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Monday, April 11, 2022

Film Noir #5

 Noir: Apology for Murder, The Asphalt Jungle, and Baby Driver

Call them baby face noir if you prefer, but don’t exclude current ones because leads look like kindergartners, for days of rugged, damaged dwellers on screen are over till time again comes when youth is weaned on alcohol, cigarettes, and some or other desperation. Asphalt aggregation as shown above could scarcely be duplicated now, however baroque crime is played by actors trying too hard to be tough as forebears. Not to mock or disparage Baby Driver (2017), noir placement proof that at least for me it qualifies. As we are fresh out of Sterling Haydens, then the Ansel Elgorts must do, and as viewers know Elgort far better than Hayden, and identify with him more in the bargain, then what am I to argue for the old when the new is what we must embrace lest noir disappear altogether down memory holes. Best to thump for both, especially where an Asphalt Jungle sustains so well as I believe it does (has anyone tested AJ for a young audience?). Let’s celebrate too such cheapies as Apology for Murder being readily seen at You Tube, broken pottery had for free while Blu-Ray-cleaner Asphalt earns still for Warners and Criterion. Never has it been so easy to see noir, especially with M.I.A. ones surfacing regular at dependable outlets.

APOLOGY FOR MURDER (1945) --- For ones who’d call Fred MacMurray and Hugh Beaumont cards from a same deck, there is PRC’s Apology for Murder, where Hugh dials Fred’s number in Double Indemnity. Did Paramount figure it not worth an effort to spank a pilfering PRC? We could speculate on how many saw Apology for Murder in 1945, or at any other time. Wish someone had asked Billy Wilder in his old age --- bet he never even heard of it. Bumps off Indemnity are copied, so many to suspect PRC was deliberately poking big gorilla that was Paramount legal. Apology for Murder was Indemnity again with all of distinction bled out and barest skeleton remaining. Ann Savage is the temptress … she wants Hugh to off an annoying husband. He resists but briefly as after all there is but 64 minutes to unfold. Both players register fine. Doing cheap pictures does not make you a cheap actor. Beaumont has for me more conviction than many that worked in richer preserves. Was he blocked by his low-key sincerity? And so what if they stole from Double Indemnity --- isn’t there room for two of anything that turns out so good? Apology for Murder is scored throughout, has tempo of a sort, a violent payoff, a (very) same bittersweet finish. Beaumont invites sympathy for being always one of us, him ideal for television’s weekly visiting. Title music sounded vaguely Devil Bat-ish, which put me in a right mood for more. Laugh at PRC if you like but know that they could deliver where an hour is the slot to fill, and you don’t want to fill it with elevated or expensive studio stuff. Small theatres could run Apology for Murder as a single and stand proud. Looks a bit cloudy at You Tube, part/parcel of any PRC I suppose.

Other noirs from Greenbriar past: Allotment Wives (1945), Appointment With Danger (1951), and Armored Car Robbery (1950).

THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (1950) --- Don’t let anyone tell you this is overrated or not so good as it is cracked up to be (“too studied” said one revisionist). The Asphalt Jungle has all elements we want a failed heist story to tell, a closest to paperback writ in blood as it was possible for MGM to give. Director John Huston surely read pulps and soft covers he could carry in uniform pockets during the war, knew too that this was where a post-fight public’s appetite would run. The Asphalt Jungle is rugged with vernacular, “the way crooks talk,” or as source writer W.R. Burnett imagined. Huston to his credit hued close to the book. Louis Mayer said he wouldn’t walk across a street to watch anything like The Asphalt Jungle. Maybe this helped LB divine handwriting on studio walls. How far did he foresee trap doors poised to open beneath him?

The Asphalt Jungle
is noteworthy as a hit John Huston started, saw through, finished to his and others’ satisfaction. Why couldn’t he finesse as much for The Red Badge of Courage? I am nagged by notion he simply ran from that battle (like Audie Murphy’s soldier) to start The African Queen and let others cope with scraps left of Red Badge. Huston and Orson Welles surely bonded over similar experience along these lines. Of films where we sympathize with criminals, The Asphalt Jungle stands tall. I frankly want them all to get off clean, S. Hayden certainly, but even more so tower of malign intellect that is Sam Jaffe. Devil’s whisper of the best gang pics lulls us to hope none of miscreants will be caught, in fact will hock stole jewels and retire to Mexican paradise Jaffe lovingly describes. Try not shedding a tear when mortal-shot Hayden makes it finally to lost Eden that was boyhood farm in Kentucky, only to die under end titles as horses nuzzle him. A lovely moment, and how could you not wish things had worked out for the luckless “hooligan.”

