Crime Wave

[3.0 stars] Crime Wave (1954) on IMDb


The first half of a DVD film noir double feature from Netflix. Crime Wave is a 1954 cheapie crime thriller with Sterling Hayden as "Sims", a hard-as-nails L.A. cop and Gene Nelson as "Steve", an ex-con trying hard to live the straight life for his lovely wife, played by Phyllis Kirk.

Things get complex for Steve when a trio of his prison buddies break out and head for L.A., comitting minor theft and murdering one cop along the way. Steve is alerted to possible problems when a mortally-wounded member of the gang forces his way into Steve's apartment. A doctor (also an ex-con) is summoned, but the guy dies before he can be helped. This draws the attention of Sims, who sees Steve as a means to track down the bad guys. Steve has to avoid getting thrown back into the slammer, but also deal with the remaining members of the gang, who coerce him by threatening his wife. They're planning to knock over a bank, and need Steve to aid their escape.

It's not bad, although (as mentioned) very cheaply made, and the acting is both hammy and wooden by today's standards. It's one of Charles Bronson's early appearances (he's billed as Charles Buchinsky). And Timothy Carey has few memorable scenes as a psycho menacing Steve's wife.

The DVD has a commentary track with noir expert Eddie Muller and author James Ellroy (who wrote L.A. Confidential, in which one of the major characters was Bud White, played in the movie by Russell Crowe). As reported here, it's pretty funny:

JAMES ELLROY: Sterling Hayden-- THAT is my Bud White. THAT is my Bud White! F--- Russell Crowe in 'L A Confidential.' I mean he was okay, but he's a shrimpy little f--ing Bud White as Bud Whites go. Sterling Hayden is the real deal. Look at this! He's not even acting. Look at that HAT.

EDDIE MULLER: That's a really ugly pork pie.

JAMES ELLROY: It's ugly because he batters down doors using his head.

Might be worthwhile to re-rent just to listen to Ellroy and Muller.

Last Modified 2012-09-24 5:00 AM EDT

The Fountainhead

[3.5 stars] The Fountainhead (1949) on IMDb


Well, they don't make 'em like this any more. I'm not sure they made 'em like this before either. It is, as far as I know, one of a kind. I suppose that's not surprising: Ayn Rand wrote the screenplay from her novel, and got it into her contract that the filmmakers were not to touch a single word. So the film is as unique as she was, for better or worse.

The hero of our story is Howard Roark (played by Gary Cooper), an uncompromising individualist architect. He wants things his way; he's not a team player. He antagonizes even those who recognize his brilliance. His career path is therefore rocky, but it's hard to stop a determined genius. His career is contrasted with that of mediocre classmate, Peter Keating; Keating loves to compromise, and gloats that his mediocrity will thereby win out over Roark.

Keating is not the primary villain of the piece; that's the odious little Ellsworth Toomey, who glorifies the collective, and instantly recognizes Roark as the kind of man that must be beaten down and defeated. Toomey is initially aided in his crusade by newspaper magnate Gail Wynand (Raymond Massey); Wynand recognizes Roark's talent, but is willing to go along with Toomey in order to sell more papers to the ignorant masses.

Along the way, Roark meets a semi-kindred spirit: Dominique Francon (played by Patricia Neal—one of her first movies). Their relationship is turbulent; early on, there's an encounter that most folks label, er, "rape", portrayed as graphically as moviemakers could in 1949.

Oh, and Dominique is initially engaged to Keating, Wynand happens to be in love with Dominique, who, dumping Keating, and realizing that her relationship with Roark might be rocky, agrees to matrimony. And then Wynand and Roark, incredibly, become friends.

It's way complicated.

No surprise to anyone who's read anything by or about Ayn Rand: her characters were primarily designed as archetypal props to promulgate her philosophy. Characters don't converse with each other; instead, they give speeches, ostensibly to each other, but mostly aimed at the audience. It's not enough for the characters to do something; they must tell you they did it, they must tell you why they did it, and they must describe how this fits in with the theme of the film.

OK, I'm exaggerating, but not by much. It's probably easier to take when the audience is, as I am, in agreement with around 80% of what Rand has to say.

And it is a good yarn, there's a Max Stirner soundtrack, and the cinematography by Robert Burks is interesting. So even if you're not a semi-Objectivist, you might want to check it out.

Last Modified 2012-09-24 5:00 AM EDT