Saturday, September 27, 2008

Raw Deal (1948)

Dennis O'Keefe (Joe), Claire Trevor (Pat), Marsha Hunt (Ann), Raymond Burr (Rick), John Ireland (Fantail), Whit Bissell. Directed by Anthony Mann.

When the dark stars of noir aligned, and the genre's most gifted screenwriters, cinematographers, and directors pooled their respective skills - creating formidable cinematic dream teams - glittering gems like 1948's under appreciated Raw Deal were often the result. Replete with some of the cycle's most darkly gorgeous and painstakingly designed compositions - courtesy of master John Alton - the film is a semi-hallucinatory plunge into the murky depths of an escaped convicts nightmarish final days - his tortured psyche reflected in the story's shadowy, danger-charged locations.

As much the tale of a faithful moll's emotional suffering as it is a standard revenge yarn, the powerful narrative drive kicks in almost immediately, when within her tense inner monologue Pat (Trevor) reveals that she will assist in the scheduled jailbreak that will prematurely free her man Joe (O'Keefe). A sacrificial lamb for his sadistic racketeer-boss Rick (a chilling Burr), Joe is told that upon arriving at a post-break meeting spot he'll be rewarded 50k - with which he will begin a new life in Panama with Pat. But to the scheming Rick, Joe is actually a loose end that must be snipped.

Fresh-faced legal assistant Ann Martin (Hunt), who took a keen interest in Joe's case - and possibly Joe himself - is understandably startled when she awakens in the middle of the night to find the convict leaning over her prone figure. Their getaway car disabled by prison guards bullets, Joe and Pat need Ann's wheels to meet up with Rick's #2, Fantail (Ireland), and abduct the reluctant accomplice to make sure she stays quiet. To Pat's chagrin, Joe's reasons for bringing Ann may be twofold.

The slow-burning-fuse of a plot underway, Mann employs Alton regularly to integrate his signature museum-worthy shots, which intensify the sense of dread and inescapable imprisonment. Telephone lines shot from low angles divide and constrict open skies, while dark pine trees loom like massive cell-bars. Though 'free,' Joe is shackled to both his shady past, and mine-field of a future - his love triangle-on-wheels only muddying up matters more.

The Pat/Joe/Ann dynamic is an exquisitely composed plot element, and one of several things that elevate Raw Deal above the mix. Pat is clearly a doting and supportive gal-pal, but no amount of unconditional love can dampen the sparks traded between Joe and his not-so-secret admirer. Representing both a fresh start and a link to 'clean' society, Ann is also presented as more feminine - less of a 'buddy.' Referring to the androgynously named Pat as his 'partner' at one point, we are present for the shift in Joe's interest, and feel the sting of Pat's heartache. But an escaped con on a tight schedule doesn't need to play out a soap opera while he's on a collision course with the likes of Rick Coyle. A sadist with a fondness for flames, Coyle is one of noir's heavyweight antagonists, and the character's presence is felt even when he's not on screen. Barrel-chested and satin-robed, Rick is shown only in his luxurious lair - someone who people must come to, report to. Shot from below, he's like a bear poised to strike (a visual joke actually used in one scene), and with his main man Fantail regularly and recklessly needling him, the possibility of Rick striking is all-too-likely. A fetishistic sociopath, he will not be challenged. He orders Joe killed - never wanting to pay him off or see him again - but Joe is resourceful and determined. With the help of his lady friends, the expendable and romantically-torn thug overcomes both the lawful and the lawless to reach and confront his erstwhile boss - and does so in a typically bleak but unusually satisfying finale.

Warning: Spoiler in video below

Written by Dave

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Third Man (1949)

The Third Man: Classic for the Ages

By Bill Hare

When reviewers began observing The Third Man a point was made regarding some unique side angles that director Carol Reed had cinematographer Robert Krasker shoot. “Why were some of these shots crooked!”

