knives wrote:Though I'm mostly deciding on whether Thunder on the Hill, White Heat, and Secret Beyond the Door count as noir.
I would say definitely to Secret Beyond the Door
. White Heat
is a little more difficult, and really depends on how separate you consider the film noir
from the gangster film
, even as the latter genre was caught between two cycles during the period, and as such, was often appropriated into noir
films.. My opinion is divided on the matter such that I usually say no to White Heat
, for that matter), and yes to Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye
, although I would have to closely re-watch both films to give you a decent answer why.
Never seen Thunder on the Hill
, but of the other supposed Sirk noirs
is the only I felt really fits the mold, so I'm skeptical.
Dead Reckoning (John Cromwell, 1947)
Watched this with high-hopes after the stunning achievement of Caged
. What I got was a minor, if still remarkable entry into the genre (and at least this film is in the genre). While it's ostensibly a continuation of the 'A' detective films in the style of Murder, My Sweet
and The Big Sleep
, here there's a twist: Bogart is not a detective, but an Army Captain, and he treats the central mystery less like a case, and more like a search-and-rescue mission. As such, you can file this film under the "War Comes Home" sub-genre; a They Made Me a Fugitive
-lite, if you will. Like those films which Cavalcanti's embodies the best, there's a reactionary sense that the society left behind in the war years has grown soft, decadent, amoral and dangerous, with a special emphasis paid on the criminals and generally undesirable people who managed to take advantage of the "absence", and gain money, success and power. In this film, more-so than the two aforementioned private eye films, the movie is filled top-to-bottom with unlikeable, if not downright bad people... save, of course, for those people who actually served in the war, like Bogart or his missing partner, or in one rare occasion, the proud father of a GI. Of course, the war doesn't entirely leave Bogart unscathed (although the film's refusal to explore this angle more is one of the many things that keeps it from being a great film); there was always a petty, if not malicious side to Bogie's heroes; they'll remain honorable, but they're not against getting a cheap shot in here and there. However, in the final third of the film, his character begins to veer toward psychopathy; forget a cheap shot, here he needles and psychologically tortures a hood who did him dirt before leveling him; he's not against threatening burning the baddies alive to make a point, and he sets a room ablaze to show them he means it; and if not for some deus ex machinas
, he comes close to murdering the villains in cold blood.
And of course, one should make special note of the villains, starting with their names - Martinelli and Krause, Italian and German, despite the fact that their characters are otherwise completely standard American riffraff. Krause is sadistic, brutal, psychopathic, taking great delight in working over Bogart in one scene. He even anticipates another fascism-tinged villain - Hume Cronym's Warden Munsey - in his employment of music to accompany his beatings. The film doesn't go as far as putting Wagner on the soundtrack (it settles for some indistinct period muzak), but it does make that extra step with Martinelli, who throws lines of Nietzsche at Bogart on several occasions. Martinelli is interesting; he's ostensibly a Detroit hood who worked his way up the racket, but Morris Carnovsky plays him as all high-class manners and airs, with a Mid-Atlantic accent that edges towards foreign; he reeks of European aristocratic arrogance more than Urban American strongarm, and he makes great pains to play up his respectability and downplay the crime and brutality he's involved in, while even at the same time employing and basking in it. Like in Cavalcanti's film, the hoods have made good in the war years, and are now doing their best to show off their newfound class. And following through on the "war comes home" conceit, its not surprising that Bogart uses weapons of war against them, hurling hand grenades at them.
Of course, the reactionary conceit has its downside. Despite the great sympathy employed in Caged
, the film completely indulges the misogyny of the post-war film noir
, and its perhaps in this area where the film most stumbles. Bogart's "pocket-sized girl" speech is of course infamous for its sexism, and the film reinforces the sentiment by
turning Elizabeth Scott into a complete femme fatale, right down to an ending that points to Out of the Past. This may have been dandy if Lizabeth Scott was a Jane Greer, but she's decidedly out of her element here.
There was always something, superficially, about Lizabeth Scott that irked me, be it her raspy (forget husky) voice or the roughness in her face, all which makes me suspect that she may have been ten years older than she let on, and which never let me buy her as the pure, glamorous (although often deceptive) beauty that she was often cast as. With that said, I often do like her, and she does a much greater job in Pitfall
and Too Late for Tears
than she is able to here. This role called for a Hayworth or Bacall, and casting Scott and keeping the role as written just makes it feel by-the-numbers and dull. The film tries to fit her in a pre-manufactured archetype without understanding what makes Scott unique as an actress.
As such, the film kind of just moves along, diverting, but without ever bringing its best ideas up to the forefront, all while including probably more narrative information than necessary (such as the confessional framing device). The subversive edge which makes Cromwell's Caged
so wonderful is absent here. With that said, its still a interesting minor film in the genre, and interesting enough to compel me to track down The Racket
, despite the low opinion of it around these parts.