Archive for August 3, 2018

Stentorian!

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , on August 3, 2018 by dcairns

The FBI are watching you neck. But it’s all in the line of duty.

I followed up director Gordon Douglas’s THEM! with director Gordon Douglas’s WALK A CROOKED MILE, released on a box set of Columbia noirs. But it’s an example of that T-MEN school of pseudo-documentary procedural with stentorian voice-over that always strikes me as too authoritarian to qualify as real noir. In noir, there’s a fundamental problem in society or in human nature, which the story exposes. A rather overt example is ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW where, in telling a heist story, the film attempts to deal with racism. But that’s too obvious to be properly in the spirit of noir. What I really mean is the less explicit critiques of human nature implied by THE KILLING, OUT OF THE PAST, LADY FROM SHANGHAI. The proper ending for such stories is downbeat, though there are plenty of noirs with happy endings — it’s a very flexible form, resistant to the kind of prescriptiveness I’m offering right here.

  Raymond Burr is watching you neck! But only for his personal satisfaction.

But WALK A CROOKED MILE situates all the story’s problems outside American society — it’s eastern block spies that are the problem. The film functions as a detailed and somewhat terrifying portrayal of FBI methods in surveilling and apprehending these soviet skunks.

The almost-bellowing VO is part of the film’s pro-American stance. Talking a little too loud, a little too slow, and telling you all sorts of stuff you never asked to hear, it simulates the experience of being cornered by a friendly drunk in a bar, although the film ends before the narrator can declare you his best pal in the world.

Starring Monty Brewster, The Man in the Iron Mask (both of him), Lars Thorwald (in a rather fetching beard), and Dr. Franz Edleman, who had to play a rather colourless US general in THEM! but here has a slightly meatier bad guy role. Plus lots of what are called attractive San Francisco locations.

One sense in which the film seems noirish — nobody turns their lights on. And, with the film’s preponderance of location shooting, this starts to register as an overt stylistic choice and a slight violation or realism, which it never usually does. (We had a similar but different experience seeing SE7EN for the first time — as detectives probe Gluttony’s horrible apartment, we wondered why they don’t turn a light on. Then we realised that multiple lights already WERE on, they just were failing to pierce the Stygian gloom. Dark with something more than the blinds being closed.)

Good work by Gordon Douglas — all the compositions of crisp feds packed into tight rooms are brimming with dynamic tension. The story is by Bertram Millhauser, whose movie-writing career began with THE PERILS OF PAULINE in 1914, and in a sense this isn’t any more sophisticated, the good-guy/bad-guy lines starkly drawn and the verité style excusing any need to go deeper than the surface anywhere.

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