Monday, March 29, 2010

Two of a Kind (1951)

Talk about a sheep in wolf’s clothing. Two of a Kind, released by Columbia in 1951, is a perfect example of how a Hollywood ending can completely derail a promising film noir. The premise is enticing — three grifters try to work a complicated inheritance scam on an elderly California couple. They plan to pass off a fellow con artist as the couple’s long-lost son, and claim a huge inheritance when the aged millionaires finally kick over. The cast is rock-solid, and includes noir icons Edmond O’Brien and Lizabeth Scott, as well as President Wilson himself, Alexander Knox. It opens with a snappy pace and is characterized by tough dialogue and slick Burnett Guffey photography. It establishes itself as a noir early on, with a wonderfully memorable scene involving the two leads, a car door, and some great dialogue. Two of a Kind also foreshadows doom in half a dozen different ways, including a slew of references to the game of craps, yet in the end fails to deliver on its dark promises — instead it curtains like an MGM musical, where boy and girl hop in the ragtop and ride off into the setting Pacific sun, leaving a skeptical audience jilted and angry.

The film opens with Brandy (Lizabeth Scott), desperately searching from coast to coast for a man she’s never met — a special man who neatly fits the requirements that she and Vincent (Alexander Knox) need in order to orchestrate a swindle of gigantic proportions. Here’s why: A wealthy California couple, the McIntyres, lost a son many years ago during a trip to the windy city. Mom gets dizzy on and cracks her head on the sidewalk outside Marshall Field’s, and wakes to discover her three-year old son missing. She’s not without hope though — the little fellow has a curious wound, one that Two of a Kind hinges on: the tip of his left little finger has been lopped off. Yet despite this the McIntyres are unable to recover the boy, though their search has lasted for more than three decades. The McIntyre family attorney, who turns out to be none other than Brandy’s partner Vincent himself, is charged with maintaining investigation on behalf of the family. And it’s Vincent who first sees the opportunity to make a grab at the McIntyre family fortune — he and Brandy just need to find the right man to play the part of the prodigal son: white male, early thirties, from the greater Chicago land area, raised in an orphanage, and finally: willing to sacrifice a digit for a big payoff. Enter Mike ‘Lefty’ Farrell (Edmond O’Brien).

Throughout film history there have been countless scenes when a character loses some limb or another, and most such films exploit the suspense-filled moments before the axe falls, the knife slashes, or the chainsaw rattles to life. In this case the exchange between Brandy and Mike leading up to the “ouch” is plenty compelling. The scene occurs about fifteen minutes in, just after Brandy finally locates Mike working as a card checker at an L.A. bingo joint. In a brief sequence of impressive narrative economy, Brandy manages to catch Mike’s eye, test his mettle against a hired thug, get him arrested and bailed out, clue him in on the potential scam, and convince him to put his little finger in the path of a car door. Considering the pair just met, Mike seems too eager to go along with her plan. It’s a weak point in the story that calls for the seductive power of the femme fatale to make believable — after all, how many men will maim themselves for a woman they’ve just met? It’s a hard pill to swallow, and Liz Scott isn’t the girl to help it go down any easier. Scott was certainly a wonderful actress — she could outperform most fifties crime pic ingénues with her eyes alone, but she lacked that Rita-esque brand of raw sexuality necessary to close this deal. It still remains Two of a Kind’s best moment — though it’s the dialogue, specifically through how it portrays Mike as condemned, which makes the scene work so well. The outcome is never in doubt — we know the finger has to come off for the story to move forward, but the film squeezes out as much character development as possible before the big moment. Brandi pulls up to a shadowy curb, the emergency hospital quietly looming a block ahead. She cuts to the chase: “It has to look like an accident — you walk in with a smashed finger and tell them you caught it in a car door.” “And how does it really get smashed?” Mike asks, to which she deadpans, “In a car door.” Brandi leans across Mike’s chest and pushes open his door, while he eyes her warily for the first time. She removes the lipstick from her handbag and paints an aiming line on his little finger before announcing, “You’d better have a cigarette.” Still gregarious, Mike asks, “Who gets to make with the door?” To which Brandy’s curt “I do” not only establishes that she is clearly in control of the situation but that Mike is out of his league. Her final warning, “Look the other way” comes just a second before she crushes his finger. The scene is certainly the most noirish in the film, particularly in how it parallels Mike’s predicament with that of a man about to be executed. The cigarette, the turning of the head, the willing submission, and finally, the sexually-charged violence of the moment are quintessentially noirish, and ensure the scene would be much better-remembered if only the film didn’t shoot itself in the foot after chopping off Mike’s finger.

