Classic movie site with rare images, original ads, and behind-the-scenes photos, with informative and insightful commentary. We like to have fun with movies!
Archive and Links
grbrpix@aol.com
Search Index Here




Monday, April 25, 2022

Film Noir #6


 Noir: Backfire, Basic Instinct, and The Beat Generation



BACKFIRE (1950) --- A moment in a most ordinary film noir can make the look-in worthwhile, like where a taxi pulls up to actual locale that was the Fremont Hotel in long gone section of L.A. once called Bunker Hill. Its run-down remnant dressed a score of noirs through the 40’s and 50’s, a few even unto the 60’s, nary a trace left now, except on surviving film. Backfire was remnant too, of Warner Bros. coming off a studio era where money got expended on even weak pictures like this, director Vincent Sherman implored to make it even though the script was lifeless, “Do it for the team” an argument too often made. How enervating to do jobs you and “the team” know will turn out poor. “Confused and pointless,” said Sherman of Backfire, the director’s bargain with brass giving him The Hasty Heart next if he but held nose to finish Backfire.



Knowing this, why do I sit and watch Backfire today, let alone enjoy it? First is atmosphere 1950 took for granted, like Bunker Hill and other actuals that were photographed. There is story of sorts, confused yes, spread like chicken litter over what seems longer than 91 minutes. Gordon MacRae normally sang, not here. He showed up in the eighties to perform at our little community college. How might he have reacted if I went backstage to ask about Backfire? The “surprise” heavy is plain from the moment we meet him, as why would Dane Clark be in an otherwise puny part? Backfire was not of the Warner B unit, even as it skirts an edge of same. Where narrative is weak enough, at least give a happy finish so we won’t regret coming. Backfire has that in unlikely spades. One critic of the day said seeing it was like a visit to an old friend that is pleasant even though you know he will tell the same stories you’ve heard so often before. Did Backfire please for being so utterly routine? Being of “noir” category won’t excuse everything. Another coaster, I fear. How long before tabletop space runs out?



BASIC INSTINCT (1992) --- Much better than it seemed when new in 1992, and I wondered why. Maybe because shock value, like all shock value, must dissipate, especially where imitated or driven into clown corner because now we’re embarrassed for having once been shocked or impressed by it. Basic Instinct was of a piece with other detective yarns before and (especially) after. As to being noir, fair enough, even as “erotic thriller” was a label applied at the time, acknowledged then as fresh, and invitation for others to emulate until parodies became greater in number than thrillers erotic or not. Basic Instinct had the advantage of lush production, a moody score, nods back to noir but stylish to point of abstraction, joy in which does not fade with passage of time. There is Frisco setting, welcome as it had not been since Bullitt and Vertigo, a reliable noir background at least from Dark Passage and The Maltese Falcon. Basic Instinct makes the now blighted city look inviting again, perhaps a last time it would be so for movies. Director Paul Verhoeven gave, still gives, unique energy to whatever he turns hand to. If “erotic thriller” was indeed a fresh invention, then it was his invention, plus writer, camera assist he got. Let the yarn confuse for it is always engaging to look at.



Central image of the icepick dominates … ill-advised sex leads inevitably to its application. The instrument even lies still beneath beds these characters occupy, a visual cue that they are doomed for having coupled. Movies punish for promiscuity as they always have. Basic Instinct makes sex easy for the getting, but waiters always bring the check, and Verhoeven’s are high. Explicit talk pushed envelopes for probably a last time here. Nothing much would surprise us after this. Intensity amuses now in a weren’t the nineties silly way, OK if look-back on the era is fond (surely for some it is), with quarters dropped in pay phones or analogish computers giving nostalgic glow. Casting gets unexpected hypo, funny man “Newman” (not meant to be) an interrogator for Sharon Stone’s R-earning Q&A, the moment that sold most tickets in 1992. The story by hot-then writer Joe Eszterhas has more twists than a barrel of snakes. A third less of these would make keeping up easier. I wondered at the time who the killer really was. I sort of still do. Basic Instinct has dynamism and hypnotic quality to wear well for those who know how 90’s games were played and still are amused by them. I see where Sharon Stone did a Basic Instinct 2 in 2006, which must have been agony for her and whoever watched. Seeing Stone in the trailer reminded me of Mae West. Fickle modern stardom, fleet then, the more so in a streaming now.



