The Lady From Shanghai (1947)

lady2I first watched this film back in 2017, when I bought the Indicator Blu-ray- I didn’t write a review about it at the time because I honestly didn’t know what to make of the film. I decided to wait for a second viewing, not realising that it would take as long as it has, but having just seen Rita Hayworth in the brilliant Gilda it seemed its time had come at last.

Second time around then, what did I think? Well, I think I’m in about the same frame of mind as I was first time around: there’s something very wrong with Orson Welles’ The Lady From Shanghai, a film that continuously veers from melodrama to farce, is peppered by brilliance but seems to waste all its promise as it routinely slips from jittery noir to black comedy to unconvincing romance to weak drama, as if there’s four different films fighting for dominance and none of them wins.

The thing I love, and find endlessly fascinating, regards film noir is that for the most part, however stylised they may be with expressionistic, nightmarish lighting etc, they are gritty, down-to-earth, realistic tales with believable, albeit flawed characters. Very often the worlds of the 1940s and 1950s may look and sound very different from our own but they are always convincing, there is always a sense of truth to them. The Lady of Shanghai deliberately bucks this approach, as if Welles was deliberately usurping Hollywood tropes, to the point at which the courtroom sequence towards the end is practically a mockery of Hollywood courtroom scenes (really, it almost seems disrespectful). The main characters, too, are far from realistic- quirky, camp, irreverent and often annoying, they don’t feel ‘real’ at all (what in the world is going on with Glenn Anders monstrously misjudged George Grisby, a central character to the plot who grates throughout?). Its hard to empathise with what is essentially a freakshow, and harder still to believe anything they do or say.

The central problem I have with the film, and its a fundamental one that it can never really recover from, is the frankly bizarre performance by Orson Welles in the role of the central protagonist, Michael O’Hara. I’m not exactly sure what Welles was trying for, and believe that as he was the writer, producer and (the oddly uncredited) director of the film, perhaps he should have hired another actor better suited for the role. He’s really pretty awful as the Irish adventurer, utterly unconvincing and painful to watch: I just didn’t ‘get’ him at all: perhaps individual mileage varies, but its hard for a film to recover when central casting derails everything. I suspect that Welles was being deliberately contrary, an intellectual approach to the role perhaps that doesn’t at all come off. Chiefly its the odd accent but to be honest, there is something wrong with the character in general: aloof, noncommittal, he doesn’t feel convincing, and most  damning of all, there seems little if any chemistry between Welles and Hayworth, who were married at the time (albeit estranged, I understand) – perhaps the state of their failing marriage surfaced in their performances. As it is, the lack of chemistry is like a black hole at the heart of the film, for all the pouting and panting Hayworth attempts here (compared to the sexual fireworks between Hayworth and Ford demonstrated in Gilda, its a bleak chasm that the film can’t climb out of).

Hayworth, of course, was ‘the Love Goddess’ of 1940s Hollywood, and her transformation from Gilda to how she appears here as femme fatale Elsa Bannister is quite astonishing, and indeed caused some consternation at the time. Gone were Hayworth’s long red locks, replaced with a short platinum-blonde hairstyle – she looks like the archetype for Kim Novak’s Madeleine from Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Considering that this film came out just a year after Hayworth’s seminal role as Gilda in Charles Vidor’s classic noir, the change is breathtakingly brave (or recklessly foolish as studio head Harry Cohn believed, horrified by what Welles had done to his star performer).

Alas, Elsa isn’t nearly as fascinating as Madeleine would be a decade or so later. Certainly Hayworth is as beautiful as ever, but the character is underwritten and I suspect this too was deliberate by Welles, bucking the traditional femme fatale role. Hayworth isn’t given anything with which to chew up the noir scenery as the scheming temptress the film needs her to be. Partly this issue is down to enabling the ‘twist’ that it doesn’t want us to see coming, but this scuppers what could have been a memorable and even iconic role – Hayworth looks the part but has to play a trapped wife and insipid, romantically frustrated victim for most of it. If she’d been more of a traditional femme fatale it might have helped Welles’ Irishman to have been more convincing, too, his role then more of a traditional luckless noir hero seduced by a beautiful woman- but again, Welles isn’t making that kind of noir here. 