Two of a Kind is further compounded by the fact that its stakes are so low. One of the reasons the car door scene resonates is because it’s the only truly exciting moment in the movie — and all it involves is a busted up pinky finger! On casual inspection there are no real crimes to mention here — the inheritance scheme fails miserably. No one gets killed, and when the plan is unraveled Mr. McIntyre doesn’t even press charges, despite the fact that Vincent was hoping to kill him. He simply demands that the larcenous lawyer close up shop and leave town, while he actually invites the repentant Mike to perpetuate the ruse for the sake of Mrs. McIntyre’s good cheer. As a matter of fact, the stakes are so low that everyone would likely have been better off if the hustle had succeeded: The McIntyres would have lived out their final years in the happy knowledge that their son had returned, while the already-rich Vincent and Brandi would have just gotten richer, and Mike would have suffered a guilty inheritance. Considering that the McIntyres had no other potential heirs, the only real losers would have been the charitable organizations that would have received the funds in Mike’s place.

Yet if a deeper reading of the film is made an important question begs to be considered, though it’s one of profound repercussions that potentially destroys the film, or at least make it awfully difficult to like: What about the McIntyre’s real son? It’s not that viewers would expect this lost child to joyously reappear after thirty years to throw a monkey wrench into Brandy and Mike’s plans. Postwar audiences were as aware as any of the potential for horror in the world, and the details of the Lindbergh case would have still lingered in the public mind, as would the circumstances of the Wineville Chicken Murders (known to contemporary audiences thanks to Clint Eastwood’s Changeling) and many other newswire cases of the period. In giving Two of a Kind such a happy denouement, fate is denied the chance to mete out the justice required by the noir universe. Sometimes the happy ending is an important part of the noir journey, such as in a redemption-oriented film like Tomorrow is Another Day. Yet here Vincent, Brandy, and Mike commit a terrible crime, even if left unconsummated: they casually and unremorsefully conspire to cash in on the grief and hope of a decent family that has lost its only child, in all likelihood to a sad and untimely death. The film trades justice for romance, and no two stars, especially O’Brien and Scott, possess screen chemistry in sufficient quantity for us to forgive a crime that involves preying on the heart of a bereaved mother. We are left to ponder the title, Two of a Kind, which more than likely refers to Brandy and Mike — but in some dark, accidental way conjures thoughts of Mike and some desperately missed child, here nothing more than a plot device, of so little consequence that he’s denied even a name.

Written by The Professor

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Glass Wall (1953)

The construction of Union Nations Secretariat building in New York City, New York was completed in 1952. Although it is in New York and activities that happen on the premise are under state and local jurisdiction, the land on which this building stands is considered international territory. The edifice stands at 505 feet tall and has almost 40 stories. It was designed by architects Le Corbusier and Oscar Niemeyer who created a modern building that stood out from the classic architecture that surrounded it. What is unique about the Secretariat building is that it looks like a giant glass wall. You can see the reflection of the city's skyline in the continuous rows of windows. It represents the uniting of nations to create a more cohesive world yet the building seems less like a beacon and more like a giant impediment. On the other side of the building is the East River which flows into the Atlantic. In some ways, the building looks like a wall blocking the US from the world and the world from the US. And the building, it's significance, it's placement and it's appearance proved to be perfect fodder for film noir.

