The Murderizer II: No Noose is Good Noose

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In DARK CITY, a percussive 1950 noir directed by Shadowplay man-of-the-moment William Dieterle, Charlton Heston is introduced to the world in the role of Danny Haley, a professional gambler with a zero tolerance attitude to current affairs: spurning a newspaper offered by smoky chanteuse girlfriend/doormat Lizabeth Scott ~

She: “Don’t you want to know what’s going on in the world?”

He: “What’s going on in the world STINKS!”

Evocative title, of course, and one which has been borrowed by books on noir and Phildickian sci-fi movies alike. Oddly, the movie takes place equally in NYC, LA and Vegas, so the title comes to have a sort of blanket significance. Indeed, as Dieterle holds a long shot of a marching Heston for the whole title sequence, it’s tempting to read it as, in effect, saying “Introducing Charlton Heston as — DARK CITY!”

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Chuck H. was never more mean, moody and magnitudinous as here, looking like an Easter Island head that’s eaten a bad pickle. Sculpted and sour-sneering, he shoulders his way through the movie, brushing lesser men (Ed Begley, Jack Webb, Henry Morgan: a stellar array of lesser men) aside like Lizabeth’s newspaper.

Plot: Heston, Webb and Begley fleece a weak-willed Dean Jagger Don DeFore in a rigged game, and the chump (“Guys like that cheat themselves the minute they sit down,” scorns Chuck) goes and hangs himself. Then his brother comes after the hustlers, throttling them one at a time. The brother is presented as a giant, disembodied paw, like a B-movie space monster, only wearing a chunky ring on his third finger. The paw belongs to Mike “the Murderizer” Mazurki, with whom we know we are in trouble.

Dieterle puts it all over with propulsive aplomb, relying on Momentum, Wallop and Sweat (MWS for short). Ace lensman Victor Milner keeps the shadows BLACK, and there are some really nice subliminally dutch-tilted angles. Best noir I’ve seen in an age, and I still have ROPE OF SAND to look forward to (Lancaster! Lorre! Yipes!)

Frame grabs courtesy of theycame2001, at Karagarga.net.

31 Responses to “The Murderizer II: No Noose is Good Noose”

  1. I had to think about Dean Jagger’s role in this film. Actually it was Don Defore who commits suicide after being scammed by Heston and his cronies. I wish they’d release this on DVD. Strange to think how many actors debuted in noirs, Lancaster in THE KILLERS, Kirk Douglas in THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS, Richard Widmark in KISS OF DEATH, etc. Especially strange to think of Heston in one.

  2. I wonder if beginners got those roles because big stars didn’t want to play losers and psychos?

    Heston is really effective here, very unsympathetic yet still completely compelling. He could have specialized in this kind of part. I like him in The Big Country too, where he’s likewise a somewhat nasty piece of work. Everything I like less about him in straight hero roles becomes an advantage when he plays sonzabitches.

  3. Arthur S. Says:

    Leave us not forget his performance in Bowling for Columbine, and Moore managed to stage the interview with a poster of TOUCH OF EVIL in the back. The modernist juxtaposition of Mike “A Policeman’s job is only easy in a police state” Vargas with his actor Charles “Cold Dead Hands” Heston in a non-fiction film is priceless.

  4. And leave us not forget “SOYLENT GREEN IS PEOPLE!!!!!!”

    Like so many poswar films DarkCity underscores the fact that all was not rosy-sweet in the U.S. of A.

  5. With Heston, his victim and his persecutor all WWII vets, the movie definitely has something to say about post-war disillusion. I still think Act of Violence is the strongest noir on that point, and it pains me when people diss Fred Z. I think he was second-tier, but definitely a good filmmaker.

    I wonder if Heston would have actually agreed to an interview knowing it was to be about gun control. I think earlier in his life he would have, and he’d have argued his points articulately, but by this point he wasn’t on top of things. Have read various accounts of Heston’s politics changing through the years, but he seemed to portray himself as consistently of the right. He just saw no reason why he couldn’t be pro-civil rights as well.

  6. it’s brilliant, I agree

    ROPE OF SAND also features Rains and Henreid (as a truly disturbing sadist)–it’s often seen as a weird take on Casablanca… Rains’ sleazy exec is definitely a less forgiving incarnation of middle-level corruption than Renault–but he’s still very funny

  7. Tony Williams Says:

    Whatever we may think about hm, Heston was clearly ailing when Moore interviewed him and this Gonzo journalist knew it and took unfair advantage of this fact. Had he tried it when Heston was 30 years younger he would not have got away with a cheap trick that got laughs from the audience.

