Wednesday 28 June 2023


By Gary Deane

Director Henry Levin never met a film genre that he didn’t like or — perhaps more accurately — that didn’t like him. Though taking his craft seriously, Levin was a genial extrovert who shunned anything that smacked of self-importance. For him, a successful movie was a good story well-told, period. Over nearly four decades, Levin cheerfully marshaled a winning parade of popcorn projects which included westerns, adventure stories, musicals, comedies, family dramas, crime pictures, spy thrillers, and, nearer the end of his career, action flicks.

Night Editor, a tightly-wound little crime chiller released in 1946, was one of Levin’s earliest assignments and clearly demonstrates the brisk, yet personable directorial style that would mark his work until the end. Though the low-budget Columbia programmer was never intended by the studio to have a long working life, Night Editor to this day has refused to turn in its gun and badge.

The movie was based on a weekly radio series in which a newspaper editor would give the listening audience the inside on some tawdry crime tale. Its story, as recounted to a young reporter who’s foolishly been boozing it up, dogging it at work, and neglecting his family, is cautionary. The film, unwinding in flashback, focuses on Tony Cochrane (William Gargan), a dour, charmless cop and faithless husband. This time, Cochrane’s got it bad for a high-class society babe, Jill Merrill (Janice Carter), who also happens to be hitched.

One night, while working themselves into a sweat in a lovers’ lane, the two watch in shock as a woman is beaten to death with a tire iron. Cochrane instinctively moves to go after the killer but Merrill holds him back. As a result, the detective fails to pursue the culprit or report the murder. Not a good situation, but one which only gets worse after the body is found and Cochrane finds himself assigned to the case. The detective now has to work hard to cover his tracks, both figuratively and for real. Those of his car, found at the crime scene, are a key part of the evidence. 

Little by little, the cover-up starts to fall apart — that is, until a man whom the detective knows for certain not to be the killer is arrested and ultimately sentenced to death. Though Cochrane feels remorse, it's clear that events still take a back seat to his lust for Jill Merrill.

What's not so clear in Night Editor is why the likes of Merrill would bother with a lumpen character like Cochrane, unless he’s maybe got a python in his pants. The glamourpuss does seem to have a thing for sex — though of what kind we are not sure. In one of the film’s most notorious scenes, she lifts off like a rocket, shouting, "I want to see the body!" Rattled by Merrill’s frenzied voyeurism, Cochrane decides to get out of there as fast as he can. Though obsessed with Merrill, he’s now beginning to understand what she’s about. He later tries to ditch her in an exchange that’s as ripe as pulp noir ever gets:

Him: “You’re no good for me. We both add up to zero. I’m sick of the whole crazy mess. I’m sick of playing games. You’re worse than blood poisoning. You’re a rotten—rick through and through. Like something that’s served at the Ritz that’s been laying out in the sun too long.

Her: “To hear you talk you’d think I was crawling after you. I don’t need you and I can buy and sell you. That’s right, Tony. You’re not my kind. But your little tootsie-wootsie loves her great big stupid peasant.”

You get the picture.

Another thing that’s not clear — at least to today’s audiences — is why Janis Carter, a strikingly beautiful, vivacious, and multi-talented actress, never had a bigger career. Though Carter featured in thirty-odd films, she never came close to achieving lasting stardom. If it were not for her appearances in several minor crime dramas including Framed (1947), I Love Trouble (1948), The Missing Juror (1944), The Woman on Pier 13 (1949) as well as in several titles of The Whistler series, Carter, sadly, would be all but forgotten.

Carter’s recognition problem is the result of her bifurcated screen persona. On one hand, she was the personification of the 1940s calendar pin-ups à la Edward Runci or T.N. Thompson — an alluring mix of movie star beauty, sophistication, and girl-next-door high spirits and playfulness. By rights, Carter would have at least found sure footing in comedies and musicals (her background had been in opera and theater). However, the actress also could play it aloof, willful, and calculating — perhaps too easily and too well. Carter's career path took her down some of B-noir’s seediest side streets to places where she joyously acted out her inner bad girl. If conventional stardom eluded her, certainly lasting status as one of film noir's most exuberant and deadliest femme fatales has not.

