Tag Archives: Sterling Hayden

Naked Alibi (1954, Jerry Hopper)

The first half hour of Naked Alibi–the film runs just under ninety minutes so the entire first third–is separate from the remainder. Set in a small city (shot on the backlot, but rather well thanks to Russell Metty’s glorious photography), chief of detectives Sterling Hayden has been getting a lot of heat over police brutality. The bleeding hearts just don’t understand how hard it can be. Not even after someone starts killing cops.

The film is really, really spare. There’s not just no fat on the script, there’s not always enough meat. So there’s no reconciliation between police commissioner Fay Roope riding Hayden for police brutality–even though Hayden’s tactics appear just to be due process and self-defense–with Hayden’s inability to catch the cop killers. Hayden’s got a prime suspect–local baker Gene Barry, who threatened the lives of each of the murdered cops. But Barry says he’s a good guy and everyone (meaning wife Marcia Henderson and lawyer Paul Levitt) agrees.

Of course, Barry’s exceptionally suspicious, has no real alibi for the murders–it’s never clear why his alibi is Naked–and appears to be at least psychologically abusive to Henderson. It turns out she’s the luckier of his two ladies, but more on that development in a bit.

The first half hour introduces Barry, introduces Hayden, introduces the cops, kills the cops, starts Hayden’s investigation, fires Hayden, brings in P.I. Don Haggerty to assist Hayden in an off-the-books investigation, and ends with Barry running off to the Mexican border to destress.

Barry’s not just suspicious, he’s violent, controlling, and manipulative. Though the manipulative stuff doesn’t really work because he’s not coy about it. He manipulates through violence and enforced control. The script asks way too much in the way of disbelief suspension. Director Hopper is no help with it either. For whatever reason, he can’t direct interiors. He does the most boring composition inside. Outside, Naked Alibi looks great. Inside, it’s a complete yawn.

Worse, he’s got forceful performances from both Barry and Hayden and doesn’t showcase them in those boring interior scenes either. There’s all this energy present, with Hopper seemingly disinterested in framing it well.

When the film gets to the Mexican border, there are big changes. The exterior shots are even better–Tijuana stands in for “Border City”–with these deeply composed shots. Metty’s photography gets even better and the script slows down enough and focuses; it doesn’t matter if Hopper doesn’t direct exposition or banter well.

Gloria Grahame plays a nightclub singer who Barry romances, terrorizes, and physically abuses. No longer trying to play evil but nice and instead just evil, Barry is terrifying. Especially since things never go Hayden’s way. He’s not particularly good at the detective stuff and he’s got the street smarts of a three-card monte mark. He’s just right.

But Grahame ends up being the closest thing to a main character. She gets the most character development, which Grahame ends up essaying far better than the film deserves. By the end, the script’s caught up with her and holds her back, but for a while, Grahame transcends the spare, sometimes lazy material.

The filmmaking and acting make Naked Alibi. The script’s got a decent enough detective investigation, but very little else. The finale is–while extremely effective and beautifully shot–a complete disappointment. There’s been no character development on Hayden. He’s not a cipher, he’s a blank. Hayden brings a lot of righteousness and enough hints of charm to it, but there’s nothing there. Whether he’s succeeding, failing, or bleeding to death, Hayden’s always exactly the same.

Grahame’s got stuff going on under the surface, Barry’s just getting more and more dangerous. And there’s really no one else. There are some recurring supporting cast members–Chuck Connors, Billy Chapin–but they don’t have much to do. Naked Alibi doesn’t need them to do much. It’s got one thing; reveal Barry enough Hayden can arrest him.

Things get really good about an hour in and it seems like Naked Alibi might add up in the end. Plotting overcomes problematic scene details. Then the finale disappoints, even though it features Hopper’s best direction (of an action sequence anyway), and is beautifully shot.

Still, it’s an engaging noir, with good (but unfortunately uneven thanks to the script and Hopper) performances. And it’s got that Russell Metty photography. Hopper’s direction doesn’t deserve that photography.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jerry Hopper; screenplay by Lawrence Roman, based on a story by J. Robert Bren and Gladys Atwater; director of photography, Russell Metty; edited by Al Clark; produced by Ross Hunter; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Sterling Hayden (Joe Conroy), Gloria Grahame (Marianna), Gene Barry (Al Willis), Marcia Henderson (Helen Willis), Don Haggerty (Matthews), Billy Chapin (Petey), Max Showalter (Det. Lt. Parks), Chuck Connors (Capt. Kincaide), Stuart Randall (Chief Babcock), Paul Levitt (Frazier), and Fay Roope (Commissioner O’Day).