    Having said that, I’ll mention that Heston’s later political activities have tended to detract from his earlier performances and this is a very good example.

  8. Arthur S. Says:

    I just pointed that juxtaposition as unbelievably ironic. Mike Vargas is the early rational Heston while this is the shell of a man who’s become a caricature

    As for Moore’s exploitation of Heston, I can understand that it hurt the feelings of his family and his friends and I can even understand the ethical problems involved. But the fact is, if Heston was ailing then he should never have allowed himself to become part of the NRA and his family and his friends should have checked him in. The NRA isn’t a harmless organization, it’s obsession with guns and it’s irresponsibility in the wake of the n-number of domestic massacres because of the availability of guns that it wholeheartedly supports and garners support for. Heston became a part of that and as such he made himself a wide open target and Moore was right in going after him. Moore didn’t do it to spread personal, private scandals or to blackmail him. He did it to raise a key moral issue of civic responsibility.

  9. David Boxwell Says:

    DARK CITY is a key film in a re-consideration of what Heston’s career could have been like if DeMille hadn’t made him an icon of self-righteous, sanctimonious heroism in 1956 (augmented by Wyler and Mann, before things got completely out of hand in the late 60s). Heston’s politics veered further and further to the right once he began taking his screen persona too seriously, and allowed too many people to think, as they will, that he was indeed some emissary of the Old Testament God.

    MAJOR DUNDEE is another film that could have led Heston on a different path, but film crashed and burned. . .

  10. Arthur S. Says:

    Post-War disillusion is a major film noir theme in fact it is THE noir theme. There’s ACT OF VIOLENCE which dealt with it very evocatively and is a great film. (by the way Fred Z. was a favourite of Nick R.’s). Other films which touched on that include IN A LONELY PLACE with Bogart’s WWII background mentioned casually, suggesting that he suffers from PTSD, which certainly makes sense with the way he behaves in that film.

    Raoul Walsh’s great THE MAN I LOVE deals with that too. Ida Lupino’s sister is married to a returning vet. who is clearly traumatized and is prone to fits of jealousy(thinking his wife has Dear John’d him). Then Fuller’s HOUSE OF BAMBOO is about a gang of ex-army vets who form an organization in Tokyo, suggesting the negative US influence in Post-War Japan.

    John Huston’s documentary LET THERE BE LIGHT was about an actual psych ward which dealt with soldiers suffering from trauma and the film wa suppressed by the army because they didn’t want to draw attention to it in the climate of complacent victory. So it was a taboo topic. And it still is because very few American Press are drawing attention to the growing crime rate in the group of returning Iraq War vets. Vietnam is of course represented in the 60s and 70s when cinema was finally given freedom at the right time. Scorsese’s TAXI DRIVER is about that.

  11. PWD (post-war disillusion) not only crops up in the plotlines, it informs the films in other ways — it’s been persuasively argued that the femme fatale is a product of women leaving the home and entering the workplace in the war,with husbands coming home and finding the Mrs had a whole new set of life experiences to draw upon, and feeling threatened by that.

    Taxi Driver is the better movie I think but Jaglom’s Tracks is an even more direct and harrowing picture of PTSD. Quite a film.

    Heston hadn’t announced his illness publicly when Bowling was made, I believe — he did so afterwards, perhaps partly to explain his poor performance in that interview. But seriously, what kind of organisation uses a man with Altzheimers as their spokeman? Well, the US did with Pres Reagan — he was certainly showing signs of senility during his presidency…

    The DeMille-Heston connection was definitely unfortunate for Chuck artistically, but he did remain open to interesting offers, enjoying his experiences with Zinneman, Lester, Peckinpah. I like his sf trilogy a lot, although The Omega Man gets worse as it goes on. The superb opening is like the mid-life crisis version of Wall-E.

  12. Heston was involved in the production of a number of video and audio recordings in the late Nineties and the earlier part of this decade, all of which had to do with the Bible. Evidently toward the end of his life he began to take his Christian beliefs pretty seriously. Not to say that he didn’t prior to all this but there’s a part of me that thinks there came a point where he took them a little TOO seriously, along with his notion of what constitutes being a “true” American, which includes the right to bear arms. But this seems to happen to certain people when they get to a certain age, where whatever liberal leanings they might have had fall to the wayside. Reagan began his career as a liberal (maybe moderate?) Democrat, and shifted allegiance at a certain point in his adult life.

