Saturday, April 25, 2020

Scarlet Street (1945)

This is my very belated entry to the 2020 Literature on Film blogathon, hosted by Paul Batters of Silver Screen Classics on April 3, 4 and 5. Yes, I know, I cheated a bit. So there.

Of Human Bondage
“Every painting, if it's any good, is a love affair.” Christopher Cross
Scarlet Street was a remake of the French movie La Chienne, appropriately translated into English as The Bitch. What may have worked in France in 1931 didn’t fly in Hollywood in 1945 with Breen and his sanitation crew. Those boys liked to take bucketloads of strong disinfectant to morally suspect stories and proceedings.
So director Fritz Lang decided to take a more discreet approach, but not by much.

Scarlet Street was directed by Lang, together with its companion piece The Woman in the Window a year prior. That picture had been a big success, so Lang decided to get the band back together and give it another try. Lang always had problems fitting into the studio system that, he reasoned, stifled his creative impulses and mandated too many script changes, most notably in the aforementioned The Woman in the Window. Lang disliked the studio-imposed ending of the film which was Noir all the way through until the end when it pulled the rug out from under the audience and got a deadly case of the cutes. To circumvent studio interference he formed his own production company, Diana Productions (together with Joan Bennett and her husband Walter Wanger) to make Scarlet Street. While The Woman in the Window is constructed as a dream and presents a world of fantasy, Scarlet Street turns the nightmare into reality. The picture is a bleak masterpiece right to the closing frame, with a pitch black ending that doesn’t take the easy way out.

In the darkest - aka best - Noirs, the impossibility of hope is a central tenet. Scarlet Street is unsparingly desolate. Hope is not even an option, despair is the only constant. The movie is a study of lust, larceny, obsession, guilt, revenge and damnation without redemption. 

Lowly bank clerk, henpecked husband and amateur painter Christopher “Chris” Cross (Edward G. Robinson) - obvious metaphor is obvious - is leading a life of soul-destroying monotony. Like a prisoner serving his time, he’s worked in his dead-end job as a cashier at the same bank for 25 years. Into the bad bargain, he’s trapped in a marriage so frigid Siberian winters would feel balmy compared to it. He’s nearing a midlife crisis, and not just any old midlife crisis. The mother of all of them.

Already facing a jury
One evening - after a celebratory dinner in his honor for his servitude - on his way home he takes a detour through Greenwich Village and happens upon Kitty March (Joan Bennett) who’s being beaten up by her lover/pimp Johnny Prince (Dan Duryea). Chris comes to her aid. No good deed goes unpunished. Very quickly he falls under her spell and soon sets her up in style in a swanky apartment. Kitty though is an expensive hobby. Chris starts to lavish money on Kitty that he doesn’t have though can always procure through embezzlement, first from his wife then from his company. Chris descends deeper and deeper into a web of lies, deceit, obsession and finally murder. And we all know, once you’re caught in that whirlpool there’s no escape.

Scarlet Street is about dreams. Chris’s coworker Pringle tells him: 
“When we are young we have dreams that never pan out, but we go on dreaming.”
This quote is the entire film in a nutshell. Dreams that turn to sawdust, dreams that never had a chance, dreams that are ruined by messy human failings.

Chris is the born loser, the biggest sucker in town. He’s the perfect "nice guy" which translates in Noir into being the perfect pawn in other people's games. After 25 years at the same company, he’s still just the cashier. All he has to show for is a gold watch, and not much else. The celebratory dinner in his honor is not only the high point of his career, but the high point of his life. For once he is the center of attention. It’s just that Chris doesn’t quite realize that he’s being congratulated on a lifetime of insignificance. 

Chris is Thoreau’s man who leads a life of quiet desperation. The powers that be handed him down a life sentence of unending joylessness, never-fulfilled yearnings and crushing regrets. He married his harridan of a wife Adele because he was literally dying of loneliness. Adele has completely emasculated her husband. Still carrying a torch for her saintly first husband who supposedly died in the line of duty, she has an oversized painting of the fallen hero hanging in the living room, displacing poor Chris in his own home and showing him his place. Besides, she needs someone to do the dishes. Which Chris does, in a flowery apron! He’s not a husband, he’s a housekeeper.

Lazy Legs
There are a few semi-comic interludes in the film, which led some viewers to mistake this for a black comedy. One example is when Adele’s first husband reappears. Unbeknownst to Adele, the dearly departed never really departed. He’ll turn out to be a thief who faked his own death. Yet even the “comic relief” in this film is infused with bitter irony. Hubby was on the run - not only from the law but also from her.

Undesired his entire life, not only does Chris not have friends. He never had a lover either. “I never saw a woman naked”, must be one of the saddest confessions ever. He’s the guy who’d always lose the girl even if the competition is Larry, Curly and Moe. Chris sees his aging boss drive into the night with his young and gorgeous mistress. It hammers home the importance of money, status and power and his own impotence in such matters. Chris is ready to lose his soul for an illusion of love. 

Chris’s desire for an affair is not at all born out of simple lust, a sense of gratification, a need adventure or simply boredom, as was the case in The Woman in the Window. Prof. Wanley had a comfortable yet dull existence. Chris’s life is hell on earth. His need is born out of sheer desperation. For this simple need he will have to suffer the torment of the damned. Lang paints a terrifying picture. A horrific destiny can befall anybody regardless of good character or inherent worthiness, and in Noir the vagaries of fate always like to kick the runt of the litter.

Life is nothing but a cruel arbitrary game of Russian Roulette. There is no benevolent higher power to intervene. Fate does not show mercy and compassion to people who need it most. It would simply answer the anguished question of “why me?” with a flippant “why not you?”.

Punishing transgressions is a prominent theme in Noir. I have no problem with this, after all Justice should be blind. She is, even in Noir, but not because she’s impartial and fair-minded. It’s just that she doesn’t care and impassively looks the other way.

The allure of the see-through raincoat 
After the celebration Chris decides for the first time to stray out of his comfort zone. He decides to go home by a different route and turns a corner -  literally and figuratively - into a fantasy West Village (back then a crummy neighborhood) which has exactly the right air of decay about it. What starts as a casual nighttime stroll that should take Chris only a few blocks out of his way leads him directly into a labyrinth without exit. It’s another important theme in Noir. A single misstep, a wrong turn off the beaten path, precipitates disaster. 

