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Flick Clique: February 19-25

Let ‘Em Have It (1936). Gritty little gangster pic made as the film industry was pressured to glorify the good, hard-working long arm of the law over the bad guys. The film follows three young FBI recruits, played by Richard Arlen, Henry Stephens and Gordon Jones, as they pursue an attempted extortion/kidnapping case involving the family of socialite Virginia Bruce. Produced by indie Edward Small Productions, this was a decent, faced-paced flick with more action and violence that what you’d normally expect from a ’30s-era picture. The story is very similar to the James Cagney vehicle G-Men, with all its straightforward and often unintentionally funny procedural scenes, although it lacks the nuance of that one. I bought the DVD since it appears on Joyce Compton‘s filmography. Despite getting seventh billing in the credits, Joyce’s part is a bit of nothing as the girlfriend of one of the FBI recruits; she really should have angled for the meaty roles of the gangster’s molls filled (nicely) by Barbara Pepper and Dorothy Appleby.
Murder with Pictures (1936). This was another Joyce film I got on DVD, as part of the Mystery Classics 50 Movie Pack we recently acquired. Cliché-ridden comedy/mystery stars a too-smirky Lew Ayres as a newspaper photographer who enjoys outpacing the police on various hot cases. He winds up becoming part of the story he’s covering when an alluring lady (Gail Patrick) who is a murder suspect enters his apartment seeking shelter from the pursuing authorities. Ayres winds up helping the woman AND coming up with the incriminating photograph that proves who the real killer is. A rather silly, slight film that (at the very least) moves along at a brisk pace and has a glossy production unusual for a b-picture. The plot gets needlessly complex, Ayres is more annoying than good, but Patrick is a knockout — and so is Joyce Compton! She’s got a fairly decent-sized role here as Ayres’ jealous fiancée, looking swanky in fur-lined ensembles designed by Edith Head. Warning: the version of this film on the cheap-o DVD looks as if it went through Photoshop’s blur filter.
Ossessione (1943). We rented this, a pioneering Italian Realist film from director Luchino Visconti, because it looked intriguing and it was frequently cited as an influence on the Story of a Love Affair DVD I recently reviewed. Ossessione was an unofficial adaptation of James M. Cain’s novel The Postman Always Rings Twice which predated the American MGM version by a few years — which led to it being withdrawn from distribution for several years. It’s fascinating to see this in comparison with the more faithfully done American version. This one is more of a “love story gone wrong” chronicle with committed performances from the cast and lots of passionate, soul-searching dialogue (which leads to it being over-extended at more than two hours length). Story‘s Massimo Girotti is the swarthy Italian drifter who happens upon the countryside eatery run by Clara Calamai and her corpulent husband (Juan de Landa). Girotti and Calami immediately spark an affair, fall in love and scheme to off the woman’s husband. You know where that’s going. Like most Neorealist cinema, this was filmed in actual locations with apparently real people (not actors) as extras, lending itself to the painfully real situation the main couple get themselves into. There’s also a few additional elements not in the Cain book, such as when Girotti breaks free from Calamai’s manipulations and cultivates a friendship with a drifting artist played by Elio Marcuzzi. I was getting unspoken homo vibes off that relationship, which was likely intentional on the filmmakers’ part. Although the film didn’t bowl me over, it is an intriguing look at how American culture influenced those in Europe (how they filmed this while WWII was raging, I couldn’t begin to decipher).
Sidelong Glances of a Pigeon Kicker (1970). Another offbeat disc I picked from the DVD Talk pool. Here’s my review.
Take Shelter (2011). Oscars are tonight! Christopher picked the indie Take Shelter since it garnered some buzz for leading actor Michael Shannon in one of those “not nominated, but shoulda been” cases. As a midwestern blue-collar worker whose psychotic delusions are slowly dissolving his family, Shannon does deliver a memorable performance that simmers with intensity without getting too showboat-y. I also enjoyed Jessica Chastain as Shannon’s wife. The film gets somewhat too moribund and talky for my personal tastes, but it is an effective film that does a lot with its meager budget to convey an unsettling, increasingly claustrophobic feel. Shannon’s character is completely sympathetic, since one can feel that he is trying to be a decent fellow despite certain things (mental illness in his family, stress at work) are working against him. Interestingly, Shannon and another of the film’s actors, Shea Wigham, are also featured in Boardwalk Empire (which we started watching this week).

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