Night Editor also wastes no time thanks to Levin's fast-ball direction and the supple camerawork of Burnett Guffey. The latter was one of film noir’s most emotionally attuned stylists, working on In a Lonely Place (1950), Nightfall (1956), The Brothers Rico (1957), Scandal Street (1952), Tightspot (1955), The Harder They Fall (1956), Knock on Any Door (1949), The Reckless Moment (1949), Human Desire (1954), and The Sniper (1952).

Night Editor was first intended as a pilot for a series of like films with stories being told by veteran police-beat reporters. Though the series never happened, Night Editor did, and on its own terms. Without it, and so many other B-titles with similarly deranged impulses, classic film noir would hardly be as compelling and, frankly, not nearly such an unruly joy to watch.

Monday 15 May 2023

HOT CARS (1956)


By Gary Deane


Her: “Do you always sell every car you demonstrate?”

Him: “No, but I don’t always get taken for a ride either.”


No surprise if Hot Cars, released in 1956, had turned out to be just another ‘sinsational’ teens-gone-wild drive-in pic, the likes of Dragstrip Girl, Teenage Thunder, Hot Rod Gang, Speed Crazy, Hot Rod Girl, Young and Dangerous, or Joy Ride.

But rest easy. There's not a street rod in sight, only deluxe production coupes and foreign sports jobs that are ‘hot’ only because they're stolen — something Nick Dunn (John Bromfield) figures out only after a few days on the job as a sales jockey for a string of Los Angeles used car lots.

Dunn soon realizes that owner Arthur Markel (Ralph Clanton) is fronting what his boss calls "a refrigeration plant”, a place where hot cars are brought to cool down. But Dunn, fired from his last car sales job for being straight with the customers, has nowhere to go. His infant son Davy needs an operation for which Markel will pay if Dunn will play. Even before hiring him, the dealer was hip to Dunn’s plight and uses a blonde knockout named Karen Winter (Joi Lansing) to bait the hook. By the time Dunn figures out he’s been duped, it’s too late, as Markel moves to fit him up as a one-size-fits-all chump.

A trim little programmer, Hot Cars was a release of Bel-Air Productions, a joint venture of 20th Century Fox producer/ director Howard W. Koch, and independent producer Aubrey Schenck. For a time in the ‘50s, the company turned out a bunch of low-budget, quick-buck features, including titles familiar to fans of B noirs: Big House U.S.A. (1955), Crime Against Joe (1956), Three Bad Sisters (1956), The Girl in Black Stockings (1957), and Hell Bound (1957).

Hot Cars runs fast and smooth on a well-tuned script by screenwriter Don Martin, whose film and television credits extended four decades. Martin scripted several of the original Falcon releases and from 1947 to 1958 contributed to a list of B-thrillers, among them: Lighthouse (1947), The Hatbox Mystery (1947), Search for Danger (1949), Destination Murder (1950), Shakedown (1950), Double Jeopardy (1955), Confession (1955), The Man is Armed (1956) and The Violent Road (1958). His pulp novel Shed No Tears was filmed in 1948. Once a 'lost noir', the movie was released a few years back by Alpha Entertainment, a low-end media outfit.

Much of Hot Cars was shot on location, offering tantalizing sightings of mid-century Los Angeles e.g., the iconic Jack’s at the Beach restaurant and lounge where Joi Lansing begins stroking John Bromfield to see if he’s up for the ride. Lansing was on the scene in Hollywood from the day the bus pulled up. A teenage model who later moved on to films and TV, she soon got known as a party girl who had affairs with a host of the usual suspects such as George Raft, Mickey Rooney, and Frank Sinatra. Along the way, she also found time to run up a total of four marriages.

However, Lansing had her head screwed on straight when it came to her career — though she was never much of an actress nor encouraged to be one, given her famously alluring pout and purpose-built figure. Her movie appearances were limited mostly to bit parts (including Touch of Evil) though she did better on television, landing supporting roles plus regular stints on The Bob Cummings Show, Klondike, and The Beverly Hillbillies.

All said, Hot Cars is worth the price of admission for Lansing alone. She’s smart, spirited, and something to see as she goes to work on the straight-arrow Dunn:

Him: “I told you already, I’m married.”

Her: “I have a terrible memory.”

However, the film also provides a better-than-usual part for John Bromfield, himself a ready-made leading man who never found solid footing in Hollywood. Though tall, dark, and athletic, he had to warm the end of a bench that already included Hollywood hunks like Rory Calhoun, Ray Danton, Brad Dexter, Steve Cochrane, Richard Egan, William Campbell, Jeffrey Hunter, Vince Edwards, and John Russell.

