A boxing artist! An ice skating femme fatale! This show, featuring two rare titles not available on DVD, was one I’d been looking forward two since the line up was announced.
First up WHIPLASH.
You’d think that an artist would be reluctant to risk damaging his hands in the ring. Not “Mike Angelo,” who gets tangled up with a mysterious dame and allows a sadistic, wheelchair-bound fight manager to bully him into taking up boxing. Throw in an alcoholic doctor and a saucy, wise-cracking party-girl and you’ve got WHIPLASH.
This one was a hoot, with a dynamite supporting cast including Zachary Scott as the sadistic manager and a witty and memorable performance from Eve Arden as the party-girl neighbor. Hardly genius but still good fun. And am I the only one who was a little disturbed by the creepy sand sculpture of two knocked-out boxers that the artist made for the neighborhood kids?
According to Muller, this may have been the last time this film will ever be projected on a big screen, which makes me doubly glad I was there. Because as much as I may bitch and moan about the snickering hipsters, nothing beats seeing films like these on the big screen, the way they were meant to be seen.
Now, on to THE HUNTED.
This straight-shooting, Poverty Row cheapie is saved from mediocrity by the mesmerizing Belita, a British Olympic figure skater who did only a handful of pictures before ditching the acting racket and disappearing, Garbo-style, into the French countryside. She is absolutely stunning and owns every shot she’s in. She gives off this fierce, precocious sexual power not unlike Lauren Bacall. Although, according to Bacall’s bio, director Howard Hawks really had to coach the sexy out of the nervous young actress. She even claims that her trademark smoldering “look,” with her chin down and eyes up, originally came about as a trick to stop herself from shaking. I might be wrong, but watching THE HUNTED, I got the feeling that Belita was different. She strikes me as the kind of dame who was behind the wheel of her own sexual power all along.
The story (penned by Steve “I WAKE UP SCREAMING” Fisher) is by the numbers, but still entertaining and hits all the classic Noir notes. Cop falls for a hot dame. Dame gets mixed up in a diamond heist and winds up serving four years in Tehachapi. When she gets out, the dick’s still soft on her, even though she threatened to kill him repeatedly. When another guy she threatened winds up dead, it’s up to the love-struck dick to figure if the dame is really a murderer or the victim of a set up. Oh, and did I mention there’s an ice skating number?
Although this flick serves up everything us Noir junkies crave, rainy streets and fedoras and dangerous sex and even a Charles McGraw cameo, there was one major issue that made me shake my fist at the screen. No it wasn’t the May/December angle (the dick’s in his 50s and the sexy skater her early 20s) or the ice skating (which was kind of hot in a pervy, trying-to-look-up-her-skirt-the-whole-time kind of way) it was the ending.
I’m very torn as I compose these posts, because there are tons of things I want to say about the movies, but I bite my tongue in order to avoid spoilers. Which sucks, because many of these films are so rare that the majority of my readers may never have a chance to see them. But in this case, I have to make an exception. If you haven’t seen THE HUNTED and don’t want me to ruin it for you, now would be a good time to go get a sandwich.
The problem with us writers is that we want to rewrite the world. Sitting there in the Egyptian with fellow author Stephen Blackmoore, we looked at each other when the credits rolled and both came out with the same idea for how this flick should have ended.
Seriously, what the fuck was up with that happy ending? Everything else in this film is so studiously Noirish that pulling the punch at the end and letting them live happily ever after just pissed me off. I can’t help but wonder if that was a studio mandated rewrite. Because it’s so clear the way this story should have ended.
To make a long story short, Belita cold-cocks the dick and goes on the lam, and it seems clear that she really is a murderer. The enraged, broken-hearted dick hunts her down, but just before he finds her, the real killer confesses. I think the dick should have killed her and just as she dies in his arms, he spots the newspaper declaring her innocence. That’s how it goes in Noir City. Or how it should go, anyway. What happens instead is this weird, baffling sequence where she shoots him in the shoulder (he’s fine, really) and then when he finds out she’s innocent, he blames the shooting on a random stranger and they live happily ever after. Bah fucking humbug.
Your not-so-humble narrator gets a couple days off, but I’ll be back at it on Wednesday for THE TWO MRS CARROLLS and THE DARK MIRROR.