Welles, perhaps true to his own nature rather than as professionally workmanlike as he should have been, wasn’t looking to be traditional, and this is hardly traditional noir (brave indeed perhaps but when it undermines a film working as well as it should, perhaps actually pretty foolish). The fact that this film even IS noir is mostly down to its remarkable, visually audacious ending in a hall of mirrors (if you haven’t seen it, you’ve certainly seen some film mimicking it). After the failure of Citizen Kane and Welles subsequent loss of final cut and his troubled films after, its unfortunate that Welles couldn’t just make a more traditional, ordinary, moody noir. I’m sure it would have been spectacular (Kane itself is proof enough of that). But for some reason -likely sheer ego, it was Welles, after all- Welles seemingly couldn’t be a director for hire and play by the rules, he had to do his own thing like some crazy maverick in the studio system. Inevitably, he wouldn’t be able to find work in that studio system for long; this, the man who made Citizen Kane, arguably the finest (certainly most influential) film of all time. Turns out Welles was probably his own noir hero; how ironic is that, on the evidence of the horribly flawed The Lady From Shanghai?  

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Gilda (1946)

gilda1

Crikey, I’m sure nobody forgets Gilda.

I actually think my expectations were skewed somewhat by having watched Affair in Trinidad a few months ago – a film that was made several years after Gilda, reuniting its stars Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford in a film with a very similar plot in a blatant attempt to recapture the earlier film’s success. So I came to Charles Vidor’s Gilda rather expecting more of the same- a similar romantic drama set in exotic climes, but instead GIlda turned out to be much more. A growing sense of unease settles in when all sorts of subtext becomes apparent, the film gradually revealing itself to be a very subversive noir with all manner of sexual tension and homoerotic intrigue (I’m endlessly surprised by just how much homoerotic tensions are often hidden under the surface in noir films- the two killers in The Big Combo the most obvious example). 

“Pardon me, but your husband is showing.”

Presumably on the run in Buenos Aires from some past he’d sooner forget crooked gambler Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford) is almost undone by his slick tricks when he is saved from a dockside gunman by mysterious German sophisticate Ballin Mundson (George Macready). Mundson is a rich but crooked businessman whose illicit gambling casino across town is actually a front for something darker, and he takes Farrell under his wing, over time making the young American his right-hand man and confidante. Naturally one might wonder what Mundson was doing across town wandering the docks alone at night, but that’s one of the mysteries that simmers under the surface, unspoken. I didn’t catch onto it at first, but lines of dialogue that hint that they live together, and Farrell’s intense loyalty to Mundson which borders on psychopathic once Gilda is on the scene, begins to suggest all sorts of possible hidden meanings.

“You’re out of practice aren’t you – dancing I mean. I can help you get in practice again Johnny – dancing I mean.”

I’ve seen Glenn Ford in several noir of late, and in most all of them he is a calm, confident, quietly righteous man- he was generally cast as the handsome, clean American hero he tends to look like. Farrell, however, is a younger, rougher character than I have seen him play before, and I wonder how much he was aware of some of the subtext running under the surface: part of me thinks he must have done, but if so he was very brave accepting the role. Certainly his sexual chemistry with Hayworth is undeniable (indeed it slipped over into real-life) but his relationship with his mentor is perhaps the most interesting in the film.

“I can never get a zipper to close. Maybe that stands for something, what do you think?”

Following a business trip Mundson returns with a surprise package- a wife, Gilda, who is, of course, the woman who Farrell is trying to forget, and all sorts of jealous tensions arise – albeit from interesting quarters and unusual directions. Indeed, what we see of Mundson’s marriage to Gilda makes one wonder what kind of marriage it is, and whether Gilda is simply a trophy wife that serves one purpose, while his young protégé serves another.

“Quite a surprise to hear a woman sing in my house, eh Johnny?”

Gilda was, essentially, a Rita Hayworth vehicle, Hayworth being a major sex-symbol at the time (famously coined ‘The Love Goddess’ during the 1940s)-  the title character being a provocative, wildly sensual woman caught between two men: Gilda‘s particular twist being the two men. Gilda remains a powerful cinematic icon, perhaps indeed a scandalous one when the film originally came out, that perhaps overshadowed Hayworth for the rest of her life. Hayworth claimed to be a naturally shy, insecure woman, quite unlike her screen character, but one has to wonder- she was married five times and had an on/off affair with Glenn Ford that lasted some forty years, and was reported to have ruefully stated that “Men go to bed with Gilda, but wake up with me.” Gilda is the kind of role that actresses die for, the role of a lifetime, and Hayworth’s remarkable performance, fiery and tender, angry and wounded, is really quite haunting with an undercurrent of truth to it which suggests that perhaps Hayworth was more like Gilda than she cared to admit. She certainly has a raw beauty and sensual charisma that smoulders on the screen, a genuine force of nature, convincingly passionate and wanton and yet also tortured and insecure.

