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Monday, October 10, 2022

Film Noir #14

 


Noir: Blow Out, The Blue Dahlia, and The Blue Gardenia


BLOW OUT (1981) --- I saw Blow Out when it was new and sort of liked it. Forty years later however and what a difference. Movies cannot help but date, however we pretend our favorites do not, but this one, by Brian De Palma (he wrote as well), is heavy with hoke, a sort I could envision youth laughing out loud at. Conspiracy yarns were the rage in 1981, in fact had run their course by then, so maybe Blow Out was seen from a start as stating the obvious, or conspiracies have since become so much a norm that we’re surprised when there aren’t elaborate pre-plans afoot, the government always complicit. More I think about Blow Out however, the more its quaintness appeals. There are adventurous moments courtesy De Palma. He will do things interesting even where material given him is not. Blow Out was the sort of thing that excited us once upon when. I must remind myself too that 1981 was forty years ago, and that is more than a lifetime for most people. Blow Out is a thriller, a US patch on Blow Up, except this title refers to a tire blowing, plus a gunshot, that propels sound fx man John Travolta into action. Not a bad concept, but De Palma as writer seems inspired more by older movies than what he observed from life, a criticism laid upon most of his generation that had grown up to be filmmakers. Then too was his fascination with Hitchcock, enough so to virtually remake the master’s work, one after unsatisfactory other (a plus: he gave late-in-career Bernard Herrmann work). De Palma seemed intent of having women carved up in these copies, as in even Blow Out, John Lithgow commits sex murders in addition to story-related villainy, and I still can’t figure why of that. De Palma continues to direct, though you may not have heard of these: Domino (2019), Passion (2012), Redacted (2007). I admire the man for still working where he can (now age eighty-one), and remember there are these … The Untouchables, Scarface. Someone should footnote the Easy Riders-Raging Bulls book where they bring those 70’s filmmakers up to present day. Note virtually all who are alive remain at the till, or seek to. Good for that. Blow Out is part of the Criterion collection, but I watched on Amazon Prime, where it looked fine.



THE BLUE DAHLIA (1946) --- Done in a rush, so Alan Ladd could report for wartime duty, then release-delayed nearly a year for reasons I’ve not divined. Noteworthy because it was written by Raymond Chandler, a job he was not initially pleased by, but liked better when he got out the script a few years later and re-read it. Chandler was never comfortable with Hollywood, in part because he didn’t enjoy working close with people, and Hollywood people forever got too close. The Blue Dahlia was never the classic some might expect, but it says words unique to Chandler, has Paramount polish, plus Ladd and Veronica Lake in shared isolation apart from less engaging others. The how-it-came-to-be is spoken of more than content of the film, so it’s easy to forget how forgettable content is. Producer John Houseman tells the whole background story in his memoir, Front and Center, about as vivid a personal recollection of Chandler as anyone left us. Return to civilian life is no joy for Ladd and pals William Bendix and Hugh Beaumont. We’re allowed to think it less so for any returning warrior. Bendix refers to swing as “monkey music,” and whatever PTSD triggers the response, he may well have a point considering jukeboxes that seem to pursue him up-down streets. Doris Dowling is a monster of a faithless wartime wife who gets hers from any of a dozen who might be motivated. Ladd conveys pain of coming home to … nothing. His were still waters running deeper than lead men handed similar commissions. I’m guessing a lot of lonely folk identified with Ladd (this why Rebel Without a Cause’s “Plato” has AL’s portrait pasted in his school locker). Chandler earned much for the work, more than what any of literature paid, but screenwriting took life’s blood he could no longer spare, him on a down slope of productivity in any case. Still-good income from past work kept him fortunately fed.



THE BLUE GARDENIA (1952) --- Bachelor girls sharing modest digs have a problem … one of them might be a murderess. Fritz Lang wrinkles this noir to his measure. A blind witness to killer identity looks like a drop-in from Mabuse past, and Raymond Burr makes an oddly sympathetic victim, being a wolf and a heel, yes, but Lang doesn’t present his conduct so open-shut as to manipulate our sympathies by standard movie rote. The Blue Gardenia was produced independently, only distributed by Warner Bros., after which it slipped from their control, thus an end to good prints and us stuck with punk transfers on DVD. Story, cast, and Lang put over nicely how guilt can eat one from insides, which all can identify with, save level of anxiety which in this case comes of a killing. We become Anne Baxter, if to a lesser degree, just for running a stop signal or failing to return a library book. Single gals as a commune, taking turns for the bath, pouring morning juice, in-out of towels and night wear, still a presumed titillation by 1953, harks back to Joan Crawford and sisterhood doing a same at early 30’s MGM, though suave Robert Montgomery is here replaced by burly Burr, with Richard Conte consulting his little black book that loser pal Richard Erdman covets. No one refuses a cigarette where offered, and the girls (men too) are constantly minding each other’s business. How could anyone hope to get away with murder in cloistered circumstance like this? Maybe 1953 wasn’t such a swell time to be making single way after all. Authority is ever watchful, bosses, police, especially police, chief of which is George Reeves, who puts wit into line readings, shades his character nicely, always a way with George, who I understand was pals with F. Lang and had the director over for barbecues at Benedict Canyon, a favor returned as Reeves turns up in The Blue Gardenia plus Rancho Notorious. There is a title theme to haunt us, sung onscreen by the King Cole quartet, a recording of which will later accompany Burr’s licking by a fire poker. Ads were properly lurid (“The Clinch-and-Kill Girl!), so of course a public was lured. The Blue Gardenia got $759K in domestic rentals, $591K foreign, so I’m guessing no one ended with empty pockets, being the picture looks to have been frugally made.

4 Comments:

Blogger Dave K said...

Good grouping in this post. Well, at least I think it is... I don't remember seeing THE BLUE GARDENIA, although it sounds like something right up my dingy alley. George Reeves was always a plus in less than totally sympathetic roles. For me personally, the biggest commonality between THE BLUE DAHLIA and BLOW OUT is they are both movies I enjoyed a lot until their unsatisfactory endings. Could just be me!

2:32 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

I remember Blue Gardenia being better than I expected. In fact, that's all I remember about it.

10:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

And all I remember about it is Nat King Cole and the title song.

7:18 PM  
Blogger Robert Fiore said...

I thought the gang enforcer with sore feet in The Blue Dahlia was one of the most Chandleresque things ever to get on film.

11:29 PM  

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