Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Noir City Northwest: The Big Clock (1948)/Strange Triangle (1946)

Not much to say tonight, because one half of the Noir City double feature is close to perfect and the other ... isn’t.

The Big Clock is simply dazzling, and I relished the chance to see it on the big screen at last. It’s a flawlessly engineered movie, based on a book by poet and journalist Kenneth Fearing, adapted by the legendary pulp author Jonathan Latimer. (Someday I will track down his once-banned novel Solomon’s Vineyard.) Media mogul Charles Laughton murders his mistress. Seeking someone to frame, he charges top investigator Ray Milland with tracking down her other visitor that night – not knowing it was Milland himself. Now Ray’s got to deflect suspicion when all the evidence points to him. It’s an ingenious premise that held up when it was remade forty years later as No Way Out.

Laughton leads a grand pack of villains, with George Macready as his Smithers and Harry Morgan as his mute muscle. The Big Clock’s metabolism is so fast that the movie practically fizzes. It’s got the crackle and snap of a screwball comedy, with a third act that knows how to tighten the screws.

Bringing us to Strange Triangle. A true B-movie running a mere 65 minutes, it’s about two men, one woman and a bank. A familiar story made somewhat interesting by its intimate scale. Or at least it would be if the femme fatale weren’t played by Swedish actress Signe Hasso. Ms. Hasso had a distinguished career on the stage, and was good in other films. But she’s a ... how can I put this? ... a handsome woman, who’s a bit, um, severe for the role. And her wardrobe – I’m looking at you, hat department – does her no favors. Still, the movie’s insistence that every man she meets is in her nonexistent thrall eventually exerts a fascination of its own.