The city in Noir is always a dark, dangerous and corrupt place, virtually synonymous with wickedness and promiscuity. It casts its net to draw the innocent into dark alleyways, cul-de-sacs and blind alleys. And no maps are being sold here. You’re on your own.

Scarlet Street, as so many other 40s Noirs, was shot entirely on the sound stage. This artificiality may lack authenticity, but it doesn’t matter at all. Terrence Rafferty writes in his NYTimes article Noir and the City: Dark, Dangerous, Corrupt and Sexy: “What the studio-bound Noirs sacrifice in authenticity, they make up in a heightened claustrophobia.” The characters in these films exist in a confined, closed-in world.

Foster Hirsch calls it the fabricated city in his book The Dark Side of the Screen. These studio-created cities deliberately lacked the fullness and density of the real world. As in any good Noir (indeed any good movie) there is a co-relation between environment and crucial elements of the film. Shown usually at night, the studio city is a rain-slicked netherworld, eerily deserted, full of shadows and menace, providing the perfect backdrop for stories of entrapment, loneliness and isolation. They could be straight out of an Edward Hopper painting. These cities have no connection to the real world and their maze-like sets have no visible exit, thus making the protagonist and the viewer feel boxed in. The sound stage city is a microcosmos that contains actions and emotions to a confined setting offering no escape from danger. In Scarlet Street cinematographer Milton Krasner’s Expressionistic lighting hems in the characters with walls of shadows.

Painting is the only thing that brings Chris joy. Art is his escape mechanism, his creative and emotional outlet. His childlike view of the world becomes more than evident in his two-dimensional paintings which can be filed appropriately under “naive art”. As he says, his depictions on canvas emanate from pure feeling. “No one ever taught me how to draw, so I just put a line around what I feel when I look at things”. What makes Chris’s art brilliant is the same thing that makes him a born sucker. He sees what isn’t there. 

Lang comes precariously close to belaboring the point that Chris has “a little trouble with perspective”. A painting without perspective lacks depth, and Chris lacks the depth of character to see the truth about Kitty. He’s not the only one though. No character in this movie has any insight. Kitty and Johnny certainly don’t have any, they’re just working angles. The only one who isn’t lacking perspective is the director who shows us every facet of a perverted power game.

At home Chris is forced to paint in the tiny bathroom because it’s the only place his wife allows. She doesn’t want his amateurish doodlings to clutter up the house. So he moves them to the apartment he’s renting for Kitty. Both Kitty and Johnny think Sunday painter Chris is a rich and successful artist whose paintings go for $50,000 a pop, a notion Chris never bothers to correct. It sounds better than “I’m a cashier”. They have dollar signs in their eyes and see their chance for a big payday. As if a free pad weren’t enough, Kitty starts passing his paintings off as her own. With dizzying success. She becomes a sensation.

That girl is not only gold-digging, she’s strip-mining. So unselfish and servile is Chris that he’s glad for her. Love - or lust - is a mind-altering narcotic. He agrees to keep doing the paintings and having Kitty sign them. He even compares it to them getting married but with him taking her name! By stealing his art they essentially steal his soul. 

Chris only wants one thing, that she allow him to paint her portrait. Her sarcastic answer? “Sure, and you can start right now,” as she hands him a bottle of nail polish so he can paint her toenails. “They’ll be masterpieces”.

If many Noir protagonists exist in moral limbo between good and evil, this can’t be said about Kitty and her swain Johnny. Kitty is Joan at her flooziest best. Alluring and mysterious, she wears some fabulous clothes. She may look like a classy dame, but the veneer is thin at best. Her affections are negotiable, for adequate renumeration. Everything about her is the promise of sex. Her tight-fitting dresses, her strappy sandals, the way she lounges languorously on the sofa. She slinks more than she moves. To Chris she passes herself off as a struggling and lonely actress who’s just looking for a break. Nothing is easier than taking advantage of Chris’s quixotic and completely misplaced notions of chivalry. Poor little Kitty is just soooo helpless. A damsel in distress whose plight can make the angels weep. 
“I can’t afford to pay my rent. Oh forget it. I shouldn’t have told you….I couldn’t take anything from you…no, no I couldn’t! I’ve never taken money from a man and I’m not going to now.” 
Good grief, if he buys that line, he must be out of his mind. Sob stories, no tramp can do without them.

So pure of heart is Chris that he really believes all the lies Kitty tells no matter how obviously thick she lays it on. When he first meets Kitty, he doesn’t bother to ask what a nice girl like her was doing in a dubious part of town like this, and why she would then go to have a drink with him in a grubby basement dive. There’s never been an easier mark for a con. Virtue has always been an irresistible temptation to every crook. 

Kitty doesn’t really have to do anything to get money out of Chris, just dangle the promise of sex in front of him. She doesn’t even need to deliver on that promise. It’s interesting to note that again his relationship to Kitty will remain unconsummated. His love and the affair is really just a sad, lonely man’s delusion. No sugar daddy ever got himself such a lousy quid pro quo deal. In Noir everyone is out for himself but the cruelest punishment is reserved for the trusting.

They'll be masterpieces
There is a casual cruelty about Kitty. She doesn’t for one second consider the feelings of Chris. All her thoughts are focused on her lover Johnny. Johnny for his part keeps his girl Kitty on a short leash through threats and slaps that she can’t seem to get enough of. She loves him despite the abuse. Scratch that, because of it. She just comes back for more. Love’s a battle field. She despises Chris for the single reason that he’s nice to her. 
“If he were mean or vicious or if he’d bawl me out or something, I’d like him better.”
Johnny holds Kitty in a sexual thrall. “I don’t know why I’m so crazy about you,” she says. He replies with a smirk “Oh, yes, you do.” 

To top it all off, Kitty is a vulgar slob, a trait she carefully hides from Chris as he sees her as a helpless innocent. She isn’t improving the dumpy digs she lives in by letting dirty dishes pile up in the sink and spitting grape seeds around the place. Classy. But wait, there’s more! Saying she’s bone-idle is an understatement. Aptly nicknamed Lazy Legs by Johnny, she’s tried modeling for a living but really, getting to work on time is just such a drag.

Kitty’s girlfriend Millie has Johnny pegged alright. He’s pimping his girl out. “He’s turned you into a tramp”, Millie says. In the opening scene Johnny slaps Kitty around and shakes her down for money.
Johnny urges Kitty to use her “charms” to milk unsuspecting cash cows and it’s clear that means more for Kitty than flashing her suitors nothing but a coy little smile.

