To some Film Noir is a genre not unlike Westerns and Gangster movies. They all seem to fit into a certain mold. Unlike the two genres mentioned, Film Noir is a little different. It doesn’t fit into a well defined mold. Yes, the majority of Film Noir’s have a detective. Sometimes that detective is the star and sometimes he is after the main male and female characters. Sometimes he is also the bad guy. While Film Noir has a specific set of rules those rules are meant to be broken and it has a style of film making that goes beyond the restraints of a genre.
Film Noir, meaning Black Film in French, is a very American style of film making that many directors of the forties into the fifties have tried. Some live in the genre while some have tried and moved into a different style. Hitchcock tried the genre more than once but Shadow of a Doubt was easily his most successful foray.
Starring Joseph Cotten as Uncle Charlie and Terese Wright as his niece Charlie, Shadow of a Doubt is Hitchcock’s favorite of all the films he made. It is also my own personal favorite Hitchcock film. Uncle Charlie is a black widower who murdered several older women. Adored by his namesake niece and his older sister, Uncle Charlie comes to his family’s home in Northern California after the cops begin to hone in on him.
Joseph Cotton’s performance as Uncle Charlie is among one of my favorite performances of all time. One reason being the incredible dinner scene. Without giving to much away, young Charlie is beginning to have her doubts about her beloved Uncle after she meets one of the detectives on his trail. Uncle Charlie is beginning to lose his grip as he lets his family get a little too close to the personality behind the facade.
Note: Hume Cronyn’s film debut playing older than his years. Joseph Cotton delivers a performance unlike any performance he gave before. Most well known as the good guy to Orson Welles less likable characters, Cotton went against type in the gamble of his career.
Too Late for Tears was originally released in 1949 starring Lizabeth Scott, Don DeFore, Dan Duryea, Arthur Kennedy and Kristine Miller. The film was Directed by Byron Haskin, written by Roy Huggins and adapted from a serial by Roy Huggins. In the public domain, Too Late for Tears is available to watch on YouTube in pristine condition. An original print was found in France and restored at UCLA. This edition premiered on TCM on July 17, 2015.
After a bag of cash is thrown into their backseat by mistake a husband and wife disagree on what to do with it. Alan Palmer, played by Arthur Kennedy wants to turn it in. His wife Jane, played by Lizabeth Scott, wants to keep the money. Things soon go south for her when she meets Danny Fuller (Dan Duryea) who claims the money is his. Jane tries desperately to keep the money, going so far as to kill her own husband and bring Fuller into it. As she grows more ruthless, Jane’s sister in law Kathy (Kristine Miller) becomes suspicious of her so she calls in a man from his past.
Too Late for Tears showcases the perfect example of a Femme Fatale. A beautiful women who pulls the strings even as the anti-hero attempts to gain control. Much like the better known Femme Fatale’s like Barbara Stanwyck’s turn as Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity, Jane Palmer seduces a man into helping her get away with the murder of her husband. While Stanwyck’s role as Phyllis was straight up seduction, things for Jane are a little different. There was no original plan for her to do this but she was sick of the mundane life she was leading. Being a house wife was not for her so when given the opportunity to change her life she went for it. She was willing to risk her life and things resulted in murder just so she could hold onto it. Beneath the wide eyed innocence that she seems to pull off so perfectly is a killer who’s main goal is to grab a huge chunk out of life damn the consequences.
When a film is found or restored I will always recommend it. Especially if that film is good or at least interesting. Too Late for Tears is one of my new favorite films of the genre. The main focus is on the female protagonist and while there are big male roles in the film it is the woman that does most of the dirty work. Film Noir has always been one of my favorites due to the complexity of the female characters and this film is no exception. It gives us a character that appears innocent and thirsty for adventure on the surface but beneath it all she is thirsty for a lot more. She shows weakness, strength and a vigorous need to fight back. That vigor however will be her end.
Let’s go back to the early days of Hitchcock. In 1930 Alfred Hitchcock was still a budding director; co-written by Hitchcock, his wife Alma Reville and Walter C. Mycroft it is based on a book and play Enter Sir John by Clemence Dane and Helen Simpson. The third talkie film directed by the future master of suspense Murder! may not be one of his most popular films but when you watch it you will see the directors signature from the beginning.
Actress Diana Baring, played by Norah Baring, is accused of murdering fellow actress Edna Druce when she is found in a daze with blood on her clothes and the weapon at her feet. She has no recollection of the events and the police arrest her due to the damning evidence. The two young actresses are thought to be rivals and she withholds information that could help the police. After she is found guilty, juror and actor-manager Sir John Menier played by Herbert Marchass, feels responsible so he begins investigating the crime to prove her innocence.
His investigation leads him to another actor in the troupe. Menier fakes an audition, calling in actor Handell Fane, who often plays cross-dressing roles. When Fane realizes that he is accusing him of the crime he leaves and goes to his job in the circus. When he realizes that he is caught, Fane hangs himself while performing his trapeze act. If it wasn’t for the work of Menier, Diana would have suffered that same fate in prison.
Murder! has me feeling more sympathy towards the actual perpetrator of the crime than I do for the women falsely accused. Considering the time of this film I highly doubt that was the intention but also, knowing Hitchcock, he probably wanted us to feel things far beyond our own comfort zones. Was that intentional?I don’t know, but like in all art, it is entirely up to our own interpretation.
Murder! is available to watch on Amazon Prime as well as on various free streaming sites.
Fourteen Hours, is a lesser known Film Noir from 1951, directed by Henry Hathaway and Written by John Paxton. Based on an article by Joel Sayre in The New Yorker describing the 1938 suicide of John William Warden. The film was shot in New York and is the film debut of Grace Kelly in a small role.
The film follows a cop as he attempts to coerce a suicidal man off the ledge of a building. Onlookers and family discord make the situation worse as the Officer attempts to gain the unstable man’s trust. Over the course of fourteen hours he succeeds in winning him over only to have his efforts continually messed up due to those around him.
My happiest surprise while watching this film was the treatment of mental illness and the reality the stigma towards it. People on the streets are seen as being both sympathetic and horrible towards the situation. Below the man on the ledge, taxi drivers are placing bets and kids are mocking him. While this is a harsh view it is a true one and a view we still live with today. Far too often people forget that those suffering from a mental illness and those on the brink of suicide are ill and they need help. However we don’t view it in the same vein as physical illnesses like cancer so we have a distorted view of the harsh reality.
On the streets and in the buildings of New York, life continued. People went to work, found their ways back to each other and managed to find love. It is a Hollywood movie after all. You could’t expect them to make a movie with at least a little romance did you? Fourteen Hours breaks up the drama that exist on the ledge by showing us his affect on those below him and how they react to the situation. While this film may not be as well known as Noir classics Laura and Double Indemnity, it still works with a great script and superb acting by the films star, Robert Cosick.
Two endings to the film exist. The original and preferred ending by the Director has Robert falling to his death but due to the suicide of Fox President, Spyros Skourasdaughter on the day of the films preview the ending was changed to have Robert survive.
"Is the cinema more important than life?" Francois Truffaut