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Monday, February 12, 2024

Film Noir #27


Noir: Breakaway, Canicule aka Dog Day, Circle of Danger, Clash by Night, and Cloudburst

BREAKAWAY (1956) --- It’s another Tom “Duke” Martin thriller with Tom Conway! There were two, lensed in Britain, one US-released, Murder on Approval, while this one, Breakaway, I’m not for sure. Maybe RKO in waning days floated it to a handful of Yank cinemas. Someone more patient to do necessary research will enlighten us. Breakaway showed up in a “Forgotten Noir” DVD box, itself forgotten for coming out of VCI years back, but these  please where it’s small change intrigue one wants, or Conway toplining for a next to last time (The Last Man to Hang would follow, which based on Tom’s support cast, plus Terence Fisher directing, looks mighty interesting). Duke Martin as limned by Conway is described by online writers as a “suave, if a trifle elderly, private eye,” which troubles me (1) because Tom Conway was a sprightly fifty-one when he made Breakaway, and (2) I like to think I have much in common with suave, if elderly, private eyes, thus Tom Conway more an identification figure as I transition to “trifle” (plus) elder status. Duke detects as avocation rather than livelihood, involving himself in Breakaway’s mystery more for curiosity than quid a day plus expenses. For all narrative reveals, he never got paid for his troubles, as who invited Duke to horn in? Do real-life private dicks do pro bono work? Lawyers sometimes do, if seldom realizing so until their effort is spent, like J. Stewart as chump advocate in Anatomy of a Murder. Duke is on the trail of “a formula which may reduce metal fatigue,” which I had to look up, but still don’t really understand meaning of. Femme assist is Honor Blackman, nine years away from Pussy Galore, and hanged if I could reconcile the two. What culture shock must it have been for jobbing Brit players like Blackman to sludge along years in such disposables as Breakaway, then overnight find themselves catapulted to international stardom by the James Bond series? Such talent should have formed a support group to ruminate on how such an utterly mad thing could have happened to them, Blackman and Sean Connery to co-chair meetings.

CANICULE, aka DOG DAY (1984) --- I got vapors watching Lee Marvin dragged through this swampy French crime story, among final things he did and I’m guessing a job he regretted once plane touched down and he got a slant on what Euro hosts were planning. Lee was but sixty, seemed leagues older, or just plain spent. He was an action star now trapped doing action, a next after Canicule pairing him with Chuck Norris. I found no evidence of Canicule having a US release, but English-language prints were issued, alternate title Dog Day sounding like something Yanks would call a Lee Marvin vehicle. As “Jimmy Cobb,” he and confederates muff a bank job, Lee alone and hid in a barn way out from Paris where trouble started, cops and a rival gang in pursuit. Degenerate rurals stall a getaway, a brat kid making off with loot Marvin thought was hid. Canicule becomes more the farmers’ story than Lee's, patches of comedy leavened by violence to call up memory of Herschell Gordon Lewis, not a felicitous mate to Marvin. Frankly never heard of Canicule or Dog Day before Kino made their Blu-Ray available, but on proposition anything with Lee Marvin has to be worth watching once at least, I bought in. Not sorry for the ride, as you can’t call this boring, outrages and unexpected frequent nudity enough to renew conviction that there’s nobody like the French to upend expectations. Never saleable as an art film for being so frankly disgusting at times, this what saves bacon for those who’d not equate Lee with art in any event. Maybe he knew, or hoped, no one would ever see finished result, and until now, I’d guess few had. Canicule reminded me of those Mexican horrors Karloff did near the end where he had not notion of other and exploitative stuff they shot with intent of slotting same in with his work. Did Lee realize what sleaze he had let himself in for? And yet there is raw stuff that includes him, so we can’t let him off hooks altogether. Canicule is fine to sate grim curiosity, is even enjoyable on lowdown terms. Certainly R-worthy, had anyone bothered to rate it.