She doesn’t have too many compunctions about earning her money on her back. She knows how to use what she’s got to get a lot more. Her reluctance is purely perfunctory and the floozy’s feint at good-girl morality doesn’t fly with Johnny:  “You’ve been kissed before”, he smirks. Kitty doesn’t demur. It’s comforting for a girl to know that she couldn’t possibly sink any lower.

As mentioned before, the femme fatale is never a working woman, well, honest work that is. Kitty may want more out of life than a filthy fifth floor walk-up, but her indolence and her allergy against hard work prevent her from getting off the couch.
She is the type who would always choose the path of the least resistance. Scamming people is as far as her ambition and her imagination stretches.

We get an interesting twist on the femme fatale here. If Kitty is a manipulative tramp she in turn gets manipulated by her boyfriend. For him she’s just a meal ticket. Kitty wields the femme fatale’s favorite weapon - in fact her only weapon - sex. But so does Johnny. For him their relationship works on the grounds of basic economics. No money, no honey, baby.

The floozy and her pimp. Two cheap chiselers, devoid of humanity. A match made in hell.

Lending further amoral support to this already nefarious tale is Duryea, Noir’s favorite slap-happy heel. This picture wouldn’t be what it is without his patented oozing-slime-from-every-pore oiliness. Regular readers of my blog, all five of them, will know that I’m a fan of Duryea. (For more about him hop over to my review of Black Angel.) There was just something fabulously untrustworthy about this scheming arch-louse. A smooth operator with an itchy backhand, Dan knocked ‘em and socked ‘em, and never has he run more true to type than here. 
Johnny is a hustler who’s always on the prowl for some dodgy deal or other. A small-time crook out for a really big score. Well, at least he has aspirations. His suits are as loud as his mouth and his cheesy line of patter would make a used car salesman proud. He’s the guy who’d tell you cheerfully he’s in import/export, would you care to ask. One look at him should tell you you can trust this guy as far as you can throw a piano.

His approach to the law is relaxed. He likes to supplement his non-existent income with blackmail and extortion. “It's only blackmail when you're dumb enough to get caught.” It’s hard to argue with that rationale. And let’s not forget his little sideline as a pimp. Never has a man worked his fingers to the bone less for his hard-chiseled money.
And exactly like his ladylove he’s too greedy and ambitious for the daily grind but too weak and lazy to put in the hours. 

If art is like a love affair for Chris, for Johnny and Kitty art means cold hard cash. Art for art’s sake vs. art as commodity. It is interesting to note how readily everybody accepts the lie that Kitty is the painter. It is a clever commentary on art and image, reality and perception, avarice and artistry; incredibly modern and timely in times of Instagram where the most worthless things are effortlessly marketed with a pretty face behind it. Sex sells. It always did. It’s just natural that the beautiful paintings were done by a beautiful woman like Kitty, not a meek and mousy Joe Schmo who is nobody’s idea of a brilliant painter. There’s no doubt to Chris, had he gone to the art gallery with his pictures under his arm, he would have received a contemptuous reception. He knows he’s a failure. With Kitty’s name on it they’re not two-dimensional doodlings, they’re avangarde masterpieces. Painter and painting are the whole package. Kitty has just enough smarts to internalize Chris’s reflections on art and parrot them to the art critics. Art and commerce make the strangest bed fellows, like trollops and pimps.

One day though Kitty finally goes too far. She spits out her contempt for Chris, that he is no man, that he wouldn’t have the guts to kill anybody. 
“How can a man be so dumb? I’ve been waiting to laugh in your face ever since I met you. You're old and ugly and I'm sick of you. sick, sick, sick!”
...she says to a man with an icepick in his hand. How many shades of stupid is that? Everybody has his breaking point. Chris stabs Kitty to death with said icepick in an unexpected eruption of brutal violence. 

We could say now we didn’t see this coming, Chris being such a meek and submissive man. But the violence was clearly foreshadowed. Chris, at home in his frilly apron, was chopping liver for dinner. His wife cruelly mocks him and he, for the first time ever, menacingly comes towards her with the knife in his hand. Discontent and violence were always lurking in the hidden recesses of his mind.

If Lang had let everybody off the hook for their crimes the year before in The Woman in the Window, this time he puts the knife in and twists it slowly. Isn’t it wonderful when Noir leaves you with a warm and fuzzy feeling in the end? Scarlet Street leaves no doubt that Lang had a thorough understanding of the term scorched earth policy.

The police have enough circumstantial evidence to charge Johnny with Kitty’s murder. Chris doesn’t disabuse them of their notion and Easy Street turns into rough road for Johnny. He's sent to the electric chair and Chris goes free. Many viewers were wondering how the PCA could let an ending like this pass. It’s really quite easy.
Every sin carries in itself its own burden of punishment. Lang, raised Catholic, knew this. And so did Joe Breen, also Catholic. It may not be conventional justice, but Lang gives his protagonist plenty of rope to hang himself with.

A reporter covering Johnny’s execution is the one who awakens Chris’s conscience, with a slightly bromidic homily no doubt put in to appease he-who-shall-not-be-named.
"Nobody ever gets away with murder…no-one escapes punishment…The problem just moves right in here (pointing to his heart) where it can never get out…so you go right on punishing yourself. You can’t get away with it. Never…I’d rather have the judge give me the works than do it to myself.”
Chris has to find out that hell is not a location. Hell is a state of mind. Slowly the ghosts of his victims begin to haunt him. He starts hearing the gloating voices of Kitty and Johnny, their clandestine whispers and their laughter.
”Johnny darling….I’m here baby… Come here, Lazy Legs!…Jeepers, I love you Johnny!… He brought us together, Johnny, forever…See Chris, she loves me…She’s mine, Chris, forever.”
They are still alive to Chris, there in his head, their taunts forever echoing in his mind.

Chris is condemned to wonder the streets of New York for years, like the undead, driven by unrelenting Furies, lost in lunacy. The formerly respected citizen becomes a wretched broken man, sleeping in flop houses and on park benches. He not only loses his mind, but his identity. Chris is forever damned to solitary confinement in the most confining prison cell of all, the darkness of his own mind, in a purgatory of madness and self-flagellation. It’s lonely at the bottom. 
Several times Chris tries to confess his crimes to the cops just to make the voices stop, only to be laughed at. Getting away with murder is the worst punishment of them all.

It’s a question though what is tormenting him exactly. Is it his guilt over killing his victims or is it that he can’t eradicate their voices and thus can’t eradicate their memory? Is it forgiveness for his crimes he wants or just forgetfulness? We never get an answer.

