High and Low (1963)

High and Low (1963), directed by Akira Kurosawa.

The literal title is "Heaven and Hell".

Hard working millionaire Kingo Gondo (ToshirĂ´ Mifune) lives in an air-conditioned mansion high above the city ("heaven") while a smart but ruthless kidnapper watches him from the sweltering slums below ("hell").

In the first act, Gondo is maneuvering to take over the shoe company where he works. Crisis: his chauffeur's son is kidnapped and the extravagant ransom will ruin Gondo if he pays it. Should he or shouldn't he? Gondo is a pretty good guy, but we see a weakness of the strong-willed man of business: he always has a reason for what he wants to do, which clouds his judgment.

This part culminates in a riveting money drop from a train.

Act 2 is about the intensive, detailed police hunt for the criminal. We have a horrific visit to Dope Alley, where the junkies look like the living dead. At the end we get back to Gondo. He says he is the same man, but he actually seems a better one now. Such transformations are very expensive.

The criminal is an enigma to the end: was it money or envy? Mental illness or intentional wickedness? Society's fault or his own?

Adapted from Ed McBain's King's Ransom (1959), part of the long running 87th Precinct series. McBain claimed to have invented the type of police procedural novel where the squad room itself is like a main character and individuals rotate in and out. In the 1980s he started adding humorous jibes at Hill Street Blues, saying they were stealing his ideas and owed royalties.

Criterion DVD with a detailed and wide-ranging commentary track.

Since I began posting thumbnails, this is only the third scope aspect ratio black and white film I remember. The others were The Innocents (1961) and The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961). (Later: I encountered many more after this).

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