This week was devoted to 1950s noir and thrillers — when I wasn’t catching up on iZombie season 2!
The Clouded Yellow (1950): This British thriller finds Major David Somers (Trevor Howard), an ex-007 type, employed at a country estate cataloging butterflies (hence the title, a variety of lepidoptera). Soon, the neurotic young niece of the estate, Sophie (Jean Simmons in a dreadful long wig) is blamed for the murder of womanizing handyman “Shep” (Kenneth More). David takes Sophie on the run to give the cops time to find out who really did it. The rest of the film is a Hitchcockesque chase with a somewhat surprising ending. If only Howard wasn’t far to old and fatherly for Jean Simmons’ 18-year-old character. RECOMMENDED if you can stomach the March-December romance.
Mystery Street (1950): The first time I heard the name of this film was as a call-out in the fifth season of the TNT show Leverage, in which mastermind Nate (Timothy Hutton) identifies it as the first film to show scientific procedures to solve a crime. It definitely is a lot of that, but the film also features some great characters, including Ricardo Montalbán as a compelling, competent Hispanic cop with no overtones of racism or exoticism; Elsa Lancaster a greedy drunk of a landlady; and Jan Sterling in a brief appearance as an ill-fated prostitute. The actual whodunnit isn’t particularly suspenseful, but that’s not the film’s primary focus. RECOMMENDED for those who enjoy procedurals and the great cast.
The Blue Gardenia (1953): I was prepared to be wowed by this Anne Baxter vehicle directed by Fritz Lang, also featuring Richard Conte, Ann Sothern, and the menacing hulk of Raymond Burr. I love many of Lang’s noirs, and Anne Baxter is one of my favorite femmes fatale. Conte is dull but competent here, and Sothern adds a note of comedy that I enjoyed despite its strangeness within noir. I like that, like The Clouded Yellow, we don’t know who the murderer is until the end, but the pacing it labored as Baxter frets and hides from the cops and the actual solution to the crime comes as too much of an unprepared surprise. For me, the high point is Burr’s performance and that ends early in the film. MILDLY RECOMMENDED for noir-lovers only.
Wicked Woman (1953): Russell Rouse directs his then-wife, the queen of noir trash, Beverly Michaels in a tale of a Bad Woman who travels across the country, looking for happiness (which for her seems mostly to be about money and sex with hunky married men). After moving into a sleazy rooming house and finding a job through the kindness of bar owner and lush, Dora Bannister (Evelyn Scott), our opportunist antiheroine Billie Nash (Michaels) immediately bites the hand that feeds her by moving in on Dora’s husband, tall, dark, and luggish Matt (Richard Egan). If only nosy neighbor Charlie (Percy Helton) wasn’t blackmailing Billie! The badly written, poorly acted film on its shoestring budged has all the subtlety and charm of a John Waters movie. (Every time Billie walked down the street, I expected to see Divine and Mink Stole following to kidnap her.) NOT RECOMMENDED except for trash riffing.