I've talked about PRIEST on the site before, but I recently re-read the series and felt like revisiting it here as I had some new thoughts. So, without further ado...
This one isn't quite noir, but it's certainly a good-looking, stylish well-made film. It's one of those classy '40s mystery films that set a visual bar many tried, and failed to reach. In terms of actual story, it's not what I want from a mystery, but it's still entertaining.
Let's take a look at The Unsuspected.
Based on a novel of the same name by Charlotte Armstrong, and directed by Michael Curtiz (director of Casablanca), the film centers around Victor Grandison, a popular true-crime radio show's host, whose secretary is found dead in his home. This would be suspicious enough, but a niece of his, Mathilda, had also recently been "lost," and presumed killed, in a boating accident. Two deaths around the man in such a short time throw up some red flags, to say the least.
Shortly after, at a party thrown by Victor's other niece, Althea, a man calling himself Steve Howard shows up claiming to be the missing/presumed dead Mathilda's husband - the first anyone had heard of her having one. Victor, rightly suspicious, asks a detective he's acquainted with to look into this newcomer. In the process Mathilda is found, and claims to have never met her "husband."
Several heads are put together and eventually, almost everyone confides in each other that they believe Grandison killed his secretary, to whom Steve Howard was actually married. He concocted his ruse to attempt to lure Grandison into a confession, believing he killed both Steve's wife and his own niece.
After that, it's mostly a matter of running down the clock. Police are involved, some action scenes occur and Grandison, knowing he's trapped, goes on air and confesses his crimes to his listeners. The film ends, after a little time has passed via movie magic, with a walk through the prison yard.
The thing about the movie is that it's not really a mystery because we're shown all along the way what both Grandison and his pursuers (even before they really know it's him they're pursuing) are doing, so it's more of a mid-energy thriller than a mystery. And the more I think about it, it only looks like noir, without the sweaty, desperation that characterizes the genre. This is all very classy, very high society stuff we've got going on here.
But it's a fine film. It's not as well-known as some of Curtiz's other works, and it doesn't really deserve to be, but it also doesn't deserve to be forgotten.
Something I stumbled across and thought I'd share: a relatively-recent review of my first story collection, THE ALTAR IN THE HILLS, from The Haunted Reading Room.
Thank you, Mallory Hearts!
And if you haven't read it, THE ALTAR IN THE HILLS is, of course, still available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
I've written a little bit about Vampire Hunter D, and my love for Hideyuki Kikuchi's work in general, before, but I recently read some (new to me) entries in the VHD novel series so it's much on my mind again.
As it's hard to talk in a meaningful way about such a long series (there's over 30 novels in the series, plus manga adaptations and a prequel series, set three-thousand or so years before the beginning of VHD during the Human/Vampire Wars), I'll talk a little bit about the most-accessible form the series takes, the two film adaptations.
Let's start with the first film, simply called VAMPIRE HUNTER D. Released direct to video in 1985 (only a year or so after the first novel was published), it isn't a bad movie, but it is very much a product of both an obviously-low budget and its time period, with its Rumiko Takahashi-influenced (as every 80s anime and manga seemed to be, but I digress) character designs and simplified story. I didn't like it nearly as much as the original novel or the manga adapted from it, and from things he's written himself about anime in general and his own work, I always got the impression Kikuchi didn't care for the film, either. (He's publicly stated that he doesn't care for anime in general and having a low-budget anime made from his own work has to be annoying, at least)
To the filmmakers' credit, though, they did do a good job capturing D's essential character, without which the film would have been a total failure.
Bottom line, I liked the move all right, but it wasn't what I wanted in a VHD film.
The second film, titled VAMPIRE HUNTER D: BLOODLUST, however, I absolutely loved. It's everything you could want in a VHD movie adaptation and an entertaining film in its own right, even if you know nothing about the character or the series.
Based on the third VHD novel, titled "Demon Deathchase" in English, and separated from the first film by almost sixteen years, BLOODLUST was intended specifically for simultaneous theatrical release in both Japan and the US, with both Japanese and a US-based production companies collaborating on it. The difference in budget, technology and attention to the source material shows big-time.
