Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Noir City Northwest: I Love Trouble (1948)/Pushover (1954)

Three, count ’em, three Mets in the starting line-up, and an inside the park home run from the Mariners’ Ichiro Suzuki. Do I regret missing the All-Star Game? Nope. Not when there’s noir to be seen. Especially two rare titles that have never appeared on video.

What do they have in common? Screenwriter Roy Huggins, one of the stealth giants of popular culture. Creator of Maverick, 77 Sunset Strip, The Fugitive and The Rockford Files. The man was the Stan Lee of television. I’ve already sung the praises of his film Too Late For Tears, which the Film Noir Foundation is in the process of restoring.

Huggins’s debut feature is, in the words of Noir City programmer Eddie Muller, the “egregrious Raymond Chandler rip-off” I Love Trouble. All the elements are in place: wisecracking P.I. (played by a surprisingly effective Franchot Tone), gorgeous dames a’plenty, and a corkscrew plot that ultimately proves irrelevant. Several familiar faces turn up including a few from earlier in the week, like Raymond Burr and noir’s go-to guy for mittel European creepiness Steven Geray. Last night’s femme fatale Janis Carter is back, playing two roles when one is taxing enough for her and sporting an accent that veers between Zsa Zsa Gabor and Lupe Velez. It’s the kind of movie that only a noir fan could love. Naturally, I enjoyed it.

Pushover, on the other hand, is a taut thriller that can be appreciated by everyone. It also gives the lie to the belief that Fred MacMurray never strayed to the dark side of the street again after Double Indemnity. He plays a cop who falls for a bank robber’s moll (Kim Novak, in her, ahem, unfettered screen debut). Meanwhile, his partner in the stakeout on Novak’s place shifts his attention to the nurse who lives next door to her (Dorothy Malone). Things, as they so often do, go wrong, and Huggins is merciless in piling on the complications.

MacMurray could easily walk away from Novak and the sweet life she promises. But somehow he still finds himself on a rain-drenched rooftop, gathering her in his arms and saying, “You win.” In that moment is the essence of noir. Trouble on all sides of the path, and you just keep following it down.