Review of Street of Chance (1942)
Adapted from Claire Trevor Queen of the Bs and Hollywood Film Noire
by C.McGivernCLICK PHOTO TO VISIT: amazon.com
Columbia loaned Trevor out in 1942 to MGM to make Crossroads and later to Paramount to work on Street of Chance. Both movies marked her stunning entrance into the dingy sets of Film Noir. Between 1942 and 1950, when she worked on her last, Borderline, her work largely lay within the genre and she played every conceivable type of ‘bad girl’ with conviction. These would be the parts she became renowned for and brought her another taste of real stardom.
The period happened to coincide with worldwide crisis, corruption, atomic bombs, concentration camps, hopelessness and pessimism. Noir movies were a distinct product of those times and represented the surreal view of the world shared by most, where nothing seemed to make much sense. French film critics had been the first to notice the dark mood submerged in much of Hollywood’s post-World War Two production. They’d had no access to American films under German occupation but after 1945 came to appreciate them greatly but it wasn’t until the 1970s that the term ‘Film Noir’ began to be heard outside France. Certainly the top American studios of the forties and fifties failed to recognize what they had and Paramount, Fox, MGM and Warner Bros all tended to relegate their crime films to B units and release them on the bottom half of double bills. Other smaller companies released the black and white thrillers relentlessly, although most of these classics were derided by the critics at the time as mere ‘guts and gore’.
The roots of Noir were diverse, drawing heavily on detective fiction from Hemingway to Zola and the distorted expressionism of German productions. Each film was full of strange asymmetrical camera angles, a delicate, menacing use of light and shadows, highly-stylized, atmospheric visuals – creating tension, fear, excitement, and intense feelings in the audience throughout the movie or in specific scenes. Most were directed by European émigrés escaping the horror of war. Despite the critics, they found a massively receptive audience in Depression-hit America.
Crossroads (1942), Trevor’s first step into the dark, contained two of the most important noir themes; ‘the haunted past’ and ‘the fatalistic nightmare’. It was a suspense thriller re-make of the French film, Carrefour (1938), directed by her least favorite, Jack Conway, about an amnesia victim’s uncertainty about what had happened to him. Again she was acting opposite William Powell another of Hollywood’s fast rising stars. Powell, a diplomat being blackmailed for crimes he wasn’t sure he had committed, seeks concealment in dark alleys and dimly lit rooms.
Since John H. Kafka was in Hollywood in the 1940s and even wrote some MGM films, it is not known if his onscreen credit for original story is based on his direct contribution to this film, or was due solely to his work on the original 1938 French version.
Although the story takes place in 1935, all of the women’s fashions and hairstyles are strictly in the 1942 mode.
Regardless of the error, the movie earned good reviews and again Trevor was singled out for notice although the LA Examiner only saw her as “Supporting Cast” she was considered, “Grade A” and so good that she lent a great deal of distinction to the story.
Once again she was uncomfortable working under contract and admitted “It’s a lot of effort. It seems so natural for me to be bad. It comes easy to me. Everybody raves about my acting. I hadn’t even realized I was doing anything unusual. They do me more good than sweet young women. But I don’t want to be typed. If the producers had their way I’d soon be the Lucrezia Borga of the West coast. But I don’t know why I bother. Believe me it’s more fun to be bad. All I have to do is lounge about. Maybe I’m just lazy. I like lounging about.”
In March 1942 Trevor admitted her marriage was in trouble and she confirmed she and Andrews were living separately, “He moved out of our home and we are having a trial separation. If, in another month, we feel our parting has been a mistake, we will be reconciled, but if we feel we cannot make a go of it, we’ll end the marriage. Neither of us wants to take a definite step until we are sure.”
Throughout the three year marriage there had been constant rumors that all was not well, with Andrews often staying out late at parties and frequently seen with his arms round different women. Trevor had always denied the stories until he finally confessed to her that he couldn’t be happy with just her and left home.
She told the Press, “There’s no use trying to live like that.”
In the divorce court she told Judge Archibald, “He earns $250 a week but spends much more. Moreover, although he is the life of the party when he goes out, when he’s at home he plays the radio so loudly I couldn’t even talk to him.”
Although the definite step was taken and the divorce was granted in July 1942, the pace of her work was relentless as she continued filming Street of Chance (1942), a Paramount picture directed by Jack Hively. The story was based on the master of paranoia, Cornell Woolrich’s, novel The Black Curtain. It was later dramatized several times on the CBS Radio series Suspense. The movie saw her enter the Film Noir genre in a big way and in a major project as killer Ruth Dillon, starring opposite Burgess Meredith. She delivered a fine performance as a deadly woman motivated, not by greed, but by love, to murder. “I didn’t mean to kill him. I’m not bad. I’m not a killer.” In the doom-laden post-war period it was recognized that women could just as easily become murderers as men and for all sorts of reasons.