Innovator Reed had an answer:

“I wanted to convey the impression that crooked things were happening.”

Reed’s unique angles coupled with the dark, black and white haunting images of the film’s characters made The Third Man an enduring classic that became indelibly linked to Eastern European intrigue in the post-World War Two Cold War period with its Vienna, cobblestone street setting and British Army officers such as Trevor Howard and sidekick Bernard Lee seeking to establish law and order in a city divided into sections with the British, Americans and Russians in charge.

A Hack Western Writer Arrives, The Story of an Innocent Abroad

Joseph Cotten, who played a depraved killer of rich widows with superb finesse in Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943), is cast in a vastly different role in The Third Man as an innocent abroad, a man without moorings who is in Vienna to handle writing assignments for his old friend Orson Welles. He learns on arrival from the porter of the apartment building where his friend resided that Welles has recently died.

Cotten, who learns that Welles lost his life by being hit by an oncoming vehicle, has just enough time to reach the cemetery where his boyhood friend is slated to be buried, becoming part of the end of the service. A stunned Cotten then touches base with British Army Captain Calloway, played by Trevor Howard.

When Howard takes Cotten to a bar after the ceremony he hears that Welles was anything but the man his friend thought him to be, and was a leader of a ruthless band of black market racketeers. When Cotten in his rapidly developing state of drunkenness protests that Howard is making his friend out to be some kind of “killer” the response is that “you could say” that murder was part of his business.

The more that Cotten drinks on the largesse of the British Army Captain’s account, the nastier things get. Eventually a thoroughly inebriated Cotten tries to punch Howard, and is thwarted by a punch from his assisting sergeant, Bernard Lee.

In the manner of great storytelling, conflict emerges in an early scene that sends the appropriate red flags, informing the shape and character conflicts that will emerge.

In the case of The Third Man and the creative vision of its screenwriter Graham Greene, the sole element that endured from story concept to fade out was that of a man who was thought to be dead but was very much alive as a well calculated trick was played by the presumed deceased to create that effect.

When I interviewed the film’s assistant director Guy Hamilton, who would go on to directing fame in the James Bond movie series with Goldfinger (1964) a particularly notable effort, he explained that Greene’s original idea involved a man walking down the street in London’s busy Strand and becoming shocked upon seeing a man whose funeral he had attended.

Hamilton further explained that at that point the film’s London-based co-producer, Alexander Korda, suggested that the project that would eventually become The Third Man could be developed within a framework of foreign intrigue in Vienna.

Austria borders Korda’s native Hungary and the then British producer recognized that, with Vienna becoming such a subject of intrigue with its geographical position in the East but lying near Europe’s heartland, would be an ideal choice. The world was, as earlier noted, in the midst of the Cold War.

Was Cotten’s Character Really an Attack on America?

In addition to Korda, Britain’s most prestigious producer, The Third Man was co-produced by a formidable American figure, David O. Selznick, who remained at home at his Hollywood studios, but, as with every film in which he participated, maintained a strong presence.

Korda and the London group were relieved that Selznick was not on the scene, given his propensity for creative intervention. Nonetheless the famous “Selznick memos” made their way with consistent frequency across the Atlantic.

Alfred Hitchcock clashed frequently with Selznick when they worked together on Rebecca (1940), a film that netted Selznick the only back to back Academy Award triumph in the “Best Film” category, being directly preceded by Gone with the Wind (1939).

Hitchcock, noted for his acerbic wit, delivered one of his most frequently quoted gems when he declared in 1951, more than a decade after the release of Rebecca that he had just finished reading one Selznick memo that could be filmed with the title “The Longest Story Every Told.”

The brash New Yorker who stunned the film world by securing successive Oscars before he was forty became concerned about Joseph Cotten’s character Holly Martins as a man ensnarled in a web of ruthless Vienna racketeers.

“Go home, Martins, before you get yourself killed!” Trevor Howard implores at one dramatic point in the film as the American’s activities are being discussed.

