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Monday, February 14, 2022

Film Noir #2

 Noir: Act of Violence, Affair in Havana, Affair in Trinidad, Alias Nick Beal

The category called noir is widening. I’m liable to widen it further before this venture is done. Years ago, mid-seventies it seems, a 16mm print of Fallen Angel came my way. Being noir, or not, never occurred to me. Fallen Angel seemed then like 40’s romance with a murder twist … was it Alice Faye that distracted me? Now of course it is indisputably noir. We think of and wonder how watchers responded to Fallen Angel and others of noir definition when they were new. A splendid book by Mark Vieira digs for truth of then-reception via exhibitor comments for each of thrillers covered by Into The Dark: The Hidden World of Film Noir 1941-1950. I’ll trust then-showmen over anyone trying to speculate on these shows since. Vieira knew their wisdom and gathered copious examples of it. Into The Dark has analysis from many a horse’s mouth that lived the era and had to earn livings off this stuff. And when they got let down, they sounded off. You may not look upon noir favorites the same after reading these salvos, but then, we don’t rely on noir to put bread on tables like theatre men once did. Here's one for the suggestion box: How about if reps from Kino, Criterion, Warners, the lot, step up and tell us how these old pictures rate in terms of here-and-now dollars-and-cents. Where trading noir like marbles, would one Nightmare Alley be worth three Phantom Lady’s? There’s bound to be an economic pecking order, so show me a Top Selling 40 for Film Noir, please.

ACT OF VIOLENCE (1948) --- P.O.W. Van Heflin turned informant during captivity and fellow prisoners took the brunt, evidence of the betrayal gone but for lone survivor Robert Ryan, who is bent on revenge. Compelling concept, as we wonder of actual incidents from the past war, and whether Heflin equivalents now served as community leaders, church deacons, scoutmasters. How much collusion with the enemy followed servicemen home? Question too was whether it was in the Army’s best interests to paper over such conduct for sake of overall morale. I’m surprised there weren’t more movies treating the theme, but far as I can tell, Act of Violence was alone, the more to be admired for it, and for MGM exploring war heroism not turning out to be so heroic. Van Heflin played well the weakness inherent in many men. We can imagine him trading comrade lives for food and comfort, Heflin a mirror for those rationalizing past acts just to go on living. How many shameful deeds do any of us keep tamped down?

Ninth ring of hell for Heflin is time-honored and since vanished Bunker Hill of L.A. location fame, him seen partly there (Angel’s Flight an always iconic glimpse) when not amidst backlot down-and-outness, where he encounters glory that is Mary Astor dowdy and done-for, Taylor Holmes silken and predatory. Such pros … I’d like to think they were not taken for granted in their day … that someone, preferably everyone, went up at the end of a day’s work to tell them how marvelous they were. Great business wherein Heflin hides out at a sales convention, its hotel full of middle-age revelers same as Edmund O’Brien mixed with and was tempted by in D.O.A., still later (1950) a photo finish setting for Key To The City except latter was comic. Will there ever be such wild and wooly gathers again? I’m doubting it.

AFFAIR IN HAVANA (1957) --- Is (or was) it incumbent upon all actors to develop skill for playing melodrama? I don’t know how any from the Studio Era could have got by otherwise. Affair in Havana was shot on-site in 1956, streets and houses for-real (latter apparent for acoustics, especially when Raymond Burr SHOUTS). I’d like to know what late 50’s American films were shot in Cuba besides this, The Sharkfighters, and The Big Boodle. Well, there was Cuban Rebel Girls, obviously. Suppose Twentieth-Fox considered a Cinemascope trip down there? Maybe, as Boodle posters said, the place was just too red-hot, hell-hot, for comfort. Affair in Havana was distributed by Allied Artists. It looks cheap but authentic. Did they build even a single set for it? The triangle stuff with murderous underpinnings stamps it for noir, rich Raymond Burr in a wheelchair as wife Sara Shane plots a departure with jazz pianist John Cassavetes, except she doesn’t want to leave broke.

