When I found out that the two movies on last night’s Gothic Noir double bill were all Victorian bustles and corsets, I figured, how Noir can they really be? The answer, one unequivocal yes and one resounding no.
So Evil My Love gets the yes vote. Sleazy con man Ray Milland seduces a straight-laced missionary widow, played brilliantly by Ann Todd. Instead of winding up a yet another hapless victim, Todd steps up, takes the reigns and becomes a willing partner in Milland’s blackmail scheme. She has this fantastic speech about how much she loved having the “whip hand” over her bubbleheaded school chum and her rich, sickly husband. How once she had a taste for power, she was hooked and wanted more. Eventually, she makes the con man fall for his own con, and for her in the process. I won’t give away the ending on this one, but it’s pure Noir, in spades. It reminded me a lot of Megan Abbott’s work, especially Bury Me Deep. The sexually repressed, naïve heroine whose desire, once unleashed, spins wildly out of control and leads to inexorably to betrayal and murder. Plus, bonus points for the use of the relatively rare “Homme Fatale.” I won’t say it’s a great movie. It was far too long, but overall I still enjoyed it.
Experiment Perilous, on the other hand, gets a thumbs down. I’m not technically giving away the plot here because let’s face it, you’ve seen this story a million times before and would have figured it all out within the first 10 minutes anyway, but if you’re dying to see this one without spoilers, now would be a good time to go make yourself a sandwich.
Any movie that ends with the hero, the woman he loves and her little boy holding hands in a field of daisies and walking off into the sunset ain’t fucking Noir. Period.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a total dud. It was beautifully shot, directed by Jacques Tourneur (Cat People, I Walked With A Zombie and Out Of the Past) and Hedy Lamarr is gorgeous eye candy as always, but it felt more like a turgid chick-flick than Film Noir. A studly doctor meets a strange nervous woman on a train and she regales him with tales of her weird family. There’s a luggage mix up and the doc ends up with the woman’s diaries, only to find out she died later than same day, supposedly of a heart attack. The doc gets mixed up with the dead woman’s creepy control freak brother, his beautiful, fragile and possibly insane wife and his tormented son. Romantic complications ensue, leading up to the sappy-ass happy ending described above.
Tonight at the LA Film Noir Festival, The Locket and The Bodyguard.