While Selznick’s observation of hack western novel writer Holly Martins as an American innocent abroad is accurate, the tightly woven story reveals circumstances that would place any victim caught in such a vise in a confused innocent’s role, even someone of high intelligence.

Initially there is the case of what in the sports world is referred to as home field advantage. Here is Joseph Cotten recently arrived in a foreign city that is vastly different than the U.S. Before he has any opportunity to fight off travel lag he learns that his best friend has died in what he concludes are mysterious circumstances.

When Holly Martins seeks to solve the mystery surrounding his friend’s death, he falls into a web of black marketers who control their own terrain so brutally that murder is a familiar part of their agenda. A foreigner caught up in this tight web of intrigue could be expected to bungle, and might well lose one’s life.

Romance also Beckons

Hurled into the aforementioned mix is the element of romance. As poets and psychologists have written for centuries, nothing can turn a man into helplessness faster than falling in love.

In the case of Cotten, his situation is further complicated in that the exotic, dark-haired actress beauty he becomes enamored with, played by Alida Valli, is not only the ex-girlfriend of his presumably deceased friend, but carries a gigantic torch for him.

“Haven’t got a chance,” Cotten declares somberly at one point, receiving silence from Valli, indicating the accuracy of his statement.

Enter Harry Lime

After the story mechanics have been skillfully developed and Cotten has fallen mightily for the glamorous Valli, the surprise twist suggested at the beginning of the project by scenarist Greene to producer Korda is unveiled as viewers learn that Holly Martins’ friend Harry Lime is very much alive.

A meeting between the boyhood friends in the Vienna woods Ferris wheel reveals that Harry Lime cares nothing for Anna, the woman who deeply loves him. In fact, after the arranged death of a hospital orderly and clever substitution of Lime as the accident victim, it is learned that the ruthless black marketer has bargained with Russian authorities by providing them with her name, insuring her forced repatriation back to her native Czechoslovakia and giving him a place to live without pursuit.

Orson Welles, a controversial choice at the time he was cast, played the role of Harry Lime with a stamp of ruthless bravado, the reckless air of a sociopath. His words hiss contempt for what he terms “the suckers” meaning humanity.

In that Martins is coldly rebuffed by a disgusted Anna after he has agreed to cooperate with Major Calloway (Howard) to assist her, director Carol Reed was proven justified in changing Greene’s ending.

Rather than have Cotten and Valli walk away together in the Vienna woods after he makes one final effort to meet her, one of the most unique scenes in movie history occurs when the leading man stands helplessly, smoking a cigarette, as the woman he loves, presumably enraged by the American’s involvement in the capture and ultimate death of Orson Welles, walks past him. She looks straight ahead, not even acknowledging Cotten’s presence.

Another element that makes the closing scene so fascinating, and other scenes as well, is the haunting sound of Anton Karaszither.

The inclusion of the zither, which helps stamp The Third Man with such authentic uniqueness, rather than the more typical insertion of a score played by an orchestra, was yet another indication of the stylish innovation of director Carol Reed.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Scar (aka Hollow Triumph 1948)

Inescapable Fate

“It’s a bitter little world full of sad surprises and you don’t go around letting people hurt you.”

In the world of noir, fate plays a pivotal role, and that is never clearer than in the surprisingly good noir film The Scar (AKA Hollow Triumph). Directed by Steve Sekely, and based on the novel by Murray Forbes, this tight little film illustrates fate’s inescapable grasp through its main character, career criminal John Muller (Paul Henreid).

