Scene of the Crime and Reign of Terror

Before I get to the full write ups, I have to share a deeply traumatic experience from last night.

Witness: Hipster Charles McGraw!

Anyone who follows this blog knows how much I love McGraw. I love him because he’s a man of his time, a quintessential Film Noir tough guy. Nothing like the current crop of soft-serve mama’s boys calling themselves actors these days. So seeing him like this in Reign of Terror, looking like he was getting ready to ride his fixie over the Silver Lake Trader Joe’s to pick up some organic tofunaise, was hard to handle. No wonder he gets his ass kicked by children in this movie. I feel like I need to go back and watch Narrow Margin again to rinse this image out my eyes.

Okay, back to the movies.

First up Scene of the Crime.

This is a low budget, no frills, meat-and-potatoes kind of flick. Van Johnson stars as a clean, honest cop whose partner is murdered outside a bookie joint with 1000 dollars in his pocket. Johnson has to catch the killer and prove that his late partner wasn’t crooked. Along the way he gets mixed up with a duplicitous stripper and a variety of shady, underworld characters, including a snitch named Sleeper, played by that night’s special guest Norman Lloyd.

Scene of the Crime isn’t bad, just mediocre. The plot seems unnecessarily convoluted and I didn’t like the big reveal about the killer using a black rubber glove to make his hand seem twisted. Still, it had its moments. I liked the stripper’s song about being a “lady” and her unexpected reversal at the end of the number where she converts her short sexy costume into a long gown. Lloyd’s character was memorable and delightfully off-kilter and got killed way too soon.

It also felt very long at 95 minutes and probably could have done with some trimming. I have a feeling there’s a decent 65 minute movie under all that padding.

In the break between films, host Alan Rode had a chat with the charming Norman Lloyd. He’s 97 now, and you’d never know it. He had to leave early, not because of his age, but because he had to be up early for a tennis game the next day! But before he left, he shared some great personal stories of working with Mann, Hitchcock and Orson Welles.

Next in line, (and also featuring Norman Lloyd) some French revolutionary Noir with Reign of Terror, also known as The Black Book.

I tend to be kind of prejudiced against costume dramas. When I go to Noir City, I want fedoras, not powdered wigs. But hey, it’s Anthony Mann, so I was willing to put those prejudices aside. I’m glad I did, because I liked this one way more than I thought I would. Hipster Charles McGraw notwithstanding.

The plot revolves around a missing black book filled with the names of men marked for death. The book’s author is the legendary Robespierre, and finding it could prevent a political coup.

This movie’s got bondage and torture galore (!) plus plenty of snappy dialog, edge-of-your-seat suspense and some stellar performances, particularly Arnold Moss (the 1940’s version Adrian Brody) as the sleazy, double-dealing politician. Mann’s stylized shadowy imagery is gorgeous as always and the violence is raw, sweaty and visceral. Nothing about it is precious or stuffy the way you’d imagine a corset flick to be. I actually liked it much better than Scene of the Crime, which on the surface seems to be more up my (dark) alley.

So never mind the wigs, Reign of Terror is Film Noir at its finest. Mistress Christa says check it out.

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