As a director Lang has occasionally been accused of being sadistic and complicit in the tragedies that he bestowed on his protagonists. Chris’s fate could certainly bear out that notion. His punishment is overkill. While it’s true that Lang didn’t flinch from showing the almost unwatchable and this film is very downbeat and depressing, it is not cynical or misanthropic.
Lang does not turn Chris into an object of ridicule, we only pity him. His degradation is never played for laughs and Lang treats him with a compassion that none of the characters allow him.

The final humiliation for Chris is seeing his portrait of Kitty being sold for $10,000 as an important artwork. “Her masterpiece” the gallery owner calls it, not knowing that the dead woman was a cheap little tramp whose interest in painting didn’t extend further than her toenails.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Raw Deal (1948)

None Shall Escape
“I want to breathe. That’s why I want out of this place. So I can take a deep breath again.” Joe Sullivan
Anthony Mann’s reputation today is primarily based on his Westerns of the 1950s. Yet before Mann reinvented the Western as a psychological landscape as much as a physical one, he honed his skill and dark vision on Poverty Row, stamping his mark on the Noir universe and directing little cheapo gems that rose way above their B-movie limitations thanks to the brilliance of their director and a wizard of a DP.

When Mann left Dark City to light out for the territories he took his Noir sensibilities with him and brought a hard-edged realism to the genre, steering it into bitter and neurotic territory. All his Westerns are essentially Noir on the Range and he created in Jimmy Stewart a Western protagonist who was not only morally ambiguous but near-psychotic, just one step away from being an out and out villain. The psychologically troubled Mann “hero” is always in danger of becoming what he already closely resembles, the Mann villain. This very interesting polarity has its roots in Mann's Noir of the 40s.

John Alton, master of bargain basement brilliance on a buck fifty budget, was the Director of Photography and he could have made any hack director look good. Fortunately he didn’t have to as he worked with Mann. Mann and Alton pooled their resources six times between 1947 and 1950 and to this day are one of the best director-cinematographer dream teams in cinema with style to burn. They naturally went together, like guns and ammo. Raw Deal oozes moody Noir atmosphere conjured up with a 40-Watt lightbulb. Thanks to the cinematography, the strange theremin music and Claire Trevor’s voice-over the entire movie has a hallucinatory and hypnotic quality about it. The characters move through a hazy dreamscape as if they’re in a cold-sweat nightmare. To say Alton illuminated the dark crevices of the human psyche would be misleading, but he revealed them. He once remarked that he wasn’t afraid of the dark, but he could certainly make his audience afraid of it.

Both Mann and Alton had learned how to work a tight budget toiling at perpetually underfunded PR outfits. Economy was second nature for them. We do get the occasional matte backdrop and miniature sets but so what? Alton had the special gift to dress up a little cheapo to resemble a major production with cinematic sleight of hand.
His beautiful Chiaroscuro photography is used as a smokescreen to hide the paltry budget. The result is poetry caught on celluloid. Alton creates a dreamlike twilight world of pure imagination, drawn from stacks of dog-eared pulp fiction magazines, “a nocturnal fantasia of pure pulp…which drew on two decades of fermented hard-boiled tropes”. (Eddie Muller, Noir Alley)

Raw Deal is a love letter to Noir and every time I watch it I’m in awe. It’s an absolute masterpiece, on every level. Eagle-Lion’s finest hour.

All Joe Sullivan (Dennis O’Keefe), in the big house for robbery, wants is to smell fresh air again and collect the 50G owed to him by gangster Rick Coyle (Raymond Burr), the guy Joe took the rap for. After that it’s destination Panama. Rick has greased some palms to bust him out but of course there’s a double cross. Never give a sucker an even break. Rick wants Joe dead so Joe won’t squeal into the DA’s ear and Rick doesn’t have to cough up all that lovely money. Rick is a bit touchy when it comes to having his plans ruined and figured Joe would have a thousand to one shot at success escaping, given the odds. So many things can go wrong during a prison break. Stray bullets have a nasty habit of hitting people. It’s mathematically solid thinking but the fall guy, lamentably alive, gets further than he’s supposed to, dragnet or not, with the help of his girl Pat Cameron (Claire Trevor) and his case worker and semi-hostage Ann Martin (Marsha Hunt). Rick knows loose ends must be snipped and sends his twitchy in-house torpedo Fantail (John Ireland) to take care of matters. Now Joe has a score to settle…

Raw Deal has an unusual voice-over narration by Claire Trevor, to my knowledge the only Noir (besides Mildred Pierce) with a female voice-over. It sets itself apart from the regular male voice-over by forgoing any kind of stentorian declarations. Trevor has a wonderfully husky, low-pitched and well-modulated voice. Her melancholy interior monologue resembles a resigned-to-her-fate confessional. Hauntingly disillusioned, almost catatonic, with a world of hurt and desperation in it, her narration puts a spell on the audience.

From the very first second doom, hopelessness and despair resonate strongly in that heart-broken voice. “Today’s the day. Today’s the day. The last day I have to drive up to these gates”. Pat’s voice should be joyous, after all it’s the day she tells Joe that his escape is set. But instinct tells her they’re in existential free-fall already. We see Pat visiting Joe in prison wearing all black with a veil over her face. It looks like she’s going to a funeral. She is, she just doesn’t know it yet.

Pat is, if not the moral center, certainly the heart and anchor of the story even though she’s a gangster moll. She’s gone through the hard-knocks school of life. Tough-talking and street-wise, with a bruised heart and dearly paid-for wisdom, she had the bad luck to fall in love with the wrong guy. But underneath that brassy exterior is a lonely, beaten down and scared woman who’s only ever wanted one thing in her life, Joe’s love. “Waiting, waiting, all my life it seems as if I’ve have been waiting for Joe.” She’d wait till hell freezes over. 
Pat loves Joe unconditionally to the point of desperation. “I want whatever he wants, up or down, make or break.” That’s the trolley car she’d ride till the end of the line, even if it goes off the yellow brick road into the abyss. Tammy Wynette would be proud of her.

Her blind love for Joe literally entraps her though she’s clear-sighted enough to realize it’s built on quicksand. “He’s never really told me he loves me”. Ann is getting under Joe's skin. No desperate devotion on Pat’s side can dampen the sparks that fly between Ann and Joe. It is quite telling that Joe calls Pat his "partner” to Ann’s face, not his girl or his ladylove, and frankly treats her more like a buddy than a lover.

