Noir City: DECEPTION and HOLLOW TRIUMPH

First and fucking foremost, my deepest and most sincere apologies for being unable to provide write ups on the majority of the Noir City flicks this year. I like to think of myself as bulletproof and never go to the doctor, but I’ve had pneumonia for over a month now and it’s seriously cramping my style.

Nevermind all that, let’s get on with the films I was able to see.¬†First up on last night’s Paul Henried double bill: DECEPTION.

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A struggling cellist (Henreid) reconnects with an old flame, pianist Bette Davis. In his absence, she has become the kept woman of a rich, megalomaniacal composer (Claude Raines) and her obsession with keeping the true nature of her relationship with her temperamental mentor a secret from her new husband leads (as things often do in Noir City) to murder.

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Didn’t love this one. I mean it’s not terrible. There’s some nice shadowy cinematography and man, does Claude Raines bury the needle on the scenery-chewing Ham-O-Meter. It takes a lot to upstage Miss Bette Davis, but he stole this film from her like it was a nerdy kid’s lunch money. He’s definitely up there with Clifton Webb and George Macready in the pantheon of plummy, effeminate obviously-gay-but-not-really Film Noir villains.

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Also, if you’re a classical buff (I’m not) the score is top notch and there’s lots of on-screen time dedicated to the performance of music.

But listen, the main reason this one didn’t really do it for me was because of the fact that it was all so swank and upper-crusty. I really prefer films that are a lot more gritty and sweaty and lowbrow. This was more of a drawing room melodrama and even though the Henreid and Davis characters were supposed to be poor, struggling musicians, both actors are so naturally aristocratic that you just don’t buy it for a second. It was a First World Problems movie.

Also, (SPOILERS!!!) I felt like the ending was weirdly abrupt and unsatisfying. Davis almost immediately confesses to the murder for no apparent reason and then she and Henreid just walk off screen, presumably to be arrested or something. I was thinking that maybe she would fall into that classic noirish downward spiral where she now has to kill the understudy she tried to pay off to cover up her first murder, getting more and more desperate until all her lies catch up with her and she snaps. No such luck.

I will say that I want to live in her fake loft apartment. I really need a huge fake window that looks out through fake rain at a fake city where it’s always night.

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During intermission, Eddie Muller interviewed Henreid’s daughter Monika. She was funny and charming and shared a ton of great stories about her dad and his films. She is currently working on a documentary about him.

Side note, Henreid died of pneumonia. (ominous music sting)

Ok, on to HOLLOW TRIUMPH.

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This, Faustketeers, is more like it. This is textbook Film Noir. A sweaty, dirty, lowbrow kinda flick that’s right up my dark alley. The kinda flick where you can’t shake your past. Where every move you make just gets you in deeper over your head. Because nobody wins in this bitter little world.

A newly released ex con (Henreid) gets mixed up in a casino heist that goes to hell and leaves him on the run from a powerful gangster. In a credibility-straining, only-in-film-noir twist, he runs into a lookalike shrink and decides to steal the man’s identity. Only the doc has a scar on his face. You can see where this is going…

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After scarring himself to match and murdering his doppelganger, he realizes he cut the wrong cheek. But it’s too late to back down, so he goes ahead with his crazy scheme, hoping no one will notice. Unfortunately, he discovers that the man whose identity he stole is up to his eyeballs in gambling debt and in trouble with his own set of casino thugs. He tries to lam with the doc’s sexy and cynical secretary (Joan Bennett) but there’s no escape in Noir City.

I’ve seen this one before, but there are so many wonderful little things that I notice during repeat viewings. For one thing, this is an amazing tie movie. Seriously every tie on every man in this film is astoundingly awesome, at least until he starts impersonating the staid, boring doctor. Also great downtown LA locations including the Barclay Hotel and even fisticuffs on Angel’s Flight.

Joan Bennett slays me. Her “bitter little world” speech, from which the Film Noir Foundation takes its slogan, gets better and better every time I hear it.

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This is one flick you all need to hunt down and watch, toot fucking sweet. Highly recommended.

Pneumonia notwithstanding, I’ll be back down in Noir City tonight to provide the last of your ringside play-by-play for this year. I’m not gonna be able to do the full triple feature, so I’m gonna skip TOO LATE FOR TEARS. Love that film, and if you haven’t seen it you should, but I’ve seen it a buncha times already and need to save my extremely limited energy for the two films I haven’t seen, THE CAPTIVE CITY and BUY ME THAT TOWN.

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