Tag Archives: Dan Duryea

Black Angel (1946)

black-angelAny woman who has Dan Duryea and Peter Lorre calling on her at her apartment on the same evening is in trouble. Or at least that’s what I thought at first. The woman actually is the one who turns out to be trouble in this twisty, oddly romantic noir. Not that the woman lasts very long.

Martin Blair (Dan Duryea) is a composer who cannot get over his estranged wife, singer Mavis Marlowe (Constance Dowling). He tries to see her on their anniversary and she won’t even let him up to her apartment, though a mysterious man (Peter Lorre) is allowed up. Martin Blair retreats to a bar to drown his sorrows and play on the piano the song he wrote for her, “Heartbreak.”

Later, yet a third man, Kirk Bennett (John Phillips), enters her apartment and finds her dead, strangled with her own scarf. He is accused of the crime and sentenced to death. His wife, however, refuses to give up and sets out prove his innocence. Her search leads her first to Martin Blair, who is very hung-over.

But after a rocky first meeting, Catherine Bennett (June Vincent) piques his interest with her sympathy and with the story she tells him of the missing brooch. Kirk Bennett claimed to the police that when he entered the apartment, Mavis Marlowe was wearing a ruby, heart-shaped brooch. But as he searched the apartment he realized that he was not alone and someone stole the brooch. The police don’t believe his story, but Martin knows that he had, in fact, sent that brooch to Mavis that evening to try to remind her of his love for her.

Cathy and Martin soon go after Peter Lorre’s character, nightclub owner Marko. They form a team – Carver and Martin – with her singing and he playing the piano (and writing her songs) so they can audition for Marko’s floor show and get closer to him and his safe (where they believe some letters from Mavis are). And all the while Martin falls hard for Cathy, staying away from alcohol and even writing a song for her. But for Cathy there is still only Kirk Bennett.

For being a film noir, the music (composed by Frank Skinner) is surprisingly romantic and the romantic songs (written by Edgar Fairchild and Jack Brooks) feature prominently, with June Vincent singing a couple songs (I’m assuming she is not doing her own singing, though I don’t really know – I tend to doubt unless I hear otherwise). It’s tragic romantic. Martin Blair is a troubled man who can’t handle his love, which seems to overpower him and drive him helplessly to destroy himself. He’s self-destructive, but adores Cathy. He believes she owes nothing to Kirk and wants her to leave him. He has a way of giving his heart away wholesale, without checking to see the woman wants it or not.

Since this is Dan Duryea, I kept expecting him to verge over into creepy obsessive love for Cathy, but he never does…though one feels it’s in him. This is, after all, the man who played the possessive husband of Yvonne De Carlo in Criss Cross who also, in his own way, loved his wife (even if he does shoot her). He makes a very convincing anti-hero, though. Someone you feel sorry for (though he repeatedly says he hates to be felt sorry for…perhaps because he knows he deserves it), but also know is disturbed, with his disappointed, romantic soul.

blackangelen1ul2June Vincent is okay as Cathy. She seemed to be sending mixed signals with her body language and face, as if she ought to be, by all rights, a femme fatale trying to seduce Martin instead of a desperate wife. And a very loyal one, which was slightly frustrating. Kirk Bennett cheated on her and seems rather bland and indifferent to her, but as she tells Martin, there is only one man for her and that there only ever is one man.

Peter Lorre elevates anything he’s in, though he does not get an especially large role. His character has a few unexpected sides to him, though. He’s willing to give a character a new shot at life – perhaps because that is what he’s currently trying to do for himself? He also manages some sly humor, which contrasts with his rather dim bouncer, Lucky (Freddie Steele).

Constance Dowling as Mavis Marlowe looks like trouble the moment the camera lays eyes on her – a very effective femme fatale and I wouldn’t have minded seeing more of her. And Broderick Crawford plays the detective who is just doing his job and has been made world-weary by it all. But the film primarily belongs to Dan Duryea and it is nice to see him in a leading role for a change.

The film is based on a novel by Cornell Woolrich. Woolrich is less known than other crime writers – like Hammett and Chandler – but is responsible for “Rear Window,” No Man of Her OwnPhantom Lady. There have been literally dozens of films based on his stories.

Black Angel is currently available on youtube.

Here is the trailer for Black Angel. I’m not sure the trailer really does give an idea of the story – trailers can be rather deceptive, even today.


Posted by on February 17, 2016 in Movies


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Winchester ’73 (1950) – Anthony Mann directs James Stewart

Winchester 73 Poster (1)After seeing James Stewart in Vertigo, I became interested to see him in some of his other movies, specifically his Westerns, since those were the only movies of his at my small local library that I had not already seen him in. The first one I watched was Winchester ’73, directed by Anthony Mann, the first of five Westerns that the two men made together.

