CRIME AND THE CITY SOLUTION, part II
Friday night's screening was Gunman in the Streets (1950), a joint production between French and American studios. Dane Clark plays Eddy Roback, an AWOL American soldier who has gotten caught up in some dirty business. The film opens with a violent shootout in which Eddy's pals free him from the prison transport. On the run, Eddy reconnects with his former girlfriend, Denise, played by legendary French actress Simone Signoret (perhaps best known in America for Diabolique). Getting out of town isn't going to be easy, and the couple will soon be tangled up with a persistent police detective, an American reporter with a thing for Denise, and a weasely pervert with a thing for cats.
Gunman In The Streets is a strange hybrid. It has the austerity of French crime pictures, rather than the terse verve of American film noir. Yet, the character of Eddy is entirely American, lacking any of the world-weary ennui of someone like Jean Gabin. In fact, Eddy lacks any kind of redeemable qualities. He's simply hard. Hard and mean. The way he devises to kill the pervert is particularly gruesome, and it's hard to see why Denise stays with him. The tug-of-war for her heart between Eddy and the reporter ends up being the crux of the film, a rarity for the film noir genre: the woman is the real main character. Just like any man in a noir world, though, it doesn't matter what she chooses, since it's just like Eddy tells her, the stars had her fate planned before she was even born.
The second film is 1942's This Gun For Hire. I won't be attending any of the screenings, however, because I own it on DVD, and so there is no need. I do recommend you give it a shot, though, because it's a fun, if flawed, movie. The main draws are the stars. Veronica Lake is pouty and sexy, and she subverts the femme fatale idea by being a fair-haired mother to Alan Ladd's gangster with a case of arrested development. Ladd plays the film noir tough guy as a kid who never grew up. He started playing with guns and never stopped. He also never learned how to deal with emotions, so while he may be good at his job, he's not really equipped for the real world. Thus, the guy who never goes down under a punch melts with the first kiss of kindness. Sometimes the mix in This Gun For Hire is a little off, and so some scenes skew slightly humorous. To my eye, the uneven tone seems to be mainly a result of a push to give the hard-boiled story (based on a Graham Greene novel) a commercial edge. As noted in my Valentine's post, Lake is a night club performer in the film, and so a couple of songs are shoehorned in. There are plot motivations for her job, but the overall feel of the performances themselves is too nice, and doesn't fit the sexy or dangerous surroundings of the rest of the story.
I have to say, the crowd was on much better behavior this time around, though it could be simply because the Parisian air of Gunman in the Streets is much more arch. It has the whiff of an art film. Something tells me that the uneven tone of This Gun For Hire will inspire a much more (or less?) affected response. Or maybe they read my blog and I gave them the fear.
Current Sountrack: The Killers b-sides & remixes; Law & Order: Trial By Jury
[to leave comments, click on the time-stamp below, then scroll down on the new page] – All text (c) 2004 Jamie S. Rich