Monday, 8 January 2018

Movie watch: The Grønmark Blog goes noir! (Part Three): Detour, Too Late for Tears, The Dark Corner, Caught

Detour (1945) is fairly horrible little picture. Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer in six days on a tiny budget, it stars Tom Neal as a piano player in a New York nightclub who initially refuses to accompany his girlfriend to Los Angeles, where she wants to try to make it in the movies. Changing his mind, he decides to hitchhike across the country to join her, but one of his "rides" - a crude, obnoxious bully - dies during the trip. Fearing he'll be blamed for killing the man, Neal (who is as thick as brick) buries the body, steals the car, and assumes the dead man's identity. He picks up a sulky female hitchhiker - who turns out to have been the dead man's last passenger, and who therefore knows that Neal is lying about his identity. She blackmails Neal, demanding he take her to Los Angeles, so they can share the proceeds from selling the car. Tom Neal is a spineless whiner...

...who deserves everything that happens to him, while the woman (played by Ann Savage) is a vicious, evil harpy without a single redeeming quality. Neal ends up killing his tormentor - by mistake: everything this fool does is inadvertent - and goes on the lam. It's badly made, the main characters are repellent, the editing is clumsy - and yet it creates an overpoweringly hellish, claustrophobic atmosphere: you cannot take your eyes off it. Recommended viewing.

Too Late for Tears (1949) was another new one on me - and a real find. A classic black & white noir crime thriller, it stars Lizabeth Scott as a discontented wife living a humdrum, make-ends-meet life with husband Arthur Kennedy. One night, a suitcase full of cash is tossed into their car from another car on the highway. Instead of going to the the police, they take the suitcase back to their drab little apartment.  Kennedy wants to hand it in - sort of - but Scott sees it as her ticket out of Palookaville. Then sleazy Dan Duryea turns up in search of "his" money - and things turn decidedly homicidal. It is a tremendous little film - lean, taut, fast-moving, with excellent performances from Scott and Duryea. A veritable gem.

The Dark Corner (1946) is a solid film noir thriller, directed by Hollywood legend Henry Hathaway, who would go on to helm Kiss of Death the following year. This one isn't as compelling as the Richard Wydmark psycho-fest - but it come close. Its only real problem is the central character, a tough but honest private eye played by Mark Stevens, whose glum performance is comprehensively eclipsed  by those of his wisecracking tough-gal assistant, Lucille Ball, William Bendix (the hood who is trying to frame Stevens), and Clifton Webb as the waspish art dealer who Bendix is working for. I won't even try to describe the labyrinthine plot, but the film is crammed with classic noir dialogue, expertly-delivered: "I haven't worked for you very long, Mr. Galt, but I know when you're pitching a curve at me, and I always carry a catcher's mitt."; "It didn't work. It was a busto crusto."; "How I detest the dawn. The grass always looks like it's been left out all night."; "You, on the level? Why, for six bits you'd hang your mother on a meathook." etc.  Not essential - but a lot of fun.

Caught (1949) was directed by Max Ophüls, a German Jew who fled to Paris in 1933, became a French citizen,  then made his way to America in 1941. After five years of inactivity, Preston Sturges helped find Ophüls work as a director. In 1948 he made his most noted American film - the period drama Letter from an Unknown Woman:  Caught was his follow-up. It's almost great. Barbara Bel Geddes (who would later turn into Miss Ellie Ewing in the TV soap series, Dallas) is a young model not getting anywhere fast who bumps into Robert Ryan's unconventional (i.e. mad) gazillionaire, Smith Ohlrig (the resemblance to "oil rig" is presumably intentional - the character is a barely-disguised portrait of mad gazillionaire Howard Hughes: how MGM managed not to be sued is a mystery). When Barbara realises hubby is an abusive, loveless fruitloop, she does a bunk, winding up as a medical assistant to idealistic city doctor, James Mason. She reunites with Robert Ryan for one night, becoming pregnant as a result: he uses this as an excuse to imprison her in his mansion...

It's all just a little bit too oppressive and overwrought, the clumping anti-capitalist message is delivered with a sledgehammer, and it's hard to sympathise with Bel Geddes for hitching herself to a psychotic bastard: he's played by Robert Ryan, for God's sake - what did she expect? It's not a must-see, but Ryan is wonderfully malevolent and James Mason just about pulls off his humanitarian doctor role (even though I'd have been more interested if he had turned out to be the real nutter, from whom Ryan has to rescue his wife).

All four films are available on YouTube.


  1. "Too late for Tears". I had forgotten about Dan Duryea [a sort of earlier version of Richard Widmark]. Very sinister actor. Must try and see this film.

    "To helm"?. Hmm...An expression favoured by the teenage cinema critics at the Daily Telegraph.

    1. I watched the wonderful Winchester '73 the other night for the first time since I was a lad. Duryea is wonderful as a psycho-baddie bank-robber who gets his comeuppance from James Stewart. I think the reason he was so good in this type of role is that there's always an underlying, twisted charm to his sleazy characters. Like Richard Widmark - who also made his mark playing psycho-nutters - he was apparently a very nice, quiet man in real life.