Four movies that added the neo to noir from the sixties and seventies…
These are just a few of my so far unreviewed list, which one day soon will get the bigger review they deserve.
Blogathon host, Cinema and TV Cafe announced his yearly blogathon asking bloggers to write about their favourite Noir movies. I asked him if these choices could include neo-noirs and he generously allowed this genre, and he stipulated with the cut off mark at 1979. So reading through Wikipedia’s extensive list of neo-noirs HERE, I discovered some great finds, four of which I am sharing with you now.
The Last of Sheila (1973)
The Last of Sheila – Original Theatrical Trailer, Warner Bros
As regular readers know I’m a sucker for an all-star cast in a seventies movie. So seeing this cast and the plot it reminded me of those fabulous Agatha Christie whodunnits headed by Albert Finney as Poirot in Murder on the Orient Express (1974) and Angela Lansbury’s Miss Marple in The Mirror Crack’d (1980).
The Last of Sheila has a multi-millionaire movie producer, Clinton (James Coburn) inviting six of his Hollywood entertainment friends to join him in remembering his gossip columnist wife, Sheila on a week long Mediterranean cruise. Clinton then suggests his guests play a parlour game, named “The Sheila Greene Memorial Gossip Game.”
Clinton has written six “secrets” on cards and gives a card to each guest. Then they have to guess who has what secret and keep their own secret hidden. And after a clue is given to find a shoplifter’s identity, the game begins and the hunt is on to find the proof of who owns this secret… It seems that these “secrets” are based on real life facts as we see the card owner with the identity of the real-life shoplifter talking to an unseen someone. Later, after a second clue is given, which states that someone is secretly gay, Clinton’s apparently lifeless body is found.
As you would expect there is a twist. As the cards’ content is revealed, it’s revealed that Clinton knew one of them killed Sheila in a hit and run accident at their home a year ago. They all – but one – joined this couple for a party. This starry cast has Coburn and Dyan Cannon, Richard Benjamin, Raquel Welch, James Mason, Ian McShane and Joan Hackett.
The screenplay was written by the actor, Anthony Perkins – from North Sea Hijack (1980) – and the songwriter, Stephen Sondheim. Apparently, these characters were based on people they knew in Hollywood and the pair were well known for their celebrity scavenger hunts. Wikipedia adds HERE that this film was lauded as a “highly plotted murder mystery film of all time” and that the writers won an Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Motion Picture Screenplay.
The Domino Principle / The Domino Killers (1977)
The Domino Principle (1977) ORIGINAL TRAILER [HD 1080p], HD Retro Trailers
This film has a haunting opening tune and a possible eerie slideshow during the opening credits but that’s with a second watch. The song Some Day Soon – sung by Shirley Eikhard – is accompanied by photographs of the film’s protagonist Roy Tucker (Gene Hackman). It’s like he’s been stalked since nursery school, with photos of him as a wee kid to the then present day.
Roy murdered his wife, Ellie’s (Candice Bergen) first husband and he is now in jail indefinitely. He’s given an offer he can’t refuse as he’s offered his freedom by the mysterious Tagge (Richard Widmark). Tagge works for a shady organisation that also guarantees Roy, lots of money and a reunion with his wife, Ellie (Candice Bergman). In exchange, all he has to do is work for this company for a few weeks.
Roy agrees to this and also asks for freedom for his long term buddy and cellmate, Spiventa (Mickey Rooney). Spiventa is shot dead by Tagge and his cronies, Pine (Edward Albert) and General Reser (Eli Wallach) – more or less as soon after they leave the jail. Roy then is reunited with his wife, Ellie (Candice Bergen) and in some wonderful scenes, we see their heartfelt reunion as they wear matching clothes and there’s some soft-focus lovemaking. Roy is then asked by Tagge and his cronies to assassinate someone. After he refuses, he watches the consequences of this refusal as his then world falls apart…
This plot was a wee bit muddled and unbelievable at times in the film. These faults are seen as you never discover the potential assassination victim. The film’s director Stanley Kramer stated regarding this – as found on Wikipedia HERE – saying,
“that is not the point of the picture. The point I tried to make is that there are powerful, undetected forces that affect our destiny without even us suspecting they exist.”
As a romantic, I did love the part of the storyline where Roy and Ellie reunite and their love story is told in both the plot and a romantic montage. Wikipedia also added that Bergen reportedly wore a wig for this character to make her character look “more ordinary”. But it’s quite fitting for this plot, where it seems no one is who you think they are… and you wonder why this organisation didn’t just hire a hitman instead.
Twisted Nerve (1968)
Twisted Nerve (1968) Trailer, Mondo Digital
A young man, Martin (Hywel Bennett) – and the sole carer of his brother who has Down’s Syndrome – is mollycoddled by his mother and hated by his stepfather. After Martin sees Susan Harper (Hayley Mills) in a toyshop, he takes a fancy to her. He then shoplifts a toy duck and follows her out of the shop. Then the pair is suspected of being a shoplifting team, although she is innocent.
Martin and Susan are hauled into the shop manager’s office. Martin claims to be Georgie, a man with learning difficulties who on his appearance seems more naive and vulnerable. Susan pays for the stolen toy, seeing his vulnerable ways and the matter is dropped. Then as Georgie, he pays Susan back for the toy the next day, this after he tracks her down at work.