“Any psychiatrist would tell you that means something, Johnny.”

As usual with the best 1940s noir, the script is as sharp as a knife, with some wonderful quotable dialogue (which I’ve naturally sampled during this post). Gilda is an amazing film, and while one naturally has to wonder if someone watching the film from the perspective of the 21st Century is perhaps seeing too much under the films surface, I think as usual the rewards of some of these classic movies is that there really is more to them than meets the eye. We are too used, these days, of films that telegraph the plot, and in which characters and arcs are blatant and obvious, but suggestion can be far more powerful, I think. It gets under your skin more.

Sure, one can watch Gilda as just a darker riff on Casablanca, an escapist romantic drama set in an exotic location with colourful characters, but scratch under the surface and there’s another film in there. One darker and more seductive and mysterious. Certainly the differences between Gilda and the later Affair in Trinidad are pronounced and telling, and Gilda is ultimately a far more uncomfortable viewing experience for all sorts of surprising ways. 

And of course, one can simply re-watch the film to enjoy Rita Hayworth in a role and performance for the Ages: her Gilda is quite magnificent.  I’m sure nobody forgets Gilda.

Columbia Noir: Affair in Trinidad (1952)

affairSo after a bit of an hiatus we return to Indicator’s excellent Columbia Noir #2 boxset with a rather curious entry. Affair in Trinidad is clearly a bit of a mess: its a noir severely hampered by it being primarily a somewhat cynical vehicle for its star, Rita Hayworth, who had returned to Hollywood following a failing marriage. Hayworth at this point was a genuine superstar (tagged ‘the Love Goddess’ in the 1940s) having worked with the likes of Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, and Orson Welles and had a hit with Trinidad co-star Glenn Ford with noir classic Gilda in 1946- I mention the latter because Trinidad was practically a remake of that film, apparently.  And here I’m at a disadvantage, mainly because I don’t believe I have seen any of Hayworth’s films (other than The Lady From Shanghai, which I really must watch again) so I am neither familiar with Hayworth’s charms nor her reputation as one of Hollywood’s biggest and most popular actresses of her era. Likewise, references in Affair in Trinidad to Gilda are wholly lost on me as I’ve not seen it, although it seems clear two song/dance-numbers that awkwardly bookend the film are a large part of that. 

Glenn Ford, who has impressed so much in earlier noir featured in these box sets, is sadly relegated to supporting actor with an underwritten part that gives him sorely little to work with other than immediately fall in love with Hayworth’s widow and rage with jealousy when he thinks she is charming a rival. There is a curious meta-story wherein the two actors had a real-life on/off affair that lasted decades- indeed, the real-life story of a superstar retuning to Hollywood and her on/off relationship with her leading man (and trying to recapture the success of a classic film of just a few years prior) all seems juicy enough to be the subject of a noir of its own, or indeed a film in the vein of Sunset Boulevard.  However Affair in Trinidad is itself largely a misfire: it lacks any real tension, and the sparks between Hayworth and Ford feel sudden and forced (Hayworth’s character is married to Ford’s brother, but when Ford arrives to discover his brother died just a few days prior to his arrival, he grieves for five minutes then falls madly in love with Hayworth- wholly formulaic and unconvincing, ironic considering their purported real-life chemistry). 

Indeed, it struck me that perhaps the most noir thing in the whole film is how, by the films end, that Hayworth’s husband/Ford’s brother has been utterly forgotten and doesn’t even get any mention when the bad guys who apparently killed him are brought to justice. Watching the finale, my wife commented “but what about her husband, why did they kill him?” asking a question the film totally forgets to answer. It suggests the laziness with which the film was made, its plot hastily drawn together from pieces of perhaps Gilda and other dramas of the period.

Its not that I didn’t enjoy the film- it has good, often moody cinematography and an excellent score by George Duning that drives the plot onwards and attempts to intensify any atmosphere/tension – indeed this music score really impressed me, reminded me of 1970s John Williams, oddly enough, which made the film feel rather ‘modern’ to me. Curiously, Duning also wrote the score for The Mob, the previous film in this set and a score that I was also taken by. But these elements aren’t enough to save a film that feels awkward, and which clearly needs a better script. Mind you, Affair in Trinidad would prove to be Columbia’s biggest hit of 1952 so what do I know? I guess the public could forgive the film anything as long as it brought Rita Hayworth back to their cinema screens.

