In keeping with the international theme of this year’s Noir City, last night featured a British double shot, two films I’d never seen.
First up, the Noir City Parade of Nipples continues with IT ALWAYS RAINS ON SUNDAY.
Before we get too deep into this one, let me get right to the point(s.) I love the awesomely named and bootylicious Googie Withers and I found myself mesmerized by the fact that her perky nipples are clearly visible through her dress for the whole second half of the film. This makes it the third film in a row in which a lady’s nipples are on display, and after 16 nipple-free years in Noir City, has me giggling like a twelve year old.
It’s even fun to say. “Nipples.” See?
Ok, ok, enough of that. What about the rest of the film? Well, host Alan Rode introduced this one with the unfamiliar (to me anyway) British label “Kitchen Sink Drama,” meaning a working class slice of life story. Which it is to be sure, but it’s also pure Noir, both in the doomed love affair that lies at the story’s heart and the gorgeous, shadowy train yard chase sequence at the end.
The story follows the intertwined day to day lives of several denizens of a neighborhood called Bethnal Green in the East End of London. At the center of it all is a bitter, unfulfilled housewife named Rose (Withers) and her reluctantly blended family of two teenage step-daughters from her older husband’s previous marriage and her own younger son. She is struggling to make ends meet, stretch her rationed food and keep her shabby row house as best she can. Then her ex-lover Tommy Swan (John McCallum, who would go on to marry Withers in real life) busts out of jail and shows up on her doorstep.
Rose knows it’s a bad idea to help Tommy, but she still loves him and can’t say no. Of course, it’s Noir City, so we all know how this is gonna turn out.
This is a classic and beloved Film Noir plot line, an ordinary person driven by sexual desire to make one bad decision that spins their whole life out of control. The genuine passion and chemistry between Withers and McCallum adds a powerful veracity. Unfortunately, when the movie goes off to follow the other characters, the womanizing Jewish band leader, the three petty criminals, the good-girl step daughter and her gangster suitor, it loses my interest to some degree. Rose’s central story is so strong, that everything else just seems like a distraction and I found myself anxious to get back to her and Tommy.
There is definitely an echo of MILDRED PIERCE here, in that it’s a real working class woman’s story. I’ve seen this film described as being told from Tommy Swan’s POV, but I didn’t see it that way at all.
Even though we eventually follow Tommy off to his inevitable and deliciously noirish doom, I still felt like Rose was the heart of this movie from start to finish.
So you can call it Film Noir or Kitchen Sink or whatever you like, just watch it.
Next up, BRIGHTON ROCK.
Right off the bat, we get this amusing disclaimer that says Brighton Beach may have once been full of no good criminals like the ones in this movie, but now it’s fine so book your family vacation today. Knowing virtually nothing about England then or now, I still didn’t buy it.
Anyway, the story follows a small time hood and his razor-wielding racetrack gang as they try to carve themselves a piece of the action in this seaside resort town. Our sociopathic antihero Pinkie Brown murders a newspaper reporter and quickly becomes entangled in increasingly complicated schemes to cover up his crime, including seducing and marrying a naive teenage witness before attempting to goad her into committing suicide.
I wasn’t all that sure about the idea of Richard Attenborough as a Tommy Udo style teenage baddie, but damn does he ever deliver. I also loved the brash and brassy Hermione Baddeley who plays our unexpected hero, an aging, hard drinking showgirl turned amateur sleuth.
This film is fantastic, both in its complex, well-drawn characters and striking visual imagery, including the especially memorable spook house murder sequence. If you haven’t seen this one yet, you need to.
One last thing before I head back down to do it all over again, I was really happy to see two films featuring strong, older, sexually active women who are not evil killers. Not that I don’t love a good femme fatale as much as the next Noir City dweller, but this was a refreshing change of pace.
Speaking of sexually active older women, I know Eleanor Parker is tonight’s featured star, but I just can’t get enough of Hope Emerson in CAGED, which will be followed by DETECTIVE STORY.