Interesting film noir with a major cast: Henry Fonda, Barabara Bel Geddes, Vincent Price, and Anne Dvorak. Fonda tells the story in flashback. His character, Joe, starts off in a shoot-out with police after apparently killing a magician, Maxmillian (Price). Bell Geddes is Joe’s girlfriend Jo Ann. Charlene (Dvorak) was tied in with Maxmillian, but befriends Joe just as he discovers that Jo Ann is hanging out with Max. A love quadrangle?
Things take a while to gather steam, as Joe first narrates about his background; then Frank (Elisha Cook Jr.) stumbles upon the shooting. There’s a considerably drawn-out stake-out (which we return to a few times, and also atvthe end). So, it’s half an hour before we meet Charlene and Max. By this time Joe has already as much as proposed to Jo Ann, but she goes off to catch Max’s act anyway. I can’t see how she would give two shakes for ‘The Great Maxmillian.’
Charlene is interesting. She cynical, but essentially positive; very capable and very perceptive.”Yeah, I know, the joke’s on me” as she aptly sums herself up. At her place with Joe, Max intrudes, blathering about “tete-a-tetes,” that is, Joe hanging out with both Jo Ann and Charlene. Then Max drops a bomb by telling Joe that Jo Ann is his daughter. If that’s so, why wouldn’t she have told Joe?
Joe could care less about ‘dad.’ He tells Max that he’s going to marry her anyway. She quickly sets Joe straight about Max–they have a history, but he’s no dad. So we get Jo Ann’s flashback within Joe’s flashback. He’s plenty creepy, through and through, a quality that most of Price’s characters manage very well. He tries to take advantage of her, but she fends him off–for a bit.
Then she lets him back into her life. “In a strange way I’m honest, even about my lies” is his revealing comment. Back into Joe’s original flashback, Jo Ann tries to guilt him about Charlene. But Joe reiterates his love for Jo Ann, which she reciprocates–they talk about the future, etc. What could go wrong? Even Charlene takes it in stride “Don’t you cry for me, I’m not buried yet!”
They definitely agree about Max “He ought to be locked up in a wack ward!” But, then they discover that the doodad Jo Ann told Joe was an artifact from Mexico was really a cheap trinket from Max. Out of his flashback, that thingie is shot up along with everything else around the trapped Joe. The cops find Jo Ann to see if they can get her to coax him out. He’s taunting the crowd and the police, as Jo Ann shows up. I just wish he wouldn’t give a speech.
Now, it’s Jo Ann’s turn. Weirdly, the crowd instantly changes its mood from macabre curiosity to support and sympathy. Mini-flashback: back to the crucial Max shooting. “Stop squirming around like a nervous eel!” Joe screams at him. They scuffle. Unsurprisingly, Max has a gun; also unsurprisingly, he makes a game of the situation. In effect, he’s taunting Joe to shoot him. He does.
It’s strange that he doesn’t give up yet, even as Jo Ann manages to sneak her way up to his door. He even shoots at her. Great noir look down the long, dark staircase loaded with cops. Finally he does give up, carrying her down. At the very end, he actually isn’t feeling too bad, getting a light from an onlooker he knows and then going off with the police.
This is very good–but not great. Price is outstanding–Bel Geddes, Dvorak, and Fonda are all quite good too. The dialogue is just right; and not just clever, but tuned in to each of the main characters’ personalities. The minor characters work in well too. As I’ve hinted, the movie’s too long–particularly the standoff, which is essentially a frame story. And, as good as the chatter is, there’s too much; especially Joe’s monologue to the crowd.
I could see Dvorak’s character getting mixed up with Price, but not Bel Geddes’. She’s young enough to pass for his daughter. As far as his allure, Joe nails it when he says that Max’s type can always be found at “creep joints.” There’s nothing even half-decent about him. To make her choice more plausible, either Max has to be less of a cynical opportunist, or Joe should be more ambiguous. In fact, like other Fonda protagonists, Joe is too passive to be all that interesting.
Farmermouse thought everything was fairly gross here, except for the teddy bear. So, he gives this eight missing ears. 8/10.