First, the film is gorgeous. Unlike the generic designs of the first film, this movie's designers took care to capture the visual aesthetic Yoshitaka Amano created with his covers and illustrations for the novels. They also captured perfectly some of the more surreal visuals that Hideyuki Kikuchi describes in his prose. Beyond the designs, the color palette was both marvelously well-suited to each scene and surprisingly varied, which was no easy task considering much of the film takes place either at night, in darkened ruins or in a half-dead post-apocalyptic wasteland. Honestly, I was very impressed with that aspect alone.
Second, the story - it was only loosely based on the novel, but instead of being a partially-accurate recap like the first film, it was more that a different storyteller told the same tale in their own way. It wasn't 100% accurate to the novel, of course, but it did an excellent job of capturing the feel and spirit of the novel while feeling like something almost-original. Some people have complained that the story is thin and while that's valid to a degree, they're missing the point of the the story: it's the characters that make it interesting; the plot is merely the vehicle that drives them forward. And to be honest, the plot of the novel itself is not particularly deep, compared to some of the other books, either.
My one real complaint about the film is a technical one: it has horribly-mixed sound. The dialogue and BGM/SFX were at such vastly different levels you have to keep constantly adjusting the TV's sound to hear the dialogue, then quickly turn it back down to keep from blowing your eardrums out. It was annoying and took me out of the experience multiple times.
Overall, though, that complaint aside, I give it a 90 out of 100 and definitely recommend it to anyone who is a fan of VHD, action/horror movies or just beautiful animation in general..
Here's a movie I discovered at 4-something in the morning a few nights ago. It's a "reality-based noir," as the description I found it labeled under calls it, based on the same true-life events as the slightly-later and more famous film Call Northside 777.
So, how does "Railroaded!" stack up?
It's a pretty basic plot: Steve Ryan, average Joe Citizen (whose van is being used for an illegal gambling operation without his knowledge) is tagged with a murder rap he didn't commit; honest, hard-working policeman dutifully gathers evidence and goes through his process, despite everyone being convinced they already know who the killer is, and in the process becomes convinced Ryan is innocent.
There's really not much to it. It's pretty rote.
You may notice on the poster, though, (which I hadn't seen until I wrote this) that noir-favorite bad-guy John Ireland is in this. Here, he plays one of the real killers:
He's dark and ice-cool and he'd kill you as soon as look at you... and he douses his bullets in perfume, which is what he's doing here. Yes, he's giving himself an absolutely ridiculous calling card as a gunman that would instantly implicate him in any crimes he commits. It's that kind of movie and even a great villain character-actor couldn't save it.
Maybe it was my exhaustion at the time, but this movie didn't even not hold my attention, it opened the front door and made shooing motions, encouraging me to find something better to do. It's definitely forgotten for a reason.
Watch Call Northside 777, it's a better film and truer to the real facts of the case.
I've written about Hitomi Takano's manga MY BOY before, but I've recently re-read the previously-published volumes as well as the newest one, so it's on my mind. It's also a manga I like very much, so...
When I first saw this manga, I almost didn't buy it. Despite being published in Futabasha's seinen (men's manga) magazine Weekly Action Manga, it's very much a josei (women's) manga series. I don't read a lot of josei , though some of the series I have read, I've really, really loved (including THE HOUSE OF FIVE LEAVES; DESCENDING STORIES). MY BOY attracted my attention because of the art--which is gorgeous--while the story itself, and the cover art, left me with the impression this might not be a story for me.
I was wrong, though, and I'm glad I've given it a chance. It's fantastic and I've actually read it three times since it first published in English just over a year ago.
MY BOY is the story of Satoko, a 30-year-old office lady, single and without friends (or, apparently, family) living a very quiet, soul-crushingly mundane and lonely existence. At 30 years old, she's only had one romantic relationship in her life, a very brief one at that, during her last year of college, eight years earlier. At the time, it didn't bother her when her boyfriend (whom she confesses she never really much cared for, anyway) broke up with her, but now she suspects it's the moment her life went off the rails, though she couldn't say why.
MY BOY is also the story of Mashuu, an ostracized, bullied 12-year-old boy who suffers from family neglect (including lack of new clothing--he's been wearing the same shirts and shorts since he was in early elementary school and the shorts now barely come down to his thighs--and haircuts--his hair is down past his shoulders, leading people to think he's a girl--and even lack of baths), who spends most of his time outside of school alone, practicing soccer, which he isn't very good at.
