Laura (1944)

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Laura

After seeing something on Twitter about the film Laura, I was intrigued. With a hard-boiled detective, a beautiful, dead woman, a load of suspects to sift through and lots of plot twists, Laura held my interest. It’s about a notch down from a Raymond Chandler film. It starts with a wiry, old snob typing away in his bathtub. He’s narrating and telling us about Laura’s disappearance. Soon we learn more about this beautiful woman, who’s about to marry a hick from high society, played by a young Vincent Price. Her maid discovered her dead body. She’s got a great apartment and job and every Tuesday and Friday she dines with this snobbish radio personality who’s obsessed with her.

Enter Detective McPherson who’s cut from Philip Marlowe’s cloth. He’s sent to do a job, but before you know it he’s smitten with the victim.  He’s also aggravated Laura’s fiancé, who it turns out has no money, and the old snob. Both look like good candidates for the culprit. Yet a 180° plot turn pops up as McPherson’s daydreaming about Laura and the plot keeps getting twisted.

The story’s not on the level of a Raymond Chandler film starring Bogart, but it moves along and kept me guessing.

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With William Powell of The Thin Man movies, I was looking for a suave, witty detective story. If The Thin Man is an A movie, The Kennel Murder is a C+.

The film opens with detective Philo Vance, played by Powell, at a dog show where his dog loses. At the show there’s a rich man, Archer Coe, with plenty of enemies. His niece resents his control over her, his cook, who’s Chinese, resents his Coe for selling his collection of ancient Chinese porcelain, his secretary resents Coe for forbidding him to marry his niece, his lover’s been cut off after a jealous Coe finds her with an Italian lover, who was supposed to buy the Chinese porcelain collection . . . . No one seems to like Coe.

When Coe is found dead in his bedroom with the door locked, the inept, comical police sergeant assumes it’s a suicide. But Vance doesn’t buy it. When Coe’s hapless brother’s found murdered, murder is suspected, but who did it?

Powell is clever and stands head and shoulders above the police force who all provide comic relief. It’s an entertaining movie but not as witty as The Thin Man films and better 1930s films. With Myrna Loy, Powell had an equal to engage with; here he was the lonely brain. The other characters were stereotypes; and there are some flaws in the murder.

So I’ve seen better films and wouldn’t recommend this strongly, but The Kennel Murder did entertain.

The Kennel Murder

Charlie Chan: The Scarlet Clue

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Since I still enjoy Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce in their Sherlock Holmes films, I decided to try a Charlie Chan film for last week’s “old movie.” They are commingled in my mind as a local TV station used to rotate Charlie Chan and Sherlock Holmes films. I remember watching many Sherlock Holmes films, but had only vaguely remembered Charlie Chan. No I realize why.

Filled with stereotypes and wooden performances. Charlie is played by a white actor whom make up artists make to look Asian. While a Chinese immigrant would speak English imperfectly if he started speaking the language after age 14, this actor’s broken English was a bit much, very annoying. I’m glad we’ve moved to a time when this would be unheard of. The story was thin and weak though the means of poisoning the victims was rather clever. I won’t be watching more of this series.

The previous week’s “old movie” was It’s a Wonderful Life, the classic film that needs no introduction or review. I shared it with my students the last week of class.

The Big Sleep

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In honor of Lauren Bacall, I watched The Big Sleep, a classic from 1946. Based on the Raymond Chandler novel, The Big Sleep involves detective Philip Marlow trying to keep a rich man’s degenerate daughters out of trouble and to find out who killed Sean Ryan, who worked for the rich father. The plot gets quite confusing and even the director and cast had trouble figuring out who killed whom. The snappy dialog and chemistry between Bogart and Bacall make us forgive the film for confusing us and for not following the maxim of providing a hero who undergoes a transformation.

Some favorite quotations:

(Female) Taxi Driver: If you can use me again sometime, call this number.
Philip Marlowe: Day and night?
Taxi Driver: Uh, night’s better. I work during the day.

