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Monday, August 29, 2022

Film Noir #12

Noir: The Black Dahlia and Black Rain

THE BLACK DAHLIA (2006) --- Was the expression “Listen up” in common usage during the mid-forties? Moderns can dress a room to pin-accurate period setting then blow it by a single word or phrase. Writers vs. art directors. The Black Dahlia was based on a James Ellroy novel, but outcome isn’t like L.A. Confidential, which had Black beat so far as structure/coherence but did not boast direction so showy as Brian de Palma’s, whose last lavish and starry work this appears to have been. The Black Dahlia boasts a singular filmmaker nearly getting a best of truant storytelling, so it helps to like De Palma and give him allowance for others providing less well. I lost thread of the tale but was reassured by then-reviewers similarly confused. The Black Dahlia was panned and did soft business. Who recalled or cared about the Dahlia case by 2006? I barely know it but for grubby insert to the Kenneth Anger book, which since discouraged further inquiry. “Elizabeth Short” of ’46 offing was cleaved by half, disemboweled, blood drained, mouth carved ear-to-ear, a visual banquet for De Palma and corpse customizers. The killing was apparently not solved, but he gets to a sort of bottom via big reveals coming so thick and fast in a final third to leave even the most alert woozy.

There are femmes who both emerge fataleish (Scarlet Johansson, Hilary Swank), and I kept wondering which Classic Era actress Johansson was trying to evoke. Lead boy Josh Hartnett mumbles and sometimes whispers, for which thank be to subtitles option. Were I younger, there would be a George Arliss School of Elocution, myself as sponsor, or at least silent partner. I enjoy the way De Palma outlandishes everything, like where Hartnett and Johansson sit down to a nicely set postwar table with roast chicken, green peas, other tasties (yes, I took inventory for kind of knowing what was going to happen). Sure enough, they engage a fit of passion, and yank goes the tablecloth (Hartnett), Johansson down w/thud on hard surface (would she/anyone opt for this in real life?), me the while focused upon fate of chicken gone cruelly to waste, peas scattered about that someone (her?) will be expected to clean up. Rest assured brute man Hartnett will leave the messy job for Scarlet, or Beulah the maid. No director can dictate what engages us in a scene, but does De Palma ever try. There are complex tracks from streets over tops of building, around corners, back to source pavement again, all of which would be lots more dazzling if we understood what heck was going on and who is shooting at who to what purpose. Still, De Palma is a creative force doing darndest, sensing anchors that pull, his exertion the more praiseworthy for keeping the yarn off sandy bottom. For all of disadvantage visited upon him in the new century, you'd think DePalma was still doing high-test seventies work that made his name, and bravo to him for full-on effort. There is “underground” L.A. for the director to dress like Busby Berkeley, a lesbian bar beside which the Cotton Club seems wan. Complaint re authenticity? Not from this quarter.

Situation and solution turn on, of all things, The Man Who Laughs from 1929, principals seeing it at a theatre in 1947. Like anyone could see The Man Who Laughs in a theatre, or anywhere, in 1947, but let’s not buff-out, attend rather to how minor confusion will all-consume where writers lay down one after other false endings. I bet Ellroy goes hard on The Black Dahlia whenever anyone mentions it to him, as from what I hear of this novelist, he is disciplined and makes points plain. For noir standing, there is real-life Chamber of Horror E. Short occupies, a poster girl for maximum gore. I doubt this case was topped until Manson’s crowd went to work. De Palma stages preamble to the murder as almost a throwaway, a woman seen from above and at distance that we assume to be Short. The Black Dahlia surprisingly does not zero on the case, rather other crime and criminals, plus complex back story of cop pals and dangerous women they engage. Noir digested easier before it became so massively overproduced. Would De Palma have been happier given a third of what he spent? (fifty million it is said)

Something tells me there are backyard noirs done on phones to beat tusks off elephant industry tries, and current question arises … will there again be mainstream outlay at such level for something like The Black Dahlia, now that there really isn’t a mainstream anymore? Will there be “good old days” status for The Black Dahlia, old-timers like De Palma looking mistily back on a “Hollywood” that long ago existed? Technical query to experts … I watched The Black Dahlia on Starz, via Amazon Prime. Ratio was 1.85 “widescreen,” though Google says the feature was scope 2.35. At no time did the frame feel cropped. Are filmmakers sticking w/ safe areas to stage action, knowing their compositions will be distorted by later TV and streaming? I would not enjoy De Palma’s Scarface so defaced, being long since accustomed to it on scope terms. Am I not as alert to intended framing as I should be?

