Henry Hathaway: The '40s
The Shepherd of the Hills
Ten Gentlemen from West Point
Home in Indiana
Wing and a Prayer
The House on 92nd Street (October 8/05)
With its mix of real and fictional footage, The House on 92nd Street is thought to be one of the first docudramas to emerge out of Hollywood. And although there are a few intriguing moments here and there, the film generally comes off as a shameless piece of propaganda for the FBI. The House on 92nd Street initially plays out like a typically overblown '40s documentary (complete with matter-of-fact voice-over from a stolid narrator), but the problem is that most of this stuff simply isn't interesting. Even less successful is the film's actual storyline, which revolves around the efforts of a double agent (played by William Eythe) as he attempts to infiltrate a cell of New York-based Nazis. It doesn't help that virtually all of the film's characters have been painted with extremely broad strokes, with any trace of subtlety completely absent from the screenplay (ie the good guys are really good, and the bad guys are really bad). The bottom line is that The House on 92nd Street isn't even remotely compelling, an issue that's compounded by the total lack of charismatic performances.
The Dark Corner
Though it boasts an opening half hour that's almost disastrously dull, The Dark Corner eventually transforms into a compelling, surprisingly suspenseful little film noir. The expectedly complex storyline follows tough-as-nails private detective Bradford Galt (Mark Stevens) as he's forced to solve a murder after an old enemy is found dead in his office. Lucille Ball co-stars as Bradford's loyal secretary (and love interest), while Clifton Webb and William Bendix pop up as villainous adversaries. Director Henry Hathaway infuses The Dark Corner with a matter-of-fact sense of style that certainly mirrors the material, while screenwriters Jay Dratler and Bernard Schoenfeld pepper the proceedings with dialogue that's almost absurdly hard-boiled (ie "I'm clean as a peeled egg!") The surprisingly brutal nature of these characters - coupled with the inclusion of several genuinely shocking plot twists - ensures that The Dark Corner ultimately stands as one of the more memorable examples of this genre, although there's simply no denying the ineffectiveness of the egregiously talky first act.
13 Rue Madeleine
Kiss of Death (January 15/07)
While not quite as compelling as its premise might've indicated, Kiss of Death is nevertheless a solid, sporadically electrifying little thriller that boasts a scene-stealing performance from Richard Widmark. Victor Mature stars as Nick Bianco, a well-meaning criminal who finds himself pursued by the deadly thug (Widmark) he gave up to the cops. Directed by Henry Hathaway and written by Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer, Kiss of Death opens with an effective and extremely tense sequence in which Nick and a few cohorts rob a jewelry store; that the movie subsequently transforms into a slow-moving drama is admittedly a surprise, particularly given the sinister tendencies with which Widmark has infused his character. That being said, Kiss of Death benefits substantially from Hathaway's atmospheric direction and Mature's subtle yet engaging performance (this is in addition to the wildly entertaining and justifiably legendary sequence that features a wheelchair-bound old lady being pushed down the stairs by Widmark's Tommy Udo).
Call Northside 777
Call Northside 777 casts Jimmy Stewart as an apathetic reporter assigned to cover the execution of a death-row inmate accused of murder. The prisoner says that he's innocent, but Stewart (initially) does not believe him. Eventually, after reviewing the facts and speaking to a number of people close to the prisoner, he begins to believe him and starts his own investigation. Call Northside 777 is an overlong bore, as virtually every single scene in the film goes on much longer than it needs to. And to make things worse, the movie is presented in a quasi-documentary style, resulting in dry, humorless dialogue. Another problem is that many elements in the film are over-explained to an absurd degree. For example, there is a scene in which the prisoner is hooked up to a lie-detector. Now, since most audiences in 1948 likely had no idea what a lie-detector machine was, the characters spend far too much time explaining how it works. We even see the machine being calibrated for the prisoner, a process that takes about five minutes. This ten minute scene could have easily been cut in half. As for Stewart, none of his usual charm is present - as he is forced to play the character without emotion (perhaps because the film is based on a true story). Stewart looks like he's trapped in this role; you can see, ever-so-briefly, moments in which his engaging personality bubbles to the surface, but such moments are sparse. Call Northside 777 could have been an exciting, tension-filled thriller. Instead, it's technically flawless, but there's no heart.
Down to the Sea in Ships