When the film begins, John Muller is about to be released from prison. The warden’s assistant reaches for Muller’s file and begins to read aloud: “college educated, medical school” and then stumbles over the phrase “specialized in psychiatry.” This clever, minor scene establishes that Muller is smarter--at least in some ways--than those in charge of his lock-up. Muller’s background is further explored by the warden who picks up Muller’s file and continues with the details: “respectable background, medical school” but then comes the appearance of the criminal side of Muller’s nature: he “practiced [psychiatry] without a license” and also “sold stock in a non-existent oil well.” However it was the shift from white-collar crime to a payroll holdup that led Muller to the slammer, and now he’s about to be released. The warden has a job arranged for Muller in a medical supply house--a job that pays a measly $35 a week and which the warden either misguidedly or cynically decides matches Muller’s previous line of work. With a bus ticket to Los Angeles, Muller is supposed to step out of prison into a humble job, and the warden predicts that Muller will be back inside before long.

The film’s opening scene and its emphasis on Muller’s background raises the inevitable question, just where did Muller’s life go wrong? Muller seems to have little in common with his hard-working, respectable brother, Frederick (Eduard Franz). In one scene the brothers confront each another, and Frederick, the brother who’s followed the straight and narrow path admits admiring his criminal brother’s refusal to follow a treadmill life of middle-class respectability:

“You ran around, good times, girls. You were special. You never followed the rules. There were no rules for you, would you believe it? I think I wanted to see you get away with it. You were everything I wasn’t. Everything I wanted to be. Everything we’d all like to be. Only we knew better. We don’t take chances.”

While Muller is intelligent, this intelligence is warped by aggression and violence. Muller is obviously a capable man with years of medical school under his belt, but at some point, Muller’s life took a dive off the deep end from a life of respectability into a violent career of opportunism and the dead end of a prison sentence. The underlying--and unspoken question raised by the reading of the files--why Muller decided to pursue a life of crime seems to be answered by Muller’s behavior upon his release. Met at the prison door by his old pal Marcy (Herbert Rudley), instead of taking the bus to LA, Muller wastes no time getting back in tight with his gang. There’s even a hooker waiting for him in the back seat of Marcy’s car, and the emphasis shifts from ‘where exactly Muller went wrong’ to a sense of amazement that this violent hood ever warmed a seat in medical school in the first place.

However Muller’s reunion with his gang doesn’t go smoothly. With Muller cooling his heels for 2 years in prison, his fellow hoods have gone soft. While they haven’t exactly gone straight, most of them now hold jobs on the fringes of society. One of Muller’s pals, for example, works in a poker parlor. When Muller makes it clear that he’s ready to make a hit on a gambling joint, his gang members express reluctance. After all, the intended target, considered almost impregnable, belongs to a vicious hood with a reputation for getting even. Coercing and threatening the gang into cooperating with the heist, Muller argues: “I have to whip you guys into picking up a fortune.” Too afraid to refuse, the men in Muller’s circle of crime bend under intimidation and their leader’s force of personality.


When the heist goes horribly wrong, Muller is on the run from the vengeful owner of the casino, and he decides to head for the job in California originally arranged by the prison. Here, Muller begins the job in the medical supply company, hoping to maintain a low profile and buy time until his enemies forget about him. But Muller has a hard time accepting the humiliations of being a glorified office boy. Punching a time clock and goaded by his boss, it’s just a matter of time before he explodes.

In Los Angeles, fate intervenes when a man confuses Muller with the eminent psychiatrist Dr. Victor Bartok. Muller, ever one to take an opportunity handed to him, waltzes into Bartok’s office. Here he sizes up the place, and it’s as though he’s trying it on for size. We can almost see the wheels turning in Muller’s brain. The psychiatrist has a great set-up. A swanky office, a lucrative psychiatry practice, and there’s even an adoring beautiful secretary (Joan Bennett). It’s almost too perfect. Muller needs to hide out, and Bartok’s life seems made-to-order. Nevertheless there are two problems standing in Muller’s way: the inconvenient presence of Dr. Bartok, and the fact that the good doctor has a scar that runs down one side of his cheek.

