Sunday, November 29, 2020

November Quick Picks and Pans


Scarlet Street poster

Scarlet Street (1945) Fritz Lang’s cynical noir drama is as bleak as they come, taking us to the darkest corners of human nature. Edward G. Robinson stars as Christopher Cross, a meek, middle-aged bank teller stuck in a loveless marriage to a domineering widow (Rosalind Ivan). His life takes a turn for the worse when he falls for a scheming young woman, Kitty March (Joan Bennett). With the urging of her abusive grifter boyfriend Johnny (Dan Duryea), Kitty takes credit for Christopher’s artwork, garnering the success he could never attain. The film is anchored by Robinson’s heartbreaking performance as a man who only wants to be loved and desired by a beautiful woman. It’s a Faustian bargain with no upside, as he sinks into a ruinous abyss, trading away his reputation at work and talent as an artist.

Rating: ****. Available on Blu-ray, DVD, Amazon Prime and Kanopy

Death of a Cyclist Poster

Death of a Cyclist (aka: Muerte de un Ciclista) (1955) This Spanish noir from writer/director Juan Antonio Bardem ponders the futility of running away from one’s guilt. Juan (Alberto Closas) is a college professor, having an affair with the dean’s wife, Maria (played with icy conviction by Lucia Bosè). When they hit and run a bicyclist (who subsequently dies from his injuries), they conspire to keep things quiet. Juan’s personal and professional life goes downhill, as the incident gnaws away at his conscience. But while Juan wrestles with the ramifications, Maria remains determined to suppress the truth. Bardem’s morality tale painfully illustrates how one terrible event can change someone’s life forever, and how culpability isn’t necessarily an inherent human trait.

Rating: ****. Available on DVD

Crystal Eyes Poster

Crystal Eyes (aka: Mirada de Cristal) (2017) This Argentinian pseudo-giallo from writer/directors Ezequiel Endelman and Leandro Montejano is a fun ’80s retro-tinged throwback, replete with big hair and neon colors. After the accidental death of a top model, several of her cohorts vie for her coveted spot. Unfortunately for them, they don’t realize that a psychopath (wearing a disturbing mannequin mask) lurks in the wings to pick them off, one by one. The filmmakers accomplish a lot on what appears to be a microscopic budget (as long as you don’t scrutinize the sketchy makeup and old creepy mansion that looks suspiciously like a dollhouse), with some nice visuals and splashes of color (recalling Argento’s Suspiria). Sure, it’s nothing you haven’t already seen before, but it’s easy to appreciate the affection for the genre in every scene.

Rating: ***. Available on Tubi

The Killer Reserved Nine Seats Poster

 The Killer Reserved Nine Seats (1974) Nine self-absorbed people are invited to an old theater and subsequently locked inside for the night with a homicidal madman. I think you can guess where it goes from there. Director/co-writer Giuseppe Bennati’s giallo is moderately entertaining with the requisite kills and sexual hijinks, as long as you don’t spend much time questioning the logic of the characters. Instead of banding together against a common antagonist, they continue to bicker and split up. Although the performances are nothing special, the true star of this thriller is the Teatro Gentile da Fabriano, built in 1884, which provides some visual flair to the proceedings.

Rating: ***. Available on DVD (PAL region 0) and Amazon Prime

The Pyjama Girl Case Poster

The Pyjama Girl Case (1978) This not-quite-a-giallo Italian murder mystery (shot in Australia) starts on a promising note, with a body discovered on the beach. Sadly, it’s all downhill from there. Ray Milland, whose agent obviously wasn’t turning down any offers at this point, is good as a retired police detective volunteering on the case, but he's not in the film nearly enough. The story chronicles the events leading up to the murder, and director/writer Flavio Mogherini doesn’t spare any of the sleazy details in the process. His movie favors wallowing in exploitive and voyeuristic sequences (a scene where a group of people ogle a nude corpse is especially off-putting), when it would have benefitted from tension and pathos.

Rating: *½. Available on Blu-ray and DVD


  1. Another eclectic collection of reviews, Barry! 👍
    they all sound interesting in their own ways, but it's Scarlet street that catches my eyes! The cast sounds incredible and you had me at bleak. LOL

    1. Thanks, John! Well, Scarlet Street definitely delivers in the "bleak" department, but it's also an exceptional movie. Enjoy!