Uncle Bardies’ Movie of the Week: A film noir that is the film noirest

Once a week on Monday, Uncle Bardie shares a movie with his Readers he gives a big two thumbs up. It will simply be a short excerpt or a trailer. Uncle Bardie might even throw in a reflection on the movie. If so, it will make an appearance below the video. So pop some popcorn and give yourself a treat. This week’s movie is “Double Indemnity” (1944).

James M. Cain, Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler wrote pulp fiction that stamped American literature with an edge. These guys were no Hemingways but their influence was just as powerful. Film makers turned their novels into the black and white movies that the French labelled film noir features. Film-noir-ism explored the underside of American society. They featured murder, but not just any murder. It was murder in that twilight zone of lust and greed and passion and failed ambition.

The movement began with Billy Wilder and the film adaptation of James M. Cain’s “Double Indemnity” It is the story of a pair who cross over to the dark side into the film-noir-zone. Fred MacMurray plays Neff, an insurance salesman on the prowl for new customers. Since he’s in the vicinity of a client who needs to renew his auto insurance, he figures why not stop in and collect the renewal fee.

Neff shoves his way past the maid who answers the door, demanding to see the man of the house. Of course, the man isn’t home. His wife, Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck), is. As Neff stands in the living room, she appears on the second floor. She has nothing on but a towel. She tells the maid, “I’ll be right down.”  When a woman that looks like Barbara Stanwyck tells an insurance salesman she’ll be right down, it is a pretty good idea that the insurance salesman should run like hell. Because there is a good chance she is up to no good. Of course, that is exactly what Phyllis is up to.

She suggests Neff come back the next evening. Her husband will be home then. Then she changes her mind. She calls and suggests Thursday afternoon would be better. When Neff shows up, the husband is nowhere in the house. And it’s the maid’s day off. Some coincidence, huh?

Phyllis wants to purchase accident insurance for the hubby. Just in case he loses his life working the oil rigs. And she doesn’t want the husband to know.

Neff tells her no and leaves. But this is not a woman who takes no for an answer. She puts on the persuasion and pretty soon the insurance salesman has gone patsy. Phyllis is out for murder and she’s found a patsy. Did I say murder? Yes, there is a murder. And the motive smells like honeysuckle.

Neff has a plan. To get the husband on a train. If he dies on the train, the policy pays double indemnity. So it’s murder on a train. Agatha Christie did it. Alfred Hitchcock did it. So why not Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck.

After they’ve pulled off the murder, Phyllis returns home. Neff sneaks back into his apartment, so he’ll have an alibi. He wasn’t seen leaving it. He goes downstairs and says hello to the garageman. More alibi. From there, Neff goes for a walk and has a realization. “That was all there was to it,” Neff narrates.”Nothing had slipped. Nothing had been overlooked. There was nothing to give us away. And yet, as I was walking down the street to the drugstore, suddenly it came to me that everything would go wrong.” These are the words of a doomed man, words written by a master of dialogue, Raymond Chandler.

Edward G. Robinson is Barton Keys, Neff’s friend and the insurance investigator who probes the if, ands and buts of the victim’s death. When the insurance company president claims the husband committed suicide, it is Keys who says it couldn’t be suicide. Jumping off a train that slow wouldn’t kill a fly. Just as Neff thinks they got away with the murder, Keys shows up at Neff’s apartment. He’s got a hunch. When he gets a hunch, he’s like a hound dog on the trail of a prey. He don’t let up.

The perfect murder isn’t perfect anymore. And somebody is about to find out he’s been a patsy.

With “Double Indemnity”, Billy Wilder put the noir in film noir. Only his fourth film, this was his first masterpiece. It was the one that put him on the road to becoming one of the most important film directors of the twentieth century. Over the next twenty years, he would give American audiences some of the best movies ever made. Movies like “The Lost Weekend”, “Sunset Boulevard”, “Ace in the Hole”, “Some Like It Hot” and “Sabrina”.

For a screenwriter, he chose Raymond Chandler to be his co-writer. It was Chandler’s first screenplay. Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson were hesitant to come down off their pedestals to do what they thought would be a B-movie. Somehow Billy Wilder convinced them. And all three’s careers were enhanced because of it.

In addition to the seven Academy Award nominations, “Double Indemnity” showed that Fred MacMurray could step out of his safe zone and give one of the best performances of his career. It provided a transition for Edward G. Robinson from leading man to character actor.

