This prototypical _film noir_, which saw rookie director John Huston adapting Dashiell Hammett’s only Sam Spade detective novel, was the last movie I watched in 2010. Warner Home Video’s recently released Blu-ray version had been calling to me from the depths of my to-watch stack, and anyway it’s always been one of my favorite movies — immaculately designed, evocatively photographed, and easy to watch but also spiky, morally complex, and ultimately unsettling. Humphrey Bogart is so beloved a figure in American film history that it always catches me a little off-guard to realize that the superficially charming character he’s portraying here isn’t the dedicated moral crusader that convention might lead one to suspect. Arguably, he’s rather a glad-handing sociopath.
The latest addition to Criterion’s budget-priced and barebones Eclipse line-up is this boxed set of five films from a cycle of tough-minded crime dramas that enjoyed popularity in post-WWII Japan. Little-seen in the U.S., this group of films as a whole probably benefits from Japanese settings and attitudes that bring a sense of freshness, even exoticism, to straightforward genre exercises. But the films are entertaining and engrossing on their own terms, and, more than that, they paint an interesting picture of a culture in a generational transition and, perhaps, a bit of an identity crisis — they’re clearly derivative of American film noir and French crime films of the period. And the best ones in the set — for my money, Seijun Suzuki’s Take Aim at the Police Van and Takashi Nomura’s A Colt Is My Passport (pictured at top) — hold their own against any crime film of the period. Together, they provide a sketch, in necessarily broad strokes, of a key period in the development of the popular Japanese cinema. Nikkatsu Noir
is a terrific collection.
There comes a point where the act of criticism breaks down, and I’d be
hard-pressed to tell you exactly why I think Peggy Cummins is just
awesome as Annie Laurie Starr in Gun Crazy.
She’s a little awkward — in every scene, if you’re listening
carefully, you can hear her trying to squelch her native British
accent. But it’s not an impediment to her performance, which is as raw
and sensuous as they come. Through much of the movie, Cummins redefines
the relationship between sex and violence, eyes afire, mouth agape,
bright gobbets of pure sex dripping from her open lips.