If you’ve seen Laura or any other of Gene Tierney’s films, you know she usually plays a good woman. Maybe not always a perfect lady but a law-abiding, seemingly moral character. In Leave Her to Heaven, any question of morality, honor, and integrity flies out of window. Tierney plays an evil woman. This is not giving anything away or being too harsh. Right from the beginning, we find out Tierney’s not quite right, though it’s not until later in the film that she reveals her true viciousness. And, viciousness might be putting it mildly. The story revolves around Tierney’s character’s relationship with Cornel Wilde. Some of the things her character does in this film…well, they are just unspeakable. And, Tierney pulls them all off with conviction and believability. This woman who can be so innocent and naïve in other films becomes this ruthless devil without skipping a beat. Watch this one because it’s a good film, but mostly because of the GREAT performance by a truly underrated actress.

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This film is unlike most of the thrillers I have seen…and I have seen a lot of them. It is smart and clever and unexpected. A little bit of horror mixes with some science, some drama and a lot of strange characters to achieve an edge-of-your-seat film. I guess I should take time here to tell you that some of the plot (especially toward the ending) is a little confused…OK, a lot confused. It involves science and genetics and anything to do with science is pretty much Greek to me (or any other language). At first, I thought I was alone in my confusion but I watched some of the special features on the DVD and the cast and crew were talking about how they didn’t even understand it completely. It’s kind of like the Macguffin in Hitchcock’s films…it doesn’t matter WHAT the thing is, it just matters how exciting it is to find it. What kept me most intrigued with the story were the characters and the quick pacing of the action. It is hard to take a breath during this one…things just keep happening. Sometimes, you don’t know why or how they are happening, but by the time you figure it out, something else is happening. Jean Reno and Vincent Cassel play excellently off each other…Reno is brooding and Cassel is inexperienced and impetuous. The way Cassel involves himself with Reno’s case is clever and not the usual “action” movie cliché of “pairing up” the old master with the young guy that has a lot to learn. If you like action thrillers, this is one you will not want to miss!

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Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is a good thriller…with a good ending. Not a great ending (I wish one of the main characters’ story was not left unresolved) but still satisfying. And, maybe famed NYC director Sidney Lumet left that one character’s end unresolved because that’s how life is…sometimes left hanging. From the way it starts to the way Lumet structures the story (told from different POVs), this one is original. Basically, it’s a robbery-gone-awry story which we’ve all seen over and over again in films. But Lumet adds an extra twist here that keeps you guessing until the end. Not Lumet’s best movie…(can anyone say Twelve Angry Men???) but compared to some of the lame thrillers out there, this one is one of the best of late.

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For film noir-buffs, this is as close to the Father of the genre as you can get. For a genre that came into its own AFTER WWII, this 1941 film still fits the “noir” bill even though it was made before we even entered into the War. Like other noir titles made before the end of the War, specifically Otto Preminger’s 1944 classic Laura and Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity (also from 1944), The Maltese Falcon did a good job of molding what the noir genre was to become in its heyday…the 1950s. The first appearance of Bogart as legendary Hammett private dick Sam Spade, this also is the first pairing of Bogart with director John Huston, with whom Bogie made five subsequent films. Mary Astor plays possibly the first ever true femme fatale on screen…she’s cold, seductive and very conniving. Plot wise…Spade gets entangled with Astor after his partner dies investigating something for her. Astor turns out to be much more than an innocent victim. What Astor needed Spade’s partner to investigate was bogus and the true crime involves a golden falcon…which those who want are willing to do ANYTHING to get. A true noir classic!

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Since I wrote a post on the 2003 version, here’s my post for the 2009:
As I wrote in my post for the 2003 BBC TV production of this tale, it is a well-done, intense political thriller…that is a must see. This one is about 4 hours shorter than the British TV production, but it is just as taut and gripping as the first…maybe even better since it does that same job in a feature film length. Keeping most of the story in tact, this version has a congressman caught in a sex scandal with a murdered young researcher from his office. The congressman’s former roommate is a reporter who is on the story and trying his best to keep both his loyalties to his congressman friend and his newspaper job. Like All the President’s Men, this film really takes you inside the inner workings of a Washington D.C.’s newspaper office…keeping the nightmare pace and the cutthroat-ness in tact. I’m sure the newspaper biz is hectic and frantic in most of the country, but add in the turmoil of political and you get a hellish frenzy. Excellent performances by all make this movie a fabulous political and journalistic thriller. Watch both versions and compare for yourself!