The UN Secretariat building features prominent in The Glass Wall (1953) making the title of the film very apropos. Peter Kaban (Vittorio Gassman) has reached a glass wall. He can see through the wall to the other side, where there lies hope for a new life and for freedom. But the wall is an illusion and he can't get through. He tries to shatter the glass wall but doing so comes with major repercussions.

After spending nearly 10 years in concentration camps and watching his entire family die in a gas chamber, Peter escapes Aushwitz and walked 300 miles to get on a shipping vessel headed towards America. He gets on the ship as a stowaway and when he gets there, he is denied entrance because of his illegal entry. He tries to reason with the goverment officials using Statute Six which allows people of Allied forces who have helped the American cause to enter America. Peter helped an American soldier named Tom but only knows very rudimentary information about his American friend and cannot convince the officials. Determined not to go back to Europe, as it would be a death sentence for him, he escapes the docked vessel and goes on the lam, looking for his friend Tom. Tom is his one chance at staying in America and for his salvation but like any good film, finding Tom isn’t easy, even when Tom starts looking for Peter.

Peter has a naivete and a wholesomeness that makes us sympathize with him. He's been through so much and it pains us to watch him go through more pain and anguish. There is an amazing scene where Peter walks around Times Square and looks around in wonderment and awe at all the flashing lights, people and general hussle and bussle. He is the film noir equivalent of a lost puppy and we are desperate to save him.

Peter becomes a psuedo-celebrity. His face is plastered on the front page of the newspaper and many people in the city recognize him because of that. He runs and runs even past the point when he doesn't have to run anymore and running would do him more harm than good. We watch Peter’s slow descent into delirium as his body starts to lose it's battle against the broken ribs that threaten to puncture his surrounding organs. His physical deterioration adds to the ascent to the story's climax. When Peter reaches The Glass Wall, he sees the reflection of the building through a puddle. It's the last beacon. It's his final destination. It's his biggest obstacle that he must face. Can he make it? Can he push himself just a bit more? Can he take himself to the brink of death in order to save his life?

I would be remiss if I didn’t talk a bit about the film’s biggest shining star, Gloria Grahame. She has a formidable role of Peter’s love interest and friend, Maggie. Maggie is disillusioned by the same system which has also rejected Peter. She's used to men wanting her body and forcing themselves on her. She's fed up with not having money. She has nothing to fight for until she meets Kaban and she'll rob small children to help him out. Maggie is as desperate as Peter and in this way they complement each other. Grahame always excelled in roles in which the character’s were jaded and fed up. She emoted frustration very well especially with her characteristic frown and pout.

This film comes at a time when Americans are still reeling after the effects of WWII and of the horror that has come to light about the Holocaust and concentration camps. A massive influx of WWII refugees infiltrated the United States, many coming through Ellis Island which is also featured in the film. Many of these immigrants were know settling into their new lives in the US and trying to become part of the local fabric. Many abandoned their pasts for their futures while others never forgot where they came from. When Peter (a Hungarian) is on the lam, he runs into a sympathetic Hungarian-American who takes him in to her home. The sympathy they show for a complete stranger, and a well-known criminal at that, really demonstrates the bond between immigrants and the people from their homeland.

This is what I call an effective movie. It’s relevant to the times, it’s shot on location, the characters are interesting and sympathetic, the pacing works and the rising tension keeps you at the edge of your seat. There are some great shots of New York City and the inside of the UN Secretariat building. The pinnacle of the film is a superb monologue delivered by Vittorio Gassman (Peter) in an empty UN conference room. If that scene doesn’t move you, you have no soul.

The Glass Wall (1953) is highly underrated and overlooked. In my honest opinion, it has to be one of the best and effective film noirs out there. I’m very appreciative that it’s finally got it’s debut on DVD through the Bad Girls of Film Noir, Vol. 1 boxed set. And maybe with it’s availability, this little noir will get the recognition it deserves.

