Sunday, February 27, 2022

Noirsville Bonus - Black History Month Noir

A list celebrating the contributions of Black Actors / Directors to All Films Noir

Beyond the Forest (1949) mirroring "Imitation of Life" in which a girl strives to pass for white, beautiful light-skinned African-American actress/singer/dancer/bandleader Dona Drake, for the sake of her career, denied her heritage and passed for white (in her case Mexican) for the duration of it. In this film she plays Bette Davis's Native American maid Jenny.

The Breaking Point(1950) Guide Noir - Life's a bitch and then you die. This is a great Noir-Adventure story that hits on all cylinders.  Juano Hernandez is excellent as Harry's (John Garfield) first mate and good friend, their kids play and go to school together. This non stereotyped depiction for some will be an eye opener for it's surprising progressiveness for the year 1950, kudos to Diretor Curtiz and Ranald MacDougall for such a positive portrayal. 

No Way Out (1950) A black doctor is assigned to treat two white racist suspects who are brothers, and when one dies, it causes tension that could start a race riot. The film stars Sidney Poitier, Richard Widmark, Linda Darnell, Stephen McNally and Ruby Dee.

Native Son aka Sangre negra (1951) Argentine film directed by the French filmmaker Pierre Chenal (Sinners of Paris). Written by Richard Wright and Pierre Chenal and based on Richard Wright's novel. Cinematography was by Antonio Merayo, Music was by Juan Ehlert. The film stars Richard Wright as Bigger Thomas, Willa Pearl Curtis as Mrs. Hannah Thomas, Gloria Madison as Bessie Mears, Lidia Alves as Vera Thomas, Leslie Straugh as Buddy Thomas, Nicholas Joy as Henry Dalton, Ruth Robert as Helen Dalton, Jean Wallace as Mary Dalton, Charles Cane as Detective Britten, George D. Green as Panama, George Rigaud as reporter Farley, and Charles Simmonds as Ernie.

The Tall Target (1951) The Wild Wild Noir A very impressive period Noir made by MGM with
a memorable performance by Ruby Dee

The entire film is a train journey from Jersey City to Washington D,C. The various night shots of the Philadelphia Western and Baltimore RR's  4-4-0 Night Flyer taking on water, high balling, arriving and departing and are gonna warm many a rail fan's heats. In this noir we have lamp lit shadows and silhouettes against billowing steam. 

The Tall Target is like an amalgam of The Narrow Margin and TV's The Wild Wild West.

Pool Of London (1951) Nautical Noir - Directed by Basil Dearden, excellent cinematography by Gordon Dines. The film stars Bonar Colleano, Earl Cameron, Susan Shaw, Renée Asherson, Moira Lister, Max Adrian, Charlie Vernon,  Joan Dowling, James Robertson Justice, Michael Golden, Alfie Bass, Christopher Hewett Christopher, and Leslie Phillips.

Kansas City Confidential (1952) Dona Drake, for the sake of her career, denied her heritage and passed for white (in her case Mexican) for the duration of it. In this film she plays Teresa 

Killer's Kiss (1955) Low Budget New York Noir - Vinnie The sleazy proprietor of Pleasure Land Ballroom a taxi dance joint depicted in the film is played by black actor Frank Silvera . Vinnie likes to sample the merchandise. He samples Gloria. Vinnie has been picking up Gloria at her apartment house in his snazzy chrome accented 1951 Chevrolet Styleline De Luxe Bel Air convertible

Kiss Me Deadly (1955) Nuclear Noir - Juano Hernandez has a nice cameo as a boxing trainer / gym manager. A Classic Film Noir directed masterfully by Robert Aldrich. The cinematography was by Ernest Laszlo (D.O.A. (1949), M (1951)), the Music was by Frank De Vol.

Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) New York Tail Fin Noir. An excellent performance in his film noir debut is the "King Of Calypso" Harry Belafonte. Harry's is a very moving performance of basically a marginally good guy, Johnny Ingram, who has taken every wrong direction through the back alleys of life.

