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Appointment with Danger

Appointment with Danger (1950)
This 1950 film noir stars Alan Ladd, Phyllis Calvert, and Paul Stewart. The plot is pretty hokey and the first few minutes of the film seem like an infomercial for the U.S. Post Office, but this film gets very entertaining very fast.

Two thugs murder a U.S. Postal Inspector and then dump his body. A nun (Calvert) inadvertently sees the thugs. Al Goddard (Ladd), another U.S. Postal Inspector, investigates the murder by first locating the nun. After he finds her, he tracks down one of the killers and subsequently infiltrates the killers' gang.

There is plenty of snappy dialogue and a lot of funny lines. Goddard is a hard and determined man and is accused by a fellow officer of being inhuman and without feelings. The fellow officer says to Goddard, "You don't know what a love affair is." Goddard replies, "It's what goes on between a man and a .45 that won't jam."

Ironically, this film stars Jack Webb and Harry Morgan as the killers. Just two years later, Webb would begin starring on television as Detective Joe Friday on Dragnet. And in the late 1960s, Webb would team with Morgan again when Dragnet returned to television – and they dressed in just the same style as they did in the 1950 film.

I saw this film for the first time last summer and I liked it so much that I saw it again this winter. If you like old movies, this is a good one, and if you don't, you may like it anyhow.

Inception

Inception (2010) PG-13
This futuristic thriller starring Leonardo DiCaprio operates on the premise that your mind can be hijacked while you are sleeping and your thoughts can be both stolen or changed by dream invasion. This film earned almost $300 million at the box office to prove how worthy it is, but the film falls flat for me (check out Rotten Tomatoes to see what the critics think). Although the special effects are dramatic (and Oscar worthy), the plot is confusing and character development is ignored.

Director Christopher Nolan’s talents are much better displayed in the Batman film The Dark Knight (2008) starring Christian Bale and Heath Ledger or in his groundbreaking film Memento (2000) which is told from a backwards point of view.

The Killers

The Killers (1946)
This 1946 film noir starring Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, and Edmond O'Brien is based upon the Ernest Hemingway short story of the same name. The first several minutes of the movie closely follows the Hemingway story of two hired killers who come to a small town to kill "the Swede" (Lancaster), but where the story ends, the movie continues. The story provided no explanation as to why anyone wants the Swede to be killed, nor does it explain who hired the killers.

The movie provides these answers and more as we follow Jim Reardon (O’Brien), an insurance investigator who is curious as to why Swede did not try to escape after being warned about the killers. Through a series of flashbacks, Swede's story is told by a host of characters.

This movie should be on every "film noir" fan's "A" list. It's a great story with fine acting. The Killers received four Academy Award nominations and probably deserved more. One of the musical themes was subsequently "borrowed" by the television show Dragnet.

In addition, I would like to say a few words about Indian Prairie's copy of the The Killers, which contains two DVDs. The second DVD contains the 1964 version of The Killers starring Lee Marvin, Clu Gulager, John Cassavetes and Angie Dickinson. This version is not really a remake of the 1946 movie but rather a telling of the story in a different way. In fact, the 1964 version is not film noir at all as it was made for television. It is an excellent film and worth watching as well.

There are also loads of special features including a reading of the actual Hemingway story, a discussion of the making of the films, a discussion of film noir, and much more.

The Town

The Town (2010) R
The official tagline for this film: Welcome to the Bank Robbery Capital of America.

Using a strong Boston accent that he first embraced in Good Will Hunting (1997), Ben Affleck directed and co-wrote this bank robbery drama that he stars in with Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker - 2009). The FBI agent tracking down the robbers is Jon Hamm (Mad Men) and female love interests are played by Blake Lively of TV’s Gossip Girl and Rebecca Hall. More subplots involve struggles for power, the desire to make a better life, and the importance of family, loyalty and friendship.

The Town gets a high rating of 94% from critics at Rotten Tomatoes.

Union Station

Union Station (1950)
In this film noir, secretary Joyce Willecombe (Nancy Olson) grows suspicious of two men boarding her train. She sees that one of them is carrying a concealed pistol and is referred to Lt. William Calhoun (William Holden), head of the Union Station police. Although initially skeptical, Lt. Calhoun soon discovers that the two men have kidnapped Lorna Murchison, the blind daughter of Joyce's wealthy employer, and are holding Lorna ransom for $100,000. How he goes about pursuing the kidnappers makes for one entertaining movie.

Both William Holden and Lyle Bettger give great performances. During his career, William Holden won an Academy Award and was nominated on two other occasions. One of those nominations came for his performance in Sunset Boulevard (also 1950), which may explain why he was not nominated for Union Station.

Lyle Bettger, who often played villains, plays one of the kidnappers. I don't think he ever gave a better performance. He was one of the nastiest villains you'll ever see in a 1950s film.

The film has two very exciting chase scenes, both of them on foot. While I am not ordinarily a fan of foot chases, the interesting locations will keep you intrigued. The film contains a shocking police interrogation of one the suspects. Also of interest is that part of the film was shot on location in 1950s Chicago. The musical score is well adapted to the film and helps drive the action.

This movie will definitely keep you on the edge of your seat.

Find out more about the film on TCM.com.

The A-Team

The A-Team (2010) PG-13
Don’t take this movie too seriously. This remake of the '80s TV show provides a very entertaining two hours. The A-Team is comprised of Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, and Sharlto Copley. After they’re framed for an op gone bad, the quartet must break out of military prison to clear their name and finish the mission.

Check out a video interview with Bradley Cooper and Liam Neeson. Also read an interview with director Joe Carnahan.

