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September 20, 2022

The Turning Point

William Holden and Eugene White on location in Los Angeles.

William Dieterle - 1952
KL Studio Classics BD Region A

The Turning Point is an example of how a director can take otherwise routine material and distinguish it by some artistic choices. Inspired by the televised U.S. Senate inquiries into organized crime, Dieterle's film presents a university law professor assigned to bust crime in an unidentified Midwestern city. The professor, John Conway is assisted by society dame and girlfriend, Amanda Waycross, and by his cynical journalist friend, Jerry McKibbon. The story was by Horace McCoy, famed for writing The Shoot Horses, Don't They?, so there is some fatalism at work here.

Visually, there are two major influences at work. The first I would attribute to Orson Welles. Much of the film is made up of conversations filmed at two-shots, often with the characters moving and the camera moving with them. There are a few long traveling shots, moving down corridors or between rooms. In one shot near the end, Edmond O'Brien as John leaves Alexis Smith (Amanda) to check on William Holden (Jerry), whose body is in another room. The camera follows O'Brien as he walks to the medical room in the basement of an arena, meeting Smith as she exits the room. The camera stops outside the door with O'Brien seen in shadow through the opaque glass of the medical room, camera moving again following O'Brien as he rejoins Smith with the two walking away from the camera down a hallway. There are also a large number of depth of field shots keeping two characters within the frame. The second visual influence would be neorealism which was incorporated more frequently in crime movies. Although O'Brien mentions that that he is fighting crime in a Midwestern city, several scenes were shot in what is recognizably Los Angeles. The biggest giveaway is one scene with Holden and Smith on the Bunker Hill Angel's Flight railway. Aside from filming on the streets of Los Angeles, the film is given the appearance of a documentary with the lack of a music soundtrack. Aside from music accompanying the opening and closing credits, the only other music, briefly used, is diegetic.

More interesting than the topline stars are the various peripheral characters including Jerry's streetwise snitch (Eugene Smith), also the smalltime hood who finds himself over his head (Anthony Barr, resembling a nervous weasel), a Detroit hitman played by Neville Brand, and Carolyn Jones in her film debut as the flashy ex-girlfriend of a gangster. Ed Begley plays the town's crime boss, confident of his ability to cover up his illegal activities until O'Brien gets too close. Most of these actors are uncredited, but they bring dashes of color against the blandness of the roles handed to the stars. Holden and O'Brien have been known for distinguished work in other films, notably reuniting in The Wild Bunch, but their characters here are only of interest as working on behalf of the narrative.

Film noir historian Alan K. Rode provides a deep dive into the production of The Turning Point beginning with the history of a screenplay that went through several hands. While the location shooting of Angel's Flight is recognizable for many viewers, Rode is able to point out the Los Angeles locations, including scenes filmed in Paramount's offices. That there were some cost-cutting measures, I am reminded of Frank Capra's time at Paramount in his autobiography where there was reportedly an edict limiting budgets to a two million dollar ceiling. Rode is also helpful in naming several of the uncredited supporting players. In all, this is a commentary track that goes well beyond repeating information that can be found in Wikipedia. The blu-ray is sourced from a 4K restoration. The status of The Turning Point as a film noir classic may be subject to debate, but there is no debating Rode's well prepared and thoughtful commentary.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at September 20, 2022 07:03 AM