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Monday, November 21, 2022

Film Noir #16

 


Noir: Bob Le Flambeur, Bodyguard, and Body Heat


BOB LE FLAMBEUR (1956) --- European films are not like American films. We shouldn’t want them to be like American films. One thing you’ll not say about Euro is that they are predictable. I’ve yet to figure out one in advance, this where appeal largely lies. Ever wonder why art houses clicked in the 50/60’s? (besides saucy content of imports) I contend it was for playing by differing narrative rules … in fact no rules much of time. Bob Le Flambeur means Bob the Gambler in English. Writing director Jean-Pierre Melville, this his first helming credit, was a disciple of Yank crime stories, having a go for this instance at The Asphalt Jungle, John Huston’s film that impressed the Frenchman mightily. Whereas Huston cleared his Jungle precise, Melville takes time to know characters, the casino robbery a near-afterthought to planning, double deals from nearly a start, low-lives in/out of clubs and gamble dens the real location deal. Melville, like many of Euro origin, liked build-up more than pay-offs, and for seeing enough of his, so can we. Lifestyle of these French are a thing often to envy. They relax whether chips are up or down, pace never hectic even where commission of crimes are mere moment ahead. “Bob” of the title is so likeable that we want his scheme to work, and where it won’t, let bygones be so, and leave Bob to comparative leisure we might all be better enjoying. A copper friend in fact lets him know the botched heist will have little personal fallout, five years, more likely three, to which Bob speculates it is he who will collect damages for inconvenience. If only noir in the US could have wrapped this way, at least now and again. Bob Le Flambeur was released in 1956, has nudity, rough language (at least via subtitles), and is adult as audiences could hope for in still-shackled time. A flavorful music score, inflected with much mood and jazz, is a big plus. Being a quick convert to Melville once I discovered him, now it’s hawk eye out for any of his released stateside, Bob Le Flambeur available from Kino on Blu-Ray.



BODYGUARD (1948) --- Richard Fleischer wrote a fine memoir in 1993 where he gave directing account at RKO from 40’s forward, a walk upon tightropes to make anyone re-think such a career for themselves, however much we might aspire to film-make. RKO was in many ways a lowly address, at least that corner where Fleischer worked, him assigned to the Sid Rogell B unit, Sid a harshest of taskmasters who for whatever reason treated newcomer Fleischer more-less like a human being. Bodyguard was among cheapies met by the tyro director along his learning curve. Even at bargain negative cost of $274K, Bodyguard still lost money. Fleischer doesn’t discuss it specifically in his book. No one seems to have pretended since that Bodyguard is much good, being noir in threadbare sense, and not to be whispered along lines of Out of the Past or later things Fleischer did on spread wings (The Narrow Margin, Trapped, Armored Car Robbery). Bodyguard is titular Lawrence Tierney ported back and forth between drab sets, except when he takes to streets and RKO warehouses standing in for warehouses villainy can hide in. Tierney was a short fuse that everyone seems to have feared, playing tough guys and being offscreen tougher than fictional creations. Priscilla Lane, late of Warner galley, would have figured this impasse good as any to quit acting and try something else (retired east, hosting old movies on TV her closest point of re-entry to the biz). Bodyguard is evidence of it not being enough to identify, or be identified, as noir. Something of interest must go on, even where 62 minutes is extent of length and you think surely anything can sustain that long, especially where it’s RKO and L. Tierney leads. None such luck. Warner Archive offers a disc.



BODY HEAT (1981) --- Body Heat is now older than Double Indemnity was when I saw the newer noir in 1981. Notion then was that Body Heat put Indemnity and oldies like it in the shade, for this was noir souped-up with nudity and coarse talk to reflect what really went on between illicit couples committed to kill off an unwanted husband or wife. Writer/director Lawrence Kasdan was set upon revive of genres to which he gave lavish 80’s spin, as note also Silverado, as splashy a big sky western as modern times would yield. Kasdan had a wand and waved it for maybe ten years before somehow it was taken from him. For making old tropes fresh again, he was the new decade's Bogdanovich, fated to end much the same. So how does Body Heat play forty years later? I’m stumped as to what we’re supposed to call such 80's twist. Neo, crypto, mere copycats? Were they meant to finally get film noir right, now that it could be done explicitly, minus mealy-mouthing earlier imposed? In many ways, Body Heat seems the better mousetrap, smart dialogue refreshing to hear again after so long, but with Body Heat at age 40+ and Double Indemnity pushing 80, which will catch current mice better? I mention the two in tandem because both derive from infamous 20’s incident where an adulterous pair offed the woman’s husband, the Snyder/Gray case a blueprint for much noir to come (this was where the snap-happy reporter captured Ruth Gray in mid-convulsion as she was electrocuted). Body Heat updates to extent of the woman as ultimate black widow (Kathleen Turner), undetectable, unstoppable … she’ll rig the crime and get clean away with it, the hapless man (William Hurt) left to hang, a design for killing and subsequent betrayal woven into seemingly all noirs to follow, as if Code of yesteryear were merely succeeded by a more rigid Code to modernly prevail. May we give Hitchcock and Vertigo credit for some of this? Body Heat lets K. Turner have her island paradise to reward murderous effort, for isn’t dire finish what all us men have coming? Such would seem the philosophy now. Days of Bogie/Bogey turning over Mary Astor to a punishing authority is over indeed, and I don’t expect it to come back.

1 Comments:

Blogger Tbone Mankini said...

Saw BOB.... a few years ago, quite by accident, on one of those streaming platforms that come and go, with a variety of names.... as I'd missed the first couple of minutes, I hadn't realised what I was watching but was almost immediately entranced by the European pace, juxtaposed with all the noir attitude beloved by all the "autuers" who followed in Melville's wake..... it was only when it finished and the title came up that it dawned on me that I'd seen a film I'd read about for years that I thought I'd never see.... which probably says more about our accessible age than anything else....

6:20 PM  

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