Bromfield had started out encouragingly enough in tryout roles for Paramount in Sorry, Wrong, Number (1948) and Rope of Sand (1949). But as a featured actor, he eventually found himself having to settle for an assortment of cheap westerns, horror titles, and crime programmers like The Big Bluff (1955), Crime Against Joe (1956), and the exuberantly trashy Three Bad Sisters (1956). Bromfield was a capable enough performer, just not that interesting a one, evincing no great charisma, sexual intensity, or dark places. He was what he was: a handsome, rugged Hollywood straight-shooter well-suited for the role of Nick Dunn. He’s just fine in it.

Hot Cars is as much a conventional crime thriller as a film noir. It doesn’t bother itself with moody atmospherics or, visually, much else. Karen Winter is plainly a femme fatale, though one who fails ultimately to damage or destroy. For his part, Nick Dunn is neither a doomed protagonist, a total patsy, or a victim of his own device. While he is a man in a trap, he’s still able to find his way out. 

That said, Hot Cars does feel like noir. All the basic constructs are there, needing only to be framed as they might have been a decade or so earlier. In that way, the movie is no different from the many others now categorized as ‘late-period’ noir.

However, none of this impacts Hot Cars’ high-velocity performance as it rockets along like a monkey on a zip line, propelled by a vibrant hipster jazz track by bandleader Les Baxter. In all, the film is a totally cool ride, one that’s definitely worth taking out for a drive.





Monday 10 April 2023


By Gary Deane

Sam Wilson (Jeffrey Lynn) assistant bookkeeper and family man, struggles to make it to the end of the month. As it turns out, so does his boss, who tells Sam that the business is failing and on the verge of bankruptcy. He confides also that he’s had enough and is planning to kill himself. He then asks Sam to help in making the suicide look like a robbery-murder, forcing the insurance company to make good on the death claim. In return, he promises Sam a large sum of money up-front. Needing the cash, Sam reluctantly agrees to go along, hoping he'll be able to go through with it.  As we know though, in film noir things seldom go as planned.

Strange Bargain, a tense RKO programmer, packs a lot into its one hour and eight minutes, including a nicely imagined storyline, a surprise ending that is actually a surprise, and good performances across the board. Lynn is convincing as a man at a moral crossroads, as he attempts to find a way out of a hopeless situation for which he's partly to blame. Martha Scott, later nominated for an Academy Award, is equally affecting as Sam’s domesticated but take-charge spouse, while Harry Morgan,  as an investigating detective, is as sardonic and engaging as ever. 

Though a minor title, the movie is not without ambition. Director Will Price made only three films in his movie career, with Strange Bargain being the first. You'd have to call it a pretty good start.

Monday 13 February 2023

Classic Noir's Last Gasp: The Scarlet Hour (1957)

By Gary Deane

When trying to nail down an endpoint of the classic film noir cycle, four titles generally find their way to the head of the line: Touch of Evil (1958) for its baroque inflections of character and style; Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) for its modernist tonal shifts; Psycho (1960) for its narrative and generic dislocations; and Blast of Silence (1961) for its utter moral desolation.  In each case, the film represents a defining shift from what had gone before and, in doing so, extends the period’s time frame.

However, it might also be argued that the real endpoint could be a late-period noir from 1957, which looks back to exactly what had gone before. That film is The Scarlet Hour, which exemplifies — thematically, narratively, and visually —film noir’s most resonant motifs, as framed in the 1940s and early '50s: a male protagonist obsessed with a sexually alluring woman; another female, good, dutiful, and in love with the man; an urban setting where lives are lived out unhappily by day and by night; a lurid and convoluted plotline conveyed with hard-boiled urgency; and a shadowland of expressive and unsettling camerawork.

The Scarlet Hour, unseen and little known until a few years ago, was produced and directed by Hollywood great Michael Curtiz, with studio backing from Paramount. However, the film was released with little fanfare, receiving far wider distribution in the UK than in the US. After that, it languished in obscurity for more than fifty years, with little reference to its existence other than some harsh assessments of the film in the British press, like that in the UK Times:

“(The Scarlet Hour) is a very drab hour and a half, in the company of actors who have not yet established their reputations and are unlikely to achieve them as a result of this movie. The story combines a rather unsavory triangle with a jewel robbery and the director Mr. Curtiz has achieved a certain amount of suspense but little else.”

