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Monday, March 06, 2023

Film Noir #21


Noir: Calcutta, Casino, and China Moon


CALCUTTA (1947) --- No more nice guy Alan Ladd slaps a murder confession out of dewy Gail Russell, shock to see such angelic visage abused, hers a face that couldn’t harm flies, a least believable of femme fatales. Noir was often for off-casting to keep kettles at  boil lest we get complacent as to who might do what. Ladd and pal William Bendix are fliers “over the hump” (dangerous mountain ranges) between China and wherever Calcutta lies on the map (I haven’t checked), all this done on terra firma that was Paramount’s lushly dressed backlot. Ladd movies were best dressed for him being payroll's MVP. Understood in vehicles was his not wanting to settle with any woman, strictly hit-and-run, poised always for next risk of limb in danger zones, a sort men dreamed to be and women to possess. I don’t think Ladd married onscreen until The Iron Mistress, and that didn’t sit so well for fans who liked him riding off solo at wind-ups, Shane classic application of this. He travels fastest who travels alone and all that. Calcutta has plenty noir, if on exotic ground, who one can trust the principal issue for Ladd or anyone who ends up dead for misplaced loyalty. Fix for that is putting faith in nobody, except maybe good girl having been around, June Duprez, whose booby prize Calcutta was for coming to Hollywood expecting to be a bigger star than back in England doing The Thief of Bagdad. She’d return chastened after Calcutta, but is good in it, as is Russell, always a fascination for tragic backstory we know of her. Writing and producer credit went to Seton I. Miller, who knew melodrama all over. Who did these well as him? Formula where truly understood isn’t really formula anymore. John Farrow directs, good news in Paramount credits, same for Victor Young with scoring. Atmosphere in Ladds I wouldn’t trade for anyone else’s effort. Let’s see Kino release them all, assuming rights and a lease can be finessed. For the meantime, Calcutta is here on Blu-Ray as part of a Kino noir box.



CASINO (1995) --- My family visited Las Vegas (briefly) in 1962. Seeing Casino, I’m surprised I got out alive. Few movies are more celebrated at You Tube than Casino. Fans don’t just watch … they worship. Videos compile all of killings contained in its three-hour run time. I confess to knowing them by heart, can visualize each in order. Director Martin Scorsese is scrupulous as to setting. A first long section of Casino tells reality of Vegas on such terms as I never knew; you could wish they’d scotch the narrative and let all of length be documentary. How many mobsters of gone days are left? Quite a few were around when Casino was made, many helping out as to authenticity, but that’s over twenty-five years ago, and from what I understand, gangsters don’t live terribly long. But look at Scorsese! He does Good Fellas, then this, and decades later, The Irishman. We should pass a rule that he only make crime films, limiting sure, but hog that is me wants more. Scorsese too is a treasure among historians, him participating in special edition DVD’s always welcome. Is there trace of Casino life left in Vegas? My impression is of a place more like Disney World, having seen footage of old hotels collapsed by wrecker crews, then replaced by modern-in-most-enervating sense. Gambling as a compulsion is shown, also cheaters and what becomes of them in back rooms. What if I had been mistaken for a crook at age eight and given choice between money and the hammer? I don’t remember being sorry when we drove away from Vegas, a place perhaps to awe too much. I like how performers play themselves as immersed in corrupt business of Casino. They were maybe proud for getting through the era with their skin. Was any entertainer beaten, killed, at least warned, for not playing Vegas when commanded? Frankie Avalon might know, for he’s in Casino as Frankie Avalon. Others who understood appear … Alan King, Don Rickles … oh to know their private thoughts at the time. Whatever his perfidies, I like “Ace Rothstein” as limned by Robert DeNiro and regret to see him pulled down so far in Casino’s second half. From the moment Sharon Stone enters the show, fun is over (not that she isn’t good as a bad influence). Casino streams everywhere, including sometimes on the inside of my eyelids.



CHINA MOON (1994) --- We got socked with “erotic thrillers” after Basic Instinct and Fatal Attraction made respective marks. There were enough in fact to rattle brains. One called Fatal Instinct, meant to be a spoof, had been preceded by another with the same title a year before, and soon such were stacked high as pyramids. Best after a while to take them all for comedy, each cork-screwier than the last. This has Ed Harris as helpless snare in temptress trap baited by Madeleine Stowe, who surely felt life doing movies should not come to this. Harris can't help being good, but here was tall tree to climb, trouble being so many others had scooted up before. Do beautiful women invariably end up with louse husbands? Orion Pictures made China Moon in 1990-91, went bust, filed for bankrupt, did not release outcome until 1994. Should I ever meet Ed Harris, I must ask him (and Ms. Stowe) if they got paid for China Moon … bet such query would unleash tirade of bad recall. Not to knock result, China Moon going by numbers we can enjoy if not respect, proof that bad noir may yet get by. Stowe must jump naked in a lake at one point, which event common to E.T.’s (erotic thrillers) always makes me wonder (1) how cold is water, (2) how muddy, and (3) are there bad fish waiting? Harris and Stowe perform initial passion under and above surface, interlude one could wish for the Creature and Julie Adams, had 1954 been so progressive. Like many of its kind, China Moon gets snaky enough in a third act to make it seem we slept through vital info imparted earlier, but no, it is but reminder that life is random and so especially is generic noir. Give in to that and China Moon will please.

3 Comments:

Blogger Kevin K. said...

You won't find Calcutta on any map today, since it was changed to Kolkata in 2001. Calcutta, Persia, Constantinople... all those "romantic" names popularized in movies, gone the way of the double feature.

Maybe it's time for me to rewatch Casino. I remember it being too long, with incessant narration and pop music in place of story.

10:16 AM  
Blogger Ken said...

I'm right there with you onboard that Alan Ladd adventure movie train. That string of action and intrigue vehicles he turned out in the 40's and 50's never gets old for me. My special favorite is "Thunder in the East", released in '53. It's got all the right ingredients, done to a golden turn. The setting's India at the end of the British occupation. Ladd's in terrific form and the Paramount production values, helped by sensational matte work, allow you to revel in the atmosphere of pulp fiction exotica. There's tension galore - but also interesting ideas discussed. Charles Boyer impresses as an idealistic government official; Corinne Calvet has never been so perfectly Corinne Calvet (playing - as so many foreign beauties did in those days - an interestingly shady lady stranded without a passport). Ladd also gets a pretty illustrious female co-star, Deborah Kerr. And - to her credit - she's fully invested. For my money this performance easily beats the Oscar nominated one she gave that same year for "From Here to Eternity". And the whole film roars to a close with a gutsy fade-out that's stayed with me all my life.

10:53 AM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

'Casino" is that rare gangster movie that revels in its use of color; its pallette is also most appropriate to its subject, the gaudy and bright Las Vegas of the 1970s.
It is a very colorful and bright-looking example of film noir.
I also remember that it didn't try to be too profound, which I found refreshing in a crime movie.

5:42 PM  

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