Archive for The Naked City

Things I Read Off the Screen in The Crime Doctor’s Strangest Case

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 30, 2021 by dcairns

PROFESSIONAL BUILDING. Well,what kind of Crime Doctor would operate out of an Amateur Building?

This was my first CRIME DOCTOR film — pure B movie goodness. I’ll definitely watch more. William Castle directed a couple, but this one was by the noir-adjacent Eugene Forde, who throws in an expressionist-adjacent dream sequence:

POISON!

So, anyway, Warner Baxter is Dr. Robert Ordway from the radio programme Crime Doctor, where he was played by THE NAKED CITY’s House Jameson. For the movies, you need a movie star (radio adaptation I LOVE A MYSTERY ported over the audio actors from its source, and they were a tad disappointing to gaze upon). For a B-movie you will settle for a FORMER movie star. Enter Warner.

(Cary Grant described stardom as a crowded bus — he hung off the back for a few years, then squeezed inside, “then Warner Baxter fell off and I got to sit down.”)

ROBERT ORDWAY M.D. PRACTICE LIMITED TO PSYCHIATRY

And crime-solving, of course. Lloyd Bridges and Lynn Merrick, both staple supporting players in B pictures — he keeps turning up as waiters and stuff in the LONE WOLF films — are the nice young couple who come to ask Crime Doc’s advice. He was an innocent suspect in a previous murder case where his employer was offed, and Ordway got him off. The police still think he’s a little off. Soon, he’ll be a suspect again — perhaps he’s been hired precisely to divert suspicion from the real killer. This is roughly the plot of Carol Reed’s THE GIRL IN THE NEWS, made a few years earlier in the UK, and therefore suitable for re-arranging into a fresh plot.

POISON. Soon, even L. Merrick will be suspecting L. Bridges of being the poisoner. Hard not to, when he carries poison about with him. But that’s too simple for the Crime Doctor, who explains that a guilty man would have thrown the poison away. An innocent man suspected of murder might have done the same, but not our Lloyd.

PATRICIA GIRLS. GOLDEN NIGHTS. G ROOMS OFFICE. NO SMOKING. QUIET.

A flashback takes us into a vaguely Gay Nineties theatrical setting, which feels like a different movie. I joked that from now on the film would be a period musical and we’d never return to the detective story. B movies very rarely go that far awry but sometimes, out of sheer cheapniz, you get peculiar narrative strategies.

CAFE MAN DESERTS WIFE AND CHILD. A truly magnificent headline. Cafe man? I imagine the same editor’s other works: LAMP WOMAN SLAYS FOUR. FLASK PERSON IN WASP SHOCK. BANISTER THING DESTROYS IDAHO. They’ve also buried the lede: this is a case more of theft than abandonment. Unusually for the period, the full newspaper story has been typed up and printed by some Columbia employee, rather than just some Latin text or a cut-and-paste article about the Chamber of Commerce. So you can learn that the theft victim is one Walter Burns, so we’re back to Cary Grant again.

UNIONS. SUPER-SOFT SCHOLL’S NO-PADS.

BURNS PHARMACEUTICAL CO. ADDISON BLAKE PRESIDENT. 1128. FOR SALE. APPLY BUSINESS PROPERTIES INC. 916 WEST 18TH AVENUE. CITY CAB CO.

The B-movie world is full of Acme-type generic business names. City Cabs. Professional Buildings. Business Properties Inc. Looking forward to REPO MAN, where characters drink from cans labelled BEER, or buy tins of FOOD.

PHYSICIAN 7X 38 51.

The Warner Baxter we meet in this film (not pictured) is a strangely muted fellow — perhaps preferable to the barking bully of the 1930s. He’d suffered a nervous breakdown and was going to die pretty soon. Either this, or the underwritten character, makes him gentler and actually more appealing. But not very lively or interesting.

JOE’S LUNCH ROOM. SHORT ORDERS. OPEN ALL HOURS. “What the hell is a lunch room?” demanded Fiona. “A Room where you get Lunch,” I suggested. She felt any business opening only at lunchtime would be a failure, but the answer is painted on the window: the round-the-clock lunch, a great American invention. But is it really lunch if it’s all hours? Another mystery we’ll never solve.