THE BEAT GENERATION (1959) --- Best of the Zugsmiths, which I declare not with cocked eyebrow, being surprised by how straight it plays, except when it wasn’t (beatnik stuff). Beats get a hammering, cast from Steve Cochran to heavy Ray Danton calling them phony and “pseudo-intellectual,” sort of a preview of how mainstreamers came to disdain hippies, except the hippies were more useful to a mainstream, at least where consumerism co-opted them, or pop music celebrated their otherness. The Beat Generation used a barely understood 50’s movement for what exploitation might be got, the Beats less about sex or attendant action than poseur poetry to slow violence the show was sold on. Beats made soft Establishment targets, Maynard G. Krebbs to exemplify them weekly on the Dobie Gillis show. For Zugsmith, they were mere branch to hang merchandising upon. He had an eye for casting, a barometer it seemed for how cult taste would run twenty and more years later.




Best of Beats is Vampira making with words pointless and sans rhyme, but her with a phone directory is OK in fan quarters. Vampira nee Nurmi was a sub-culture all her own. Steve Cochran gives a complex and fully committed performance, and I mean it, his character put through wringers both work and home-hearth generated (they merge when wife Fay Spain is victimized by sadist Danton). Spain is also fine. Players not appreciated enough could rise to occasion where material merited their fullest participation, and we can regret they didn’t get further and better opportunity to show wares. The Beat Generation was co-written by Richard Matheson, who was no one’s idea of hack. This was clearly a piece he put his heart to, however it was tempered by exploit elements and salacious selling. Irish McCalla is Jackie Coogan’s devoted domestic partner (insert exclamation here). She’s good too. So is Mamie Van Doren as a mark for faux rapist Jim Mitchum, a tool for devilish Danton except Jim falls for Mamie and can’t go through with it. Van Doren was limited by her lush looks, but I never saw her bad in a performance.



Did these players get together at Beat Generation’s start and pledge to let’s give it our best, as if this were a real movie that we might earn statuettes for. Pity they weren’t so rewarded, especially Steve. I speak as a fan of course. And who invited Charles Chaplin Jr. (as “Lover Boy”)? Impression is these people were to some extent hangers-on or pals with Zugsmith. If so, he sure picked abstract company. Norm Grabowski (annoying), Maxie Rosenbloom (more so), poor and played out Paul Cavanagh, who I dearly love. Then William Schallert with an uncredited bit that would never, ever pass under today’s Code. Add these imperishables to a story tense as taut wire. Was Ray Danton at least part-way as evil as characters he portrayed, or maybe being beset with an evil face made him do evil things, like Karloff’s “Bateman” in The Raven. My secret is out then … I adore The Beat Generation and am thrilled there is a Blu-Ray to splay across wide screens.

5 Comments:

Blogger DBenson said...

Among other places, beatniks figure in "Funny Face" (Audrey Hepburn is a civilized beat girl), "Visit to a Small Planet" (Loony alien Jerry Lewis fits right in at the local coffee house), and around the edges of the AIP beach movies (random gags about beat poetry, modern art, and yoga, tellingly tied to older characters). In 1962 Beany and Cecil went to Hungry Eye-Land, landed at Port Sahl, and went after Go Man Van Gogh, a scat-singing beatnik Tarzan. The ending has Beany, Cecil and Uncle Captain cheerfully going native, sporting sunglasses, berets and goatees.

In 1965 the Beverly Hillbillies did a beatnik episode, featuring the obligatory coffee house where the younger Clampetts are accepted as truly way-out cool. In 1967 they did a hippie episode, when Jethro assumes a Robin Hood costume with wig and becomes the leader of flower children in Griffith Park.

Looking back, it's surprising how quickly hippies replaced beatniks as the go-to comic misfits. But the beat generation had a pretty good run in popular culture.

3:19 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Oh God, that Beverly Hillbillies hippie episode! The chief hippie wanted to try a smoked crawdad, thinking it was a cool new drug. I was 11 and thought it was stupid. Rob Reiner played one of the hippies, I believe.

5:20 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

"Was Ray Danton at least part-way as evil as characters he portrayed?

In his life as a whole, I can't say, but through my one experience with the man, he was calm, smiling, joking while dealing with a tough situation.

I was doing a day of extra work on some TV show and Danton was directing. A driver had been hired because of his ability to drive this somehow complicated truck. When he actually got into the thing, he couldn't even get the thing started, much less drive it. Eventually, he had to be led away, muttering "I don't get it, I don't understand..." Meanwhile, the truck had to be driven or the scene rewritten. Somebody ran off, very fast, to try to find a substitute driver.

During this lull, Danton strolled over, hands in his pockets, not a care in the world. He said to me, "think you can drive this thing?" But I'd watched the other guy struggling with buttons and sticks and pedals so I told Mr. Danton that I couldn't drive it. He clapped me on the shoulder and said, "too bad. You could have made some extra cash." He smiled and shrugged and meandered slowly away.

This would have been a big problem even on a movie, but on the monstrous schedule of episodic TV, most directors would have been tearing their hair out. But Ray Danton just strolled around, hands in pockets, "whattya-gonna-do" grin on his face, waiting for a driver.

