First up, our matinee HOLLOW TRIUMPH.
I love this cheap and dirty mistaken identity noir, a lesser-known gem that I’ve seen multiple times and have written up before. I won’t bother to review it in detail again other than to say that it’s the source of that famous “It’s a bitter little world…” quote and you should watch it.
Onward now to the first of the evening’s double feature, A DOUBLE LIFE.
Ronald Colman plays an unstable stage actor who becomes murderously unhinged when his estranged wife takes up with another man.
Look, I’m not a huge fan of the theater and so Theater Noir tends to leave me cold. That being said, I always try to say that any given movie is Not For Me, rather than declaring it to be objectively no good. This one was Really Not For Me.
Let’s start off by addressing the elephant on the stage. Colman is in blackface makeup for a lot of this flick. But it isn’t just the typical-for-the-time-period (and seemingly endless) performance of Shakespeare’s Othello that comes across as dated and offensive here, it’s the way that playing a violent black character infects his mind and drives him to act out those savage, jealous and ultimately murderous impulses in real life. I wish I could have heard Eddie’s intro for this one, because I’m sure he had some nuanced insights like he always does.
In our current world of side-choosing and strident absolutism, there have been lots of calls to ban things coming from both ends of the political spectrum. As a die hard fan of Problematic Old Stuff, I tend to take a different perspective. In my mind, the best way to address things that I find offensive isn’t to erase them from existence, it’s to talk more about them. To examine them deeply, engage with others in thoughtful dialog and interrogate our own perspectives and biases in the process. Which is why I always enjoy TCM host Jacqueline Stewart’s challenging and insightful commentary and programming like Classic Films in the Rearview Mirror.
While the underlying racist theme was impossible for me to ignore, this film isn’t totally without merit. It’s lovely to look at, full of noirish shadows and angles as our tortured antihero wanders the midnight streets. Also lovely to look at is young Shelley Winters as the trashy waitress who takes the brunt of Colman’s deranged “acting” and winds up receiving the Kiss of Death.
And yeah, the melodramatic plot is hammy and cliched and the hectoring voices in the actor’s head often come off as laugh-out-loud silly. (BRITA…BILL…BRITA…BILL!) But hey, we love melodramatic plots and schlocky inner monologues here in Noir City, so why didn’t I love it in this one? I dunno. Maybe it’s the setting. Maybe I couldn’t really connect or sympathize with Ronald Colman in this role. Maybe it’s just plain Not For Me. As fucking always, your milage may vary.
Next up THE VELVET TOUCH
When a controlling ex tries to blackmail stage actress Rosalind Russell, she bludgeons the bastard to death with an acting trophy. While it’s not technically self-defense, I was totally on her side and thought her actions were justified. I mean, just look at this guy!
You point at me with a cigarette like that, fucko, and you’ll end up a couple of fingers short of a fist. Yet our heroine is tormented by guilt, especially when her arch-rival Claire Trevor takes the fall for the scumbag’s murder. No spoilers, but you can’t get away with murder in Noir City, so you can see where this is headed.
I kinda wish that I could Frankenstein together the more overtly noirish look of the first movie with the female-focused plot of the second. And, like the first, there were things I liked about this one and things that didn’t work for me. Once again, the Theater setting is a personal turn off. Also the initial flashback felt tedious and overlong. But once Sidney Greenstreet’s delightful detective character came into the picture I was totally on board.
Oh, did I mention this is a hardcore glove fetish movie? Because damn.
So, yeah, this one wasn’t bad for a Theater picture, but I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it. Unless you have a thing for women smoking in long gloves, in which case this is the movie for you!
Today it’s another triple feature with THE HUNTED (Belita!!!) CALL NORTHSIDE 777 and LARCENY.