Ed here: We talk a lot about mid-list writers. But in the studio days of Hollywood there were also mid-list directors. Phil Karlson is one of the best examples. Yesterday the NY Times ran a piece on some new DVDs and I thought writer Dave Kehr wrote a interesting mini-piece on Karlson.
Published: July 10, 2007
FOUR FILMS NOIRS
copyright 2007 The New York Times
Digging into the murky depths of the United Artists film library, MGM Home Entertainment has come up with four significant films noirs, all independent productions released in the ’40s and ’50s.
“Kansas City Confidential,” an imaginative little noir from 1952, exemplifies the bread-and-butter UA film of the ’50s. a meeting point for the up-and-coming and the down-and-out. It was directed by Phil Karlson, a gifted filmmaker who had recently graduated from the Poverty Row studio Monogram, and starred John Payne, a popular crooner of the ’40s who was working his way down from Technicolor musicals at 20th Century Fox.
The producer, Edward Small, had been involved in independent features since the early ’30s, and “Kansas City Confidential” proved to be the one and only film made under his short-lived Associated Players and Producers label. Even he appeared to have forgotten it; at least he forgot to renew the copyright. The picture slipped into the public domain and has been available only in terrible prints through budget DVD distributors. But now MGM has returned to its original elements and produced a copy that is an immeasurable improvement over what had been available.
At the center is a standard wrong-man story: Mr. Payne plays Joe Rolfe, an ex-con with a job delivering flowers in the Kansas City business district. When a criminal gang robs a bank using a truck disguised to look like Joe’s, he’s arrested, beaten into confessing and then released when the phony truck surfaces. Joe needs revenge, and sets out to find the bad guys responsible.
Mr. Karlson, interestingly, concentrates on the story within the story: The leader of the gang is an embittered former police captain (Preston Foster, another ’30s star aging into character parts), who dons a mask when he interviews prospective collaborators whose names he has drawn from police files. His taste is impeccable. The recruits are three young actors who would come to define menace in the ’50s and beyond: Neville Brand, Jack Elam and Lee Van Cleef, who here has his best role before “For a Few Dollars More.”
Mr. Karlson’s filmmaking has few of the standard noir flourishes: the dark and brooding shadows, the bizarrely canted camera angles. Instead he works through gigantic close-ups and an unusually visceral treatment of bare-knuckle violence. With refinements, he would continue to pursue this theme (revenge) and this style, right up through his creative resurgence in the ’70s: “Ben” (1972), “Walking Tall” (1973) and “Framed” (1975).
(for the rest go here http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/10/movies/homevideo/10dvd.html?ref=movies)
Ed here: While Karlson never created any masterpieces as did his friend Joseph Lewis, he created a solid and occasionally exceptional body of work. He spent his life in films and had his biggest hits near the end of his run. By that time Lewis had put himself through the punishment of a decade and a half in television. But the punishment made him wealthy for the first time in his life and he always seemed grateful for the money if not the rather routine work.