Into the bargain Pat is saddled with another handicap. She’s a tad shopworn and knows her time is running out. Mann and Alton come precariously close to belaboring the point of a race against time. One of Noir’s favorite fetish items, ticking clocks, are everywhere in the movie. Time is precious, it doesn't stop for anyone and most of all time will run out in the end. There is a wonderful scene where Trevor's face is reflected on that of a clock.

While we can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a femme fatale in Noir, sexy and brooding Dennis O’Keefe is one of Noir’s rarer breeds, the homme fatal.
Joe is a bit light in the ethics department. Hard-nosed and brutal, he has no compunction about taking advantage of both women’s desire for him. He’s like Typhoid Mary. What he has is catching. But all’s fair in love and Noir. This time he miscalculated his own emotions though. He falls for Ann as she falls for him. But lust and larceny are a volatile highly combustible combination.

It’s not too often that Noir renders us with a backstory on one of the protagonists, but we get one here. Growing up poor and in orphanages, Joe is the kind of kid who was born with an eight-ball in his cradle. When he was young he saved other children from a burning house for which he earned a medal. Ann wants to know where that heroic kid went off the rails. 
“If you want to know what happened to that kid with the medal, he had to hock it at sixteen. He got hungry.” 
Joe turned in his boy-scout badge. He saw that no-one can live on good deeds alone. They don’t pay the bills.
“I am from under a rock, a whole pile of ‘em; Corkscrew Alley, Dean’s Orphanage, the famous rock that hits you in the back of the head after you’ve tried to help someone, not to mention that heap I busted out of called the State Pen.” 
It is worth noting that the movie starts and ends on Corkscrew Alley, a metaphor so obvious it risks accusations of banality. It’s the hardscrabble place where life puts you through the meat grinder and you buy your one-way ticket to hell. But as we’ll see there’s just enough humanity in Joe to keep us rooting for him. If Noir doesn’t make us root for the morally corrupt outright, it at least makes us care about the person who’s morally compromised.

Ostensibly the films seems to set up the classic dichotomy between the good girl and the bad girl, the Madonna and the whore, who battle it out for the soul of the homme fatal. Before she meets Joe, Ann is “Miss Law and Order”, leading a life of clear-cut simplicity. Good is good and bad is bad. It’s a viewpoint that simplifies life. 

But this is as far as the standard good girl-bad girl dynamic goes. Lines get blurred pretty quickly. Little Miss Goody Two-Shoes has to figure out quite fast that her steadfast principles are on shaky moral ground because her attraction to her rehabilitation project makes her willing to walk on the wild side and explore the darker aspects of her character. She may like to delude herself, and Joe, that her interest in him is purely professional, but the innocent act isn’t too convincing. It’s just another way of saying she has the hots for the bad boy who poses a serious threat which excites her. The strong undercurrent of sexual desire between the two is there from the first second.
To help Joe she eventually shoots a man in the back. The shot was not fatal but she’s horrified by what she’s done. Now she has to live with the knowledge that she too has a capacity for violence.

Pat may have a checkered past but her only reason for living a life of crime is utter devotion and she’s always there when the spam hits the fan. All she ever wanted was normality. In a way she’s a lot like perpetually pickled ex-moll Gaye Dawn. Pat is no lush but she has the exact same tendency to masochistic self-destruction. She too grew up on Corkscrew Alley and it’s beaten all the fight out of her. Yet despite their animosity Pat is capable of feeling sympathy for Ann: “She, too, is just a dame in love with Joe. And she’s lost.”

For once the doomed love triangle between Joe, Pat and Ann does not hamper the movie. Their three-way dynamic is the dramatic and emotional core of the movie. Nominally Raw Deal may be a gangsters on the lam/revenge tale but what the movie is really about is the fundamentals: the very nature of love, loyalty and betrayal, and making profound moral (or immoral) decisions. It lends the film an unusual emotional depth.

Both Pat and Ann personify two different facets of Joe’s world and more importantly two diametrically opposed forces in his character. Hard-boiled Joe, the tough gangster who answers to nobody, vs. over-easy Joe, the man who could still find redemption and turn his life around.

Pat personifies Joe’s past. Ann is the promise of a fresh start. It is Ann who brings out Joe’s softer side, not Pat. Ann sparks a yearning for his own lost innocence. Ann figures all he needs is the love of a good woman to bring out that heart of gold. Oh dear, that hoary old chestnut again. Women should know better by now. Well, to be honest, we probably do but when did that ever deter us? Girls are silly things.

Ann is able to break through Joe’s defenses when she tells him that life dealt her a lousy hand too, though she may not look it. 
“Just because I own a car and a tailored suit and my nails are clean, you think I’ve never had to fight?”
It is a turning point in their relationship just as an incident that’s seemingly unconnected to the movie's plot yet central to its vision. While hiding out in a farmhouse Joe helps a fellow man, another escaped criminal, to evade the police. It is an act of mercy. But it is an axiom of Noir that the second the Noir hero gets sentimental, or maybe just human, he gets slapped down hard with cold reality. Humanity is a luxury he can’t afford. Going soft is for suckers. Another act of mercy will be Joe’s undoing in the end.

Joe’s main reason for breaking out of jail is his desire to breathe fresh air again, something that was a rare commodity in prison. His longing for a better life has become a relentlessly tormenting nightmare. (There’s also the matter of 50G owed to him by Rick, but it is a secondary reason.)  After the escape Joe believes he’s finally free, but Ann sees what he can’t see himself. The cops would never stop breathing down his neck. Joe is still shackled because the most confining prison cell will always be his shady past, his mine-field of a future and the legacy of Corkscrew Alley. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. To quote another Noir: “If you want fresh air, don’t look for it in this town”. You can’t escape Dark City.

Once out of prison, the trio take Noir from the city out on the open road, to crooked byways, lost highways and blind corners. The open road promises unobstructed flight but turns travelers into homeless, transient strangers and desperate fugitives. Unbeknownst to themselves our threesome are on the road to nowhere already because Noir is a world of roadblocks and dead-end alleys. 
It is what all sinners on the lam have to understand in the end. Being an outlaw means being an outcast. It means everlasting exile from your fellow men. Always running, always hiding, never being able to go home again. There is no refuge in Wilderness. It may be beautiful and unspoiled but it is as unforgiving and corrosive as the confined prison cell they have fled.

In his Westerns Mann wasn’t interested in showing how the West was won so much as in how the landscapes of the West with their vastness and their harshness psychologically affected his protagonists.
We already get that here. Noir doesn’t need the psychological and aesthetic framework of the city to function. In non-urban noirs, emptiness replaces the claustrophobic and encroaching spaces associated with urban noir. People are stranded in vacant hostile places where life is distilled to the primitive and one law counts: Live and let die.

For a while in the late 40s/early 50s Burr had the field to himself when it came to playing psychos. His intimidating, hulking figure was a staple in Noirs. Rick is almost always photographed from below which makes his burly figure even more frightening. Burr made a career out of playing psychos before he became Perry Mason and kept his nose clean. After changing sides Burr never drifted back to the dark side again, but pre-Mason Burr will always be fondly remembered by any Noir lover as a creep, a sadist, a deviant, a nutjob. You know, all the finer qualities a man can possess.
He wasn’t merely bad, he was despicability personified. Whenever one of his psychos walks into a scene, the other characters and the audience shrink back in instinctive loathing.

There’s something distinctly gardenia-scented about Rick, he likes to live soft and surround himself with luxury (the floral dressing gown, the long cigarette holder, the posh jewelry he wears). A physical coward, he’s the guy who never fights his own fights if he can send out some underling to do his dirty work for him. “You always get somebody else to pull the trigger for you,” remarks Fantail to him.

Rick has strong pyromanic tendencies. Not only does he know his way around a Camel or a Lucky, he puts lighters to more creative uses, like singeing the earlobe of his henchman just because the guy annoyed him. 
But most of all Raw Deal is notable for a flame-throwing incident before Lee Marvin became famous for it in The Big Heat. One dipso dame has to learn the hard way that hurling burning cherry jubilees in her face is Rick’s idea of a fun evening. Of course, in accord with Chekhov's dictum that a rifle produced in Act One must be fired by Act Three, Rick comes to a very satisfying end himself.

Raw Deal has many devastating moments in it, but the second to last scene in the cabin of the ship waiting to leave for South America must be one of the saddest. Joe and Pat have secured a passage and Joe is saying all the right things to Pat in a cheerless voice about making a better life for themselves in South America, but Pat knows that “every time he kisses me, he’d be kissing Ann”. She knows what Joe doesn’t, that Rick has kidnapped Ann. In the end Pat must face realities. She can’t go off to South America with Joe. Her life with him would be a sham as she’s lost his love, if she ever had it in the first place. And she’s not bad enough to let her rival suffer in the clammy clutches of Rick. So she lets Joe go off to save Ann. The classic lose-lose situation of Noir. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. 

The finale is beautifully staged and shot. In a haze of fog and gun fire, doomed figures dance to their ultimate fate.There is no happy ending for anybody in this film. Joe kills Rick and saves Ann but luck and Joe never had much of a track record. He gets shot for his troubles and dies on the sidewalk, in Ann’s arms. It’s OK with him though. “I got my breath of fresh air. You….”  The Noir hero is always just one lucky break away from hitting it big time, and only one unlucky break away from losing it all.

For Pat it’s utter defeat in the end: 
“There’s my Joe in her arms. A kind of happiness on his face. In my heart I know that this is right for Joe. This is what he wanted.” 
Joe got his redemption, if only in death. Ann has the satisfaction of knowing that Joe dusted up his rusty boy-scout badge to do the right thing. Only Pat is left with absolutely nothing. The world keeps on spinning at the fadeout, she doesn’t end up under a sheet in the morgue but it’s a constant in Noir that even if you survive, you never really win. That's the way life crumbles, cookie-wise. Sometimes surviving means you have to go on living, without hope and in misery. It's the eternal torment of the survivor.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Follow Me Quietly (1949)

Anatomy of a B movie

What is a B movie? Books have been written about it, duels have been fought over it. No, not really but you know what I mean. Discussions about the subject can get incredibly heated, one thing leads to another and before you know it people start throwing squeaky little toys at each other. And then it all end in blood and tears. As it is still Christmas and we don’t want that, I’ll try to spare you the pain and come up with something akin to a classification. You’re welcome. I know you’ve been waiting for this with bated breath for eons.

The simplest definition is that B movies were cannon fodder to fill the bottom half of a double bill. They used second (or third and fourth) tier talent, had starvation budgets, barebones sets, crackpot plots, five-day shooting schedules and frequently barely cracked an hour in running time. There’s something to be said for brevity. No detours, no side streets, just a step into the gutter where the sidewalk ends. 

Most major studios employed B units and if a hopeful couldn’t make it there, there was always the Gower Gulch where you went to avoid an eviction notice or if the hamburger joint at the corner didn’t need a dishwasher. Perpetually cash-strapped Poverty Row studios provided a refuge for filmmakers who had fallen from grace (Edgar Ulmer) or filmmakers who never got anywhere because they were a dead duck from the get-go (W. Lee Wilder). PR was also the last stop before the glue factory for actors whose star had crashed and burned. The story of Bela Lugosi who had to slum it out of necessity in Ed Wood productions late in his career is one of the most tragic.

But really, it isn’t quite so straightforward and artless as all that. What the “B hive” provided, more often than not unintentionally, was a canvas for pioneering and highly creative directors and cinematographers. It was a training ground for talent on the rise, like the incredibly gifted Anthony Mann who would go on to bigger and better things after his stint at various lower-echelon studios. 

B Units were a sandbox for innovation. Very often low budget, low oversight and little respect gave the filmmakers a certain artistic freedom, because the studios - and the PCA - wouldn't keep very tight control on a production of such relative unimportance. When low-rent quickie assignments were put into the hands of talented filmmakers, the results were quite often stunning, to probably everybody’s surprise. If no one in the head office cared about the finished product, it stood to reason, then you could do what you wanted so long as you came in on time and on budget. In this anything goes environment where less money equaled less oversight, Noir grew unimpeded by the usual restrictions on style, content and moral turpitude. 
It just goes to show that the aesthetics and artistry of a movie do not in the least have to be constrained by a low budget and more importantly low-budget does not have to be an excuse for subpar filmmaking.

B movies may not have any pretensions at high art but that doesn’t mean they deserve the Golden Turkey Award. B is not a quality judgment but a well-defined production level. In his seminal article Notes on Film Noir Paul Schrader puts the disdain that can often be found for B movies down to “economic snobbery…high-budget trash is considered more worthy of attention than low-budget trash.” Spot on. Those little films were never critical darlings which is another notch in their favor in my book.