Columbia Noir: Framed (1947)

framed1We kick off Indicator’s typically gorgeous Columbia Noir #2 boxset with a really fine effort: Richard Wallace’s Framed, featuring Glenn Ford, a new ‘star’ at the time in his first ‘above the title’ credit, and Janis Carter in a surprisingly nuanced femme fatale role. I’m not entirely sure what I expected – one can never be certain, really, what to expect coming to these features ‘blind’ when they are over half a century old- other than what might be guessed from the stark title, but it actually turned out to be quite subtle. Its relentlessly efficient, telling its story and not getting at all side-tracked with any sub-plots and nor does it divert into back-stories or flashbacks, which could feasibly have been a temptation (we never know much about our lead, Mike Lambert (Ford) even though he seems to be running away from something, and likewise there seems to be more to temptress Paula (Carter) than what meets the eye). This results in a film that intrigues long after it finishes, and I liked it a lot.

Mike Lambert arrives in town in eventful fashion, crashing a freight truck with no-brakes into the back of another. This post-credits sequence is almost like a tease for the later The Wages of Fear; Lambert took the job as a way of getting to the town as its situated in mining country, and he’s a mining engineer looking for work. The trucking company is a shady outfit putting its crews at risk with dodgy trucks, and it refuses to compensate the owner of the vehicle Lambert crashed into. It sums up the efficiency of the film in that it uses this scene to quickly establishes Lambert’s character- once Lambert has eventually managed to extract the wages he is owed from his slimy boss, he hands it over to the guy whose vehicle was damaged, righting the wrong that the trucking company won’t. Clearly Lambert is a man with a moral compass who leans on doing what’s right.

So when Lambert stumbles into the wrong restaurant with the wrong waitress, and comes under her scheming eye, we know that this is a good guy who will be a foil for Paula and her banking executive lover Steve (Barry Sullivan). What we don’t know is if its Lambert’s moral code that will prove to be his undoing as Paula seduces him, nor indeed if Paula has charmed the wrong guy, not appreciating how dangerous it is for her to try seduce a genuine good guy.

framedJanis Carter proves something  of a surprise. Ford at this point is a known commodity (The Big Heat, The Undercover Man etc) but I’d never seen Carter before and she really impresses. In many ways its an underwritten role -scheming temptress caught between two lovers with a $250,000 fortune hanging in the balance- that could have been a typically noir one-dimensional evil femme fatale, but there’s a subtlety to her character,  not ruthless enough to do what needs to be done in order to successfully walk into the sunset with the cash. Her weakness for Lambert (she has an opportunity to poison him but fails to see it through) proves her undoing. I’m not entirely sure if its scripted shades of character or just simply Carter not having the ability to fully convince as the cold-hearted bitch that the best noir bring to screen, but I’d prefer to think the former. Carter is beautiful and engaging and seems to have some depth as an actress- looking her filmography up afterwards I was surprised, and disappointed, to see that she didn’t have as successful a film career as I would have expected, and Framed is possibly her signature role, eventually moving to New York and a television career before retiring from the profession entirely. Hollywood can be a cold and ruthless place I guess and its not the first time that I’ve seen impressive actresses in old films whose careers never reached the heights that they might have done (most recently Gia Scala in The Garment Jungle).

The cast of Framed is entirely excellent, the script sharp and, as I have noted, totally efficient with no waste at all (it totals just a lean and taut 83 minutes). It manages to pull some genuine twists, with a few moments in which I thought I was one step ahead and then undermining my confidence with another surprising turn. There’s possibly one or two ‘conveniences’ that undermine it from being a genuinely great noir but on the whole I thought it was a solid, engaging thriller that I really enjoyed and look forward to returning to someday. One of the most endearing facets of noir is that one can enjoy the films even more the second time around, and I’m confident such will be the case with Framed. Certainly an excellent opener for this Indicator set.

Columbia Noir: The Undercover Man (1949)

cnoir1undContinuing my posts regards Indicator’s wonderful noir collection Columbia Noir #1, we come to the second entry, Joseph H Lewis’ The Undercover Man, starring Glenn Ford as the titular hero… except, well, here’s where I return to that old chestnut of preconceptions, as my experience of this film was frustrated by expecting one thing, and getting quite another. In my defence, the title really is a glaring misnomer; it suggests an undercover cop or FBI agent infiltrating a criminal network and undoing it from within, and this film is nothing of the sort. In the end, this proved to be a very fine film regardless of the distractions from my misconceptions, but I’m certainly beginning to think that I’ll only get the very best from this set when I return for second viewings. 

