Category Archives: Crime

#239 – Hell is for the Heartless

(1930, US, 100 min) Dir Hank Hogart. Cast Buddy Kelly, Nelson Carroll, Julie Clayton.

Hard boiled pre-Code proto-noir gangster flick from first time director and future forgotten legend Hank Hogart. Stout, also forgotten leading man Buddy Kelly is ‘Mac’ McCauseland, the grinning gangster with a twinkle in his eye and blood on his hands. The perpetually nervous Nelson Carroll is ‘Hap’ Holburn, his rival for control of all the booze flowing into Detroit, the fantastically and evocatively industrial setting for the film. Not only is turf being fought for but an incandescent Julie Clayton’s Pip is the dancing woman they both love too – furious of foot on the stage and slinky seductress in the boudoir. All roads lead to a violent showdown which marks the halfway point and sees Mac tommy gun Hap’s legs off below the knees. Is this the end of Hap’s indignities? Is it toffee – when Mac sees how much more of Pip’s affections the now crippled Hap commands in his stumped legged state he is thrown into a blind rage and Hap is thrown out of the hospital window. For the law this is the last straw and Mac is gunned down himself outside his mother’s house after she – now frightened of her maniac son – shops him in to the cops herself. Mad, dark, manic stuff, it’s full of the kind of promise that Hogart sporadically fulfilled.

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#224 – South Side Pick Up

(2012, US, 97 min) Dir John Moore. Cast Shia LaBeouf, Gary Oldman, Olivia Thirlby, James Caan.

It’s 2008 in the kind of unnamed American city you see in films where it’s raining all the time. The financial crisis is unfolding – we know this because helpfully everyone’s either listening to the radio or sitting in the same room as a television ticker-taping the slow motion stock market crash. LaBeouf is the cocky but inept Harrison who has, through some unknown connection, landed himself a job with the local mob which is headed by Caan’s Jimmy Burch and enforced by Oldman’s businesslike Caspar O’Neill. His job is to jack cars – his area, the South Side. His prey, the rich. In his downtime O’Neill takes him on rides about the neighbourhood while he ‘runs errands’ and espouses his philosophy – of course his philosophy has a certain parallel with the ethos of the banks currently under investigation. This is nothing new of course – the idea of mobsters representing the capitalist id of America is a notion as old as the hills so it’s doubly embarrassing when a film like this comes along thinking it’s had an original thought. The fact that the film has also been blessed with a title that it almost certainly intentionally evocative of the great Samuel Fuller’s Pickup on South Street only adds to it’s shortcomings. A smart-looking but conventionally shot film with LaBeouf as good as can be expected, Oldman on old ham form and Thirlby wasted as the worrying girlfriend awaiting inevitable peril to be rescued from.

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#211 – Strip, The

(1974, US, 118 min) Dir Tom Gries. Cast Robert Duvall, Jennifer O’Neill, John Saxon.

California, October 1969. The paranoiac pall from the Tate-La Bianca killings hangs over the city. Private investigator Tom Beckett (Duvall) is hired by an old Korean War buddy to track down his missing daughter Sally. Fifteen years old. Last place seen: the Sunset Strip. Tom takes to the strip each night, pounding the streets, bugging each and every freak and drop out until he meets Cat (O’Neill). She knows Sally, recognises the picture. Saw her at a party in a house up in the hills. An abandoned mansion. It was too much of a dark scene for Cat – all kinds of sick sex rituals and power trips. People have been telling stories about this gang, roaming the streets in a fleet of Beetles, picking up ‘strays’. Word is that they were in on the killings up in the hills, they just didn’t get caught. She takes him to this house, the abandoned mansion. There are kids there with scared eyes. They tell stories that make no sense. About a ranch out in the desert, underground bunkers and mass graves. Tom and Cat investigate… A tense and moody film fantastically shot all at night by Lucien Ballard with a stand out performance from Duvall like a clenched, sweaty fist. Director Gries, incidentally, would go on to shoot the 1976 TV film of Helter Skelter which notoriously shot the Tate-La Bianca murders at the actual crime scene.

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#206 – Anvil Strikes!

(1976, US, 104 mins) Dir Jack Blackstaff. Cast Ernest Borgnine, Ursula Andress, Bernie Mayes.