Vivian: I don’t like your manners.
Marlowe: And I’m not crazy about yours. I didn’t ask to see you. I don’t mind if you don’t like my manners, I don’t like them myself. They are pretty bad. I grieve over them on long winter evenings. I don’t mind your ritzing me drinking your lunch out of a bottle. But don’t waste your time trying to cross-examine me.

IMDB offers some interesting trivia on the film.

broadchurch

broadchurch

I finally saw the last episodes of Broadchurch, the detective mystery about the murder of a young teenaged boy Danny in a small coastal town in England. Alec (David Tennant Doctor Who #10) is a brooding detective, with a secret past, who arrives in Broadchurch when Danny’s body is discovered. Ellie (Olivia Colman of Rev) is the local detective who expected to get the job Alec got. For the most part they get along well, it’s not oil and water. Colman’s a patient positive woman so she handles her disappointment with grace and tries to draw out and educate Alec to the ways of this closed, small town.

It takes 8 episodes to discover the murderer. At times the story drags. A lot of time is devoted to the emotions of Danny’s family and the intrigues and secrets of the town. Most are dead ends, but pursuing them destroys some lives and relationships. While I did feel the characters seemed like real small town folk, the dialog at times seemed written, rather than real.

I saw the first episodes on a flight a year ago. It’s not on Netflix and I wasn’t so wrapped up in the story that I wanted to buy it. I liked the actors especially Tennant and Colman, but the program doesn’t have the writing of Luther or Spiral. While it was better than a CBS detective program, it wasn’t worth buying. Finally, the library got the DVDs. The ending was a surprise but the last episode was padded big time. I’d have to rematch the series to determine whether I feel it was well plotted. As it is, I just don’t care enough to invest the time.

Broadchurch is getting translated to “American” on Fox and will be called Gracepoint. The story seems the same, too similar and will be 10 episodes. I guess viewers are in for more padding unless the extra episodes will just make up for the commercials. Tennant will play the American version of Alec, by donning a bad haircut and speaking with an American accent. Colman’s been replaced by a tall blond woman. What would you expect from an American network? If they’re bold and smart, they’d make the murderer someone different. I wouldn’t invest 10 hours to see the same result.

Woman in Green

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Last week I had trouble blogging as the Chinese seem to be keen on blocking VPNs. So I have been catching up on old movies for my New Year’s resolution, I just haven’t been able to blog about them.

I enjoyed The Woman in Green, a Sherlock Holmes movie starring Basil Rathbone ad Sherlock and Nigel Bruce as Watson. The pair set the standard for Sherlock and Watson and I appreciate a Sherlock who consistently shows his good humor towards his sidekick’s foibles.

In The Woman in a rich older man, Sir George Fenwick meets and alluring younger woman. After a night out with her he awakes in a cheap hotel room unable to recall how he got there. When he finds a severed finger of a woman in his pocket, he fears that he’s involved in a series of murders. He’s soon blackmailed.

The police are perplexed by the murders and call in Holmes and Watson, who happened to see Sir George out with a beautiful blonde. Sir George’s daughter brings the finger which she dug up after she saw her father burying something suspicious in their yard. When Holmes and Watson go to interview Sir George, they find him dead. Soon Holmes suspects Moriarty‘s involved.

The movie still entertains without getting quite as gruesome as a more modern depiction might. Rathbone portrays Holmes as a sophisticated genius, who may be a trifle arrogant, but has the social skills to smooth problems over as needed. It’s a classic mystery, still fun to watch.

     

    Voice of Terror

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    This week I watched The Voice of Terror for my weekly old movie selection. The Voice of Terror is a Sherlock Holmes film with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. In this film Nazi’s are predicting and broadcasting them minutes before they occur. Trains are getting derailed, factories are getting blown up, and the government is completely ineffective. Time to call in Sherlock Holmes.

