Tuesday, January 16, 2018

I Walk Alone (1947)

I Walk Alone was directed by Byron Haskin for Paramount. Haskin made only one other Noir, the vastly superior Too Late for Tears. Large parts of I Walk Alone take place exclusively in one venue, a nightclub, showing the film's beginnings as a stage play. 

I Walk Alone is a solid entry into the Noir canon, but no more. The movie’s appeal lies mainly in its star power. Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas and Lizabeth Scott are fun to watch, and the film is worth seeing mostly as the first on-screen pairing of legendary duo Lancaster and Douglas. Seeing those two fight it out with the gloves off is a pleasant way to spend 90 minutes. There’s always a ferocious intensity and flamboyance about both actors, it’s the battle of the snarling alpha males. 
Plus we get Liz Scott in snazzy costumes.

Unfortunately, there is too much pondering going on here, the film would have benefited from a much tighter script. The soundtrack too is often overly intrusive and overwhelms the action at times.

The picture follows the well-worn storyline of two friends who are friends no longer due to a little thing called money. Frankie Madison (Burt Lancaster) and Noll “Dink” Turner (Kirk Douglas) had a successful bootlegging business going during prohibition, running illegal booze across the Canadian border. One night the police is waiting for them. Dink hightails it, Frankie is caught and has to take the rap. He’s sent up for 14 year while Dink hits it big and opens a swanky nightclub in New York City. Dink is raking in big money. After Frankie’s release he visits Dink with the intention of collecting his half of the nightclub’s profits, as was agreed upon years earlier with a verbal fifty-fifty agreement. An overly optimistic belief maybe. Dink has no intention of honoring their understanding and uses his mistress Kay (Lizabeth Scott) to bamboozle Frankie. When Dink on top of that kills Frankies’s old friend Dave who wanted out of the racket, Frankie is out for revenge.

Frankie’s and Dink’s partnership must always have been an unequal one.
Douglas was the brains behind the operation, clever, devious, sly and always one step ahead of everybody. He’s a snake charmer with plenty of charisma that makes people think he’s a nice guy. A fatal error in judgment.
Lancaster’s Frankie is a blunt instrument, he was the muscle in the organization. He’s a volatile brute who knows how to use his fists but not his head. He was born in a tough neighborhood and can handle himself though he’s like an bull in a china shop when out of his natural habitat.

What is of real interest here is the portrayal of Frankie as a career criminal. This is not a man trying desperately to go straight after his stint in jail, instead we have a man who is simply determined to claim what he believes to be his, by any means possible. He has no compunction about returning to a life of crime as long as he gets his due. He does have his own brand of integrity though, even if it’s just honor amongst thieves.

But while Frankie was inside, the world had changed and with it had crime. Crime had gone corporate, it was strictly Big Business now, organized, semi-legit and faceless. Back in the days Frankie and Dink ruled things by force, but now Dink deals with banks, lawyers, dummy corporations, legal technicalities and loopholes in the system.
In the best scene of the movie the audience gets a little history lesson on the ins and outs of modern-day racketeering. It’s completely unexpected and unlike anything you see in 40s Noir. A clash of eras.
Frankie busts into Dink’s office with a bunch of gorillas to force him to hand over his share. Frankie only remembers the strong-arm methods of Prohibition times, for him a loaded gun is an unbeatable argument. He has to learn the harsh lesson that he can’t simply pick up life where he left off. He’s still the same guy as on the day he went to prison, but the world has moved on. Every one of Frankie’s threats is answered with double-edged business talk. Frankie’s force is no match for that.
It’s a shocking, funny and oddly educational scene all in one when Frankie finally has to realize that violence gets him nowhere with Dink, and his humiliation is almost painful to watch.
After this disaster Frankie is forced to use his brain for the first time in his life.

Lizabeth Scott is good in her role as torch singer Kay Lawrence. Not a great actress by any means, given the right role she was a very effective one. Here she plays yet another good-bad girl, a tarnished angel, and her performance is sincere and warm. She’s the bargaining chip in the fight between two men, torn in her conflicted loyalty between both of them. Dink wants her to be the femme fatale who hooks and ensnares Frankie, but Kay isn’t having any. She’s had enough of this life.

You really can’t go wrong with a Lancaster/Douglas picture but it could have been so much better. Despite a great cast, good dialogue and nice cinematography, that last final spark that elevates a film from good to great is missing. Not a wasted opportunity by any means, but certainly no classic either.

5 comments:

  1. I remember seeing this and liking it, but that was on TCM and I haven't seen it since. Will Have to give it another go-round.

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  2. Margot, I thought that I would come over and read your take on I WALK ALONE the " battle of the snarling alpha males." I like that phrase.

    I first saw I WALK ALONE when I was a youngster on NBC SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE MOVIES, back in the day. It wasn't the first time I saw Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas together in a movie. About a year before I had seen GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL(1957) on the same SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE MOVIES. I can't think of one without the other. Burt and Kirk were called the "Terrible tempered twins of Hollywood" by gossip columnist Sheilah Graham. They probably were and as a result they had great chemistry together, which was on full display here, in I WALK ALONE.

    This movie has hung in my memory for years, and it is probably because of the cast. I remember as a youngster thinking that the bootleggers of New York were different from the ones I knew and grew up around. That is a difference between city noir and rural noir, I guess.

    I like this movie, and I think you gave it a write-up that was fair to the movie. Again a pleasure.

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    1. Hi, just saw your comment. I used to be automatically notified of new comments, but apparently that is no more. Gunfight at the OK Corral is my favorite Kirk/Burt collaboration. I love that movie. I can easily see how they would have raised hell on any set.

      You knew bootlegger? That's cool.

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  3. Margot, GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL(1957) is probably most fans favorite Burt and Kirk collaboration. I also like SEVEN DAYS IN MAY(1964), which was from the 1962 novel, of the same name, written by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II. Rod Serling wrote the screenplay of this very good political thriller about an attempted military coup d'├ętat.

    Yes, in the past I knew a few bootleggers. Fact is both my maternal and paternal grandfathers made moonshine. My maternal grandmother threatened to take the children and leave my grandfather, if he didn't stop making 'shine. Needless to say, he quit. His brother, my grand uncle, kept on making it, but he later quit. He found it was more profitable to just "thunder road" it from the nearest "wet" county and sell it in the "dry" county. Their nephew, my cousin, carried on the bootlegging business. I remember one time, my cousin was in a high speed chase with the sheriff. My cousin stopped and abandoned his load of booze, and took flight over a barb wire fence and ran like the "dickens." The sheriff didn't pursue, he confiscated the vehicle and booze, while my cousin ran home. This sheriff was a "bear" on bootleggers, except for the one he received his personal supply from. At one time, this sheriff owned a small ranch, which bordered ours.

    I'm probably boring you to distraction, so I need to close, without getting into the real "meanness" of my paternal grandfather and his brother-in-law, my grand uncle. They made moonshine and homemade beer. When I was a youngster, I caught chickens with an one armed bootlegger. So, I knew some bootleggers, in the past.

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    1. No, you're not boring me this is very interesting. It is obviously something I only know from the movies.

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