Showing posts with label Clifton Webb. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Clifton Webb. Show all posts

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Dark Corner (1946)

Editor's note: This week Raquelle, who writes the excellent blog Out of the Past, serves up a review of one of the best looking classic film noir: The Dark Corner

By Raquelle

I feel all dead inside. I’m backed up in a dark corner and I don’t know who’s hitting me.

The Dark Corner is a polished gem of a film noir. Released by 20th Century Fox and directed by Henry Hathaway the film stars Lucille Ball, Clifton Webb, William Bendix and Mark Stevens. I’m not terribly good at writing summaries, but I’ll give this one my best shot. Bradford Galt (Mark Stevens) has just gotten out of jail and is looking to start afresh as a detective in New York City. He hires Kathleen (Lucille Ball) as his secretary, a warm-hearted woman with a wise-cracking tongue. Bradford discovers he’s being followed by a dirty detective in a white suit (William Bendix) and finds that his past in San Francisco has come back to haunt him. He suspects that Anthony Jardine (Kurt Krueger), his old partner and the trickster who got him into jail, is after him. But Anthony has his own problems as he tries to steal away Mari (Cathy Downs), the precious wife of Hardy Cathcart (Clifton Webb) an art-dealer and society man. The more Bradford tries to find out what is going on, the more he gets put into a “dark corner” with only his trusting and loving secretary to help him.

The first thing that struck me about this film is how so often in films from this era the boss and the secretary are inevitably linked romantically. It’s as though a man hires a secretary just to woo her and a woman seeks out a job in order to be wooed. It’s takes the concept of work romance to a whole other level. The Maltese Falcon remake Satan Meets a Lady (1936) comes to mind, with lusty Warren William drooling over his new secretary who has expectations of him but is dismayed to find he’s got a roving eye. It’s assumed that the secretary role is a temporary one; a sort of springboard into wifedom. The paint on the door isn’t dry yet and Bradford already starts the courtship process by taking her out to a penny arcade and she begins the seduction by not so coyly having him check out her gams when she complains about her stockings. Arranged or not, the chemistry is there. When they kiss, he is rough and she gives in. The kiss is passionate, a mixture of pleasure and pain. She leaves possibly with a bruise on her arm but inevitably with butterflies in her stomach.

The juxtaposition of opposites is quite important in this film. I was particularly intrigued by the Kathleen versus Mari opposition. Kathleen is maternal. For example, when Bradford is hurt her instinct is to take care of him, get him coffee, mother him. Mari on the other hand is like a porcelain doll. She’s only useful as an object of adoration or lust. Art-dealer Hardy Cathcart marries her based on the fact that she resembles a subject in his favorite portrait painting! Having Mari in the story helps us better comprehend Kathleen as a character and vice versa. We have a better understanding of who someone is when we understand who their opposite is. Or I might just be an amateur Deconstructionist.

If there is ever a child character in a film noir, be on the alert! No matter how small a role, that child’s function in the plot is infinitely important. They are the secret holders of crucial information. In The Dark Corner, a young girl with a whistle watches intently as the dirty detective in the white suit makes various phone calls throughout the movie. In her first scene, she is playfully blowing her whistle and the detective is annoyed and threatens her. In her next scene, she knows not to blow the whistle while he’s there and waits until he walks away, all the time listening to the details of his conversation. And in a twist that’s so film noir, she becomes a whisteblower and helps propel the story forward. She is the epitome of innocence which contrasts with the evilness of the dirty detective, making us loathe him even more.

I cannot go on about this film without talking about the debonnaire Clifton Webb! Oh goodness me! They did not even need to give his character his own name. He could have just been “Clifton Webb” and we would have gotten it. The audience is introduced to him at a high-class society party where he is being suave and sociable. He’s a rich art-collector obsessed with possessing his wife. It’s the quintessential Clifton Webb role, second only to his character in Laura (1944).

On the flip side, I always like to watch actors out of their element; America’s sweetheart gone bad or the perennial villain turn angel. So seeing Lucille Ball without her Desi Arnaz or her Bob Hope or even her Henry Fonda was quite a treat. She’s not completely a fish out of water but she’s also not quite what you’d expect. Lucille Ball is NOT being funny but she projects a warmth on screen that makes her approachable. Any guy could fall for her and any gal is going to want to be more like her. Even Mari with her furs and jewels doesn’t garner our admiration as Lucille Ball does in the part of Kathleen.