Written by Raquelle

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Naked City (1948)

Voice over in film has always been a particular point of interest for me; so much that I have even considered authoring a book on the topic as it pertains to movies made prior to 1970.

The narrator, as he is employed in The Naked City, embodies amongst one of the most compelling manifestations of the voice-over. Narrating Naked City is producer Mark Hellinger, speaking as himself, which is the unusual aspect of his role.

Typically a narrator is simply an omniscient unidentified voice. Is it supposed to represent "god"? A collective human psyche? That it is up for us to debate.

Voice-over narration has also taken on the form of a specific character from the plot, who is reflecting on the experience of a recent or distant past.

As my personal tendency is such, I will take a quick moment to present a historical footnote: it should be mentioned that Mr. Hellinger tragically died of a sudden heart attack after a preview of The Naked City. Knowing this fact makes hearing his words spoken aloud in the film that much more eerie...

Hellinger's disembodied voice proclaims Naked City as a documentary, amidst stark aerial shots of New York City with particularly stunning painterly light exhibited in the camera work, and lead us into subsequent haunting black shots of the city at night. If you watch the film for only one reason, it should be for this first five minutes, while Hellinger expresses poignant and philosophical thoughts about the concept of a city, juxtaposed with evocative images of New York in the late 1940s:
"The question: Do the machines in a factory ever need rest? Does a ship ever feel tired? Or is it only people who are weary at night? There is a pulse to a city and it never stops beating."

He pronounces the actors just as that: actors. His words do away with the necessity of opening credits shown as text. Despite this lack of credits, hearing them spoken aloud in narrative form distinctively highlights the film's literary source, almost giving us the sense that we, the viewers, are being read to from a book. From this first sequence, we are highly conscious that this is a "staged" documentary film played out in the background of real life.

"Ladies and gentleman, the motion picture you are about to see is called The Naked City. My name is Mark Hellinger, and I was in charge of its production. And I may as well tell you frankly, that it's a bit different than most of the films you've ever seen. It was written by Albert Maltz and Malvin Wald. Photographed by William Daniels and directed by Jules Dassin. As you see, we're flying over an island, a city. A particular city. And this is a story of a number of people, and also a story of the city itself. It was not photographed in a studio. Quite the contrary. Barry Fitzgerald, our star, Howard Duff, Dorothy Hart, Don Taylor, Ted de Corsia, and the other actors, played out their roles in the streets, in the apartment houses, in the skyscrapers of New York itself... and along with them, a great many thousand New Yorkers played out their roles as well. This is the city as it is. Hot summer pavements, the children at play, the buildings in their naked stone, the people, without make-up."

Jules Dassin recognized the documentary style as informing his artistic motives, which were primarily to convey "truth".

"What interests me is the truth," says Dassin, "and I think I find it in the framework of documentary. A certain poetry must complement the documentary aspect however....what you see in my films, this mixture of documentary and poetry, is my modest investigation of an expression of truth, even when one is limited to thrillers or detective stories."

Dassin may have seen these plots as a bit limiting, but he certainly contributed to the definition of film noir, by using murderous secrets and revelations of truth as plot devices.
"Conceived at roughly the same time as the atomic bomb, film noir was also born secret.....Given their capacity to generate plots and fracture identities, the secrets in film noirs act structurally and thematically as atomic engines, or even bombs." (Mark Osteen)

The Naked City's quest is the truth, discovered by "asking a thousand questions to get one answer," carving out another facet in the tradition of police documentaries. Righteous investigators are presented in the pursuit of that courageous truth which has the power and will to disrupt the evils of a noir underworld.