However, to present-day eyes, The Scarlet Hour isn’t drab at all. It is a deeply noir-stained tale of dark love, obsession, duplicity, and murder — dense in its generic underpinnings and saturated with character types that seem both contemporary and anachronistic at the same time.

Tom Tryon plays E.V. ‘Marsh’ Marshall, the protégé of land developer Ralph Nevins (James Gregory). Marsh also is having an affair with his boss’s wife, Paulie (Carol Ohmart). Paulie wants the life Ralph’s wealth affords her, but she doesn’t want him. Her chance to get away comes when she persuades Marsh to hijack a jewelry heist the two overhear being planned while parked in a lovers’ lane. However, Ralph is aware that Paulie has something going on the side. The plot both thickens and darkens when he decides to do something about it.

That is about as much as you want to know going in. Much of the pleasure to be had from these tales of triangulation and treachery is in the details, supplied here by screenwriter Frank Tashlin, best known for his comedies, including The Lieutenant Wore Skirts (1956) and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957). Although The Scarlet Hour would be Tashlin’s only association with noir, there was a palpable undercurrent of desperation in his comedies. As observed by writer/ curator Dave Kehr, “More than most of his contemporaries, Tashlin was attuned to how our desire betrays us.”

Unfortunately, some of The Scarlet Hour’s potential is hampered by Tom Tryon’s limited range and a script that leaves little leeway for his character to connect the dots between virtue and temptation. A more adroit performer might have found the connection, but the most Tryon can manage is a hangdog haplessness.

On the other hand, former model and beauty queen Carol Ohmart was the perfect choice for Paulie, a far more complex and sympathetic character than noir’s stereotypical femme fatale. While Paulie uses Marsh and is prepared to betray him, she does so out of jealousy, not malice. Her actions and betrayals are never that straightforward. An unusually self-reflexive femme fatale, she goads herself into a criminal act seeking some nether region of self-worth. Paulie is Double Indemnity’s Phyllis Dietrichson and Walter Neff combined. With her wintery affect and smoky voice, Ohmart harkens back to the ‘fire and ice’ sirens of the 40s, but without seeming derivative.

Adding to the mix is Elaine Stritch as Phyllis Rycker, friend and confidante to Paulie. Phyllis is a retired-but-not-quite-reformed B-girl who’s found true love in the arms of a blue-collar hedonist. She and Paulie have a history and through their exchanges, we learn more about who Paulie is and what motivates her. While always dressed to kill, Paulie appears confident, but she’s both damaged and sad with regret. When Phyllis toasts her slightly sozzled husband, “Here’s to happy marriages made in heaven, Paulie replies, “Here’s to happy marriages made anywhere.” Stritch, always a brash scene-stealer, challenges Ohmart to stand up to her. Ohmart responds in kind and their time together on screen juices up the film.

James Gregory as the vengeful husband, David Lewis as the jewel heist mastermind (who makes a memorable reappearance via the film’s bravura plot twist), and E. G. Marshall and Ed Binns as the investigating police officers were ready-made for film noir. The four would all go on to become fixtures on the small screen.

Jody Lawrance, playing Nevins’ secretary, Kathy Stevens, is the ‘good girl’ who pines for Marsh, a la Virginia Huston in Out of the Past. Lawrance does what she can with her role but, in her bottle-blonde incarnation, begs comparison with Jan Sterling, a more arresting actress. On the rebound from an aborted launch at Columbia at the time, Lawrance faded from view in 1961.

Clearly, The Scarlet Hour doesn’t shy away from its indebtedness to Double Indemnity. Curtiz pays further respect in a scene where Marsh and Paulie furtively meet up across the aisle in a record store. Their troubled tryst could easily have taken place just down the street at Jerry’s Market on Melrose. The script also has its share of well-turned one-liners, most of them handed to Paulie. Many of the lines function in the way Walter Neff’s voiceover frames Double Indemnity. Not only are they memorably hard-boiled, but they also add resonance to the characters, such as when Paulie says to Marsh: “Don’t try to brush me off, Marsh — when I stick, I stick hard.” and “I never thought about the things I wanted, only the things I didn’t want.