The Ghost Writer

The Ghost Writer (2010) PG-13
Former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (read Tony Blair) is living off the coast of New England and planning to write his memoir with the help of a ghost writer. When the body of his first ghost writer washes up on the shore, a new ghost is hired. The new ghost, a brash writer of pop star bios (played by Ewan McGregor), starts to become suspicious of his predecessor’s death and of curious ties that Lang seems to have to another type of ghost, American spies.

This movie is set on a gray, stormy New England coast and leaves the ghost writer and the viewer with the increasing sense that no one can be trusted. Robert Harris, who wrote the novel (titled The Ghost) on which this movie is based, co-authored the screenplay with director Roman Polanski.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009) R
If you read the bestselling book, you must see the Swedish movie! It follows the story line closely and gives us a glimpse into journalist Mikael Blomkvist’s search for Harriet Vanger. She disappeared more than forty years ago when she was 16 years old. Her family assumed she was murdered, but her Uncle Henrik Vanger doesn’t believe it and asks for Blomkvist’s help. He enlists the young computer hacker Lisabeth Salander to work with him. Lisabeth’s background is opened for a peek at a young girl on her own who is tortured mentally and physically by her court appointed guardian. She does fight back, which makes you cheer for her despite her bizarre characteristics. The story has twists and turns and you will not draw a deep breath until the very end! Don’t miss it.

The Hunt for Red October

The Hunt for Red October (1998) PG
Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin star in this adaptation of Tom Clancy’s bestselling book and they get it right. Many movies based on a book do not succeed. The suspense and tension of the book are intact in this movie. The underwater shots of the giant submarine, the confusion of whom to trust, and more all lead to a blistering but satisfying conclusion. Perk up your summer with a little underwater excitement.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (2009) PG-13
A thriller/mystery that kept me on the edge of my seat and engrossed until the end. The plot is based on an interesting premise – a journalist suspects a district attorney has been tampering with evidence in many of his cases in order to win convictions. He devises a plan to catch him in the act, with the hopes of winning a Pulitzer Prize for his investigative reporting. Michael Douglas is great as the D.A., and once again personifies the abuse and corruption of power.

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Dead Reckoning

Dead Reckoning (1947)
This 1947 film starring Humphrey Bogart and Lizabeth Scott is a fine example of film noir at its best. It is one of Bogart's best and I rank it at almost as good as The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep.

The time of the film is near the end of World War II. Captain "Rip" Murdock (Bogart) is seeking to find out why his army pal Sgt. Johnny Drake has chosen to disappear rather than receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.

He trails Johnny to Gulf City USA. When he gets there, he finds that Johnny expected him, but he can find no trace of Johnny. Instead, he finds more mysteries and a very intriguing woman, Coral Chandler (Scott).

Rip falls in love with Coral and the feeling is mutual. The romance between Bogart and Scott is excellent and will remind viewers of the relationship between Bogart and Bacall, and one has to wonder why Lauren Bacall was not in this film.

There are also some historical shots in the film. The actual city is not named but the shots were taken in the late 1940s. If anyone knows the actual city, I'd love to know.

This is tense thriller with plenty of surprises.

Spotlight: Graham Greene (Part 3 of 3)

Spotlight: Graham Greene (Part 3 of 3)
Our final Graham Greene film is The Third Man. Also check out his other movies available at Indian Prairie.

The Third Man (1949)
An American writer of pulp westerns (Joseph Cotten) arrives in post-war Vienna to take a job with an old friend, but discovers he has been murdered. Or has he? This classic film noir thriller plays on national loyalties during the Cold War. Orson Welles is prefect as the manipulative Harry Lime, a black market drug dealer and Cotton does a great job as the quintessentially brash American. The underground sewer sequence is extraordinary. The film is scored with a haunting theme by Anton Karas on unaccompanied zither to an eerie effect.

Other Graham Greene films at Indian Prairie:

The Fallen Idol (1948)

This Gun for Hire (1942)

Spotlight: Graham Greene (Part 1 of 3)

Spotlight: Graham Greene (Part 1 of 3)
Over the next week, we'll be highlighting three movies based on Graham Greene novels, plus present a selection of his other movies available at the library. First up is The Quiet American.

The Quiet American (2002) R
Set amidst the communist insurgence of Ho Chi Minh into French-held Indochina, this film is an examination of America's role in the Vietnam conflict, and how it was perceived by the rest of the world. Michael Caine plays the role of a lifetime as the English journalist Thomas Fowler. He is an aging and cynical correspondent based in 1950s Saigon obsessed with his beautiful young Vietnamese mistress Phuong (Do Thi Hai Yen). When she also becomes a romantic object for brash American Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser), Fowler becomes both suspicious and jealous of this do-gooder on a medical mission.

Check back on Tuesday for our next Graham Greene movie!

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009) R
I was initially drawn to this movie for several reasons. First, I like both Denzel Washington and John Travolta as actors. Second, I love films of suspense. It was indeed fast-paced and suspenseful, and both actors were great. Travolta was a very believable, demented criminal who hijacks a New York City subway train. I did not see the original film of the same title, released in 1974, but I definitely want to see that too.

The Set-Up

The Set-Up (1949)
This well-crafted boxing film stars Robert Ryan as a veteran boxer who dreams of the Big Win. Little does he know that his manager, who has no faith in his chances, has set him up for a fall this night. While his worried wife—who has come to his previous bouts-—instead waits in their nearby hotel room for him, he prepares for his fight with an up-and-comer. The sometimes brutal film action occurs in real time. I found the scenes between boxers preparing for their fights psychologically revealing.

Read The New York Times review or check out other boxing movies at the library.