"A hero too, albeit more complex, is the short Irish detective of The Naked City, who believes in God and consecrates his nights to the triumph of justice. An edifying film, the American police documentary is, in fact, a documentary to the glory of the police....." (Borde and Chaumeton. A Panorama of American Film Noir (1941-1953)
page 7)

In a noir vision typical of Dassin, who also directed Night and the City (1950), The Naked City and the objects of the film take on anthropomorphic roles. In fact, as cited in A Panorama of Film Noir by Borde and Chaumeton, the pair who first defined the noir genre, Dassin seems to expand upon "the tradition in American cinema of subordinating a human story to the endurance of an engine or a scrap of material. Dassin renews the drama of terms of their everyday handling, some objects are bound up with impending danger."

The objects, the urban landscape are transported into a surreal realm, where they can take on a persona of their own. Film noir is qualified by projecting surrealism in plot and images, which is "crucial to the reception of any art described as noir." (James Naremore)

The trail of objects leading to the murderer in The Naked City, have all the mythic, scandal-ridden and freakish qualities of a "noir fairy tale." A glass bottle of sleeping pills. A gold cigarette case. A stolen engagement ring. A publicity photo of a wrestler who has a penchant for playing the harmonica.

But what really defines The Naked City as one of the greatest noir films, is the way in which the city of New York takes on its own life, an asphalt jungle that is sleepless, merciless, corrupt. Pulsating with a cold urban triumph, a black and white grid depicted from oblique angles which induce claustrophobia in the protagonists, and especially in us, the suspended viewers.

"In the country, the darkness of night is friendly and familiar, but in a city, with its blaze of lights, it is unnatural, hostile, and menacing. It is like a monstrous vulture that hovers, biding its time." (W.Somerset Maugham)

The most chilling portrayal in the film, that perhaps drives home Dassin's original artistic motives of truth, is the first shot of the murder victim. One can clearly see, this victim is a beautiful young woman. Preceding this shot, the viewer is plyed with images of city nightlife. It makes it far more ominous for us to know that these events, good and bad, are occurring simultaneously. A normal evening out for some people, strangulation and drowning for others....."and even this too, could be called routine, in a city of 8 million people."

In conclusion:
"There are 8 million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them."

Author's note: In 2007, this film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant."

Written by PhantomLadyVintage

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Heat Wave (1954)

(AKA The House Across the Lake)

Divorce: Noir Style

“I knew you were no good, but I didn’t realise until today, how bad you really are.”

First impressions are often the truest, and that is bitterly true in Heat Wave AKA The House Across the Lake, a 1954 B noir from director Ken Hughes (Sextette, Of Human Bondage) based on his novel, High Wray. Heat Wave is one of many joint ventures engineered between American producer Robert L. Lippert and British Hammer Studios. These films combined American talent with a British cast to produce a series of B noirs that played in cinemas as second features. VCI Entertainment is releasing these mainly forgotten films as the Hammer Film Noir Collector’s series. The film’s original UK title, The House Across the Lake is much more appropriate--and not just because there’s very little heat to be found in the film, but because the house, its contents and all it represents assist in the seduction of the film’s morally weak male protagonist.

The basics of the plot are those commonly found in film noir and illustrate Divorce: Noir Style--a wife who enlists the muscle of another man to murder her nuisance of a husband. The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), Double Indemnity (1944), Human Desire (1954), Too Late for Tears (1949), and The Hot Spot (1990) are all excellent examples of this phenomenon. The plots vary slightly from film to film, but it comes down to the same bottom line: the husband, like a piece of unwanted furniture, must go. Perhaps he’s aging, perhaps he’s difficult to deal with or perhaps he’s just in the way, but whatever the reason, divorce or running away aren’t options. Money is often the root of the problem. The money factor is glaringly obvious in Heat Wave as the plot involves a unhappily married couple who are extremely wealthy, a step-daughter who loathes her stepmother and a will that’s about to be changed….

The film begins roughly with a sozzled Mark Kendrick (Alex Nicol) knocking back double scotches in the bar of the upscale Lakeside Yacht Club when he’s joined by a second person. In a slight flash of overacting, Kendrick sprawls across the bar, laughing at bitter circumstance and noting that he could just walk away. But of course, Kendrick remains and spills his sob story, going back in time….