So, if you are looking for a movie to see on a dark and stormy night, or any other night for that matter, think “Double Indemnity”. You’ll be treating yourself to a humdinger.

The Camera

“Just aim and shoot,” Paulie said to his girlfriend. “That’s all there is to it.”

“Yeah, says you,” she said. She was not good at all with mechanical things. A camera was a mechanical thing. An instrument. She had a long history of breaking things. In high school, she broke her biology teacher’s favorite microscope. It was an accident but she had a hard time not getting expelled. She never got back in her teacher’s good graces, barely passing with a D. Now her boyfriend was telling her that operating a camera was easy peasy. No way. She didn’t dare touch it. It would break just to spite her.

“C’mon, Emily,” he said, handing her the camera.

It was such a nice camera. It must have cost a bunch. She, for sure, did not want to break it. She pushed his hand away and shook her head. “You have no idea how easy it will be for me to break it.”

“You’re not going to break it,” he insisted. Was he being foolish or what? Of course, she would break it if she took it.

For all the money in the world, she was not going to touch the camera. Not for all the money in the world. “No,” she said. Tears were forming in her eyes. She was about to cry. As the old saying goes, she was between a rock and a hard place, and she was not getting out anytime soon.

He opened her hand and set the camera in it.

It wasn’t as heavy as it looked. Her hand shook. “Stop, hand,” she commanded it.

The camera seemed to like her hand. How ‘bout that. It was unbelievable.

Then the camera spoke to her, “You drop me and you’re a dead woman.” If you’ve never been threatened by a camera, it’s a scary thing.

 

Uncle Bardie’s Weekly Music Pick: The Banks of Greenwillow

t’s Thursday again. You know what that means. Uncle Bardie’s Weekly Music Pick. Uncle Bardiie gives a double thumbs up to this week’s selection: English composer George Butterworth’s “The Banks of Greenwillow” (1913), performed by Sir Neville Marriner conducting Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields.

I never go in search of music. It usually finds me. That’s the way I chanced upon this lovely music. I was researching “The World of Henry Orient”. I was checking out the biography of its director George Roy Hill. It seems he directed a Broadway musical in 1960 called “Greenwillow”, with music and lyrics written by Frank Loesser. It only lasted for 97 performances. The only striking fact about the musical was that it featured Anthony Perkins as Gideon Briggs, singing “Never Will I Marry”. He was rehearsing the play at the same time he was filming “Psycho”.

Like so much new music I discover, I found this one on the right side bar of the You Tube video of Anthony Perkins performing his song. Curious I listened to it and fell in love with the piece.

This is a great piece to listen to first thing in the morning as I am getting ready to meet my day. It’s also a lovely piece to listen to after a stressful day.

Just a couple of notes about George Butterworth. He was a good friend of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. He also based a composition on A. E. Housman’s collection of poems A Shropshire Lad. Butterworth was killed during the Battle of the Somme in World War I, just one of many great losses in the “war to end all wars”. The sadness of it all is what might have been. It’s sadder that this composer is poorly remembered.

Politics in America 20: Christmas in November

The trouble started five days before Election Day. It looked like there was going to be a huge turnout for the Pig Farmer from Weazel Sneeze. The sculptor at Mount Rushmore had already got out his chisel for an additional head on the great stone mountain.

Betty Sue, being Betty Sue Pudding, just couldn’t leave well enough alone. Things were going too well. That’s when you’ve got to be careful. Damned careful. Or the Grinch will come and steal all your toys. You’ve heard of pushing your luck too far. Betty Sue was about to push their luck over the cliff.

The week before the election Betty Sue went back home for a break. She had been working twenty-four seven and Big Al Fresco sent her home with, “There’s nothing else we can do. It looks like we’ve accomplished it.” He kissed her on the cheek, then watched her as she headed for the airplane, thinking, “Now there goes a woman.”

That Thursday Betty Sue woke up early like she always did. She woke up early. She was in her au naturel. She did a bit of stretching, then went into the living room and did her yoga. She was a happy camper. Soon she would be the First Lady.

She thought, “The First Lady. Can you imagine? Won’t all my high school friends be jealous?” Especially that Brandi Wine Moonglow. The bitch. Brandi Wine Moonglow had beat Betty Sue to become her high school’s head cheerleader. As we all know, there is nothing quite like high school jealousy. We carry it with us the rest of our lives. Losing to Brandi Wine had given Betty Sue a complex that ran all the way down to her toes.

