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Terry Teachout and I discussed L.A. Confidential, the last famous neo-noir, and yet another story about the origins of Los Angeles and the modern America defined by glamour. We have a reversal of the noir here–the femme fatale helps redeem rather than damn protagonists who were corrupt before they came to make a serious moral decision. Curtis Hanson’s movie makes for a revision of heroism away from noir’s tragic destiny toward American drama, where happy ends are possible, in limited ways, for some of the people who deserve them. It’s in that sense even better than the rather gloomier James Ellroy novel it’s based on!
After Chinatown, we turn to another wonderful neo-noir vision of the foundation of Los Angeles, or rather its turning into Hollywood, the dream factory: Brian De Palma’s parting shot to Hollywood, The Black Dahlia. The movie came out in 2006, had a great cast: Josh Hartnett, Aaron Eckhart, and Scarlett Johansson, was based on a James Ellroy novel, whose L.A. Confidential had wowed audiences and critics in 1997, and was filmed beautifully by Vilmos Zsigmond, who was nominated for the Oscar for his work. Nevertheless, the audience didn’t really love it and the critics even less–it’s a more tragic story about Americans chasing after beautiful dreams and finding a horrible cruelty hiding behind splendor. But it’s precisely this tragic character that makes the film so impressive.
The noir series is back: Terry Teachout and I talk Pitfall, the 1948 thriller starring Dick Powell (by then turned to tough guy roles in dark drams) and Raymond Burr (before he turned into the affable champion of justice, Perry Mason). Lizabeth Scott is the femme fatale, but in a very interesting variation, and Jane Wyatt, before she became the adorable wife on Father Knows Best, is a tougher middle-class suburban housewife whose life is endangered by her husband’s restlessness. This is a movie about risk and insurance, about our desire for safety and the temptations of a manlier life when these problems first became apparent in post-war America. It’s as pleasing as interesting now–a remarkable bit of movie-making, done outside the studios, without a great budget, but with a remarkable insistence on getting the story right. This is what middlebrow was when it was taken for granted–serious storytelling about serious moral problems, with very good acting and no nonsense.
Second podcast this week–we’re coming up to my birthday, so for a couple of weeks, we’re doing the part of generosity here at the ACF! Today, Terry Teachout and I turn to noir: Out of the Past. Robert Mitchum, Kirk Douglas, and Jane Greer starring in Jacques Tourneur’s directing of the Daniel Mainwaring script. Roy Webb scoring, Nicholas Musuraca shooting. This is one of the peak achievements of noir and we had such fun talking about it. It is beautiful and tragic. It shows small-town life vs. the big city; America vs. south of the border; and the corruption of glamour that makes a chump of a noble man.
Back to noir: Terry Teachout and I talk about In A Lonely Place, Bogart’s most amazing performance, Nicholas Ray’s most elegant film, and a rare romance between adults who know their minds and speak them–the lovely Gloria Grahame is at her best playing opposite Bogie. The film feels as modern as it gets because of that, but also because it’s tragic–it suggests your choices aren’t the most important things in your life and, if the movie grabs you, it’s because you know that to be partly true.
Terry Teachout and I continued our series on noir movies and also meet each other in the flesh for the first time. Listen and share, friends–we talk about Nicholas Ray’s On Dangerous Ground, about the touch of greatness in Robert Ryan’s portrayal of justice turning to loneliness and, eventually, cruelty–about Ida Lupino’s remarkable portrayal of realism and innocence mixed together–Ward Bond’s equally compelling turn as a father mad for revenge, driven to the limits of humanity–and, of course, Bernard Hermann’s impressively Romantic score, which adds a solid depth to characterization, enough to give an American story the tragic depth it needs. We also talk about the loss of innocence of WWII and how American movies took a turn for the tragic, becoming less lovely, but more beautiful, in the process.