Curtiz’s attempt to return to the more embellished noir style — one that he’d virtually invented in Mildred Pierce, embroidered in The Unsuspected (a textbook example of Foster Hirsch’s notion of “italicized visual moments”) and finally synthesized in The Breaking Point — was compromised to some extent by a combination of factors he couldn't overcome. In those earlier films, the complicated choreography of plot, visuals, and actorly presence meshed into something greater than the sum of its many parts.

In 'The Scarlet Hour, all the elements of a top-notch 40s noir are present, as is the framework for a great and satisfying movie. Unfortunately, the combination of a weaker lead actor and the ultimate lack of velocity in the film’s final reel means the component parts manage to not quite fit. However, what we do have is a categorical study on celluloid of how classic noir was supposed to operate, The Scarlet Hour unquestionably is the last honorable attempt to build a noir from the classic recipe. The film also can be seen as a look into the ‘what if’ career of Carol Ohmart, in every sense a compelling actress who was made for a style of film style on the verge of extinction — just as she was offered the chance to be the very embodiment of it. Ohmart’s portrayal of icy, sexual cunning brings the arc of the true noir cycle to a close — an arc that would not be revisited until Body Heat (1981) nearly a quarter-century later.

Monday 5 September 2022


By Gary Deane

"This is Detroit, fabulous city of untold wealth, of might and muscle, of culture and the sweat of human endeavor and success... This is Detroit, symbolic of America,… pushing its towering smokestacks of industry against the sky... a city conceded to be the Arsenal of America. But now gangsters and organized crime are making a strong bid to gain control of the labor unions so that they can rule the destiny of some 17 million unionized workers. But for the courage of honest union officials, the police, and a political regime of integrity, these criminal elements would already be in control in Detroit. The film you are about to see, ‘Inside Detroit’ shows what has been done and what can be done by men of faith and fortitude to combat this menace.” 

And so opens Inside Detroit, starring Dennis O’Keefe as Blair Vickers, an upright union official, and Pat O’Brien as Gus Linden, a labor boss as corrupt as they come. Linden had been put away for five years on the testimony of Vickers but is now out and looking for revenge. His plan is to retake control of the union and to see Vickers dead.  Although Vickers has a notion of what's coming, he isn’t ready for Linden’s opening move against him, a bomb hidden in a pinball machine at union headquarters. Vickers survives the blast, though not his brother, Tom. Afterward, Vickers manages to rally, but Linden has more in store for him. 

Meanwhile, Linden’s family, as well as his mistress, Joni Calvin (Tina Carver), get dragged into it, which complicates things not only for him but also Vickers. At one time, Vickers had been good friends with Linden and sweet on his daughter, Barbara (Margaret Field) who's never accepted that her father’s a villain. Vickers' personal involvement endangers him further, as the gangster pursues his takeover of the local. 

Though Inside Detroit is weighted down somewhat by its separated-at-birth plot line and its sworn task of ensuring justice will be done, several things give this late-period ‘semi-documentary’ noir a proper lift. One is the committed performances of its headliners, O’Keefe and O’Brien, along with that of Tina Carver as O’Brien’s mistress. A minor player in a series of notable film noirs, including A Bullet For Joey (1955), The Harder They Fall (1956), A Cry in the Night (1957), and Chain of Evidence (1957), Carver was often cast in roles equally familiar to Claire Trevor – those as a beaten-down sister-under-the-mink who can only hope that her next trip down the road of broken dreams won’t be her last. 

Another is the energetic direction of Fred F. Sears, a practiced storyteller whose credits included The Miami Story (1954), Cell 2455 Death Row (1955), Teenage Crime Wave (1955), and Miami Expose (1956). Sears had a knack for taking lemons handed to him by the studios and turning them into lemonade. All the titles above,  with Inside Detroit near the top of the list, are refreshing little late-cycle thirst quenchers.  Drink up.

Postscript: “We wish to thank the United Auto Workers of America for their cooperation without which this picture could not have been made.”

Wednesday 24 August 2022



By Gary Deane


“Nothing between their secrets and the neighborhood except a pane of glass!.”


“Adults who want new sensations out of life…before it’s too late! Kids who want to find out what it’s all about…too early!”


