Because film noir can be defined as a style rather than (or as well as) a genre, it comes in many forms. There is almost always violence and a vision of the underbelly of a culture, rife with its attendant anxieties. But there are not only the typical gangster or mystery noirs, but noir melodramas, noir horror films, and even noir westerns.
Exactly how to categorize 1950’s The Capture depends on one’s investments. There is murder, a story of forbidden love, and even the role of fatherhood in this film. It’s directed by John Sturges, known primarily for his action films–mostly war and western, including The Magnificent Seven (1960) and The Great Escape (1963). Niven Busch, the writer of the novel on which The Capture is based, also sheds an ambiguous light on genre interpretation. Bush wrote both the novel for the western Duel in the Sun and the screenplay for the noir film The Postman Always Rings Twice, both released in 1946. And if you look at the two posters above, you can see how both the western and noir genres are highlighted, separately, for interested audiences.
Our stars are Lew Ayres and Teresa Wright. Ayres, perhaps best known as Dr. Kildare, had his breakout in All Quiet on the Western Front in 1930, and went on to play a variety of engaging roles, from Katharine Hepburn’s alcoholic brother in Holiday (1938) to Dr. Patrick J. Cory in Donovan’s Brain (1953). In short, he’s generally known for neither noir nor westerns. Similarly, Teresa Wright (one of Niven Busch’s three wives), played many a likeable gal in films from Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943) to The Best Years of our Lives (1946).
The tale takes place just over of the Mexican border, in the form of an extended flashback. Lin Vanner (Ayres) is an oil company manager who kills a man for stealing the payroll. If he were innocent, why didn’t he put both hands up when Lin told to do so? When Lin must transport the body of the criminal back home to his wife, he meets the small, black-clad woman and is smitten by her strong, defiant gaze. In time, he questions whether the man he shot was truly guilt and seeks to help the isolated widow and her son on their farm. Is this a western tale of a loner who is tamed by the woman and the land? Or is it a story of how easily we convince ourselves we know who is guilty and who is innocent? From the western setting to the chiaroscuro lighting, The Capture is neither fully one genre or the other. Instead, it is a noir western, and enjoyable as such.
Tune in for the live tweet on Sunday, 12/6 at 9pm et. Hashtag, as always, is #BNoirDetour. See you then, pardners and wiseguys.