BLACK RAIN (1989) --- So how come I took for granted all those swell action pictures from the eighties into the nineties? Not just acknowledged (by me) masterpieces that were The Last Boy Scout, Road House, others, but to turn up my nose as I did at Black Rain, rediscovered of late to increased satisfaction … well, it might just be time to explore Van Dammes and (Steven) Segals that eluded me, seen or not but in neither case properly appreciated. I remember flap over Black Rain’s portrayal of Japanese culture, and yes, Michael Douglas runs over hosts when he travels there to deliver a fugitive killer, whom he promptly loses. This is attitude noir, Douglas that is, as live a wire as he was in Basic Instinct, and customary fun to watch. Law enforcement’s enemy is no longer criminals, but “suits,” internal affairs, those within the department out to “bust my ass” as MD repeatedly puts it. He is never without a dangling cigarette, may be thieving from drug dealers, which he regards as OK because he’s got a house and children of a failed marriage to support. Were real cops flattered by depictions like this? I bet so, in a same sense reporters were by Dad’s “Chuck Tatum” in Ace In The Hole. From such character personnel, a well-entrenched cliché by the eighties, came absorption of cop thrillers into Noir category which was company filmmakers wanted to keep, but picture a 40’s Dana Andrews being only what he was in Where The Sidewalk Ends, and never the straightforward investigator of Laura (sans obsessive interest in an apparent murder victim). If 80’s law enforcers had leave to enjoy normal homelife, it would have been Danny Glover in the Lethal Weapon series, that to enable better contrast with broken partner Mel Gibson, who himself cleaned up as sequels gave way to comedy.

Douglas is single-minded and partners must be sacrificed to get his job done. This all is stylishly put over by director Ridley Scott, who I wish had done more police thrillers. Japanese locations were always welcome novelty, from second unit on Tokyo Joe to House of Bamboo to You Only Live Twice, but now with near-portable cameras, no sky is a limit, and director Scott uses far-off setting like no one as of 1989 had before. Genre pictures get a boost for exotic backdrops, Black Rain scoring too for familiar beats a lifeblood of the formula since Coogan’s Bluff or well before. I often wonder if writers of these things still write, find too often that after-work for talent was less frequent. I guess the town always had more scribes than it could support. Query: Do “spec” scripts still sell, millions paid after furious bidding for a “hot” story, or was that just an 80-90’s thing? Black Rain took almost three times its American rentals from foreign receipts, plays well today, or maybe that’s me relaxing rigid standard applied back when it was new. Nostalgia is no determinant, as I feel none for 1989 … maybe films like this, from then, seem better by comparison with what there is now. But then I watch practically none of action films currently made. Are any as good as Black Rain?

Monday, August 22, 2022

They're Not In It To Get Rich ...


The Sin of Restoration

Understanding is that Leonardo used wonky technique to paint Rectory wall that hosted The Last Supper with result his paint chipped and began falling off within weeks of application. Boner detected by all was addressed by would-be restorers who over a next five hundred years made the mess worse. Now it’s said more of their work is left than his, but either way outcome is spotty. A most recent fix invited as much scorn as satisfaction, but isn’t that the way of all restoration? What thankless tasks. Imagine being one sent up ladders to juice up color on the Sistine Chapel, knives drawn for your trip down. What evil impulse makes us second-guess those put to rescuing our past? I’m for a laurel wreath upon most heads. What I see looks good for memory of how ghastly objects once were. Here’s for-instance: Jack and the Beanstalk with Abbott and Costello (1952). Robert Furmanek and crew are lately out with a Blu-ray better than we dreamed “Super Cinecolor” of a Public Domain title could look. They showed it to a theatre full and I’d like knowing how the crowd reacted. Bet it was warm. Effort put into this was surely immense. Labors of love customarily are. Africa Screams was their last project and discs sold out quick. There are those who rank these beside fine art so far resurrected. Add to it several hours of fascinating extras to make Jack and the Beanstalk all kinds of a Blu-ray bargain.

