Va va va voom!

September 17, 2012

Angel Face must be added to my list of film noirs featuring ladies with black hair, big eyes, who are out of their minds.  Robert Mitchum, cool, but not so smart, and Jean Simmons (she ain’t doin’ Shakespeare here) weirdly magnetic, do a pas de deux that ends up in reverse.  Not a very compelling storyline, but as the critics all say, Otto Preminger does it very well.  You can’t get that final acceleration out of your mind. 

Everything in their relationship is centered around this sports roadster and the throaty roar of its engine:  their meetings; their lovemaking; their future; his past; and the denouement.

Rogues Gallery

August 13, 2010


Some movies are more fun to think and talk about than to watch, and I found High Sierra and The Big Steal to be two of those.  Sure, Sierra was pivotal for Bogart’s career, and it is seen as the hinge between the older gangster genre films and the coming film noir, but it just didn’t move along smartly enough for me, much as I liked parts of it. 

Roy Earle (Bogart) comes to the mountains to plan a heist as soon as he is contacted on his release from prison.  He’s older than the crooks running the action now, but these young thugs don’t know anything about anything.  Why on earth do they bring a dame to the hideout?  Marie (Ida Lupino) looks pretty nasty here, but it turns out her heart is golden – not exactly noir territory.

Earle is getting too old for this life, and he is bewitched by a young girl he meets by chance when he helps her family on the road.  He spins dreams of marrying the lovely young thing, and he pays for surgery to correct her mild club foot.  He plays gracious benefactor to the family.


Back in the cabin, Roy has feverish dreams of crashing out.  Crashing out of prison, crashing out of his life into a world of respectibility, love, and freedom.  Marie watches him from the other room and senses the depth of Earle’s torment and alienation.  Okay, we’re getting into noir here…  He’s not just a gangster.


Earle promised to come see the girl when she was up and walking, despite the fact that she rejected his offer of marriage.  He finds her gussied up and dancing with her fiancé, a stuffed shirt from back home.  Earle sees just how absurd his dreams were for a guy like him.  She doesn’t seem so innocent anymore either.  Everything just turns to trash…


The heist doesn’t all go so well, and a chase into the Sierras ensures.  The police communicate by telephone and radio to capture the rat in their trap.  Thumbtacks on a map indicate the ineluctable convergence of the forces of law and order.  Maps have always been instruments of state power.


Earle is trapped in a rocky aerie in the mountains while a media circus gathers at the foot of the slope.  Minute by minute newscasts inform the public of his actions and inevitable demise.

A map and a car chase figure in The Big Steal also.  The film is a road movie/comedy/gangster caper.  It has a happy ending, so can we really call it noir?  Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer play a couple thrown together by their mutual desire to capture the lying cad, William Bendix.  He has the two grand she gave him as a loan after they were engaged as well as a much larger sum he filched from an army payroll run.  Mitchum seems like a crook but turns out to be the guy in charge of the payroll who was framed as a fall guy for the heist – he’s out to clear his name and retrieve the loot.  It takes a while before Mitchum and Greer believe each other’s stories and team up for keeps.  During the chase, he says to her, “I’ll believe your story if you’ll believe mine.”   Shades of Don Quixote and Bob Dylan!

Don Quixote coming to the squire, whispered in his ear, “Heark ye, Sancho; since you would have us believe what you say,touching the things you saw in heaven, I desire the like credit from you, with regard to those things I saw in the cave of Montesinos. That’s all.”   Cervantes – Don Quixote

I’ll let you be in my dream if I can be in yours.    Bob Dylan – Talking WWIII Blues


The chase has many twists, turns, and reverses.  Sometimes she drives!  Looking sharp in a cut silk dress she and he spot their man at a swank hotel.


The local police inpsector is playing cat and mouse with all of them, and improving his English along the way.  Only she speaks perfect Spanish of the gringos.  In the hotel, after a tussle, it looks like they finally have him for good.  Of course, he gets away – the film has a reel left.


A light moment while the couple pretends to be lovers eloping in order to gain the sympathy of a road construction crew that is blocking their route.

During the final showdown, with everyone in one room and a lot of guns being pointed in different directions, there is this wonderful sequence of two close-ups in very quick succession while the couple communicates their plan of attack.  It’s successful, of course.


Geez, another happy ending!  It’s putting me in a bad mood.


November 30, 2009

Classed as a film noir, yet not quite that, but something sui generis, I think, The Night of the Hunter is so fraught with meaning and allusion, that I will just let Magaret Atwood describe it – she can do so much better than I can.

Those are the hands of faux preacher, Harry Powell, who tells the story of mankind with his two tattooed hands.  He is a sociopath serial killer who gets close to widows with money by using his piety, his deep voice, and his very heavy eyelids to disarm them.  Then he slits their throats.  Oh for the days when preachers of the Lord were cast as figures of satire and disrepute!

The film is weird and expressionistic, dark and foreboding (as befits a noir), filled with intense, dream-like passages.  In the images below, Harry reaches toward the light with his switchblade while his new wife, realizing he married her for money, opines that it doesn’t matter, because these events led her to her salvation.  Then he stabs her – it’s almost a ballet.  He tells folks that she ran off, no good strumpet that she is, and he drives her body to the bottom of the nearby lake.  Then he plans on how to throttle the secret of her stash out of her two children.

The two children escape downriver on a skiff.  When Harry wades into the water and fails to capture them, he lets out a blood curdling scream of anguish.  The travel on the river evokes the American wilderness, Huck Finn, and, for me, a TV serial I saw as a boy about some young boys who stumble on a river to the beginning of time after gazing at the dinosaurs in the New York Museum of Natural History.

The frequent shots of reptiles, frogs, birds…going about their business in timeless indifference to the predicament of the children gives the journey the quality of myth, reinforced by the narrative allusions to Moses and Herod.  (Not quite what you expect of a noir, right?)

In the end, the children find refuge with a truly pious old woman who takes in stray kids – it’s the depths of The Depression.  Talking God-talk doesn’t prevent her from knowing a pious fraud, and facing him down with a shotgun until the law can come and take him away for a hangin’.

A happy ending?  The boy tries to prevent the cops from handcuffing him because it recalls to his mind the image of his dead father being arrested after robbing a bank.  Later, he refuses to speak against Powell in court.  Odds are, the entire ordeal has messed him up for life and his respite is only temporary.  Meanwhile, Powell is almost lynched before he can be spirited away for a proper judicial death by the the same narrow minded, credulous and pious folks who invited him into the bosom of their community at the beginning.