The Tattooed Stranger

Released Feb 9, 1950: THE TATTOOED STRANGER, starring John Miles, Patricia Barry, and Walter Kinsella. Directed by Edward Montagne (Project X, The Man with My Face, McHale’s Navy Joins the Air Force). TheTattooedStrangerDevelopments in camera technology in the late 1940s made it easier to bring cameras on location and shoot in low-light conditions, eliminating the need for expensive sets and complex lighting rigs. Not only did this allow films to have a more realistic feel, but it enabled small film producers on meager budgets to have a viable shot at competing with big studios. One type of low budget film that became popular during this period was the police procedural, an almost documentary-like chronicle of police detectives performing their work to solve crimes. This is one such film, and in many ways it plays out like an episode of CSI or Law & Order, except with a love story thrown in for good measure. The film opens with the discovery of a woman’s body in Central Park. She’s been shot to death and left in an abandoned stolen car. With no personal identification on her, except a tattoo on her wrist, the two homicide detectives assigned to the case (John Miles and Walter Kinsella) must find out who she is, who shot her, and why. The film goes to great lengths to demonstrate the importance of “modern” scientific forensic analysis. In fact, Miles is a former lab tech just transferred to the homicide division, and there are frequent comparisons between his scientific methods and the traditional methods of his veteran flatfoot partner, Kinsella. One of the film’s best features are the many location shots throughout the city of New York, the Bronx, and Brooklyn. The city is gritty, run-down, and rich with texture, providing a wealth of atmosphere to the story. Nowadays, we take location shooting for granted, but in the 1940s, it was not a common practice, so this film gives us a rare glimpse of life on the streets during that period. Be sure to look for an uncredited non-speaking appearance by Jack Lord, the future Steve McGarrett of television’s Hawaii Five-O. This was only his third appearance on film. The Tattooed Stranger is a micro-budget film with no-name actors and a fairly pedestrian plot. It’s generally a forgettable film, save for its charm as a precious time capsule of old New York and a glimpse into the origins of police dramas as we know them today. We give The Tattooed Stranger 3 out of 5 fedoras.

3 Fedoras

The Brasher Doubloon

Released Feb 6, 1947: THE BRASHER DOUBLOON, starring George Montgomery, Nancy Guild, and Conrad Janis. Directed by John Brahm (The Lodger, Guest in the House, Hangover Square). This is a lesser known entry in the group of noir films that feature Raymond Chandler’s BrasherDoubloonprivate eye, Philip Marlowe, and as such, is a low-budget step-brother to legendary Marlowe films like Murder, My Sweet (1944) with Dick Powell and The Big Sleep (1946) with Humphrey Bogart. This time out, western star George Montgomery takes his turn at playing the famous detective. Montgomery is hired by a wealthy, eccentric old woman (Florence Bates) to find the Brasher Doubloon, a rare and extremely valuable coin that was stolen from her private coin collection. She doesn’t give Montgomery much to go on, and appears to be withholding relevant information about her spoiled son (Conrad Janis) and beautiful private secretary (Nancy Guild). Using the few leads he has, Montgomery follows the trail of the missing coin to a variety of seedy locations and shady characters, most of whom are ready to do him harm to acquire the coveted coin. Although this is a low-budget B-grade film, it is saved by its compelling fast-paced plot and a parade of vividly drawn characters and distinctive locations. Some places, like Montgomery’s office and a coin dealer’s shop, are clearly staged on a meager budget, but others, like Bates’ lavish home, a seedy apartment building, and an underground nightclub, are dripping with atmosphere. Unfortunately, the casting of Montgomery as Marlowe is the weak link in this film. He’s not a bad actor, and is generally likable, but Montgomery’s portrayal of Marlowe lacks the hard-boiled edge of a noir protagonist. Montgomery’s Marlowe has more in common with Lloyd Nolan’s roguish portrayal of private eye Michael Shayne, in that series of films, than the cynical, pragmatic, noir gumshoes from the likes of Bogart, Powell, and Mitchum. The rest of the cast provide a tasty assortment of characters for Montgomery to play off of. Janis is fittingly arrogant and snotty as a spoiled rich kid and character actors Roy Roberts, Jack Conrad, Marvin Miller, and Fritz Kortner all provide uniquely distinct characterizations. Guild presents Montgomery with a beautiful and vulnerable damsel in distress to save, although the flirtations between Montgomery and Guild, spread thick with double-entendres that are often too clever for their own good, are another area where Montgomery seems out of his element. It’s almost as if he read some pick-up lines in a book and is trying them out for the first time. As a light, entertaining detective story, The Brasher Doubloon generally succeeds, thanks to a fast-moving and engaging story, but Montgomery’s performance keeps the film from truly venturing into the dark corridors of noir. We give The Brasher Doubloon 3 out of 5 fedoras.