Some while back, art dealers came by a canvas and figured they found a lost Leonardo. Called Salvator Mundi, it was in rugged shape and had to be restored from ground up. The art establishment decided this was genuine DaVinci and everyone who wanted to stay club members gathered round the notion, peer pressure writ large. There were auctions, money progressively upward from each, till finally in 2017 it realized $450 million, the highest ever publicly bid for art. There was a feature documentary that saw the saga smelling distinctly of fish. By the way, no one knows for sure where the painting is today or even who has it. A lot of so-called priceless canvases simply disappear. This is all worth mentioning because film restoration, at least done by fans for fans, merit stand-to-salute for whoever lends time and resource to a cause no one else would support if they did not. I’m talking for a most part silent movies, homeless pets now that copyright leashes are loosed to whoever will adopt foundlings. Amazing what one can do with home editing suites and some ingenuity, plus the Library of Congress to make what is now public property available to hearth historians who with Kickstarter assist put long-lost rarities into disc trays hungry for what we hitherto could not hope to see. One of late is Valley of the Giants, Wallace Reid circa 1919, the infamous one where he was injured badly on location, given morphine to see the shoot through, got hooked on the stuff and never was able to kick it, result early death in 1923. The film has admittedly morbid interest, but also pleases as a star turn done when Classical Narrative style was still in polish process by studios moving toward assembly-line filmmaking.

Valley of the Giants
has pleasing backdrops, spasms of action, Reid up and over log-hauling trains where it is clear he is not doubled. This is probably the best-preserved Wallace Reid we have, source material for the DVD a 35mm print held by a Moscow archive that shared their digitized transfer with our Library of Congress in 2010. Historian Edward Lorusso arranged with LoC to release Valley of the Giants, him translating titles plus a recreated open and close after fashion of teens-era Paramount. David Drazin prepared a fine score. Theirs is exemplary presentation for a film over one hundred years old that we’ve had no access to for nearly that length of time. The DVD is available at Ebay. Occurs to me that virtually all silent titles emerging on disc come from private sources … collectors, preservationists, enthusiasts who on their own initiative render lost objects found again. Lorusso has so far offered twenty features. He is not alone in a heroic quest. Month or so ago I got a Billy Bevan two-disc Blu-Ray compiled by Dave Glass and Dave Wyatt, over four hours of Mack Sennett shorts in abundance featuring Bevan, most of which have been unseen, apart from cut versions, since playing new. All are remarkable, funny bits of several familiar via Robert Youngson grab bags. Also by way of impress was Kickstarter videos the Dave team did to raise awareness of the project, like silent comedies in themselves with clever narration and infectious music. These are at You Tube and the still standing Kickstarter page, funds raised, and the project completed earlier this year. Billy Bevan is a face and figure any comedy watcher knows, even if the name is less familiar than standard-bearers. His comedies click as never before thanks to retrieval of this lot in quality known not to us previous.

