Columbia Noir: A Bullet is Waiting (1954)

abulletOh this was cheeky, Indicator slipping this modern-day (well, modern in the 1950s) Western into a film noir boxset. Okay, there is some excuse for some noir undertones but really, its just spectacularly flimsy nonsense that doesn’t really validate its inclusion here: noir is a notoriously debatable style that can be seen in all sorts of widely different films, but this film… noir? Naughty, Indicator. That said, I suppose I’m thankful that it was included in this noir box, because there’s simply no way I’d probably encounter this film otherwise, and I’m always glad of experiencing something I might otherwise have never seen. I mean, when is this film ever next going to get shown on television, and when indeed was it ever aired on any network here in the UK in the past? This is a film that simply screams obscure.

My chief interest in the film is seeing a young Jean Simmons in an unlikely and rewarding role (I think she was a very good actress generally denied the roles she really deserved) and the way the film weaves the general plot of Shakespeare’s The Tempest into a 1950s-set Western. It was something done, albeit with a science-fiction bent, not long after by MGMs Forbidden Planet (1956). To be honest, Forbidden Planet did it much more successfully- the unhealthy dynamic of a daughter on the brink of sexual maturity having lived too close to her father and remote from other people, when young males come upon the scene threatening to break up the status quo, is one that is clearly ripe for drama. Heaven only knows what either David Lynch or Lars von Trier could make of Shakespeare’s The Tempest in a film, set either in some dim period or present-day. Obviously you couldn’t expect something like that from a studio film in the 1950s, but oddly enough some of the social mores of the day can be decidedly troubling. There is a scene in which Rory Calhoun and Jean Simmons get caught in a romantic clinch that’s uncomfortably more akin to rape than anything particularly romantic, but I guess audiences didn’t mind their heroes getting a little rough with their romantic interests back then? It certainly felt an uncomfortable watch from the vantage point of 2021.

Its clearly not a noir, no matter what tenuous claim some might make about one character’s actions/motivations in particular, and really, its also not a film I’ll rush to return to, but I’m glad I own it and that I can return to it someday. I’m not familiar with Rory Calhoun but he’s very good here with considerable screen presence, and I understand he had a long career particularly in Westerns, so I figure he might become a familiar face if I watch a few Westerns over on TNT. The disc’s commentary, and a short featurette, both cast some light on Jean Simmons’ life and career that I was quite ignorant of- its actually rather alarming how the studio system and its old contract system (Simmons running foul of a contract with Howard Hughes’ RKO Pictures) harmed some careers, and Simmons’ marriage with Stewart Granger seems to have been shockingly dysfunctional, frankly. Likely my view on the latter is unfair but goodness me, in some ways it reflects the subject of A Bullet is Waiting in some curious way, as Simmons apparent tendency to look for something of a father figure in her love life (both Granger and her second husband Richard Brooks were rather older than she) seems to mirror an uncomfortable subtext of Shakespeare’s tale, dimly as it may have been transferred to a Western and a science fiction film over sixty years ago.  It adds a certain element to whenever I do return to the film, anyway.

3 thoughts on “Columbia Noir: A Bullet is Waiting (1954)

  1. Yes, this isn’t a film noir at all and even someone who is prepared to be as inclusive as I am in these matters would have to perform some major gymnastic exercises in terms of defintions to make it fit. I’d argue it’s not a western either, more a rural melodrama, and rather a good one.

    I think I liked it a bit more than you overall. I usually react well to these redemptive tales with a tight focus. Of course I like all the actors in this movie a lot, and that helps, and the director was no slouch either. Jean Simmons though is a huge draw. Could her career have been better? Perhaps, but I feel we got plenty of fine performances from a large number of pretty good movies as it is. Generally, I’m happy wth the legacy she left us and I’m not sure I’d want to change any of that. Since you seem to be having a good time exploring film noir, can I point you towards perhaps the best role Jean Simmons was handed? Otto Preminger’s Angel Face.
    I did a write up on that one myself years ago – https://livius1.com/2014/03/27/angel-face/

    1. Oh, another noir to chase up, lovely. I’ll look out for that. One of the pleasures of delving into these older films are all the connections that lead on to other films/actors careers etc.

      I probably would have enjoyed the film more had it not been in a noir box- it rather sets up the wrong kind of expectations, as I kept waiting for some twist that never came. On its own terms, as you say, its perfectly fine albeit a little preachy as films of its era seem to be. Jean Simmons, certainly was quite wonderful.

  2. Pingback: The 2021 List: October – the ghost of 82

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s