In one sense, Bartok’s life seems to represent an ironic alternate universe for Muller. After all Bartok has everything that Muller could have achieved if he hadn’t turned to crime, and Muller seems to realize this. Just as Muller’s brother, Frederick can’t help but feel some envy at his brother’s disdain for working 9-to-5, there’s a degree of envy in Muller’s hungry gaze as he looks around the doctor’s office and absorbs every detail.

While most people would stop with just envy for the sort of life they will never have, Muller decides to go all the way, and he seizes the opportunity to simply step into Bartok’s shoes. It seems to be the perfect plan--almost too good to be true, and of course, since this is a noir film, it is too good to be true, and inevitably fate catches up with Muller. However, while the film sows the seeds of audience expectation in one direction, fate’s merciless, indifferent and leveling hand comes crashing down from an entirely unexpected direction, catching Muller and the audience completely off-guard.

Lovely Joan Bennett as Bartok’s loyal and besotted secretary, Evelyn Hahn plays an interesting role. She’s the second person to mistake Muller for Bartok, but in her case, since she’s in love with Bartok, her mistake is significant, and Muller rather callously courts Evelyn in order to use her. Evelyn Hahn is a woman whose many disappointments in love have created a hard-edged veneer of disdain. She accepts Muller’s courtship even while she tries to preserve her emotional distance. Evelyn is a fascinating character. In love with her employer, Bartok--a man who doesn’t return her affections, she transfers her feelings to Muller. Later, she accepts Muller as Bartok’s impersonator a little too easily, and one scene even registers Evelyn’s shock when she realizes that Muller has stepped, quite literally, into Bartok’s expensive shoes.

Both of The Scar’s main stars, Joan Bennett and Paul Henreid’s careers suffered setbacks shortly after making the film. Joan Bennett, who has the only significant female role in the film, is perhaps best remembered for those noir greats Woman in the Window (1944) and Scarlet Street (1945). Although The Scar wasn’t the lovely Joan Bennett’s last film, her career took a serious nose-dive following the 1951 scandal in which her husband, Walter Wanger, shot and wounded her agent, Jennings Lang. While Wanger’s career managed to survive the subsequent scandal, in Hollywood’s double standards of the time, Joan Bennett’s movie career was virtually destroyed. Joan Bennett’s most memorable line in the film (and one often quoted) rings ominously true: “It’s a bitter little world.”

Paul Henreid’s career also suffered a setback after a brush with the House Un-American Activities Committee. A victim of the McCarthy Red Scare, the fact that Henreid, a native of Austria, became a US citizen in 1946 didn’t help, and he was subsequently blacklisted in Hollywood. And there’s an irony here as Henreid was previously blacklisted by UFA, Germany’s Nazi-controlled film industry. Today Henreid is best remembered for his role as Victor Laszlo in Casablanca (1942).

The Scar isn’t a title that leaps to mind when considering film noir, and it certainly doesn’t make many top noir film lists. However, the film’s premise: attempts to escape the inevitability of fate simply result in ironic manifestations of fate is expressed perfectly through the film’s tidy plot. In trying to avoid his fate, Muller steps into a life he could very well have earned if he’d kept on the straight and narrow. But even though fate seems to throw Muller a lifeline, he only steps from one hell straight into another. As both Evelyn and Muller’s last ditch attempts at redemption are smashed by fate’s sheer indifference, the film’s greatest irony remains that Muller is ultimately not punished for the crimes he’s committed but for the sins of another.

“It’s too late and what’s the use? You can never go back and start again. Because the older you grow, the worse everything turns out. You don’t see what’s happening to you. It just happens. You wake up one morning and anything goes, and that’s alright too.”

Written by Guy Savage

Apology for Murder (1945)

Posted by Steve-O

Apology for Murder is not a great movie. However, the film does give viewers a glimpse into how films (especially B-movies) were green-lighted in the 1940s.