    While this 1940s film lacks the slick appeal of the new Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, it’s still highly satisfying. Rathbone is Sherlock and Bruce is Watson, a delightful one to boot. They have a good rapport and can be witty and compelling as a scene requires. I think you have to watch and think a bit more carefully to appreciate the humor here, but even if you miss it, you can enjoy this detective flick. There’s a memorable scene at the end that takes some lines from Doyle’s “The Last Bow.”

    It was rather relaxing to watch an exciting drama that doesn’t need to take its viewers to the edge.

    Sherlock: The Sign of Three

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    Warning, readers: Spoilers below.

    John Watson marries Mary Marston in this episode. Yet Sherlock in many ways overshadows the couple, as one would expect. While the secondary characters like Mrs. Hudson are excited for the couple most are worried about Sherlock. How will he handle this change in his friendship with Watson? I’d rather the big question surrounded solving a crime and capturing the criminal.

    The episode did have its bright spots: the costumes were splendid as were the settings. I really liked the bright yellow walls in the place where the reception was held.

    The episode started with Lestrade desperately trying to capture three elusive bank robbers. A series of scenes shows the police’s near misses over the course of a year. (Why wasn’t Sherlock brought in to help?) Just as Lestrade and his officers are about to make their arrest, he gets a text from Sherlock. “Help!” Though capturing these robbers is crucial to Lestrade, he decides to race over to 221 B Baker Street to help Sherlock. Since he thinks this plea indicates a dire emergency, Lestrade calls the station to send loads of officers over to 221 B.

    But wouldn’t you know it was a big misunderstanding? Sherlock just needed a question about John’s wedding answered. If we hadn’t seen this sort of joke before it would be funny. The show’s done this before with John racing to Sherlock’s aid for a false alarm. While Sherlock’s behavior wouldn’t change, those around him would learn and would think twice before sounding the alarm or racing to him. Why didn’t Lestrade call first? He’s not an idiot.

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    The show was uneven to me. Because of all the attention paid to the wedding and how Sherlock would cope, I felt the show was off kilter. The first crime we see involves the murder of a Royal Guard and that was undertaken mainly as a diversion to get the boys out of the house.

    There were some scenes with Mycroft which seemed superfluous. Since the episode is entitled “The Sign of Three,” and does borrow characters’ names from “The Sign of Four, I’d hoped we’d see some version of the annoying, and humorous Abernathy Jones, whose in that novel. A modern Abernathy Jones could be hilarious or vexing and intrigue us all. We don’t need Mycroft in every story.

    The crimes seem tacked on as if its a bother to deal with them, which shouldn’t be the case. They are the crux of the series. Jonathan Small, the murderer, has a personality and back story that’s paper thin. In the original there’s much more dimension to him.

    The writers fill the time with sequences that wore out their welcome fast. I didn’t need to see a protracted stag party/pub crawl with Sherlock and Watson getting plastered. Sure, if you must, show them getting drunk, but do it quickly. The humor of the drunk stumbling around is of the lowest order. I can do without the cliché. Also, the wedding speech dragged on. Though it was interspersed with lots of flashbacks, it still dragged. The speech contained some touching moments and did provide some exposition, but it went on far too long.

    After last week’s episode, “The Empty Hearse,” which was weighed down by nods to fans and fan fiction, this episode made me long for Jeremy Brett‘s Sherlock Holmes. While I’m fine with the idea of deviating from tradition, I do still want a good story and not a potentially good story hidden amongst easy gags. It seems like writers Moffat, Gatiss and Thompson, are drunk on the show’s popularity and have taken to writing to the giddier fans. I could excuse a fluffy episode like this if we weren’t limited to three Sherlocks a year.