The two characters' lives intersect when Satoko, reeling from a particularly unpleasant interaction with her boss (who, through an unlikely stroke of fate, is the same man who briefly dated, then dumped, her in college), sees Mashuu practicing soccer alone in the park and, on a whim, decides to give him some pointers, having played futsal in college. Mashuu is thrilled to have anyone, especially an adult, pay attention to him and share in his passion. From there, a very unlikely relationship builds between the two.
The author, Hitomi Takano, says in her afterward that this manga is intentionally a gender-reversal of the typical onee-san/shota (young miss/boy) manga trope, in which a young girl finds an companion in an older boy or man. In fact, the story started out that way, but, she says, she lost interest in it right way until she decided to flip the switch. I'm glad she did because I've enjoyed it a lot so far.
Not only is the manga beautiful, but the interactions between the characters are very realistic, which you often don't find in this types of comics. Both Satoko and Mashuu are hesitant, unsure of themselves and how they can/should interact with one another. Satoko, because she has no experience with children and isn't sure what's appropriate; Mashuu because he has no friends to speak of and no real parental figure. Both are extremely lonely, extremely vulnerable people and watching them find each other is powerful and moving as Satoko's motherly instinct and desire to matter to someone brings out aspects of herself she didn't realize existed while Mashuu finds that he can be himself and have value, rather than simply trying to keep his head down and stay out of everyone's way. Together, they compliment each other's weaknesses and build each other's strengths. It's really, truly both heartbreaking and beautiful to watch each of them as their relationship develops.
The TL:DR version: this series is a tremendous read. As I said, I almost didn't buy this (and in fact almost cancelled my pre-order once I had after having second thoughts), but I'm very, very glad I did. I truly enjoyed reading something outside of my normal reading wheelhouse and I look forward very much to reading more about these characters.
I ran across this while reading about Joseph Cotten (of CITIZEN KANE and SHADOW OF DOUBT, the Hitchcock film, fame) and discovered it was available online, and thought why not?
Bank employee Jim Osborne (Cotten) has a good life and realizes this fully, but stilldecides something is missing. After getting a promotion, he learns his bank currently has an unusually high amount of cash (a million bucks) and decides what he's been missing is money. Of course. Long story short, he hatches a plan to steal the money and escape, with his family, to Brazil after learning they have no extradition treaty with the US. His plan involves stealing the money on a Friday night and being in Rio de Janeiro by Sunday night before anyone even notices the money is gone. However, the bank will begin opening Saturdays the following week, so Osborne literally only has days to pull this off.
The plan to steal the money goes off without a hitch, but due to the short notice everything from his family's passports to flight plans get screwed up. While they're stranded in New Orleans, a suspicious airline employee checks Osborne's baggage and finds the money. When the film was made, it wasn't illegal to make large, undeclared cash transactions (today, you can't leave or enter the country with more than $10,000 in cash without declaring it) but he's, of course, even more suspicious. Osborne claims to be traveling on bank business, but no bank would send a man and his family traveling with so much cash and no guards.
Osborne essentially bullies his way through the situation, but as a result of this, they miss their plane and while Osborne is trying to figure some other solution out, his wife discovers what's going on. She is horrified and leaves him, taking their daughter back with her to Los Angeles.
Osborne, in a rare good decision by a protagonist in a crime film, decides his family means more to him than the money and devises a plan to return the cash without anyone the wiser. He does so and goes into work as usual Monday morning, but is so exhausted and stressed out, his coworkers send him home, thinking he has the flu or something.
It's not a bad film, but it's an unusual one. Normally with a crime film, you're half-way rooting for the criminal to fail and get what he deserves while another part of you wants him to succeed and to see how he does it. In this case, Osborne fails in one way, but it's--let's say--the best possible way. His plan didn't work, but he isn't caught and everything resets with Osborne having learned a valuable lesson without having to pay the price for doing so. It's a happy ending, but a happy ending to a crime film seems wrong somehow.
For all that, it's not a bad film. It's well-written, acted and shot and has a certain style I usually associate with a different type of film, while retaining the sweaty, fearful tension of a crime film.
Give it a chance yourself, if you run across it.