With Kendrick narrating through a voice-over, he states that just a few months ago he was a “hack novelist trying to breathe some life into a dying novel.” He explains that he rented a cottage on the shores of Lake Windermere (the hang out of that famous Victorian peaceful poet, Wordsworth), with the implied idea that isolation will generate enough creativity that he’ll be able to finally produce the next book. He’s under a great deal of pressure; he’s taken an advance and he’s already behind schedule for the first three chapters promised to his London agent.

One night the phone rings, and it’s a welcome interruption from Kendrick’s nasty case of writer’s block. The call is from a neighbour, Carol Forrest, who announces that she’s throwing a party at her home across the lake. With a manner that makes refusal difficult, she tells Kendrick to bring over her guests in his launch. Her tone indicates that she’s a woman who’s used to giving orders and to being obeyed, and so Kendrick bends to her will for the first time. As Kendrick approaches his destination, he notes his neighbour’s dock lit like “a world premiere at Grohman’s Chinese,” and there in the foreground is Carol Forrest. From Kendrick’s viewpoint, she’s first seen as a shimmering, luminous image, and that’s when Kendrick describes her: “She might have been Lorelei luring the sailors to their doom.” He should have clung to that first impression….

The next shot of Carol (Hillary Brooke) gives more detail, no close up, but the camera rests on her beautiful back and shoulders. Carol autocratically demands Kendrick’s presence at her party. After the excuse that he isn’t dressed for the swanky event is swept aside by his indomitable hostess, he complies for the second time. But once inside the Forrest mansion, Carol orders Kendrick a drink and then dumps him in the crowd. He wanders around at loose ends, listening to the guests who display a range of accents--from the working class North to the smooth tones of the moneyed upper class. There are hints that the men at the party have dumped their wives and brought escorts or mistresses instead, and so the idea slips in: what sort of person is Carol?

Kendrick mingles with the crowd and joins a group of guests glued to the sight of Carol leaning across a grand piano while she is romantically serenaded by the obviously infatuated piano player. Kendrick concludes, correctly as it turns out, that the pianist, Vincent Gordon (Paul Carpenter) is not Carol’s husband as “people like Carol don’t look at their husbands that way.” Guessing that Carol has a love interest (with the implication that he doesn’t have a chance), Kendrick prepares to leave and this is where he runs into Carol’s older, down-to-earth millionaire husband, Beverly (Sid James). The two men strike up a friendship.

Kendrick’s new friendship with Beverly places him in an awkward position in the household. He learns from Beverly that Carol has a long string of lovers--all artists: According to Beverly, “She collects them like some people collect butterflies.” So of course, at first Beverly wonders if Kendrick is Carol’s latest human lapdog. The Forrests have a sick marriage, and with Beverly turning a blind eye to Carol’s blatant affairs, there’s a hint that he pimps for her by inviting arty types to their home so that she can select a new toy. Once Beverly discovers that Kendrick is not one of Carol’s conquests, he invites Kendrick to the launch of his new motorboat. Feeling some loyalty and pity for Beverly and yet repelled by his host’s home life, Kendrick cautiously agrees to attend.

At the party for the christening of the new boat, Carol is glaring absent, and Kendrick finds himself thrown into the company of Beverly’s unhappy daughter, Andrea (Susan Stephen). Kendrick and a very drunk Beverly discover, the hard way, that Carol is busy christening the boat in quite another way….

While Kendrick despises Carol, he’s also attracted to her, but his obvious distaste for Carol evaporates and lust takes over when she questions his masculinity. Kendrick decides to prove that he’s a red-blooded male, and in the process, he foolishly takes the bait. Kendrick never stops to question his divided loyalties or even his sudden attraction to a woman who’s so obviously trouble. Instead when he learns that Carol’s affair with Vincent Gordon is history, he’s ready to move right in and take his place. One thing leads to another, and the next thing you know Kendrick is in deep trouble….

