First up, I know all the far-flung Faustketeers who are unable to make the yearly pilgrimage to Noir City have been counting on me to provide ringside play-by-play, so I’m sorry I’ve been off the grid. If you follow me on social media then you know about my dog Butch, aka NoirDog, and his terrifying brush with the Big Sleep.
He’s stabilized now and well enough that I’ve been able to get back to my appointed rounds.
First up in our Jacques Tourneur double feature, CIRCLE OF DANGER.
After his kid brother is killed under mysterious circumstances during the war, an American veteran (Ray Milland) goes to the UK to get some answers. Only he’s not prepared for the ugly truth his investigations will reveal.
(Remember that spoiler warning? Well if you haven’t seen these flicks yet and don’t want to find out what happens, go get a sandwich. Or better yet, go watch the damn movies and then come back.)
I had mixed feeling about this one. What was most frustrating for me was that it could have been brilliant, but it wound up feeling sort of silly and contrived. The moral ambiguity surrounding the brother’s death is exactly the type of story I go for. When Milland finds out who killed his brother, there’s a great tense “hunting” scene with him and the killer. Turns out all is not what it seems and the kid actually deserved it. But when the brother’s crime is revealed, it didn’t really seem execution worthy or enough of a risk to the mission that Milland’s character would just accept it as a given and move on. Never mind the fact that he basically just takes the guy’s word for it and that’s that. Plus the addition of a cutesy love interest, lots of unfunny comedy involving Milland being late for dates, and one of the most contrived, tacked-on happy endings ever. It should have ended with that moody shot of him walking away across the moor, heavy with the burden of the awful truth.
Also, we really need to talk about Ray Milland’s seduction technique.
Seriously, the creepy, personal space-invading routine he keeps pulling on the obviously uncomfortable Patricia Roc is less like a romantic lead and more like the devil from ALIAS NICK BEAL managed to get over his fear of being touched and has taken up a new career as a frottage pervert on the Tokyo subway.
All that aside, there was one other thing that I really liked about this film. It features a complex, clever, bad-ass gay character who was neither a villain nor a clown.
One of the kid brother’s tough commando buddies, played by Marius Goring, turns out to be a choreographer for the theater. When we first meet him I thought, oh here we go with the stereotypical swishy comic relief. But no, this character actually turned out to be the most interesting person in the film. I can’t think of a single other film from this time period that presents such a strong, brazenly out and ultimately sympathetic gay male character, so I’d say it’s worth watching for that reason alone.
Next up, BERLIN EXPRESS.
An American, an Englishman, a Frenchman, a Russian, a German and Merle Oberon walk into a bar. Wait, I mean a train. Damn, I suck at jokes.
The twisty, convoluted plot involves a train to post-war Berlin. When an important German statesman becomes a target for rebel kidnappers, the international passengers are required to overcome their differences (and competition for the hot secretary) and work together to save him.
This is another film that left me with mixed feelings. There’s a lot of good in this one, more so than the first, in my not-so-humble opinion. For starters there’s Robert Fucking Ryan, who I will watch do anything. Also Merle Oberon is a knockout, so there’s that.
I also like the bombed out cityscapes and the beer vat fist fight and the creepy clowns. (Yes, really.) Plus, gratuitous Charles McGraw cameo! But the thing I liked the most about this film was the angle about the German statesman’s best friend who betrays him to save his kidnapped wife, only to find out she is already dead. Unable to live with what he has done, he offs himself and there’s a great noirish shot of his shadowy, hanging legs (to which Ryan and Oberon are reacting to in the above photo.)
Ultimately it’s not great, but it’s not bad. Plus it was fun to imagine the somewhat stodgy narration (which occasionally and inexplicably wandered into the second person) being done by Lionel Stander from BLAST OF SILENCE.
“You hate Germany…”
Tonight, RIDE THE PINK HORSE (quit giggling in the back row!) and THE FALLEN SPARROW.