Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Noir City Northwest: Red Light (1949)/Walk a Crooked Mile (1948)

It was a hoarse Eddie Muller who took to the stage on Tuesday night. SIFF, working him like a government mule, has sent him out to preach the gospel of noir at area schools this week. During his visit to Reel Grrls, he showed The Endless Night. First question: “Why is everyone so angry?”

And thus is the next generation of noirheads born.

Eddie billed Red Light as biblical noir. He meant this in every sense. A copy of the Good Book is integral to the plot, and there is divine intervention. Trucking magnate George Raft goes on the warpath after his chaplain brother is murdered. It was tough for me to feel his pain because li’l bro is Arthur Franz, who played the title role in The Sniper.

Red Light is a truly odd duck of a film, a tough melodrama shot through with schmaltz and religious undertones. It uses Ave Maria as its action theme. The Coen Brothers must have seen it because Stanley Clements, aka Mr. Gloria Grahame, plays a hotel bellhop who clearly influenced Buzz in The Hudsucker Proxy. There’s also a bizarre flashback featuring a blind veteran and a window washer with no sense of personal space. The script is something of a shaggy dog story; you know exactly how the bible business is going to pay off. But Raft is surprisingly effective within his limited range, and veteran studio hand Roy Del Ruth stages a vigorous ending.

Walk a Crooked Mile was made semi-documentary style, and you know what that means: location shooting and stentorian voiceover. Dennis O’Keefe, joining Dick Powell and John Payne in the parade of song-and-dance men who remade themselves as hard cases, is an FBI agent investigating security leaks at a government energy facility. He teams up with Scotland Yard’s Louis Hayward to smash a red spy ring. A minor but solid suspense film. Director Gordon Douglas also made Frank Sinatra’s Tony Rome movies and Zombies on Broadway starring Bela Lugosi and the comedy team of Brown & Carney, the utterly destitute man’s Abbott & Costello.

Both of last night’s movies were partly filmed in San Francisco and feature Raymond Burr as a villain. Burr’s best known for playing heroic leads in Perry Mason and Ironside, but those TV shows were before my time. I’ve never seen an episode of either one. I’ll always think of Burr as an overweight, sweaty psychosexual lunatic from movies that are even more before my time.