Once again, the picture concerned the familiar use of amnesia to trigger Meredith’s alienation after he is injured by falling construction material. He discovers a year-long lapse in his life and is wanted for murder and has an unrecalled lover.
Whilst Paramount did use its B-picture unit to make the film, it offered a higher degree of professionalism and technical ability than most productions of the time and it was released as an A movie.
Trevor displayed the first hint of the femme fatale, victim of a society that both empowered and enslaved women, that would serve her so well later.
The New York Times rated her appearance as “sufficient.”
Director Jack Hively
Writing Credits Garrett Fort, Cornell Woolrich. Adapted from the novel The Black Curtain
Burgess Meredith Frank Thompson/Danny Nearing
Claire Trevor Ruth Dillon
Louise Platt Virginia Thompson
Sheldon Leonard Detective Joe Marruci
Frieda Inescort Alma Diedrich
Jerome Cowan Bill Diedrich
Producer Sol C. Siegel
Music David Buttolph
Cinematography Theodor Sparkuhl
Film Editing Arthur P. Schmidt
Art Direction Haldane Douglas and Hans Dreier VISIT : http://www.reelpublishing.com
Cornell George Hopley-Woolrich was born December 4, 1903. He lived his early years in Mexico before moving to America to live with his mother. Woolrich was best know for penning the short story that Alfred Hitchock based the film, “Rear Window” on. He went on to be the father of American “noir fiction’, with his numerous short stories published in the pulp fiction magazines of the 1930′s and 40′s as well as his legendary “black” series of novels, many of which have been turned into major motion pictures.
Cornell Woolrich was a protege of F. Scott Fitzgerald, who inspired Woolrich’s first three novels. Getting a Hollywood contract in the late 1920′s he worked as screenwriter, marrying and quickly divorcing a producer’s daughter, after he came to grips with his sexual iidentity.
Moving back to New York City Cornell Woolrich lived out the remainder of his life, living with his mother in hotels, until his death on September 25, 1968. Cornell Woolrich historian and biographer, Francis M. Nevins Jr., writes in his preface to the recent reprint of “Manhattan Love Song” of his last days, ” his last year spent in a wheelchair after the amputation of a gangrenous leg, thin as a rail, white as a ghost, wracked by diabetes and alcoholism and self-contempt”. SELECTED FILMOGRAPHY:
- Street of Chance (1942) (novel The Black Curtain)
- The Leopard Man (1943) (novel Black Alibi)
- Phantom Lady (1944) ~ CLICK PHOTO TO VIEW FILMThe Mark of the Whistler (1944) (story Dormant Account)
- Deadline at Dawn (1946) (novel)
- Black Angel (1946) (novel)
- The Chase (1946) (novel The Black Path of Fear)
- Fall Guy (1947) (story Cocaine)
- The Guilty (1947) (story He Looked Like Murder)
- Fear in the Night (1947) (story Nightmare)
- The Return of the Whistler (1948) (story All at Once, No Alice)
- I Wouldn’t Be in Your Shoes (1948) (story)
- Night Has a Thousand Eyes (1948) (novel)
- The Window (1949) (story The Boy Cried Murder)
- No Man of Her Own (1950) (novel I Married a Dead Man)
- Rear Window (1954) (story It Had to Be Murder) directed by Alfred Hitchcock
- Obsession (1954) (story Silent as the Grave)
- Nightmare (1956) (story)
Fred MacMurray as Johnny McEvoy, aka Johnny Macklin
Claire Trevor as Madeleine Haley, aka Gladys LaRue
Raymond Burr as Pete Ritchie
Morris Ankrum as Bill Whittaker
Roy Roberts as Harvey Gumbin
Don Diamond as Deusik
Nacho Galindo as Porfirio
Pepe Hern as Pablo REVIEW by Carolyn McGivern
Borderline adaptation from Claire Trevor : Queen of the Bs and Hollywood Film Noir By C McGivern : With the advent of the 1950s Trevor continued to perform stellar portrayals in a wide variety of pictures, albeit mostly movies of less than excellent quality. She had just won her Academy Award for her performance in Key Largo, but many observers still had no idea that a major part of her talent had been smothered under repetitious typecasting. Now, finally, with Milton Bren in her corner, Trevor was out to prove she could be witty and funny in Borderline; the opportunity arising because this picture was partly financed by herself and new husband. “This was a cute picture and my husband Milton Bren produced it. Borderline is very close to my heart because of his involvement in it.” She said she worked twice as hard as she would have for another producer, “Work didn’t cease with the end of a day’s activities at the studio. Driving home we’d be discussing some little item or other which might improve the picture.” The melodramatic thriller Borderline (1950) was released by Universal International and directed by William A Seiter. It was independently produced by Milton H Bren through Borderline Pictures which was owned by Bren, director Seiter and star Fred MacMurray. They personally financed what became a family affair. Trevor had some reservations about working on her husband’s film, modestly explaining that she thought he should have got someone better. Bren dealt directly with Nate Blumberg, president of UI, who agreed to take over distribution of the picture. Under the agreement UI handled Borderline as one of its own releases worldwide. Bren and Seiter were also consultants along with UI sales executives on the selling campaign for the movie. The screenplay by Devery Freeman was based on an original story by Norman Krasna and brought together Trevor and Fred MacMurray as two undercover agents who infiltrate a drug-smuggling ring operating between California and Mexico. Neither is aware of the other’s identity. Alfred Ybarra had dressed Santa Susanna airport in the San Fernando Valley to look like a small Mexican airport. Customs agents search for information about Pete Ritchie (Raymond Burr), who is involved in smuggling drugs into the US. Police officer Madeleine Haley (Trevor) acting undercover in order to gain Ritchie’s confidence, soon meets him through one of his associates. As she is talking with