Buncha names. MR. MRS. MALLORY CARTWRIGHT.

This charming couple supplies all the eccentricity the film can bear. She’s discovered working as a cook in the murdered man’s house, but she’s clearly not legit. The Crime Doctor catches her “pretending to cook.” She soon throws off her disguise and flees through an open window. Learning her real name, he tracks her to her home address, where alas she does NOT say “Come in, I was just pretending to make coffee.” We learn that she’s a process server, and was serving food in order to get close enough to her target. Her husband is played by Jerome Cowan, and he’s a sheet music salesman and unconscious pyromaniac — small fires break out whenever he’s around. This becomes a hilarious running gag. This couple have little to do with anything, they’re mainly herrings of a deep crimson hue, but they bring the entertainment. The fact that Cowan’s job requires him to play the piano to demonstrate songs, and he does this very, very badly, is also hilarious. Does he sell many songs to the people whose homes he ignites? THAT question may actually be the Crime Doctor’s Strangest Case, but there’s no time for a solution because this is —

COLUMBIA THE END

Urban Explorer

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on January 5, 2021 by dcairns

Upcoming release from Arrow!

Fiona and I contribute a video essay, edited by the redoubtable Stephen C. Horne, for Jules Dassin’s searing BRUTE FORCE, and for THE NAKED CITY I contribute my first ever commentary track. Since I’m not a huge fan of commentary tracks, I felt the need to REINVENT THE FORM.

Naked City Radio is a kind of alternative soundtrack to the movie. I discovered that I had taken a form that should be easy, if somewhat specialised, and made it very complicated and difficult. But I hope you’ll find it worthwhile.

I finished this one and went almost straight into another feature-length project, still under wraps.

More soon!

New York Noir

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 17, 2010 by dcairns

Like THEY LIVE BY NIGHT, SIDE STREET, shown in Film Forum’s Anthony Mann retrospective, stars Farley Granger and Cathy O’Donnell, and like that earlier and better film, it begins with an aerial shot, but there the resemblance mostly ends. The problem here seems to be MGM’s ideological antipathy to the true noir spirit, with its shades of gray, its sense of doubt and anxiety about society and human nature, and its commitment to sex and greed as persistent driving forces in human nature. All of which is anathema to Louis B Mayer, despite the fact that he was personally a more loathsome figure than many a noir bad guy.

So Granger and O’Donnell’s tendency to overexpressive sentimentality is fully indulged here, in contrast to the way Nick Ray kept them in check and made them earn the audience’s affection. Anthony Mann, no slouch in the noir stakes, compensates somewhat with shrewd casting and violent, percussive cutting and angles — I lost count of the number of faces thrust savagely into the lens. Although the cops, introduced via a NAKED CITY-lite opening VO, are angelic upholders of order, he casts Paul Kelly and Charles McGraw — the first, a doleful stringbean zombie, the second a granite torpedo with ground-glass-rasping vocal cords. Since Granger is meant to be an innocent man on the run, lovable MGM cops represent a minimal menace, but by this casting Mann reclaims some tension.

The set-up — in a moment of weakness, squeaky-clean mailman Farley steals what turns out to be a huge wad of dirty money, proceeds of a blackmail scheme with murder mixed in. The loot gets swiped before he can repentantly return it, and he hares around the city trying to recover it, pursued by cops and crooks as bodies pile up like pretzels (best body award goes to Jean Hagen, typically luckless in her choice of beau). It’s a very basic premise but it does allow for pleasing cameos and a pacy, crisscross narrative rhythm. Mann himself disliked the film save for the climactic pursuit through a weirdly deserted early morning Manhattan, the concrete canyons making a monolith maze for pursuers and pursued.

Honorable mention to James Craig, finding his level as a stupid brute of a bad guy, and to the two audience members who provided relief from a non-smouldering love scene by getting into a wrestling match over a mobile phone that hadn’t been switched off. I think violence does seem a suitable response to somebody taking a call during a movie… Crime Does NOT Pay!