Detectives Beyond Borders Night at the Movies
1) The Glass Key. The 1935 adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's novel, starring George Raft, not the 1943 version with Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake. It features good performances by Raft and by Edward Arnold as political strongman Paul Madvig and lots of knuckle-gnawing by the female leads to indicate nervousness. In spots it captures the narrative intensity of Hammett's great novel, but its ending must be one of the weirdest in Hollywood's long history of tacked-on happy endings. And why did both movies change the protagonist's name from Ned Beaumont to Ed Beaumont?
2) Private Hell 36. (1954) The cast includes Ida Lupino and Howard Duff, trying his best to look like Sterling Hayden. The set-up: Two cops split thousands of dollars they recovered from a dead counterfeiter, and complications ensue. The movie is noir until its last two or three minutes, and then it either wusses out and capitulates to the era's demand for moral uplift, or it gets even more noir, depending on one's interpretation. It's a fine, ambiguous ending, in other words, and I wonder if director Don Siegel and the rest of the movie's creative team intended it that way.
3) Once Upon a Time. This 2008 Korean heist comedy is set during Japan's wartime occupation of Korea, which makes the slapstick antics of its Korean freedom-fighter heroes something of a brave move. Several scenes nicely portray Japanese condescension toward even Koreans loyal to the occupying government. Several characters go by both their Korean names and the Japanese names forced upon them by Japanese decree. Surprisingly affecting and resonant for a movie with so much slapstick in it.
4) (Jet Li's) Fearless. This 2006 Hong Kong film is apt to get viewers cheering. A romanticized biography of Huo Yuanjia, a martial artist who took on and defeated foreign challengers at a time when Chinese national pride was at a low ebb and foreign domination at a high. In the movie, he wins their hearts and friendship in addition to kicking the crap out of them. China's current rulers probably like the character of Nong Jinsun, a businessman friend of Huo's who sells his highly successful restaurant and donates the proceeds and his time to the athletic association Huo founds.
(NB: I'm a Robert Osborne, not a TCM. I'll talk about the movies entertainingly and informatively, but you have to track them down yourselves. The Glass Key is available on YouTube, the rest on Netflix.)
© Peter Rozovsky 2012