The LA action continues, with a little side trip to Vegas. First up, DARK CITY.
A group of pro gamblers hustle a naive out-of-towner into signing over a company check. The despondent man hangs himself, and the gamblers find themselves hunted by his brother, a homicidal manic with an unshakeable vendetta.
This film’s got a lot going for it. Baby Chuck Heston. Lizabeth Scott warbling in gowns designed by Edith Head. The Hands of Mike Mazurki. The streets of LA. And, as host Alan Rode said, the mark of Noir Quality: Harry Morgan. Also, his future DRAGNET partner Jack Webb does a fantastic turn as a true heel.
But somehow it all doesn’t quite add up. For one thing, it feels way too long and padded out with the side story of Heston getting mixed up with the dead man’s widow and adorable little boy (ugh) and what feels like an unnecessary trip to Las Vegas. I never get tired of watching my gal Lizabeth sing, but man are there a lot of musical numbers, and her character is too submissive, treacly and insufferably nice.
But the real problem I have with this one is that Heston is just too fucking heroic. The character needed to be darker, more morally ambiguous and conflicted for this to resonate as true noir to me. Never mind the happy ending. Though, to be fair, the climactic fight scene between him and Mazurki is pretty great.
Harry Morgan (billed here as Henry) is the highlight of the film as a punchy vet who turns out to be the only one who can actually get shit done. It’s worth watching just for him.
Can’t exactly recommend this one for neophytes, but it’s worth seeing if you’re hardcore Noir Hound or a Lizabeth completist.
On to the second feature, ARMORED CAR ROBBERY.
This is a clash of the Noir Titans that pits gravel-voiced tough guy Charles McGraw against real cool killer William Talman.
The titular heist goes south when a cop is killed, setting his partner on a quest for hardboiled vengeance. Of course, there’s a hot blonde in the mix.
This is a great illustration of my claim that noir isn’t really about the details of the heist, it’s about the way the guys come apart in the aftermath. Talman is superb as the icy and meticulous brains of the operation, a guy who clips all the labels out of his shirts but still falls for his buddy’s sort-of-ex wife.
On the flip side is McGraw as the relentless lawman hellbent on justice. There’s a lot of lively debate about which actor best embodies the Film Noir ethos, but there no question that McGraw is a top contender and this is one of his best roles. He even manages to have moments of real emotional depth under that granite face of his, particularly in the scene with his partner’s widow.
Love this flick. Did I mention there are gas masks?
Mistress Christa says check it out.
Tonight, it’s HE WALKED BY NIGHT and DOWN THREE DARK STREETS. Which sounds like two halves of sentence.