Director Joseph Lewis would later go on to direct The Big Combo (1955), which is a beautifully-shot film full of noir visual tropes, so much so that its possibly a definitive noir and a perfect film for someone to watch in order to ‘get’ what a noir looks like. The Undercover Man has very few such visual flourishes, is definitely far less stylistic. I remember that The Big Combo teased that bad guys are better lovers and that perhaps strait-laced honest good guys were less interesting to women, and that the films homosexual hitmen suggested a twisted complexity hidden under the surface (much like David Lynch’s Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks many years later would explore the shadowy underbelly of suburban ‘decent’ American life). The Undercover Man lacks any such pretence or suggestion, and indeed as I have noted, actually refuses to live up to the promise of its own title.

Glenn Ford stars as treasury agent Frank Warren who is tasked to undo a powerful mob boss named ‘The Big Fellow’ who we never actually see other than in a fleeting reverse shot. Dramatically, this rather undermines the film somewhat, removing a lot of tension from the film and the friction of seeing Warren and his target even in the same room. This wasn’t entirely from choice, as the film was curtailed by the Production Code of the time which dictated that any film ‘dealing with the life of a notorious criminal of current or recent times’ could not use that criminals name for fear of glamorising or indirectly popularising that individual or his activities. The Undercover Man is actually about the treasury’s real-life pursuit and successful incarceration of Al Capone, but you wouldn’t really know it, as the film was even forbade from mentioning the city of Chicago, and its only really at the end that the penny drops regards what we’ve actually been watching. 

Ford is very good, as ever. When I was a kid he was one of my very first ‘favourite’ actors, as he seemed to appear in a lot of the films airing on television during my childhood (I recall my pleasure at seeing him appear in the ‘new’ film Superman: The Movie after so many instances of only being seen in old b&w movies). He appears in an earlier Indicator noir release, the brilliant The Big Heat (1953) which is another great Blu-ray disc well worth searching out. He’s the embodiment of the all-American, decent guy, quietly solid and dependable in the face of adversity: I get the feeling he could do this stuff in his sleep, but that’s possibly underappreciating the work he’s doing. Some of the greatest actors never look like they’re acting, managing to avoid drawing attention to themselves: the opposite of those perhaps more famous actors who just seem to be showing off all the time, with performances that actually often detract from the films they are in. Like Lewis’ later The Big Combo, this film seems (almost accidentally in this case) to suggest that good guys are pretty boring and its the bad guys that are more interesting- very noir. Nina Foch returns from the previous disc in this set, Escape in the Fog, but I have to confess I wouldn’t have recognised her (possibly because that film left such a little impression). Here she plays Frank Warren’s wife, Judith, and she leaves a much better account of herself here in a much better role even though she has less screen time. 

Once I realised this film really wasn’t going to be the film its title suggests, I really quite enjoyed it. The film suffers from that lack of tension from not actually putting ‘The Big Fellow’ onscreen (an off-screen bad guy always makes for an awkward foil): simply compare this to The Untouchables approach of actually showing Al Capone (and casting Robert De Niro, no less) and while The Undercover Man is likely more historically accurate, the latter film is a more satisfying, albeit traditional, film experience. Which is not to disparage The Undercover Man‘s own pleasures, its just a very different way of telling essentially the same story and an interesting comparison of different films and the different eras they were made in.

Experiment in Terror (1962)

expAlas, perhaps I simply wasn’t in the mood. To paraphrase a movie line somewhere, “moods aren’t for movies, boy!” but sometimes you sit down with a movie and it just doesn’t click the way you know it should. Its like a first date that goes awry or a job interview that starts badly. I should know better after so many years watching movies- I’d likely have been better calling a halt to it and putting something else on, leaving Experiment in Terror for some other night.

Perhaps its was simply from watching this bank heist caper too soon after the simply brilliant Cash on Demand a few weeks before. The two films could not be more wildly different, albeit the criminal subject matter notwithstanding. Cash on Demand was an intimate psychological drama whereas this was more a film-noir police procedural, and somehow it just felt a little bland. Wrong film, wrong time.

