of his earlier films (and would continue in his post-WITCHFINDER roles). Hopkins is little more than a petty bureaucrat, an opportunistic war profiteer who found in the English countryside a populace terrified of the war around them and willing to cannibalize itself for the sake of some perceived reinstated stability. After hunting the witch, and providing the peasants with a little violent entertainment, Hopkins basically shakes down the town government for a "finder's fee." His specific torture of Sara and Marshall is purely self-serving: he brands them as witches to get back at their meddling interference to his grand work.

Which brings me back to the beginning of this piece--that is, the end of the film. It's a brutal, sudden, bloody and shocking ending--one of the most unexpectedly jolting I've ever witnessed. And because actions speak louder than words, here is the final scene of WITCHFINDER GENERAL to watch for yourself. Here, Hopkins and Stearne have captured Sara and are torturing her in a castle. Marshall storms in to try to rescue her. What follows is humanity's seemingly limitless capacity for horror. As Turnour writes: "Sara’s final, unsilencibly mad scream is born of nothing extraordinary – just a despair caused by bestial, mortal, venal and male human nature" (Turnour).

EDIT: If you don't want to spoil the ending of the film, you have a chance to catch the whole thing as part of an all Vincent Price Halloween night on TCM, Nov 1 6:30EST

May 24, 2013

1998: The Technological Timecapsule That Is YOU'VE GOT MAIL

Ah, 1998. Dial-up modems. Book stores. Meg Ryan's career.

We're flashing back all the way to 1998 in today's mini-photo essay on the tech interfaces in Nora Ephron's YOU'VE GOT MAIL. Itself a Clinton-era update on the 1940 Lubitsch comedy THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER, YOU'VE GOT MAIL is ludicrously dated even fifteen years after its release in a way that the earlier film is not. A large part of this is due to the rapid evolution of email and the Internet during that time. AOL Instant Messaging seems archaic in a way that sending and receiving letters in the mail simply doesn't.

If we ignore the inane love story (and it's best to), a lot of YOU'VE GOT MAIL is about changes in technology. Or, rather, in metatextual retrospect, the irony of shifting technologies makes the storyline of YOU'VE GOT MAIL nearly obsolete. Here's the jist: Meg Ryan (and her hair) run a cutesy kids bookshop called (cutesily) The Shop Around the Corner. Tom Hanks runs the big, bad corporate box conglomerate that serves lattes with its best-sellers and moves into the quaint, old-fashioned neighborhood to ruin Meg Ryan's life. AH BUT. The two are unwittingly in lurve with each other, having exchanged anonymous, soul-bearing missives via ye olde email. WHAT TO DO. Will Tom Hanks allow his brick and mortar monstrosity swallow Meg Ryan's overpriced niche book store??? Will they live happily ever after???

Watching this in 2013, I'm glad to say this doesn't matter because both businesses have been made obsolete by and Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan are probably now 13-year olds Skyping each other in their parents' living rooms.

Anonymous file folders

Anyway, this interface business. The film starts off with a clever title gag, turning the Warner Bros. logo pixelated and then revealing a desktop background onto which the titles are projected. This is cool for a number of reasons. First of all, it presupposes (accidentally, albeit) the accessibility of the Warner Bros. brand on the Internet. When YOU'VE GOT MAIL was released, movies had tie-in AOL Keywords that you could search and get info about the flick. But nowadays you literally have access to the WB catalog via Warner Archive Instant, the studio's streaming service. The titles are a nice way for you to enter the world of the film, which just happens to be the world of "virtual reality" (as they used to call it in the '90s).

Check out these retro screens from AOL circa 1998.

The sending and receiving of email is fetishized via the anticipatory close-up. The big moment.

In which the main characters extoll the sexy virtues of online courtship.

Meg and Tom switch from email to IM for their heated debate over THE GODFATHER. (He's right; she's wrong.)

The agony of defeat.

The desktop.

The quaintness of spam email circa 1998

If you took a shot every time someone said the title of this movie, you'd be drunk within the first ten minutes.

The all-time accurate face of a person posting their opinion on the Internet.

It's not just the email and IM interfaces that are now a part of the archival past. Meg and Tom's respective book stores have been pretty much put out of business within the measly span of fifteen years.

Pretty much the only surviving cultural signifier in the movie is the Starbucks both leads consume with zeal. It seems that people are still (and increasingly) willing to leave their house for caffeine, but everything else they prefer to get online.

In a subplot we have Meg Ryan's boyfriend Greg Kinnear, a newspaper writer. I know, right? Newspapers! This guy is obsessed with old media, from newspapers and magazines to typewriters.  He's contrasted with his (obviously not right for him) girlfriend via their media consumptions.

This dude and his newspapers, I swear.

