Cinema Station

Gus & Travis Talk Film: Film Noir

June 3, 2014
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Our video blog series, Gus & Travis talk film. This week features a discussion about William Holden.

We talk about films such as Detour, Double Indemnity, Body Heat, Night Moves, The Killing, Kiss me Deadly, Chinatown and more.

You can listen at this link or watch below:


100 CRIME FILMS: Video Blogs #2 and 3

August 30, 2012
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We present the new two entries in our video blog series 100 CRIME FILMS: Body Heat (1981) and The Killing (1956).

Body Heat

January 6, 2011
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Body Heat

Body Heat (1981) is a movie that I like and dislike at the same time. I dislike it because it poses as an original when it is so obviously derived from Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity. I mean plot point by plot point it matches up identically. But then I like it because it is so smartly written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan, beautifully acted by William Hurt and Kathleen Turner in the principal roles with great support by J.A. Preston, Ted Danson and Richard Crenna who spiritually ties Body Heat to Double Indemnity because he once starred in the TV version of Double Indemnity (1973). In that version he plays the hapless hero, in Body Heat he’s the victim. In this film Ted Danson gives what is to my mind a truly witty performance that fore shadows his wonderful turn as Sam Malone for all those years on the TV series Cheers. Also in the cast is a young Mickey Rourke giving a charmingly relaxed performance. I remember critics at the time saying that they thought he stole the film, I don’t agree. But he is damn good in his role.

What I like about this film is that it is both sexy and erotic. This is one of the few American films that possesses those rare qualities. A lot of films claim to either be one or the other and are usually neither. They are frequently explicit but generally never sexy or erotic. And as I said before, this film is both. The two leads (Hurt and Turner) go at each other like adolescents in heat and it comes off the screen in a palpable way. Added to that the dialogue is smart and the plot turns ingenious particularly if you haven’t seen Double Indemnity. And even if you have it’s still interesting from a literary stand point to see how he spins something old into something new. The ending strikes me as somewhat problematic but it’s not so bad as to negate what came before it.


As I said I didn’t like the film the first few times I saw it but as the years go by I appreciate more and more when I see the poor job other filmmakers have done trying to make something remotely sexy and mysterious about the criminal doings of ordinary people. In other words something in the Film noir genre. I wish Lawrence Kasdan would do something else in that tone. He came so close the first time maybe he’ll hit center target the next time…I can dream, can’t I?


Noir is Dead: A Personal Note… or Rant

October 5, 2010
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It’s more of a question: Is Noir dead?  And the answer that keeps pestering my optimism is a reluctant and bitter yes.

The Noir I mention is pure unadulterated Noir.  I could provide a list of qualifications (as Gus did in a previous entry on genre) but to mention a few movie titles might do better.  Detour directed by Edgar G. Ulmer is Noir.  Double Indemnity directed by Billy Wilder from a screenplay by Raymond Chandler is Noir. Night and the City directed by Jules Dassin is Noir.  A combination of sex, deception, jazz, double-cross, murder, desperation, money, and a moody atmosphere… Noir.

It thrived in the 40’s and 50’s along with the Pulp literature from which it came. In the passing decades it has ruptured into so many sub-genres that the meaning of Noir is corrupt. For instance, we have “Country-Noir” with this year’s back-woods crime story Winter’s Bone.  The Nicolas Cage-starring Red Rock West is sort of “Western Noir”.  Films like No Country for Old Men pass as Noir, and I ask why.  Is any movie that includes crime and dark shadows Noir? Even Curtis Hanson’s L.A. Confidential, as good as it is, isn’t Noir.  It’s more police procedural than anything. And these corruptions apply to the classics of Hollywood as well. For instance, some might call Sunset Boulevard a Film Noir, but for what reasons?  Because it has dark Black & White photography and demented, fated characters? Any genre might possess those elements.

As Gus once told me, the crime genre (in writing and movies) is a house with many rooms.  The gangster story, the Cozy, the court-room drama, the who-dunit, the caper and others.

Imagine if someone were to call Agatha Christie’s work Pulp in the same vain as Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Cornell Woolrich.  Such a suggestion would be laughable but that’s the same mistake that has been made concerning Noir.

Of course, there have been examples of pure Noir, at least by my standards, since the 50’s. The Arthur Penn-directed Night Moves with Gene Hackman fits the bill. So does ChinatownBody Heat though disgustingly imitative of Double Indemnity makes most, if not all, the right moves. The Hot Spot, directed by Dennis Hopper, is maybe the best of its era. Even a movie like Phoenix (a forgotten crime gem with Ray Liotta) comes close but misses the genre.

And to be fair, there is nothing wrong with the creation of the above-mentioned sub-genres; in fact, the evolution of genre is necessary for a living cinema. Still, it’s important to remember where these terms came from, what they once stood for and possibly still can.

Is pure Noir possible in current cinema? In a world where jazz isn’t as popular, where the detective is more an icon of the past than a hero of the present… What would pure Noir look like in a modern setting?

Would it have pornstars instead of lounge singers? And Meth dealers instead of thieves? It might resemble something like Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant; the German director’s depraved-cop yarn, full of drugs and Iguanas, is the closest I’ve seen anyone come to the genre in recent years. Herzog seems to think that New Orleans (a place torn-up by crime and natural disaster) is the perfect location for a resurgence of Noir.

Maybe he’s right.  Perhaps the genre has just been asleep for too long.


Noir Dialogue

June 22, 2010
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Body Heat

Ned walks up to Matty.  They are strangers.

Ned: You can stand here with me if you want but you’ll have to agree not to talk about the heat.

Matty: I’m a married woman.

Ned: Meaning what?

Matty: Meaning I’m not looking for company.

Ned: Then you should have said, ‘I’m a happily married woman’.

Matty: That’s my business.

Ned: What?

Matty: How happy I am.

Ned: And how happy is that?

Matty: You’re not too smart are you?

She starts to walk away.

Matty: I like that in a man.

Ned: What else do you like?  Lazy? Ugly? Horny? I got ’em all.

Matty: You don’t look lazy.  Tell me, does chat like this work with most women?

Ned: Some, if they haven’t been around much.

Matty: I wondered, thought maybe I was out of touch.

Ned: Can I buy you a drink?

Matty: I told you.  I’ve got a husband.

Ned: I’ll buy him one too.

Matty: He’s out of town.

Ned: My favorite kind, we’ll drink to him.

Matty: Only comes up on weekends.

Ned: I’m liking him better all the time.

She stubs out her cigarette.

Ned: You better take me up on this quick.  In about forty five minutes, I’m going to give up and go away.

Body Heat (1981), written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan.