This year’s penultimate show was a Joseph Losey triple feature. Starting off with THE PROWLER.
When you do this for as long as I have, past festivals start to run together in your memory. I knew that I had seen this film at a previous Noir City, and specifically remembered James Ellroy introducing it. Turns out that was in San Francisco, not LA. Also, I was equally sure I had already written a post about it, but if I did, it’s lost in the mysterious backwaters of the 2008 internet.
Regardless, this is a fantastic flick and you need to see it. So, with that in mind, allow me to make my case for either the first or possibly second time.
A romantically challenged cop (Van Heflin) and his partner show up to investigate a peeper report from the beautiful and lonely young wife of a late-night disk jockey (Evelyn Keyes.) You can see where this is leading. The cop becomes obsessed with her, manipulates and seduces her and then winds up “accidentally” shooting her suspicious husband. That’s when things get weird, in the best possible way, and the two of them wind up on the lam in a creepy desert ghost town while she fights through the life-threatening delivery of a love child whose very existence would blow his cover and expose his nefarious scheme.
There are so many interesting things about this film, but let’s start off with a little Hollywood trivia mentioned again last night by host Eddie Muller. The original screenplay was written in secret by blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo. He also played the smooth omnipresent radio voice of the cuckolded DJ husband, whose ominous tagline was “I’ll be seeing you, Susan.”
This may be Van Heflin’s greatest role. The character is such an amoral sleazebag but his performance is nuanced and never over-the-top. Not exactly sympathetic, per se, but somehow relatable and deeply human in all his awfulness. There’s sensational screen chemistry between him and Keyes and absolutely no coyness about what’s really going between them, hence the pregnancy plot twist. I love the way he uses her own sexual desire against her. This is everything I want out of Film Noir and then some. It tackles tough issues of simmering class resentment, repressed female sexuality and the dark corruption hidden beneath the genteel suburban facade of post-war America. If you haven’t seen this one, what the fuck are you waiting for? In fact, go buy the special edition DVD, restored and rereleased by the Film Noir Foundation and jam-packed with all kinds of cool extras.
Funny personal anecdote related to this movie. I first met Noir City host Alan Rode back in 07 (ish) when we were both standing in line at Eddie Brandt’s, the world’s best video store. They had a huge catalog of unofficial “loaner” tapes that you could borrow for free if you paid to rent something else along with it. I was asking about their copy of THE PROWLER and we struck up a conversation about Film Noir. The rest, as they say, is history.
Next up, Losey’s 1951 remake of M.
This is another film that I’ve seen many times and absolutely love. You can read my original write up here.
The only update I’d like to share is that in the years since that post, I have been able to find a photo of the creepy fucking clown balloon. Enjoy!
Which brings us to the last of the three Losey pictures THE BIG NIGHT.
After spending his seventeeth birthday watching his ex-pug father take a brutal beating from a local crime boss without fighting back, a hot-headed young man is hell-bent on revenge. But everything isn’t what it seems in this coming-of-age drama, and the kid is forced to learn some hard lessons in adulting on the mean streets of Noir City.
Ok, listen. I never make any claims to be some kind of expert or academic. I won’t be presenting any highbrow analysis of the inherent value or lack thereof in this or any film. All I can tell you is what I think. Your millage may vary.
I didn’t like this one.
Maybe it’s because I really loved the previous two and this one didn’t measure up in my eyes. Maybe it’s because it felt like it was trying too hard. Maybe it’s because the big plot twist at the end seemed clunky and forced. Maybe it was John Barrymore Jr, whose histrionic performance just didn’t send me.
I had this (probably completely unfair) thought pop into my head, that he’s like the Arch Hall Jr of Noir. Once I thought that, I couldn’t take him seriously. He’s supposed to be this anti-heroic teenage timebomb, but he just comes off as an annoying, whiny little peckersnot. Never mind the fact that he pervs out hard on every single woman he encounters, including a deeply uncomfortable scene in which he awkwardly hits on a beautiful African American lounge singer (Mauri Lynn) and then barely stops himself from using the N-word.
I honestly have no idea what point Losey was trying to make in that scene, but it really kills any scrap of sympathy I might have had for that kid. Not that I had much to start with and not that he doesn’t continue to undermine my sympathy at every turn with impulsive, dumbass behavior all the way to the end
Completely unrelated note: this is the second time I’ve tried and failed to find a photo of a Noir Poodle during this year’s festival. First it was Velda’s dog in KISS ME DEADLY, and now this singer also has a poodle in that scene. No dice. I’m not angry, Internet. I’m just disappointed.
If you want to make it up to me, you can find me a high res screen grab of the shelf of Pocket paperbacks in the background of the drugstore scene.
Also, I can’t be the only one to think of this, but doesn’t Philip Bourneuf’s drunken philosophy professor remind you of John Mahoney’s W.P. Mayhew in BARTON FINK?
So yeah, overall this one was a no for me. But, as I’ve said many times, I love that Muller and Rode don’t just play the hits at Noir City, and I’m never sorry to have seen a rare film like this on the big screen, even if it’s not my cup of tea. And, no matter what, I can always find little moments that I do like. Like the LA street scenes. Like those aforementioned vintage paperbacks. Like the kid rocking a crying baby while holding a loaded gun. (!!!)
Like the weirdly tender and almost maternal physicality between the kid and the barman, who also inexplicably lived with and cared for the dad. In my version of the story, he’s the dad’s lover and that’s the real reason why he wouldn’t marry that girl.
Whew, that was a long ass write up after a long ass night. Tonight we’re on to the big finale. The last day of the festival, featuring one of my all time favorite films ACT OF VIOLENCE, along with NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES.
Also, here’s a hot tip for you LA Noirhounds. Due to the sound problems during the first screening of PITFALL, they’ll be re-screening it again for FREE today at 4pm so if you missed it the first time, here’s your second chance.