For Reel


Detour (1945)
November 15, 2014, 10:20 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Edgar G. Ulmer
5 Stars
DetourA true miracle of filmmaking with paltry resources, Detour amplifies the darkest thematic characteristics of film noir–the fatalism, the depravity, the sadism–and creates as hellish a nightmare as has ever been put to screen. The down-on-his-luck Al Roberts (Tom Neal) narrates a story in which he is involved with several deaths, extortion, and the relentless berating of a mercilessly cruel hitch-hiker (Ann Savage). Reflecting on his string of bad luck, he grumbles, “That’s life. Whichever way you turn, fate sticks out a foot to trip you.” Director Edgar G. Ulmer’s limited budget aids the nightmarish quality of the picture–the cheap sets (much of the film takes place in a car with poor rear projection) and continuity errors feel uncanny, especially with the inventive camera angles and radical lighting choices complimenting them. One might imagine that Detour in the hands of a studio director and a big budget might have been a disaster, but the gritty atmosphere that Ulmer brings to the material is the perfect fit.



The Black Cat (1934)
July 18, 2012, 2:36 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Edgar G. Ulmer

The first collaboration between Universal horror icons Béla Lugosi and Boris Karloff (who would star in a total of eight pictures together), The Black Cat is most notable for its spectacular lighting, creating dramatic blacks and whites that echo the chessboard that the adversaries brood over late in the picture. Director Edgar G. Ulmer, who had worked under both F.W. Murnau and Fritz Lang earlier in his career, knew how to stretch both a dollar and the limits of the studio heads – although the film was made before the strict enforcement of the Production Code, it is nonetheless shockingly violent and sexually depraved. Karloff plays an architect, and fittingly his mansion is a masterpiece of deco design, ultra-modern and fitted memorably with a stainless steel staircase by art director Charles D. Hall. Beyond the formal achievements, however, the film is largely a mess. Perhaps due to censorship concerns – Ulmer was forced to reshoot several scenes, including a playing down of a gruesome flaying – little holds together, with such elements as Lugosi’s fear of cats standing out as particularly absurd. The most unforgivable misstep is a classical music soundtrack which serves as continuous background noise. While it provides an artificiality that coalesces with the visual stylization, it completely undermines the psychological games played between Karloff and Lugosi, falsifying the tension with an unearned grandiosity.