Just as she went into her Salamba Sarvangasana, she started laughing. She couldn’t control her laughter. She laughed so hard she fell out of position and had to go to take a pee. It felt so good. Getting even. As she emptied her bladder, she emptied herself of all jealousy. She began to feel sorry for Brandi Wine. After all, it wasn’t her fault that Brandi Wine Moonglow was so dumb. At seventeen she got herself knocked up by the quarterback of the Weazel Sneeze Prunes. They got married. Now he’s lost his job at the factory and she weighs a good three hundred pounds. You never know how things are going to turn out, do you?

After her yoga was over, Betty Sue started twiddling her thumbs. She realized she had nothing to do. One of the Secret Service guys had fed Bessie Mae Hogg. She called Brandi Wine and reminisced about the old high school days. That took up all of fifteen minutes. Well, you’ve heard the old saying, “Idle hands are the devil’s playground.” The devil was about to getting a good workout. He must have been smiling when it all came down. He might even have been saying, “Thank you, Jesus.” Christmas was about to come early for Old Scratch. There was about to be a hot time in the old town Weazel Sneeze style.

Next Week The Muffin Parade

Uncle Bardie’s Movie of the Week: Some Choice Recommends

Once a week on Monday, Uncle Bardie shares a movie with his Readers he gives a big two thumbs up. It will simply be a short excerpt or a trailer. Uncle Bardie might even throw in a reflection on the movie. This week is a little different.

I found four that deserve attention. There’s just not enough posts to cover them. So here’s four movies—a romance, a thriller, a sci-fi, a drama—I give two thumbs up. I think you’ll enjoy any, or all, of them.

“Age of Adaline” (2015). There are a number of up-and-coming actresses who have been  breaking out. Brie Larson did it with “Room”.  Blake Lively is another. She is Adaline. I’d seen the trailer for “Age of Adaline” and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Romantic movies can be so cliché. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this one. Like “Ex Machina”, it brought a what-if to mind.

Due to an automobile accident and a strike by lightning, Adaline doesn’t age. The only person she maintains a relationship with is her daughter. Since her daughter ages, Adaline becomes her daughter’s daughter. At least in appearance. When someone tries to get close to her, she runs like a frightened deer. No matter how much she might like to fall in love, she knows she can’t. She can’t stand watching a man she loves age and die all the while she does not age. Yet…

Bourne Legacy (2012). I had put off seeing this one for a while. I must say that the Bourne movies with Matt Damon are a guilty pleasure. All the Bourne movies are simply a remake of “Bourne Identity”.  I know this and I still enjoy them. “Bourne Legacy” does not have Matt Damon. It has Jeremy Renner. For me, that was kind of like replacing Sean Connery with Roger Moore. I think that thought was what happened to the audience for this one, and it lost money at the box office.

Jeremy Renner plays a Bourne-like agent for the CIA. He was another guinea pig for a special program. Now the agency is trying to shut down the program. That means it is trying to eliminate him, so that no one outside the agency knows. Jeremy Renner  did a good job, delivering in this action-packed sequel.

Unfortunately he is not in the new Matt Damon “Jason Bourne”. But he seems to be doing alright with “Mission Impossible” and his portrayal of Hawkeye in the Captain Americas and The Avengers movies.

“Ex Machina” (2015) is a movie I’ve seen a number of times and always enjoy. It’s an updated version of the  Frankenstein story. The mad scientist is a very rich tech entrepreneur. He’s Bill Gates rich. His creature is a female artificial intelligence.

The director is the novelist Alex Garland. I remember reading his novel, “The Beach”, and was impressed. Since then, he has written several four screenplays. So imagine my surprise when he turned up directing this one. Though Garland made the “Ex Machina” for only $15 million, the movie grossed over $36 million. If “Ex Machina” is any sign of his abilities, then he has a long, successful career ahead of him. This is the kind of director the studios love.

“Room” (2015. We’ve all seen the stories. A young girl is kidnapped by a pedophile predator. She is held for years. In some cases, over a decade. She has a child.
Based on the novel by Emma Donoghue, “Room” gives us that story. Brie Larson delivered such a powerful performance that she received the highest accolade for a performance. She was given the 2016 Best Actress Oscar.

I hesitated seeing this one, thinking it was going to be very depressing. It wasn’t depressing at all. It shows how a human being can reach deep down inside their selves and find hope. It’s the story of Ma’s (Brie Larson) bond with her son (Jacob Tremblay) to survive and then find a way out, then adapt to the new world, a world she’s missed out on. Both Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay deliver knock-out performances with this one.