Thursday, 30 October 2014

FOR YOU I DIE (1947)

Georgia (admiringly): ‘Maybe you’ve got something. (He’s) almost like having a wild animal for a pet’.

Hope: (disgustedly) ‘You make me sick’.

Convict Johnny Coulter (Paul Langton), nearing the end of a prison sentence, is forced to take part in a prison break organized by gangster and thug Matt Gruber (Don Harvey). Coulter is told to hide out in a backwoods holiday camp. There he’s to make contact with Gruber’s woman, an ex-chorus girl Hope Novak (Cathy Downs) and let her know that Gruber will be along to fetch her as soon as things cool down. 

Coulter locates the camp, makes the meet, and keeps his head down. However Novak is not at all the hard-bitten hoofer that he’d been expecting. And it turns out she no longer wants anything to do with Gruber. Hope also believes she sees some good in Coulter, a guy who’s taken every kind of beating and is on the ropes. He sees her as someone he might trust. Maybe there's some Hope for Coulter. Meantime Gruber is out there and nothing‘s changed for him – which presents a serious problem for everyone.

'For You I Die' seems to be a film noir with good bones. However the black magic soon gives way to lame conjuring remindful of the foolishness of 'His Kind of Woman'. The movie gets handed off to a group of theatrical inanities who hang around the motor camp’s café in some unexplainable effort at 'comic relief'. Among the misfits: Alex Shaw (Misha Auer), a manic Russian artist and spiritualist; Smitty, an alcoholic hash-slinger who’s sweet on Hope; Mac and Jerry, cartoon cops who live at the lunch counter and repeatedly challenge Coulter with, ‘You know, you sure do look familiar’ or ‘Don’t I know you from somewhere’ (the 'joke' being that Coulter’s wanted poster is sitting large in their black-and-white). 

Thankfully after a time 'For You I Die’s better instincts show themselves and the film again begins to threaten. Johnny Coulter is straight out of the film noir workbook. Paul Langton a journeyman character player doesn’t take at first as featured lead but eventually comes into focus bringing together something of the unaffected brashness of Dennis O’Keefe and Richard Basehart’s sinister calculation. 

Maggie Dillion (Marian Kerby), the resort owner, is a toughened Ma Joad with a bible in one hand and deep-fryer in the other. She’s a sentimental character but she’s okay, our Maggie. 

Georgia (Jane Weeks) is a blonde tramp in the tradition of all great blonde film noir tramps. She slinks around the cafe and comes on to every guy who walks in the door including Coulter. It'd be a good bet she's listed on the menu as ‘Apple Strumpet’. But Georgia’s no fool and proves to be more dangerous than Coulter suspects. 

However it’s Hope Novak, Gruber’s once-girlfriend who takes charge of the movie. Novak is a girl who’s had a life but wants another. She has no illusions about where she’s been and is resolute about never going back. Intially Hope seems a bit too much of a goody two-shoes for someone who’s had such a hard start. It’s also a stretch to think that she’d hook up with another felon. But the under-rated Downs is able to convince us that Hope knows what she’s about and what she’s doing. 

Director John Reinhardt (The Guilty, Open Secret, Chicago Calling) and Cinematography William Clothier (Confidence Girl, Track of the Cat, Gangbusters) do a reasonable job of things given the fractured script. The film, a poverty row cheapie, has a contained and theatrical construction but framing and lighting of the stage-like sets frequently is evocative and haunting. 

But as much as one wants to root for 'For You I Die', it's a disappointment. It’s obvious where and how the movie could have been made better but all that and ten cents will only get you a 'Camp Cafe' cuppa joe and a big plate of regret. 

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