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Laramie Movie Scope:

Paul Newman as a film noir detective. Is this great or what?

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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February 16, 1999 -- "Twilight" is loads of fun for movie fans. It has great stars, Paul Newman, Gene Hackman, James Garner, Susan Sarandon, who might be in the twilight of their film careers, but they still pack a punch (sorry for the puns, its an occupational hazard with journalists).

If you are a fan of these stars, or of the genre of film noir, you don't want to miss this movie, which is now out on home video. For those of you not familiar with film noir, it is a film style loaded with dark, sinister images. The stories often revolve around the darker side of human nature. The original films in this style were done in high-contrast black and white, but newer, color versions are made infrequently. One of the better color film versions of the style was "Farewell My Lovely," starring a master of the style, the late Robert Mitchum. A much better known film in the same tradition is the classic, "Chinatown."

Newman stars as Harry Ross, a private detective who has fallen on hard times. After having squandered his life away on booze, he ends up living in a garage belonging to friends Catherine and Jack Ames (Susan Sarandon and Gene Hackman) after having been shot in the groin area (a running joke in the movie) by their daughter, Mel (Reese Witherspoon).

Ross has more or less given up on life, settling into a sort of California mellow torpor. Jack one day asks him to deliver blackmail money to Jeff Willis (Liev Schreiber of the "Scream" movies) and Gloria Lamar (Margo Martindale of "Nobody's Fool"). After getting beat up and shot at, Ross becomes curious as to why Ames is being blackmailed and who is behind the killing of the blackmailers. This, of course, becomes a very sticky mess indeed and soon Ross is a suspect.

Newman is great as the hard-boiled detective in the Raymond Chandler tradition, and Hackman, Sarandon and Garner do their usual good work. A real surprise is Martindale. She makes a bit part into a memorable, lovable smart crook. Stockard Channing ("Smoke") also stands out as a detective, Verna, with a soft spot in her heart for Ross.

While there are some clichés in the film (at one point Ross actually asks Verna something like, "Just give me 24 hours to solve the case!" Ever heard that one before?), but it is all in good fun. This movie is slick and well crafted by director Robert Benton. Cinematographer Piotr Sobocinski gives it that noir look and the score by Elmer Bernstein is evocative as well. It is a pleasure to watch these veteran actors work a good detective story. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information. For more information on film noir click on this link to an essay on film noir from the American University Library media services department.

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Copyright © 1999 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)