CIRCLE OF DANGER (1951) --- Don’t recall a shot fired or fist thrown in this subdued thriller, Brit-produced, where Ray Milland travels abroad to investigate a brother’s peculiar wartime death. Considerable interest comes of Jacques Tourneur directing, him never putting a foot wrong where in charge, especially when topic is noirish which this is despite cottage and country backdrop. Milland is for tracking members of a former Commando team whose return from a mission behind enemy lines saw but one casualty that is Ray’s sibling, each of the disbanded team with plenty to hide. War guilt and/or unresolved issues made basis for much melodrama to follow WWII, Circle of Danger among quieter ones, and the better for it, Milland older enough not to need or benefit from action spasms or tilt with femme fatales. Romance comes courtesy Patricia Roc, appealing in singular way this actress was, plus Marius Goring of Red Shoes background as possibly dangerous director of dance revues, an offbeat occupation for noir villains, if indeed he is one. There too is Naunton Wayne, formerly of comedy for Hitchcock and others, amusing if possibly sinister here. “Coronado Productions” was an independent spearheaded by David E. Rose. Cuts were made for a US release, though a Region Two DVD appears complete. Eagle-Lion promised Circle of Danger for US market as part of an “art” group to play specialty houses, “three to four years” a window promised before it and other titles would be offered to television, by mid-1951 on United Artists docket for stateside play-off. Reviews were mixed, “placid” among words bandied, though one reviewer saw merit in an ending “unconventional and a surprise,” which indeed it is, for I did not see same coming, this to further advantage for Circle of Danger, which while undeniably obscure, has much to please, and toward closure of noir watch lists, should prove a worthwhile detour.

CLASH BY NIGHT (1952) --- Melodrama for me seems “overheated” where same arguments are aired repeatedly, point made by each but beaten silly and exhausting by a welcome end. Not saying Clash by Night falls full in this category, but it tickles edges. There comes point in any third act where you’re ready to wrap things up and go home, more ongoing case nowadays than in a Classic Era where writing at least was more disciplined, as here it for most part is, but there is something wearing about a cuckold who takes forever getting wise, Paul Douglas ramping up voice volume till end point where all he does is shout at Barbara Stanwyck, who does her own reach in decibels, a trademark to go down smoother when male opponents stand there and take it, which Douglas and other male lead Robert Ryan distinctly do not. All this came indirectly of pen wielded by Clifford Odets, whose work we recognize for distinct P.O.V., but how much of Odets survived other cooks like Jerry Wald and Norman Krasna, producing for RKO release? They even copyrighted Clash by Night, so must have had ownership or at least large stake in the negative at one time. Howard Hughes gave them a rich deal and carte blanche for multiple features, and Clash by Night bears bold creative signatures. The Ryan character vocals a hate for women, which makes me wonder if Odets/whoever was letting off steam of his/their own. Stanwyck is black sheep come home to a fishing village she left in disgrace years before, soiled and thus shunned. Clash by Night has would-be adult content diluted by Code compliance, but intent is good and they take things at least far as any project could at the time. Marilyn Monroe is in for a better than small part, being one of stars over the title if not a lead. She’s as good here as would be case after she got more self-conscious and was grazed upon by acting coaches. Directing is Fritz Lang, this amidst work where he could find it, hobbled by reputation spread by players who couldn’t stand him, their number not topping ones who understood his genius and how it could help them. Clash by Night is out via Warner Archive on put-right Blu-Ray, always happy outcome for RKO’s that can use all of visual enhance they can get.

