Indicator really seems to be the benchmark for Blu-ray boxsets: its Hammer sets have been outstanding and the label’s attention to quality continues with this first box in a series of Noir collections (Columbia Noir#2 is due in February). I’ve been loving this box as I’m something of a noir nut, but anyway, we’ll start this series of posts with the first in the set and, er, possibly the worst of the bunch.
First up in Indicator’s Columbia Noir #1 boxset is Budd Boetticher’s 1945 noir Escape in the Fog, which is a fine example, for both good and ill, of the old ‘supporting feature’ or ‘b-movie’: short low-budget films that were attached to proper feature films to form a double-bill presentation: I suppose a night at the pictures was genuinely a night at the pictures back then.
Barely an hour long, its telling that Escape in the Fog‘s pretty preposterous plot struggles to fill even that paltry running-time. Eileen Carr (Nina Foch) is staying in a wartime convalescent home just outside San Francisco, recovering from some nervous breakdown – she has a terrifyingly vivid dream of being on the Golden Gate Bridge late on a very foggy night, witnessing a man being set upon by some thugs that bundle him out of a taxi cab; as the man is about to be murdered she wakes with a scream that attracts people rushing from the other rooms checking that she is okay. One of these people who she never met before is the very man she was dreaming about being murdered. Blind coincidence or spooky premonition?
Actually if it had been neither of those things but instead an elaborate sting operation to pull the man of her ‘dream’, Barry Malcolm (William Wright) into some web of intrigue of her own design then this film would have been much more interesting. In the typical illogic of these b’s, her sudden talent for premonition is never explained and no-one really remarks about how incredible it is. This seems indicative of the films lack of ambition to be anything more than what it is: a low-budget, low-effort ‘b’; that only exists to be a cheap support for a main feature. This is the point at which I have to confess my complaints feel unfair even as I write them down- this film was never intended to be anything more than what it is. I suppose that, had it been by some twist of fate something that Hitchcock deemed worthy of attention, had he spun the premise into one of his own creations, it could have been much more than it is. It could have been something in the vein of Vertigo, an intense thriller that supposes some kind of witchcraft or psychic twist, or perhaps conclude more mundanely with some elaborate scheme to outwit a special agent and steal his secret plans?
My failing seems to have been, that was just what I was doing, watching it- conceiving some more complex yarn half-expecting some diabolical twist but no such twist comes; it really is a very silly little effort. It seems frankly inevitable that the night of her dream is going to come to pass, and likewise that rather than be creeped out, the two of them fall into a relationship (he is after all, the ‘man of her dreams’). There’s the further leap of coincidence when we learn that Barry is a secret agent and that Hollywood Nazi’s are tailing him for secret papers: I mean, psychic wartime nurse recovering from a nervous breakdown, dashing secret agent, sneaky Nazi menace (a precursor for future decades of fascination with the enemy within, whether it be Nazis, Commies, Union provocateurs, Alien pod people, you name it, Americans seem to have plenty to be paranoid about) its hardly down-to-earth, gritty noir. More pulp wartime melodrama really than what I would consider ‘proper’ noir, but then again, that very definition of noir is a hoary old chestnut so I won’t question this films inclusion in this set too much.
I didn’t really find too much here worthy of praise. The acting is fairly pedestrian but that’s mostly down to the simple, formulaic script that piles coincidence upon coincidence: maybe there is a ‘reading’ of the film that the whole thing, start to finish is really just a dream (the premonition actually a dream within a dream) but that’s really just making excuses for it. Its clear that the film is hardly high-art, and it never pretends to be- its a b-movie, barely an hour long, not the place for intense characterisation or cohesive internal logic. Its wartime entertainment, good guys vs bad guys with some typical noirish visual tropes if not wholly noir sensibilities. It may well be that an eventual re-watch will possibly improve my opinion, and that at present I’m being rather unfair. Thankfully there are much better films in this Columbia Noir set.