Tag Archives: noir

Hell is a City (1960) or livewithfilm gets down and dirty in Manchester…

15 Sep

With factory chimneys emerging through an oppressive fog, Hell is a City creates an unashamedly grim vision of existence in the metropolis. Through a post-murder man hunt, Manchester, and by extension 1960s urban life as a whole, is shown to be a corrupting influence that brings misery into the home. With the angry young men of the British New Wave casting the camera onto the kitchen sink in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning in the very same year, Val Guest’s film similarly seeks out the banal and ordinary. Yet combined with a dark streak of expressionist noir, Hell is a City remains an intriguing crime flick.

Expecting that recently escaped robber Don Starling (John Crawford) will return for the unclaimed treasure of a forgotten heist, weary police inspector Harry Matineau (Stanley Baker) dedicates his days to hunting him down in the Manchester streets. Once Starling and a gang of thieves steal money from bookmaker Gus Hawkins (Halloween’sDonald Pleasence, here hunting down cash rather than psychopaths) and kill his assistant, Matineau is hot on his heels.

While noir crime films could never be called glamorous, Hell is a City is a remarkably unsentimental vision of life. Surrounding an intriguing but rarely ground-breaking crime caper, the glimpses of life remain a powerful image of a population at odds with itself and, namely, the police establishment. Martineau’s embittered wife laments the lonely existence she faces while her obsessive husband hunts down murderers; depressed divorcees flirt longingly with married men; workers gaze despairingly into the bottom of their pint glasses; police are despised for their corruption and brutality; and criminals viciously assault the public and, in one moment, a disabled youngster. Even though this doesn’t sound like a barrel of laughs, ultimately this context remains Hell is a City’s most compelling element and is neatly diluted with occasional, if clichéd, thrills from the criminal underworld.

Uniting the themes of the film, the final act is undoubtedly the most successful. Earlier sections at times sag under excessive plot exposition or a slightly bizarre, if necessary, moorland gambling set-piece. The closing sequence remains visually striking and fast paced, combining a rooftop gun battle with a soul searching lament. In a superb move that suits the banal beauty of the preceding 90 minutes, this is enacted as a marital argument in a living room and avoids all possible conceit. Hardly a celebration of the ordinary, the film wallows in this gritty normality. Following Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Hell is a City is the hardworking, fast talking Monday afternoon.

Killer Joe (2012) or livewithfilm hastily hurls its fried chicken into the bin…

19 Jul

As films to see with your dad go, William Friedkin’s Killer Joe remains an interesting choice. This is in no way suggesting that papa-livewithfilm is in any way a prudish film fan, because, after all, he managed to breed a blogger that recently giggled itself silly in front of the man-eating-entrails of Braindead.  Nevertheless, Killer Joe was an uncomfortable watch, indicative of Friedkin’s talent for the macabre. The livewithfilm heart only began to sink once it dawned on this blogger that the film it had forced its father to watch (endure?) alongside it was, in fact, an unrelenting parade of nudity, violence and torture. Thankfully, while neither of us could exactly describe the film as an enjoyable romp, the noir-esque depravity went down well. Livewithfilm was let off the hook. Perhaps it is still a little early to take him to the next midnight screening of The Evil Dead though…

Embroiled in a potentially fatal level of debt, Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) gets wind of his despised mother’s vast life insurance policy. Convincing his father Ansel (ThomasHadenChurch) that they should achieve the payout through murder, they hire the services of crooked-cop-come-bounty-hunter Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey). Yet once Joe claims Chris’ younger sister Dottie (JunoTemple) as a down payment on the job, the family become slowly dominated by the contract killer.

As previously noted, Killer Joe pulls no punches. While Friedkin’s earlier work has remained in the shadowy end of the filmic spectrum (The Exorcist (1973) Bug (2006)), the director’s latest venture finds a different level of darkness to mine. A slowly building sense of dread expertly weaves its way through the latter half of Killer Joe, creating one of the most gruelling final sequences livewithfilm has had to endure. Yet once Friedkin steps into his final, cruel gear at the film’s dénouement, the film falters. Unsure whether the brutality of the scene needs to be diluted through laughter, the director fails to fully realise the horror he has created. McConaughey remains chilling throughout though and effectively plays up his rom-com past to inhabit a truly detestable character. Juno Temple is thrilling for all the opposite reasons, superbly forming Dottie into the complex, naïve woman-child Killer Joe requires. Even with the film’s ultimate misstep, livewithfilm has remained distant to fried chicken, the repulsive finale returning to its mind whenever the moustachioed colonel rears his grinning head.