Yet Another Double Double Bill

This time we're lumping together a detective double bill, which features some private-eyes, with an erotic thriller double bill, which features some very public one-eye trouser snakes.


Harper (Jack Smight, 1966) "You were hired by a bitch to find scum". I'm a bit of a sucker for California-set private eye stories and this is a good one, adapted by William Goldman from the highly regarded Ross Macdonald book 'The Moving Target'. The script is smart and often funny, with the satisfyingly convoluted plot recalling the PI noirs of the 40s - the casting of Lauren Bacall in a key role was a deliberate nod to the Bogart films in particular. In the lead, Paul Newman and his sparkling blue eyes generally demonstrate the charisma that put him on the road to stardom, although he is far too pretty for the character, whilst a cast of well known faces (Janet Leigh, Robert Vaughan, Shelley Winters, Julie Harris) flesh out the various characters. Good ending too. It's on TCM regularly - it's well worth checking out.

Widely regarded as a classic film noir, Kiss Me Deadly (Robert Aldrich, 1955)  is a tough and pretty violent affair, featuring Mickey Spillane's no-nonsense PI Mike Hammer. Hammer (here played by Ralph Meeker) is a much more vicious, unlikeable character than his fictional contemporaries Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, and a clear forerunner of future anti-heroes such as Dirty Harry and Popeye Doyle. As such, his fatalistic character fits the nihilistic tone of the film perfectly, with its dense and satisfying plot acting as a parable for Cold War paranoia, and any romantic notion of film noir firmly put in its place. Elsewhere, fans of Pulp Fiction and Repo Man will see where they got their inspiration for the mysterious glowing loot which features in those films. Also worth noting that there are two endings to this - the original ending was cut from the version that was mostly widely viewed until the 90s, although the reasons for this remain shrouded in mystery. Having seen both, I think I prefer the more downbeat, albeit more confused, conclusion to the original 'happy' ending. I guess that means me and the misanthropic Mike Hammer would get along just fine.


Lust, Caution (Ang Lee, 2007) is a sumptuous period piece set in China during WWII as a group of naïve, but patriotic students are recruited to the Chinese resistance to help ensnare a traitorous Japanese collaborator (Tony Leung). The gorgeous Tang Wei anchors the entire film with a courageous and ambiguous performance, not least in the explicit (but crucially not gratuitous) sex scenes with Leung. It’s a little overlong and the deliberate pacing renders the espionage aspect of the plot less gripping, but this is still superior, intelligent film-making by a versatile and passionate film-maker. Also, boobies.

Stranger by the Lake (Alain Guiraudie, 2013) is a (homo-)erotic French thriller focusing on Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps), a regular cruiser of a gay bathing spot by a lake. There, he can't help being attracted to the dangerously seductive Michel (the splendidly mustachioed Christophe Paou), even though he has witnessed Michel drown his previous lover.With themes of voyeurism, sexual obsession and murder, there's some obvious Hitchcock influences here, although easily shocked viewers should be aware the emphasis is firmly on cock, as it features more male full frontal nudity than you could shake a dick at. The homosexual angle may be intended to shock, or it might be simply matter-of-fact depiction of cruising, but either way there's more effort invested in the very explicit sex than the tepid plot, which disappointingly fails to build sufficient tension to qualify as truly Hitchcockian. A pity, because it's handsomely shot and features good performances, but unfortunately it could have done with less fingering and more nail-biting. And, ironically, for a film featuring many climaxes, the ending will leave you staring at the roof frustratingly unfulfilled.

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