(1959) British Transitional Noir - For it's time period Sapphire surprisingly explored straight forwardly racial relations in the UK. 
During the 1950s some of the white working class in the UK began to show open hostility to the influx of African-Caribbean immigrants. The film is a policer. The body of a young woman is found stabbed multiple times on Hampstead Heath. It's locally known as "the heath" It is a large, ancient London heath, covering 790 acres, just a bit smaller than New York City's Central Park. Everything begins to go Noirsville when Sapphire's older brother Dr, Robbins arrives at police headquarters. Dr. Robbins is black, Sapphire was white or so the police thought. Sapphire was actually the product of a white father and a black mother. She was passing for white. 

Directed by Basile Dreadon and stars Nigel Patrick, Yvonne Mitchell, Michael Craig, Paul Massie, Bernard Miles, Earl Cameron, Robert Adams, and Yvonne Buckingham.

Orfeu Negro aka Black Orpheus (1959) Mythic Carnevale Noir - Black Orpheus's all amateur cast starred Breno Mello (a soccer player walking on the street with no acting experience was cast as Orfeu by Marcel Camus) as Orfeu, Marpessa Dawn (a dancer from Pittsburg Pennsylvania) as Eurydice, Marcel Camus as Ernesto, Fausto Guerzoni as Fausto, Lourdes de Oliveira as Mira, Léa Garcia (the only cast member of the film to have a long career, her last credit is 2020) as Serafina, Adhemar da Silva (Olympic medalist) as Death, Alexandro Constantino as Hermes, Waldemar De Souza as Chico, Jorge Dos Santos as Benedito, and Aurino Cassiano as Zeca.

Marcel Camus captured some genuine magic. The Myth of Orpheus and Eurydice timelessly encored, this go round in a mountain top favela during Carnevale. Is it a modern version of 'bacchanalia" in Rio de Jannero?  Was this what a Saturnalia was like, or the earlier Greek holiday of Kronia? It makes me smile when I contemplate the thought of it being a glimpse into antiquity. 

Black Orpheus is told accompanied by a wild, feverish, Samba percussive score, seemingly beating out the timeless, infinite pulse of life itself. Jean Bourgoin's camera work masterfully juxtaposes the earlier Film Soleil segments of the film with the long fall of the Film Noir finale, effortlessly producing very memorable haunting and atmospheric sequences all through the work. 

The Pawnbroker (1964) The Persistence of Memory - Besides the Oscar winning performance of Rod Steiger there are memorable sequences with Brock Peters, Juano Hernandez, Raymond St. Jacques and Thelma Oliver.

La muerte silba un blues aka Death Whistles the Blues (1964)Directed by composer / musician - Jesús Franco. 

Written by Luis de Diego and Jesús Franco. The Cinematography was by Juan Mariné and the Music by Antón García Abril.  The story is about a double cross of two men by an arms dealer who disappears with one of the men's wife. The story moves from Spain to New Orleans, to Jamaica. When one of the double crossed men shows up in Jamaica he recruits a gang to go against the gun dealer two black men with considerable parts are credited as Joe Brown as Joe, Jimmy Wright as Jimmy. 

Nothing But a Man (1964) Soul Noir - The film stars Ivan Dixon (Hogan's Heroes TV series, director The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1973)) as Duff Anderson, Abbey Lincoln as Josie Dawson, Yaphet Kotto (Across 110th Street (1972), Alien (1979)) as Jocko, Leonard Parker as Frankie, Stanley Green as Reverend Dawson, Eugene Wood as Johnson, Helen Lounck as Effie Simms, Julius Harris (Super Fly (1972), The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) ) as Will Anderson, Duff's father, Gloria Foster as Lee, Gertrude Jeannette as Mrs. Dawson, and Mel Stewart (Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), Trick Baby (1972)). 

Noir is a style that amalgamates with a story, any story about the darker sides of human existence. For a black man in the Jim Crow South it didn't take much to send his life spinning into Noirsville.

