Monday, January 25, 2010

Jason goes to Noir City--Day 3

Okay, I skipped Day 2 to go to the Niles Essanay 5th Anniversary Party Saturday night, and I have it on authority that I trust that I made a good decision. Anyway, I was back on Sunday for a double-dose of Marilyn Monroe. That's right, she led a noir life and actually did some noir film in the days when she was just a budding blond bombshell.

First up, I caught the Technicolor noir, NIAGARA, starring the great wonder of nature and a big waterfall. It's a lurid affair about Marilyn having a lurid affair. She plays Rose Loomis, in Niagara on vacation with her husband George Loomis (Joseph Cotten, who is also fantastic). He's high-strung, nearly cracking up, and that's all part of her murderous plan. Jean Peters and Casey Adams play the Cutlers, a married couple on a delayed honeymoon who are staying in the cabin next to the Loomises (actually, they were supposed to be in the Loomis' cabin, but they decide to spend a few extra days as George is finally resting peacefully, and the Cutlers agree to take a different one). Well, turns out Mrs. Loomis has a secret lover (which Mrs. Cutler finds out) and a plan to kill her husband. But it backfires, leaving her husband alive but her lover dead, and everyone thinking the husband is actually dead. Well, not only is he alive, he's out for revenge. Beautiful, and more than a little sleazy, just the way I like it.

Then Marilyn just had a bit part in THE ASPHALT JUNGLE, but steals every scene she's in with her brilliant cinematic sensuality. Director John Huston is credited with being the first to use her to her abilities. She had been under contract to 20th Century Fox, but they let her go. After making this movie for MGM, Darryl Zanuck of Fox bought her back (and eventually made NIAGARA with her, which really launched her to a new level). But as I said, she has a bit part as Alonzo Emmerich's (Louis Calhern) mistress. It's hard to point to the "star" of the film as this is really an ultimate ensemble cast. Emmerich is the bankroll behind a big job planned by recently-released "Professor" Doc Reidenschneider (Sam Jaffe). Trouble is, he's not so much a bankroll as bankrupt. Dix Handley (Sterling Hayden, and probably as close to a "main character" as anyone) is the smarter-than-average hooligan muscle, and Doll Conovan (Jean Hagen) is his ever-loving girl. Rounding out the team is a family man safe-cracker and a driver. And Lt. Dietrich (Barry Kelly) is the corrupt cop with the commissioner breathing down his neck. Now, the way I've written it up makes them all sound like stereotypes (or archetypes), but what's great about this movie is that they are all well-developed characters, and every actor gets a chance to fill out his role. Oh yeah, and it's a tight, thoughtful story and John Huston does a great job blending the noir story with the Italian Neo-realism that influenced him so much (and yeah, that was a dash of film-geek pretentiousness there. So what? Go watch THE BICYCLE THIEF.)

Total running time: 204 minute
My Total Minutes: 167,812
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