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December 13, 2021

Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema V

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Because of You
Joseph Pevney - 1952

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Outside the Law
Jack Arnold - 1956

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The Midnight Story
Joseph Pevney - 1957
KL Studio Classics BD Region A Three-disc set

Arguably, to call any of these films classics might be pushing things a bit. Describing them as film noir may also be up for debate among genre purists. These are the kind of films that would show up on late night broadcast television fifty years ago. At the time they were made, they were the bread and butter of Universal-International, modestly budgeted films made by in-house filmmakers and actors. Whatever one might think of the artistry, the professionalism of all involved can not be disputed.

Because of You begins with the camera focused on a pair of women's feet, following up on the seams of her stockings, the shot continuing until to settles on back of the very blonde women. It turns out to be Loretta Young in the clutches of Alex Nicol. In that opening scene, Young is a peroxide blonde, speaking in the kind of breathy voice one might associate with Marilyn Monroe. That scene also takes place in 1942, with Nicol and Young about to get married when the cops show up. It turns out that Nicol is a crook and Young is caught holding the proverbial bag.

That opening scene is really about a noir as things get in this film. Young gets rehabilitated in the poky, eventually working as a nurse in a military hospital, peroxide hair and flashy clothing gone Jeff Chandler is one of the patients there, suffering from what is described as melancholy, or what is currently referred to as Post-traumatic stress disorder. Young avoids revealing her criminal past in order to not trigger Chandler, but even after the two get married discovers that she can not entirely escape her past. The two have a daughter who also goes through trauma although it is not named as such. Because of You was Loretta Young's penultimate theatrical film. Based on that first scene, I wish she had taken more blonde "bad girl" roles.

Samm Deighan makes the unexpected connection between the romantic comedies with married couples having contentious divorces followed by realizing they can not live without each other in the last reel. Loretta Young's own life and tensions between her public image and troubled private life are posed against her character in Because of You.

Universal-International seems to have been the home for cinematic ex-cons to expiate their criminal pasts. Taking place in 1946, soldier and parolee Ray Danton is assigned to help solve the connection between the death of fellow a fellow ex-con and a counterfeiting ring. Danton is under the supervision of his estranged father, a federal agent. Danton falls for young widow Leigh Snowden, and crosses bad guy Grant Williams. Jack Arnold keeps everything to a brisk 81 minutes in an assignment that fells between the more memorable Tarantula and The Incredible Shrinking Man.

Danny Arnold (no relation to Jack) wrote a screenplay where two big clues are presented early on. Danton's character proves a little slow in figuring out what is virtually telegraphed to the viewers. For myself, the fun is seeing the aforementioned stars in their few lead roles as well as a supporting cast that includes familiar faces like Raymond Bailey, Mel Welles, and Jack Kruschen as agent "Phil Schwartz".

And it is the cast the delights Richard Harland Smith in his commentary track. Smith identifies the actor playing the janitor among the players who may just have seconds of screen time. More attention is given to the once promising career of Grant Williams. I share Smith's enthusiasm for Danton's most famous role, as Roaring Twenties gangster "Legs" Diamond. Additionally noted are the double features that packaged Outside the Law, as well as its critical reception at the time of release.

Just as in Because of You, The Midnight Story begins with promise before director Joseph Pevney drops the ball. A priest is walking alone in a studio set identified as the North Beach section of San Francisco. His murder is depicted with an extreme close-up of the priest's eyes, followed by the murder seen as a shadow against the side of a building. Following the opening credits, the camera moves from a full shot to a close-up of the priest's hand clutching his rosary. Tony Curtis is a traffic cop who quits the force to go undercover to discover who murdered the beloved priest. At the funeral, Curtis eyes a very anguished Gilbert Roland as the possible perp. A close-up of Roland's hand gripping a very similar rosary is an echo of the similar shot of the priest's hand.

There is some location shooting in San Francisco, but the effect is jarring when paired with studio sets used for several street scenes. The casting is questionable when 51 year old Gilbert Roland's mother is played by 49 year old Italian actress Argentina Brunetti. Roland also has a teenage brother in the film. Another Italian actress, Marisa Pavan, plays Roland's Italian cousins. The Midnight Story also marked the last time Tony Curtis appeared as a Universal contract player with Sweet Smell of Success released just a month later.

The high point of Professor Jason Ney's commentary track is providing information on the various locations in San Francisco where The Midnight Story was filmed. Also, lots of information on the life and career of Marisa Pavan. The overly familiar Tony Curtis and Gilbert Roland are discussed more fleetingly. Based on the half dozen films seen, I do not share Ney's enthusiasm for director Joseph Pevney. Ney does acknowledge that Pevney gave the studio suits what they wanted with little argument in his position as an in-house director. As a teacher at Colorado Christian University, Professor Ney also provides additional insights into the theological concerns of The Midnight Story.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at December 13, 2021 07:39 AM