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Monday, March 14, 2022

Film Noir #3

Noir: Absolute Power, Among the Living, Angel Face, and Another Man's Poison

What goes into a noir drawer where favorites qualify just because they please you? A sort-of horror film like Among the Living might, though it seems more southern gothic to me, plus I didn’t care much for it after years waiting to watch, while Another Man’s Poison, if thought of at all, is more in terms of star vehicle than noir, Bette Davis moor noir tipping into horror. Another Man’s Poison may have been undiscovered-as-noir because the picture was for years so difficult to see; having it now and clear at last makes the label easier to apply. I haven’t heard anyone refer to Absolute Power as noir, but it seems so to me, and for enjoying it lots besides, welcome even flimsy excuse to include the 1997 release.

ABSOLUTE POWER (1997) --- If Clint Eastwood is a loner ex-convict who steals jewels, would Absolute Power be classifiable as noir? I say yes, so here it is, if out of alphabetical order because a repeat view was recent and why not crowbar this one in for being such fun if little else? Eastwood did lots we might call noir, some may turn up later here, him always the loner which often qualifies for noir placement. He lives solo, comports poorly with others, has an alienated grown daughter, as in other Eastwoods. Absolute Power is a most satisfying application of the star's formula, a rug spread for other players to thrive and not just the star. I don’t know a lead man who also directs who is so generous to colleagues. They do marvelous group scenes with Eastwood nowhere around. Sometimes you forget he is even in the movie. Eastwood may be the most secure filmmaker presently working. He has a knack to hire actors I like: Gene Hackman, Ed Harris, Judy Davis, Dennis Haysbert, Scott Glenn … plentiful more. There is a scene I recalled from the first time I saw Absolute Power (twenty-five years ago, doesn’t seem possible) where Clint and Ed Harris do cat-and-mouse as criminal v. cop in a museum coffee shop, so relaxed and good-humored I wanted it to last a rest of run time. I’m told all performers who work for Eastwood revere him. Absolute Power illustrates why. Dialogue was by William Goldman, so is sharp and forward driven. We forget particular Eastwoods because he has by now done so many. Absolute Power makes me want to pick through the lot and hopefully find more that are as good (plenty not yet viewed). Did not know Eastwood wrote much of music, the principal theme plus a waltz that Hackman and Judy Davis do for a midpoint set piece. I wish Hackman was still plying smooth villains, but how could we fairly expect a ninety-two-year-old man to keep clocking in for work? Yet Eastwood still does, ninety-one and doing leads. Has any star in the history of movies achieved this?

AMONG THE LIVING (1941) --- Twin brothers separated in childhood, one presumed dead thanks to a false certificate issued by Dr. Harry Carey. The black sheep is alive and insane and hid in the crumbling family manse. This plus other complications take 67 minutes to unfold, Among the Living misunderstood to be a horror film, at least sold as one, but not much seen after ’41 dates. We had Channel 8 to unspool pre-49 Paramounts during the 60’s, but they skipped this one. Albert Dekker is (are?) the twins and is good, but one need embrace Dekker more than I do for fullest satisfaction, plus there is Susan Hayward being wayward and Frances Farmer wasted in a nothing part. Setting is southern, or supposed to be I gather, and there are cemeteries and spooky ruins through which tormented sorts wander. A rowdy townsman says let’s send a union rep to the spooky house to straighten out affairs, and that raised a flag. Then presto comes a lynch mob to settle the crazy brother, later both brothers, which made me check writer credit to confirm suspicion --- yep, Lester Cole, among others. So Cole and likes never slipped in subversive content? Not much they didn’t. This mob makes the one in Fury look like park strollers, and plop goes a third act visually compelling at least for noirish effect, but way heavy lift for a thriller that need not have taken itself half so seriously. I’ve seen Among the Living listed in noir directories which is why I include it here. A Kino coaster, but I admire fact they are getting such obscurities out.

ANGEL FACE (1953) --- Was loserdom and death at the end a necessary corrective for men like Robert Mitchum and Burt Lancaster seeming to have it all? Minus bad luck (more bad judgment), Mitchum on screen might have had a most charmed postwar leading man life. He is the customary seen-it-all and magnet for women in Angel Face but forfeits the whole when Jean Simmons exerts her spell. Woman as messenger of ultimate death was a staple of so-called noir, and maybe Mitchum could cope with treachery, silken or not … at least might hope he’d survive Out of the Past, The Locket, others, but where insanity entered equations, as was case in Where Danger Lives and certainly Angel Face, he or no one had a chance, as madness won’t compromise or be overcome. Angel Face compels most because we know Mitchum is doomed from the moment he meets Simmons, latter being nuts as to be utterly unpredictable, Angel Face’s finish, while a shock, not really a surprise. I like that Mitchum acts as most men would where an irresistible, if unbalanced, woman comes his way. Warning signs just don’t matter where an offer is couched so alluringly, his not knowing long after he should have known, etc., staying and staying a weakness men viewing will understand. Someone sufficiently cracked, however beautiful, can doom partners forever so long as they stay beautiful. Happens lots in life. Cool Mitchum turns chump just as pug ugliest of us might. It took a Jane Greer or Simmons to close the compact, neither cast by chance, as it needed women irresistible to credibly drag a man like Mitchum down. Ultra-Cool works, is enviable, but we know it is a surface thing. Everyone has their cracking point below that. Mitchum worked well because his was slower to uncover, but nevertheless there.

