Archive for Evelyn Keyes

On the Prowl

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , on January 28, 2022 by dcairns

Revisiting Joseph Losey’s penultimate US film, THE PROWLER, I found it even better than I remembered. Commie filmmakers may not have been allowed to smuggle leftist propaganda into Hollywood (an absurd proposition) but Losey certainly managed to critique capitalism. He called this one a film about “false values” but to the modern eye it’s also about toxic masculinity, daringly embodied by a cop (Van Heflin, really startlingly good).

Called out to investigate the titular peeping Tom (though the title could at times equally apply to him), Heflin becomes obsessed with young married woman Evelyn Keyes (also very strong), whose husband, a DJ, works nights. They start an affair and, yes, things swiftly head in a DOUBLE INDEMNITY direction — but this variation on James M. Cain’s No. 1 plot spins things around agreeably: Heflin doesn’t let Keyes in on his devious plans, and then things unravel spectacularly with a series of disturbing twists.

Heflin is always good, if odd-looking: he resembles a monkey skull eating a child’s spade. Here, he sleazes and skeezes repulsively, gaslights his partner postpartum (with an actual gas lamp in frame), and then melts down spectacularly, Brett Kavanaugh style. We were agape, aghast, agog. Just like watching those damned hearings, where a kind of shrivelled pity vied with revulsion, and lost. Cinephilia meets rubbernecking.

The film has a great climax in a desert ghost town (the remains of the capitalist dream) — it feels positively apocalyptic — but the best locale is the “motor court” Heflin buys with the money Keyes inherits from her husband. His dream of earning money without work is fulfilled, but it’s hellish: the constant rumble of passing cars, the headlights sweeping the rooms, the motel-like shape of the room, with a radio between their beds (symbolism!). A paranoid setting for the disintegrating relationship. Dark, dark stuff. What’s blacker than noir?

The Sunday Intertitle: Following Yonder Noir

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 26, 2021 by dcairns

More from THE GOLD RUSH very soon.

On Christmas day we watched the Cukor-Garland-Mason A STAR IS BORN, which I don’t think I’d ever seen all the way through. Brilliant stuff. And with a Christmas scene! So that warrants further discussion.

We also watched two seasonal thrillers. CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY is obviously the greatest entry in the tinsel noir micro-sub-genre, but I had been unaware of the existence of MR. SOFT TOUCH (Gordon Douglas & Henry Levin, 1949 — not sure what mishap necessitated two journeyman directors) and COVER UP (Alfred E.Green, same year). Both are OK.

In the first, Glenn Ford is a sympathetic crook, Joe Miracle — back from the war, he’s found the mob have taken over his nightclub and killed his partner. He rips off the joint and hides out in a homeless shelter, where he uses his stack of 100Gs and his underworld acumen to help the indigents and romance Evelyn Keyes. Patterned very much on the JOHNNY O’CLOCK model, it suffers from an awkward, inconclusive ending (happy or sad?) and startling tonal shifts — Ford doing good deeds, and also smashing Roman Bohnen’s knuckles with a crank. Like they couldn’t decide if it was Damon Runyon or THE BIG HEAT.

It has the world’s most beautiful office safe, though. And I’m an Olin Howland completist so it was good seeing him as a skinny Santa (he also turned up in the Cukor).

COVER UP has nifty dialogue — banter between smart insurance man Dennis O’Keefe and smalltown cop William Bendix — as our hero tries to prove murder in a case earmarked by a whole town as suicide. O’Keefe worked on this as writer, under a pseudonym and with a small army of helpers. It has everything but an ending, wrapping up with an anticlimactic discussion which hauls it back from the brink of being an expose of small town corruption — it becomes a sympathetic cover up, in which we get to agree that the reputations of great citizens who commit the odd homicide should be protected for the general good. This rather lets it out of being a proper film noir, which is a shame.

Barbara Britton is very winning, and the very welcome appearance of Hank Worden gives a suggestion of the Twin Peaksian territory it COULD have explored…

Evidently the victim was a golf ball.