Again, no one is in this for profit. There hasn’t been real money in silent films since before the Market crashed. I venture people who work for archives would do it for free. Their cause has been messianic in often messy corporate or academic environments. A film restorer surely sleeps well at night, him/her not driven by greed or dreams of glory, unlike bottom motive that drove Salvator Mundi from junk canvas to prized masterpiece, many cynics’ triumph of smoke and mirrors. Thing I note about best results out of archives is fact it comes down generally to one mastermind, a single person knowledgeable and dedicated beyond capacity of the rest. How many times have we thought, if so-and-so leaves that place, the party is sure enough over. I can thank lone hands for the best of what gets out. Talk about wishing certain folks could live forever, but champions in our field are finite, and no, they can’t stay eternal, any more than we who treasure them can. I somehow value less a restoration from behind walls of a faceless conglomerate, figuring they’ll pull back on future projects if sales figures don’t raise a roof. Paramount did Wings beautifully for Blu-Ray, a first and last hurrah for them along silent Blu revival line. Fox, back when they were still Fox, released a DVD box set of Murnau and Borzage one had to see to believe, but oh what a bath they took. Where it’s “Universal” or “Paramount” or some such faceless entity back of restorations, I tend to be less patient, like when U released yet another Dracula and this time killed the ambient sound, result an utterly dead track unless actors spoke. Someone’s idea of improvement, but whose? Surely I’m not alone for insisting upon noise armadillos make.

Art historian Martin Kemp wrote a book called Living with Leonardo. There’s a great chapter called The “Original” Last Supper where what Kemp said touched much on prejudices felt by film folk. “Remastered performances tend to exhibit a clinical sheen, but something often seems to have been lost, or is this just false romanticism, delighting to a scratchy voice from the past?” Here was where I recognized myself watching Dracula, except I more and more embrace my false romanticism. Further truism courtesy Kemp: “Current tastes and procedures in restoration play toward surgical viewing and technical publications … With the technology comes an air of scientific certainty and modern superiority.” I hesitate to criticize restorations because after all, what was the last movie I restored? Years collecting 8 and 16mm makes everything now look wonderful. Warner Archive lately put out The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex to my amazement. Let’s just say my false romance with Channel 13 out of Asheville’s black-and-white late show broadcast in 1968 is forever over. Narcotic nature of restorations raise insistent question of How much better is just a little bit better? Kino sent an e-mail this week, a sale on Cohen titles, most half off. There were four Buster Keaton sets, several of which I had, but not the one with Sherlock,Jr. I watched Cohen’s trailer on You Tube. Sure did look good, maybe better than what came before. So what if there are already two Blu-Rays of Sherlock, Jr. downstairs? (one that is Kino’s own release, another from “Masters of Cinema” in the UK) Here is grip of false romanticism then, me in pursuit of a thing I can never catch. Would it have been better to keep the 8mm print of Sherlock, Jr. bought in 1971 for thirty-five dollars and be satisfied with that? Probably so.

What of this monster called 4K? May I expect Sherlock, Jr. yet again in that format? A voice tells me that 4K has taken us a bridge too far. We are balloons into which so much perfection is pumped that we must someday pop. My contact with 4K has been tentative. A few things on Amazon Prime, Vudu, and some Hitchcock and Universal horror. Lots don’t realize that televisions and components must be 4K compatible to play its “native” signal, much like sirens whose song is clearly heard only when you venture near enough their island to seal doom awaiting. Not to overdo Greek metaphors, but how does soft whisper luring me to The Red Shoes on 4K differ from Medusa’s insistent stare? I got Vertigo and watched, it being Vertigo after all. One segment had for me been the visual tripwire, Scotty and Midge visiting a bookstore and talking to the owner about Carlotta. Every print or transfer I had seen bleached color effect Hitchcock was after. Never having owned or seen Vertigo in IB Technicolor, there seemed no way of knowing just what he intended. The three players confer with a front window back of them, a busy street visible and daytime giving way gradually to dusk, or maybe clouds are approaching. Either way, the bookstore darkens as the trio continue to talk. When Scotty and Midge exit to a sidewalk, we observe the store owner turning on lights inside and can infer that out of doors it has darkened. Old Eastman prints or previous videos mistimed some, not necessarily all, shots, just enough to kill the mood Hitchcock worked hard to achieve. Point now … Vertigo on 4K comes closest to what Vertigo might have looked like on opening day in 1958, its Technicolor then-bathed in glow of carbon-arc projection. At least I want to believe that, and if false romanticism allows my embrace, then so be that. Since I’ll not return to distant point that was 1958, let 4K represent a closest reach to lost paradise.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Where Frames of Reference Splinter


Which Gets To Be The Highest Art?