Beautiful, young bank-teller Kelly Sherwood (Lee Remick, great as ever) arrives home and is threatened by a man whose face she cannot see. The man wants her to rob the bank she works at of $100,000, and if she fails to accede to his demand he promises he will harm both her and her 16-year-old sister Toby (Stephanie Powers). This tense and rather claustrophobic scene (mostly a close-up of Kelly’s terrified face, her assailant behind her with a hand around her neck) promises much, and after the man disappears into the night telling her that she is being watched at all times and not to get in touch with the law, we seem to be in for a promising cat and mouse thriller.

Unfortunately she goes straight to the law, ringing the FBI and setting up the police procedural thriller that the film really is as Glenn Ford’s agent Ripley sets about uncovering who the mystery villain is and apprehending him before either Kelly is forced to rob the bank or she or her sister are hurt. Its a fine enough thriller but not the one I was expecting- again, maybe it was just the wrong film on the wrong night. Getting the FBI involved just seemed to emasculate Lee Remick’s character too much; it left her a victim and less of a protagonist, but perhaps I’m just too used to female empowerment in modern movies.  This film was made in 1962, after all, and women needed saving by men back then.

The Brutal Big Heat

bigh2017.23: The Big Heat (1953) – Blu ray

There’s a scene in The Big Heat… happily-married, decent cop and father Dave Bannion (Glenn Ford) is at home with his wife and child. Already under the attention of ruthless criminals and their boss who is the kingpin of a corrupted city, Bannion hugs and kisses his loving wife, and for a moment everything seems right in the world. If this was a modern movie, they’d kill his wife or go after his child, I thought to myself. And then- bang. Bannion’s world collapses as his wife goes out to the family car and is blown up by an explosion intended for Bannion. Having ripped away from him his family, it sends Bannion onto a road of revenge and hate, giving up his badge and taking the law into his own hands. This a 1970s flick or a modern Liam Neeson thriller, right?

The Big Heat is a thoroughly modern film; other than featuring Production Code-mandated bloodless gunshots, it is surprisingly violent, and brutal. I don’t know why the death of Bannion’s wife seems so shocking, but it is, as if the film steps suddenly over some unexpected line that films from the ‘fifties aren’t meant to cross. But why the surprise, this is a film-noir, right? Perhaps it is how Glenn Ford, as an actor, seems to embody American decency and his family some American Ideal. Ripping it away from Bannion and the audience just seems something done in 1970s movies, not a film from 1953. A ridiculous notion I know, but all the same, I can only imagine how shocking this film was to viewers at the time, particularly with how Ford portrays the grieving Bannion’s descent into darkness and single-minded path of revenge. The film seems to start as one thing, then turns into another, darker piece with subversive undercurrents.

The clues come earlier of course- the first shot of the film is of a handgun, and the first scene is of a suicide. A woman hearing the noise of the gunshot walks down the stairs but does not react to the suicide scene; instead she calmly walks over and finds, and examines, what appears to be a suicide note/confession addressed to the District Attorney.  She takes the note and moves to a desk phone and makes a call. Its clear that something is wrong- and the District Attorney is not going to receive that letter.

We are about to enter a dark and pretty-much permanently night-time world of criminality and corruption which will cost our one good detective his family.  Its a pretty desperate, violent world, too- particularly for women. After one woman raises doubts about the suicide and is seen talking to Bannion, she is tortured and killed, and when another is caught talking to him, she has hot coffee thrown in her face, permanently disfiguring her. It’s as if they are caught in some web of fate being woven about Bannion’s sense of righteousness that even destroys his wife.  Its almost the definitive film noir, and Bannion becoming a wild card as dangerous to others as the criminals that he is hunting. Even his child daughter becomes a target of the criminals desperate to rein him in; distressingly, anything goes, there are no rules. How alarming this must have seemed to audiences back in 1953.

bigh2.jpgSo what price justice in this dark world? Bannion has to resort to his fists and his gun to get the justice he needs, threatening violence to others at every turn.  Eventually Bannion brings the criminals to account for their crimes and justice is served, and he returns to his job as a celebrated lawman, as if we are back in some old western. But it isn’t as simple as that seems- he has left three dead women in his wake and he has lost everything he held dear, indeed only left that which cost him everything he lost. There is a bitter irony to the closing moments. Somehow this just feels thoroughly modern.

Its a brilliant, thrilling and rather disturbing film.

Another blu-ray release from Indicator, this is pretty exceptional. There are some very fine extras alongside a great HD picture, and I must make special mention of the excellent booklet. I love informative booklets and this is one of the very best I’ve seen, with an essay, an archive interview with the director and several excerpts of reviews of the film offering various viewpoints. Highly recommended and essential for fans of film noir.