Monday, August 23, 2010

Monday's Forgotten Film: The Big Town

Neo-noir isn't a genre only for the 2000's. They made neo-noir films already back in the 1980's, films that were knowingly full of neon lights, femme fatales, crooks with guns, heroes with raincoats, set in the fifties or the sixties, with the soundtrack blasting jazz or old rock'n'roll. Heck, someone might say that Chinatown and Dick Richards's Chandler film Farewell My Lovely with Mitchum as Philip Marlowe were neo-noir films.

One of the neo-noir films from the late eighties is now pretty forgotten The Big Town (1987). It seems forgotten even though it boasts a stellar line-up of actors: Matt Dillon, Diane Lane, Tommy Lee Jones, Tom Skerritt, Bruce Dern... I watched this just now, since I bought it very cheap on VHS. I'd seen the film when it was new, and I'm pretty sure I wrote a review of it for a local newspaper (I was 15 at the time, so the review might not have been very good). I remember thinking that it was a mediocre film even at the time, but for some reason it has stuck with me. I liked going back to it, even though I think the film is still mediocre. Matt Dillon and Diane Lane are very attractive and the theme of a young rookie invading the dice scene of a big town - here Chicago - is always alluring. But some of the motives behind the people's actions in the film remain unclear and the film drags in the middle. TV director Ben Bolt doesn't get everything out of the events and the scenes just keep on following each other. He also doesn't get the best out of the actors and lets some rule the scene, especially Bruce Dern, who just shouts and yells. (Incidentally, I also saw Silent Running with Dern and the same thing there, too. He almost ruined the whole film.)

The Big Town is based on a novel by Clark Howard, called The Arm from 1967. I haven't read the novel, but I'm sure his style and voice bring more depth to the story that otherwise remains pretty bland, as his short stories are very, very good. I wish someone who's read the book would comment on how it differs from the film.


mybillcrider said...

Mediocre film, maybe, but the soundtrack is great.

Juri said...

Yeah, I forgotten to note about that. It's interesting that they make actually quite a decent use of the music: Matt Dillon is tough, so he listens to Bo Diddley throughout the film, while many others listen to softer stuff.

Paul D Brazill said...

I thought it was pretty good at the time. Top tunes, yes.

Todd Mason said...

SILENT RUNNING being an aggressively stupid film, Dern couldn't ruin nor even really save it, no matter what he did. But his loud bitterness seems appropriate here to me.