This is actually my first official post about the Criterion Channel streaming service. It started 2 weeks ago with a pack of film-noir movies from Columbia pictures. It’s like they read my Detour post and heard that I wanted to like this genre. In honor of the launch and as a thank you for picking this as the first special, I binged every single one of these movies. I thought long and hard about what this post would be about, but I was so impressed with this collection that I’m going to go through each one to a varying degree.
First up is My Name is Julia Ross which is about this woman who gets kidnapped and told that she’s someone else. The plot is pretty ridiculous as is the ending so it wasn’t the best start. Next up is So Dark The Night, a movie about a homicide detective whose love interest is murdered. I won’t ruin the big twist ending, but this one is also ridiculous. So far these movies aren’t too realistic and a little campy.
Then we get into the third movie, and our TSPDT movie of the collection, The Big Heat. Two things happened during this movie that changed everything for the better. Thing one is that the movies took a darker more serious turn which I really love, and the second thing being the introduction of Glenn Ford as Bannion. This is about a cop, Bannion, who gets into it with a gangster, and there are car bombs, hot coffees thrown in faces and slow, sad deaths. I never expected any of these things to happen in a movie from the 50s so it blew me away. This movie isn’t afraid to kill characters off or maim them permanently. The special effects are not great, especially the burn makeup, but the idea behind it is amazing. I loved the story so much that it made the ending especially impactful. It had me tearing up for maybe the first time ever at a black and white movie. While all this is true, one of the best things of this movie was being introduced to Glenn Ford who is quickly becoming one of my favorite old timey actors. He’s a great actor who plays great characters. I will forever refer to him as Bannion for his role in this movie.
The bar raised substantially going into the fourth movie, Drive a Crooked Road, and this one easily cleared it, if not set it even higher. A woman seduces a race car driver to force him into being the getaway driver in her bank heist. What makes this movie so special is the main character, Eddie Shannon. He’s a shy, quiet guy who lives his life in the shadows. He doesn’t go after what he wants in life, but when what he wants comes to him he isn’t afraid to go after it… well maybe he’s a little afraid, but he does it anyways. I think I see a lot of myself in his character so I was really rooting for him to make it. The next movie, Human Desire, also stars Glenn Ford, this time as a returning war vet who just wants to come home, find a girl and drive his trains. What he gets instead is wrapped up in murder. This one was good, but not as memorable as the others. Glenn Ford is still great in this as Jeff, but something about it reminded me a little too much of other 40s and 50s movies. It was still dark, but it had a little of the melodrama romance that I’m not too big a fan of. I was, however, impressed by Jeff’s strong character and ethics which not every character in this collection can boast about.
Speaking of weak ethics, we have Pushover where the titular main character is a total pushover of a cop who gives up his squeaky clean record to get money and the girl. He’s on a stake out watching the girlfriend of a bank robber to try and track him down, except he gets himself involved with her and they hatch a scheme of their own. There’s a lot of killings and double crossings, but I didn’t like the main character too much so this one fell a little flat. This next movie I actually don’t really remember watching. It’s Nightfall and to summarize it for you I’d have to copy paste the summary from IMDB. I don’t think I was entirely paying attention during it. I actually feel like I cheated a little… maybe I’ll have to go watch it again… Back to something I do remember, we have The Burglar which is my least favorite in a while. I had to rewatch parts of this several times because I kept zoning out and falling asleep. With the exception of a creepy, well shot scene at the carnival at the end, everything else wasn’t too special.
And here we are, the final three movies which I binged in one day after a short break. To start us off, we have The Lineup, a movie about drug dealers smuggling drugs through unsuspecting passengers. It starts off slow, but once you meet the main characters, Dancer and Julian, you’re hooked. These guys need to retrieve the drugs from the passengers to hand off to their anonymous boss. As they go through each of the passengers, you’re dreading the final confrontation because these drugs are hidden in the doll of a little girl with her single mother. It ends in a sweet car chase and shoot out, ending up being one of the most exciting movies of the bunch so far. After getting all amped up, I moved into the second movie, Murder for Contract, about a man who wants to become a contract killer. This one is a nice slow burn of a movie. This guy methodically plans out his jobs and works his way up the ranks. He’s brought in to take out a witness before she can testify at a trial. She’s terrified of being killed and locked herself away in her home under heavy guard. He has to find a way to kill her before time runs out. This is another movie with great characters, and an interesting turn of events at the end. And finally, the last of the eleven movies, it’s Experiment in Terror and boy does it deliver on that in the opening scene. A woman comes home, only to be greeted by a shadowy man with a deep raspy voice, whispering in her ear how he wants her to steal money from the bank she works at or he’ll hurt her sister. The premise is a little far fetched, especially since it’s drawn out for so long, but wow is he a scary bad guy. This was more of a horror movie than a film-noir. There is even a scene that was reminiscent of I Know What You Did Last Summer, when Buffy’s sister is all alone in the shop. There are creepy mannequins casting shadows all over the room and you just know the bad guy is in there somewhere. It’s definitely freaky and allows for one superb reveal. It earns an A+ for building atmosphere and a creepy villain, but it really does lose some of its edge in the last 10 minutes.
Well there you have it, all eleven movies in one really long post. I don’t know what my expectations were going into this collection, but I know that it was way better than I would’ve guessed. I’ve always wanted to love film-noir, and to be honest, black and white movies in general, and this collection did that for me. Some of these movies are absolutely timeless and hold up remarkably well today. They have memorable characters, deaths, plots, shots… you name it, they have it. Nothing could’ve been a better introduction to the Criterion Channel than this (and no, this post isn’t sponsored by them or am I in any way affiliated with this streaming service, I just seriously loved these movies). Make sure you check them out while they’re still available. As far as my verdict goes, they range between 6.8 and 8.5, with The Big Heat, our TSPDT pick, picking up the top spot.
By the way, I did end up watching Nightfall again, and it just isn’t that good. It’s really short and not too much happens. The most memorable scene is a guy getting killed by a snow plow.