Archive for AI Bezzerides

Juke Swamp

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , on January 31, 2015 by dcairns

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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!

The other one.

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 21, 2008 by dcairns

THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT — again!

Raoul Walsh’s 1940 classic may offer less reading material than it’s same-name British counterpart, but it’s a superior film. I’d never seen it — Walsh is one of those directors it’s taken me a ridiculously long time to get around to. I did see WHITE HEAT as a kid, and it upset me — as it should. A few others along the way, but only in the last few years have I started seeking his stuff out.

One could be pretty brutal about 30s British cinema by contrasting Arthur Woods’ film with Walsh’s. Walsh has unfair advantages, of course: a bigger budget, the studio apparatus, and access to genuine movie stars. And what stars! More on them in a moment.

Both films have an admirable interest in carving exciting drama from working class life, but unfortunately both do so by shoehorning in murder stories that aren’t especially germane to the lifestyle portrayed. A movie like Dassin’s THIEVES’ HIGHWAY does the hard-boiled trucking thing far better by basing its whole story around the conflicts and crimes that can arise naturally from the milieu — that movie only goes wrong with its Hollywood ending. Dassin’s screenwriter, A.I. Bezzerides (amazing list of credits!) wrote the source novel for Walsh’s film, and even without having read it I can guess where the adaptation starts to seriously stray. Walsh’s film scores in the first half by concentrating on the work angle. It’s when a PLOT is injected, too late and not carefully enough, that his film crosses the meridian line and finds itself in trouble.

That first half, pairing George Raft in the lead (short, mellow and understated, oddly likable) with Humphrey Bogart as his brother (just before Raft handed Bogie the leading man roles that made him a real star, by turning down THE MALTESE FALCON and HIGH SIERRA) is superb, full of bad behaviour, good wise-cracks, and the fine proletarian toughness of classic Warner Brothers. Ann Sheridan enters the picture as a waitress and gets to shine with some fine smutty dialogue, bantering with schlubs ~

Raft: “A classy chassis.”

Sheridan: “Yes, and it’s all mine, too: I don’t owe any payments on it.”

Schlub: “I’d be glad to finance it, baby.”

Sheridan: “Who do you think you’re kidding? You couldn’t even pay for the headlights.”

Plus she’s gorgeous and sexual — her nipples are like bullets aimed straight for my heart. What goes wrong with the film can be traced in her character arc: to begin with, she’s tough, sassy and brazen, like the film. When Raft starts talking marriage, she’s become a supportive, respectful partner — kind of boring in screen terms, at least as portrayed here. By the last act, she and Bogie are thoroughly sidelined, yielding to Ida Lupino’s crazed vamp.

Now, I can’t not like Lupino in a film, she’s far too fabulous for that, but her character here is a piece of high melodrama grafted in by Dr. Orloff, and the body of the film is trying hard to reject the new tissue. Lupino fights for her place, hamming ferociously, working her way through every stock symptom of Hollywood lunacy. By the time of her last scene, her forehead is literally bulging with madness.

Top left — see the bulge?

It’s a gaudy and inappropriate display, made more entertaining by the stray bits of cockney in her accent, which come through most strongly when she’s being demented, which is most of the time. The whole Lupino plotline wrecks a very good film, but at least it wrecks it shamelessly and with verve. That’s part of the beauty of Walsh’s films, before widescreen and old age slowed him, they do everything so wholeheartedly.

While the trucking genre has never been what you’d call extensive, I kind of lament it’s apparent demise — I can’t think of any recent examples — did CONVOY shame it to death? It used to be that the really gutsy, smart American films were very often about working-class life. Now indie cinema deals almost exclusively with the middle classes and professional criminals. I love the idea of roping social consciousness together with genre and entertainment, but hardly anybody seems interested in doing this — genre films are just about genre and the committed social realists have a loathing of entertainment and a fear of trusting the audience to absorb a social message from subtext.

Still, I’m enjoying my time in truckerdom, so I shall be running Cy Endfield’s HELL DRIVERS shortly…