Music Box Theatre’s Noir City: Chicago 3: Among the Living [1941] and The Glass Key [1935]

I had such a great time on Tuesday night with the “Men and Women of Conviction” double feature that I had to go back the next evening for another pairing of Film Noir. Wednesday’s selections were to be a double bill of Stuart Heisler films: Among the Living and The Glass Key. Unfortunately, there was a mix-up with the film company and the Music Box received the original 1935 version of The Glass Key instead. I was looking forward to seeing the 1942 remake, which is said to be the better of the two, but it was still a fun evening all the same.
Among the Living [1941, Stuart Heisler]
Among the Living [1941, Stuart Heisler]
A rarely screened noir/horror hybrid about twin brothers — one insane, one not. After their father passes away, the mentally ill brother escapes from the mansion where he was secretly locked up and leaves to start a new life. Problem is that this man is not properly suited for reality and ends up becoming a serial killer on the loose.

Albert Dekker plays the twins, the main difference being one is clean shaven and one is not. He is quite excellent in the lead role(s), especially when he is acting peculiar as the evil brother. Some of his interactions with his newfound gold-digging lady friend (played by Susan Hayward, who just oozes sex appeal) are hilarious. In fact, this movie was a hell of a lot funnier than I expected it to be, and it was a blast throughout. Definitely look it up if you get a chance. 8/10

The Glass Key [1935, Frank Tuttle]
The Glass Key [1935, Frank Tuttle]
This early adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s classic novel was noticeably different from the other three films I had seen at the festival. A heavier emphasis was placed on dialogue, and the movie was lacking in some of the more traditional noir elements. Still, it proved to be a capable replacement.

I enjoyed George Raft’s lead performance as the slick-talking “fixer” who is trying to clear his politician employer’s name from a possible murder charge. I didn’t feel that this movie was as memorable as the others, and it took me a while to get a feel for what exactly was going on in the first 1/4 of the film. However, the ending moments were brilliant, and the major plot twist was an unexpected surprise. Now I’m curious to see the 1942 remake. 6.5/10

Music Box Theatre’s Noir City: Chicago 3: Crashout [1955] and The Story of Molly X [1949]

For the third year in a row, Chicago’s legendary Music Box Theatre is hosting a Film Noir festival. A grab bag of cinematic classics and rarities, Noir City began last Friday and will conclude tomorrow evening. I was out of town for the first few days of the festival, so I missed out on some choice titles such as New York Confidential and The Blue Dahlia. I was able to go on Tuesday, however, and caught the “Men and Women of Conviction” double feature. Both movies are not available on DVD, so I was pleased to catch both of them on the big screen.

Crashout [1955, Lewis R. Foster]
Crashout [1955, Lewis R. Foster]
Six survivors of a prison break meet up in a hidden cave and agree to work together to escape the area. One convict, Van Morgan Duff (William Bendix), leads them along with the promise of sharing his bank loot that is buried deep in the mountains.

While dodging cops and watchmen, the convicts push forward by taking innocent people hostage and escaping increasingly tricky situations. It’s a suspenseful affair that includes some surprisingly brutal moments (such as the off-screen moment where someone is bludgeoned to death with a rock). The cast is great, although I did find Luther Adler’s performance to be a little too over-the-top. Bit roles from two lovely women (Beverly Michaels and Gloria Talbot) are welcome additions as well.

Crashout has a fun, quick pace, and it is wildly entertaining throughout. I thought the last scene was a little weak, but it still wrapped things up nicely. One of the better prison escape films I have seen. 8.5/10

The Story of Molly X [1949, Crane Wilbur]
The Story of Molly X [1949, Crane Wilbur]
This one was quite a bit different than what I was expecting. June Havoc stars as Molly X, a “brass-knuckled dame” who takes over her boyfriend’s gang after he is murdered. After finding out who killed her lover, Molly shoots down the assailant in cold blood and subsequently finds herself in a women’s prison. As the title indicates, the movie tells her story…

I have to say that it was refreshing to see a woman leading in this type of film. In the early stages, Molly X is gruff and doesn’t take shit from anyone. When she is locked up, she starts to break down and this is when the film starts to suffer. The entire middle section of the movie follows the introspective battles that Molly is dealing with, and it loses the grittiness that made the beginning (and later, the end) so intriguing. It’s an interesting character study, no doubt, but it kind of drags along before picking back up near the end.

I enjoyed The Story of Molly X, but it was a little underwhelming coming after the exciting Crashout. Still, June Havoc’s wonderful lead performance makes the movie worth watching. 6.5/10