Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

B-movie heaven (2)

Another selection of pulpy crime thrillers, routine actioners, and some odd Euro-thrillers, not quite Trash but satisfyingly enjoyable, with those French thriller genre tough guys Henri Vidal and Robert Hossein, as well as Sterling Hayden and Steve Cochran and that tough dame Ruth Roman. Enjoy ...
Ruth Roman

THREE SECRETS, 1950. A nifty melodrama, one of Robert Wise’s early films. A five-year-old boy is the sole survivor of a devastating plane crash in the mountains of California. When the newspapers reveal the boy was adopted and that the crash occurred on his birthday, three women begin to ponder if it's the son each gave up for adoption. 
As the three await news of his rescue at a mountain cabin, they recall incidents from five years earlier and why they were forced to give up their son. The women are top-billed Eleanor Parker, rather pallid here; Patricia Neal as incisive as ever, and Ruth Roman who makes the most impression. It is nicely worked out and keeps one involved. The men pale by comparison: Frank Lovejoy, Arthur Franz, Leif Erickson, Ted de Corsia.

FIVE STEPS TO DANGER, 1957. While driving from California to New Mexico, Ann Nicholson picks up John Emmett at a truck stop. She is looking for someone else to share the driving with her so that she can get to her ultimate destination, Santa Fe, quicker. He agrees to accompany her, he being on a month long vacation and heading to a fishing lodge by bus in that general direction anyway. He soon begins to wonder if it was a good decision. They are first stopped by a nurse claiming that Ann is under medical psychological care, and then by the police who are looking for her for questioning on a serious incident back in Los Angeles. Because of these encounters, she tells him her story: that she is indeed recovering from a stress related condition, but that that stress was brought about by her need to get some politically sensitive military information to Santa Fe. 
Wavering between believing and not believing her story, John decides to trust her and go along with her as far as the story plays itself out, all the while the two being chased by various people. 
This plays marvellously with non-stop action ... it may even have inspired the look of PSYCHO ? - I was reminded of the scenes with Janet Leigh in the car and evading the policeman, while watching similar scenes here as we travel the highways and those cheap motels. Ruth Roman and Sterling Hayden are just right, and the plot teases until the end, as directed by Henry S. Kesler. 

TANGANYIKA, 1954. Movies with exotic names were a staple of 50s cinema, as programmers and actioners were set in places like TANGANYIKA, MARACAIBO, MOZAMBIQUE, EAST (or WEST) OF SUDAN - mostly filmed on the backlot, with second unit photography from Africa fitted in, as in Fox's WHITE WITCH DOCTOR (Susan Hayward label). Janet Leigh in her memoirs said they really went to Africa for SAFARI, a 1956 actioner with Victor Mature I remember seeing as a kid. It was hardly worth the journey. Here we have Ruth Roman again, with Van Heflin and Howard Duff, and lots of local colour with all those dancing and fighting natives in this obscure jungle adventure, directed by veteran Andre De Toth, he of the one eye. Roman comes across as a butcher Susan Hayward, Fox's regular action lady.
In 1903 Kenya, tough colonist John Gale is leading a safari to bring in escaped murderer Abel McCracken, who is stirring up the Nukumbi tribe and endangering Gale's holdings. En route, he picks up four survivors of Nukumbi raids: hunter Dan Harder, former teacher Peggy, and two kids. But Dan has hidden motives for coming along; and the Nukumbi are lying in wait.
One I must try to get hold of is JOE MACBETH, a '50s mobster version of Shakespeare with Paul Douglas and Ruth as a rather good Lady Macbeth, which I remember from seeing as a kid ... Ruth was later a staple on tv shows and is always - like Anne Baxter, Jane Russell, Dorothy Malone, Virginia Mayo, Martha Hyer, Vera Miles and other '50s gals - good value. Perhaps she is best remembered now in Hitch's STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, 1951. We like her in the 1966 LOVE HAS MANY FACES which she practically steals from Lana Turner and those Acapulco beachboy gigolos. (Roman label).

MOZAMBIQUE, 1965. This routine, cheesy in a fun way, meller turned out to be the last film of tough guy Steve Cochran, who died that year. He looks fine here and does a lot of stunts in this Harry Alan Towers German production. An out-of-work and penniless American pilot is offered work in Mozambique and promptly becomes an unwitting pawn in a world of drug smuggling, kidnap and murder. Hildegarde Knef is rather good as Ilona Valdez, international woman of mystery (below) and chanteuse in a nightlcub, where she sings German songs to the African natives. Paul Hubschmid and vivacious Vivi Bach are also involved in the derring-do, its rather like a straight version of those Jean Dujardin OSS 117 send-ups. The definition of an amusing timewaster. Cochran was good too with Anne Baxter in CARNIVAL STORY in '54 and was immortalised by Antonioni as the lead in his IL GRIDO in 1957. (review at Antonioni label).

