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Announcing the Agatha Christie Blogathon!

AgathaChristieLittle Bits of Classics and I are thrilled and excited to announce the Agatha Christie Blogathon – The Queen of Crime!

When? 

September 16th-18th

Why?

The inspiration for this blogathon is Domi’s of Little Bits of Classics. It is in honor of Agatha Christie’s 126th birthday on the 15th of September.

Rules

All things Agatha Christie are welcome! Anything and everything – her life, her writing style, her characters, her books, the movie adaptations of her books, tributes, retrospections – the more the better! We want to honor everything about the great lady.

The only rules we have are that we are Not Allowing Duplicates on individual Books because there are so many we hope to see covered. There are quite a few movies, too, so we thought we would put a limit of Two Posts Per Movie. However, there is no limit on how many posts can be written about Agatha Christie, her life or her characters. And if you want to compare a book with a movie, even though someone’s already chosen that movie or book singly, that’s great, too!

At the end of each day of the blogathon, either I or Little Bits of Classics will collect all the posts of the day in a recap. To send us your posts on those days you can give us the link to your post, along with your blog name, in the comments section of this post or via twitter (@_cwehner).

Little Bits of Classics and I really want to thank Ruth at Silver Screenings for creating the wonderful banners for this event! Please feel free to take one – which can be found at the bottom of this post – and help us promote.

Sign-Up

You can sign-up using the form below. Each day of the blogathon is dedicated to a different topic.

Friday the 16th – all things Hercule Poirot

Saturday the 17th – all things Miss Marple

Sunday the 18th – all the rest, including Agatha Christie or any other novels or movies not related to Poirot or Miss Marple.

If your chosen topic covers both Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, feel free to choose whatever day you like. Also, we’ve provided a definition of your topic in the sign-up sheet. The purpose is to help distinguish if someone has elected to write, for example, about Witness for the Prosecution the movie, the play or the short story. That way, if you check the roster, you can see that though someone has perhaps chosen to write about the movie, the play is still open.

Also, please note that the Year of Release option on the sign-up form is for movies. That option is there to help in case of multiple adaptations of the same story. Like Murder on the Orient Express. Though we are not allowing multiple posts on individual movies, there are still several movie adaptations of that book.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact either Little Bits of Classics or me. We can’t wait to read all your contributions in September!

 

Below is the roster for the blogathon so far. To view it in full, click here.

 

Fiction Fan’s Book Reviews – 4:50 From Paddington and Murder, She Said

Phyllis Loves Classic Movies And The There Were None

Critica Retro – Death On the Nile

Caftan Woman – Evil Under the Sun

M.C. Dulac – Death on the Nile

The Dream Book Blog – Poirot Series: “Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case”

Cleopatra Loves Books – Murder at the Vicarage

Old Hollywood Films – An Overview of Margaret Rutherford’s Miss Marple

Serendipitous Anachronisms – The Mousetrap (play)

Silver Scenes  A Caribbean Mystery and Murder is Easy

Ah Sweet Mystery of Life After the Funeral

 

AgathaChristie

AgathaChristie

AgathaChristie

AgathaChristie

AgathaChristie

AgathaChristie

 
68 Comments

Posted by on June 30, 2016 in Books, Movies

 

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Fog Over Frisco (1934) – Bette Davis Blogathon

Fog-Over-FriscoIn her early films at Warner Bros, Bette Davis is like a dynamo or a ball of fire, bursting across the screen: Fog Over FriscoPetrified ForrestIt’s Love I’m AfterMarked Woman. I wonder if it’s because she had so much pent up energy owing to the lack of meaty roles to sink her teeth into. Or perhaps it’s her youthful ambition and drive coming through. Whatever it is, she positively crackles in the early and mid-thirties.

One such film is Fog Over Frisco, a zippy crime drama (and I do mean zippy; it’s only 68 minutes long), where Bette Davis plays a beautiful socialite, blithely mixed up with gangsters and illicit affairs. She lasts about twenty-five minutes, but she’s the one who makes the story go.

Arlene Bradford (Bette Davis) is a notorious party girl who has just become engaged to Spencer Carlton (Lyle Talbot) and has supposedly calmed down from her wayward days. Her step-father, Mr. Bradford, (Arthur Byron), doesn’t believe it, while Arlene’s step-sister, Val (Margaret Lindsay) sticks up for her. But Arlene has not reformed and is working with the criminal Jake Bellos (Irving Pichel), who steals bank securities and passes them to Arlene to dispose of. She gives them to Spencer, who works at her step-father’s bank, and he gives her cash and then bit by bit disposes of them. He’s not happy about it, but Arlene has him wound around her finger.