Winchester ’73 is hailed as an important film in the history of Westerns. Anthony Mann brought a new ethos to the Western, with more violence and moral ambiguity to his heroes. I haven’t seen a lot of Westerns, before 1950 or after, so I don’t know if I was fully able to appreciate what Mann did.

The story opens with Lin McAdam (James Stewart) and “High-Spade” Frankie Wilson (Millard Mitchell) coming to Dodge City in 1876. They are hunting an outlaw who goes under the name Dutch Henry Brown (Stephen McNally) and have been hunting him for years. However, at Dodge City Wyatt Earp (Will Geer) is sheriff and no guns are allowed. When Lin sees Dutch Henry in a bar, both men reflexively draw, but without their guns, it’s just reflex and they can do nothing but exchange glowers at the bar while Earp looks on, telling them they can settle their quarrel after they leave Dodge City.

They do compete against each other in a shooting contest, where the winner receives a “one in a thousand” Winchester rifle (President Grant has the first one made), a gun so perfect that all the men are practically drooling over it. After an extremely close contest that reveals that Lin and Dutch Henry have been taught to shoot by the same man, Lin takes home the prize and accuses Dutch Henry of having shot a man in the back. But Dutch Henry nearly kills Lin in his hotel room and makes off with the rifle, though he leaves town so quickly that neither he nor his men have their other guns or any ammunition. Lin and High-Spade set off after them.

James Stewart and Millard Mitchell look at the "one in a thousand" Winchester Rifle

James Stewart and Millard Mitchell look at the “one in a thousand” Winchester rifle

What follows are a series of vignettes as the rifle is passed from person to person, with the common threads being the rifle and Lin chasing Dutch Henry and always seemingly just beyond the grasp of his own rifle. The gun goes from Dutch Henry to an Indian Trader who is selling guns to a Native American named Young Bull (played improbably by a very young Rock Hudson), who loses it while fighting the US Cavalry, and so on.

Another common thread besides the Winchester and Lin’s hunt for Dutch Henry is the character of Lola Manners (Shelley Winters), a dance hall girl who wants to settle down and is engaged to the cowardly Steve Miller (Charles Drake), though she  likes Lin when she meets him. She gets entangled both with Lin’s story and with the various vignettes involving the Winchester. She is accidentally closer to both the Winchester and Dutch Henry much more than Lin is until the end.

Winchester ’73 is Anthony Mann’s first Western and what is fun about it is that he seems to cover the entire genre in one film. All the cliches are present: revenge, shootouts, Indians attacking the cavalry (the portrayal of Native Americans is not this movie’s strong suit), cheating at cards, holdups, dance hall girls, outlaws. It’s like a summary of the Western.

A big theme is how the Winchester rifle is associated with manhood. Almost all the men seem to equate their manhood with possessing the Winchester rifle and even guns in general. When Dutch Henry and his men leave Dodge City without their guns, his men complain that they feel naked. Practically every man who sees the rifle covets it and are never willing to part with it under any circumstances, killing each other to get it and leaving a trail of bodies in the rifle’s wake. Even Lola’s cowardly fiance, who runs away when they are attacked by Young Bull, is not willing to part with the rifle when the gleefully amoral and murderous outlaw Waco Johnny Dean (marvelously played by Dan Duryea) wants it.

Dan Duryea is not getting the best of James Stewart

Dan Duryea is not getting the best of James Stewart

There are two men who seem to have a different standard of manhood: Wyatt Earp (who keeps the peace in Dodge City and does carry a gun, but only uses it to keep the peace) and Sergeant Wilkes of the US Cavalry (Jay C. Flippen) who is not too proud to admit ignorance or take advice from Lin in defending against Young Bull or to give the Winchester rifle away instead of keeping it for himself. But these two men are the exception, examples of men who do not seem to need to prove anything to anyone and simply do their job.

And of course Lola is not interested in the rifle. She knows how to shoot when she has to and is quite calm under fire, but when her fiance is threatened because he won’t give up the rifle, she urges him to let it go. He does not listen to her, perhaps partly to prove himself in her eyes after he let her down previously.

James Stewart is not actually in the film a huge amount; a lot of time is spent with the Winchester rifle. But Lin is ever present in spirit, single-minded, obsessively focused on catching up with and killing Dutch Henry. He is not so much the hero as the protagonist since he’s not trying to do good so much as exact revenge, a morally dubious aim in life. What really warms his character up is High-Spade, who has ridden with him for years. He asks Lin if he’s thought about what he will do after he’s killed Dutch Henry, concerned that Lin has been hunting him so long that he’s beginning to like it. The warm friendship between them, especially when Lin acknowledges that “he’s rich” in having a friend like High-Spade, goes a long way in keeping Stewart likable.

It’s a great film, not real long (only 92 min.) with a wonderful cast, no dull moments and an interesting take on the West. It a film to see, even if you don’t usually like Westerns.


