Tuesday, July 26, 2005

DVD: Slightly Scarlet (1956)

Is a Technicolor film noir even possible? It’s not going to be very noir, for starters. But if you are going to do it, play to the format’s strengths. Hire the great John Alton as cinematographer. And stock the movie with redheads.

Two, to be precise. The luscious Rhonda Fleming is more than a girl Friday to a reform candidate for mayor. Her sister Arlene Dahl, fresh out of the slammer, single-handedly keeps the DSM-IV in business: she’s an alcoholic, a kleptomaniac, and a nympho. Quite the trifecta. Both of them vie for the affections of fixer John Payne.

SCARLET, based on James M. Cain’s LOVE’S LOVELY COUNTERFEIT (and no, I don’t know what either title means), is indifferently plotted. I was still trying to figure out whether Payne was a sleazy P.I. or a political operative when next thing you know, he’s running the rackets. As for the sisters, their motivations are at times murky. Like it matters. Did I mention they’re redheads? (Sorry. Crimson-maned lovelies with loose morals are Irish kryptonite. Having two in one film damn near killed me.)

The movie’s an unhinged treat. It’s like a Douglas Sirk melodrama in which all of the sublimated emotion erupts on screen. You get the rich color and the craziness.

Payne, who began as a singer, is one of those “light” actors who proved startlingly effective in crime dramas. His romantic lead looks had curdled slightly by the time he appeared in movies like this and 1952’s KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL. That made him ideal for playing desperate men who can’t coast on their charm any longer.

Rhonda Fleming, who is still very active with charity work, has her own lovely website that includes tributes to her costars. It’s well worth a look.

Movie: Wedding Crashers (2005)

I don’t want to overpraise this summer comedy. I’ll just say that the sequence cut to the song “Shout!” is the greatest use of montage since Eisenstein.