Noir City Hollywood, the Home Game: BLACK TUESDAY and LE TROU

This was the night I was most looking forward to, another Prison Noir double bill. Well, one of these flicks is Noir AF. The other, not so much. Noir adjacent, maybe. Anyway more on that later, but first BLACK TUESDAY.

Edward G Robinson and Peter Graves play a pair of death row convicts who pull off a daring escape minutes before Robinson gets strapped into Ol’ Sparky, with assistance from a hot blonde on the outside and a screw whose daughter has been kidnapped.

Because this is Noir City, the plan falls apart under pressure and Robinson doesn’t hesitate to threaten and eventually execute hostages. There’s a greenhorn newspaper man, a cynical pilot, a prison doctor, the screw’s angry teen daughter and a talkative priest, and you get the feeling that nobody is getting out of this alive.

This is a tough little movie. Bleak, brutal, and unrelenting. It’s easily Robinson meanest, most violent and heartless role, and for a guy with his gangster pedigree that’s really saying something. Director Hugo Fregonese (who also gave us the previous night’s HARDLY A CRIMINAL) cranks the tension to eleven from the opening shot of Robinson pacing in his cell like a dangerous zoo animal all the way to the bitter, pitch black end. There’s no way out for any of these characters, and the reoccurring visual motif of iron bars, high walls and insurmountable industrial stairwells just reinforces that message.

There’s so much to love about this gritty, low budget flick. Hardboiled banter written by Sydney Boehm (THE BIG HEAT, UNION STATION.) Gorgeous light and shadow play shot by Stanley Cortez (NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, THE NAKED KISS.) It’s got everything I want out of Film Noir and then some. I can’t imagine why it’s been lost and forgotten for so many years, but I’m grateful as always to Eddie Muller and the Film Noir Foundation for fighting to preserve and project rare gems like this.

Fun fact, Hugo Fregonese was married to Metaluna Cutie Faith Domergue!

Moving on to LE TROU.

A tight knit group of four prisoners are planning an escape when they get dealt a wild card in the form of a new cell mate. Will he assist their escape or blow it?

LE TROU is widely praised as the best prison break film of all time, and possibly even the best French film period. It’s tight, intimate and masterfully shot. A powerful and mesmerizing film about ordinary men doing meticulous, practical things in real time. It’s tense and suspenseful but never rushed, acclimating the audience into the slow, regimented pace of prison life for men with nothing but time. We see guards digging through butter, hunting for contraband. Prisoners digging through the floor, desperate for a way out. Men building things. Sawing things. Waiting. Always waiting.

There’s no doubt that it’s a superb example of the cinematic form and if you love film you need to see it, but is it Noir?

I’ll get to that.

I want to talk about something else first. Straights, you might want to go get a sandwich.

Ok look, I’m sure you’re all tired of me claiming everything I watch is queer, but hear me out because I really need to talk about the barely sub subtext going on here. And it isn’t just because this lithe, femme, pretty boy is wearing actual jammies to sleep in a tiny prison cell with four other men. It isn’t even because of the hunky plumber who tries to rob them and gets bent over a cot and literally spanked.

It’s because this is a movie about intense, deeply intimate bonds between men who have been betrayed by or are otherwise unable to trust women.

In a way, it reminded me of BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN or the TV series HANNIBAL, because of the ways in which the protagonists are lured away from normal, mundane heterosexual lives and into dark, secret, amoral endeavors with other men that make them feel alive and free again.

Spoiler! (ish)

And, in this case, that lingering heterosexual connection is what brings about the prisoners’ ultimate downfall.

So in the end, no, I don’t think it’s technically Noir. Despite the harsh, down ending, it didn’t really have enough overt back-biting and betrayal to qualify in my book. But I also don’t care if it’s Noir of not, because I fucking loved it.

Anyway you should watch it and judge for yourself.

Tonight, we’re back on the Noir Train for NARROW MARGIN and then we return to France for RIFIFI.

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