UNE MANCHE ET LA BELLE (WHAT PRICE MURDER?), 1957. A delicious treat from French thriller veteran Henri Verneuil (see French label for reviews of MELODIE EN SOUS SOL, etc). Humble (or is he?) bank clerk Henri Vidal charms wealthy widow Isa Miranda but keeps her at arms length until she practically begs him to marry her .... her secretary is young Mylene Demongeot, whom Vidal is attracted to, but Mylene has her own plans. So who ends up killing who? and will Isa suspect what is going on ? This is brilliantly worked out, with a great twist one does not see coming, from a James Hadley Chase potboiler, and it all looks great in gleaming black and white. Isa has a great role, Mylene is as delicious as ever, and Vidal - this charming man - looks great. 
We like Vidal - from ATTILA in '54, and Clement's LES MAUDITS, as well as those films with Brigitte Bardot and Romy Schneider (Vidal label). What a contrast with Robert Hossein, that other tough French guy. Vidal died aged 40 in 1959 just as Delon and Belmondo were hitting their stride - (so also did Gerard Philipe, also dying in 1959). Hossein on the other hand, is stll here in his 80s and still working unitl recently after a long career. Delon and Belmondo and Trintignant may have been the main French idols, but Maurice Ronet, Jean Sorel and Robert Hossein had long careers too, in mainly action movies - like Franco Nero, Raf Vallone, Renato Salvatori, Vittoria Gassman in Italy. Isa Miranda,below.
TOI ... LE VENIN, (NIGHT IS NOT FOR SLEEP), 1958. This is a deliciously crazy movie, with a great premise. Robert Hossein is out walking late at night when a car pulls up and a blonde calls him over. She wants him to get in, he does and soon they are locked in an embrace, after she removes her top .... but she throws him out and tries to run him over. He manages to get the car number and traces it to a villa where two wealthy sisters live. One is crippled in a wheelchair, and is nursed by her sister. These are played by real-life sisters Marina Vlady (Hossein's wife at the time) and Odile Versois. Our laidback hero is soon caught in the middle between the two sisters, as he romances Odile and promises to stay and run their record store. 
The other sister in the wheelchair is also becoming dangerously obsessed with Robert, but he begins to suspect she is not disabled at all, but cannot prove it. How is all this going to end? Very satisfyingly is all I can say. We liked some other Hossein thrillers (as per my previous B-movie post on French thrillers), like LE MONT CHARGE, and THE WICKED GO TO HELL, which featured Vidal and Vlady. This one is just as good if not better. IMDb describes it as a "Panting psychological thriller", ably directed by Hossein.

DEATH OF A KILLER, (LA MORT  D'UN TUEUR) 1964. Not much fun here but this is the real deal - a tough, spare, tense thriller with Hossein (forever in his pork pie hat) released from prison and teaming up with his old gang, to find out who shopped him to the police just as they were carrying out a robbery. He suspects one gang member, Luciano who was in love with Hossein's attractive sister Marie-France Pisier, whom Hossein himself is also obsessed about. Mother back at home is weary Lila Kedrova, as Hossein and his pals begin to track down Luciano all over the city (it looks like Marseilles). 
Local gangland gets involved and there is a detour to a nightclub with some exotic black dancers (as in LA NOTTE and other chic nightclub scenes of the time) where Hossein gets off with a blonde (also Pisier). Then the shoot-out and all is revealed at the end. Its a film of great images and creates a great mood of fatalism, again also directed by Hossein. 

Soon: Hossein with Sophia Loren in MADAME, that rarity from 1961 ... and another look at Dassin's classic RIFIFI with Hossein and a great cast; and another steaming helping of Trash classics. 


  1. Adore Ruth Roman, Hitchcock's most atypical leading lady. He didn't want her of course finding her bristling but I think that's harsh. She was definitely a tough customer and when the studio would occasionally miscast her as the dewy ingenue she was lost but usually she injected a strong shot of gusto into her films.

    Three Secrets is one of my holy grail movies. I've seen most of Eleanor Parker's films, all but this one of her studio films, but unfortunately they never seem to show it in the states. I really liked Five Steps to Danger but it would have been better with another actor than that block of wood Sterling Hayden who I'm most definitely not a fan of. I must keep an eye out for Tanganyika it looks like utter balderdash but that can be fun when you're in the right mood.

  2. Yes, Ruthie comes across as a tough cookie, she strides around TANGANYIKA like Susan Hayward's butcher sister, looking fetching in her safarai jacket and matching skirt. Like Jane Russell for instance she was happier holding her own against the tough guys out west or in tough thrillers.

    Sterling Hayden was another of those guys - like Barry Sullivan and others - who was an ideal foil for those slightly older stars like Davis (in THE STAR) or Crawford (JOHNNY GUITAR).

  3. Joe - I can't locate your email address, but if you see this, email me, as I could do you a region-free dvd-r disk of "Three Secrets". No problem. Mike