Art Corrupting: The Dark Corner & Blue Velvet

August 25, 2011

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!

nice double shot

another double

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.

The Naked Kiss

January 7, 2011

I don’t have much to say about Sam Fuller’s The Naked Kiss (1964).  It’s one of those movies that seems fascinating in retrospect, but I had to fast-forward through a lot of it.  Those who love the flick use adjectives like crazy, whacked-out, bizarre, biting, sardonic and cynical, etc. to describe it.  I agree.

The opening sequence is a shocker – a violent prostitute is beating up her drunken pimp, and her wig flies off displaying her bald head.  She removes the money she’s owed from the creep’s wallet, and stalks out to a new life away from the city.  Two years later, she’s hitting the small-time in a little town (her hair has grown back), using a case of champaigne to make new marks, including a good-looking cop who accosts her in a park.

The dialog is filled with pulpy, cynical phrases that are somewhere between laughable and incredible vulgarity.  She’s selling “angel foam” that “goes down like liquid gold and comes up like dynamite.”  He says he’s thirsty – can they go to his place? “I’m pretty good at popping the cork if the finish is right.”  Since he’s the local cop, he advises her to never ply her trade there again, but she can go across the river to Candy’s place, where the slogan is “indescribable pleasure guaranteed.”  The matter-of-fact portrayal of his total hypocrisy is striking.

She gives up her hooking and becomes a nurse aid at a local charity hospital funded by the town’s benefactor, Grant, who is the great-grandson of the town’s founder, a rich swell, and everybody’s friend.  She’s a natural at the job, and works wonders with the kids.  Here the film veers towards unutterable sentimentality and pathos – it’s not schmaltz – it’s just totally at variance with everything that has come before!

She falls in love with Grant, and he loves her.  Not only is she sexy, but she can quote English Romantic poetry!  Their first passionate kiss – during a Venetian gondola ride fantasy brought on by Grant’s travel flicks – leaves her with a bad taste in her mouth, but she gets over it.  She confesses her past – he doesn’t care!  Later, she realizes it was a naked kiss, a term from the trade that means a kiss from a serious pervert.  You can just tell.  He saw her as a fellow deviant.

The film continues to ricochet between emotional and dramatic poles.  A local girl is seduced by Candy into taking up the life of a hooker, but our heroine dissuades the ingenue with some tough, very realistic talk.  Then she goes and beats up the Madame and stuffs her money into her mouth.

Her premonitions about Grant are correct, and she discovers the secret of his sexual deviancy.  In a fury of disgust, she brains him with a phone and kills him.  Her former customer, Griff, the cop, investigates, the town is shocked, and pillories her.  No one will come forward to speak up for her.  Candy gloats over her in jail, “Nobody shoves dirty money in my mouth!”  I love that line!!

Finally, the truth about Grant comes out and she is now a heroine!  Griff tells her the town now puts her on a pedestal for revealing the truth, and for her marvelous work with the kids, to which she replies, “They sure put up statues overnight around here.

It turns out I had more to say than I thought.  This essay, however, does an even better job at parsing the weirdness and wonder of this very unusual movie.


January 10, 2010

Iguan-erot:  (noun) Images of women with lizards, primarily iguanas, intended to produce erotic arousal or laughter.  [Derived from iguana + erot(ic);  “Among the most bizarre manifestations of displaced erotic force is … R. von Craft-Dubbing, Psychopathis Sexualis, 1901]


January 5, 2009


I learned of Alfred Kubin from,  where else? Phillipe Julien’s Dreamers of Decadence. There is an exhibit of his work at the Neue Gallery now.  You can see more of his weird images at the gallery site and this review in the NYTimes.  He is not well known in America, and there is hardly anything on him in English I think.  I was surprised to find that he had written a novel as well.  I don’t know how he managed to survive the Nazi regime – how could he not be on their list as decadents to be expunged?