We started off the show with a few extras last night. First an MWA sponsored panel discussion on LA Noir featuring local crime writers Eric Beetner, Steph Cha and P.G. Sturges, followed by this gorgeous LA-centric Film Noir style music video GLASS SUN by Greg King.
Then, once we’d worked up an appetite, it was on to the first film of our LA Noir double feature SOUTHSIDE 1-1000.
T-Man Don DeFore goes undercover to bust up a counterfeit racket and soon finds that he’s in over his head. Been there, done that, right? But while there’s no question that this is a low budget, fast and dirty B-picture, it has one thing going for it that made me love it unreservedly. Despite the tired premise. Despite the stodgey voice over and endless stock-footage montage explaining why counterfeiting is wrong. Despite all its flaws. And that one thing is…
Lady. Crime. Boss.
Be still my cold black heart. Self made woman and proto-feminist anti-heroine Nora Craig, played by Andrea King, is my kinda girl. She has this great speech where she tells the T-man, after brazenly inviting him up to her swanky bachelorette pad, how she likes nice things but prefers to buy them for herself. You don’t see a lot of strong, independent female characters like Nora in Noir City. But I have to say, this year’s films have highlighted more unusual and interesting female characters than ever. One other interesting thing about this film before I move on. It starts off in the very flat, procedural Docu-Noir mode but by the time you get to the final chase, it goes full on stylized shadow-fetish N-O-I-R. Not sure if that was deliberate or just happened because they were on such a tight budget and couldn’t spare the time to get too fancy all the way through. Also, because this is an LA double, you get tons of great vintage LA exteriors.
So I’m recommending this film with the caveat that you shouldn’t expect them to reinvent the wheel. It’s just a fun little flick with a great female lead. Probably not the best place to start if you’re just getting into Film Noir but worth hunting down for any hardcore fan of the genre.
Moving on to ROADBLOCK. Insurance investigator Joe Peters (Charles McGraw) meets a girl with expensive tastes and ends up mixed up in a mail heist to keep her in mink. Again, the plot of this film is nothing new, but I can listen to McGraw read the phone book and Howard Hughes contract starlet Joan Dixon is a knock out, reminiscent of young Gene Tierney.
Plus, like the previous film, this one features tons of great vintage Los Angeles street scenes, including a spectacular finale set in the LA River.
Host (and McGraw biographer) Alan Rode introduced this one as a rare instance where tough guy McGraw plays a Noir patsy who gets worked by a chiseling dame. After watching it, I’m not all that sure how much of a patsy McGraw’s character really was and how much of a deliberate chiseler Joan Dixon’s really was. I mean, sure, she hustles him at the beginning to score a cheap plane ticket and plants the idea in his head that she can’t be had on a detective’s salary, but later recants and marries him anyway. She never seems to manipulate him after that and makes no attempt to get the stolen money for herself. She even tries repeatedly to convince him to call it off. It’s almost like McGraw’s character is more a victim of his own insecurity, which seems like an interesting twist on the more traditional scheming dame trope. And if there were ever a man who was a victim of his own private demons, it’s McGraw.
Tonight’s double feature TENSION and ALIAS NICK BEAL pays tribute to one of our favorite Noir City dames, the stunning and unforgettable Audrey Totter, who also died in 2013, right around the same time as Pop Faust.
Excellent review. I’ll be looking for both of these films at Eddie Brandt’s this week.
Just watched ROADBLOCK a couple days ago, and I’m with you on the McGraw character. He’s no patsy – he’s been waiting to do this for years. He’s just been for waiting for the right trigger, so he can ostensibly blame it on someone else when he goes off the reservation. I think that’s all there in the movie though, one of the things that makes it so interesting.