From Ivan Dixon on down all the performances are powerfully spot on. Definitely worth a watch 6-7/10.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) Nuclear Noir - Satiric Masterpiece - "It doesn't get any Noir-er than The Apocalypse." - Stellar cast with James Earl Jones as Lieutenant Lothar Zogg

Mister Buddwing (1966) Jazz Noir - Filming in 1965, Mister Buddwing is one of those lost films that are on the Transitional Noir cusp between Film Noir and Neo Noir. Sort of a psychological noir rather than a “crime” noir. A melancholy film that plays with time, space and your mind as the various vignettes overlap it's eerie and noir-ishly suspenseful, but at times darkly comic. It requires multiple viewings to fully comprehend. Watch for Nichelle Nichols appearance as a dice player, Raymond St. Jacques as the tout for the crap game.

In the Heat of the Night (1967) Hopperesque Noir -  Oscar Winner (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, Best Sound and Best Film Editing) In The Heat Of The Night. Forget about that it was produced at the height of the civil rights struggle becoming a benchmark film that has won accolades world over and look at it terms of a sort of Edward Hopper-esque, color Transitional Noir starring Sidney Poitier. 

The Incident (1967) New York Subway Noir - A memorable performance by Ruby Dee and Brock Peters. Peters is outstanding showing some impressive range.

Sweet Love, Bitter (aka It Won't Rub Off, Baby!) (1967) Is a paean to bebop jazz. A Jazz Noir. The film stars Dick Gregory, an African-American comedian, civil rights activist, social critic, writer, entrepreneur and a perennial guest on countless talk shows during the 1960s, and Don Murray. 

The film is based on the novel "Night Song" by John A. Williams, which itself was loosely based on the last years of the life of jazz great Charlie (Bird) Parker. The film is an eloquent portrait of the 1960's jazz scene. Though the story takes place in New York, the film was partly shot with Philadelphia, filling in for NYC. No matter it's all Noirsville.

Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971) Low Budget Soul Noir Masterpiece starring Melvin Van Peebles. Directed by Melvin Van Peebles a black man exploiting being black, with a story set in the black community. It's been called the first Blaxploitation Film preceding Shaft by a few weeks. Though often lumped in with Blaxploitation Films both Shaft and Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song are actually very good Neo Noirs in and of themselves, they just happen to have predominately black casts, and are just onerously included, in my opinion, solely for that superficial reason.

Shaft (1971) - Soul Noir - Shaft is a very plausible re-imagining of the classic private eye flick. The P.I. was always about cool this go round it is about back COOL. Richard Roundtree is perfect as the suave hip protagonist John Shaft, a good detective, grudgingly getting  genuine respect from all. Moses Gunn is incredibly good also as tough crime boss Bumpy Jonas

It's not only a great PI film, directed by Gordon Parks (acclaimed photojournalist for Life magazine)  but also shot in a very noir-ish style by Urs Furrer. Between the eye of the director and the skill of the cinematographer the film looks beautiful. The shots of Manhattan, The Village, Harlem circa 1970 are gorgeous. It's sleazy Times Square/42nd Street at fin d'une époque, before Disneyfication eradicated it all.

 Born To Win (1971) New York Junkie Noir

Directed by Ivan Passer.  

The screenplay was written by David Scott Milton and Ivan Passer, and was based on David Scott Milton's original story. 

Milton based the characters in this film on the junkies who patronized a Manhattan diner he once owned. His original conception was a way off Broadway play called Scraping Bottom. 

The excellent Cinematography was by Richard C. Kratina, and Jack Priestle, with a  jazzy soundtrack by William Fischer.  

The film stars George Segal, Karen Black, Paula Prentiss, Hector Elizondo, and Jay Fletcher (Foxy Brown, California Split, Cutter's Way ) as Billy Dynamite.

Across 110th Street (1972) Pseudo Blaxploitation Noir that stars Yaphet Kotto, Anthony Quinn, Anthony Franciosa, Richard Ward, Gilbert Lewis, Antonio Fargas, Norma Donaldson, and Paul Benjamin. 

The film addresses Black and White relations in New York City, Black and White integration in the New York Police Department, the new (for the time) progressive attitudes to police procedures.

Hickey & Boggs (1972) Smog Noir - Al Hickey (Bill Cosby) and Frank Boggs (Robert Culp) are two ex LAPD cops scraping the bottom of the barrel trying to make ends meet as PI's in the brown haze of the smoggy gas guzzler dominated LA of the seventies.  Their office is a back room accessed from a parking lot through a dilapidated peeling panel door, they can't pay their phone bill and the answering service so they opt for the service which they can check from phone booths. They dine on chillidogs from a street vendor and strategize the case at their local bar. 