Greg Kinnear is another character whose job would most likely have been made obsolete by modern technology. He'd either be a rogue blogger (probable) or still a news reporter for an online publications. That Kinnear yearns to create copy on an outmoded typewriter touches on the tech nostalgia that will only increase as more and more old technologies are thrown over for the new. Which is really the theme of the movie. Or, rather, since it's a romcom, the coming together of the protagonists mirrors the synergy of their respective technologies. Meg (email) ditches Greg (typewriters) for Tom (email), even though Tom's business (big box book store) will almost inevitably drive Meg's small book shop out of business. So what does Tom Hanks do? He quits. Which solves the problem for the film, but not for the characters' reality.

YOU'VE GOT MAIL provides a snapshot of a particular time, pre-Dot Com boom but post-nobody having the Internet. It's kind of an odd, niche, coming-of-age time in our technological era. It's worth note, too, that since 1998 pretty much no one has come up with a better way of conveying online communication than the shot/reverse/shot of the screen/user/screen with the V.O. of what they're writing. Some modern films like SCOTT PILGRIM have tried and succeeded in capturing the feeling of what it's like to communicate via multiple technological shorthand (see my review here), and IRON MAN has taken technological interfaces to the next level with the HUD (see here). Nevertheless, I look forward to the future romantic comedy that is able to break away from the decades-long tradition of showing technology as is and actually communicating the feeling of Skyping, texting, connecting via social media, etc. If YOU'VE GOT MAIL is any indication, we have another fifteen years to wait for this to happen.

April 8, 2013

TCM Classic Film Festival: My Schedule

I couldn't be happier to be returning to the TCM Classic Film Festival for the third time! They recently released the full festival schedule and I've been pouring over it in a state of anxiety that's part ecstasy, part heartbreak and 100% nervous excitement. It's always a bummer to have to choose between films at the fest, and now with more awesome Club TCM events than ever, those choices go from difficult to me in a whiny voice simpering like a sad puppy. Still, it's hard to complain about the greatest that is the TCM Classic Film Festival. I should just be grateful I'm going, right? Right. Without further ado, below is my tentative schedule for the festival, (as ever) jam-packed with great films, awesome special screenings and impossible choices.


Luckily the first night is always the easiest. Since I'm not going to the FUNNY GIRL red carpet premiere, that frees me up for an awesome night of noir and pre-code movies. First up is Stanley Kubrick's THE KILLING, with star Colleen Gray in person! This was a film made in 1956, so to have the star there to tell stories about the making of a classic is pretty exciting. It'll be in DCP, which is not ideal, but you take what you can get.

Luckily, the next film screens in 35mm. It's the William Wellman pre-code SAFE IN HELL, starring Dorothy Mackaill as a sassy prostitute who hides out on a tropical island to beat a murder rap back home in gangland Chicago. If that sounds awesome, it's because it is. Great movie and I can't wait to see it on the big screen.


The next day features the toughest choices of the fest. Firstly, I can't decide between THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER in 35mm or 1968's THE SWIMMER with Burt Lancaster. The first I've seen several times but never on the big screen, and the second is a film I've wanted to see for a long time (and I love Burt Lancaster).  I feel like because this is first thing in the morning, I'll be going wherever my friends are going (I'm easily swayed).

The second choice is, for me, the most difficult of the fest. I really, REALLY want to see the great, train-set film noir THE NARROW MARGIN. The only problem is that the evil, evil programming people scheduled it opposite the Club TCM talk with film preservation superstar Kevin Brownlow and silent movie score superstar Carl Davis. Brownlow & Davis contributed to the incredible, life-changing screening of Abel Gance's NAPOLEON at last year's San Francisco Silent Film Festival. I bought a poster. I want to get it signed. On the other hand, THE NARROW MARGIN is one of the greatest, underrated films noir of all-time (and I love movies about trains!). Plus, co-star Jacqueline White will appear in person. Ugh, I hate this decision, but I have a feeling Brownlow & Davis will win out. I think I'll start the Twitter campaign to screen THE NARROW MARGIN again in the Sunday TBA spot, now...

The next choice is obvious: NOTORIOUS. Hitchcock. Grant. Bergman. 35mm. Done.

Then it's time for my first silent film of the fest, Clara Bow in her star-making role as the IT girl. (Yes, that's where the phrase comes from.) Carl Davis will be conducting the score. Bonus awesome.

Now for a classic Hollywood confession: I've never seen ON THE TOWN. I know, I know. Gene Kelly in a sailor uniform. I KNOW. But I'll be seeing it on the big screen, so that kind of makes up for my previous ignorance?

