Watching a lot of film noirs brings with it the problem that many of them just aren’t that good, and many that are classed as noir, at least by Netflix, aren’t really that at all. But then you get lucky, and hit on a good one. The Dark Corner (1946) is the latest for me, and despite its happy ending, it’s a real noir ride into the depths.
Galt (Bradford, not John) is a very hard boiled detective, with the killer instincts and the tough talk to prove it. His loyal secretary (Lucille Ball, before comic fame) is resourceful, and falling in love with him. Many scenes in the film play with or insinuate about how she protects, or doesn’t protect, her virtue: An elderly ticket saleswoman drops her jaw as she listens to them discuss meeting up in his apartment; a milkman gives a sly look as she meets him at the door with Galt behind her, slipping the newspaper from under her arm.
Galt was set up for manslaughter in Frisco, and now wants a new start in NYC, but Cathcart (Clifton Web doing a reprise of his effete rich man Laura-Lydecker role) sees him as the perfect fall guy for the murder he is planning. The victim is Galt’s former partner, an unscrupulous blackmailer, who is having an affair with Cathcart’s young and beautiful wife.
The film has a lot of good lines, and Galt’s in particular strengthen the atmosphere of doom, dread, and implacable injustice that is suffocating him: “I feel all dead inside. I’m backed up in a dark corner and I don’t know who’s hitting me.”
Cathcart is an art dealer, with a decadent and corrupting love of ‘beauty’. The conversations in his art gallery are absurd, and the walls of his place are covered with paintings which actually hang in the greatest of the world’s museums. The climax is nicely done as Galt plays a hunch and tries to see Cathcart in his establishment, but he has to pose as a buyer to do it. Looking at a marble Donatello (That’s what they said it was, but I didn’t recognize it.) he declares: “I’ll take it. Wrap it up. I want the pedestal too!” Not too convincing.
After Cathcart’s wife shoots him, to prevent Cathcart from shooting Galt, and in revenge for the murder of her lover, we see two cops in the gallery, waiting for the chief to come out. Who would buy this stuff, one wonders? Aw c’mon, it’s aaht!
Cathcart wants to wrap up his plot by shooting Galt and framing him for the murder of his wife’s lover, but she’ll have none of it. She plugs him three times and tosses the gun.
Blue Velvet has a different sort of sick obsession with art going on. The film is a sort of mash-up of genres: noir meets horror, and something else that seems to think it’s clever. Dennis Hopper plays Frank, a very sick drug dealer who revs himself up for rape, murder, or plain old fornication, by breathing oxygen? nitrogen? through a mask. This makes him connect with his inner-infant, an infant of the raging Freudian Id type, that is.
Frank holds the husband and son of Dorothy (Isabella Rossellini) captive so he can work his will on her. He is obsessed with the song Blue Velvet, and chews on a piece of similarly colored textile while he rapes or listens to Dorothy do her nightclub singing gig.
Hopper and Rossellini are fantastic, but the rest of the film is a throwaway, with the exception of Laura Dern, who is very strong as the good-hearted, spunky young lady falling in love with the main character, Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan). He’s a good boy in a small town, with a taste for mystery and, he discovers, kinky sex. The insect motif, the ‘ironic’ portrayal of small town idyllic scenes, and the soundtrack all fall pretty flat for me. But watch it for Frank and Dorothy, not to mention Dean Stockwell’s small role in a scene that showcases Lynch’s talent for making the utterly bizarre believable.