CLOUDBURST (1951) --- Another where we don’t want the killer caught but know for certain he must be. Cloudburst turns on irresistible premise that those who killed during the war will do so again given right provocation. They are trained and ready to even scores where conditions call for it, in this case Robert Preston as a resistance veteran tracking a criminal couple that did in his wife. Preston plays admirably subdued, a code breaker who’d not harm a fly but has deadly reflex to check conscience and do away with anyone who wrongs him. The war must surely have done this to many. How do you come home from wholesale killing without ever having impulse to do so again? Cloudburst puts sympathy with Preston --- we support his tracking quarry and having his revenge. Fact he does so satisfies, bringing him to justice less so. American release for Cloudburst in early 1952 saw little reward. Motion Picture Daily called it “a murky little importation from England … boxoffice output seems to be on the moderate side, which is on a par with its entertainment substance.” Variety spoke of Cloudburst in terms of “palatable celluloid,” fit at most for duallers, which was as much as distributing United Artists could expect from any of trades. They had taken over the title from Eagle-Lion, which folded its enterprise into UA, and we may assume promotion was perfunctory, as likely were receipts. Still, for Cloudburst explore of wartime fallout there is much to admire, its topic barely addressed by US filmmakers, though Act of Violence (1948) had certain parallels and was similarly rewarding. Cloudburst streams at present on Amazon Prime. There is also an On-Demand DVD from MGM/UA.


Blogger Kevin K. said...

I like how the Breakaway poster assures us that it's a "fine" quota production rather than one of those bloody quickies.

8:41 AM  
Blogger Ken said...

Nice to see your positive assessment of "Circle of Danger" and "Cloudburst", two favorites of mine. Considering that both were(and remain) highly absorbing films,I think the dismissive reactions of North American trade critics at the time may have been largely based on what they perceived as a cumulative lack of America market starpower (though Milland was certainly still considered a name in the early 50's)
I love your reference to Patricia Roc as "appealing in the singular way she was". Couldn't agree more. Have yet to see her in anything where she didn't live up to that neat description. A great beauty, she was also a fine actress and very pleasing personality. Loved the way she took her potentially bland good girl role in the British mega-hit "The Wicked Lady" and made it stand up nicely against the colorful shenanigans of Margaret Lockwood and James Mason. And she's absolutely superb in 1947's "The Brothers", one of the best films from British cinema's late 40's Golden Age.
Roc did make one foray into Hollywood, 1946's color western "Canyon Passage". It's a good picture but producer Walter Wanger trained the spotlight firmly on flashy Susan Hayward and left a somewhat deglamorized Roc little to do. Always wish that MGM had populated its lavish 1948 version of "The Three Musketeers" with an all Brit cast from Rank's Gainsborough team - Stewart Granger as D'Artagnan, Margaret Lockwood as Milady, James Mason as Athos and Patricia Roc as Constance (definitely an upgrade from the singularly miscast June Allyson). What a perfect Technicolor delight that would have been.

11:25 AM  
Blogger DBenson said...

On Honor Blackman and other Bond alumni, it should be remembered that some were Exciting New Discoveries only on this side of the pond. At home they ranked somewhat higher than jobbers; perhaps name draws in their own right. Blackman was a TV star on the pre-Rigg "Avengers", and Shirley Eaton was all over the place, often playing comedy, before "Goldfinger".

I remember Jill St. John in "Diamonds Are Forever" registering as a little strange, not for any deficit on her part but for being familiar. She was fairly high profile in TV and in movies. A similar reaction when the movies started booking bigger, more widely recognizable stars as villains. The English were used to Bond support being familiar faces; here to see somebody we knew was like spotting Bugs Bunny in a Disney picture.

At some point after that it became common for A-listers to rent their auras to big franchise films (as opposed to scraping up paychecks for a day or two on a cheapie).

5:11 PM  
Blogger MikeD said...

I just recently pulled out my old 'Goldfinger' paperback. The cover features a gold painted woman who I'm sure is not Shirley Eaton. Below the book title reads 'Now A Great Motion Picture' along with a headshot of Sean Connery and the words "Starring Sean Connery as James Bond and introducing Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore'. At the time I wouldn't have known any better.
YouTube must have picked up on my 50-60's Anglophilia and has been recommending older British movies like the ones you mentioned. Last night I watched 'PC49 The Case Of The Guardian Angel' from 1949, a tight little police tale from Hammer.

12:11 PM  

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