Vixens, Vamps, and Tramps: Claire Trevor in “Murder, My Sweet” (1944)

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Dick Powell and femme fatale Claire Trevor in “Murder, My Sweet”

Claire Trevor was one of Hollywood’s finest character actresses.  And you won’t find many who were more under rated.

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Trevor began her acting career onstage in 1929 and starred on Broadway in 1932.  Like so many other stage performers, she went Hollywood  in the early 1930’s.

Trevor’s most memorable 1930’s role was the prostitute “Dallas” in John Ford’s great western, Stagecoach (1939).  Although this film is remembered for John Wayne’s breakthrough performance, it was Trevor who anchored the story with her realistic, heartfelt portrayal of a fallen woman who desperately wanted to remake her life.

Wayne went on to bigger and better things, but Trevor soon found that the role of “Dallas” proved to be something of a career liability, as producers and directors cast her over and over again as the “bad girl with a heart of gold” in B westerns.  In addition, Trevor was often typecast as the “gun moll” and “crook” in B level crime stories.  Ironically, Trevor’s superior acting skills probably contributed to her being placed in these second-tier films.  Trevor was well-known by directors as a dependable, versatile performer who added class and depth to any project, regardless of its quality.  If there was any question as to how to solve a casting problem, the answer would often be:  “Get Trevor!”

In 1948, Trevor won an Oscar for her unforgettable portrayal of Gaye Dawn, the washed-up singer in John Huston’s Key Largo.

On the way to her Oscar, Trevor scored a choice role in director Edward Dmytryk’s classic 1944 film noir, Murder, My Sweet (based on Raymond Chandler’s 1940 novel Farewell, My Lovely).  The film is probably most memorable for actor Dick Powell’s great performance as hard-boiled detective Philip Marlowe.  However, Trevor is also quite good playing the second wife of an elderly wealthy man.

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The first time that we see Trevor is a memorable one.  As Powell enters the rich man’s study, we note that the aging tycoon is standing in front of an easy chair, blocking the person sitting there….but not entirely.  Peeking from behind is a shapely leg sheathed in silk.  The man moves, revealing Trevor leaning back into the cushions.  She turns her head towards the camera, and we see a lovely but weary face that silently conveys all the troubles of the world.  The music stops.  Powell stares.  And we know that he’s in for a mess of trouble.

Claire Trevor leg

If you’ve never seen Murder, My Sweet, please do so.  It’s as fresh and gritty as the day it was released.  The dialog still crackles.  The chiaroscuro photography is great.  And…for God’s sake, it’s Raymond Chandler!

Murder, My Sweet is a staple of Turner Classic Movies.  However, you can also purchase a Blu-ray copy on amazon.com by clicking onto the following link:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0141SDSF0/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=spcooperveriz-20&camp=1789&creative=9325&linkCode=as2&creativeASIN=B0141SDSF0&linkId=4a848cc440d590d22d0214dcaed83976

You can download a digital copy by clicking onto the following link:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00HW1TY0M/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=spcooperveriz-20&camp=1789&creative=9325&linkCode=as2&creativeASIN=B00HW1TY0M&linkId=f02cfcaa9485bee64fcbba3656d09a8f

Finally, I would like to recommend a very good bio of Ms. Trevor by Carolyn McGivern.  Among other things, the book explains how an actress as good as Trevor never made it into the top echelon of stardom.  You can purchase it through Kindle by clicking onto the following link:

 

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Pluses:   Great adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s novel Farewell My Lovely ; excellent performances by all; classic example of the film noir genre, especially re: cinematography.

Minus:  Can’t think of any.  If you are a student of film and have not seen this movie, please…..see……it!

Cast:  Dick Powell, Claire Trevor, Anne Shirley, Mike Mazurki, Otto Kruger, Miles Mander, Douglas Walton, Ralf Harolde

Director:  Edward Dmytryk.

Unrated.

Black and White

Length:  1 hour 35 minutes

*****

Sources:

McGivern, Carolyn.   Claire Trevor:  Queen of the Bs and Hollywood Film Noir.  Reel Publishing (2013).  Kindle edition.

“Claire Trevor.”  Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.   9 March 2017.  Web.  10 March 2017.

Elegy for the Midlands: “Hell or High Water” (2016)

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Brothers Tanner (Ben Foster) and Toby (Chris Pine), and the farm they are desperately trying to save from foreclosure.

