Sunday, February 15, 2009

Noir City Northwest: The Unsuspected (1947)/Desperate (1947)

Numerous cocktails were consumed after this evening’s screenings, yet still I post. Let’s see if I live to regret it. Let’s see if I live.

On night two of Noir City, the thematic net was cast a little wider. Media of all types, not just newspapers, were on display, as well as the evolution of the genre itself. The two 1947 films shown contrast the end of the ‘40s “high noir” approach, driven by expat filmmakers and emphasizing cinematography, with the nascent style of the following decade’s directors, primarily Americans with editing backgrounds, who focused on pace and put raw emotion onscreen.

Michael Curtiz is the textbook example of the studio filmmaker. The Unsuspected marked his Hollywood debut as an independent producer. It’s based on a novel by Edgar winner Charlotte Armstrong, whose work is still inspiring adaptations like Claude Chabrol’s Merci pour le chocolate (2000). I give you our host Eddie Muller’s accurate one-word review of The Unsuspected: incomprehensible. Claude Rains plays a successful radio personality, a proto-Alfred Hitchcock, who has both a dead secretary and an amnesiac niece. It’s the sort of movie where poisonous swells swan around an estate firing barbs at each other. The slightest dip in quality would render it unwatchable, but Curtiz’s sumptuous visuals and canny performances by Rains and the divine Audrey Totter, one of Eddie’s Dark City Dames, make it a hoot.

Desperate was the last film directed by Anthony Mann before the extraordinary run of titles (Railroaded!, T-Men, Raw Deal) that won him a place in the noir pantheon. Character actor Steve Brodie gets a crack at a lead role as a newlywed truck driver roped into a robbery by old friend Raymond Burr. Brodie and bride go on the run, but Burr will not be denied. Desperate is a minor film, subject to the peculiarities of B-movie logic; not many fevered manhunts include Czech weddings, two-plus trimesters of pregnancy, and multiple career changes. But Mann redeems the occasional lapse with a humdinger of an ending.

OK, strictly speaking Desperate isn’t a media noir of any kind. But Brodie does it all for his one true love, which makes it a Valentine’s Day noir. And on February 14, that works for me.