Circumstantial Evidence and Sign of the Ram

Another year, another Noir City in the can. For the final quadruple feature, I’m splitting my write up into two halves, so that we can make it last. Here’s the first half. Starting with Circumstantial Evidence.

It wasn’t until the last day that we had the first real loser of the festival. For starters, I was already way over my kid actor threshold with Suddenly and The Window, and the kid who plays the son in this one was exceptionally screechy and repellent.

Before the film starts, we get this heavy handed warning about the growing menace the threatens the very fabric of our society: circumstantial evidence. No really.

A volatile single dad (O’Shea) gets into a scuffle with a shopkeeper who accused his kid of stealing. The shopkeeper gets killed in the fight, and several witnesses claim to have seen O’Shea whack him with a hatchet. Of course he didn’t, but he gets sent to the chair anyway, by CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE!!!

The screechy kid and the dad’s inexplicably sinister best friend (Lloyd Nolan) have to work together to clear the father’s name, which involves a kids boxing tournament and a bizarre pint-sized reenactment of the original fight.

His best friend never actually does anything bad in the film, but there was something about Nolan’s performance that made him seem kind of creepy and mildly sociopathic. When he was trying to get custody of the kid I was convinced he was gonna molest him or chop him up. No such luck.

When O’Shea finds out his appeal has been denied, he busts out of prison, only to discover that his kid and pal have proved him innocent and gotten him a pardon from the governor. So he has to break back in, which was the only almost-but-not-quite-good part of the film. It had some nice suspenseful moments but would have been infinitely better, and far more noirish, if he’d been killed on the way back in. Of course, he’s fine and everyone lives happily ever after.

Muller introduced this one by saying that he’d never seen it either and that we were all going to be guinea pigs in another Noir experiment. Afterwards, someone should have called PETA to report cruelty to animals.

Next up, the also not-really-Noir, but infinitely more tolerable Sign of the Ram.

A young woman gets a job as a secretary for a reclusive family that lives in a creepy old house on a cliff in Cornwall. The young wheelchair-bound stepmother saved her husband’s children from drowning but was dashed against the rocks and paralyzed during the rescue. She uses her disability and the now grown children’s gratitude to manipulate and control the entire family.

There are a lot of really interesting things about this movie, not the least of which being the fact that Susan Peters, the lead actress, was a real life paraplegic who’d suffered a spinal injury in a hunting accident. This film was written especially for her. Sadly, she died a few years later at 31 from kidney failure and pneumonia caused by anorexia.

I was also fascinated by the lesbian undertone of the youngest daughter’s strange passionate “crush” on her paralyzed stepmother. A crush so intense that she’s willing to kill for the object of her tortured teenage love.

But ultimately, this isn’t really my kind of movie. It’s too histrionic, too melodramatic and too soap-opera-ish. All the violence is very female in nature, like poisoning and goading others into suicide and jumping off cliffs into the raging sea. There’s way too much scheming to break up chaste, innocent relationships and not nearly enough sex. I kept wishing Charles McGraw would show up and start slapping these bitches around or something.

A rough start, but there was a Marsha Hunt double bill coming up, including a film so rare that Marsha herself had never seen it.

Stay tuned for my last write up of 2012.

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