Thursday, September 20, 2007

Movies: Decoy (1946)/Crime Wave (1954)

Volume 4 of Warner Brothers’ Film Noir Classic Collection has been out for weeks, but I’m only getting into it now. It’s not my fault, y’unnerstand. I ordered it as soon as it streeted from an online retailer and somehow wound up with a boxed set of Star Trek movies. The turnaround cut into my valuable noir-watching time.

Which killed me, because the collection includes a movie I’ve wanted to see for years. Decoy has become a fabled cult item because it features what may be the most macabre plot in noir history. A woman romances a prison doctor so he’ll revive her death row boyfriend after his execution – just long enough for loverboy to reveal where he’s hidden four hundred grand in stolen loot. The movie’s production history only adds to its mystique. Producer/director Jack Bernhard met actress Jean Gillie in England, married her, and made Decoy to introduce her to American audiences. They divorced before the film was released, and Gillie died of pneumonia soon after at age 33.

Her legacy burns anew with Decoy’s appearance on DVD. She’s remarkable playing the most fatale of femmes. TV legend Sheldon Leonard is terrific as a homicide dick who believes the worst about everyone. The rest of the cast? Not so good. And the soundtrack is overbearing. But that wild premise holds your interest, and the movie is bookended by spellbinding opening and closing sequences. To quote Rosemarie: “Anybody who wants to direct needs to study that intro.”

The writer of Decoy, Nedrick Young (who would go on to pen The Defiant Ones and Inherit the Wind), appears as an actor in the other half of this disc’s double bill. Crime Wave is the kind of rock-solid, unpretentious movie director André de Toth was known for. Reformed ex-con Gene Nelson gets sucked back into the life when a trio of prison acquaintances (a young Charles Bronson among them) busts out of San Quentin and expects his help. Hard-nosed cop Sterling Hayden watches his every move. Half the cast of this movie – Hayden, Ted de Corsia, Timothy Carey – would later turn up in Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing.

I’d already seen Crime Wave, but I watched it again so I could enjoy the commentary track featuring novelist James Ellroy and the czar of noir himself, Eddie Muller. Ellroy literally pants over authentic early ‘50s Los Angeles locations and notes all the ways this movie informed his novel L.A. Confidential. (He based Bud White, played by Russell Crowe in the movie, partly on Hayden’s character, and points out a dive bar that’s the inspiration for the Nite Owl.) He also says that after rewatching Chinatown, he’s decided that it doesn’t hold up, and that Crime Wave is the better film.

I don’t think he’s kidding.

Miscellaneous: Observation

The new gig prompted me to take the plunge and buy a laptop. Renovations around Chez K have reached the noisy stage, so I’ve started taking it to coffee shops so I can work. Meaning I have, at last, become one of those people I have always despised. Such is life.

Miscellaneous: Link

A completely inconclusive study hints that women with “tramp stamps” might not be able to receive epidurals when they go into labor. Gawker’s treatment of this news warms my black heart.