3 Fedoras

Ida Lupino

Happy birthday to actress, IdaLupinodirector, writer, and producer Ida Lupino, born Feb 4, 1918 in London, England. Starting out as an actress, Ida Lupino pushed the boundaries of what was possible for women in the golden age of Hollywood, forging her own path as a writer, director, and producer at a time when very few women were in positions of creative power in Hollywood. She blazed a trail and broke down barriers for all women filmmakers who came after her. Lupino was born into a well-established theatrical family and studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Her first film role was in the British movie The Love Race (1931), followed by Her First Affaire (1932). By 1933, she was already playing leads in several more British films before coming to Hollywood, where she appeared in over 15 films for Warner Bros. during the late 1930s. In 1940 she was cast opposite Humphrey Bogart and George Raft in one of the earliest noirs, They Drive by Night. Her noteworthy performance led to leading parts in several more early noir films: High Sierra (1941) with Humphrey Bogart, Out of the Fog (1941) with John Garfield, Ladies in Retirement (1941) with husband Louis Hayward, and Moontide (1942) with Jean Gabin. Lupino worked consistently during the 1940s, although she often found herself suspended by the studio for refusing to take roles or insisting on script revisions. The suspensions enabled Lupino to spend time on movie sets observing the technical aspects of film making, and in 1949, she got an opportunity to put her newfound knowledge into practice during the production of Not Wanted, when director Elmer Clifton became ill. Lupino stepped in and finished directing the movie, but didn’t take credit out of respect for Clifton. Lupino enjoyed directing and wanted to do more, but the studios insisted she be in front of the camera, so in the late 1940s, Lupino and second husband Collier Young, formed The Filmakers, an independent production company that produced 12 feature films, many of them tackling controversial social issues, six of which Lupino directed and five that she wrote or co-wrote, including the noir films: The Hitch-Hiker (1953) (co-writer and director) with Edmond O’Brien and Private Hell 36 (1954) (star and co-writer) with third husband Howard Duff. Throughout this period, Lupino also starred in many studio-produced noir films: The Man I Love (1947) with Robert Alda, Road House (1948) with Cornel Wilde, Woman in Hiding (1950) with Howard Duff, On Dangerous Ground (1951) with Robert Ryan, Beware, My Lovely (1952) with Robert Ryan, Jennifer (1953) with Howard Duff, Women’s Prison (1955) with Jan Sterling, The Big Knife (1955) with Jack Palance, and While the City Sleeps (1956) with Dana Andrews. In total, Lupino starred in 15 classic noir films. By the late 1950s, Lupino was working almost exclusively in television, both as an actor and director. She and husband Howard Duff, starred together in the sitcom Mr. Adams and Eve (1957-58), and Lupino herself appeared on many popular TV shows, including Bonanza, The Twilight Zone, The Wild Wild West, Batman, Family Affair, Columbo, and Charlie’s Angels. She directed multiple episodes of Have Gun – Will Travel (1959-61), Thriller (1961-62), The Untouchables (1962-63), The Fugitive (1963-64), Gilligan’s Island (1964-66), and many other shows. Lupino retired in 1978 leaving a prolific legacy of film and television accomplishments. She died of a stroke in 1995 at age 77.