Again to melodrama, which Burr had the gift for, but Cassavetes did not. Maybe the latter chose to play it passive, led about by beauteous Shane and never taking a lead as violent events unfold, sitting around like the rest of us to see how things will turn out. This was clearly not Cassavetes’ kind of project, not that he necessarily looked down on it … it just seems to me he lacked experience or aptitude for corks-out, pulpy stuff like Affair in Havana. Burr sort of leaves him vacant, a young man who sure could have benefited from four or five novice years at RKO where they taught expertise at this sort of thing. Cassavetes comes off by being the unexpected, that is, oddly at disconnect from what happens around him, and never sure if he even wants the faithless wife who flings herself at him. Sort of a Harry Langdon of noir. I ended up liking his low-key performance but can’t imagine he looked back on Affair in Havana with much regard. Sold on DVD by off-labels (one with Spanish subtitles evidently burned in), but I caught it at You Tube as part of quest to see unseen noirs. Is that a journey that could ever be completed?

AFFAIR IN TRINIDAD (1952) --- Those Glenn Ford-Rita Hayworth pictures, her billed generally over him, were Glenn being rude to her and everybody. Any guy in Ford’s face will get his own bashed, and look out Rita, as perverse clinches with GF will get you slapped silly, the backhand a staple for each occasion they co-starred. Should I arrange to have Ford “cancelled”? … but then I don’t have that kind of influence. Affair in Trinidad sniffs of Notorious and varied aspects of Gilda. I couldn’t figure if heavies were German detritus or fresher Soviet models. Either way, they want to launch missiles from the Caribbean to US targets. One nice thing of living in a smallest town is villains less likely to strike, as what to target … our Tastee-Freez? Hayworth was showing age by 1952, insecure anyhow and always was, part reason why director Vincent Sherman (above with his star) initiated an affair, mostly to settle her down and get Affair in Trinidad finished (read his excellent book about that).

Ford got eventually away from playing hotheads, not an image to sit well much longer. I like him always spoiling for trouble, an attitude attaining state of grace a few years later with The Big Heat. Watch the first six minutes of Affair in Trinidad and get pretty much a whole reason for being there, that is in terms of Rita dancing torridly as any performer might for Code-sanctioned houses. She was still sort of boxoffice despite a personal life largely off rails, having married “Mr. Evil” Dick Haymes, and then Prince Aly Kahn, who I’m not curious enough about to look up for more detail. Or wait, did Aly come first, and then Mr. Evil? Affair in Trinidad took $2.3 million in domestic rentals, which for Columbia in 1952 was a blue fortune, bigger gold strikes of From Here To Eternity and On The Waterfront still a couple of seasons off.

ALIAS NICK BEAL (1948) --- So why weren’t there more devils in film noir, a handiest Mister Big for any circumstance or occasion. Depends perhaps on how many recognize Satan as an active entity. Does he do more than occasionally pop up on shoulders? Ray Milland is a contemporary fallen angel, well turned out, persuasive, a noir dweller not differing markedly from the rest. We accept him more than outlandish Al Pacino devil dancing against New York background circa 1997. Maybe it was easier to conceive of Satanic presence among us in 1948. Milland dislikes to be touched. He blanches at the sight of Bibles, commits murder and goes unpunished, for how could the Code chastise him? We want Ray to corrupt Thomas Mitchell’s do-gooding judge-turned politician, for who in postwar trusted do-gooders? As it isn’t emphasized, I wonder how many of first-run viewership realized Milland was playing Lucifer himself. Fantasy aspect was played down in ads. The last thing Paramount wanted was for Alias Nick Beal to be confused with horror movies. Milland here is not so different from any opportunist off noir grids, which maybe implies that by war's end, we were all devils in a sense. Director John Farrow enhances Alias Nick Beal with long takes to finish three days’ work in minutes. The Kino lease of pre-49 Paramounts should do the Farrow legacy good. Alias Nick Beal is available on Blu-Ray from Kino.


Blogger DBenson said...

If memory serves, Alice Faye walked away from movies when she realized she was being used to build up a new female star -- Is this the film in question? Anyway, her contract with Fox precluded going to another studio, so she settled in for a long run on radio with husband Phil Harris.

2:16 PM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

ALIAS NICK BEAL is on its way -- to be delivered either by a uniformed employee of the Federal Government or the hired hand of a massive private enterprise.

"What's up, Nick."
"Not much. Took the 405 to the slausen cut off--got out, cut off my slausen--and proceeded to the fork in the road, which I took. Went by Bunker Hill, noted Angel's Flight, arrived at Dodger Stadium for a double-header."

10:19 AM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

Yes, this is the film in question. She was all of 30 years old. Hollywood eats its own.

3:00 PM  

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