    Not to harp too much about the original, but in the novel, we do learn why John so loves Mary. He worries about whether he’s too poor for her as she’s the heir to a fortune. He describes her character and in the end he is able to propose. I have liked the character of Mary Marston played by Amanda Abbington does a fine job, but she doesn’t have much background. She’s a beautiful cheerful woman who doesn’t try to divide these friends, but there’s no sign of why John’s marrying this beautiful, cheerful woman rather than another. In the book, that was clear.

    Spiral (a.k.a Engrenages)

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    Formidable!

    I’ve just discovered and gotten hooked on Spiral, a fast-paced, well written police/law show from France. Season One focuses on the murder of Elina, a beautiful, young Romanian woman who was a biology graduate student and a prostitute on the side. Her younger sister is missing and soon turns up dead.

    Caroline Proust stars as the Laure Berthaud, the police captain, who leads a male staff with some gender bias. It’s clear that some fully accept her and others less so, but this isn’t the 1990s of Prime Suspect. Unkempt and down to earth, Laure is loyal to her men, protecting even the Coke addict troublemaker Gilou. She’s masculine in her attitude towards sex, very open and not looking for commitment. Yet despite, or because of her indifference to fashion, Laure is beautiful.

    Grégory Fitoussi plays the Vice Prosecutor, Pierre Clément, a straight arrow lawyer. Pierre is recently separated from his wife, who could pass as a model. She’s the antithesis of Laure, polished, fashionable, willing to break inconvenient rules and annoyed when her husband isn’t.  Pierre’s childhood friend has a big role in season 1 as his name appears in a murder victim’s diary placing Pierre between the Scylla and Caribdis having to choose between loyalty to an old friend and professional ethics.

    Clément often opposes Joséphine Karlsson, a gorgeous, intelligent defense attorney with no scruples whatsoever. In season 1, episode, Karlsson’s boss dies suddenly. She soon agrees to work for a disbarred attorney, who was convicted for raping his last colleague. Together they make the good guys work for every conviction. If the money’s good, and Karlsson will always ask for more, she’ll get any scumbag off.

    The police are a varied lot. Tintin’s a dependable, astute detective, while another, Gilou, is a junkie with a hooker as a girlfriend. Soon the junkie turns as a informant to the underworld. Viewers are on pins and needles whether Gilou’s

    At first the French legal system confused me. They call a man “judge” who seems to have the duties of the State’s Attorney in our system (i.e. he reminds me of the D.A. in Law and Order.) Yet he interviews suspects and victims in his office and someone else presides in the courtroom. Like the Brits, lawyers wear black robes and white neckwear, but no fake wigs are needed.

    The plot gets more twisted and complex as time goes on. The suspense rises and rises. The story’s very Aristotelean in that the greatest threats are often characters near and dear to Clément or Berthaud. In each episode you don’t know what will happen till the very last second. Your stomach will turn as you get glimpses at the criminal’s depths.

    Warning: The program’s got several gruesome scenes. I admit I had to look away and since my French is poor wasn’t sure when I could resume viewing.

    The characters are complex and even perplexing psychologically. No one, except the criminal and the Elina, are completely good or bad, but rather intriguing. As a viewer I was never sure if good would win out. I was rarely sure of anything other than that there’d be a complete reversal by the end of each episode. If you like The Shield or The Wire, watch Spiral on Netflix.

    Waking the Dead

    waking_the_dead_wideweb__470x360Waking the Dead is a British reliable, sturdy police procedure. While it’s not in the same league as Luther, it entertains. Waking the Dead depicts a cold case police unit and each crime is solved in two hour long episodes. Episode one and two revolved around solving the case of a teenage girl who was abducted, raped and murdered.

    The hero is Det. Sup. Peter Boyd who was on this case the first time. He wants to make up for botching the case. We get a little, but not much of his personal life. Mainly the show is about solving the case, which is fine. Boyd’s not flamboyant, very no nonsense. The drama lies with the situation with the occasional conflict amongst team members.

    There was enough here to keep me watching and to watch again.