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Suddenly (1954, Lewis Allen)

I’m sure there’s got to be some examples of well-written “Red Scare” screenplays, but Suddenly isn’t one of them. Writer Richard Sale’s got a lot of opinion about the dirty Commies, he just never gets the opportunity to have any one character fully blather it out. They’re too busy blathering out patriotic platitudes while being held hostage.

Suddenly’s about Frank Sinatra trying to assassination the President for half a million dollars. He’s got a couple sidekicks with him, but they’re not too bright. Sinatra’s character should’ve been a war hero but he just liked killing Germans too much. Sale has a lot of dialogue about Sinatra’s backstory because most of Suddenly takes place in the house he’s holding hostage. It’s either Sinatra alluding to his past or second-billed Sterling Hayden figuring it all out and lecturing him and making Sinatra lose his cool. Sinatra’s performance is good. Hayden’s isn’t. Neither of them have good writing, neither of them have good direction (though Sinatra gets better direction).

There are a handful of notable costars–James Gleason as the homeowner, Nancy Gates as Gleason’s widowed daughter-in-law, Kim Charney as the annoying kid. Gleason ought to be fine but Allen’s coverage is awful. It seems like Gleason doesn’t even know where the camera’s pointed at times. So he’s not good. He’s not awful (Charney is awful), but he’s not good. Gates would maybe be better if she didn’t have a lousy part. Women don’t understand much about men; Sale’s script isn’t deep. Gates’s part in the first act is mostly to be harassed about not wanting to marry Hayden, who courts her with the charm of a wrecking ball.

David Raskin’s music is outstanding. John F. Schreyer’s editing is weak–again, Allen didn’t shot the coverage the film needed–and Charles G. Clarke’s photography is mediocre. There aren’t really any good shots in the film, so it doesn’t matter. But there are some where Sinatra gets to go wild and those work out, even if the composition isn’t strong. Sinatra’s awesome.

Suddenly’s a chore of seventy-five minutes. Not even Sinatra can keep it interesting through some of the longer stretches. Sale’s script is just too weak and Allen’s direct is just too disinterested.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Lewis Allen; written by Richard Sale; director of photography, Charles G. Clarke; edited by John F. Schreyer; music by David Raskin; produced by Robert Bassler; released by United Artists.

Starring Frank Sinatra (John Baron), Sterling Hayden (Sheriff Tod Shaw), James Gleason (Pop Benson), Nancy Gates (Ellen Benson), Kim Charney (Pidge Benson), Paul Frees (Benny Conklin), Christopher Dark (Bart Wheeler), James O’Hara (Jud Hobson) and Willis Bouchey (Dan Carney).


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Nine to Five (1980, Colin Higgins)

Besides being extremely funny and rather well-acted, Nine to Five has a lot of narrative problems. The story isn’t a mess exactly, because there’s not enough story for there to be a mess. Higgins and co-writer Patricia Resnick have an idea (Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton and Lily Tomlin are suffering secretaries) and not much else.

Fonda’s technically the star as her subplot has some drama and gets resolution with the son of a bitch ex-husband. Parton and Tomlin have lives outside the film’s main plot, but they aren’t part of the film. Parton gets two scenes, Tomlin only one. Higgins and Resnick get a lot of mileage out of those scenes–both for Chekhov’s gun or just texture for the characters.

Parton’s surprisingly appealing, Fonda’s good and Tomlin’s just great. But none of them are anywhere near as good as Dabney Coleman as their heinous boss. He manages to be equal parts familiar, odious and hilarious. Sadly, although the film’s thirty years old, workplace gender equalities haven’t really improved by leaps and bounds.

The narrative problems throw the film’s pacing off quite a bit. Getting through Fonda’s first day at the office takes twenty minutes, which sets the pace for a while, but the second half is summarized (if not abbreviated).

Under Higgins’s assured direction, Nine to Five shows a sitcom concept can work as a movie. More, it can be funny, insightful and rather well-acted.