One of the reasons that it’s so worthwhile watching these lesser-known noirs is to explore similar trends in the genre (in this case it’s the divorce: noir style) and also to ask why the same ingredients--with unique twists and plot devices--work better or worse in the films that explore exactly the same formula. In the case of Heat Wave, its weaknesses can be found mainly in its unappealing portrayal of Carol. While some of us can definitely understand Walter Neff’s attraction to Phyllis Dietrichson (Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity) or Danny Fuller’s attraction to Jane Palmer (Dan Duryea and Lizabeth Scott in Too Late for Tears), it’s difficult to define Carol’s appeal. She’s cold, intractable, and cruel. Phyllis and Jane also possess these qualities but these women are honeytraps whose unwholesome, unattractive characteristics are masked by selective moments of winsome helplessness and pulsing sexuality. The desire to harness and direct that sexuality ultimately drives Phyllis and Jane’s lovers to be blinded to the moral decisions they are making. Walter Neff and Danny Fuller are all too happy to murder the husbands who stand in the way.

Another weakness in the film is Kendrick’s presentation of events. There’s little or no moral quibbling--even though Beverly is supposed to be Kendrick’s friend. And since we have just Kendrick’s possibly warped version of events, the absent moral quibbling on the slippery slope to hell could arguably be an essential missing component of this noir film. Some of the best parts of Double Indemnity are found in Walter Neff’s taped confession to Barton Keyes--a man he respects, and possibly the only person whose opinion Neff cares about. Kendrick’s presentation of the facts (as he sees them) are possibly coloured by his desire to see Carol swing for murder while the delicious possibilities of the grey areas of this crime are avoided. At one point in Heat Wave, Beverly narrowly escapes death in his motorboat. Carol’s disappointment is evident and what follows is a scene in which Beverly’s murder is negotiated by Kendrick and Carol. Kendrick’s version of events has him ‘innocently’ spilling the beans about the will to Carol while he emphasizes the fact that time is running out, and then he brings up the subject of murder, all the while intimating that this is Carol’s plan. In response, she grabs her hairpiece and shrieks in horror at Kendrick’s suggestion. Kendrick’s version is specious, but the film never delves into this aspect of the film, or the possibility that Kendrick, by threatening his departure is in effect pressuring Carol. The audience is supposed to accept Kendrick’s arguably weak story. This simplifies the plot, its presentation, and its ultimate conclusion, but it makes for a much less interesting film.

The film’s greatest strength is seen in the camera’s clever treatment of Carol. For the first part of the film, we see her as Kendrick sees her, an attractive yet somehow unappealing blonde. Her behaviour towards men is appalling, but she’s still a very attractive woman if you’re into sharp edges or ice cubes. Is there the shadow of a resemblance to Grace Kelly? …no… Carol lacks the soft lines of Grace Kelly’s perfect bone structure. Perhaps there’s a slight resemblance to Joan Fontaine? But Joan’s face reveals kindness and empathy whereas Carol’s face…well it seems to change….

The film’s pivotal scene--the scene where we all know that Kendrick is a goner--takes place when Beverly is delivered home almost comatose after drinking himself into a stupor at the hideous sight of his wife’s flagrant, thoughtless infidelities. Kendrick tries hard to play the outraged, disgusted friend, but a cheap shot at his masculinity draws him back into the game. He follows Carol from the hall into another room, and at this point, we get the first close up of Carol’s face. In this shot, with Kendrick in the background standing in the shadows, Carol’s character is nakedly revealed. She’s more than just a bored society wife; she’s evil, cruel, hard and unscrupulous. From this point in the film, the camera is merciless with the close ups of Carol’s face--even showing close-up views of her perfect hair which resembles a nest of congealed vipers.

Heat Wave is certainly not a first tier noir, and it doesn’t even make the second tier, but as a third-rate noir, there are still observations to be made on what works and what doesn’t in this British noir: a tale of yet another morally weak male who becomes the tool of a wicked femme fatale.

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