I know I’ve missed a lot of flicks this year, so this might not be a particularly meaningful statement, but last night was hands down my favorite so far. After several movies that were more noir-adjacent or sort-of-but-not-quite-noir I was happy to have a pair of films that fall squarely and unquestionably into the noir sweet spot.
Thanks, Dorothy B. Hughes!
First of all, if you haven’t read any of her superb novels, get your sorry ass to your preferred bookseller and remedy that shit, pronto. Start with In a Lonely Place, which also got made into a Noir City favorite and one of my top five flicks of all time. Both of the films in last night’s double feature were based on her novels. People like to talk about how women can’t write noir or act like the women writing it today (your not-so-humble narrator included) are doing something surprising and brand new, but Hughes was way ahead of us.
First up in our Hughes double feature, RIDE THE PINK HORSE.
Before we even get started, we’d better give our inner 12 year olds a minute to get over the elbow-nudging snicker-fit inspired by this title. See, it’s about a MERRY GO ROUND! I don’t know what you were thinking…
Ok, right, on to the movie itself.
A brooding, violent stranger, ironically named Lucky (Robert Montgomery,) comes to a shabby little bordertown looking for revenge and winds up with more trouble than he bargained for.
Host Eddie Muller called this one a Noir Samurai film, which is pretty dead on. The foreignness of the little town and its strange native rituals intensify the feelings of alienation and dread. Characters often speak Spanish with no subtitles and even the money is unfamiliar. The only people our anti-hero can understand and relate to are up to no good. Of course there’s a unscrupulous femme fatale in the mix, played by Bitch Eyebrow Goddess and Noir City regular Andrea King. I love this flick. Wanda Hendrix’s “brown-face” make up and bad Mexican accent not-withstanding.
Not that she isn’t beautiful and talented and memorable in her role as the scrappy little street-urchin, it’s just that she’s about as Mexican as Debbie Reynolds.
Putting that aside, I do like the development of her character over the course of this flick. She starts off a helpless lost lamb and ends up knocking out a thug with a beer bottle and saving Lucky’s life with her fearlessness and quick thinking. At the end, while he’s all lovestruck and agonizing over how to say goodbye to her, she just dismisses him like a one-night-stand and goes back to telling her friends all about her brave and bad-ass adventures.
Anyway this one is available on DVD so Mistress Christa says check it out.
The guest of honor for this show was Patricia Morison, who had recently celebrated her 100th birthday. She shared a lot of great stories from golden age Hollywood, but my personal favorite was her getting invited into Yul Brenner’s dressing room, only to find him waiting for her completely naked. Because, you know, body-paint. No, really.
Our second Hughes feature was THE FALLEN SPARROW.
A former POW (John Garfield) struggling with post traumatic stress disorder comes home to New York City to look into the suspicious suicide of the man who helped him escape and winds up on the run from Nazi spies. Of course, there are dames. Three of them, including the lovely Ms. Morison, and none of them can be trusted.
This isn’t a perfect film, and the somewhat contrived and confusing plot about a stolen flag, or standard, or some shit, is a hot mess. But what this film does right is dealing with Hughes’ favorite theme; crazy men.
She loved to delve deep into male psychopathology and Garfield obviously had a blast with this tortured character.
Oh, and there’s a scene where he makes Maureen O’Hara model hats for him.
I can’t recommend this one to everybody, but hardcore Noirhounds, Hughes completists, and vintage hat enthusiasts should check it out. It’s flawed but certainly entertaining.
Tonight is the night I’ve been waiting for all month. An Argentine triple bill with EL VAMPIRO NEGRO (a remake of Fritz Lang’s M,) NO ABRAS NUNCA ESA PUERTA and SI MUERO ANTES DE DESPERTAR.