Poor Craig Fowler. His father, Jay (Alex Nichol), is a self-pitying drunk who’s just been fired from his job as an aircraft mechanic. His mother, Jackie (Ruth Roman), is fed up to here and has begun trading sideways glances with the neighborhood skirt-chaser, Gareth Lowell (Jack Cassidy). Meantime, Craig (played by a sixteen-year-old Paul Anka) has taken to skulking around at night in a rubber mask, peeking through bedroom windows in hopes of seeing what goes on behind closed doors. It's tawdry stuff but then by the early 1960s, classic noir had long since crossed over to the seamier side of the street.

Look in Any Window forages for its noir-stained drama among Southern California’s burgeoning suburbs and newly-affluent middle-class who lust after the good things in life---flashy cars, color televisions, backyard swimming pools, built-in barbeques, and the ’lifestyle’ to go with. Not that anyone looks to be any the happier. Husbands work late to bring home the bacon (while enjoying a little something on the side) while the wives sit by the pool all day, drinks in hand. As for the kids, they do whatever they want.

Meanwhile, there is the problem of a peeping tom on the prowl. Folks are in a panic and their complaints to the police bring out a couple of plainclothes officers---one of them with profiling experience---who are assigned to a 24-hour lookout. While they watch and wait, the two witness the chronic boozing, the flagrant affairs, and the domestic upheaval. Eventually, Craig will be caught and unmasked. But by that time, the cops have come to their own conclusions about what’s wrong with the picture.

Despite the cheesy taglines, Look in Any Window is a movie with something to say. It also does a good job of saying it, ringing truer than Rebel Without a Cause (1955), a once film célèbre that today looks and feels ridiculously overwrought.

At the heart of Look in Any Window are the neighborhood’s pair of dominant homemakers and pool-party organizers, played by Roman and Carole Mathews, both of whom give compelling performances. Their characters are smart, attractive, and libidinous females in their late ’30s, who married young and now want to move beyond their everyday existences as material girls and handmaidens to louts. Mathews is especially affecting as Betty, who works hard at keeping her family together, if only for her daughter’s sake. At the same time, she’s increasingly drawn to her next-door neighbor, a courtly Italian widower (George Dolenz) who is as appreciative of her curiosity and intelligence as he is of her figure in a one-piece. On the other hand, the philandering husband, Gareth, shows little regard for either her or their teenage daughter, Eileen (Gigi Perreau). Gareth is a jerk, and when Betty tells him she’s going to leave him and that she hopes his money will buy him happiness, he shrugs and says, “With money, who needs happiness”.

Cassidy was an actor with matinee good looks, as suave and self-confident in real life as he was on the screen. Perfect for the part, he evinces the kind of preening arrogance that comes with an ego as unchecked as Gareth’s. Cassidy came to Hollywood from the stage and his acting often tilted toward the theatrical. In Look in Any Window, he backs off the gas a little. It’s one of his more natural screen performances---and one of his best.

As for the hapless Craig, all he needs is a girl with whom he can share his troubles (and probably his virginity); also for his parents to start acting like adults. After his arrest, Craig at least gets a sympathetic ear from the police and, later, the girl next door. Paul Anka (in his first starring role) was not yet the actor he'd become only a couple of years later in The Longest Day (1962). However, his shortcomings as the young and ill-fated doofus in Look in Any Window serve the picture well.

Look in Any Window
was also William Alland's first (and only) outing as a screen director.  Up until then, he had worked primarily as a producer on low-budget westerns and science fiction programmers such as The Creature of the Black Lagoon, a landmark science fiction title of the era. However, Alland’s resume also included time spent in New York as a stage and radio actor with Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater, along with contemporaries Joseph Cotton, Norman Lloyd, and Agnes Moorehead. 

Alland also was a friend of Look in Any Window's screenwriter Lawrence E, Mascott who’d done episodes for the television series, Johnny Staccato starring actor, and later director, John Cassavetes. Of Cassavetes, British writer/ critic David Thompson observed that the filmmaker had always looked for inspiration in “stories of basic, unenlightened, unhappily successful people...a rarity, and rigorously shunned in American films.” This would describe equally the characters in Look in Any Window, an ersatz piece of American Neo-Realism that plays like something which Cassavetes, a native New Yorker might have conjured, had he been born and raised in Long Beach, California.

Look in Any Window conspires to rise above its low-rent origins and does so in unexpected ways,  engaging intimately with its characters and showing respect for their stories.  Well worth a peek.



