Noir City: THE LONG HAUL and BLACK GRAVEL – plus an important update

It breaks my heart to share this news, but the rest of this year’s Noir City festival has been cancelled due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Our beloved Noir City family does tend to skew older and I totally understand and support this decision on the part of the American Cinematheque and the Film Noir Foundation. If you can afford to do so, please consider donating to either or both of these organizations to make up for the financial squeeze they will experience from the last minute cancellation.

Meanwhile, panic in the Hollywood streets nothwithstanding, I’ll still be soldiering on with my write ups from here at the Fausthaus. Having been a pants-free work-at-home freelancer for years, this social distancing shit is my jam. Self-quarantine, but with movies. And I hope all you Faustketeers will continue to play along.

So, on to the flicks.

Remember a few days ago, when I was bitching about FLY BY NIGHT because it was way too cheerful and upbeat for my taste. Well, there was no such issue with last night’s bleak, grim, and profoundly grown-up double bill.

To kick off the evening, we had a little Q and A with Alan Rode and the charming and lovely Victoria Mature, who had all kinds of quirky and heartwarming stories about her father Victor and his abiding love of animals in general and shelter dogs in particular. Stick a pin in that warm, fuzzy sentiment, because you’re gonna need it later.

Right, ok, the movies. First up a flick staring this cute puppy (and also some humans, whatevs) THE LONG HAUL.

My glib, Twitter-length review of this flick is “Wages of Fear with Diana Dors as the nitroglycerin.” But man, it’s so much more than that.

At the behest of his homesick British wife, an American serviceman (Mature) gets a job driving trucks between Liverpool and Glasgow. He swiftly finds himself mixed up with mobsters, and of course there’s a blonde involved. Not just any blonde.

I mean…

From the description, this all sounds like your standard issue Film Noir building blocks, and don’t get me wrong, I love those blocks. Every single one of these elements are right up my dark alley. But yet this film manages to transcend the cliches and present a much more complex, adult story. I loved all the lines and hard living in Vic Mature’s older, more careworn face and you could see in his eyes how much the character had to lose. Diana Dors’ character Lynn could have been a token trashy moll, but she comes off as relatable, vulnerable and ultimately doomed.

Ok, the spoiler issue. There are some plot elements I’d really love to talk about, but I hate to give away major twists. I’ll just tell you that there is one brilliant and unexpected twist in particular that really stunned me. Also, a weirdly noble down ending that felt pitch perfect, especially regarding Lynn’s fate. So do whatever you have to do to see this flick. Highly recommended.

Side note for the soft-hearted: The cute puppy was fine in the end. The kid (named Butch!) not so much. (Told you there was a lot of kid harm and death in this year’s line up.)

Right ok, on to BLACK GRAVEL.

The first thing I have to tell you about this flick is the distinct reactions I kept on getting from people who had seen it when I asked about it. They would get this thousand yard stare and just repeat the title in a hushed tone like it might hear them talking about it and come back to kick their ass again.

Second, remember that cute puppy in the previous film, who survived a wild fist fight at the trucking company and still lived happily ever after? Well, there’s a cute dog in this movie too, and it doesn’t work out so well for him. If you can’t tolerate animal cruelty or death, you’ll want to skip this flick.

There’s also some nasty anti-Semitic stuff, though it feels like more like character beats than a part of the movie’s underlying message. More on that later, but my point is, this is a rough one all around, kids. You’ve been warned.

BLACK GRAVEL starts with a trucker killing a dog with a rock and it’s all down hill from there. This a bleak, unflinching movie about the mundane and matter-of-fact ugliness and depravity lurking in the hearts of ordinary people during the strange aftermath of one of the darkest periods in recent history.

The film takes place on an American airbase in the German village of Sohnen, around which an entire ecosystem of shady dealings and debauchery has formed.

When a trucker and black market gravel smuggler (apparently a thing in post-war Germany) sees a coworker kill a dog, he keeps the flashy collar before dumping the body in the gravel pit where he works. Turns out the dog belongs to a former flame, now married to an American military officer. The trucker uses the collar to string her along, tricking her into believing the dog is still alive. Even after finding out the truth, she can’t seem to resist falling back into his embrace. (Me, I’d fucking resist. Also, I’d punch him in the dick, but I digress.)

The trucker accidentally runs over and kills a young couple and in typical Noir fashion, the lengths he has to go through to cover up his crime just bury him deeper and deeper. There’ll be a lot more bodies in that gravel pit before this movie hits its pitch black final scene.

Again, I’m struggling with spoilers here too. Doubly so, because this film seems extremely hard to see, especially the fully restored, uncensored version we watched last night. So I won’t go into too much detail about the ending, but there are a few crucial things I need to say.

First there’s the issue of the dog. Now anyone who knows me even casually knows how much I love dogs. I fucking hate seeing any harm come to an animal, especially dogs. That being said, in this particular movie the dog’s death, and its hidden body and the way it all dovetails into the other aspects of the plot are not just necessary, they are absolutely perfect. Not gratuitous at all and totally worth it. Your millage may vary, obviously.

About the anti-Semitic bits: This part I will spoil, and that way you can decide for yourself if it’s something you want to see or skip.

An old man is playing a German marching song on the bar’s jukebox and pretending to march with a broom as a rifle. Drunk Americans tell him to knock it off with the Nazi nostalgia bullshit, but he persists. When the bar owner tries to stop him from pretend marching, he lashes out, calling him a “dirty Jew” and knocking him aside, into the now broken jukebox. The bar owner’s arm is cut by the broken glass, revealing tattooed numbers from a concentration camp. It’s a harsh fucking moment, but pretty powerful too.

My take on this scene is that it is more about highlighting the still very raw and ugly tensions that lingered between German citizens in the immediate aftermath of the war, not actually suggesting that Jews are dirty.

There is one other throw-away line where the investigator makes a derogatory comment and that one seems less crucial and didn’t really bring as much to the table as the above described scene. If it were my movie, I’d cut that line and keep the bar scene, However, they are both in this version and that may be more than you may be willing to tolerate. Your call, home viewers.

But all that aside, there was one aspect of this film that I absolutely fucking loved. I loved the realistic and non-judgemental portrayal of sex workers. Even our leading lady has a history of prostitution and it’s just a matter of fact part of who she is, not some dark dirty secret that could ruin her. I loved all the wild bar girls, especially voluptuous lush Elli, who is a total car wreck but still manages to be both sexy and sympathetic.

Did I mention she has a foot worship scene? Once again, the internet has failed me, so you’ll have to take my word for it and make do with the above image. She also bares a breast in a very rare incident of actual nudity in Noir City, but I can’t seem to find an image of that either. You perverts are really slacking off out there in cyberspace.

All in all, I have to admit I actually kinda loved this movie. But you all know how much I love a dark, down ending. The bleaker the better. I won’t lie, it’s tough going and left me feeling shook and beat the fuck up emotionally, but in the best possible way. Which is why we all keep coming back to Noir City, isn’t it?

So yeah, BLACK GRAVEL…

(stares into the distance)

Even though the festival has been suspended, I will still be posting a write up for NAKED CITY and HARDLY A CRIMINAL. So stick with me, Faustketeers, and don’t forget to play along at home!

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