It’s that time of year again, Faustketeers. Time for another trip down the mean streets of Noir City. And what better way to kick off a cinematic tribute to the City of Angels than with a little Chandler action. First up THE BLUE DAHLIA.
This flick was Raymond Chandler’s only original screenplay, and apparently required copious amounts of “bourbon with a bourbon chaser” to make it to the final page. It’s a booze-soaked story about a veteran, played by Alan Ladd, who returns home from the Pacific to find his hard-drinking wife in the arms of another man. After an altercation over her infidelity, she ends up confessing to a drunken crack-up that killed their little boy and Ladd barely restrains himself from killing her. Unsurprisingly, she winds up dead the next morning anyway and he’s been set up to take the fall. Throw in a sleazy house dick, a shell-shocked vet with a pathological aversion to “monkey music” and the wife’s lover’s wife (!) played by petite powerhouse Veronica Lake.
And, yes of course we all love Ms. Lake here in Noir City, but, seriously, can we talk about Doris Dowling’s metallic jumpsuit?
… because, damn. Designed by Edith Head, naturally.
Also love William Bendix as the volitile vet with the traumatic brain injury.
But, then again, I love William Bendix in pretty much anything. Interesting (SPOILERISH) fact about the ending of this one; Bendix was originally supposed to be the killer, but the higher ups felt it was disparaging and disrespectful toward wounded vets. Funny how that perception changed after the Vietnam war, when the plot device of a psycho vet was used so often in films and fiction that it became cliche.
I can’t imagine there are many of you who are into Film Noir enough to be reading this but still haven’t seen this film. Well, if not, what are you waiting for? Mistress Christa says check it out.
Going from Chandler to Chandleresque, next up is I LOVE TROUBLE.
Ok, maybe “Chandleresque” is too kind for this goofy mess of a movie. More like Chandler rip-off, almost to the point of parody. It’s like an extended game of Chandler bingo. Wisecracking P.I? Check. Beautiful, missing wife with a sleazy secret? Check. Lovesick chauffeur? Check. P.I. gets cold-cocked? Nearly run over? Drugged? Check, check and check.
Now I’ve never read the Roy Huggins novel DOUBLE TAKE, on which he based this script and I’ve also never seen the TV series 77 SUNSET STRIP which apparently a better take on his poor-man’s Marlowe. But this version is pretty silly, and any hope of taking it seriously is instantly undermined by Franchot Tone’s smarmy, over-the-top and almost condescending performance.
I mean, Joan Crawford notwithstanding, how the hell are we supposed to believe dames are falling all over this guy?
Speaking of dames, the dames in this picture are all great, with Glenda Farrell standing out as the wise ass Gal Friday named Bix. Sadly, I wasn’t able to find any good stills of her from I LOVE TROUBLE, but I did find this captioned photo of her and her cat (wearing glasses!) which I would argue is substantially better than the whole movie.
Also, I found myself bothered by the almost comedic music. It really aided and abetted Tone’s snarky performance in making this film feel like parody rather than homage.
The twisty, batshit story is tough to follow, even on a second viewing. I wouldn’t even know how to begin to explain it to you. Let’s just say some hot but shady dames are maybe impersonating each other or maybe not. There’s burlesque and “bubble dancing” and in the end it doesn’t really matter because there’s plenty of snappy repartee along the way. One other thing it does have going for it, which makes it a great choice for this year’s program, is plenty of great classic Los Angeles street scenes and locations. Which is why, even if I don’t love any given flick, it’s always such a pleasure to see them on a big screen.
In other news, how the fuck has it been TWENTY YEARS since the first Noir City film festival? I can’t possibly be that old.
Coming up tonight, we have an evening with the Demon Dog of crime fiction James Ellroy and L.A. CONFIDENTIAL.