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.”

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