Monday 15 August 2022



By Gary Deane


Like carpeting in bathrooms, curry and chips, and the sport of cricket, some things British don't travel that well. You could add to the list the numbers of cheaply-made post-war Brit noirs, which would feature Hollywood actors ferried over in hope of adding some box office allure to the UK productions. George Raft, Dane Clark, Dennis O’Keefe, Alex Nichol, Dan Duryea, Arlene Dahl, Ginger Rogers, John Derek, Barbara Payton, Dana Wynter, Jayne Mansfield, and dozens of others would all have their moment on British screens.

However, the American presence did not always make for better pictures. Often, it did more harm than good, as it soon became evident that the imports were there just to be there. It also created a sense of cultural uncertainty around the films themselves. In the end, the foreign involvement underscored the conviction that many of the movies hadn’t been worth the effort to start with.

However, one B-feature notably strengthened by the involvement of an American was Forbidden (1948), a stylish noir thriller starring Douglass Montgomery, an actor born and raised in Los Angeles. Throughout the 1930s, Montgomery had featured opposite A-list actresses such as Joan Crawford and Katherine Hepburn. But after four years overseas during the war in the Canadian forces, he had become yesterday’s news.

Fortunately, things later took a turn for the better for the good-looking and affable Montgomery when he was cast in Forbidden as a once-promising Canadian research chemist, Jim Harding, who's now estranged from his vocation. Though married, he’s living emotionally and sexually apart from his wife and now is peddling patent medicine and hair restorer on a Blackpool promenade. There, he becomes attracted to one of the carny girls, Jeannie Thompson (Hazel Court), who spins candy floss at a nearby stall. Without telling her that he’s married, he begins an affair with Jeannie, something for which he might not be blamed.  

While not entirely a femme fatale, Harding’s wife, Diana (Patricia Burke), is still one of the more venomous females to be found in classic noir. A stage actress who is desperate to revive a failed career, Diana’s taken to sleeping with any punter she thinks might help her get back on the boards. At the same time, she refuses to give Jim a divorce, as he provides her with at least some degree of financial security. As she tells it, “Having a husband in the background at least gives me some choice”.

When a local spiv, Johnny (Kenneth Griffin, who specialized in playing lowlifes and weasels), tells Diana of Jim’s affair, she hunts down Jeannie, confronting and calling her “a fairground slut”, and saying, “Why don’t you stick to your own kind—or don’t they pay enough?”. When Jim hears about the run-in, he decides that is enough. Aware that Diana uses thyroid pills to control her weight, and with his background in chemistry, he calculates that he should be able to increase the dosage just enough to kill her without raising suspicion. Sticking to plan, he later returns home to find her dead, then buries her body under the slate tiles of his lab. That, of course, is just the beginning.  

Harding is not a character we should like. He's complacent, compromised at every turn, and maybe too ready to play the victim. And yet Montgomery persuades us to go along and to sympathize with Harding and his plight. Like Richard Basehart in He Walked by Night (1948), Montgomery takes a character from whom we’d rather keep our distance and manages to render him compelling.

The film’s two female leads, Hazel Court and Patricia Burke, provide a fascinating study in contrasts. Court, an actress with doll-like radiance, is affecting as a decent working-class girl who “knows her place”. As she says, “I tried looking up over the fence once. Now I’m in me own backyard and it suits me fine”. On the other hand, Burke’s hardened and hateful Diana is convinced she’s deserving of much more and that her place is elsewhere. However, she’s plainly just ‘mutton dressed up as lamb’. The only one who doesn’t know it is her.

Forbidden, atmospheric and unsettling, takes place mostly in the vicinity of the funfair, a natural gathering place for fast-buck artists, con men, grifters, and wide-boys like Johnny. Amusement parks are recurrent locations in film noir, arenas frequently portrayed as far more threatening than amusing. As told in flashback, Forbidden is all that. Crisply directed by George King (Crimes at the Dark House, 1940), The Shop at Sly Corner, 1947), with cinematography by Hone Glendinning (The Shop on Sly Corner, 1947, The Noose, 1948, and Shadow of the Past,1950), Forbidden is part of Odeon Entertainment’s ‘The Best of British Collection’.



By Gary Deane Director Henry Levin never met a film genre that he didn’t like or — perhaps more accurately — that didn’t like him. Though ta...