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Monday, May 16, 2022

Film Noir #7


Noir: Because of You, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, and Between Midnight and Dawn

BECAUSE OF YOU (1952) --- So it’s noir when Kino puts it in a box set and calls it that. Fine, am willing to suspend disbelief where obscurities like Because of You get released, under whatever umbrella. Because of You is melodrama of mother love like myriad others, only this has Loretta Young. Did she get a percentage for being here, like others of approximate age who swapped star recognition for placement in utterly routine genre projects? (U-I paid Linda Darnell $7500 per week for a guaranteed ten weeks when she did The Lady Pays Off) Not to diminish Because of You, for Universal made these expertly, and no star was shamed for being in them. This was Young’s penultimate theatrical feature, one more and then TV exclusive. She was thirty-nine and looking less, credible opposite five years her junior Jeff Chandler. Don’t know how that was managed but will guess avoidance of nicotine and alcohol figured in, these being robbers of youth from peers, many around a shorter time and younger than Young. Did Chandler reflect on his kiss-mate having once been Lon Chaney’s leading lady? (Senior, not Creighton) Apologize now for before being snide re her acting, Young ideal for a set-up like this. Because of You read my thoughts and disposed of Alex Nicol right when I wanted them to. A second half better than the first departs the crime theme and zeroes in on rapprochement of LY with a moody kid she lost for breaking parole and helping Alex smuggle drugs out of Tijuana and … well, enough about that. Why spoil your upcoming 95-minute pleasure?

Just Noticed: Her Expression is the Same in Both Stills Above

Vet actresses seized the bit of early television and did the anthology thing. Loretta Young was one, plus Barbara Stanwyck, Jane Wyman, June Allyson, others. Young spoke later of playing a widest variety of parts for those half-hours. My vague recollection of The Loretta Young Show is swirling entry through a door her voluminous dress could barely get past, being intro for each show. All that and versatile acting too. Episodes are at You Tube and stream elsewhere. Don’t know how much cash Young realized from TV but bet it was immense. Wiser heads knew tubes were the future and cast lots there early. Should someone want an untrod topic for women pioneering in media, let them resurrect anthology programs done during the fifties, because here is where actresses achieved much that has been little seen in a last sixty-seventy years, big enough names to have creative control and see dramas done their way. It would take digging and research (all those prints!), but this strikes me as a project well worth someone (other than me) doing. Because of You is of sort that would not be around much longer, for it and ones like it were nurtured by a system which support beams held less and less strength. Television giving same stories at much diminished cost was accepted because these were at least convenient and more importantly free. Plot/outcomes were so familiar as to demand less attention than accorded them when fresher and in theatres. What was focused on in shared darkness became mere background for busy households. Loretta Young would have understood this and so confined her dramas to half-hour not taxing to home viewers who had more pressing and immediate concerns. Because of You is available on Blu-Ray, among boxed noirs from Kino.

BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD (2007) --- From a folder I call “desperation noir,” which for many comes to how much he/she can endure before becoming desperate him/herself. Is there damage from surfeit of these? I regret watching all the Sopranos, nasty scenes from which still haunt my dreams. Parents used to worry for children influenced by juve delinquent movies or terrified by spook shows, but oh my stars, look at us now. A friend had teenagers who watched entire so-far run of The Walking Dead over a family beach week. What sort of mental health could derive from this? Warren William were he still around might prosper on the anti-depressant racket, it booming for plenty good reason if what currently streams is evidence. Charm of the cobra that is Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is well-construction and it being so compelling, a late project for Sidney Lumet who surely confided in friends how times had changed. You can’t take your eyes off shows like this… but keep valium handy to wash it down. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is of worthless brothers who frame a family-owned jewelry store robbery where their mother (then-80 year old Rosemary Harris) is shot down and killed. I was in tremulous state from this point to the end.