ANOTHER MAN’S POISON (1951) --- Brit-based Bette uses horse medicine to poison men, first an offscreen husband, then a lover as essayed by then-Davis spouse Gary Merrill, Another Man’s Poison not so much noir as rural cottage gothic after nineteenth century example beloved of English readers. Sufficient reason to watch? Depends on curiosity for offbeat things even where they fail, but what does not disappoint is Blu-Ray capture of countryside and a star way out of element but rising to late application of Nobody Being So Good As Bette When She’s Bad. There would not be another so frisky for her until horrors for a jaded 60’s market. BD crossed to do Another Man’s Poison after Hollywood seemingly lost interest, this but two years after All About Eve, which you’d think would reboot the star for another decade at least, but fate was cruel to aging actresses, Davis realistic enough to take work where it could be got. The project was co-produced by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., her old Parachute Jumper mate, and one who could charm birds from trees where he had an idea and needed friends to implement it. Davis spoke ill of Another Man’s Poison in hindsight (“We had nothing but script trouble”), and US-distributing United Artists took mere $601K in domestic rentals, possibly the least money a Davis starring vehicle had ever seen. The director was Irving Rapper, who had given her/us Now Voyager in 1942, then surprised Bette years later by not being dead when she assumed he was.

Another Man’s Poison
remains for completists only, a little unfair for it has offbeat values you’d not expect of Davis from her down-hill. She’s good as ever at evil, or if one prefers, giving ammunition to parodists thereafter (does anyone --- anywhere --- mimic Davis anymore?). Watch however for Brit talent in support, heavy lift to credibility that is theirs, especially Anthony Steel, who must convince us he is all-over balmy for Bette, who had him by eleven years and looked all of them plus some. Davis saw a need to get more baroque as she got older. So did Crawford. Few name actresses escaped the clutch. Maybe K. Hepburn, but she thankfully did not need the money. Davis worked television like a hound, probably did unsold pilots her staunchest fans don’t know about, and should have had, deserved in fact, one hit series at least, but there was comeback the horrors supplied, and these kept her in profitable features through scorched earth that was the 60’s. Classier work after, for Disney, serious TV movies, plus life awards for every morning she got out of bed, escorted her to the end.


Blogger Mike Cline said...

Eastwood is a god of cinema. No one I can think of has had such a career in film. He's in his EIGHTH decade of film making. He writes, he produces, he directs, he composes, he stars. And at 91, still turns out a feature a year. And good features.

1:06 PM  
Blogger Dave K said...

These are great! Keep 'em coming! Haven't seen ABSOLUTE POWER since I caught it in the theater oh so many years ago. May have been one of the first times I saw Laura Linney (a favorite). Some years back I received gratis a super box set of Eastwood's WB output. Never really did it justice, lots of goodies like AP I never got around to revisiting. Will have to dig it out!

1:50 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Years ago read "Which Lie Did I Tell?", one of William Goldman's memoirs. He talks about the problems of adapting the novel ABSOLUTE POWER for the screen, and remembers the shoot as being a happy one.

3:36 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Actors who have worked with Eastwood have marveled at how few takes he deems necessary. Sean Penn spoke in awe of Clint being satisfied with one take! As Clint says, it all comes down to rehearsals and preparation. I bet confidence comes into play, too.

10:21 PM  
Blogger William Ferry said...

Eastwood learned what to do from Don Siegel (work efficiently, work economically, tell a good story well), and what NOT to do from PAINT YOUR WAGON (waste time, money, and film).

I read a quote from a Warner's exec (at whose studio Eastwood has worked probably more than any other) to the effect that they love him because he's even more careful with their money than his own!

All in all, he's done very well for a guy who was fired from Universal as a contract player.

8:45 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

Aww, I kind of like Among the Living, but maybe a large part of it was seeing it the first time presented by William K. Everson in a weekend of all Paramount Bs.

4:50 PM  
Blogger Jim Cobb said...

Just watched ABSOLUTE POWER for the first time. What a wonderful slick entertainment and what an truly incredible cast.
Thanks so much for recommending.

11:32 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

"(does anyone --- anywhere --- mimic Davis anymore?). "

Martin Short?

1:35 PM  

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