Not what I would have expected from any director, but certainly not from this famous tough guy.

9:18 PM  
Blogger MikeD said...

Check out what Robert Wagner had to say about Ray Danton in Danton's IMDB's Biography. Holy cow!

9:04 AM  
Blogger StevensScope said...

Justified revenge for sure: Big CLINT WALKER guns down a most vicious RAY DANTON and his buddies, who killed his partner, burned his cabin, and kidnapped his girl in a most CLASSIC SCENE from "YELLOWSTONE KELLY"(1959).Technicolor prints in 16mm were EASTMAN-as were most WB titles during these few years when Warner Bros, started transferring back to THAT process after a long spell of WARNERCOLOR in the 1950's.(& MGM's METROCOLOR, UNIVERSAL with EASTMAN-PATHE, ETC,). Only DISNEY and PARAMOUNT stayed with TECHNICOLOR ALL THE WAY, and those 16mm rental prints struck in the 1960's were outstanding to say the least. The majors then -- finally--all returned to TECHNICOLOR, !! ALL EXCEPT MGM, who stuck to EASTMAN (METROCOLOR), only exceptions were the EPICS.

2:06 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

grbrpix@aol.com
  • December 2005
  • January 2006
  • February 2006
  • March 2006
  • April 2006
  • May 2006
  • June 2006
  • July 2006
  • August 2006
  • September 2006
  • October 2006
  • November 2006
  • December 2006
  • January 2007
  • February 2007
  • March 2007
  • April 2007
  • May 2007
  • June 2007
  • July 2007
  • August 2007
  • September 2007
  • October 2007
  • November 2007
  • December 2007
  • January 2008
  • February 2008
  • March 2008
  • April 2008
  • May 2008
  • June 2008
  • July 2008
  • August 2008
  • September 2008
  • October 2008
  • November 2008
  • December 2008
  • January 2009
  • February 2009
  • March 2009
  • April 2009
  • May 2009
  • June 2009
  • July 2009
  • August 2009
  • September 2009
  • October 2009
  • November 2009
  • December 2009
  • January 2010
  • February 2010
  • March 2010
  • April 2010
  • May 2010
  • June 2010
  • July 2010
  • August 2010
  • September 2010
  • October 2010
  • November 2010
  • December 2010
  • January 2011
  • February 2011
  • March 2011
  • April 2011
  • May 2011
  • June 2011
  • July 2011
  • August 2011
  • September 2011
  • October 2011
  • November 2011
  • December 2011
  • January 2012
  • February 2012
  • March 2012
  • April 2012
  • May 2012
  • June 2012
  • July 2012
  • August 2012
  • September 2012
  • October 2012
  • November 2012
  • December 2012
  • January 2013
  • February 2013
  • March 2013
  • April 2013
  • May 2013
  • June 2013
  • July 2013
  • August 2013
  • September 2013
  • October 2013
  • November 2013
  • December 2013
  • January 2014
  • February 2014
  • March 2014
  • April 2014
  • May 2014
  • June 2014
  • July 2014
  • August 2014
  • September 2014
  • October 2014
  • November 2014
  • December 2014
  • January 2015
  • February 2015
  • March 2015
  • April 2015
  • May 2015
  • June 2015
  • July 2015
  • August 2015
  • September 2015
  • October 2015
  • November 2015
  • December 2015
  • January 2016
  • February 2016
  • March 2016
  • April 2016
  • May 2016
  • June 2016
  • July 2016
  • August 2016
  • September 2016
  • October 2016
  • November 2016
  • December 2016
  • January 2017
  • February 2017
  • March 2017
  • April 2017
  • May 2017
  • June 2017
  • July 2017
  • August 2017
  • September 2017
  • October 2017
  • November 2017
  • December 2017
  • January 2018
  • February 2018
  • March 2018
  • April 2018
  • May 2018
  • June 2018
  • July 2018
  • August 2018
  • September 2018
  • October 2018
  • November 2018
  • December 2018
  • January 2019
  • February 2019
  • March 2019
  • April 2019
  • May 2019
  • June 2019
  • July 2019
  • August 2019
  • September 2019
  • October 2019
  • November 2019
  • December 2019
  • January 2020
  • February 2020
  • March 2020
  • April 2020
  • May 2020
  • June 2020
  • July 2020
  • August 2020
  • September 2020
  • October 2020
  • November 2020
  • December 2020
  • January 2021
  • February 2021
  • March 2021
  • April 2021
  • May 2021
  • June 2021
  • July 2021
  • August 2021
  • September 2021
  • October 2021
  • November 2021
  • December 2021
  • January 2022
  • February 2022
  • March 2022
  • April 2022
  • May 2022