Double Indemnity was released in 1944 and made movie history. It wasn't the first film noir but it was and still is one of the best. If you're ever stuck trying to explain to someone what film noir is, pop Double Indemnity into the DVD player and have them get comfortable. The twisty plot told with razor-sharp dialog (courtesy of James M. Cain and screenwriters Raymond Chandler and director Billy Wilder) was jaw dropping in it's freshness. No one ever spoke or acted like Neff and Phyllis in films before - certainly no one in the real world was ever that quick witted. In fact, the film - filled with implied sex and violence- just a few years before release was considered impossible to make thanks to the Hayes code. Casting also proved difficult due to the racy content. Even Wilder's long time collaborator Charles Brackett steered clear of the project. Wilder pushed the film forward despite all the roadblocks.

When Double Indemnity was released in 1944 it changed everything. The financial and critical success of the movie opened the floodgates and studios rushed to make the next “Double Indemnity.” Cain's steamy best seller The Postman Always Rings Twice, which had its own rocky journey to the silver screen, was finally considered filmable thanks to its success. Not only did Wilder and crew find a way to bypass the Hayes Code (by using double-meaning dialog and suggestive -but not explicit- visual images to describe sex and murder) but they helped define a new film style. Armed with these newly found freedoms filmmakers pushed out several movies born because of Double Indemnity. Movies we'd call film noir. (Certainly many, many other films from that time also contributed to noir - including The Maltese Falcon and Murder, My Sweet - but I think none had the impact of Double Indemnity.)

Hollywood does the same copycatting today. If a Michael Crichton book becomes a blockbuster then all his novels are filmed. When The Lord of the Rings did huge business it started the ball rolling on several sci-fi/fantasy trilogies.

The difference today there are no Poverty Row studios - or at least not as they were in the 1940s. Today, when a movie is ripped off it's usually a straight-to-video title people only take home from Blockbuster when they've mistook it for something else. However, these home video releases at least have some budget. The makers of Apology for Murder and the vastly superior Detour, PRC, seemed to make movies without any financing - or at least they looked that way.

Which brings us to Apology for Murder. This isn't just a film in the mold of Double Indemnity from a year before - it's an exact copy of it. Or should I say it's a copy of the film if it were made with little budget and no star power. The two leads at the time were no names. It would be years before Hugh Beaumont would become Ward Cleaver on TV. The femme fatale Ann Savage would go onto become a household name among cult film and noir lovers thanks to Detour (which was released by PRC the same year). It wasn't until the 1960s before Savage would get any praise for her role. Thanks to countless 3 am insomniac airing of Detour on TV beginning in the 60s, word of mouth about Savage's brilliant performance as Vera spread among film affectionatos that continues today.

In Apology for Murder, Savage actually is almost unrecognizable in the glamorous femme fatale role. I've seen Detour so many times I just assumed that she was always the dark and evil Vera. However, in Apology for Murder B-western director Sam Newfield shows us a Savage I never new. Wearing formal 1945-stylish cloths and lighter hair I wouldn't have recognized her if I didn't read the credits. It's amazing that this woman would become Vera just a few months later (Apology for Murder was released in September and Detour in November of 1945). Savage pulls it off. She's sexy from the first glimpse of her gams.

Hugh Beaumont is another story. Certainly he was handsome enough to be a leading man but I think he had a very limited range. Another thing about Beaumont is that he will always be remembered by generations of TV fans as one of the most famous dads ever. It's hard watching him spout witty lines without thinking about all those speeches he gave Wally and Beav. Now that Leave it to Beaver is shown less and less on TV maybe younger movie fans won't immediately make the connection and appreciate Beaumont as the tough talking newspaper man. Then again, whenever I show someone Double Indemnity for the first time they usually shout out “My Three Sons!” when Fred MacMurray comes on screen. The connection between Ward Cleaver and Beaumont in Anthony Mann's Railroaded! is even closer. When Beaumont (a young cop in that one) shows up in a very Leave it to Beaver-like suburb any feelings about the movie being a serious crime film go out the window. Which is a shame because Railroaded! actually is a watchable thriller.