But when her mysterious lover comes into the picture, she returns her engagement ring to Spencer, gives the gangsters the heave-ho and plans to run off with the man she really loves…except he doesn’t love her anymore and wants his love letters back. Meanwhile, to add to the list of future suspects, Mr. Bradford has discovered what Spencer has been doing for Arlene and blames her for the whole mess and the scandal that could envelope the bank, saying she ought to be shot. On cue, Arlene goes missing, but the only person who initially seems interested in looking for her is Val, until she gets abducted. There is also an assortment of newspapermen, policemen and one very nosy butler (suspiciously knowledgeable about things) and bank executives (including Douglass Dumbrille) who end up circling the case. All in 68 minutes! It’s a fun ride.

Everyone has an angle in this film, except loyal Val. Policemen (led Alan Hale) are interested in the missing securities and the gang responsible for stealing them. The gangsters, of course, have their own angle; the mystery lover has his. The newspapermen (led by Hugh Herbert and William Demarest) are out only for a good story. Even Val’s would-be boyfriend, Tony Sterling (Donald Woods), puts a good scoop over helping Val, which leads to Val getting abducted. The bank executives are mostly worried about the potential scandal for the bank and even Mr. Bradford, who ends up being right about Arlene, is not hugely sympathetic. As the daughter of the woman who ran out on him, it’s clear that he considers Arlene to be just like her mother (though he may have a point) and not really his own daughter. Only Val remains truly sympathetic and loyal.

Bette Davis is decidedly up to no good

Bette Davis is decidedly up to no good

Margaret Lindsay made at least four films with Bette Davis: JezebelBordertownDangerous, and Fog Over Frisco (there might be more I’m unaware of). She clearly doesn’t have the zip and sparkle that Bette Davis brings to the screen, but it’s always a pleasure to see her in a film, especially in this one, where she is the only one with purely good motivations.

My one criticism is that the film ends too quickly. Everything is wound up at a breathless pace, which is perhaps understandable given the pace of the film, but it still could have used a few extra minutes to let us – and the characters – absorb everything.

Fog Over Frisco came just before Of Human Bondage and Bette Davis supposedly accepted the role of Arlene to show Jack Warner she was “a team player” to convince him to lend her to RKO so she could play Mildred. Fog Over Frisco is also the first film where she worked with Tony Gaudio as cinematographer and she always had happy memories of making this film, even if she does get killed off before the movie is half over. But she appears to be relishing the role of an amoral socialite who gets a thrill from fooling the police and getting her own way. When she visits Spencer and shows him the securities in her purse and his response is “Not again!” there’s a gleam in her eye and you know there’s going to be trouble.

This post is part of the “Bette Davis Blogathon,” hosted by In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. For more posts covering the whole spectrum of Bette Davis’ extraordinary career, click here.

banner-bette-blogathon

 
21 Comments

Posted by on April 4, 2016 in Movies

 

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White Heat (1949)

downloadWhite Heat is one of James Cagney’s finest films and when I first saw it I was so blown away that I had to watch it again. It was the movie that really turned me into a serious Cagney fan (though I always liked him in Yankee Doodle Dandy and Love Me or Leave Me). Violent, brutal, psychotic, cunning and too-trusting, with serious mommy issues, Cagney’s Cody Jarrett is a frightening and yet surprisingly vulnerable gangster. The vulnerability doesn’t make him more likable, but it does make him a human being and not just a killing machine.

Cody Jarrett (James Cagney) and his gang – which includes his overpowering and devoted mother, Ma (Margaret Wycherly), his cheap, bombshell wife, Verna (Virginia Mayo), and Big Ed (Steve Cochran), who would love nothing better than to replace Cody – have just held up a train and are now hiding out. The police are hot on their trail and to derail suspicion, Cody decides to confess to another crime he didn’t commit (he knows the guy who did commit it), which would show he couldn’t possibly have held up the train. The idea is that he’ll only get a few years and emerge again to enjoy the spoils of criminality.

But once he’s in prison, Big Ed makes his move. Verna, who can hardly compete with Cody’s mother for Cody’s attention (so greatly does Ma Jarrett dominate his life), is quite willing to switch from Cody to Big Ed. Meanwhile, the police know Cody is in for the wrong crime and plant a policemen in jail to get close to Cody. His name is Hank Fallon (Edmund O’Brien) and his job is working in prisons to worm out secrets from the inmates. The police figure that without the strong and steadying influence of Ma, Jarrett will need someone to lean on and they are hoping it will be Fallon. But it’s a race against time. There is insanity in the Jarrett family, Cody’s father ended in an asylum and the police know Cody is beginning to crack up. They want to find out who the fence is who takes care of all the hot money that Cody steals.