  13. There was a time when I was quite enamoured of Viveca Lindfors. Still like her a lot, for that matter. My first impression of Dieterle’s “Dark City,” though, was of how sympathetic and attractive Lindfors was.

    (An Aside: I never got around to seeing the *Proyas* “Dark City,” which friends have praised. Anyone ’round here like it?)

    More recently, I remember liking a scene with Jack Webb and Ed Begley and — a dribble cup? One where, basically, the gangsters acted like grade-school cut-ups, and not particularly bright ones. A good way of depicting this kind of character.

    As for Charlton Heston … not just in “Dark City,” but throughout his career his characters seemed to be potential psychos or abusers. Or perhaps that phrase should simply read “Hollywood butch”? In “Touch of Evil,” in “Soylent Green” … *schadenfreude* and/or a whack upside the head seemed constant possibilities. See “Major Dundee,” too.

    Suddenly a phrase for Heston comes to mind: “Tom Neal Writ Large.”

  14. “Whatever we may think about hm, Heston was clearly ailing when Moore interviewed him and this Gonzo journalist knew it and took unfair advantage of this fact. “

    Not at all true. I saw Heston around this time (he was a constant presence in Hollywood) and he wasn’t at all ailing. The last time I saw him he WAS bailing. It was at the Academy’s William Wyler tribute and he couldn’t make i to the stage to speak.

    People who should know better have epoxied Heston’s later decline onto Michael Moore (who, beign a leftist is the Incarnation of Satan in Neo-Facists Amuuuuurica.) He was quite wiulling to meet with Moore. But on discovering that Moore could read his beads he clammed up.

    This had NOTHING to do with his subsequent decline.

    PERIOD!!!!

  15. The Proyas Dark City I thought was quite good and very pretty. I suspect the director’s cut is a lot better — somebody seemed to have decided the film was unclear, and as a result inserted a lot of exposition that destroys the mystery before it’s even begun. So the new cut should put that right.

    Haven’t seen Knowing, but have heard a few good things about it.

    Heston announced his Altzheimer’s very shortly after the Moore interview, so I think he MUST have been ill at the time — but we can’t blame Moore for the stunt since there’s no way he could have known. In the end, Heston’s ill health made for negative publicity for Moore. Altzheimer’s is weird — Heston obviously had lucid spells as well as poorly ones. He doesn’t seem particularly disorientated or anything in the interview, but probably felt unable to hold his own, so he just got mad.

    Chris is right that Heston always seems a heavy in leading man guise. Tom Neal writ EXTRA large.

  16. Gore Vidal pointed out that Heston wore TWo wigs — one carefully combed and attached over the other. I saw Heston up close and Gore was absolutely right.

  17. I’ve heard of actors who wear wigs playing characters who require wigs (for period hairstyles etc) and they insist that the movie wig be fitted on top of the personal wig. Because they daren’t admit the wig is a wig.

    It’s been pointed out that Earthquake is quite unusual for being a contemporary movie in which nearly all the actors wear wigs.

  18. Oh yeah, Viveca! I like her very much, and perhaps more so in her later years, she was a wonderfully wise old woman onscreen.

  19. My favorite wig movie is of course Modesty Blaise

  20. Tony Williams Says:

    Whatever the facts about Heston were, you don’t kick someone when he is already down. Moore should have cut that scene out especially when he heard about the condition following the interview and found somebody more fit to stand up to him..

  21. But I think the film was already out… I actually wouldn’t be surprised if Heston timed his announcement to do the most damage. I’m quite prepared to believe Moore can be crass, but I think he was kind of trapped here.

  22. Moore’s never trapped. He gets attacked for breathing. He’s quite used to it — and fully prepared.

  23. David Boxwell Says:

    We can have a lot to say on Monday about the wig in LE MEPRIS!

  24. True. Hot hairpiece action!

    I think Moore was trapped in the sense that he’d released the film, and now Heston revealed something that makes their encounter play out in a different light. Heston doesn’t seem disorientated in the interview, just surly. There’s nothing inappropriate about Moore seeking to talk to the NRA spokesman. But the right were able to use the scene as a stick to beat Moore with. So in that sense he was outmanoeuvred.

  25. But the film made a bundle and won an Oscar.

    Moore wins!

  26. Lindfors is also wonderful in Losey’s “Damned”:

    http://lascar370.multiply.com/video/item/277

  27. “I arrived in Hollywood in the heyday of the girl next door. I was NEVER a girl next door.” ~ V. Lindfors.

  28. “If you want the girl next door — GO next door!” ~ attributed to J. Crawford

  29. And they often did.

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