Noir City: Chicago Deadline and I Was a Shoplifter

Last night was the show I was most looking forward to. I hadn’t seen either one of the pictures and I was not disappointed. First up, Chicago Deadline.

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One of my favorite subcategories of the genre, Newspaper Noir! Alan Ladd, who we’ve been seeing a lot of this year, plays a cynical newspaper man who finds a young girl’s body in a rough boarding house and becomes obsessed with uncovering her life story via a stolen address book. He enlists the help of her brother and her party-girl room mate to fill in the blanks and winds up hot on the trail of corruption, gangsters and murder. It’s kind of a poor man’s Laura in a way, though the girl in question really is dead and from natural causes no less.

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I loved all the gritty vintage Chicago exteriors and snappy dialog in this flick. The plot was a little wacky, and required multiple flashbacks and scenes of Ladd explaining what the hell is going on to other characters, but I was more than willing to go along with it. It was fun to watch Donna Reed play a promiscuous good-girl-gone-bad. There are some great nicknames too, like a prizefighter named Bat and newspaper man named Pig. Mistress Christa says, check it out.

Next up on the B track, I Was a Shoplifter.

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This film, according to host Alan Rode, had trouble with the censors because they thought it was providing a crash course in professional shoplifting and would encourage crime. I didn’t have any desire to go boost some furs from Ohrbach’s after viewing, but I did feel compelled to up my eyebrow game.

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Seriously, femme fatale Andrea King’s weaponized eyebrows are sublime in this flick and she really knows how to use them . Also, this is the first time I realized how much Lawrence Tierney’s brother Scott Brady looks like Ray Liotta.

Anyway, the story follows a pampered klepto who gets popped for compulsive shoplifting and doesn’t want her rich and powerful daddy to find out. She winds up blackmailed into joining a ring of professional boosters run by the improbably named Ina Perdue, the Queen of Bitch Eyebrows herself. There’s a slick undercover operative, played by Scott Brady, and the aforementioned shoplifting lessons and a wild chase down to Tijuana. Also, there’s baby Tony Curtis as a hot-headed killer named Pepe.

I loved this one unconditionally. Maybe even more so than the A flick. And yeah, Mona Freeman is pretty one-note in her role as the poor little rich girl, but I hardly even noticed because the whipcrack patter and chemistry between King and Brady was so dynamic and fun to watch. My other reason for loving this film as much as I did is kinda spoilery, so if you haven’t seen this one yet, you might wanna skip this next bit.

When Ina sees that there’s no way out and the cops are at the door, she doesn’t heave herself out a window or get panicky and hysterical. She’s pragmatic, calm and in control the whole time as she tells her male flunkies to chill the fuck out and accept a short easy stretch in jail for stealing rather than going down shooting and making it life for murder. And even though the film technically complied with the Hay’s code by having her punished for her crimes, you get the distinct feeling that she’ll still be running the operation from the inside and right back at it the day she gets free. Film noir usually won’t allow its female characters to retain their power and likes to see them punished not just for breaking the law but for daring to take the wheel of their own destiny. This one does allow Ina to do exactly that. Highly recommended.

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