Ritchie, Johnny Macklin (Fred MacMurray) and one of his men burst in, and they provoke a violent confrontation. From then on, Haley is in constant danger as she attempts to figure out everything that is happening in the smuggling operation. She becomes the victim of Macklin’s ruthlessness and all-round un-gentlemanly behavior. She thinks he is the gangster, he thinks she is a moll. Trevor fully intended winning another Oscar in this lighter comedy role, giving Madeleine Haley a highly emotional characterization. “Having won an Oscar, I wouldn’t mind winning another.” Discussing the difficulty of playing comedy, Trevor said, “Such a simple thing as an onion can make people cry but there’s no machine as yet invented to make people laugh. Emotional drama is a pushover in comparison to comedy. “I’d rather face the most taxing emotional scenes ever written than the tiniest bit of comedy. I work twice as hard to be funny. How I admire comedians like Fred MacMurray. Believe me comedy is a serious business. “Whenever I’m asked my opinion of what is most difficult about the job of acting I’m usually tempted to reply ‘Every and all there is about acting.’ It’s true that the more experienced the performer becomes, the more they realize that one never stops learning. To my mind there is no complete master or mistress of the acting profession. “With every role come interesting new technical problems to face or solve. I firmly believe that every artist remains, at heart, a student, constantly inquiring, testing, curious and hopeful that she has done the right thing. “To me the most difficult phase of acting is listening, whether before the camera or footlights. It sounds simple – to listen and react to what your co-player is saying, but you’d be surprised what a technical feat this is. It’s a quicksilver accomplishment that can desert the finest star at any moment.” Trevor was always modest about her ability; she was also constantly questioning her own efforts. She was justifiably proud of her Academy Award achievement, but apparently five-year-old son, Charles, was less so and he referred to it to all his young friends as “Mamma’s Monument.” “The Brens are a happy family and we’re together constantly. Milton and I believe in old-fashioned home life, breakfast and dinner with the children, a show with the children, good books, friends, lively conversation.” As a good luck token Trevor took to wearing a miniature gold “Oscar” necklace and she had it with her every moment on the set of Borderline, “Just to keep the right vibrations.” Trevor had to speak Spanish and had a consistent work out as much of the action took place on the California-Mexico border. Raymond Burr was one of Hollywood’s leading bad men. He had deliberately gained weight to become one of the busiest actors in the business. When they first started work on Borderline, the husband and wife team made a vow not to talk about it when they got home from the studio. The promise was obviously not kept, but they penalized themselves a dollar whenever the film was mentioned outside work hours; the kitty quickly reached $50. An undisclosed final sum was donated to charity. Trevor had to sing and now also dance to Carlotta, a new melody from Sammy Cahn. At the time of filming Trevor had a sprained ankle following a fall during a scene, but she carried on through eight hours with no delays to filming. Between scenes an attendant massaged her foot and ankle and kept ice packs ready, “I’ve danced eight hours with only occasional rests. That’s equal to the average worker’s office day, only they get to sit while I had to stay on my feet. And sore they are!” Trevor shopped and selected her personal wardrobe, one of the few times a star had been able to do this. She had to choose clothing far from her own taste and during shooting she looked anything but the blonde beauty she was. She had been handed a sum of money by Bren and told to go shopping. She spent a happy week covering the shops, “I remembered to watch the budget carefully. After all, it’s my husband’s picture so I spent his money wisely.” Trevor spent much of her free time on set sketching portraits and she also illustrated her practical mind during filming a sequence with a parrot (the heroin had been hidden in its cage to be transferred into Los Angeles). She sat laughing as she watched the crew attempting to film the bird which was central to the plot, but which kept turning its back on them. To no avail the crew did everything possible to make the bird turn. Finally she suggested they turned the cage round. Sadly, Trevor didn’t think the picture came out as well as it should, “I don’t think Bill Seiter was a strong director and the script didn’t click. Seiter wasn’t very deep and he had done comedy earlier, but time had passed him by a bit by the time we did the picture. In later years I would often get directors who had passed their peak and were starving for work.” Borderline had its world premiere at the Aldine Theatre in Philadelphia on Saturday January 28th as part of a series of key city openings. Trevor, still hard at work, made personal appearances at each performance. Following the premiere performances she returned to New York to make several radio appearances to support the picture. There had been plenty of wrangling about the premiere and other promotional dates and executives at UI were loath to spend too much distribution money, arguing that Trevor, Bren and Mr and Mrs Seiter were all travelling by train for the one public appearance of Trevor, and they argued that whilst the publicity trip would be supported, the amount of radio and television space would be limited and the head of UI considered that Borderline was the wrong kind of picture for saturation handling. He felt that Trevor and MacMurray were big enough stars to carry the success of the picture without having a lot of money spent on promotion. He also felt the promotion was taking too much of Trevor’s time which he felt could be better utilized. Trevor