Saturday, October 23, 2010

Two film noirs: Desperate and Ruthless

You just gotta love those titles: Ruthless, Desperate... Film noirs of the fourties and fifties are dark and gloomy and they are not shy about it. There's no love in the world and if there is, it's bound to lose, one way or the other.

Actually that's not the case in Anthony Mann's Desperate, which the Finnish Broadcast Assocation showed last week in its great film noir series. Maybe it's not a noir film after all - I mean, the ending is happy and love wins all obstacles. Then again the film has lots of very nice noir touches, and Mann makes great use of shiftes away from the normal and everyday life to the dark side of the underworld and its sociopathic bullies. The scene darkens, the camera moves suddenly, the phone is ringing in an empty lobby... Raymond Burr is a great menacing figure. I'm sure David Lynch has taken a lot from this film. The biggest flaw in the movie is how there's no real feel of the time passing: the pace is fast and you think it all takes place in just a matter of days, and yet the couple in the lead get pregnant and have a baby!

Is Edgar G. Ulmer's Ruthless noir? It's not a crime film per se, more like a melodrama with some criminous overtones. It's a bit reminiscent of Citizen Kane, yet never achieves the complexity of Welles's film. There's just that I didn't see the beginning of the film and thus didn't really understand all of what was going on, especially this point (taken from the link behind the title of the film): "The girl is Mallory Flagg, Vic’s rather mysterious and elegant fiance, who has an uncanny resemblance to a childhood sweetheart of  both men. It is Mallory’s presence that drives the drama at the reception though she is more a bystander at the finale." You can imagine I was in awe after the last scene: "What the...? Why do they give Diana Lynn two role names in the credits?"

The tone of Ruthless is ruthless, even though there's not much physical violence. Sydney Greenstreet is great as a Southern tycoon who loses it all when Zachary Scott's lead man gets to him. The film is also full of sometimes kinky erotics (Greenstreet yanking his wife's hair and giving her a hard kiss and she enjoying every minute of it) - and lots of beautiful women. The ending truly is noir: everything has been pointing to the great finale. Zachary Scott gets what he's been asking for, even though the last thing he asked for was love. And that's noir.

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