I missed the Wednesday night feature, but even the endless construction fuckstickery can’t keep me away for long, so I was back in my usual seat last night for a Robert Ryan double bill. This was one I couldn’t miss
Some people think of Bogey as the ultimate Film Noir anti-hero, but for me it’s always been Robert Ryan. Even when he plays a sympathetic role, like the washed up boxer in THE SET UP, he brings this tortured complexity to the character, like there’s some unknowable darkness lurking just beneath the surface. When he’s bad, he’s even better. I loved his relentless, vengeful veteran in ACT OF VIOLENCE. And how great is the scene where trampy Gloria Grahame asks him what it’s like to kill a man in ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW? (“He dared me. Like you are now.”) Ryan gives unspoken depth to even the most generic characters and hamfisted dialog. I’ll pretty much watch him in anything.
So when I saw that Noir City was showing two Ryan films I’d never seen, I was over the moon. First up, CAUGHT.
Ryan plays a sadistic, controlling millionaire with a bum heart who seduces and marries a sweet department store model (Barbara Bel Geddes) just to prove a point to his shrink. She quickly gets sick of his abuse and runs off to work as a receptionist in a pediatrician’s office. The saintly doc (James Mason) falls for her and complications ensue.
The story is pretty silly but Ryan is dynamite as the psycho husband. However the best part of this one is the end, so people who still haven’t seen this one and don’t want to read spoilers better skip this next paragraph.
Okay, so the model gets knocked up by the mean husband, who threatens to have her declared an unfit (slutty) mother if she tries to divorce him. Dr Nice Guy still loves her anyway of course, and holds her hand while she’s being rushed to the hospital with “complications.” She’s in shock because she thinks she murdered the hubby (turns out he’s fine) and the baby dies. Typical Noir ending right? Wrong! See, the baby’s death is a HAPPY ending!!! Dr Nice Guy assures her that the baby’s death was for the best, because now she’s free from hubby’s tyranny and she and the doc can live happily ever after. WOW! I thought I was the only one on earth who would think that not having to raise a baby would be a good thing. Never mind the fact that if the baby was a girl and you were married to James Mason, you might have problems 14 years down the line. “Lolita…” (insert your own James Mason voice here.)
Right, BEWARE MY LOVELY.
A widow (Lupino) hires a transient handyman (Ryan) to help her out over the holidays. The handyman turns out to be a psycho on the lam after murdering his previous employer. He locks the widow in the house, tormenting her, threatening to rape and/or kill her one minute and helping her trim the Christmas tree the next.
With a couple of powerhouse actors like Ida Lupino and Robert Ryan trapped in a classic Film Noir scenario that Eddie Muller called “Adam and Eve in a can,” you’d think this one would be a knockout. I thought it was fun and entertaining, but unfortunately, it’s not quite as good as it could have been. I love both these actors and as I said, I’ll happily watch Ryan do anything, but this film has some problems. It’s got good stuff too (Lupino with scissors! Ryan in really tight pants!) but I was bothered by Lupino’s utter helplessness for the majority of the film. It just didn’t seem like it should have all that hard for her to get out of the house. The period setting also seemed a little odd (1918) especially considering that the plot could have just as easily taken place in any decade. Ryan’s psycho handyman was pretty by-the-numbers, but it’s him, so I didn’t care. I really liked the scene where Ryan puts on her dead hubby’s army coat. Maybe I would have liked to see a little more spunk from Lupino and a little more of a realistic trapped feeling inside the house, but the print was gorgeous and I just can’t get enough of Ryan’s face. Ida is pretty easy on the eyes too. Glad I caught this one on the big screen.
Also, am I crazy or was that Noir City regular William Tallman who played Lupino’s dead husband, visible only in photographs?
Tonight, THE HOUSTON STORY and NEW ORLEANS UNCENSORED.