wanted to spend two weeks in New York, but UI wanted her to visit other key cities such as Boston, Washington and Chicago. By the end she was exhausted. A series of minor, comic approach, advertising campaigns were created but the film still did not open well, to the concern of all involved, especially the Brens. Through January the movie finally did receive nation-wide saturation promotion paid for by UI, and Trevor was handed another hectic schedule of interviews, photo opportunities and public appearances. Bren was told by UI executives to be discreet about expenses and no special entertainment was provided for the party. She worked flat out on promotion and even found herself doing monologues before live audiences, “When you make public appearances you can do one of three things, you can say how many pretty girls there are in Boston and how glad you are to be here with all these nice people. You can sing songs. I didn’t think anyone would want me to do that, so I do a seven and a half minute monologue. “It’s a tragic little thing about a girl who is trying to make a phone call. While she is waiting for the operator to get her the number she thinks out loud. There are no props, not even the telephone. I’m just a little nervous.” She was tiring and said, “Hollywood people are always ‘on’. They’re as much a part of the average household as was washing powder or salad dressing. The public, which put a celebrity where he or she is, has a perfect right to indulge its curiosity. That doesn’t mean a star must live for her following. “But it does mean that those in our business must consider the fans are responsible for their very existence and make room for them in their thoughts and actions.” Trevor and Bren chose to remain close to the fireside and didn’t often go out to night clubs and this meant that, outside the promotional tours, she had fewer brushes with her fans than most, “In Hollywood I can go anywhere I want and meet the most orderly, friendly sort of people who take me for granted because of being used to seeing picture people in person. “It’s in New York I have my skirmishes with crowds and I must admit they are rugged. I’m so afraid people will get hurt in the crush. When it’s over and I’m satisfied all is well, I breathe a sigh of relief.” She went on “I’d be an unhappy girl without this attention. It’s a barometer of how I’m doing as an actress. Motion picture people stand as symbols to a great many people.” She did say however that many of her fans made the assumption, based on many of her movies, that she was unlucky in love, “If anyone could develop a neurosis on the subject, I could from receiving so much sympathy on my failures in love. I never before realized how seriously the public takes its make-believe. It’s all too fantastic. I must do something about the letters. After all, a girl’s got her pride and I must convince these well-meaning people that I’m merely the victim of the script writer.” In Borderline she finally got to keep the man and she laughed, “Just to prove I can. It isn’t as much fun portraying the marrying kind. Street girls seem to be more colorfully written.” In a five minute interview pre-prepared by Borderline Pictures for the Press Agency she added that she didn’t mind what she’d been doing in pictures but went on, “I’d better start getting my man.” On October 8, 1951 Lux Radio Theater broadcast an adaptation of the movie with Trevor and MacMurray reprising their film roles. After the original 1950 copyright lapsed in the 1970’s, the film was considered to be in the public domain, and so found its way into the inventory of countless independent videotape and DVD distributors. Early reviews of the picture were not good including one from Film Daily on January 12th which read, “Serious plot misfires into silly spectacle. Should have been played for laughs. Tries hard. End result is just fair. Direction – Awkward. Photography – Good.” It went on, “Two good players seem to have approached the script as a job that must be done.” Motion Picture Daily; “A distinctly routine adventure film. Nothing appears to have been contributed to entertainment values by focusing attention on dope in this picture. Performances are adequate.” Variety; “Spotty entertainment values in this pic stem from its indecisive treatment as either a straight comedy or a serious meller…customers won’t know whether to laugh or bite their nails. Likelihood is that they’ll do neither since the total impact is mild.” LA Examiner 13th Feb 1950; “Borderline can’t quite make up its mind whether it’s a slapstick comedy or a chase thriller but it offers some excitement and some laughs. Miss Trevor plays up to her embarrassing situation with pep and plenty of personality.” Earl H Donovan continued that Trevor’s personal performance was delightful. Louella O. Parsons wrote in Cosmopolitan in March 1950 that Borderline was done with “Spritely showmanship and kept sparkling with such lively suspense that it is completely ingratiating. “Welcome to the very small ranks of our important comediennes, Claire…we need more like you.” Parsons also noted that perhaps there were plenty of other actresses who weren’t being offered roles outside their type, calling them “half-expressed troupers.” Trevor and husband Bren followed up the chaotic days of the filming and promotion of Borderline with a summer holiday aboard their sloop, Pursuit, “If I make a single move, the boat will move with me. The picture has been fun but tiring and all I want to do is take it easy, fish and sail.” VISIT: amazon.comVISIT: http://reelpublishing.com
Review by Guest Contributor Cullen Gallagher ~ Cullen Gallagher is a Brooklyn-based writer whose work has appeared in Beat to a Pulp, Crimefactory, Film Comment, The L Magazine, Bright Lights Film Journal, The Brooklyn Rail, Fandor, Not Coming to a Theater Near You, Hammer to Nail, Moving Image Source, Spinetingler, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Between Lavas, Reverse Shot, and Guitar Review.