That 1975 summer out at USC had us part time in a History of Cinema class with instructor John Schultheiss, who knew his topic and shared greats from a Studio Era at a time when there was less to compete with a Studio Era. How have conditions changed since? Plenty, according to Jeffrey Sconce, who teaches at Northwestern University: “When film studies coalesced as an academic discipline in the 1970’s, it had about 70 years of film history to contend with … Now we’re at 120 or so years and the “classical” era is an even more remote sliver of total film history.” Remote sliver. But that's what hopeless antiquarians like me cling to. Take away my sliver and like S. Holmes, I retire to Sussex and keep bees. Whatever recognition, whatever context or frame of reference the older films had, is gone now. When Dr. Schultheiss showed Double Indemnity, a first time for me, there was comfort of known faces and names. Fred (My Three Sons) MacMurray, Barbara (The Big Valley) Stanwyck, and Edward G. Robinson (innumerable late shows) were anything but strangers. Each was recognizable going in and no adjustment need be made. Thirty-year-old Double Indemnity from 1944 was hospitable still for us watching in 1975, certainly so for this group of twenty-year-olds. The screening was like any gathering where one gravitates to those they know.

We turn on Netflix or Amazon Prime and scan headers for what’s familiar. Of “recent” titles, those of twenty years back or less, there are increasingly casts of strangers. So why take a chance with strangers? Then comes a Michael Douglas or Diane Keaton, still willing to work for amusement of us who no longer do, at light confections true, but these are what mature palettes stand best. There was one of late, D. Keaton as a long-ago cheerleader who transitions to an old folk’s home where she forms a senior pep squad. They enter a competition against mean teen girls … and win! My life was affirmed just watching, if sobered by Pam Grier as one of the seniors. Pam Grier. Could anything bring mortality so close, yet we watch because here are people we know from far back. Even their roles being diminished is a comfort. Billing which reads “… and Bruce Willis as Arch Stanton,” will occasion a look in, as does Jerry Seinfeld yet doing stand-up, even as his net worth climbs past nine hundred and fifty million. Bless their vitality, though Willis lately retired for reasons of health, three projects awaiting completion or release. How many players voluntarily walk away? Most stay, and are wanted, especially by those who stream and will pause for them. There was only one C. Aubrey Smith during the forties. Now there are a hundred of him. May Robsons too, if better preserved than was she. Meaningful names are at a premium, their number less likely to be replenished. Can stars be born at Netflix? Not rhetorical, but an honest question from someone who doesn’t pretend to understand the modern marketplace.

I had but to look back brief to see it all coming. When NBC premiered Dirty Harry in the mid-seventies, my father glanced up to a thing unfamiliar until Clint Eastwood entered. Well, there’s old Rowdy Yates … and from there he watched. That is me now. I need reassurance of the familiar to venture in, like dogs or cats who must sniff a thing before having a taste. Watching Double Indemnity recent was reminder that it, and a lot of us watching, belong more to that past than today. We know Walter and Phyliss and Keyes, and actors playing them, but how many born since say, 1980, will enter that cave? To paraphrase Neff at the Dictaphone … black-and-white, checkstrange way they talk, checkeverybody long dead and forgot, checkand what the hell kind of device is this guy talking into? Double Indemnity and kin represent more and more a ghost world. They are the eighteenth-century literature I was assigned to read in college. What entertained once will likelier oppress now, and not just with movies. Music long adored fades from playlists, faceless focus groups ordaining its end. Authors earlier read and enjoyed are listed en masse at Wikipedia as “largely forgotten.” Look for instance at the back cover of a first edition of This Side of Paradise, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. These titles represented “New Scribner Fiction” in 1920. Recognize a one, even one? I did not, yet all were popular that year. Go the next step … what movies might we recognize from 1920?