Law and order gets the nod via straight arrow John McIntire, who gives a now-more-than-ever chilling speech as to what would happen if police stood down, or lights at station houses went out, an instance of what-if becoming yes-it-has in deteriorating days since 1950. Marilyn Monroe was there to assure success of reissues for The Asphalt Jungle, a small part she makes very big. Was Huston’s direction the click, or was it instinctive talent MM had from a start? This was not a woman who needed charlatan “coaches” like Paula Strasberg and Svengali-grifting Lee. These two should have been learning from her. Neat how fate deals cruel for tiniest missteps: a moment spent too long when you should be moving fast (like Jaffe at the jukebox). Was this Huston’s view of life in addition to Burnett’s? They say all after-coming crime thrillers copied The Asphalt Jungle, a right call (French director Jean-Pierre Melville acknowledged his debt). Few are so good however. Wish Huston had made more pulp-sort stuff, as he was gifted at it. Was it fact such films got too little respect that kept him largely away? I mean look at Mayer’s attitude, and he liked Huston otherwise, tried to help him professionally (Huston with brass enough to ask L.B. to bail him out of gambling debts).

The Asphalt Jungle
did earn profit, not a lot ($150K), OK still for a year otherwise not flush for Metro. Crime writers were criminally underestimated … always. Were they faulted for addressing unsavory truths and making us identify with thieves and killers? Come away from a well-enough written caper and you find yourself thinking like a member of the gang, rooting for them if not wishing you had ingenuity enough to pull a job so bold for rewards so great. Nothing I suppose was such a threat to status quo as an expertly contrived crime story, let alone a movie to so capture flavor of same. The Asphalt Jungle puts us close as any to crack of safes, effecting the getaway, and errant bullets dug out of flesh. People talked of how Little Caesar and Public Enemy inspired admiration, even imitation, of crime and criminals. I think late-40’s White Heat, and yes, The Asphalt Jungle, went such early ones better. Crime was not shown to pay, but look how often it barely missed doing so. Maybe Mayer was right to keep well on opposite side of streets. He knew siren songs when he heard them.

BABY DRIVER (2017) --- I was led to this by You Tube videos celebrating Edgar Wright’s comedy-thriller/thriller-comedy, and yes, I add noir just for sake of including it here. Baby Driver is at least sort of noir because danger throughout is real and the lead character is freighted as noir figures generally are, “Baby” the getaway man for thieves under direction of Kevin Spacey, whose offscreen troubles began upon heels of Baby Driver, a real-life noirish loser we see more of as celebrities fall or are cancelled like nine-pins. Baby Driver was hailed as, like, the coolest movie ever made as of 2017 (100% on Rotten Tomatoes), so has there been a cooler one since? Don’t know the boy who stars, but there is Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm in sinister support, and they lend the danger lest fun becomes too much fun. Edgar Wright is a big talent. He writes as well as directs, having done a Brit zombie film and Hot Fuzz before this, both good. He also sits on august panel at Trailers From Hell, and I really enjoyed his commentary on Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, numerous others. Anyone who appreciates Dr. Terror is bound to write/direct fine movies once given the chance. I must search out what else he has done.

In the meantime, Baby Driver packs the gear, delivers goods, all the rest critics say when a thing clicks. I read where it “earned $226 million globally,” impressive for something based on original ideas and not a sequel or comic book. Things are done with car chases I never dreamed possible. Is it CGI or for real? Tempo is sped in accordance of age we live in, but I wasn’t left behind, which too often happens with recent films. Liked the ending too, unexpected, as in there is still such a thing as paying debt to society minus irony or a switcheroo to go scot-free for what after all are a series of felony murders. See, I said this was serious business, with even a dash of civic responsibility. Saw on Amazon Prime in 4K where it felt like being aboard driver’s seat a whole pulse-stirring time. Note too Baby Driver is less than two hours and so spares us action fatigue, even if it takes extraordinary effort to finally dispose of Jon Hamm.