Source: Kino International DVD
REVIEW: Noir films frequently exhibit a tourist-like attraction—a highly romantic sense of sex, danger, and excitement that exhilarates the viewer. Consider these iconic examples: The Maltese Falcon finds Bogart hob-nobbing with comically high-class low-lives like the jovially evil Sydney Greenstreet, the wily Peter Lorre, and the sultry Mary Astor; The Big Sleep once again finds Bogart getting down not only with femme near-fatale Lauren Bacall but also a sexy librarian (Dorothy Malone) with come-hither spectacles; and in They Live By Night, Farley Granger and Cathy O’Donnell manage to sustain the purity of their boy-meets-girl innocence.
Not so with any of Anthony Mann’s noirs.
One of the most distinctive characteristics of Anthony Mann’s noir universe is this: you would not want to live there, and you would most certainly not like to die there. He presents crime without passion, killing without romance, and violence without glamour.
Railroaded is a perfect example of Mann’s dire, joyless, and sadistic cinematic cosmos. It’s a variation on the “wrong man” plot in which someone innocent is wrongly accused of a crime they didn’t commit. In this film, however, the tension is compounded by double persecution from both the police and the criminals. Steve Ryan has been framed for the robbery of a beauty parlor bookie joint during which a police officer was killed. When he is unable to prove that he was alone in his garage working during the holdup, the police take him in and attempt to railroad him into a confession. Unable to do so, the police begin digging into her personal life, willing to stop at nothing to secure a conviction that guarantees the death penalty. Meanwhile, the real criminals are just as determined to sit him in that electric chair, and when they learn that Ryan’s sister is out to prove him innocent, they set their sights on her to ensure that her mission fails.
In Railroaded, as in He Walked By Night, Mann strips noir’s generic conventions bare, leaving only the starkest elements remaining. The criminals are reduced to pure greed. The masterminds are Clara Calhoun, the owner of the bookie joint, and Duke Martin, right-hand man to the mob boss who backs the gambling operation. Though Clara and Duke are lovers, not for one moment do they ever act in love—“Duke, don’t you trust me?” Clara asks as she kissed Duke with her lips while trying to steal the loot with her hands, “I like you, if that’s what you mean,” replies Duke as he receives her kisses and maneuvers the money further from her grasp. If the criminals are undressed of their human qualities, so, too, are the police. “Feelings don’t count in my racket, just evidence,” explains head investigator Mickey Ferguson. The police are not motivated by justice but revenge for their fallen partner. The chief of police reminds Ferguson that “only the gas chamber will satisfy me.” So, they terrorize Ryan’s family, ripping the front yard apart and throwing the inside of their house into shambles, looking for any piece of evidence to convict him—not that which would set him free. And let us not forget that the police and the criminals share a common goal: to see Steve Ryan fry in the electric chair.
Only Ryan’s sister, Rosie, acts with any purity of thought. Her conviction, however, is naïve, and at odds with the widespread nastiness around her. In light of the deviousness and cunning of both the police and the criminals, her innocence seems downright foolish. Rosie’s costume, however, might suggest otherwise. When she is at home, Rosie wears not white – the color of angels – but black. When she confronts Clara Calhoun at her hideout, it is Clara who is in white and Rosie in black. At other points throughout the movie, Rosie can be seen wearing clothing that is split down the middle—half-white, half-black, as though there might be a devious side to her nature. If anything, her costuming proves how easy it is for the girl-next-door to slip unnoticed into the underworld, a “black angel” in the tradition of Cornell Woolrich, who wrote of so many devoted women who ventured into the dark night in their quest for revenge.