After a full day of movie-going, the lovely, lovely programming people have planned a treat for all us humans with "stupid minds--stupid, stupid!" Yes, my friends, it's Ed Wood's masterpiece, PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE! Obviously, I can quote almost all the bad lines from PLAN 9. As an ardent lover of Tim Burton's ED WOOD (and the marvelously, sincerely, uniquely horrendous oeuvre of the master Edward D. Wood, Jr. himself), I am well-versed in the film. The only question is how to sneak in a bottle of something for an Ed Wood drinking game...? 


Saturday's shaping up to be the most diverse day of the festival, with offerings ranging from silents and Swedish, to noir and cartoons.

After yesterday's late night silliness with Ed Wood, Saturday morning should begin as all Saturday mornings should begin: with cartoons. (Amen.) Sex symbol Leonard Maltin presents BUGS BUNNY'S 75TH BIRTHDAY BASH, a collection to celebrate Bugs' silver anniversary this year. Sounds good, Doc.

It's a pretty big three-sixty from a rascally rabbit to rapey hillbillies, but, ah, such is the joy of the TCM Classic Film Festival. Next up is John Boorman's DELIVERANCE, one of several '70s classics that, through the inexorable passage of time, now share billing with Greta Garbo, Ernest Lubitsch and Bob Hope. And I'm all for it. With respect to the traditional "classic Hollywood" era fans, the 1970s were probably the all-time greatest decade for American film (certainly, the '40s give the '70s some stiff competition). Heck, it's been 40 years. Yes, the '70s is classic. And Jon Voight will be there in person! C'mon, TCM, you couldn't get Burt Reynolds and Ned Beatty? What are they doing that's better than this? Their loss.

One of the must-see screenings is the world premiere restoration of THE BIG PARADE, presented by rock star/sexiest film preservationist alive Kevin Brownlow. King Vidor's 1925 epic about WWI features (another!) new score by Carl Davis. It's a match made in silent cinema heaven.

Speaking of cinema heavens, how about a discussion with Max von Sydow about THE SEVENTH SEAL? Kind of amazing, right? Ingmar Bergman's stone cold classic with the star in person? Okay, you twisted my arm. And screening it in 35mm as to preserve Sven Nyquist's perfect cinematography? Oh, my heart, be still.

Next up is a film I know nothing about: Cy Endfield's TRY AND GET ME. But I trust Eddie Muller, the czar of noir, to pick out gems for the festival. And the film--about mob justice in light of a kidnapping that ends in murder--sounds like a winner.

Now it's time to take a breath. It's Saturday night at midnight. Am I still awake and alive enough to sit through ISLAND OF LOST SOULS? I sincerely hope so, because it's an awesome film that I've been meaning to see forever. I mean, Charles Loughton and Bela Lugosi in a pre-code horror flick about half-human monsters? Perfect midnight movie fodder. Here's to the coffee I will require to make it through this awesome slate of movies.


Sunday I am running completely on fumes. Luckily for me, it's kind of an easy day because, baby, we're spending it in the '70s.

First up is the digital restoration of Terrence Malick's amazing first feature, BADLANDS. No Sissy Spacek or Martin Sheen for the Q&A, though, which is a bummer. But it's an amazing film and I'm psyched to finally see it on the big screen.

Ditto for the next film: an oft-overlooked New Hollywood gem called SCARECROW, which co-stars Al Pacino and Gene Hackman. The pair play drifters who hook up to travel together, but beyond that (and the fact it was photographed by Vilmos Zsigmond), I don't know much about it. This will be the U.S. premiere of a new digital restoration, however, so that's cause for excitement.

We continue the Max von Sydow tribute with Sydney Pollack's thriller, THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR. And '70s Robert Redford on the big screen? Me-ow.

Which brings us to the end. But what a finale! It's my bf Buster Keaton's masterpiece, THE GENERAL! Screened in a world premiere digital restoration with musical accompaniment from the terrific Alloy Orchestra, this will be an amazing end to what's sure to be an amazing festival.

And then, oh yes, the infamous Club TCM after party. What happens at the Club TCM after party stays at the Club TCM after party.  Happy festival, everyone!

January 25, 2013

Ladies of Tampa: The (Ecstatic, Exurberant) Women of MAGIC MIKE

Washboard abs. Male butts in thong underwear. Male sexuality being worshiped by women in a playful, consensual environment (and men loving it). Magic Mike is something of a mainstream movie miracle in regards to gender relations. Simply the amount of naked male flesh in this film makes me wanna pen feminist odes to Steven Soderbergh. But perhaps my favorite part of Magic Mike isn't the skin, so much as the reactions to this hidden world of male stripping. Most of these reactions mix surprise and disbelief with the expected excitement and titillation. I know for a fact the accuracy of these faces--it's what theatrical audiences looked and sounded like when the film was released last summer.

So, please, enjoy the feminine side of Magic Mike. "Laaadies of Tampaaa..."