One does not typically describe heist movies as “thoughtful” or “poignant.”  However, both adjectives apply to Hell or High Water, a story about two brothers who will use any means necessary to keep their family farm out of foreclosure.

This film features the usual components of the heist:  Quick-witted, resourceful crooks (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) pitted against a wise, experienced lawman (Jeff Bridges); speeding cars; and guns a-blazing.  All of this occurs against the expansive plains of West Texas.

But look carefully:  Instead of cattle and horses dotting the landscape, you will see graffiti that reads, “3 tours in Iraq/but no bailout/for people like us.”  You will view dirt roads lined with rusted-out buildings and road signs with advertisements like, “Home refinancing:  Debt Relief” and “In Debt?  Easy Credit at Statewide.”

In fact, the real backdrop of this film is the economic downturn that has plagued middle America for so many years.  And brothers Toby and Tanner are just two more victims of these difficult times:  They have been reduced to robbing banks in order to pay off the mortgage on their family farm.  Lately, the mortgage company has given an ultimatum regarding payment of the last installment….”Come hell or high water, get the money to the bank on Thursday.”  Just one more holdup, and the brothers will be home free.  Or will they?

Hell or High Water features good performances from Ben Foster and Chris Pine, and an excellent one from Jeff Bridges, who by now has perfected his characterization of the grizzled old coot (Think 2009’s Crazy Heart and 2010’s True Grit).  The plot is compact, with riveting action scenes.  And the plains of West Texas are majestic–if somewhat destitute.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to find Hell or High Water in theatres near my home.  I ended up downloading it through amazon.com.  You can do so, too, by clicking onto the following link:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01K5CB2DG/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=spcooperveriz-20&camp=1789&creative=9325&linkCode=as2&creativeASIN=B01K5CB2DG&linkId=9cfbdd5e0e27766259fbf4b546f46aae

The DVD is now available for purchase at amazon.com.  You can access that link as follows:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01KP7LB3M/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=spcooperveriz-20&camp=1789&creative=9325&linkCode=as2&creativeASIN=B01KP7LB3M&linkId=7555b5faa58d3d234d6a46797016d661

*****

Pluses:  Jeff Bridges, gorgeous shots of Texas plains, compact plot, bit players throughout the film add to the mood and atmosphere.

Minus:  My gold standard for this type of heist film has always been 1973’s Charlie Varrick, about a small-time bank robber (Walter Matthau) who unknowingly picks up some mob money during a bank job.  Compared with that picture, Hell or High Water gets a B+.  It’s very good.

Cast:  Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Gil Birmingham, Katy Mixon.

Director:  David MacKenzie

Rating:  R (some strong violence, language and brief sexuality)

In Color

Length:  102 minutes

In Theaters Now: The Accountant (2016)

Chris Wolff (Ben Affleck), an accountant, is functionally autistic.  The condition hampers his ability to interact with others in a meaningful way.  However, autism allows him to apply laser-like focus to any task.  In addition, he possesses a super-genius mathematical talent which he uses in solving the most daunting financial problems affecting various businesses.  Wolff’s unusual gifts facilitate his mastery of other skills…like murdering assailants with martial arts moves and shooting people a mile away.

Martial arts?  Sharpshooting?  Why in heaven’s name would an accountant need to know all of this?  It turns out that this particular accountant uncooks books for criminal organizations.  And it’s always good to know how to protect oneself.

The concept of autism as super power is intriguing, but it’s been done much better in previous movies.  For example, the excellent Girl With The Dragon Tattoo trilogy chronicles the adventures of Lisbeth Salander, an Asperger’s patient who uses her incredible math skills and martial arts expertise to overcome a variety of travails involving murder, espionage, conspiracy and the like.  Noomi Rapace (2009 Swedish version) and Rooney Mara (2011 English language version) both play Lisbeth as a complex, multifaceted character.  In contrast, actor Ben Affleck, displaying minimal affect, comes across as one-dimensional in the role of Chris Wolff.  In addition, there’s a denouement at the end of The Accountant that can be seen a mile away.

Although the action scenes in this film are pretty good, I would wait for the DVD to come out.  This is a stay-at-home popcorn show.

Plus:  J.K. Simmons is great as an FBI agent on the trail of Wolff.  Good action scenes.

Minus:  Ben Affleck’s one-dimensional performance, an obvious denouement, a shaky explanation for the title character’s criminal motives.

Cast:  Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jeffrey Tambor, John Lithgow

Director:  Gavin O’Connor

Rating:  R (for violence)

Running time:  128 minutes

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