Monthly Archives: March 2016

The Killers (1946)

Robert Siodmak’s noir classic rightly deserves its place as one of the centrepieces of the genre’s heyday. 

The opening segment – where our title characters approach a small-town diner to murder Burt Lancaster’s clapped-out fighter – is close to cinematic perfection: the shadows of the killers falling on the outside of the diner and the threat established by the wincing dialogue would be sufficient. However,  what really hits the mark, is the culmination of the first act in a shot comprised of a stylish thunderstorm of lights and bullets hailing down on Lancaster as his hands slip down the bed post in pitiful resignation. 

The history of Lancaster’s character – in true ‘smouldering’ mode and the reason for his murder is then told via a series of  extended flashbacks from different characters. These help assemble the layers behind the thinking of the life insurance investigator, superbly played by a young(ish) Edmond O’Brien, who represents the perspective of the audience. 

Bluntly depressing and morally arresting,  the nihilism of Siodmak’s film is deafening. Ava Gardner’s femme-fatale entraps all around her – always the subject of Lancaster’s gaze and the cause of his misjudgement. From the moment Lancaster sets his eyes on Gardner, we know there is no hope for him. In a similar vein, we know the other members of the heist gang are equally doomed – the deaths of Albert Dekker, Jack Lambert and co are never in doubt, the only consideration is how much of the double-cross they’ll uncover before their demise.

The sadness of the situation is made harrowingly worse when the screenplay bears all about Gardner’s scheming diva in a final death scene, where instead of comforting her expiring husband, she begs him to lie to save herself from the law’s clutches. This prompts my favourite line from the timeless script: an unsympathetic detective spits “Don’t ask a dying man to lie his soul into hell…”

Aside from the aforementioned welcome to the film, there’s a marvellous tracking shot along a bar towards the end of the movie, as the camera pans across the faces of the barflies to reveal our title characters once again, who this time are after insurance investigator (Edmond O’Brien) as he nears the labyrinthed truth. 

It’s tough to think of where this movie makes a wrong-turn, and that’s because it’s a genuine rarity – stylishly shot with a defining cast and – most importantly – an utterly engaging screenplay. This is why ‘old’ movies should never be forgotten.

Hotdog rating: 9/10

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The Boy (2016)

The opening of this film is straight out of a Hammer House of Horror episode; on a cold winter’s day a taxi meanders to an isolated and historic country house in the middle of nowhere, a young American nanny in the backseat. The ‘house’ is rather like a castle and has a little more than a whiff of  Del Toro’s “Crimson Peak” (2015) about it. 

Lauren Cohan plays the nanny who must look after a porcelain doll, not an actual boy. You can guess where the destination is and the unoriginality in the script is not something you’d have an easy time vouching for, but this is not a repulsive movie.  The gothic theme is kept up for the entire movie and with its lack of violence and disdain for vulgarity,  this is a muted and thoughtful horror picture. Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle are well-matched – if stereotyped eccentrics – in the role of the elderly couple who dote on their doll. 

It’s also true that at times “The Boy” evokes the chill factor of the ventriloquist tale in the yet-to-be-bettered “dead of night” (1945) but unforgivably throws everything away in the final 15 minutes as the screenplay dives knee-deep into standard slasher fare.

There are other positives, particularly Daniel Pearl’s brilliant cinematography, and stand-out sequences such as a neatly-orchestrated shower scene and a pitifully-sad double suicide.  But in a mystery film – which essentially is what “The Boy” is – the reveal of what’s behind the curtain is all-important and here it’s sadly just a run-of-the-mill psychopath that we’ve seen so many times before. 

Hotdog rating: 4.5/10