Pow!

IMPACT isn’t a great noir, indeed bits aren’t much like noir at all, but I wanted to see it because it’s another film to deploy that strange noir meme, the guy who assumes a new identity working in a small town garage — see also Mitchum in OUT OF THE PAST, Lancaster in THE KILLERS, and Balthazar Getty in LOST HIGHWAY. Here, it’s Brian Donlevy who shucks off a life as married corporate bigshot to become a grease monkey in the employ of Ella Raines, after his wife’s lover attempts to kill him and instead inflicts him with temporary amnesia.

But I found another intriguing aspect to keep me occupied as the film trundled along, not exactly riveting but oddly structured — the bucolic middle section is a very unusual feature, and the sympathetic husband inverts the James M Cain adultery-murder plotline — I detected in this 1949 movie a weird echo of 1941’s SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS.

Plotwise, the amnesia gimmick is the obvious connection, but the idea of a powerful rich dude descending to the working classes is another link. As Donlevy staggers along the railway tracks, the movie seems on a convergent line, only to divert ultimately into a not-too-exciting courtroom drama. But the cast is full of Sturges links —

Robert Warwick, a studio exec in SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS plays another desk jockey here, a police captain. Most of the rest of the cast have Sturgesian credentials — Donlevy, of course, was McGinty in THE GREAT MCGINTY and THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN’S CREEK: Charles Coburn was in THE LADY EVE; and Ella Raines played one of her earliest parts for Sturges in HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO.

My old friend Lawrie, who remembered seeing Raines movies in the 40s, once said, “I was always very interested in Ella Raines, because I had heard she was a lesbian, and of course… I had no idea what that meant.”

I have no idea if Ella was a lesbian in reality (she was married twice, once for a long time, and had kids, not that any of that proves anything in this cockeyed carnival) but perhaps anxiety about her sexuality and screen persona influenced the nervousness of the studio bosses at Paramount who told Sturges that his leading lady was unconvincing as a girl next door? The resulting tensions contributed to Sturges’s decision to depart the studio, which ultimately led, alas, to his career plunging into a tailspin.

IMPACT also benefits from the presence of Anna May Wong, albeit in a somewhat thankless maid role, and Helen Walker as the scheming wife. Walker’s best noir role is as the scheming shrink in NIGHTMARE ALLEY, and her best comedy role was not for Sturges but for Lubitsch, as the Honorable Betty Cream in CLUNY BROWN (see it, you may find it to be one of the best forties comedies of all). Alas, a drunk driving incident, when Walker killed a hitchhiking war veteran she’d picked up, damaged her career. Pow.

It’s a great shame, from a movie as well as a human point of view, because Walker could be dynamite on the screen.

Remember, this Friday is the SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS Film Club — drop by and join the discussion!

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19 Responses to “Pow!”

  1. david wingrove Says:

    Shattering news to hear that Schroeter is dead. He wasn’t that old, was he? That means wel’ll never see his long-planned epic about Frederick the Great of Prussia, starring Isabelle Huppert in drag as the great Kaiser.

    But he’s left behind so many marvellous film…MARIA MALIBRAN, THE ROSE KING, DAY OF THE IDIOTS. Has anybody seen his latest, NUIT DE CHIENS (or DOGS’ NIGHT)? I still haven’t but long to.

    Not saying I love all his work. But when an artist so powerful and idiosyncratic departs from this world, one can’t help but lament the sheer blandness of so many who are left!

  2. The NYT obit is remarkably well-informed. Paleromo oder olfsburg is indeed his masterpiece.

    Werner has been in a fragile emotional state for some time as several major boyfriends of his died of AIDS in the 90’s.

    His work with Candy Darling and Christine Kaufmann was remarkable. He was also a great director of opera.

    I love his turn at the start of Fassbinder’s Beware of a Holy Whore

  3. Nuit de Chien sounds fabulous. All my favorite people: Pascale Greggory, Bruno Todeschini, Eric Carvacca, and of course Bulle Ogier.

  4. I’ve never heard of Cluny Brown, I’ll have to go hunting and check it out!

    Love your blog BTW…great stuf and very well done.

  5. There are good British and French DVDs of Cluny Brown, and I’m pretty sure TCM have shown it in the US. It’s slowly gaining the reputation it somehow missed when it was new.

    Glad you’re enjoying the blog.

    Still to see any of the late Herr Schroeter’s films, I must rectify that ASAP.

  6. Squirrels to the nuts!

  7. David Boxwell Says:

    Walker shows up in Lewis’s THE BIG COMBO at the very end of a tragically short career. The ravages of alcohol already visible.

    Arthur Lubin was a, ahem, “mentor” of Clint Eastwood circa 1956-7 (spot his greasily-pompadoured presence in Lubin’s THE FIRST TRAVELING SALESLADY and ESCAPADE IN JAPAN).

  8. For the longest time I had trouble remembering which was the good one out of Arthur Lubin and Albert Lewin. I knew all the good films Lewin made, but wasn’t sure if his name was Lewin or Lubin. Anyone think of a good mnemonic?

    Poor Helen Walker. She sat a horse well.

  9. Arthur Lubin = Maria Montez

    Albert Lewin = Ava Gardner

    Clint’s love interest in The First Travelling Saleslady is

    (wait for it!)

    Carol Channing.

    That gives the film Cosmic Camp Props

    Carol, BTW, invariably refers to it as Death of a Saleslady

  10. What boggles the mind is that Max Ophuls directed Maria Montez. And she’s actually pretty good in The Exile, probably her best performance apart from Mistress of Atlantis.

    Cobra Woman is her most ENJOYABLE performance. Am just writing a big Siodmak piece where I want to dwell on it in luxurious detail, but will probably have to skip lightly over it, merely hinting at its ineffable wonders.

  11. david wingrove Says:

    Maria Montez had the ability (along with Anita Ekberg, Ursula Andress and very few others) to be utterly and entirely fabulous without actually doing any acting. It’s a rare skill, and one I think you have to be born with.

    Who else could pull it off? Any suggestions?

  12. Well please note what a busy year that was for Siodmak: Cobra Woman, Phantom Lady AND Christmas Holiday. YE GODS!

  13. The only person I can think of, Mr. Wingrove is —

  14. Ringo Starr?

  15. An excellent suggestionn

  16. Christopher Says:

    whenever Maria Montez and her entourage of lovely servents hit the screen,theres enough bling for 50 movies!..and the best thing,her pals are always misfits..can’t get enough of la montez.
    Tall in the Saddle is my favorite Ella Rains..She even scares the Duke!

  17. david wingrove Says:

    Most iconic of all is LES HAUTES SOLITUDES by Philippe Garrel – with Nico, Tina Aumont (daughter of Maria Montez) and Jean Seberg all staring glumly (but ever so glamorously) into a camera for an hour and a half.

  18. Wow, Raines and Wayne, that’s an interesting combo. Which has the best walk?

    After many delays, I think I’m about to plunge into the cineworld of M. Garrel.

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