Maybe many Bs were assembly-line products but their directors could be counted on for efficiency, economy and a bit of polish on a tight allowance. They were able to bring the movie in on schedule and on budget. That alone required extraordinary technical skill. And, if the stars were aligned right, these professionals brought style and energy to a product that was expected to have absolutely none.

The sparseness of the budget forced the producers to use low-key lighting and darkness to hide the lack of sets and a lavish decor, camouflaging the paucity of the production values. Quite often the distinct Noir aesthetics derived directly from simple financial constraints, but a $5 electricity bill was a nice side-effect. 
Grand historical epics depended on big budgets for optimal effect, crime dramas and Noirs depended on the tight disciplining constraints of small ones.

Arthur Lyons states in his book Death on the Cheap that 
“Film noir was made to order for the Bs…because it required less lighting and smaller casts and usually entailed story lines that required limited-scale sets”. 
Noir is by definition a style that epitomizes this phenomenon. B is the spiritual home of Noir. A shadow-filled world for shady characters living in seedy environs just one step away from the gutter. 

At its best the B Hive meant narrative economy and efficient picture-making. Sure, plots were often abstruse, relying heavily on contrivances and coincidences piled on top of one another. Logic often fell by the wayside and the producers expected the audience to swallow six impossible things before breakfast. B has its own rules and rationality doesn’t necessarily come into it.

Still, occasionally these coincidences are so spectacular that the mind boggles. They can jeopardize a B movie’s credibility and in the hands of an incompetent hack they could drive a movie off the cliff. In the hands of an assured director they were shortcuts that allowed a whole lot of story to be crammed into a few reels. Bs had to have an uncomplicated shorthand. Denied big budgets or luxurious running times they had to kickstart their stories straight into high gear. There’s just so much time for character development and navel-gazing when you only have 60 minutes. Messages are happily left to Western Union.

If the viewer thinks these structural weaknesses threaten plausibility, he’d be right…but shouldn’t watch a B movie. Just as in melodrama, these “weaknesses” are features, not flaws. If it’s done smoothly and with panache and style, you’ll hardly notice and there’s no reason why you should care. For me the no-frills approach works perfectly fine.

In the forties and fifties studios cranked out a seemingly unending series of cheapos to fill out the bottom of double bills. B movies, quite frankly, were the backbone of Hollywood. The town survived on a steady output of these lesser vehicles. While many of these one-hour throwaway products were instantly forgettable, occasionally you make a wonderful flea market find.

Follow Me Quietly was made by RKO, the studio that - much more than any other of the Big Five studios - relied on B pictures to fill its coffers, especially from the 40s on. The studio churned out Western, adventure and crime serials by the bucketload. 

1946 had been an extremely profitable year for RKO but it would soon suffer setbacks. Richard B. Jewell writes in RKO Radio Pictures: A Titan is Born that “executive turnover was in fact the distinguishing feature of [RKO’s] twenty-nine year existence.... RKO’s management was never stable.” 

In 1948 aviation millionaire/tycoon Howard Hughes - who could charitably be described as eccentric - took over RKO, made himself head honcho and troubles began almost immediately. As studio boss his overpowering ego could never resist meddling in production matters, often demanding extensive changes to scripts. He unfortunately kept the directors he employed on a very short leash instead of trusting them to do their jobs right. He routinely held up promising films for months and even years with re-writes, re-shoots and re-edits causing interminable delays and skyrocketing production costs which drastically affected the studio’s bottom line. During his 7-year tenure, he put the studio through the meat grinder and it suffered massive financial losses due to his controlling and volatile management style. The man was a one-man wrecking crew. But despite this predilection for tampering RKO was able to churn out one good Noir after another, at least for a while, many of them becoming (minor) classics, such as On Dangerous Grounds, Out of the Past, Cry Danger and The Narrow Margin. It was RKO’s B unit that held things together and turned a profit. In the long run nothing though could stop the studio’s steady decline. Hughes was responsible for several expensive flops and as a consequence by the mid-50s RKO was in dire financial strains closing shop in 1957.

It was RKO that gave director Richard Fleischer his start. If we were to ask a group of passionate Film Noir fans to come up with a list of their favorite Noir directors, Fleischer likely wouldn’t be on that list. For no discernible reason Fleischer isn’t as revered as other denizens of Dark City, such as Mann, Ray, Dmytryk, Tourneur, Siodmak, Feist, Ulmer, many of them now considered heavyweights who continue to be celebrated and studied. Fleischer though is responsible for such entertaining time wasters as Bodyguard, The Clay Pigeon and Trapped, and genuine B Noir classics as Armored Car Robbery and The Narrow Margin
Jason Ney called him “Noir’s forgotten man” in his Noir City Magazine article Richard Fleischer’s RKO years. Fleischer’s directorial career spanned almost 50 years, and maybe it is that he never seemed to have a distinctive signature or that his later A pictures overshadow his early Noir efforts that are worth a second look and more recognition. Fleischer was a solid Noir director who showed occasional flashes of utter brilliance.

He himself took the same attitude towards his B pictures as many of his critics. After the success of The Narrow Margin, Fleischer moved on to As and never looked back. In his memoir he shrugs his early efforts off dismissively with a sentence or two. He really shouldn’t have, and his work demonstrates that he could really deliver the goods.

Follow Me Quietly is a taut economical one-hour police procedural that’s well-paced and nicely photographed. Good old Bosley played the Grinch again, calling the movie 
“... an utterly senseless little thriller is patently nothing more than a convenient one-hour time-killer between performances of the eight-act vaudeville bill.” 
I’m beginning to think Crowther hating a movie should be taken as a ringing endorsement.

Obsessed cop Lt. Harry Grant (William Lundigan) has been hot on the trail of an elusive serial killer known only as The Judge for months without being able to nail him down while the bodies keep piling up. The Judge strangles his victims randomly on rainy nights. He’s motivated by some mixed-up religious sense of purity and sin, punishing “sinners” and meting out justice. Grant’s own lack of success is driving him crazy. The Judge seems to stay just one step ahead of his investigation. Grant is receiving “help” in the shape of Ann Gorman (Dorothy Patrick), intrepid girl reporter for a muck-racking tabloid rag that brings you all the news that’s not fit to print. She’s a pest - though a charming one - and sticks to him like glue which isn’t alleviating his headache.
This movie holds a claim to originality because Grant has the imaginative and slightly creepy idea to construct a life-size faceless dummy of the killer based on the evidence they got, instead of sending out routine bulletin information. It’s an early version of psychological profiling. Through that the cops get a better idea of his size and shape. They use the dummy in the lineup room for witness recognition and take photos of it to show to witnesses. On a side-note, the French movie title is Assassin sans visage, a much more apt title than the original.