Back to Apology for Murder. When Kenny Blake (Beaumont) first sees Toni (Savage) he breaks out in a grin that goes ear to ear. Beaumont totally overplays the scene. You can tell Blake is attracted to her just by the way they photographed Savage - showing her legs flicking up in the air before you even see her face. A better director would have advised Beaumont to turn it down a few degrees and take the scene again. However, considering that the film was probably made in less than a week there probably wasn't time.

After the two meet up and apparently sleep together its only then does Blake realize that Toni is married. In Double Indemnity Neff not only knows that Phyllis is married but you suspect this isn't the first lonely housewife he's encountered. The realization is an unintentionally funny scene in Apology for Murder. Only hours before they learned each others names and now after they've slept together does this newspaper man find out that she's married to the rich old man he tried to interview earlier.

After that the film plays exactly like Double Indemnity. The femme fatale gets her sucker boyfriend to kill her husband. The boyfriend feels guilty because someone else is being accused of the murder and so he steps in and tries to do the right thing by stopping Phyllis/Toni. I would guess that if you haven't seen Double Indemnity for a while you may actually find Apology for Murder a decent grade-Z thriller. For classic movie fans I would recommend it just to see Savage play in another film noir.

The end has another surprise. When Blake confronts Toni while she two timing on him with her lawyer, Blake shoots and kills the unarmed lawyer and then shots Toni in the back. After that Blake stumbles back to his newspaper and writes his confession (on a typewriter instead of a dictograph). I found it hard to feel sorry for this guy. I mean did he have to kill the lawyer? I'm not sure why he did it. I know he's a lawyer and all but that seems overkill. A strange end to say the least.

Surprisingly the film is finally out on home video. The copy isn't perfect - it's the same quality as we've seen watching DVDs of Detour - but it's a considerable improvement over film collectors copies that have been floating around. Definitely one you'd want to pick up if you're a film noir completest.

Not a great movie but a excellent example of how Poverty Row studios worked in the 1940s.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Look in Any Window (1961)

Posted by Night Editor

Poor Craig Fowler. His father, Jay (Alex Nichol) is a self-pitying drunk who’s just lost his job. His mother, Jackie (Ruth Roman) is fed up with it all and is looking to step out with the neighborhood skirt-chaser Gareth Lowell (Jack Cassidy).

Meantime, Craig, played by a young Paul Anka, is struggling to deal with sexual and other insecurities, mostly by skulking around at night in a rubber fright mask and peering in neighbors’ windows to discover what really goes on behind closed doors.

If it all sounds a little tawdry, it is. It’s a time when Hollywoodland was taking a jump off the juvenile delinquency bandwagon of the late ‘50’s onto that of the degenerative exploitation noir of the ‘60’s and Look in Any Window has its feet dangling off the back of both.

However the film turns out to be a lot better than the sum of its cheap generic and commercial parts - partly due to the large talents of the actors at hand and a well-crafted and tenable script by Lawrence E. Mascott, whose only other brush with noir was a single teleplay written for the ‘Johnny Staccato’ series with John Cassavetes (more on him later).

For its story Look in Any Window forages among Southern California’s burgeoning suburbs and its newly-affluent middle-class who want the good things in life and lots of them - cars, swimming pools, televisions, stereos, BBQ’s and a lifestyle to go.

No big surprise but no one seems any the happier for any of it. The husbands are busy bringing home the bacon (and doing some illicit porking on the side), the wives hang out by the pool all day looking into the abyss, and the kids are doing whatever they’re fated to do.

If all this weren’t enough, it also appears there’s a peeping tom (or worse!) on the prowl. Folks are distraught and their cause for alarm brings in the cops in the form of a couple of plainclothes officers who are assigned to 24 hour lookout (now those were the days).

