Rhonda Fleming

Out of the Past (1947, Jacques Tourneur)

Out of the Past always has at least two things going on at once. Not just the double crossings, which is so prevalent lead Robert Mitchum even taunts the bad guys with it, but how the film itself works.

Daniel Mainwaring’s script–which gives Mitchum this lengthy narration over a flashback sequence–gives the impression of telling the viewer everything while it really leaves the most important elements out. The whole plot has the bad guys coming out of Mitchum’s past (hence the title), but the way he deals with them has all these elements from between that past and the present. It means Mainwaring and Past can surprise the viewer, but it also gives Mitchum this rich character. As much exposition (not to mention the flashback) as he gets about his past, the complications all come from the unexplained things.

And Tourneur’s direction matches this narrative style. He, cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca and editor Samuel E. Beetley have foreground and background action. A scene will focus intensely one character, but in contrast to the scripted character emphasis. The visual disconnect pulls the viewer, causing a palpable, beautifully lighted edginess.

And Mitchum and his nemesis slash alter ego Kirk Douglas also have that edginess; they’re uncomfortable with one another but reluctantly. It’s wonderful.

All the acting is great–especially Paul Valentine and Rhonda Fleming–and, of course, femme fatale Jane Greer and good girl Virginia Huston.

The narrative tricks–while always beautifully executed–aren’t necessary. Past would be better without them.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jacques Tourneur; screenplay by Daniel Mainwaring, based on his novel; director of photography, Nicholas Musuraca; edited by Samuel E. Beetley; music by Roy Webb; produced by Warren Duff; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Robert Mitchum (Jeff Bailey), Jane Greer (Kathie Moffatt), Kirk Douglas (Whit Stefanos), Rhonda Fleming (Meta Carson), Steve Brodie (Steve Fisher), Virginia Huston (Ann Miller), Paul Valentine (Joe Stefanos), Wallace Scott (Petey), Richard Webb (Jim), John Kellogg (Lou Baylord), Ken Niles (Leonard Eels) and Dickie Moore (The Kid).


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THIS POST IS PART OF THE 1947 BLOGATHON HOSTED BY KAREN OF SHADOWS & SATIN AND KRISTINA OF SPEAKEASY.


The Spiral Staircase (1945, Robert Siodmak)

The Spiral Staircase opens with this lovely homage to silent cinema. Director Siodmak takes great care with the setting in time–Nicholas Musuraca’s sumptuous cinematography helps–and then Spiral becomes a waiting game. Certainly if Siodmak took such great care with one sequence, he’ll return to that level of care again….

However, he does not. The rest of Spiral is exposition and contrivance. It takes place in the evening of the same day, with mute maid Dorothy McGuire vaguely convinced her life is in danger (she was at the pictures, but for no narrative reason). Siodmak and screenwriter Mel Dinelli don’t know what to do with a mute protagonist so they basically shove McGuire aside for the vocal supporting cast members. They do give her a love interest, a tepid Kent Smith, and one inexplicable daydream sequence.

The rest of the supporting cast is fantastic–George Brent, Elsa Lanchester, Sara Allgood and Gordon Oliver. Ethel Barrymore, as McGuire’s employer and friend, is okay. The material isn’t there for her. Dinelli doesn’t know how to structure his script, though he and Siodmak do pass time well. Until the final third, Spiral sails by. Maybe because, as I initially mentioned, one assumes Siodmak is going to do something sublime again.

The Roy Webb music is good, the editing from Harry W. Gerstad and Harry Marker is not. Once Siodmak gets inside the house where eighty percent of the story takes place, he’s infrequently exceptional. His inserts are awful.

Spiral is extremely disappointing.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Siodmak; screenplay by Mel Dinelli, based on a novel by Ethel Lina White; director of photography, Nicholas Musuraca; edited by Harry W. Gerstad and Harry Marker; music by Roy Webb; produced by Dore Schary; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Dorothy McGuire (Helen Capel), George Brent (Professor Albert Warren), Ethel Barrymore (Mrs. Warren), Kent Smith (Dr. Brian Parry), Rhonda Fleming (Blanche), Gordon Oliver (Steve Warren), Elsa Lanchester (Mrs. Oates), Sara Allgood (Nurse Barker), Rhys Williams (Mr. Oates), James Bell (The Constable) and Erville Alderson (Dr. Harvey).


Cry Danger (1951, Robert Parrish)

Cry Danger is a strange film noir… it takes place almost exclusively during the day. It also relies almost solely on humor to move itself along through the first act–not Dick Powell, who spends the whole film with a slightly bemused look on his face, but Richard Erdman. Erdman’s the whole reason to watch Cry Danger… when he’s not around, I just kept waiting for him to show up again. He never disappointed.

Erdman’s so important because Cry Danger is not a particularly involving mystery. It establishes the good guys and the bad guys very early and doesn’t do much to make things interesting between the setup and the resolution. The problem is the lack of a mystery and the foils throughout are spare. Eventually, everything comes to rest on Powell’s shoulders. He’s got to carry the movie through and, while he’s able to do it, it’s at the expense of quite a bit.

The story takes place over three or four days and is occasionally confusing–someone refers to last night and it really seemed like it should have been two nights. But these mistakes (or confounding moments) are forgivable, because Powell’s journey–even if everything is predictable–is fun to watch. Powell knows how to do these roles and he fulfills the genre requirements, but he takes it much further–his character is very likable and without that affection, it’d be hard to get through Cry Danger.

One of the more interesting elements in the film is the excessive violence. Powell beats William Conrad mercilessly twice in the film, both times probably in the second act, and I’d never seen anything like these scenes in any films of the same era. They’re almost 1994 Tarantino-esque. (So Powell turning out to be the hero, who also happens to beat people with sculptures, makes for an odd situation).

But Cry Danger (the title has nothing to do with the film) also uses another neat trick to get around not having a compelling story. A lot of the action takes place in a trailer court and something about returning to the familiar setting, along with peculiar confinement (it’s not inside and it’s open enough for the characters to move around, but it’s also set aside and closed off…), make Cry Danger an enjoyable eighty minutes.

Besides Erdman, who’s so good, and Powell, who’s sturdy and can carry this kind of film without any help, there are also some good performances from Regis Toomey and Conrad. Rhonda Fleming is underwhelming (and the film never reveals how she manages to get so fixed up while living in a trailer), but Jean Porter is kind of good. Porter’s in most of her scenes with Erdman and it’s hard to tell.

Film noirs are not supposed to get by on charm… but Cry Danger does and does so well.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Parrish; screenplay by William Bowers, based on a story by Jerome Cady; director of photography, Joseph F. Biroc; music by Paul Dunlap and Emil Newman; produced by W.R. Frank and Sam Wiesenthal; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Dick Powell (Rocky Mulloy), Rhonda Fleming (Nancy Morgan), Richard Erdman (Delong), William Conrad (Louie Castro), Regis Toomey (Cobb), Jean Porter (Darlene LaVonne), Jay Adler (Williams) and Joan Banks (Alice Fletcher).


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