MR. SOFT TOUCH stars Dave the Dude; Suellen – Their Daughter; Cherry Valance; Mrs. Bailey; Pa Kettle; Auntie Em; Willy Garzah; Stanislaus ‘Duke’ Covelske; Candy; Kane’s father; Mrs. Hudson; Mrs. Leuchtag – Carl’s Immigrating Friend (uncredited); and Wilbur Strong.

COVER UP stars Buzz Wanchek; Montague L. ‘Monty’ Brewster; Cynthy Waters; President Harry S. Truman; Ceinwen; Inmate, Wilma Lentz; First Lady of the Land (uncredited); Lilith’s Friend in Spode Room (uncredited); and Mose Harper.

Dick O’Clock

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 12, 2021 by dcairns

“Terrible news,” said Billy Wilder. “Bob Rossen made a good picture.”

Frustratingly the anecdote doesn’t tell us which picture Wilder thought was good, but the line is funny enough that it could stand recycling, so maybe Wilder applied it whenever Rossen made something decent — ALL THE KING’S MEN, THE HUSTLER…

“This film has no story,” said Fiona, but in fact Rossen’s debut, JOHNNY O’CLOCK has a lot of plot, it’s just that it all plays out in dialogue, characters talking about people and events that are offscreen. Two murders take place before the climax, but we don’t see either happen.

But it’s entertaining. The talk is good. The people, Dick Powell and Thomas Gomez and Evelyn Keyes and Lee J. Cobb and Ellen Drew (unusually but effectively cast as a sexy bad girl) and Nina Foch, are all very flavourful. The bits players are colourful — people like Shimen Ruskin and a girl called Robin Raymond, who has an interesting scene. She plays a hatcheck girl. The previous hatcheck girl, who was touchingly sweet, is dead. RR plays her replacement, who is crass, vulgar and stupid. She plays it enthusiastically for laughs, and gets them, but the dramatic point of the scene is Johnny’s melancholy — he misses the previous girl. So it’s a scene that manages to head in two directions at once, and miraculously reaches both destinations.

Mostly it’s a kind of mash-up of elements that worked in other movies just beforehand, or else slightly later movies reworked the same stuff and made this one seem familiar, prewatched. If Dick Powell went through the wrong door he’d find himself in THE GLASS KEY or I WAKE UP SCREAMING.

I feel like the movie would work really well for the drunk or high viewer — the story often seems a tad cloudy and you could get into that. William Hurt watches a movie stoned in THE BIG CHILL and he says “I think the guy in that hat did something terrible,” and “Sometimes you just have to let art… flow over you.” I had a couple gin and tonics but I started too late to really disassociate from the wispy narrative.

I did get into a strange routine about Momo’s expensive cat treats, which are supposedly duck and raspberry flavour. “They have to catch a duck while it’s eating a raspberry. Then they get it in the duck press and compress it down until it’s just one tiny treat. When Momo eats them they expand to almost full size. He’s sturdily built, luckily. A flimsier cat would burst, and you’d just have a bunch of ducks and raspberries.”

Fiona here –

I was also involved in these musings, which were centered around Momo’s almost constant shouting.

The expensive treats are to placate him and shut him up. We’re terrible parents. I started with “I’d eat those cat treats.” The duck and raspberry combo sounded tempting. Then Mr Crayons launched into his baroque monologue about the creation of the treats.

We then strayed into another area of interest regarding the Shutting Upness. David suggested a special electronic chip like Snake Plissken wears in Escape From New York. Every time Momo attempted to enthusiastically vocalise through his big, fat mouth, the collar would shock him into quietude. Or blow his head off. It has to be said, sometimes the thought of Momo’s head exploding is a rather attractive one. We’re terrible parents.

To round things off, it’s my belief that the fact we have these strange conversations is the secret of why we’re still together after twenty seven years. That and being married by Norman Lloyd. When you’re married by Norman Lloyd, you STAY married.

JOHNNY O’CLOCK is one of the best films in the Columbia Noir 3 box set. I contributed an essay on THE DARK PAST.