If we think now the logic of this plot device is bewildering and hokey we’d be right. 
“Why would a dummy be any better than a sketch, especially when in many instances they’re just using pictures of it to try to identify the killer?” 
asks Nighthawk quite rightfully in his Noir of the Week review of the film. The entire setup doesn’t bear close inspection. But who’s to complain? Not us B movie lovers.

Fleischer is able to sell this setup as a serious idea and not a hammy plot device and I think he succeeds. If the actors ride roughshod over script absurdities with absolute seriousness and play a goofy script with heartfelt conviction, it usually works.

Or maybe it’s just that my tolerance level for this kind of stuff is very high. I take my doses of B Noir intravenously.

The scenes with the dummy are so effective because they are incredibly creepy even if they should be silly. The dummy is turned into an icon of evil. In the lineup room a sole spotlight illuminates the back of the dummy and we hear a voice asking The Judge questions about his motives. Late at night in his office where he’s working overtime Grant talks to the dummy, who sits with his back to him, pouring out all his frustration with his inability to successfully catch him. Again the scene is not silly, instead it is very eerie and tense. It gets even more unsettling when the dummy - after Grant has left - gets up and leaves! The Judge has sneaked into the police station. It’s never quite clear if this is actually happening in reality or if the audience is supposed to take it metaphorically because Grant is on the verge of cracking as his partner tells him.

To quote Nighthawk again: 
“Fleischer sells the seriousness of this scene, which successfully walks the line between disturbing and unintentionally ridiculous, through creative camerawork and stark lighting on the dummy.”
The reason why the entire movie works is because of the performances of the lead actors who have great chemistry and bring a lot of energy to their performances. Lundigan is a capable and handsome lead in these second-string features and Patrick in a rare lead role shows spunk. Plus we get good supporting performances, especially by Jeff Corey - who could steal the thunder from anybody - as Grant’s sidekick Sgt. Collins.

From the beginning the relationship between Grant and Ann is more flirty than professional. The lady is quite tenacious and single-minded in her quest to get what she wants: the inside scoop on a story that would be the making of her as a journalist. She demonstrates her determination by breaking into Harry's apartment at night to wait for him on his sofa, wearing a snazzy evening dress. Well hello…

In the end it is her knowledge of pulp magazines that gives Grant the clue to latch on to the mysterious killer who turns out to be a rather mousy Joe Schmo and not a brilliant criminal madman. I’ve seen a few reviews stating that this somehow ruins the movie. I really don’t know why. If I know my serial killers - and granted my knowledge on the subject may be a bit spotty - my guess is that this is much closer to the truth. Fleischer would later direct the utterly chilling 10 Rillington Place, based on the real life case of John Reginald Christie, a nondescript and unassuming man who nevertheless did away with at least eight people. The face of evil is commonplace and ordinary, easily able to blend into a crowd and hide in plain sight.

As opposed to the current strain of serial killer movies of the last three or four decades which portray the killers as brilliant, charming but tortured prodigies who almost invite the audience to identify with them, Follow Me Quietly does not delve into the workings of the criminal mind. Just as in He Walked By Night (which according to Eddie Muller on Noir Alley inspired Quietly), we never find out what makes The Judge tick. His motives, as his face, are always in the dark and he remains a cypher. We are in a B quickie and the only explanation we get is from Sgt. Collins: 
“I used to know a guy who cut the tails off of cats. He didn’t like cats. The Judge cuts the air out of people. I guess he don’t like people.” 
There’s no rational to his killings and the movie doesn’t even try to explain his psyche. Why does The Judge hate “sinners”? Why does he hate rain? Why does he kill? Damned if I know, and I’m sure damned if the producers knew.

Is the movie Noir? The jury is still out on this one. I’d say not really. It’s a police procedural with Noirish elements. It certainly has style to spare and visually fits the bill. We get atmospheric deep, dark shadows, canted angle shots and that almost (pseudo)Freudian attachment to water found in a lot in Noirs. It creates an aura of menace and mystery.

The Judge only strikes on rainy nights, Grant works through the night with a torrential downpour outside, in the final scene The Judge freaks out at the sight of water dripping like rain from holes shot in a pipe by a police machine gun.
The opening scene shows us Ann’s gams as she paces nervously back and forth on a rain-soaked street in front of a grubby dive while waiting for her mark Grant. In a see-through rain coat (slinky!) reminiscent of Joan Bennett’s in Scarlet Street nevertheless. She flicks her cigarette away in a less than classy gesture and enters the dive. The audience could be forgiven for mistaking her for a dubious dame, but we’d be proven wrong.

The Judge personifies one aspect of Noir, the randomness of fate and death. The people he kills are clearly not evil - despite his declarations to the contrary - and he chooses his victims arbitrarily. He doesn’t discriminate by sex, social station, race or political affiliation. Pure dumb luck decides who lives or dies.

The most damning evidence against Quietly as a full-blown Noir though is that alienation, loneliness, darkness and desperate choices Noir characters have to make are completely absent. The movie is very lighthearted despite the subject matter and both main characters are wholesome. Grant’s and Ann’s relationship is sexy and I love their banter but it is without any dark undercurrents.

I’ve seen a few reviews remarking on the cop/serial killer mirror image subtext. No doubt this notion is in the script which several times identifies Grant and The Judge as two of a kind in their obsessiveness. Grant even once states: “I'm too restless, the rain makes me nervous.” To which his partner replies: “You're getting more like The Judge every day." 

But it is not something that clean-cut Lundigan is capable of selling completely, as Eddie Muller points out in his Noir Alley intro. Grant may be desperate to catch the killer but he’s no defective detective. He’s neither neurotic nor is he close to losing his marbles over an obsession with a stiff like Lt. McPherson. The Noir (anti)hero usually has more traumas than an ER, but Grant is too well-adjusted for that. The inner turmoil and soul-destroying agony eating up the cop is not there. Robert Ryan, Dana Andrews or even Lawrence Tierney would have supplied Grant with an extra layer of twitchy hauntedness. 

In the end, it doesn’t really matter what we call these movies as long as they entertain. One thing is certain, so often these cheap little films are better than they have any right to be. There’s poetry to be found on the trash heap.