The Bribe

Released Feb 3, 1949: THE BRIBE, starring Robert Taylor, Ava Gardner, Charles Laughton, and Vincent Price. Directed by Robert Z. Leonard (The Great Zigfield, The Pride and Prejudice, The Man from Down Under). This star-studded noir gets a lot of things right but does have its weak points. Robert Taylor is a Federal agent sent to the fictional South American island of TheBribeCarlotta in the guise of a vacationing fisherman to investigate a smuggling operation that deals in stolen military airplane engines. He initially targets two primary suspects, a drunk gambler (John Hodiak), and his beautiful wife (Ava Gardner). Taylor ends up spending a lot of time with Gardner while tracking Hodiak’s movements, and a romance quickly develops between them, which becomes the focus of the story until Charles Laughton comes forward and offers Taylor a handsome bribe to have him stop his investigation. The plot thickens when Vincent Price, a seemingly fun-loving vacationer, arrives on the island. When Price and Taylor go out on a fishing boat together, Price deliberately stages an “accident”, causing Taylor to fall overboard in shark-infested waters. The plot muddles around with more attempted bribes, a murder, and a dose of treachery, until the film’s spectacular climax in the village streets during a fiesta fireworks show. Except for the shark scene and the fireworks finale, the plot has very little action. It’s a very talky crime story with fairly slow pacing, which wouldn’t be an issue if the film had a more charismatic lead character. But unfortunately, Taylor delivers a rather lifeless performance, which only serves to accentuate the languid pace. There’s nothing particularly sympathetic or compelling about his character, and he barely contributes any chemistry to his romance with Gardner. For her part, Gardner has some clever dialog exchanges with Taylor in the early going, but once things become romantic between them, she is unable to generate enough heat to overcome Taylor’s impassive performance, but still does an admirable job considering the circumstances. However, it’s Laughton who owns this film. He plays a disheveled mess of a character in a rumpled suit with unkempt hair and aching feet, who sweats profusely in the sweltering heat. Laughton infuses his character with so much inner vitality that he easily steals every scene he’s in. His performance is definitely the highlight of the movie. Visually, this film is a treat for the eyes. The South American island atmosphere is sumptuously conveyed through a variety of richly flavored locations, such as rustic hotels, tropical night clubs, busy boat docks, and village streets. The scenes at sea, navigating around the smugglers’ island hideout, provide additional visual variety, and as mentioned earlier, the film’s climax amid the fireworks show is an inspired cinematic spectacle. Overall, The Bribe is a very good crime noir set in an interesting location, highlighted by a standout performance from Laughton, but is undermined somewhat by Taylor’s tepid lead. We give The Bribe 3.5 out of 5 fedoras.

3.5 Fedoras

Andrea King

Happy birthday to actress AndreaKingAndrea King, born Feb 1, 1919 in Paris, France. When she was two months old, King moved with her mother to the United States, where King lived for a short time in Cleveland and Palm Beach before settling in Queens, NY. Her portrayal of Juliet in a school production of Romeo and Juliet at age 14 led to roles in other local productions, and eventually Broadway, where she continued to work into the early 1940s. In 1944, she signed with Warner Bros. and was cast in morale-building wartime shorts and a few small movie roles. Eventually she got bigger parts and appeared in nearly 25 films across a variety of genres throughout the late 1940s and 50s, often playing glamorous leads or nefarious second leads. During this period, she appeared in four noir films: The Man I Love (1947) with Ida Lupino, Ride the Pink Horse (1947) with Robert Montgomery, Dial 1119 (1950) with Marshall Thompson, and Southside 1-1000 (1950) with Don DeFore, In the late 1950s, King transitioned to television where she worked consistently into the 1970s. In the early 1990s, she returned to the big screen with small parts in three films. King died in 2003 at age 84.