I often relish those little details that may be insignificant to others but are always a pleasure to me. The fact that a gun is referred to as a “pepper pot” made me giggle. Any mention of “chop suey” makes me nostalgic. My favorite detail though comes from a quick shot in one scene. The dirty detective in the white suit is chasing down Bradford. As Bradford is walking across the street, the white suit tries to run him over in his car. Spotting the imminent danger as the car races towards him, Bradford gets out of the way. But he doesn’t just throw himself to the sidewalk. Oh no. He does an elegant dive, his body in perfect alignment as he soars through the air. I wasn’t quite expecting this but was amused by it nonetheless. It was only later when I went to IMDB to read up on Mark Stevens that I discovered why he opted for the dive instead of a haphazard, full-body throw. He had at one time been training for the Canadian Olympic Diving team but suffered an injury, derailing his athletic career. With one tidbit of information, those few seconds of onscreen time made perfect sense and all was well in the world.

The Dark Corner had made several trips onto and off of my lengthy Netflix queue. I was intrigued by the idea of a Lucille Ball-film noir but needed another angle to get me to watch it. When I was asked to write about one of a few films, I knew this was my chance to really sink my teeth into another good film noir. I was very glad I did and will recommend this film to anyone who will listen.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Laura (1944)

Posted by NoirFanatic

This being my first review for the site (go easy on me folks) I decided on the film, Laura, but as I started to write this review a major question popped into my head, “How does one write a review or commentary for a major film entry in the world of noir without giving away a major, and I stress MAJOR plot spoiler? I’m not too sure, but, for the benefit of those who may not have seen Laura, I’m going to do my best to talk about and review this classic noir without giving away the MAJOR plot spoiler.

Directed masterfully by Otto Preminger, who was not set as the original director for Laura, but was the only director available when the original director, Rouben Mamoulian was pulled from the project, this production presents career-making performances from stars Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb, and Vincent Price.

From the opening frame when we first meet Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb) and the first words we hear are his voice-over, “I shall never forget the weekend Laura died,” we know this will be a murder mystery like none other seen in the 1940s. Lydecker is a newspaper columnist who is full of himself, a pompous ass, who believes he had fallen in love with Laura (Gene Tierney) and would do anything to help her succeed in the advertising industry and be accepted with the rich and fabulous of the city.

Enter Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews), your typical 1940s hard-boiled detective, who is investigating the murder of Laura through interviews of the two possible suspects, Lydecker and Laura’s fiancé, Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price). Through the interviews, Laura’s story is told by means of flashbacks, a technique used in most but not all noirs, and through these flashbacks we begin to uncover how Lydecker fell for Laura, how Laura began to fall for Shelby, and how their obsessions for her love result in her death.

Through these interviews of Laura’s suitors McPherson has no real success which he uses as an excuse to go to Laura’s apartment at night where he searches for clues by going through her personal letters in the hopes of getting one step closer to finding the person who murdered her. What he doesn’t realize or tries not to show is that he to has become obsessive for Laura and is slowly falling in love with a dead woman. He is eventually called on it by Lydecker when he says, “You better watch out, McPherson, or you'll end up in a psychiatric ward. I don't think they've ever had a patient who fell in love with a corpse.”

I did say McPherson was your typical 1940s hard-boiled detective, right? Well, what would a hard-boiled detective be without his alcohol? After doing a search through Laura’s apartment, our detective helps himself to a few drinks and falls asleep on one of the sofas only to be awakened to the shock of his life…

And that is where, my friends, to avoid spoiling anything for you, I must quote an old saying, “This is where the plot thickens.”

The script itself is what drives Laura along. The scriptwriters have presented us an intriguing storyline with outstanding plot twists all throughout Laura. You must give credit to scriptwriters of this film, Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstein, and Betty Reinhardt; the trio do an outstanding job adapting the best selling 1943 detective novel by Vera Caspary.

David Raksin’s score for Laura is a beautiful and at times haunting theme that sets the tone and pacing for the entire movie. The story behind this score is to be believed -- that Preminger told Raksin to take a weekend and come up with the theme or he was going to used Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady.” The ultimate theme that Raksin developed was a perfect fit for the film and Preminger used it for the entire movie.

All the acting performances for Laura were considered career-making for the four leads. However, without Clifton Webb as Waldo Lydecker, this film would be nothing. Webb is believable as the full-of-himself newspaper columnist who believes that he is the right man for her and does everything in his power to prevent Laura from having other relationships with men--including attacking the men with words through his newspaper column.

Webb also gets some of the best dialogue in the film. Early in the film, Laura approaches him to endorse a pen; his reply, “I don't use a pen. I write with a goose quill dipped in venom." His delivery of this line just shows you what kind of man Lydecker really is.

Webb’s Lydecker is considered to be one of the most memorable characters in all of film noir and cinema.

The ultimate credit should also be given to the director Otto Preminger, for when he took over this film it was a mess! From the acting to the cinematography and all the way down to the film score, Laura would not have become the classic noir it is without Preminger at the helm.