Saturday, November 19, 2016

THE DARK CORNER (1946)


It is hard to find flaws in this quintessential film-noir directed by Henry Hathaway. He puts the noir in film-noir. The cinematography by Joseph MacDonald is text book example and what you expect from this genre of film. A clever example is when we see both William Bendix, in a white suit, juxtaposed to Mark Stevens, dark in silhouette in an adjoining room, as if in a split screen or a positive, negative effect. It also suggests that men who wear white are not necessarily the good guys. Cyril Mockridge’s opening theme may sound familiar. "Manhattan Melody" was used for many New York films of the Forties. Hats off to the sometimes witty and sharp, cutting dialogue by screenwriters Schoenfeld and Dratler, based on a story in “Good Housekeeping” by Leo Rosten.

Mark Stevens is a falsely accused ex-con trying to run a legitimate private investigator business. His character is on edge most of the film, disgruntled by an undeserved prison term. It is easy to figure Stevens’ career potential. Handsome, tough when he needs to be and he delivers a strong performance here. He was on everyone’s radar during this period. Though not quite making the A list, he was an actor to watch. Somewhat the male equivalent of his female co-star, Lucille Ball. So it is a good pairing. She is his newly hired secretary and best ally. They hit it off right from the start. Some are surprised at Ball in these kind of roles. Pretty, witty and intelligent. Still, she got lost at Twentieth Century Fox during this period competing with similar actresses with not enough uniqueness to draw attention. The new medium of television is just around another corner where she will completely obliterate these kind of roles and never look back.


Stevens is being tailed by WIlliam Bendix. After a brutal confrontation, Bendix falsely confesses he is working for Kurt Krueger, Stevens’ former partner and corrupt lawyer who set him up for prison. Stevens, with Ball’s help, dive in to undercover what appears to be Krueger setting up Stevens for another fall. But Bendix is in cahoots with Clifton Webb, a wealthy art-gallery owner. Webb knows his young wife prefers the younger Krueger and his possessive nature will not let him share any of his valuable works of art.

Webb suggests Bendix pay Stevens an unannounced visit at his office and also talks Krueger into seeing Stevens the same night. After a brief struggle, Stevens is succumbed by ether. Bendix then murders the next person expected through the door, Krueger. The frame is set for the unconscious Stevens. With Krueger out of the way, rather than pay Bendix off, Webb dispenses him for his screen finale. It would appear Webb has tied up all the loose ends. Stevens starts putting two and three together and confronts Webb at his gallery. The arrogant Webb is in for a big surprise.


The film ends on a lighter note. While Stevens is being cleared of any wrong doing at the gallery, two Brooklyn cops stand around contemplating a Donatello statue. Not a word from either for quite awhile until the first officer wonders, “Imagine anyone in their right mind ever buying a piece of junk like that?” His partner, lacking any sophistication replies in a gravel voice, “Shoeuh they do. That is ahht.”

Saturday, November 5, 2016

COUNTERPLOT (1959)


Forrest Tucker and Allison Hayes together at last! A stale tale of murder, a conniving  lawyer and an expressionless boy in one sleepy location, Puerto Rico. The United Artists film is, literally, a real sleeper with opening music by Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter that has all the sentimentalism deserving this movie. Jackie Wayne plays the young errand boy looking out for Tucker who is in hiding for an assumed murder. Judging by the dark makeup, Wayne is supposed to be a native San Juanian. He seems to worship Tucker and he likes their “just guys” arrangement. No icky women around. Tucker frequently scolds him for not doing what he is told, however.


Nightclub singer and icky woman, Hayes, has a past with Tucker and Wayne thinks she is the reason for Tucker’s trouble. Upon her arrival, she and Wayne spot each other but he does not acknowledge her at first. His lie about Tucker’s whereabouts are not convincing. Hayes is soon addressed by another familiar face, corrupt lawyer, Gerald Milton, the San Juan Shyster. The burly actor with his clear, commanding voice never uses contractions when speaking. It reminds me of one who commands people to do their bidding. A delivery that is two-thirds sultan and one-third Tonto. Even though Hayes says she is back to perform at her former gig, he suspects she is in town to find Tucker. Their cat and mouse conversation reveals more about Milton than the location of Tucker.

Milton comes to Tucker’s legitimate aid, however, keeping his hiding place secret from the adhesive-moustached Richard Verney, business partner of the man murdered. With a tempting offer to represent him legally, Milton gets Verney to spill his guts about who actually committed the murder. All the while being secretly recorded by Milton. Tucker had decked Verney’s partner during insults and feared his fall to the floor accidentally killed him. Tucker fled. Watching from another room, Verney finished off his partner to inherit the Acme insurance policy (no kidding) against his death. He is killed with a most gentle, choreographed head pounding against the floor which actually looked like he was trying to wake him. Wake up little buddy! Clearly irritated with most anyone, Verney delivers his lines with a tight lipped, disgruntled delivery of his best bad guy impression. His tenor voice sounds amateurish as many of his lines trail off to a whining end.

Milton’s assistant and legman, Miguel Angel Alvarez, double crosses him and tells Verney where Tucker is hiding. Milton struggles to get control of the Alvarez’s gun. When The Shyster bends over to retrieve it, he gets a letter opener in the back. Milton is able to get two shots off with a final, “You interfered. I make payment.” Him plenty dead. Meanwhile, to prevent Tucker’s death by Verney’s gun, the boy shoots him in the arm with Tucker’s gun. Tucker later tells the boy that today he has become a man. He finally shot someone. He pours a “shot” of whisky for each of them and teases him to take the drink. The boy is confused, hesitant and quickly puts down the drink in embarrassment. Tucker laughs at him. We do not know what happens with the boy after Tucker and the icky woman get back together. But that laugh will probably have a lasting effect.

One funny editing note. As Hayes finishes her song, accepting applause, the camera cuts to Tucker’s face then back to Hayes who is now in a completely different dress. Therein lies the popularity of her club act. The ability to change clothes so fast no one can see her do it. David Copperfield would be incredulous!