Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Private Hell 36

Don Siegel was once one of the Hollywood's best paid directors, but his star seems to be fading. Does anyone anymore remember any other film by him than Dirty Harry? Yet he directed some thirty films, some very good (Charley Varrick, Hell Is for Heroes, The Killers, Flaming Star, The Beguiled, The Shootist and others), some quite good, all quite capable. 

Private Hell 36 (1954) is one of his lesser-known films, yet it's a very capable, at times a very good film noir with cynical characters and a downbeat ending. It was produced by Ida Lupino's and Collier Young's indie outfit called Filmakers (no Filmmakers!) and Siegel was brought in at a late date. Collier Young scripted the film originally for his wife, Lupino, but Lupino had already divorced Young and married Howard Duff, who plays the other lead in the film. The other lead is Steve Cochran, who's very good at playing a sleazy cop who wants to get some extra money and start all over with Lupino with whom he's fallen in love. 

Some of the scenes last too long (something that mars also Siegel's The Killers), but all in all this is a pretty effective low-key drama. I'd hope there was more action, as Siegel really knows how to edit fight and chase scenes. I'm not complaining, though. There's also some naivety in the outcome, especially Howard Duff gets out a bit too nicely. 

Comes highly recommended by me, even though this is no means perfect. 

I saw the film at the Finnish Film Archive's screening. Before the film, the film critic Tapani Maskula offered a half-hour lecture on how he met Siegel in Finland in the late seventies (you know, Telefon was filmed partly in Finland) and discussed Siegel's fifties' films. Siegel told for example that while filming Private Hell 36 the lead actors were often suffering from hangover. There's a scene with Ida Lupino in which she's sitting on a bumper of a truck. Lupino had said to Siegel that he'd better shoot the scene quick, since she's about to throw up. And you can see it in the scene. It works miracles. Lupino has never looked so vulnerable, tired, bored and broken. 

More Overlooked Films here.

1 comment:

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