Death Wish wannabe from opportunistic Irish director Blackstaff misguidedly attempting to reposition Ernest Borgnine as an action man – not that he was entirely unsuccessful as sequels Anvil Strikes Again and Anvil in Africa will attest. It’s the usual guff as expertly parodied by the likes of Mr Kill Man – Borgnine is Dr James Anvil, wealthy surgeon, whose wife (Andress) and daughter are raped and killed (in that order) by a group of merciless street toughs when they take a wrong turn on their way home from the ballet and in whose name he vows vengeance. It would be refreshing – if you’ll excuse the tangent – to witness a film in which the lead’s conversion to vigilantism was perhaps triggered by his sense of social injustice rather than by sexualised violence being meted out to the women in his life. The reproduction of this unfortunate trope, along with the equation of class and colour with relative goodness or lack thereof, taints what would otherwise be a well executed, kinetic bloodbath albeit one that would still be plagued by characters so insubstantial that Anvil’s .45 seems unneccessary in dispatching them – he could have blown them away with nothing more than a hairdryer and an especially long extension cord should he have wished.

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#183 – Schmähung (Abuse)

(1975, WGer, 99 min) Dir Hans Berg. Cast Wolfgang Feebler, Patti Hess, Maximilian Singerman.

Berg, responsible for cinematic crimes in the form of Little Dieter sequels A Drum for Little Dieter and Little Dieter’s Red Balloon, began his redemption here with an adaptation of Karl Klaus Faber-Hoffer’s play, a political cause celebre at the time. The film, like play, centres on a young group of conceptual agitators who roam Berlin instigating violent arguments with the general populace. Where the play saw the action confined to a prolonged bout of ‘cleansing rage’ in a fancy restaurant where the actors frequently broke the fourth wall to roam the aisles harassing the audience, the film spreads the canvas over the whole city and includes many surreptitiously shot scenes of the actors enraging actual citizens on the street as well as the inevitable fourth wall moments of actors turning to the camera to tell the viewer what they think of them. Where the play eventually ends in an orgy of violence with the restaurants’ high class patrons turning on the group and stabbing two of them to death, the film continues past this point with the group being tracked down by the police and eventually becoming a Baader-Meinhof alike gang of terrorists though with even less of a rational political credo. A defiantly abrasive film very much of it’s time but undoubtedly influential – definite shades of Haneke’s Funny Games and Von Trier’s The Idiots here.

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#169 – House at the End of the Street of the Dead, The

(1980, It, 86 min) Dir Sergio Patrino. Cast Sal Lion, John Morghen, Annie Belle, Pat Bellows.

A curious conflation of the post-Fulci zombie film and the post-Last House on the Left revenge fest. Carl and Manny (Lion and Morghen) are a pair of New York street punks out for thrills who decide to indulge in their favourite pastime – breaking into people’s houses so that they can rape and torture its occupants. The first house they happen upon is Annie Belle’s swish, modern digs and they have their gruesome fun there. The next house – as they have apparently not sated their bloodlusts – is further down the street and, as they find out, is populated with the recently revived dead. Meanwhile victim house #1 are on the blower to the fuzz and within no time our punks are the filling in a sadist sandwich between a slice of the law and a slice of the undead. It’s a cheap flick to be sure and not as hardcore as it makes out it is which will be a relief to some and will dismay others. On the plus side it betrays an invention that is pure Patrino, who couldn’t stop himself even when he was onto the nastier type of no-budget schlock.

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#164 – Ice Pick Phillips

(2000, GB, 108 min) Dir Harry Denton. Cast Alan Barking, Jason Flemyng, Vera Day, Keith Chegwin.

On the back of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels there came a slew of gangster films from the British film industry and, as with any opportunistic glut, there were the occasional examples where advantage was taken of the gold rush and quality work was produced – Sexy Beast for one, Croupier for another. These few films however, represented a very small amount of the overall whole, the remaining dreck best typified by Ice Pick Phillips. We’ve got a minor actor acting the hard man (Alan Barking, best known as Ian Bleat in TV soap Waterhigh), a Lock, Stock alum (Jason Flemyng) and an egregious example of stunt casting (Keith Chegwin getting tortured to death for an unpaid debt) – all the ingredients for a paper-thin nth generation copy of something that was barely liked in the first place. It’s the true story of the titular man, a mob enforcer for the Dubbin’s gang in the Seventies who earned his name for the expected reason. The film is firmly on Phillip’s side, taking a gleeful relish in the objects of his tortures and making sad face at his eventual downfall and incarceration like it was some kind of injustice. Mandela he ain’t, needless to say. I would have been bored if my blood hadn’t been boiling at this vile little flick.

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