But his mother and stepfather have heard about this shoplifting incident, as Georgie’s apparently helpless – and destructive – behaviour is seen at home. We see Georgie sitting in a rocking chair showing some childlike behaviours while he crushes a photograph of his stepfather beneath this chair. Yet as Martin, he argues with his stepfather and then Martin leaves for a job abroad.
However, he doesn’t go, as he then as Georgie takes a forged note from his stepfather to Susan’s home. This note has his stepfather thanking her family in advance for looking after him after he goes on a work trip. Then Georgie moves in with Susan and her mother, Joan (Billie Whitelaw) and their lodgers. As Georgie, he then gets closer to Susan, but Martin wants to know her more than a friend and then – knowing he has an alibi – kills his stepfather.
This is an odd little film and has a fantastic Bernard Herrmann opening theme which is chillingly whistled in these opening credits. Quentin Tarantino added this theme to his Kill Bill Vol I (2003) soundtrack. The film content for Twisted Nerve was controversial during its release. The film starts with a disclosure reiterating what is said in the film, that there is no scientific link between people with Down’s Syndrome and violent and psychotic tendencies.
However, Bennett is convincing in his dual performance, which I believe instead suggests that he has developed a dual personality after learning that his brother is dying. With one personality, the vulnerable and childlike, Georgie and the other the more sexually frustrated and more assertive, Martin. Bennett and Mills starred in two further films together, The Family Way (1967) a British drama with her father John Mills and another neo-noir and an Agatha Christie adaptation with a murderous twist, Endless Night (1972).
The Running Man (1963)
The Running Man (1963) clip, Films 411
Despite the same film title, this is nothing like the Paul Michael Glaser – yes, Starsky from Starsky and Hutch (1975-79) – directed movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger from 1987. Unless this 1963 film, is the true adaptation written by Stephen King then aged 16. Anyway, this Walt Disney British and American film begins with some animated opening credits and some thrilling music that beautifully set the mood and ambience.
After the funeral of one Rex Black – who died in a glider accident and his body was never found – his young wife, Stella (Lee Remick) is desolate and dressed in black. Shortly after the mourners leave the wake, a man appears at the door. It’s revealed to be her husband, Rex (Laurence Harvey). Rex faked his death, and this means she can now claim his life insurance money.
After they get cosy in the bedroom, the doorbell rings and it’s an insurance investigator Stephen Maddox (Alan Bates). Then after Maddox’s interview with the grieving widow ends, Rex sneaks out and heads for Malaga. Then he steals and alters a passport from a drunk, Jim Malone. He dyes his hair blond and dons the worst ever Australian accent.
Later, Stella joins Rex in Malaga, “Jim” and Stella appear to fall in love. Then the insurance guy, Maddox “coincidentally” turns up at this same resort too… and he seems to take a fancy to this grieving widow… but Rex fears he’s onto him, while Stella believes it’s a coincidence.
Wikipedia tells that this film caused controversy at the time after it apparently was brought to the attention of the Warren Commission. This was after it was promoted in newspaper personal ads at the time of John F Kennedy’s shooting. These ads called for The Running Man to contact Lee. And the film characters were played by Lee Remick and Laurence Harvey. And I’m sure many a conspiracy theorist has already made these connections.
I recommend this one for Lee Remick’s performance where she’s at her most vulnerable as this character, torn between loyalty to her husband and the truth. Harvey plays his role, as a bit of a git who’s seen in flashbacks as having a bit of a temper and a grudge to pay with the insurance company. Alan Bates also shines with his ambiguous role, as you are never sure who to believe in as things get even more complicated in this story. Scenes with all the three principal actors lead the watcher on a merry dance as to what is actually happening if it’s coincidences or a cat and mouse tale…
And finally, if these four films have whetted your appetite, here – in the words of those Blue Peter presenters – are just some neo-noir posts I did earlier from this Wikipedia list of lovelies. So if the 1960s is your thing, I recommend The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), Marnie (1964), Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965). And this mixed bag of neo-noirs from the 1970s, Play Misty for Me (1971), Endless Night (1972) and The Fury (1978). Or perhaps return to Laurence Harvey in a much more vulnerable, neo-noir role, with another film with a Presidential connection and go for his 1962 film as The Manchurian Candidate...
Four Favourite Noirs 2022 No 12.
This was added to Classic Film and TV Cafe’s Four Favourite Neo Noirs Blogathon. Other films with this cast include Lee Remick in The Omen. Alan Bates stars in Whistle Down the Wind and Laurence Harvey in The Manchurian Candidate. Dyan Cannon stars in Heaven Can Wait and Deathtrap. James Mason stars in Yellowbeard. Ian McShane in The Ballad of Tam Lin and more. Joan Hackett in Alfred Hitchock Presents and The Twilight Zone. Hywel Bennett stars in Endless Night. Hayley Mills stars in Tiger Bay, Whistle Down the Wind, Deadly Strangers Appointment with Death and The Parent Trap. Edward Albert stars in When Time Ran Out. Richard Widmark in Murder on The Orient Express and The Swarm. Gene Hackman starred in Superman, Misunderstood and more listed HERE.