Plenty, as it turned out: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Barrymore), The Flapper (Olive Thomas), Last of the Mohicans (Tourneur, Clarence Brown), The Mark of Zorro (Fairbanks), The Penalty (Chaney), Pollyanna (Mary Pickford), Way Down East (Griffith), and Why Change Your Wife? (DeMille). A number of these are available on Blu-Ray. All can be readily seen somewhere. Of Scribner fiction listed for 1920, I’ll guess none remain in print, except This Side of Paradise. Said topic has lately been my tar baby, ongoing bafflement as to why so much, in fact seeming whole of literature from a past century, has gone by boards. “Unreadable” is the term I most often see, so tell me, are 1920 movies from the above list “unwatchable”? Stack up the eight, and given time, we might enjoy them all. The Penalty still wallops. I’m more and more of opinion that film is not only our liveliest art, but maybe a best surviving art. Has anyone surveyed past music or fine art to determine content that pleases still today? Here is part reason I say movies continue to abide: There were always stills for them … and posters … publicity material of every conceivable sort. Online assures such stuff will be everywhere and forever more. Frozen images of Chaney, Pickford, and Fairbanks are never more than a click away, not singly, but by thousands. You Tube is a resource for everyone that ever stood before a camera. I found a very arresting five-minute clip of Olive Thomas (Broadway, Arizona --- 1917) that someone lately uploaded, and the YT sidebar led me to a bio of the star with her life/death laid bare. Novels and their authors had little such advantage. We’re lucky to find a single photograph of ones who scribbled but never performed.

No one need be utterly forgot so long as there is Internet and fans memorializing them digitally. Olive Thomas is still someone’s sweetheart, as evidence ease of reference to her online, and my man George Bancroft sees renewed fame thanks to a half dozen of his features plus innumerable clip and tributes at YT. Above is my own salute, a lobby card of GB from Paramount on Parade which I’m sure will find its way onto sites and Facebooks, more kindling for a Bancroft fire still burning. Found also The Life and Death of George Bancroft (a 14:42 minute salute) which turns out to be someone else entirely, “an American historian and statesman” who lived in the nineteenth century. Greenbriar has uploaded a minimum of 25,000 images since 2005, and I cling to belief that inhabitants of Pluto may well discover George Bancroft and plentiful others from a GPS past. There was never such access to gone faces and films before the Net. Remember examining tiny print of an index that was A Pictorial History of the Silent Screen by Daniel Blum just to find one still from an obscure 20’s title? Today yields permanence for all, truest triumph of image over print. Little stands for literature except what of it was adapted for movies. I read an essay last night about Frank Norris, his work unfamiliar but for Greed and Moran of the Lady Letty, each known thanks not to Norris, but EvS and Rudy. I don’t believe Safety Last and Harold Lloyd will ever go away so long as that iconic photo of him hanging off the clock survives. Things seen lately at You Tube … a videographer wondering if the “Golden Age of Original Cinema” ended in the nineties. The nineties? Yes, that someone’s, many a someone’s, idea of a Golden Age. Point he makes is that this was pre-sequels, pre route without risk that modern industry habitually takes. Plaintiff exhibits as follow: Ed Wood, Pulp Fiction, Good Fellas, The Sixth Sense, Four Weddings and a Funeral. The list goes beyond good ones I named, but point is made. These all were what the speaker grew up with, knows best, clings to, ... and he'd be little more than forty now, if that.

Point is that those who were formed by films during the nineties naturally hew closest to them. They grieve loss of creative spirit that made the era possible. My generation is no longer alone for living in an exalted past. Much younger ones now taste the hemlock. But examine current evidence as supplied by streaming services, from whence much that is original springs. I looked at two last week, The Phantom Thread and The House of Gucci. Both engaged me, each bold in its way. Certainly not like what we’ve seen before. I wonder if those who complain loudest are simply not digging deep enough. Does anyone even know how many movies fill ether that is Amazon Prime, Apple, Netflix, so many others that stream? One You Tuber giddy on digital wealth proposed that “cinema” is the Greatest of All Art Forms, now or ever in the past. His comment column immediately saw correctives. No, it is video games that reach highest toward art, while others propose that virtual reality will wipe slates clean to embark us upon epochs not dreamt of before. I can believe that, but will I live long enough to see it? And who of us might be too timid to step upon moonscape of action narrative to do battle with flesh-eater zombies? How rewarding could such immersion be?

