Sunday, March 06, 2011

Alibi 1929

Made right on the cusp of the coming of sound films, this Art Deco gangster movie is riveting mainly for its look. Directed by Roland West best known for The Bat Whispers this one is very much influenced by German expressionist films and has some jaw dropping beautiful images, most of which was shot for the silent version. The plot is simple and concerns the story of a very nasty gangster who lies and hides his true feelings so he can get away with murder. Played by Chester Morris who was very handsome with patent leather hair and a classic profile, (check out his nose) he not only deceives many of the other characters but also the viewer. As I said this is a stunning film with sets designed by the great William Cameron Menzies and beautiful cinematography by Ray June, who you can tell was experimenting with his shots. There are also several musical numbers that take place in Deco nightclubs that are oddly shot from the side and not head on. They were of course injected into the action to take advantage of the craze for musicals that the newborn sound techniques made possible.  Morris who never really became an A list star was mostly known for the series of Boston Blackie films that he made in the 1940’s but he did work a lot appeared on many tv shows. There are problems with the quality of the sound, and I wish Kino had spent more time and money cleaning it up. At times you can hardly make out the dialogue, and the soundtrack sounds like someone was dragging a snow shovel across a just cleaned sidewalk, or someone was doing an old soft shoe on a floor with sand thrown about.  The film is a bit stagy and static which is to be expected for an early sound film, but the “exterior” shots (there is some actual footage shot at night in L.A. in which the camera is attached to police cars as it roams through the city) and the interior expressionistic sets are as I said simply beautiful.  Nominated for 2 Oscars.  Best Picture and Best Actor but surprisingly the great cinematography and art direction were ignored 


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