Mann’s overarching character strategy for Railroaded is to make the audience skeptical of the heroes, and scared of the villains. For the first half of the movie, at least, Mickey Ferguson is as oppressing, dishonest, and terrorizing as Duke Martin. In the second half, when he has a turn of heart and begins believing that Steve Ryan is innocent, Mann still remains suspicious of Ferguson. He’s a distant hero, one who never reveals his heart, soul, or mind. Regardless of what side he is on, we have seen the mechanics of her personality—the deception and destruction that he is capable of. Rosie, too, is a somewhat distant character. Mann never gets too close to her, never reveals too much of her personality. We admire her familial devotion, but as her black-and-white split costuming suggests, perhaps there is a darker side to her, as well.Visually, Mann expresses his worldview most explicitly in the opening holdup and in the climactic gunfight between the criminals and the police. They are unrelentingly brutal. The former features a woman’s face being blown-off by a shotgun at point blank range, while the latter ends with a criminal’s dying grimace caught in an uncomfortably intimate close-up. What these scenes share in common is an overwhelming darkness. The screen is almost entirely black, save for a few snatches of light, barely enough to illuminate even a hint of the human body. Dialog is kept to a minimum, action and movement to a maximum. Like Vincent Minnelli, Anthony Mann stages the actors’ movement like a ballet; unlike Minnelli, however, Mann is a thuggish choreographer, his characters lack heart and soul, and their only action is violence. Mann’s dances are enacted in a spatial and moral void—pure, nihilistic blackness. Not even enough light for shadows. The only major light sources come from the guns themselves, and the explosive discharge that brightens the world for a fleeting instant before disintegrating back into the darkness. Mann’s characters live only in and for those brief moments of violence—in between are the dull, tedious eons of planning and plotting, of interminable waiting. The police and the criminals – and even Rosie, the devoted sister – are restless souls. To them, there is no satisfaction in complacency, no trust in destiny, no belief that everything will turn out all right. That is why the police act like thugs in order to find the evidence they want, and why the criminals take extra measures to ensure the fabric of their fiction stays in tact, and why Rosie enters the underworld whose current sucked in her brother. Mann’s noir has no faith in fate; it believes only in action and violence.
Railroaded is less escapist entertainment than it is a fable of entrapment. Nothing this paranoid, this mistrustful of either sides of the law, can be labeled “escapist.” It traps the viewer but never offers release. It exercises our deepest fears about bad things happening to good people, gives merit to our suspicions about ordinary acquaintances, and shows us how the mechanics of police work are as duplicitous and scheming as the criminal kind. Keeping one’s nose clean is no longer as easy as staying home; even without venturing out into the night, one can be implicated in crimes that can send you to the electric chair. Even a happy ending offers only temporary relief. We’ve seen how lack of evidence proving our innocence is just as damning as evidence proving our guilt. We’ve seen images of a shotgun blowing up in a woman’s face, of police tearing through a family’s home. Even the title of the film, Railroaded, suggests that the more significant crime is that of the police, who believe not that a man is innocent until proven guilty, but that innocence is not a natural state of being, and that guilt is to be presumed unless disproved. Visually, Mann always insists on darkness, thick black levels with no relief, no white to ease our eyes, no purity to ease our spirits, no goodness to soothe our soul, nothing to make us feel safe and sound.
Even though the bad guys get it in the end, the 74 minutes of trauma that Railroaded offers is not so easily shaken off and forgotten. Mann’s noir locates a primal fear of the dark—not one that hides beneath the bed or in your closet, but one that can easily overtake our everyday world. He shows that the natural order of things is against us, and that we can all be “railroaded” at any given moment.
By Cullen Gallagher ©2013 NotComing.com ~ VISIT: http://www.notcoming.com
Key Largo (1948)
D: John Huston. Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Lauren Bacall, Lionel Barrymore, Claire Trevor, Thomas Gomez, Jay Silverheels, Marc Lawrence, Dan Seymour, Harry Lewis. Top-notch cast in an adaptation of Maxwell Anderson’s play about tough gangster (Robinson) holding people captive in Florida hotel during tropical storm. Trevor won Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her virtuoso performance as Gaye Dawn , Robinson’s boozy moll. Script by Huston and Richard Brooks. Score by Max Steiner. REVIEW: Key Largo was Trevor’s biggest opportunity since filming Stagecoach almost ten years earlier. It was directed and co-written by John Huston, produced by Larry Wald who was noted as the busiest producer in town, and starred Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Edward G Robinson and Lionel Barrymore.
Most of the players appear in most of the scenes which proved to be a headache for the producer and director who faced many resulting staging and technical problems.Trevor earned $30,000, Bacall $39,000. The total cost of production was close to $2 million. Trevor was not paid for rehearsal time or additional publicity recordings or the time she gave for shooting promotion stills.
The complex contract provided by the studio was a mysterious mass of double-jointed words that Trevor actually didn’t care much about, “I can’t even read them.” She admitted, “My lawyer – poor dear, explains the contract to me regularly, or when I sign a new one. I always nod and say, ‘uh –huh’ and shake my head in all the right places. Then I go out and forget the whole thing.”
In the case of Warner Bros, she was only concerned with a one picture deal, “It’s short and very simple. I haven’t however read it.”
