Monthly Archives: March 2010

Recommended Viewing: MURDER BY CONTRACT

Although it’s belatedly become available on Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics, Vol. 1 (along with two other particular favorites, The Big Heat and 5 Against the House), Murder by Contract (1958) doesn’t quite qualify as an undiscovered gem. But it’s certainly neglected in terms of some of its singular virtues, including a sharp Zen-like wit and a minimalist style. And what tends to be most neglected is its satirical treatment of business as murder. This is a theme it shares with Monsieur Verdoux — which makes it all the more fitting  that a climactic sequence of the film was shot in Chaplin’s old studio lot, on what remains of an exterior set used for The Great Dictator.

At least two of the main creative talents working on this black comedy about capitalism, director Irving Lerner and uncredited screenwriter Ben Maddow, were blacklisted leftists, and the terse portrayal of a hitman (Vince Edwards, the star) as an independent contractor working hard to buy a house on the Ohio River to share with his unseen girlfriend — a sort of Haliburton or Blackwater operative avant la lettre, hired by an equally unseen Cheney, and calmly regarding his work like a self-improving Zen master — is at times downright hilarious.… Read more »

The Most Alarming News of the New Millennium

The Australian film critic Adrian Martin has alerted me to this horror story. Read it and weep. Or, better yet, somebody teach Glenn Beck something about Orson Welles’s politics. — J.R.


Greg Beato from Reason.com: “When [Glenn] Beck was 8 years old, his mother gave him a record of old radio programs that included Orson Welles’ famous performance of War of the Worlds. Apparently the fictionalized news report of an alien invasion became a foundational text for him, an archetypal example of how you could create crazy, vivid, apocalyptic drama out of mere words. To pay tribute to Welles’ work, Beck starred in a live version of War of the Worlds that aired on his syndicated radio show on Halloween night in 2002. Shortly thereafter, an heir of the radio play’s author sued Beck and his producers for copyright infringement and won an injunction that prevents Beck from ever performing the play again.”

Glenn Beck (on his very own web site, verbatim): “WOR is just a — I mean, it really is truly an honor to be on the 710 frequency which Orson Welles, my company is named Mercury and it’s named after Orson Welles’ company and this is the frequency that Orson Welles did the shadow [sic] and everything else and it is really truly an honor for me to be anywhere on this station and here we come out of the legendary John Gambling in the morning and our first month on the air, and I don’t know if this has been done.… Read more »

The Apotheosis of Donald Phelps (and David Wayne)

For those of you who might be wondering what has become lately of film critic Donald Phelps — the most gifted and exacting of Manny Farber’s disciples, especially when it comes to low-key acting and pictorial nuance — you should proceed at once to the web site of Comics Journal, where he’s been flourishing in his recent commentaries on movies, prose fiction (ranging from the science fiction of Henry Kuttner and Theodore Sturgeon to the mysteries of Fredric Brown to Calder Willingham’s first novel), and comic strips. I’m especially impressed by parts one and two of his majestic “Like a Mechanical Bird: The Peculiar Stoicism of David Wayne,” posted earlier this month — a detailed and rather astonishing appreciation of one of the most overlooked of Hollywood and TV actors, whose special qualities seemed to flourish in such relatively unsung and/or out-of-reach works as Joseph Losey’s remake of M (1951), a couple of black and white sketch films at Fox in 1952  (O. Henry’s Full House and We’re Not Married, where he costars respectively with Charles Laughton and Marilyn Monroe), Henry King’s Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie (1952), which inspires some of Phelps’ best prose, and Down Among the Sheltering Palms (“an amiable bargain-counter South Pacific,” 1953).Read more »