Is much of modern noir offspring of R.Widmark pushing the old lady down stairs? No longer an outrage as in 1947, we wonder nowaday what’s wrong  where such does not happen. Still we stay to bitter ends, in Devil instance Albert Finney at his son’s hospital bedside, and don’t say you weren’t warned. Structure is wonky after fashion(able) examples of The Killing, much later Pulp Fiction and the one (by now many) that play backwards, which Devil sort of does. There is something satanic about films so ugly that compel so much. Remember how relaxing it once was for Jane Greer to double-cross Robert Mitchum? Another distinct downer re Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead: Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character snorting up and or mainlined by a scuzzy dealer. Then I remember what happened to Philip Seymour Hoffman, his death drug-induced … and yes, in 2014, dead on the bathroom floor, a syringe still in his arm, two envelopes of heroin beside him. Such a fine actor to finish like this. Movies can and do get too close to life, today more than ever it seems.

BETWEEN MIDNIGHT AND DAWN (1950) --- Radio-car canvasses Columbia backlot and occasional L.A. streets, Mark Stevens and Edmond O’Brien badges on the job. Gordon Douglas does workmanlike direction. It doesn’t get dull thanks to likeable officer pairing, Stevens on wolf as much as police patrol (quarry is Gale Storm), while O’Brien obsesses over thugs getting away with thuggery. The boys room together at one boarding house or rental after another. They end up with duplex situation beside Storm and her mother, where childish antics presage rivalry to determine which she will choose to cast marital lot with. Neither might be any sensible woman’s choice, but women were lots more adaptable in 1950, or so writers figured for tales told in rudimentary, formula-driven ways. Movies spoke unlike life, but a Between Midnight and Dawn, modest as it was, cut at times truthful slice off fruit too ripe 
otherwise. There are moments to stun, a child hung by feet out a high window, never a favored plot device with me, action quick and ruthless where and when it comes.

Violence in Code films has capacity for surprise, us expecting a pull-back but getting full-face instead (remember The Big Heat, also from Columbia). Between Midnight and Dawn pleases if cops on duty, neither rogue, fill your cup, and there’s nighttime whale of a chase through crowded downtown that makes one wish all location had been done on real locations. Much of noir, especially by majors, amounted to such hybrid. They had city streets on site to shoot, cheaper done that way of course, but backlots rob atmosphere, especially where the real thing gets used for parts only, always the best parts (Act of Violence compromised along same lines). Between Midnight and Dawn was good for only so much in rentals, $548K domestic being limit here. Chances are it played lower on most bills. For Columbia, crime thrilling was barely up from westerns unless Glenn Ford was around. A small show like Between Midnight and Dawn benefits from visual boost via high-def, Blu-Ray offered as part of an Indicator box set from Region Two.


Blogger Reg Hartt said...

The Jack Pierce/Boris Karloff look of Dr. Frankenstein's creation (on site today) is peerless. It is those lids that make it. That touch was suggested by Karloff. The real horror for me is not the misshapen patchwork monster but rather imaging myself as someone who has been through the horror of an execution only to regain consciousness in this pieced together body and then to be tormented by the hunchbacked assistant, Fritz. As in the novel Dr. Frankenstein does not take responsibility for the being he creates. That seems to be true of a lot of people.

12:01 PM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

I saw the Sidney Lumet film, not knowing that it was his final one, in a rare occasion in a movie theater being in Buenos Aires instead of Boston. While here the film was mostly unperceived at the time, in Argentina it got a major release and I saw it in a crowded multiplex that was located in front of a more traditional but defunct movie theater, of which there were already no traces of its existence. It was a nice film, if rather silly story involving serious issues and a very sexy Marisa Tomei in a spotlight after years of unremarkable works. There were a lot of very unconvincing situations that actually worked against the success of the story: phone numbers always involved the 555 numbers, the dealer was felt like a nasty cliché, the narrative structure was always weird, and the ending felt very unconvincing. Having surfaced twenty years earlier, it would have been very successful. But in 2007 or 2008 (when I saw it) it felt that similar stories were filmed before in a simpler and a better way.

10:50 AM  

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