High Wall and Strangers in the Night

http://christafaust.net/wp-admin/post-new.phpFirst night of the Los Angeles Film Noir Festival is always a blast. It’s great to see all the usual suspects and fellow die hard Noir junkies.

Now, the movies:

First up, Robert Taylor and Audrey Totter in THE INCREDIBLE TWO HEADED TRANSPLANT!!


Okay, maybe not, but man is that some weird poster art or what? Anyway, HIGH WALL is about a surly pilot (Taylor) who sustained a head injury in the war, suffers from amnesia, and may or may not have killed his wife. He gets sent to the nuthouse for evaluation, where he meets saucy doctor Audrey Totter. I won’t give away all the twists here, but it’s quite a wild ride.

Not a great film overall, but HIGH WALL has some great moments. Like that genuinely creepy scene where we see the pilot drive off a bridge with his dead wife in the passenger seat. And, while I’m not a big fan of Taylor, I kind of liked that he was so relentlessly unlikable in this picture. Don’t know if it was intentional or not, but you really got the feeling that this was a genuinely bad guy who just happened to be innocent. This time, anyway. Also, I love Audrey Totter. She’s a real contradiction, simultaneously tough and vulnerable. Sexy and stone cold. I’d pretty much watch her in anything.

It almost seems like there’s a whole sub-genre of post war Noir that involves a guy coming home from overseas to find that the world he knew has gone on without him.  THE BLUE DAHLIA and ACT OF VIOLENCE are two better known examples but this film fits right along side them. Clearly this was a very powerful theme that really resonated with so many American men of that era.


HIGH WALL was a man’s movie. This one is all about the women. Pure post-menopausal melodrama. It’s astounding to think that this curiosity was directed by Anthony Mann, who would later be responsible for Film Noir classics like RAILROADED! and RAW DEAL, as well as some fantastic, seriously noirish Westerns like WINCHESTER ‘73. In this film, an injured soldier (William Terry) comes home to meet his female pen-pal face to face for the first time. On the train to her house, he has a chance encounter with a hot lady doctor (Virginia Grey.) Sparks fly, but he still feels he owes his heart to the pen-pal who saved his sanity during the war with her supportive love letters. When he arrives at the house, the pen-pal is “out of town” and her clearly bat-shit crazy mom, played by the mesmerizing creepy Helene Thimig, invites him to stay until she gets back. Things swiftly go from bizarre to off-the-hook.

This movie is a rickety old spook-house ride to Looney Town, melodrama on top of melodrama, but I loved every twisted minute of it. It’s rare to see a Noir flick in which the women are the main characters. The man is little more than a pretty trophy to be fought over by the smart, strong-willed females. Even the secondary female characters like the neurotic maid and the wisecracking nurse, are much more complex and interesting than the central stud.

I have to say that I was deeply terrified of Helene Thimig’s teeth, made even scarier on the big screen. But her big speech at the end, where she tries to justify her murderous madness, is weirdly sad and poignant. This is one that I was really jazzed about, and it was just as weird and wonderful as I’d hoped. The ending is goofy as hell, but I don’t care. I really enjoyed it.

Not to go off on yet another crankypants rant about these young kids today, but is it really necessary to guffaw like howler monkeys at every other line? I’m not saying that every old movie is sacred and laughing at some of the campier moments is sacrilegious. Hell, I’ll bust out a giggle every now and then myself. Plus there are a lot of Noir movies that have humorous or witty dialog that was actually meant to be funny. But this year it seems like the ironic laughter has gotten louder and more grating that ever. Example, the whole house cracked up when the maid put a letter in a mailbox. They laugh during fist fights or train crashes. They laughed every time someone said the phrase “homicidal maniac.” Every. Single. Time. It’s as if people have no idea how to deal with “old” stuff other than to make fun of it.

Still, a full house is never a bad thing and hipster money restores lost Film Noir just as well as mine.


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