GREENBRIAR’s TIME TUNNEL --- From 4/22/2010 comes Mr. Robinson Crusoe, Doug Fairbanks’ south sea frolic revisited after twelve years with more text and nine images added to what was done then. This was result of recent-encountering Crusoe on You Tube and having part-forgot how odd and engaging this glorified Fairbanks home movie was. Bravo to Doug for nerve to foist this off as a feature movie we should pay to see in 1932. Aren’t Vloggers after all recording their lives each day (each hour) at You Tube? Forget island-set downers others made in the late 20-early 30’s and enjoy Doug wrestling them all to the ground. Turn me loose midst native exotica and maybe I could do the same, but never with his panache. Enjoyed my GPS rear-view enough to plan more down the line, so watch for footnotes like this, and meanwhile check out Mr. Robinson Crusoe again, or for a first time if you’re a more recent arrival to Greenbriar.


Blogger Ken said...

Beautiful, beautiful appreciation of "The Asphalt Jungle". Loved every word of it. Couldn't stop chuckling at your observation re Marilyn that the Strasberg duo should have been learning from her.
Also heaved a wistful sigh when you cited "The Red Badge of Courage". Always couple this one in my head with "The Magnificent Ambersons" as the films I'd most want to see in their original, now lost I'm afraid, versions. And - as in the case of "Ambersons", even with all the studio fiddling and drastic cutting, what remains of "Red Badge" is still a masterpiece.

8:30 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

I showed Asphalt Jungle to my then-teen kids and it worked, though I think certain things-- the loneliness of Calhern's wife or Doc turning out to be doomed by his desire to watch a young girl dancing-- require you to have lived some years to appreciate fully.

12:52 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

I strongly recommend a regular browse through the GPS archives, helpfully organized by names and titles. Even familiar posts reward revisiting.

While "Mr. Robison Crusoe" may be lost to PD Hell, there is some consolation in having Fairbanks's big hits AND his pre-swashbuckler comedies in handsome legit releases. Still amused that All-American Fairbanks's son eventually became a similarly definitive Englishman, even when (especially when?) dabbling in his father's kind of picture.

2:57 PM  
Blogger Robert Fiore said...

As to ingenious schemes in crime movies, I liked Frank Sinatra's reaction to the script of Ocean's 11, according to screenwriter George Clayton Johnson: "To hell with the movie, let's do the job!"

2:23 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

While Double Indemnity is better, Apology for Murder seems to me more true to life thanks to the leads and their B-movie looks. Hugh Beaumont is terrific in another PRC noir Money Madness.

A few years ago I finally got around to watching Mr. Robinson Crusoe. I found it a sad state of affairs. So cheap and silly.

5:52 PM  
Blogger Ken said...

Tend to agree with Kevin K's opinion of the trifling "Mr. Robinson Crusoe". Glad that Fairbanks' next (and final) film turned out to be a much worthier vehicle. Alexander Korda's "The Private Life of Don Juan"(1934) was a substantial production with a fine script and topnotch cast. Supporting an affable and animated Fairbanks were Benita Hume, Merle Oberon and the always welcome comedienne Athene Seyler. Beautifully mounted and photographed, the thing teems with life. I'd rank it as one of the best British films of the early sound era. Sadly its reputation seems to be eternally eclipsed by the preceding year's "The Private Life of Henry VIII". That one was a big hit and still seems fondly remembered. But I'll always consider the Fairbanks picture a superior accomplishment.

8:18 PM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

Marc Lawrence's role in TAJ (see the two stills of him with Sam Jaffee) is miles and miles removed from his role in SHEPHERD OF THE HILLS.

2:32 PM  
Blogger Randy said...

"Apology for Murder" is the kind of movie you just assume is in the public domain. I was surprised to see that its copyright was renewed in 1973 by National Telefilm Associates.

I suppose that means its owned today by Paramount. I always wonder if there's anybody at all at huge corporations like that who have any clue that they own a movie like "Apology for Murder," or what elements, if any, the company has on it, inherited from NTA.

3:42 PM  

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