The two, as the British would say, are like chalk and cheese. Officer Webber (the cheese) played by Dan Grayam, is a nineteen-year veteran who just wants to catch the lurker and teach him a lesson he’ll never forget.

The other, Officer Lindstrom (the chalk) played by Robert Sampson is a ‘college man’ who’s taken psychology courses but has only got four years in on the force. He’d rather start by finding out what the culprit’s real problem might be.

As the two of them watch and wait, they get a look-in on the sexual infidelity, the chronic boozing and the domestic upheaval and serve in situ as color commentators to the goings-on.

Look in Any Window (1961)
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Their incidental chorusing is a contrivance but it’s an interesting one. Again, although basically a trashy late period B noir, Look in Any Window never fails in some way to engage or surprise.

This was director William Alland's only film as a director, after a career as a producer of mostly B-level westerns, science fiction and horror movies (The Creature of the Black Lagoon, The Colossus of New York, etc).

Nevertheless his direction here is well-informed, often alluding to the visual and narrative immediacy of neo-realism as well as just holding to the standard Hollywood studio style. It’d be nice to imagine that given further opportunity as a director, Alland might have become a commercial lower-rent version of John Cassavetes. As writer David Thompson has observed. Cassavetes favored stories of ‘basic, unenlightened, unhappily successful people… a rarity and rigorously shunned in American films’. Well, you got ‘em here.

Conversely, cinematographer W. Wallace Kelly also brings some timely touches of noir-bent expressionism to the film, much of which takes place in the darkness of evening and night. Kelly never really got closer to evincing a noir style on any other movie he’d been involved in (second unit duties on Vertigo not really qualifying) but in Look in Any Window he certainly appears aware of the option to do so.

However what’s best in the movie are lead actors Ruth Roman and Carole Mathews, who give terrific and uncomfortably knowing performances as the neighborhood’s dominant homemakers. They’re both attractive, smart, and overtly sexual women in their 40’s who want and need to be more than just material girls and handmaidens to louts. In this part of town, that may be expecting too much.

Mathew’s performance in particular is affecting, as her character Betty tries so hard to keep her family together, if only for the daughter’s sake. At the same time is she is so tempted by her next-door neighbor, a courtly Italian widower (George Dolenz) who appears to show appreciation for her intelligence as well as her body in a bathing suit - unlike her philandering husband, Gareth (Cassidy) who doesn’t appear to appreciate anything about her, nor that much about their daughter, Eileen (Gigi Perreau).

Cassidy always can be counted on for a bombastic performance but thankfully, he stops well-short of redlining with this one. However, Gareth remains a total jerk right to the very last. When Betty tells him she’s leaving and that she hopes his money will buy him happiness, he just sloughs her off, saying, ‘With money, who needs happiness’.

What about the hapless Greg (Anka)? We know really just needs: a) a nice girl with whom lose his virginity and b) a chance to see his parents wise up and get back to acting something like the responsible adults one presumes they once were.

By the end of the movie, we’re almost there, as everyone begins to realize the consequences of their actions. After a scary showdown, Greg finds a sympathetic ear from the cops and an even more sympathetic heart in the girl next door. It’s a start on the road to recovery - or recidivism. We’ll never know.

Anka at this point in his career is hardly an actor but his inadequacy as a performer actually serves the role he’s been asked to play. He’s a doofus but that plays here well enough.

With even a slightly bigger budget and a real box-office cast, Look in Any Window might have ended up being another studied and overblown paean to youthful alienation like Rebel Without a Cause - a movie which now feels ‘paean-fully’ dated.

Fortunately, circumstances conspired in the film to keep things more-or-less honest and sincere. Yes, sometimes sleazy, sometimes creepy but in the end this minor noir-stained drama also comes across as respecting its story and characters.

Look in Any Window itself may not be big, but it is small - and in the end, the better for it as it manages to rise just far enough above its trashy self to succeed as something else- usually the sign of a worthwhile B feature, which this one definitely is.


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