• Murder, My Sweet

    Murder, My Sweet

    Although less iconic to filmdom today than The Maltese Falcon, Double Indemnity, and Laura, this is no less quintessential and foundational than those other three early prestige noirs—it deserves to be spoken of in the same dying breath. It lacks the thematic oomph of Double Indemnity and Laura, but it is exceptional as pure entertainment. I'll take its portrait of the private dick as a young scoundrel—complete with the substitution of Dick Powell for Bogie—over the Maltese Falcon any day.…

  • The Tomb of Ligeia

    The Tomb of Ligeia

    Roger Corman's Vertigo. It stars a black cat and/as a dead wife haunting a morose, moody Vincent Price at his most fetching. What elevates it to near-greatness is its expressionistic, avant-garde flourishes. At its best, the picture runs on a nightmare logic that surpasses rational understanding. Marrying Vincent Price has never looked so impossible and so thrilling.

  • Girl Slaves of Morgana Le Fay

    Girl Slaves of Morgana Le Fay

    I don't acknowledge the existence of movies made after 1964—but when it comes to lesbian horror movies, I'm not made of stone. The plot: you are one of two lesbians ("Je suis deux. Moi et l'autre.") who get lost in the woods, make love, get whisked away to the castle dungeon of trustworthy domme lesbian sorceress witch fairy Morgana Le Fay (Dominique Delpierre) where there's a bunch of other faithful and useful lesbians, granted eternal life for their beauty and…

  • Pool of London

    Pool of London

    An example of 'noirealismo' — that is, the combination of neorealism and noir tropes characteristic of late 1940s Italian films, such as those by Pietro Germi — but made in Britain by Basil Dearden for Ealing. It's an entertaining mix of quiet scenes of wandering through a postwar city at night (with Earl Cameron and Susan Shaw) and bursts of criminal action (with Bonar Colleano, Max Adrian, and screaming cars). For my taste, it gets increasingly implausible and schmaltzy in its final act—but the first two acts are a rather good show.

  • Love Me Tonight

    Love Me Tonight

    "I want you, my Princess. But I have wanted the moon too." Once upon a time, America's inferiority complex, in the face of the waning Europe it had spurned, appeared in all aspects of its cultural life, even in its dreams. In pre-Code Paramount, America's horny dreams were elegant, musical roleplay games of a fading, noble Europe where every underappreciated Countess, wandering companionless, just can't contain herself in the presence of common tailor Maurice Chevalier. If the common people could…

  • Forty Naughty Girls

    Forty Naughty Girls

    Mystery-comedy starring ZaSu Pitts and James Gleason as sleuth couple, the last entry in RKO's series jumping off from Stuart Palmer's Hildegarde Withers stories. The opening is rather clever. The first eight minutes are spent setting-up the murder to come—the locale (a popular theatrical revue called Forty Naughty Girls) and the murder suspects (every one backstage who wanted to kill the insufferable publicist)—with nary a star in sight. Then the stage director yells "Overture! Everybody on the stage!," we see…

  • Random Harvest

    Random Harvest

    A masterpiece of high classical Hollywood cinema. A prestige MGM production, directed by Mervyn LeRoy in spick-and-span Michael Curtiz imitation, with two hours of the finest invisible editing you'll ever see. And not see, more precisely, but be swept up in. The performances, the production design, the music, the flowing camera, the narrative from a tried-and-tested novel which hooks you from the first... That, once upon a time, was Entertainment, the type I fell in love with at 12 or…

  • Night Nurse

    Night Nurse

    Perhaps the essential pre-Code. It's all here. At the hospital, Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Blondell slip on nighties and sleep with a skeleton. Between dreams and facts, genre film pleasures, all that naughty nastiness, interweave with harsh realities, the seedy cost of prohibition in crime and on the medical system. Behind the bootlegger Ben Lyon lies the parties of child neglect presided over by that terror Clark Gable. While babies are dying, America dances. To mend the world, it takes…

  • Beggars in Ermine

    Beggars in Ermine

    Monogram Goes Great Depression with Lionel Atwill enunciating some of the classic tropes of the period's fiction about the working class. Owing to the personal dangers of furnace steelmaking, Atwill is a factory owner turned disabled hobo. Owing to the collective dangers of capitalism, he is a hobo turned houseless population community organizer. When he seeks to restore himself as factory owner, he seeks to do so not as a capitalist but as the leader of a workers' collective. With…

  • Take a Letter, Darling

    Take a Letter, Darling

    A fine Paramount rom-com, graced by Mitchell Leisen's touch. It features one of Rosalind Russell's better roles, a rousing jolt of morning sun as advertising executive A.M. MacGregor. Ever at home in the world of business, she dons fuzzy slippers at the office whenever she can get away with it. Fred MacMurray fits as Tom Verney, her cream-puff, very private secretary. Leisen, one of my personal favourite auteurs, elevates would-be mediocre programmers with the gentle poignance of queer implication. In…

  • Operation: Rabbit

    Operation: Rabbit

    The perfect movie for the perpetual academic, always in the midst of a manuscript submission that, in your cloud of knowing, will be so very brilliant once it's finally completed to a state of perfection in which all possible relevant sources have been read and thoroughly digested and all possible objections to its arguments and evidences vanquished—a day that may be tomorrow, though it is not today (and though you said that yesterday). Until the explosive—and the conference deadline—arrives, it still might come true. "Being a genius certainly has its advantages."

  • The Dark Corner

    The Dark Corner

    Twentieth Century-Fox noir, obvious but entertaining, with post-Laura Clifton Webb and pre-Lucy Lucille Ball. The 'romance' with Mark Stevens is a tough matter to digest, but cinematographer Joseph MacDonald, who helms the high contrast, does perhaps his finest work outside of My Darling Clementine. I last saw the picture when I was 18—a time when every classic movie, even the boring ones, made me feel like I was Dorothy stepping into Oz. With each after-school escape, I discovered fresh terrain,…