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I know the point of this blog is to highlight films on DVD — and the 2009 version of State of Play is still in theaters, as of today (May 6, 2009). But, the 2003 BBC production of this story is on DVD — and Niles owns it. So, in the meantime, while you’re waiting for the 2009 version to hit Niles’ shelves on DVD, do yourself a favor and check out the 2003 version. I’m not saying it’s better than the new version — it’s just different. More intense and more gripping — mostly because it’s 6 hours — compared the the new version’s 2 hour running time.

A well-done, intense political thriller that delves deep into the heart of British politics and journalism. Two friends…one a writer at a major London newspaper and the other a member of Parliament…get entwined in a series of twists and turns that do not let up until the very end. Extremely well-acted, this series will keep you guessing until the final scene…literally. In addition to the great performances, the writing is top-notch…fast and intense — the fast-paced script crackles with wit and is chocked filled with details about politics and insights on the “rag” trade. For anyone who likes thrillers, this one is a must see!

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Everytime I see this one, for some reason I always forget the twists and turns it takes, which is good since that of course increases the suspense for me. This is a prime example of wonderful melodramatic noir films of the post-WWII era…maybe even the best example. Not as serious as Laura, (or as good) and not as over-the-top as some (such as the Joan Crawford campy classic Mildred Pierce), The Postman Always Rings Twice is a perfect mix of murder and sex. Based on the short novel written by the same author as Pierce and another murder/sex film noir classic Double Indemnity, James M. Cain, Postman finds drifter John Garfield drifting to a roadside gas station/café owned by a older guy and his sultry, younger wife, Cora, who puts the D in DAME and the X in SEX. Lana Turner has never had to play up her sensual self as much as in this film…she seems to just sizzle each time the camera is on her. And Garfield does a good job of catering to her…not being able to resist, but putting up just enough resistance to lead to trouble. Basically, a great potboiler for those cold, lonely nights.

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Based on Theodore Dreiser’s classic novel, An American Tragedy, director George Stevens weaves a tale of love, sex, money and the trappings of all three. Montgomery Clift stars as George, a young man with dreams of power and success, but who has lived his life in a lower middle-class environment…up until now. He decides to “hit up” a distant, very prosperous relative for a job and once he gets his foot into the door of the life of luxury, there is no turning back for him. Elizabeth Taylor shines in her role as Angela, a beautiful socialite who falls for George, almost as hard as he falls for the life of extravagance. Clift really brings George and all of his greed and passions alive here. In some movies I always found him kind of stiff. But, here he’s so determined and tragic…yet sympathetic at the same time. Look for Shelley Winters in a key role as George’s non-upscale girlfriend…this is one of her first big roles and she does a brilliant job of capturing the desperation of her character.

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Montgomery Clift as a priest? Really? I like Mr. Clift but I think that’s a tad of a stretch. And, apparently Monty thought so as well because he never seems quite comfortable in his vestments. Pushing that aside, this is a well-done thriller by the man who knows them best, Mr. Alfred Hitchcock. Unlike most Hitchcock films, there are some times in this one where Hitchcock asks us (the audience) to suspend our disbelief. I mean that there are quite a lot of “coincidences” that we are just supposed to believe are meant to be. All in all, a solid thriller with a cast of interesting character and one semi-unbelievable priest. Actually, since I like Clift as an actor, I wish he would have worked with Hitchcock again. I think they would have worked better together if Monty had a role he felt more suited for.

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Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck? In the same movie? I should be in heaven, right? Well, almost. Spellbound is a tough film for me. I love it. It’s great. It’s one of Hitchcock’s masterpieces. But, there’s just something about it that rubs me the wrong way. Maybe it’s too technical. Since Bergman plays a psychoanalyst, there is a lot of medical talk and psychiatric terminology. Or, maybe it’s too rooted in the world of psychology, and sadly, since that is something I know little about, I’m just not interested. Well, whatever, watch it and let me know. Bergman plays a female (obviously) psychoanalyst in a mental facility where the old director is retiring. Enter Peck as the new director…but there is something odd about Peck that Bergman can’t quite put her finger on (kind of like my problems with this movie…!). Once Peck’s idiosyncrasy reveals itself to Bergman, she makes it her mission to find a solution. I definitely still recommend Spellbound. And maybe the more people who watch it will clue me in on what it is that bothers me about this film. Don’t worry – it’s an excellent movie with a wonderful cast. I just need to lay on a couch and tell Ingrid Bergman my troubles…

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