#154 (tie) – In a Lonely Place (1950), dir. Nicholas Ray

In a Lonely Place (1950)

Temporary insanity. Gloria Grahame and Humphrey Bogart are star-crossed lovers torn apart by Bogie’s potentially murderous temper in director Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place.

The noir movies of the 1940s rather muddied the waters when it came to movie protagonists. Even the heroes in noir films tend to be complicated or compromised, and there was perhaps no single actor more essential for creating the Hollywood antihero than Humphrey Bogart. Too gruff and brutish-looking to be a typical leading man, but too charismatic and talented for character roles, Bogie was perfect as a protagonist who straddled the line between hero and villain. It was as the thuggish, sarcastic, womanizing detective Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon that Bogie became a bona fide star, and he became an icon through his performance in Casablanca by playing a hero who was essentially an angry, jealous drunk. There was always a darkness to Bogart’s performances, and that darkness gets to come to the fore in director Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place (1950). A film set at the intersection of passion and violence, In a Lonely Place explores the capacity that we have for savagery — both to commit violence and to tolerate, or even love, those who give themselves over to rage. (93 min.) Continue reading

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#235 (tie) – The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933), dir. Fritz Lang

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Driven ’round the bend. Madness, fear, and the looming spectre of Nazism drive the twisted criminality in The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933), the last film Fritz Lang made in Germany before fleeing to the United States.

“Humanity’s soul must be shaken to its very depths, frightened by unfathomable and seemingly senseless crimes. Crimes that benefit no one, whose only objective is fear and terror. Because the ultimate purpose of crime is to establish the endless empire of crime.” So reads the scribbled ravings of Dr. Mabuse, a criminal mastermind driven insane before his arrest a decade earlier. In the aftermath of horrible events like the Boston marathon bombing it is a sobering (if not distressing) thought that director Fritz Lang was addressing the same sort of dreadful activity 80 years ago as the Nazis began their meteoric rise to power. This was the final film that Lang, whose mother was Jewish, made in Germany before fleeing the country. The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse, 1933) is nominally a sequel to Lang’s very successful silent film Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler (1922), but it is also a semi-sequel to Lang’s previous movie, M (1931, we’ll get in to that below). Confined to a mental institution, the insane Mabuse endlessly pencils out complex criminal schemes which appear to be replicated in the real world by a criminal gang that uses terror and fierce loyalty to reach its destructive ends. Not just another crime film, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse delves into strange realms of madness in a Germany that was itself on the verge of insanity. (122 min.) Continue reading

#56 – M (1931), dir. Fritz Lang

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The damned condemning the damned. Good and bad alike feel the pressure as a child murderer terrorizes a German city in cinema’s first serial killer film.

This is a movie of firsts. M is widely considered to be the first serial killer film and the first police procedural; it is acclaimed German director Fritz Lang’s first sound movie and the first prominent role for future Hollywood star Peter Lorre; and it can in some ways be thought of as the first proper film noir movie, although that is a bit more debatable. The story unfolds in a German city whose populace are becoming increasingly fearful and discordant as a child murderer continues to commit terrible crimes with apparent impunity. With the public in an uproar, the exasperated police crack down heavily on the city’s criminal element. Their illegal businesses in disarray, the criminal underground decide to get the police off their backs by finding the killer themselves, and so a race begins between the cops and the crooks to catch the murderer. (110 min.) Continue reading