Saturday, January 23, 2010

Jason goes to Noir City--Opening Night

I finally made my first Noir City last year, and I knew I'd be back for more this year. It just kicked off with a double bill from screenwriter Bill Bowers that illustrates this year's theme (and Noir staples)--Lust and Larceny.

First up, Dick Powell and Raymond Burr bring the lust (ummm...not for each other, for Lizabeth Scott) in PITFALL. Powell (who produced the film through his independent production company) stars as insurance adjuster John Forbes. He's burnt out at work and at home, despite a strong, supportive wife (Jane Wyatt) and a son who thinks he's a god. He muses about quitting and driving all the way to South America. Still, he's got a family and is a dutiful professional. Raymond Burr is MacDonald, a P.I. who does work for Forbes' insurance company. Today's job is to get money back from an embezzler's girlfriend, Mona Stevens (Lizabeth Scott). MacDonald has already done the investigation, Forbes just has to stop by to collect. Trouble is, they both are sweet for the dame. Mac makes his intentions clear, but he's a creep and she won't have anything to do with him. Forbes is a nice guy, and they "comfort" each other. Being 1948, the implied adultery is maybe not clear to a modern audience, but they have a brief affair although he has no intention to leave his wife and she actually has no intention to leave her jailbird fiancee. So MacDonald just has to stir up shit and make everyone suffer. Director Andre de Toth specifically wanted to raise the question (but not answer) of how long must someone pay for a mistake. And apparently Dick Powell was going through just the same thing, and jumped at the chance. Excellent movie.

Then John Payne and Dan Duryea bring the larceny, Joan Caulfield brings the wide-eyed naivete, Shelley Winters brings the psycho-bitchiness, and Bill Bowers brings the snappy one liners ("Don't worry, there's a client born every minute") in the surprisingly funny Noir-omedy LARCENY. Rick Mason and Silky Randall (Payne and Duryea) are con men from Florida looking for a big score in a rich community near L.A. The scam is a fake war memorial, dedicated to the late husband of Deborah Clark (Caulfield). Rick's job is to pretend to be an old war buddy of her husband and seduce her into spearheading fundraising to build the memorial/youth center. She's important because her dad is city manager, so if they're found out he'll cover to avoid scandal (okay, not all of it makes perfect sense). Rick's got the looks and charm to pull it off, although there seem to be unexpected difficulties every step of the way. The primary difficulty is Tory (Winters). She's Silky's girl, but has fallen for Rick and they're sort of planning to take the money and run away together--that is if she can get out of the way long enough to let him run his scam. Plus Silky suspects something and he puts guys on Rick's tail to keep an eye on him. There are other complications--a previous victim shows up and might reveal the whole scam, Deborah is so enamored she decides to fund the whole project herself (meaning no donations to steal), but worst of all is true love. Doesn't that always mess up everything?

Running Time: 175

My Total Minutes: 167,518

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