About the only thing off is Charles Fox’s goofy score.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Colin Higgins; screenplay by Higgins and Patricia Resnick, based on a story by Resnick; director of photography, Reynaldo Villalobos; edited by Pembroke J. Herring; music by Charles Fox; production designer, Dean Edward Mitzner; produced by Bruce Gilbert; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Jane Fonda (Judy Bernly), Lily Tomlin (Violet Newstead), Dolly Parton (Doralee Rhodes), Dabney Coleman (Franklin M. Hart Jr.), Sterling Hayden (Russell Tinsworthy), Elizabeth Wilson (Roz Keith), Henry Jones (Mr. Hinkle), Lawrence Pressman (Dick Bernly) and Marian Mercer (Missy Hart).


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The Killing (1956, Stanley Kubrick)

I first saw The Killing when I was in high school. I had a great video store and one of the employees–lots of the employees were film school students–recommended the film to me, raving about Kubrick’s use of fractured narrative. He didn’t call it a fractured narrative, I don’t remember what he called it, maybe he just described it; I rented it and watched it and loved it. In some ways, it’s the most lovable of Kubrick’s films because it’s so good and requires so little from the viewer. Years later–I learned Kubrick didn’t come up with the fractured narrative. The source novel had it and he liked the structure.

The heist scene, where The Killing (seemingly–did anyone else use a fractured structure to elucidate a heist before this film?) sets such a precedent, comes after the film’s already wowed. The heist scene, beautifully paced, exquisitely directed (I love the way the camera moves at the bus station, with Kubrick using camera movement akin to sentence or paragraph structure), is a blast. Like all good heist scenes, it’s all about the precision and The Killing doesn’t disappoint. It’s a great heist scene–maybe not the best ever (it gets a tad long as Sterling Hayden gets ready in the locker room), but the best stuff in The Killing isn’t the heist. It’s Elisha Cook Jr. and Marie Windsor.

Oh, there’s some other great stuff in the film. Coleen Gray as Hayden’s crestfallen fiancée–with The Killing, Kubrick gives a lot more time to characters than he usually does. It’s a large cast with people having different levels of involvement in the story overall, but the texture of the characters–look at the relationship between James Edwards and Timothy Carey. It takes up maybe four minutes of screen time but it’s exceptional; it has its own arc. Or Jay C. Flippen’s–unspoken–melancholia. It’s all just so amazing, because it’s so un-Kubrick. The Killing runs less than ninety minutes and it’s boiling over with material.

But Cook and Windsor… their relationship–their scenes together–is amazing. Windsor’s performance is spectacular, because she infuses it with such intelligence and evil, but is also able to make the viewer believe other people can buy it when she’s acting coy. Cook’s got the film’s best role and he gives the performance of his career–and Kubrick seems to know it. The Killing‘s got great sound design, both at the race track during the fractured heist scene, but also during the conversations between Cook and Windsor (Jim Thompson’s dialogue is fantastic). Kubrick holds the camera on Cook, letting him go through a whole range of emotions and thoughts in just thirty or forty seconds. It’s a brilliant moment of cinema.

Then the heist goes on too long and the film starts to slip a little.

Kubrick brings it all back together at the end though, as he infuses an action-oriented sequence with the characters’ unspoken misery. It’s a great big downer, but it’s such a beautifully made film–and it’s near impossible to truly identify with any of the characters outside of enjoying their actions–it works.

Hayden’s great, Ted de Corsia’s good, Joe Sawyer’s good. Gray’s very good in the few minutes she has of screen time. Kola Kwariani’s hilarious in a smaller part. He’s got these great monologues and, with his thick Russian accent, it’s hard to understand what he’s saying, but he’s foreshadowing the entire story for the viewer.

It’s a brilliant piece of filmmaking.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Stanley Kubrick; screenplay by Kubrick and Jim Thompson, based on a novel by Lionel White; director of photography, Lucien Ballard; edited by Betty Steinberg; music by Gerald Fried; produced by James B. Harris; released by United Artists.

Starring Sterling Hayden (Johnny Clay), Coleen Gray (Fay), Vince Edwards (Val Cannon), Jay C. Flippen (Marvin Unger), Elisha Cook Jr. (George Peatty), Marie Windsor (Sherry Peatty), Ted de Corsia (Policeman Randy Kennan), Joe Sawyer (Mike O’Reilly), James Edwards (Track Parking Attendant), Timothy Carey (Nikki Arcane), Joe Turkel (Tiny), Jay Adler (Leo the Loanshark), Kola Kwariani (Maurice Oboukhoff), Tito Vuolo (Joe Piano) and Dorothy Adams (Mrs. Ruthie O’Reilly).


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