Some Underrated Noirs


The Wagstaff DVR remains an ongoing treadmill of sorts, of films I record at odd hours and plow through whenever I get the chance… never empty, never full, merely a constant stream of stuff to review in various ways. I’ve been making an extra effort to whittle it down, however, since I won’t be able to take it with me when I move and switch TV providers.

I guess the ultimate pan is never to mention the stuff I give up on after a reel’s worth or so… and the ultimate positve review is to put together a blog post. So, a few weeks worth of material boils down to a bunch of fairy solid crime/noir efforts from yesteryear that I can pass along for those of you with creative Netflix queues.

I watched a pair of Phil Karlson/John Payne efforts from the early ’50s, Kansas City Confidential & 99 River Street, and both are well worthwhile B movie fun. In both, Payne (who started his career in musicals before moving on to hard boiled drama, much like Dick Powell) plays a guy needing to prove his innocence by tracking down the actual gangsters or psycho killers,and in both cases, he’s given some great cracklin’ tough guy dialogue and the plots have enough twists & turns to keep things moving along. Both films have bad guys who are fun since they’re actors in early roles (Preston Foster, Lee Van Cleef, Brad Dexter), femme fatales/good-bad girls like Coleen Gray or Evelyn Keyes, and the postwar fatalism we’ve come to love.

Speaking of Powell, I also watched Cry Danger, where he plays an ex-con out to find the guys who framed him, all photographed in beautiful downtown Los Angelels circa 1951. And it has William Conrad as the bad guy. I always like Powell as wise-cracking tough guy. His version of Marlowe from Murder, My Sweet I think comes closest to the character as written. In hid segment of one of my all time favorite films, The Bad & The Beautiful, he plays the sardonic college prof turned cynical screenwriter (a role after my own heart) beautifully. He’s fun in those ’30s musicals, but he’s really at home  as the put upon tough guy in the noirs.

Finally, I caught the original version of a movie remade fairly well some years back, The Narrow Margin, where Charles McGraw’s tough cop has to escort the mob widow via train to testify while eluding her assassins. Pretty much the entire thing takes place within the confines of the train, where director Richard Fleisher in an early career effort shows off his resumé by zipping the camera up and down narrow corridors and keeping the tension super tight. The whole film is supertight at a mere 71 minutes – well acted, intricately staged, beautifully paced, and easily manages to overcome some of its hoker 1950s formula elements involving the damn kid. McGraw carries this picture throughout and made me wonder why he never became a bigger star – he’s flat out great in this.

So there you have it – 4 movies worth seeing, 5 maybe. I’ll save the comedies for another post.

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