Thursday, April 13, 2006

Movies: Cold & Flu Theater

Under the weather? Nothing like clearing movies off the DVR.

While the City Sleeps (1956). Jonathan Rosenbaum touted this in his overlooked noirs piece and I thought, “Didn’t I record that last June?” Yep. It’s a late Fritz Lang/Dana Andrews collaboration, from the period when Lang didn’t have enough money and Andrews had too many highballs. Rosenbaum calls it “the closest Lang ever came to remaking his greatest film, M,” which is overselling it. But it’s got a humdinger of a story.

A media baron dies, leaving feckless son Vincent Price in charge. Price pits the company’s top three lieutenants (including stalwarts George Sanders and Thomas Mitchell) against each other in a race to become his right hand man. All three lobby ace columnist Andrews for support. Also in the mix is icy “woman’s writer” Ida Lupino and Price’s unfaithful wife Rhonda Fleming. The story on page one: the hunt for “the Lipstick Killer,” played by John Barrymore, Jr. (Drew’s dad).

There’s too much plot for so small a budget, but Lang knows how to keep the action moving. While the killer stuff gets short shrift, it does produce the film’s most chilling moment. Barrymore accuses his adoptive mother of wanting a girl and she tells him, “You’re my son, and my daughter, and all the children I could never have.” Cripes.

Man in the Shadow (1957). A young Mexican ranch hand, in the U.S. illegally, is murdered, and only one man cares to bring his killers to justice. Consider this modest, solid western a forerunner to The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.

Quite the mix of talent here: Orson Welles as the heavy, veteran TV writer Gene L. Coon, and ace B-movie director Jack Arnold, all overseen by the Dino DeLaurentiis of the 1950s, Albert Zugsmith.

A supporting character is named “Aiken Clay.” In my drug-addled state, that struck me as significant.

Angel Face (1953). It’s fashionable now to slight Laura in favor of Otto Preminger’s lesser known crime dramas. Sorry. Leave Her To Heaven told this tale better. Points for the ending, though.

Second Chance (1953). Caution: While taking this medication, do not operate heavy machinery or watch movies originally filmed in 3-D. Even those with major stars.