Directed by Robert Culp, Written by Walter Hill, Stars Bill Cosby, Robert Culp, Rosalind Cash, Isabel Sanford, Sheila Sullivan, Carmen Cristina Moreno, Louis Moreno, Robert Mandan, Michael Moriarty, Bill Hickman, Vincent Gardenia, Ed Lauter, and James Woods.

Trick Baby (1972) Exceptional West Philly Neo Noir - Starring Mel Stewart and Kiel Martin Directed by Larry Yurst and was based on the book of the same name by Iceberg Slim. I cannot believe that Trick Baby hasn't found more acclaim. It's a great film, stand alone. It's a great Neo Noir and it's one of the best of the Blaxploitation films if you consider it as being such. It's story is a nice twist on a scenario that has been done before.  It has excellent cinematography that captures the West Philadelphia ghetto in an invaluable time capsule. It's cast of mostly unknown actors are all quite believable, not burlesqued, and treated quite seriously.

Superfly (1972) Stylish Soul Noir - Starring Ron O'Neal 
and directed Gordon Parks Jr., son of Gordon Parks eschewed all previous conventions and based Superfly on a cool, a "super fly," Harlem drug dealer, Priest Youngblood from a story by Phillip Fenty. Parks Jr.'s film, rather than base his characters on "straight folk" with chicken shit jobs scraping by working for whitey for a living, made a realistic film about one the two lucrative (at the time) careers that an ambitious ghetto hood rat with no legitimate life lines, was left with by "the man," drug dealing or pimping. Jr.'s film was scored by Curtis Mayfield and cinematography was by James Signorelli.

A Rage In Harlem
(1991) Stylish Soul Noir/Black Comedy - stars a large ensemble cast, Forest Whitaker, Gregory Hines, Robin Givens, Zakes Mokae, Danny Glover, Badja Djola, John Toles-Bey, Tyler Collins, Ron Taylor, Stack Pierce, Claude X, Reynaldo Rey, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, George Wallace and many many more. 

Directed by Bill Duke, with screenplay by John Toles-Bey and Bobby Crawford based on Chester Himes novel "For the Love of Imabelle". Beautiful cinematography by Toyomichi Kurita. Music by Elmer Bernstein and Jeff Vincent. The film looks great thanks to the Production Design by Steven Legler,  Art Direction by Nina Ruscio and Set Decoration by K.C. Fox.

Devil With A Blue Dress (1994) Soul Noir in the City Of Angels - It's a crying shame that director and screenwriter, Carl Franklin and star Denzel Washington didn't team up for more of the Easy Rawlins novels, they are quite good, and also quite unique in that Easy ages through time and local historical events as the series progresses, so it's not as if it's too late for another one. White Butterfly from 1992 was a particularly good standout.

Red Wind (Season Two)  Noir TV - Fallen Angels (1993-1995) - starring Danny Glover as as Philip Marlowe. Directed by The film  Agnieszka Holland (Europa Europa (1990)), teleplay written by Alan Trustman based on a story by Raymond Chandler. Cinematography was by Jacek Petrycki and Music was by Zbigniew Preisner.

Fearless (Season Two)  Noir TV - Fallen Angels (1993-1995) - Stars Eyde Byrde, James DuMont and Giancarlo Esposito and was Directed by Jim McBride from a story by Walter Mosley 

Link to Fearless here

Jackie Brown (1997) Soul Noir - A great amalgamation of Blaxploitation, Neo Noir, and Elmore Leonard, by Quentin Tarantino. Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Pam Grier, Bridget Fonda, Robert De Niro, and Robert Forster.

This film is a lot of fun to watch, Tarantino weaves his magic in his Tarantinian way. Snappy dialog, check, pop references, check, soul music, check, low life losers, check, bringing back blasts from the past in the forms of Pam Grier and Robert Forster, check. The film is probably one of his more restrained efforts, but it fits perfectly for Film Noir.

