Noir City: TRAPPED and THE FILE ON THELMA JORDON

First of all, has it really been 21 years? As cohost Alan Rode said last night, someone who was born on opening night of the first Noir City Hollywood would now be old enough to enjoy a shot of Bogart bourbon at the cocktail party between last night’s films. Time sure fucking flies, huh?

But you didn’t come here to listen to me trying to figure out how the hell I got to be this old. You want to hear about the flicks. Well, don’t worry your pretty little head, your plucky ringside reporter is here for you.

First up TRAPPED, starring bad blonde Barbara Payton and Lloyd Bridges.

This twisty low budget gem starts off in more of a Docu-Noir style with lots of boring footage of Treasury Department workers and printing equipment, accompanied by the kind of ham-handed voice over that always comes off more like propaganda. Spoiler alert: printing counterfeit money is bad.

Then we cut to some nice older lady at the bank getting a sanctimonious lecture about how it’s up to her to spot “queer” bills and that it’s her own damn fault that she’s out 20 bucks that she desperately needs to keep her struggling family restaurant open. America, fuck yeah!

Anyway, once we get the obligatory flag-waving civics lesson out of the way, we get right into the action. We meet the tightly-wound, gum-chewing convict Tris (???) Stewart – played by the ferociously charming Lloyd Bridges – when feds need his help catching his ex-partner who’s still out there running funny money off Stewart’s stolen plates. They stage a phony escape for Stewart, which he immediately turns into the real thing. And where do you go when you’re on the lam from T-Men and looking for one last score? Into the arms of bombshell Barbara Payton, of course.

There were rumors of a steamy real life affair fueling the obvious on-screen chemistry between the two actors. Though, truth be told, the same could be said about all of Payton’s co-stars. Not to mention those six rodeo cowboys…

I could dedicate a whole post to the sad, sordid and profoundly noir-ish story of the wild life and early death of Barbara Payton. But I’ll just direct you to read this instead. Then maybe check out her sleazy and astounding memoir, I Am Not Ashamed.

So, yeah, back to TRAPPED. This film really lives up to its name. It makes great use of a classic noir trope, the guy who just can’t win, who is up against forces beyond his control that he can’t possibly beat and keeps digging himself in deeper. There are double crosses and set-ups within set ups and even though you find yourself almost rooting for the bastard to get away with it, you know the web is closing in. There’s no escape. Hence, the title.

The way its shot really amps up the feeling of claustrophobia and paranoia. Tight spaces, shadowy hallways, intimate close ups. The violence is brutal and plentiful and the dramatic finale in the trolley barn is reason enough to hunt this one down. I can’t say that it’s a great film. It certainly pales in comparison to some of director Richard Fleischer’s better known noirs like NARROW MARGIN and ARMORED CAR ROBBERY or even my personal odd-ball fave the proto-serial-killer flick FOLLOW ME QUIETLY. But it’s definitely worth watching. Mistress Christa says check it out!

Next up THE FILE ON THELMA JORDON.

Sadly, I had to duck out early last night and missed this one, though I have seen it before and you really oughta see it too. Because Barbara Fucking Stanwyck.

THELMA is sometimes dismissed as a melodramatic women’s picture, but I think it offers a nuanced, complex and intriguing take on the classic Femme Fatale. It was written by a woman too (the improbably named Ketti Frings) which clearly helped make the title character feel more real, more relatable. Check this one out too, if you can.

Tonight, APPOINTMENT WITH DANGER and SHADOW ON THE WALL. Hope to see you there and if not, I’ll see you back here for tomorrow’s write up.

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