Juke Swamp

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JUKE GIRL is a pretty good Warner melo from the pen of A.I. Bezzerides — like all his films it manages a prominent role for a Greek-American character, and carries a bit of a political punch. Odd to see such a left-leaning film, siding with farmers against crooked wholesalers, yet starring Ronald Reagan. He’s actually kind of winning in it.

The title character is lovely Ann Sheridan, who dances with customers in Muckeye’s bar. The movie is in no way hers. The plan must have been to imply that it’s the story of a racy dance hall hostess to cover the fact that the movie is really about organized labour. It would have been great if Reagan had gotten in trouble with HUAC for being in it, but alas even their idiocy had limits.

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My favourite line is Ann seducing her way onto the premises of the wholesalers’ so Ron can steal a truck to help out the embattled Greek farmer who must get his produce to market before it spoils. “Gee, a packing house must be a wonderful place at night,” she coos through the fence.

With almost precode energy, the movie does a lot of packing itself, cramming in a murder and framing along with the dirty business dealings and hints of political corruption. It’s oppressively crammed with ugly mugs, bulbous, walking Drew Friedman cartoons — if you have Richard Whorf AND Howard Da Silva in a movie, you are possibly subjecting your audience’s nerves to what the automobile industry calls destructive testing. How much nasal sneering can we take?

Curtis Bernhardt directs, without his interesting expressionistic flourishes, but with a lot of GUSTO.

At the end, the murderer is revealed as wholesaler Gene Lockhart, so Ron and Ann are saved from the lynch mob. We think that’s going to be the situation defused, since Lockhart, an unintentional killer, is clearly in the throes of complete nervous collapse and can be turned over to the sheriff, but NO — the ugly (ugly!) mob he has whipped up now turns on him, and Bernhardt, who can’t help himself, chucks in one METROPOLIS style high angle of hands reaching for the miscreant, ringing around him, seemingly about to tear him apart like Charles Laughton’s Dr. Moreau…

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And we fade out. A coda rounds off the fate of the other characters, but this moment of bloody, Reign of Terror revolution is never referred to again, and we are left to assume that Lockhart was (a) torn limb from limb (b) hanged from a lamppost or (c) eaten.

This is why Warner pictures are the coolest.

The title attracted me in the same way that SO YOUNG SO BAD and PROBLEM GIRLS seem like really appealing movies based on titles alone. Watch for them here soon!

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2 Responses to “Juke Swamp”

  1. henryholland666 Says:

    Speaking of movies about labo(u)r relations, I watched an excellent movie with Richard Attenborough last night (the Sir was 7 years in his future) called “The Angry Silence”. He plays the lone holdout in a wildcat strike at a metalworks in Ipswich, he’s really terrific as a man worn down by the hostility of the other employees. I also loved how the union agitator hops on a train back to London at the very end, leaving a mess behind. No, it’s not pro-union, to say the least but the capitalists get a good kicking too.

    TCM has been having a mini-RA festival, I loved him in a creeped-out way in “10 Rillington Place”, with a John Hurt who looks about 14. I wasn’t surprised in the least, in the wake of controversies about “The Imitation Game”, “Selma” and “American Sniper” that the movie took liberties with the facts of the John Christie serial killings.

  2. Along with his work in I’m Alright Jack, Attenborough lent himself to some fairly acerbic observations of labour relations in the UK. The “plague on both your houses” approach may be a mask for a fundamentally conservative vision, but I do find the films’ pugnaciousness quite bracing, and preferable to Loachian earnestness.

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