December 8th, 2014

SCARLET STREET (1945) ** ½

Edward G. Robinson stars as a lowly cashier who just received his gold watch for 25 years of service. On his way home, he sees a woman in distress (Joan Bennett) and saves her from being hassled from a guy (Dan Duryea) in the street. He takes her out for a drink and instantly falls head over heels for her. Robinson doesn’t realize that she’s a crooked prostitute and the man he saw her struggling with is actually her pimp. They see Ed G. as an easy mark and shake him down for money, using Bennett’s ample charms. Robinson doesn’t have a nickel to his name and has to resort to stealing to provide for her.

Directed by Fritz Lang, Scarlet Street (a remake of Jean Renoir’s La Chienne) takes its time building up Robinson’s sad sack character. Lang really puts him through the ringer. Stuck in an unfulfilling job and constantly harassed by his overbearing wife, the audience really emphasizes with him. His performance is easily the best thing about the film and it shines whenever he is front and center. The scenes of Bennett and Duryea aren’t nearly as involving, mostly because they are so conniving and unlikeable. Still, you have to admit that Bennett makes for a good femme fatale and she really makes you hate her.

After a strong start, the film falters once it enters the homestretch. Some of the complications that arise in the third act are a bit contrived (like the sudden reappearance of Robinson’s wife’s first husband) and get in the way of the love triangle. The denouement also runs on a bit long, and the scenes of Robinson being driven mad by the voices in his head don’t exactly work. However, there are still enough good scenes here to make Scarlet Street a decent enough film noir drama.

IT CAME FROM THE THRIFT STORE: BODY SHOT (1994) **

IMG_20141208_120857_741-1

Before the movie starts up, we get a couple of trailers. The first is for a sex comedy called Lovers’ Lovers that looks incredibly unfunny. The second is for The Lipstick Camera, an erotic thriller starring Terry O’Quinn and Corey Feldman! The last one is for Harmony Cats, a comedy featuring a rare leading man turn by perennial bad guy, Kim Coates. Then, the movie begins.

Robert Patrick stars as Mickey, a blond paparazzo photographer who is obsessed with a Madonna-esque starlet named Chelsea (Michelle Johnson from Waxwork). He’s down on his luck and accepts an offer from a sleazy club owner (Jonathan Banks) to do a nude photo shoot of a Chelsea lookalike (also Johnson). Naturally, he falls in love with her and when the real Chelsea winds up murdered, Mickey soon becomes the prime suspect.

Body Shot tries to be slightly different than the usual erotic thriller. It sometimes feels like an old detective movie as Patrick gets a lot of hardboiled narration. The problem is, the sex scenes aren’t very hot and don’t feature any skin. Sure, there’s some fleeting glimpses of nudity here and there, but dammit, when you sit down to watch an erotic thriller, you at least expect them to show more skin.

The thriller scenes aren’t very involving either. The scenes of Patrick outrunning the cops get repetitive after a while too. The various plot twists that occur in rapid succession in the third act aren’t that great.

The cast is better than the movie deserves. Patrick gives a solid performance and holds your attention whenever the pacing slows down. Johnson is sexy and looks hot during the photo shoot montage sequence. That almost makes up for the fact that she doesn’t get naked during her sex scenes (although she does briefly show off her butt in one scene). Banks plays a good psycho and old pros like Ray Wise, Charles Napier, and Kenneth Tobey also lend fine support.

Patrick gets the best line of the movie when he says, “I came out here with a couple of friends… Jack Daniels and Jim Beam!”

AKA: Framed by Seduction.

Next time on It Came from the Thrift Store: Facing the Enemy!

THE NOVEMBER MAN (2014) ** ½

Pierce Brosnan reunites with his Dante’s Peak director Roger Donaldson for this uneven spy thriller. Brosnan plays an aging secret agent who comes out of retirement to bring in a Russian double agent who has the goods on her country’s newest presidential candidate. He gets double-crossed, she winds up dead, and Brosnan goes looking for answers. With his mission compromised, Brosnan and a hot babe (Quantum of Solace’s Olga Kurylenko) have to stay one step ahead of a rival agent (Luke Bracey) who also happens to be his protégée.

Part of the fun of The November Man is seeing how the plot twists and dovetails. Loyalties are tested and secrets in the characters’ past are used against them. There are even a couple of big twists that are dropped just in the first two reels, so I’ve tried to keep the plot description to the barest of bones.

Brosnan gives a solid performance and gets to show a bit more range than he did when he played James Bond. Kurylenko is quite hot, especially the scene where she poses as a prostitute and dons a sexy purple wig. Bracey is far too bland though and the film would’ve been better served if the role had been played by someone who had the chops to go toe to toe with Brosnan.

After a smashing start, the pacing tends to get a bit plodding at times. While there are a few strong standalone scenes (like when Brosnan holds Bracey’s girlfriend hostage), the muddled plot finds it hard to gain traction once it crosses the hallway mark. Donaldson does a fine job on action side of things, but the lukewarm script doesn’t necessarily do him any favors.