99 River Street, The Spiritualist, Framed (The Cornfield, #13)

Three impressions of noir.

99 River Street (1953)

Awesome stuff from Phil Karlson, with a brutal boxing opening and a plot that puts ex-pug Ernie Driscoll (John Payne) through an equally brutal nightmare during one long evening. Payne is played for a sap by his wife, who then gets murdered in a jewel deal gone bad. Framed for the crime, he teams up with galpal Linda James (Evelyn Keyes), an actress who, in the course of the same evening, has hoodwinked Ernie into being part of a “rehearsal” for her new murder play (great long-take work as the camera follows her doing her role, as Ernie thinks she’s actually explaining her involvement in real murder at the theater). Karlson’s camera seems vibrantly, emotionally engaged by the action on screen, moving in and away as the moment requires. Keyes has another great scene later when she tries to snare the diamond thief/killer (Brad Dexter in good assholey form) in a waterfront café on River Street, as she dances around the joint and eventually leans way down into his face to light her cigarette from his. The sex stuff is strong. Payne is terrific (a cabbie now, he rarely takes his cap off). Good support: Jack Lambert, the poor man’s Lee Marvin, as a thug, Jay Adler as the Jewish fence, Peggie Castle as Payne’s duplicitous wife, Frank Faylen as a cabbie buddy. It’s a director’s film, in the best way, and within the budget there are some beautiful night scenes, including a longshot of a ship in dock, done with paintings.

The Spiritualist (The Amazing Mr. X) (1948)

Good noir stuff, primarily from cinematographer John Alton, who appears to assert his dynamic noir style over director Bernard Vorhaus (although Vorhaus has a profile in the sub-cult vault, a “subject for further research” type who once mentored David Lean and was blacklisted not long after this movie). The opening sequence alone grabs mood and angle from Welles/Kane and I Walked With a Zombie, as the camera approaches the Oceanside home of widow Lynn Bari, who can still almost hear her dead husband’s voice on the sea air at night. Kid sister Cathy O’Donnell tries to talk her into accepting the proposal of Richard Carlson; and while he succeeds, the framing keeps the dead man’s painting between the ostensible loverbirds. Bari bumps into a wiggy exotic (Turhan Bey) on the beach, a man with a raven and a hypnotic way of talking. Plus, he looks like Turhan Bey. Mind-reader type, with his own L.A. bungalow headquarters (visitors write a note to themselves, which he divines by reading the carbon under the pad they just used). He’s a lovely charlatan, savored by Bey in one of his best performances—he’s never not a phony, except in the final sequences, when he pulls some vestige of decency out of himself. His aim is to fleece Bari, but then her dead husband shows up very much alive, having faked his own death (for rather obscure reasons). He now leans on Bey to collaborate on driving Bari to her death (still not sure why).

Framed (1947)

Early Glenn Ford movie—he’s a mining engineer who rolls into town in a truck with no brakes. (Long story.) Accused of various things, he’s bailed out of jail by a tall, slender drink of water, Janis Carter, who’s working as a waitress at a slop joint but is actually the mistress of a married banker (Barry Sullivan) hatching a dirty plan. She and her sleazy boyfriend need a chump to kill, leaving the body to be mistaken for Sullivan’s, which will allow them to do somethingorother involving money. (Ford and Sullivan aren’t remotely similar in build, despite the movie’s protestations.) After getting a job on prospector Edgar Buchanan’s claim, Ford falls under the sway of hotcha Janis, and it takes a trip up to Sullivan’s country “shack” (cool split-level fuckpad) to realize that the two of them are, you know, together, indicated by the robe hanging in the bathroom with the word “PAULA” embroidered on it. Not cool. Ford continually gets blackout-level soused in the movie – a contrivance needed to set the plot in motion – even when he realizes something is up with the creepy couple. One single nice shock moment: close-up of Carter in a car at the moment a gun goes off and a car accident is staged, followed by a cut to one man alive, then to another man slumped over dead. The thing has plot holes, but it’s truly killed by the flat staging and lighting; though imitative of noir tropes, director Richard Wallace has no feel for how to enliven them. Ford is okay, with a couple of nasty, bitter moments. But why is anybody doing anything in this movie?

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