Cidade Baixa (Lower City) (2005) Beautiful Brazilian Noir - A  Brazilian Neo Noir masterpiece, directed by Sérgio Machado, written by Karim Aïnouz, Sérgio Machado, Adriana Rattes, and Gil Vicente Tavares. The excellent cinematography was by Toca Seabra and music was by Carlinhos Brown and Beto Villares. The film Stars Alice Braga as Karinna, Wagner Moura as Naldinho. Lázaro Ramos as Deco, Dois Mundos as Dois Mundos, Harildo Deda as Careca, Maria Menezes as Luzinete, João Miguel as Edvan, Débora Santiago as Sirlene, José Dumont as Sergipano, and the beautiful locations around Salvador, Bahia, Brazil.

Journey to the End of the Night
(2006) Gritty São Paulo, Brazilian Noir - Starring Mos Def, Scott Glenn, Brendan Fraser, and Catalina Sandino Moreno. An excellent Neo Noir with an actual "Classic Noir" ballpark runtime of just 88 minutes. I'm impressed.

The film was written and directed by Eric Eason who phenomenally worked some genuine low budget Noir magic.  Combine that with Ulrich Burtin's gritty, very grainy, style of cinematography with an interesting production design palette heavy on primary colors by Francisco de Andrade. The film evokes a curious comic book/graphic novel melange of Classic Film Noir, Sin City and Vittorio Storaro's work in Dick Tracy. The films music was by Elia Cmiral.

The tale is filled with lowlifes, losers, and those on life's lowest rungs, as a film noir should be. The cast of characters include, pimps, prostitutes, drug mules, transvestites, gangsters, crooked narcotics cops, smugglers, a soothsayer, a homeless girl, a dishwasher, and a little boy all on their own individual  journeys to the end of a single night in the city of São Paulo.

Motherless Brooklyn (2019) New York Neo Noir -Directed by Edward Norton and starring Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Alec Baldwin, Ethan Suplee, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Willem Dafoe, Michael K. Williams, Robert Wisdom. 

Mr. Weekend
LA Soul Noir - Black Noir's Matter - Written, directed, and produced by McKenzie Woodward. Bravo! With all the interest in Noir these days how the fuck do we not hear about this film? Excellent Cinematography by Evan Avtal who obviously knows WTF he's doing in the "Noir" department. Music by Kerry Baines, Vernell Daye, and George Kamar. The film stars Willie Wright (a nice surprise) as bookie Charlie Jenkins, Janelle Marie (unknown to me) as whore / call girl Nora Fiddledown, Trenton L. Culkin as pimp and wanna be actor Cole O'Donnell, Peter D. Michael as the "whale" bettor and gun dealer Hyman Steinberg. Spencer Tatum as the weed growing, daub smoking Blake Lumbuster

No Sudden Move (2021) an excellent Neo Noir directed by Steven Soderbergh, written by Ed Solomon and starring Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro, David Harbour, Craig Grant, Ray Liotta, Julia Fox, Wallace Bridges, Lauren LaStrada, Byron Bowers, and Bill Duke.

Honorable Mentions - Here are some films for me personally that feel on the Cusp of Noir and, I'd have to watch them a few more times. 

2007) Written and directed by John Sayles. This film stars Danny Glover, LisaGay Hamilton, Yaya DaCosta, Charles S. Dutton, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Gary Clark Jr., Mable John and Stacy Keach. 1950. Rural Alabama. Cotton harvest. It's a make-or-break weekend for the Honeydripper Lounge and its owner, piano player Tyrone "Pine Top" Purvis. Deep in debt to the liquor man, the chicken man, and the landlord, Tyrone is desperate to lure the young cotton pickers and local Army base recruits into his juke joint, away from Touissant's, the rival joint across the way. His plan to hire a guitar legend go awry and Tyrone is forced to take drastic action in a final scheme to save the club.

Fences (2016) A Story about a garbageman, a working-class African-American father trying to raise his family in the 1950s, while coming to terms with the events of his life. Directed by Denzel Washington, Written by August Wilson The film stars Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, McKinley Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson, Saniyya Sidney, and Christopher Mele