Red Light and Johnny Angel

Last night’s double bill at the LA Film Noir Festival was Red Light and Johnny Angel.

First, a confession. I’m not a George Raft fan, despite the fact that he grew up in Hell’s Kitchen like I did. Muller really nailed it in his intro last night, describing Raft as a girdle-wearing “cigar store Indian.” To me, Raft always seemed more like a forgettable background heavy than a leading man.

Now, considering my lack of enthusiasm for the lead and the fact that I’m a devout atheist, you might ask yourself what the hell I was doing watching a bible-thumping movie like Red Light? But, hey, I’m a sucker for the rare stuff, even if it’s clearly rare for a good reason.

A quick synopsis; Raft’s kid brother, a saintly priest, is murdered. He dies in his brother’s arms, but not before whispering the words “…written in the bible.” Only the bible in question is missing. Raft wants revenge, of course, and becomes obsessed with the idea the killer’s name is written in the missing bible. Can you see where this is headed? So could I, about ten minutes in.

Still, it had its moments. I’ll pretty much watch Raymond Burr do anything and he has a great climactic fight and death scene. I also dug the brutal crushed-under-a-truck-trailer scene. And there’s a great moment where, after the poor blind Mexican soldier give this long treacly speech about how he was saved from suicide by a good Samaritan who read to him from the bible and restored his faith, Raft smirks and says “Well, how nice for you.”

Verdict, it’s definitely worth watching once, though you may be compelled to drink goat’s blood and commit sodomy after it’s over just to even things out.

The second feature Johnny Angel was biblical only in the title. The Angel in question is  a tough sea captain played by Raft, again bent on avenging a murdered family member. This time it’s his father (also a sea captain) who is murdered, along with his entire crew. The sole survivor of the massacre is a mysterious female passenger and Angel is determined to find out what happened.

Swedish actress Signe Hasso plays the French stowaway. She was certainly easy on the eyes, but just minutes in, she started to annoy me with her overwrought posturing and the peculiar stiff way she held her hands every time she was required to act shocked or frightened. Makes you wonder why any man would bother with a twitchy, neurotic mess like her when sexy man-eater Claire Trevor is waiting in the wings, ready willing and able. Trevor plays the gold digging tramp married to Angel’s pussywhipped boss. Needless to say, she wants a piece of Angel.

Like Red Light, this is far from a great movie. It suffers from interminable long stretches of dull exposition and flashback. The story took place in New Orleans, but the movie was mostly set-bound with hardly any exterior shots. Still, there were some great character actors and I can’t get enough of Claire Trevor, so I can’t say it wasn’t worth watching once.

Tonight, Hollywood Story and Undertow. A William Castle double feature, with special guest appearance by the Creature’s girlfriend Julie Adams.

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