Huston had arranged that the stars would have a week’s rehearsal on set before shooting began – highly unusual. It had been necessary to iron out staging issues and the pre-production rehearsals were popular with Warner directors as a means toward perfecting camera set-ups and a time saver when the cameras actually began rolling. Nevertheless, Trevor donated many unpaid hours to this particular cause.
Huston shot the whole picture with practically no time lapses by arranging the story to take place in the same period of time as it takes to screen, with only one exception near the end of the picture from late night to dawn the next day. It was not surprising there were staging issues.
Sets, confined largely to the Hotel Largo, were designed by Leo Kuter, who brought in 350 different kinds of tropical trees and plants onto Stage 16 to simulate the Largo area.
It was producer Larry Wald himself who suggested Trevor for the part of Gaye when he wired Huston in November 1947. He termed Trevor a stellar performer whilst many still saw her as a supporting actress. In fact Huston also recognized he needed a good actress for the role of Gaye which was not an easy part but whose effectiveness would greatly increase the excellence of the picture. Her assignment in Key Largo proved to be one of the most difficult she had ever undertaken.
One of the issues raised by the censor was the obvious drinking by Trevor’s character, but in a later note to Warner, Breen noted, “Character of Hazel must not be kept woman of Muriello…OK to leave her dipso, but reduce to minimum drinking.” (Names of characters were later altered.).
By now Trevor had done plenty of good work in bad pictures but in 1948 she stormed into what was to be her last film noir, recapturing lost ground in Key Largo. A star of lesser caliber might not have wanted to take the risk that Trevor grabbed with this movie. Her principal female opposition in the film was Lauren Bacall. There was an ever present danger that in such a situation Bacall would get all the best opportunities and she would have to take the best of what was left. The script had also been written by Maxwell Anderson as a tough man’s story. The female parts were less than robust.
But Trevor turned in an extraordinary performance as washed-up, boozy nightclub singer Gaye Dawn opposite Edward G Robinson’s big time gangster. She stole the show as his long suffering moll who is now a fallen favorite with fading looks and who drinks to forget. Clearly whiskey is now her only solace. Humphrey Bogart is an ex-army officer who thinks he is tough enough to resist Robinson’s whole gang.
Each character comes together in Lionel Barrymore’s waterside hotel on the Florida Keys. Each cast member jealously guarded their own screen time. But whilst Trevor didn’t get too many scenes herself, she dominated every one of them lending her character a tough veneer on the outside whilst hinting at tender vulnerability underneath. Trevor reflected her hatred for the way her lover made his living and Gaye is full of heart-rending emotional conflict.
It was a tribute to her style and magnetism that she held the attention in scenes playing opposite Robinson, Barrymore and Bogart and she deservedly won an Academy Award for her electric performance.
“It was a great part.”
From the first moment when, seated at the bar, more than half drunk, she was superb as was her rendition of Libby Holman’s Moanin’Low, sung in tuneless desperation for the price of a drink.
Trevor made her motion picture song debut under handicaps that might have discouraged a less courageous actress. In the first place she was suffering from a cold when it was shot and secondly she did it without accompaniment and not in the recording studio, but right on set.
“It’s supposed to be bad singing, so I can’t lose.”
“This was Huston’s brilliance. First of all, I had no idea I was going to sing. I thought they were going to have a recording and I was going to mouth the words. I wanted the music department to rehearse me and train me in the gestures of a nightclub singer. I wanted to get that look. Each day I’d say to John, ‘When can I go and rehearse, when are you going to shoot the song?’ ‘Oh we’ve got lots of time’. This went on and on. We did take time on the picture but it was fun. We’d take an hour and a half for lunch. Bogart and Huston were fun. Electric. I began to really pester John. So we came back from lunch one day he said, ‘I think I’ll shoot the song this afternoon.’ What? Where’s the recording? I haven’t heard it? He said, ‘You’re going to sing it.’ I can’t. Huston and Barrymore both said I’d be fine. And that’s what he did to me. He stood me up there with the whole cast and crew looking. You think that’s not embarrassing? And off stage is a piano, and they hit one note. Start. No time for anything except pure embarrassment and torture, and that’s what came through. I tried to do it as well as I could. And when we’d done the long shot all the way through, I thought I was finished. It was off key I don’t know how many times. He said, ‘All right, now we’ll do the two shot and the close-up,’ and the piano would go ‘Bong’ off-stage and that was it. So each time I did a different set-up and then they had to be blended together, you can imagine how many keys I was in.”
But it worked, and she came across like the terrified embarrassed woman she was meant to be, and Huston of course had handled her just right by not rehearsing it.
Trevor was enthusiastic about her role, if not the property itself, “I thought the play was static and the film rather static too.” However she agreed she enjoyed the experience of making it, “We all had such a good time; John Huston could tell a story better than anyone you’ve ever heard. It’s odd though, he was highly articulate, yet when he was directing actors he became very unarticulated – never finished a sentence. He’d say, ‘You know it’s, er, like this’ … but the thing was you always ended up knowing exactly what he wanted.”