Posted by on April 13, 2015 in Westerns


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Lady on a Train (1945) – Deanna Durbin Investigates on Christmas

lady-on-a-train-movie-poster-1945-1020416325Lady on a Train is that unique film, a Screwball/Christmas/Musical/Mystery. Actually, it’s not technically a musical, but because the film stars Deanna Durbin, the girl who reportedly saved Universal Studios (the home of Frankenstein, Dracula and the Mummy) from bankruptcy in the mid 1930s with her frothy musicals, the film manages to provide three songs for her to sing during the course of her investigations.

Nikki Collins (Deanna Durbin) is on a train, coming into New York City from San Francisco to visit her aunt during Christmas. She is reading what appears to be a rather thrilling pulpy mystery (with eleven murders so far!) when she looks out her train window and sees a man murdered in a nearby building. She goes to the police, but they don’t believe her, so she goes to the author of the pulpy mysteries, Wayne Morgan (David Bruce), and tries to enlist his help. He gets dragged in, willy-nilly, while she discovers that the man who was killed was a not-so-nice business man named Josiah Waring. She sneaks into his house, just in time for the reading of his will.

She also runs into the family, which consists of Aunt Charlotte (Elizabeth Patterson) and his two nephews, Arnold Waring (Dan Duryea – his usual, delightfully creepy self) and Jonathan Waring (Ralph Bellamy). There are also two men who work at the house, a certain Mr. Saunders (George Courlouris) who walks around the now shut-up mansion  looking menacing with a white cat draped over his arm, and Danny (Allen Jenkins), who works under Mr. Saunders and also seems to be in on whatever secret Mr. Saunders seems to be in on.

2d1252d146647767665cc8debf876559At the house, however, Nikki is mistaken by the family for a night club singer named Margo Martin, to whom Josiah Waring has left everything he owned. Also while in the mansion, Nikki finds some slippers with blood on them that proves that a murder did take place and not just an accident, as the police believe. She smuggles the slippers out of the house and goes to the nightclub to masquerade as Margo Martin.

It’s an extremely fun movie, with a fairly good mystery, as well. It’s not in Agatha Christie’s class, but still manages to obscure who the killer is so that you are never 100% sure (I’ve seen some mysteries where I can pick out the villain the moment he/she walks into the room).

Deanna Durbin does a good job playing a young lady with an active imagination and great tenacity, somewhat naïve, always gung-ho, who is never much perturbed by events – she just keeps on investigating and ad-libbing and quite casually dragging people into it with her. Durbin had a beautiful, operatic voice, and the highlight song is her rendition of “Silent Night,” which she sings over the phone to her father, while Danny stands outside her room, about to steal the slippers back. He is so affected by the song that he has to wipe tears out of his eyes before he can go on with his work and conk several people on the head.

Deanna Durbin and Edward Everett Horton - with a black eye

Deanna Durbin and Edward Everett Horton – with a black eye

A real scene stealer (as he always is) is Edward Everett Horton, who is Mr. Haskell, the manager of her father’s New York Office who is supposed to be looking after her while she is in New York, though he keeps losing sight of her and gets himself punched in the eye, hit on the head twice and runs about looking for her and even has to bail her out of jail.

David Bruce plays Wayne Morgan, a somewhat hen-pecked boyfriend who’s model girlfriend makes him apologize several times a day for some reason or another. He is an enthusiastic writer – he likes to act his book out while dictating, falling on the floor and clutching his stomach – while his acerbic secretary hopes that she can trash his notes rather than type them. He is also game to help Nikki or fight some villains, though he is often more inept than useful, at one point taking the gun away from the brother who is trying to help Nikki and giving it to the murderer.

And of course there is Dan Duryea, the wonderful, snarky, snaky, menacing Dan Duryea. When he is at the nightclub with his aunt and brother, Aunt Charlotte is shocked that Jonathan (her favorite nephew, whom she is almost too fond of – she can’t stand Arnold) would dance with Nikki, since he ought to be in mourning and not living it up. Dan Duryea turns and looks at her and then says innocently to the waiter, “I’ll have a martini, please.” Aunt Charlotte gives him a highly reproachful glance. “With a black olive in it.” He then says to the waiter. It’s a very Duryean line and the way he says it is hysterical.

Deanna Durbin and David Bruce - knocked out again

Deanna Durbin and David Bruce – knocked out again

It’s the kind of film with people running around, chasing villains, being caught by villains, losing slippers, stealing slippers, murder and lots of mayhem. It’s also the kind of film where Nikki, when her dress is torn when she is locked into the real Margo’s dressing room, stops to change her dress (and hair) before looking for a way out. She then breaks through the one-way mirror and emerges to sing a Cole Porter song.

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Posted by on December 8, 2014 in Comedy, Mystery


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