The second film adaptation of Graham Greene's classic novel "A Gun For Sale" this one attracted my attention because of something I'd never have expected... but we'll save that for later.
Anyway, let's talk a moment about SHORTCUT TO HELL.
It's been a long time since I've read Greene's original novel, but from what I remember, this more or less follows the bare-bones outline of the book. Professional hitman is hired to kill two people, and afterwards is betrayed to the police by his employer, who has paid him with stolen money he knows is already being traced. The hitman, of course, wants revenge, but in order to give himself time and the opportunity to get it, he kidnaps the girlfriend of the police detective who's on his trail, using her as a hostage to buy time. Along the way, the woman does her best to bring out the hitman's sense of decency and humanity.
To call this movie "modest" or a "B movie" would be kind. It's more like "minor" and "C+." That said, there's nothing actually bad about it, it just isn't very good either. Each scene is just barely competent enough to keep you from turning it off, but the end result is one of feeling as if time was wasted.
So, why did this catch my eye to begin with?
Oh. That's unfortunate. This appears to be Cagney's only directorial effort, though, so at least he knew when to quit.
Not recommended. Watch the original adaptation, "This Gun for Hire" starring Alan Ladd, or just read the novel.
"Noose-Hungry," my third publication of the year and the second in a series about Ernie Farrar, marshal of the town of Aldensville, (following last year's "A Hanging Matter"), is up at Crimson Streets!
Marshal Farrar, and his new deputy Ben Thomas (also returning from "A Hanging Matter") seek out the culprit in a stagecoach robbery/murder who seems, for all the world, to have disappeared!
Click here or the image below to be whisked away to some fresh fiction! It's a story I'm proud of and I hope you'll enjoy it!
With the anime adaptation in full swing, I thought it might be time to talk a little about one of my favorite manga - GOLDEN KAMUY!
Published in Shueisha's Weekly Young Jump, Satoru Noda's Hokkaido-set, late Meiji-era manga was one I aware of years before it was officially published in English. I don't support IP piracy of any kind and scanlation sites--even the ones that Japanese publishers turn a blind eye to--are no exception, so I was left waiting, and hoping fervently it would get an officially-licensed English release more or less since I'd heard of it. When Viz finally began publishing an English edition a couple of years ago, I practically jumped for joy.
Why, you ask, if I'd never read it, and long before the anime adaptation was ever aired? I just had a feeling. I saw the cover and a read a (flawed, as it turned out) blurb about it and just had a feeling it was a manga I'd love.
I was right.
Set in either late 1905 or early 1906 (it isn't made clear and the passage of time seems a little iffy), immediately after the end of the Russian-Japanese war, the series follows Saichi "Immortal" Sugimoto, a legendary apparently-unkillable soldier who distinguished himself over and over again in combat with the Russians - only to be dishonorably discharged after killing an officer. Instead of living off of a healthy pension in peace back in his native Tokyo, he's left broke and essentially stranded in Hokkaido.
But not without a plan.
Like California in 1849, Hokkaido had its own gold rush in the late 19th century and Sugimoto is determined to strike it rich, despite "tens of thousands of hands" having already combed the areas known to have been rich in gold. Predictably, he comes up empty-handed over and over again until he meets a strange old man with a strange story about Ainu (the people native to Hokkaido) gold stolen and hidden by a man now on death row, who has sworn never to reveal its location, except in the form of a map tattooed in pieces on the backs of twenty-four fellow convicts (who have all since escaped from prison).
Well, that's quite the set-up.
I won't tell you why Sugimoto needs money so badly and I won't spoil the opening that sets up the first storyline, because I'd really prefer you read this.
The story is action-packed, historically-rich (especially in details about Ainu culture; there is a both a bibliography cited in the back of the book and an Ainu cultural adviser credited) and strikes just the right balance between fast-paced and storied. The art is just slightly generic in a Shueisha sort of way (you'll know what I mean if you've read an issue or two of Weekly Shonen Jump or Weekly Young Jump), but not in a bad way - rather it feels comfortably familiar.
Only one volume has been released in English so far, and it looks like Viz is on schedule to release three a year, but with ten volumes published in Japan and the serialization still on-going, I look forward to reading this series for years.
I really love this series and highly recommend it.
I'm Brandon and I write comic books, prose and poetry. I own dozens of clever and interesting t-shirts.