Monday, August 08, 2022

Film Noir #11


Noir: The Black Glove and Blackmail

THE BLACK GLOVE (1954) --- Best I could tell, this Lippert/Hammer confab was shot in 1953, briefly US-released apx. March 1954, then let go to television in 1955 (as shown by a TV GUIDE listing from November of that year). Robert Lippert made a seeming hundred cheap features in league with nascent Hammer Films and other Brit firms, from late forties well into the sixties. I’ve a feeling these courted Eady cash (UK govt. boosting home production w/ financial incentives), plus tax advantage at home. Rare to locate domestic bookings, though Lippert had pals in exhibition who'd use them, plus he ran the lot at his own many venues. Anyway, they returned some sort of profit, else he would not have kept at it (possibly write-offs in the end, or something darker like money laundering?). Most are not so good as you’d like them to be, what with future Hammer horror talent behind cameras, in the case of The Black Glove Terence Fisher directing, Michael Carreras producing, Jimmy Sangster somewhere in minor capacity.

Lippert M.O. was to send an American name, never a major one, to star, this toward US selling or eventual TV syndication a better likelihood, and we may assume everyone got greased proper, except maybe scattered audiences that had to sit through shows like The Black Glove, which proposes to be a mystery, has noir trimming, moments of atmosphere, cute dialogue spotted here, mostly there, none congealing to satisfactory effect. With rush and too little funds in play, I give this credit for any little thing got right but could not recommend a sweep of pre-horror Hammer output. I slept now/then through much of The Black Glove but was alert to see hero Alex Nicol unmask the killer for a Nick Charles-Charlie Chan finish. The Black Glove showed up among “free” Amazon Prime offerings, and picture quality was fine, thus a pleasant surprise and I’ll not complain for having watched. Easy to never hear of, let alone see, a picture so obscure. Noir completists however might apply, others advised to poke about elsewhere.

BLACKMAIL (1947) --- Republic in the land of dark, serial and western folk transplanted to wet pavement and purse-held handguns. Some things don’t change, like fist fights wild as what the Crimson Ghost earlier engaged, during which, per Republic, hats never fly off (a Herb Yates edict?). Mister Big of thuggery is, who else?, Roy Barcroft. Juvenile boys were right at home watching this one. Yolk is more barely boiled than hard, runny in fact. Blackmail was screen debut for “Hollywood Detective” Dan Turner, pulp-bred creation of Robert Leslie Bellem, known less by moviegoers than by millions who read Spicy Detective, wherein Bellem via Turner put readership through paces meek movies would not dare. A best summary of what they wrought was S.K. Perelman’s for The New Yorker, excerpts from Bellem, plus Perelman commentary, to show how outlandish hard-boiled fiction had got by the 40’s. Made me want to go find everything Bellem wrote (there are recent-printed anthologies).

unfortunately is tepid tea. Republic was not of a mind to break down barriers. Dan Turner could have been Dill Pickle for all they cared, as no detective in theirs or anyone’s hands could be more generic. Turner is played by William Marshall, who had once been a band singer, and by evidence here, should have remained so. Blackmail fits definition of noir in theme but not by execution. Lesley Selander directs, he of numerous good westerns, and there is Ricardo Cortez to remind us that precode once led fields and would not again. Violence and sex the preserve of Bellem/Turner stories is muted here to a vanishing point. Any fans of pulp going to Blackmail with expectation would have been disappointed, though I doubt many were so foolish or trusting to have bet quarters against whatever Republic handed them, unless it was Zorro or Rocky Lane. Here was a matter of Blacksmith, Stick to Your Forge, or whatever variation on that expression applies. Saw Blackmail on You Tube, a print odd for having quick fades to black every few minutes to cue for commercial placement on 50’s television, Republic backlog having been sold early to the enemy camp (and exhibitors hated them for it).
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