James Cagney and Edmund O'Brien

James Cagney and Edmund O’Brien

Spoilers! When Ma Jarrett is killed, Cody goes completely psycho and breaks out of jail, bringing Fallon along with him. The rest of the film almost takes on the tone of a suspense thriller – will Cody kill Big Ed? will Cody catch on to Fallon? will Fallon survive? will Cody figure out that it was really his wife and not Big Ed who killed Ma? – which is broken at the end when everything comes to a head in a blaze of gunfire, a massive explosion, fire and a complete mental breakdown by Cody. It’s both gripping and mesmerizing, made even more so by a unforgettably volatile performance by Cagney, at times pathetic, terrifying, childish, cunning, and even hurt.

The classic gangster of the early 1930s falls because of his own hubris. James Cagney adds new layers to the earlier gangster persona, his motivations slightly obscure. He doesn’t seem ambitious for power or influence, per se. The ambition is coming from his mother, who always tells him “On top of the world, son.” He also doesn’t seem that interested in enjoying the wealth he has, which frustrates his wife, who has to talk him into buying her a fur coat. She wants to live high, have rich things, spend money, travel and hobnob with the rich, but she can’t seem to get her husband interested in any of that until his mother is dead.

Cody Jarrett himself seems most interested in the life of a gangster: the camaraderie, the power over others, the planning, danger, thrill, and also the killing. He gets a high from it and he just likes hanging out with the guys, especially Fallon. Verna is an accessory.

James Cagney and Margaret Wycherley

James Cagney and Margaret Wycherly

And for all that he’s cruel, violent and enjoys it, he’s too trusting. It’s ironic, because in a way, he’s not wrong to place all his faith in his mother. She’s the one who figures out that someone is trying to kill him while he’s in prison (he put the incident down to an accident), she’s the one who senses that they are being followed by the police at the beginning of the film, she’s the one who also who knows Big Ed and Verna are going to betray him. Her mistake is not in taking on Big Ed, but in underestimating Verna.

But once she’s gone, Cody trusts all the wrong people. He makes Fallon his friend and confidante and believes Verna when she tells him that it was Big Ed who murdered his mother and that she never betrayed him at all (she’s nearly as good a liar as Brigid O’Shaughnessy and apparently just as much of an opportunist). Near the end of the film, Cody is sitting in a room with Fallon and Verna, fully trusting these two people, one a cop and the other the murderer of his mother. It would be pathetic if everyone wasn’t so afraid of him.

White Heat was directed by Raoul Walsh and I’ve come to like his films very much. There’s something uncompromising about them that I enjoy, brisk, full of energy, never dull. James Cagney is fantastic. Edmund O’Brien is not dynamic, but he’s not supposed to be. He’s a cop who’s playing the part of a solid and loyal friend. Margaret Wycherly matches Cagney for dynamic personality, as a woman so tangled up in her son’s life, willing him upwards to success, still babying him when he’s low and propping him up so he won’t appear weak to others. Her character intrigued me. She knows insanity’s in the family – her own husband went insane. Does she not see it in her son? Does she think she can hold it in check?

James Cagney, Virginia Mayo

James Cagney, Virginia Mayo

Virginia Mayo is superb as a sort of cheap, gum-smacking Brigid O’Shaunessy. She’s out for the glamour and the high life of drinking, gambling, jewels, the life that so attracted gangsters and their molls in the early 1930s, and she will take whatever guy can give it to her, whether Cody or Big Ed. To be honest, when I first saw the movie, I thought Cody was going to kill her and I was impressed that she survives the film. She’s the only gang member left standing at the end (though she’ll get jail time).

For a person who grew up on musicals and costume-drama romances, I’ve really surprised myself by loving these early gangster films. They’re epic, like a Greek tragedy; not to compare Cody Jarrett to Achilles. To be honest, I never warmed to the characters in Greek epics. They always seemed to me like murderous, bloodthirsty, hubristic rapists eager for glory…actually, maybe there is a comparison to be made. But the comparison should be made in reverse. Cody Jarrett is not an American hero; Achilles is a Greek gangster. I don’t know if I’d begin with White Heat if I’d never seen a gangster film before. The best place to start is at the beginning, with Little Caesar and The Public Enemy (I haven’t seen Scarface yet, but it’s on my list). But White Heat is one of the best.

 
7 Comments

Posted by on September 16, 2015 in Movies

 

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