She regarded Huston as a dream to work with, along the same lines as Ford and she said, “There was something intuitive about his direction.”
Bogart named the boat that appears in the film the Santana after his own boat.
“There was only one shot taken in Florida with Bogart getting off a bus at the beginning of the picture, but the rest of us never got to Florida. Most of it was filmed at the Warner Brothers studio. We all had two rows of dressing rooms on the stage. We had one whole stage just for the dressing room, we shot on another stage and Huston had a third stage to himself where he had his office and he was reading new scripts. Every day we’d all have lunch at the country club out there. It was a party – it was wonderful.”
She’d worked on several projects with Robinson by this time but she said that on this occasion he presented several minor disturbances such as walking into Warner’s Research Department to demand a copy of Dickens’ Christmas Carol. He walked out reading it and making gestures to himself. When he returned to set, with the book, he forced Lionel Barrymore, famous for his radio Scrooge characterization, to listen to the whole story as read by Robinson.
Critics thought it was strange how she managed to do so well in so many parts that were not the pick. WH Mooring commented in Picturegoer in July 1948, “In fact she can do more on less than any actress I know.” He said Lauren Bacall might have got all the best opportunities in the film and with an all-star cast, it was hardly likely that that Trevor would get too much screen time. However she dominated every scene she was in, including the ones where Bogart, Robinson and Barrymore fought against each other. It was a tribute to her style and power that she could hold her own and capture the attention of the audience.
She herself could often be dismissive of her career and of Hollywood, saying that she felt films were not an art but a business and that anyone, given a chance, could do what she did. Of course this took no account of the fact that acting came easy to her. It was instinctive and she never really valued her own talent. She could never see why being an actress should cause so much fuss. To her, it was a job that she did to the best of her ability.
She had never needed particularly well drawn scripts in order to give top performances although in Key Largo she had been given a rare part that didn’t often arrive in the business.
LA Examiner, Ruth Waterbury wrote Key Largo is ambitious and intellectual. Its highly literate script has things to say. You can take it, if you want to, as a fast paced, action melodrama…or you can listen to what its characters say…and get the film’s distinctive values. Bogart turns his character into a distinctive human being, but excellent as he is here, he is not in the final analysis the star of this picture. Claire Trevor is…let’s face it, the husky-throated Claire has the best part. Her role is as clear in its purpose as a bullet hole, and Claire blazes forth with a performance at once heartbreaking and unforgettable.”
Variety: Claire Trevor is standout, giving one of the best performances of her career.
Hollywood Reporter: Trevor’s performance is one of those superlative jobs of acting that comes from this performer whenever she is given the opportunity. It is played thoughtfully and intelligently and reaches heights of pathos in the sequence wherein she tries to recapture the days of her singing career.
Deservedly so, Claire Trevor won the Oscar for best supporting actress. But, an intense analysis of the film can only result in one possible conclusion. While widely-regarded as a Film Noir, and undoubtedly a Classic Hollywood film, Noir it is not. As Noir Historian Tony D’Ambra wrote in his excellent blog filmsnoir.net : “The climax and resolution of the story complete with a non-noir ending, also give little support to the view that Key Largo is a film noir. As the final scene hits the screen, it is the strength of family and the selfless pursuit of established values that destroy evil, with the existential anti-hero morphing into a hero of the classic mold.”
Alex, a corn-fed sailor on leave, recovers from a drink-induced blackout with a large sum of money belonging to Edna Bartelli, a b-girl who invited him home to “fix her radio.” He tries to return it with the reluctant aid of June Goth, a sweet but oh-so-tired dance hall girl; they find Edna murdered. Not quite sure he didn’t do it himself, Alex and June have four hours in the dead of night to find the real killer before his leave ends. Their quest brings them into contact with a sleazy kaleidoscope of minor characters; clues get more and more tangled…Adapted from a novel by Cornell Woolrich, Deadline at Dawn is especially notable for the vibrant, no-nonsense performance by Susan Hayward.Film critic Dennis Schwartz wrote: “Broadway’s Harold Clurman takes his only stab at film directing, after the breakup of his Group Theater, in this odd psychological thriller noted for its flowery dialogue and muddled story line … It’s penned by playwright Clifford Odets from a story by Cornell Woolrich. Though enjoyable by virtue of its distorted mise-en-scène, affection for NYC characters and its misplaced chatter, this is not art but run-of-the-mill film noir. Set in Manhattan, yet Deadline used no location shots but was filmed entirely in the studio’s back lots. Cinematographer Nick Musuraca does a fine job creating an atmospheric scene of NYC’s downtrodden and unhappy souls roaming the dark streets.”
Run-of-the-mill film noir ? In retrospect, no movie shot by Nick Musuraca could EVER be called that….