It was not for want of viewing, that I have not reviewed a movie here for 10 days. At least two movies which while not recognised as noirs, promised significant noir elements, but in the watching were both problematic and revealing.
I am always a sucker for John Garfield. One of his early features from 1939 was a boxing melodrama for Warner Bros, They Made Me a Criminal, directed by, yes, Busby Berkeley. A young boxing champ played by Garfield who likes booze and broads, is framed by his manager for the death of a reporter.
The first 20 minutes are deliciously taut and noirish. The movie opens with the last rounds of a fight in front of a wild crowd. The action shifts to the dressing room after Garfield’s knockout win, where his volatile character is revealed. Cut to his apartment where he is boozing and cavorting with a young and very nubile Ann Sheridan. One thing leads to another, a man is dead, and Garfield is on the run from a murder rap. His manager has beat it in Garfield’s car with Sheridan, and the boxer’s wallet and watch. But they don’t get far – after being chased by the cops they crash into a tree with the girl’s screams extinguished by a fireball as the car explodes. Then Garfield, after being gypped by his shyster lawyer, is on the skids and riding freight trains. We are now in hokum territory with Garfield ultimately redeeming himself and home free.
Next up, an aging George Raft and a sexy Colleen Gray in a 1950 British Romulus production, Lucky Nick Cain (aka I’ll Get You for This), a boys-own thriller shot on location in Southern Italy, co-starring Enzo Staiola (who played the young son in Bicycle Thieves) as a street-kid. Raft plays an American gambler who is framed for the murder of a T-Man by hoods running a counterfeiting operation using a hotel-casino as a front. Gray looks great but isn’t asked to do much. Stock-stuff you might say, and you would be right. But this movie has some distinguished noir elements.
The director Joseph M. Newman (711 Ocean Drive and Dangerous Crossing) and expatriate Czech cinematographer Otto Heller (They Made Me a Fugitive) turn a small Italian town into a noir locale of exquisite mystery, peril, and sinister shadows.
As if this was not enough, there are two out-of-left field scenes that are richly erotic and camp. In the first scene, Raft confronts a sultry blonde femme-fatale boisterously over-played by bit-player Greta Gynt, and engages in some lurid gun-play. Later in the picture, Colleen Gray has been arrested and is interrogated by a towering blonde female butch prison guard in a gothic women’s prison, while the guard is ragged by some b-girls in another cell. When Raft rescues the girl, the guard is placed in the same cell as the b-girls…
All-in-all, not quite the stuff of noir dreams, but not a bad double-feature.