Crime Of Passion, 1956. 7/10

Stirling Hayden, Barbara Stanwyck, and Raymond Burr star in this noirish drama of a love triangle. Bill (Hayden) and Kathy (Stanwyck) are married, but she gets bored with her apparently contented husband, and has a one-night thing with his boss, Tony (Burr). Which means trouble.

We see that Kathy is that bane of the ’50s woman mindset–she’s independent and ambitious. Nonetheless, this newspaper woman falls in love with the detective (Bill) who solves a big murder case. But hanging out with the other cops’ wives is literally no picnic for Kathy; when’s Bill getting that promotion, anyway? Who does she have to sleep with to make it happen?

With Fay Wray as Burr’s wife, Alice; Virginia Grey and Royal Dano as the Alidos, Sara and Charlie; and Robert Griffen and Dennis Cross as a couple of detectives, James and Jules.

Were in San Francisco, passing newspaper billboards featuring Kathy’s image, obviously to boost readership. Then, into her paper’s office. Her boss wants her to check on an L.A. homicide–it’s concerning a wife (Mary Dana) who killed her husband. Next thing, were in the press room at police H.Q. The L.A. cops, Alidos and Doyle, have the case that’s the hot topic.

Captain Alidos comes in with Bill; they’re so-tight lipped that Alidos’s biggest comment is that Kathy should bag it and keep house. Anyway, thanks to Kathy’s advice column, the elusive Mary surfaces; warranting another, slightly more cordial visit from Alidos and Doyle. She gives the Captain the address she has for the suspect.

But, she sends Alidos on a wild goose chase; she wants Bill to get credit himself, so she saves the straight dope for him. They’re instantly attracted to each other, so after the Dana business is wrapped up, Bill and Kathy go out to dinner. He’s got to catch his plane “I’m glad I met you. I like you.” An airport barroom kiss.

What’s this? She’s taking a new job in New York. Hey, Bill calls…can she stop over in L.A.? He fixes it so she can. He basically sweeps her off the runway, and into city hall for a marriage ceremony. Somewhat incongruously, the Captain and his wife are the best man and maid of honor (or just witnesses). Right away things are a tad underwhelming, as Kathy doesn’t seem very excited with their new place together.

Obviusly, she’s ditched her career for him. Anyway, the cops’ wives are soon hanging out with Kathy; she’s hardly even faking being interested. She doesn’t fit in with them, and can’t cross over to where ‘the guys’ are busy playing cards. Plus, Bill can’t even have lunch with his wife without being pestered by work. The next dinner party, Tony’s name comes up; meanwhile, Kathy melts down from the banality.

That night, she stays up pondering things. “Don’t call me ‘angel’! I loathe it!” She tells Bill, who looks in. “Is this what you have to look forward to? This mediocrity?!” He just want to make her happy. “I just want you to BE somebody.” Isn’t he, though?

Although the limited role for women in this era is certainly a major theme, Kathy’s out-and-out greed is something quite different. That’s not feminism, but insatiability. And, materialism isn’t the bad guy here, it’s the paltry amount of it. The well-constructed and convincing independent woman theme is more or less in the dust bin.

Anyway, she’s up to something, staging an accident. She almost hits Alice Pope, the object being to meet her, as an entre to meeting her husband, the Inspector. Soon she’s getting her nails done with Alice, and hatches a scheme (a party) to schmooze Tony. Ironically, just the sort of gab-fest that she usually can’t stand.

The party comes off; Bill even has the chance to talk up the Commissioner. Tony chats up Kathy. He basically stirs the pot by hinting that her ambition isn’t sufficiently satisfied. Rather oddly, he invites her to his office. They seem to be sizing each other up. She does admit that she’s at loose ends. She takes the big step of letting him know that she’s more or less available to discuss intriguing cases (!).

That night she tells Bill that she wants him to quit; and segue to the less-demanding Beverly Hills police. It doesn’t make sense, as he’d have to start all over again. He agrees, because “The only way to make me unhappy is to stop loving me.” All of a sudden, Tony has taken an interest in his career; so Bill won’t resign, but we know something Bill doesn’t.

Uh, oh, there’s a note questioning her commitment to Bill. She has to explain that it’s probably Sara’s doing, and fingering Tony. Well, Bill’s not a happy camper. At HQ, Charlie gets punched by Bill. Great, now Bill’s in the hot seat, with Pope presiding. Actually, Jules and James more or less cover for Doyle. In this inquiry, Pope sounds very much like Burr’s later incarnation as Perry Mason.

The upshot of all this is Alicia’s is transferred, and Bill’s temporarily promoted. Next bit is someone calling on Kathy at night–of course it’s Tony. Now it’s his turn to gripe, about Alice. Same story as with Bill and Kathy; Alice is going nuts dealing with being a cop’s wife. “All those [good] years, where did they go?” he laments. Hey here’s an idea: Tony retires, Bill takes his place. A win-win?

They make out. Instead of that sealing the deal, however, Tony and Alice are suddenly reconciled. Kathy can’t have that; she and Tony arrange to meet up. He shows at the restaurant; he feels bad about their recent encounter, and out of loyalty for Bill, not to mention professionalism, the “pillow talk” deal is off. In fact, in a complete reversal, he’s putting Charlie up for the promotion.

She nearly faints in the restaurant. Next morning, she’s a complete jerk with Bill. Later, at the fights, they have to leave; same old ‘duty calls’ thing. A pretty gross shoot-out is recounted at the station. The desk sergeant mumbles about crime and murder. She leaves, but stakes out Tony’s home. “I’ve got to talk to you! It’s important!” She yells at him. Kind of carelessly, he lets her in.

She goes on and on, “I beg of you!” He’s not being magnanimous. So, she plays her last card–a gun. Boom, no more Tony. Driving furiously up in the mountains, she does finally get home. Now what? There’s Bill. She gets in bed just quick enough to fool him. Of course, Tony’s body is discovered. Meaning Bill is notified. Just now she’s the most affectionate that she’s ever been with him.

At HQ, ironically, it’s Bill giving orders about not leaving a stone unturned to catch Tony’s killer. She calls HQ (no answering machines then), as Bill looks at photo of the fatal bullet. He calls her to ask her to stay with Alice; hmm, comfort the widow of the man she’s shot? Well, Bill’s forensic skills are perfect: he IDs the bullet as from the same gun as one taken in the heist discussed earlier–in other words, it was stolen from HQ.

The cops huddle: what could’ve happened to the missing gun? Indirectly, Bill pieces everything together. At home he simply says “what did you do with the gun, Kathy?” She confesses. Well, he brings her in. To that same desk where she stole the gun. That’s it, the end.

Strangely, although the story covers plenty of territory (Bill and Kathy’s entire relationship), it goes sort of slow, especially in the middle. Had we begin with them as newlyweds, we’d have a lot more room for scenes showing Kathy’s disenchantment with married life, her the effects of her pushiness on Bill, and, especially the fling with Tony.

As it is, the beginning isn’t integrated well into the rest of the movie. It’s as though the career woman role just morphs into the trapped-in-suburban-conformity theme. Obviously the two are related, but the change is so abrupt that it’s almost like two movies lashed together.

Having cut this up that much, there’s plenty to like: the stars each give strong performances, and are very well-suited to their roles. Hayden is uncharacteristically passive, though; he never reacts much to Stanwyck’s demands, except by giving in. In fact, he never figures out what happened between her and Burr’s character. There’s no Bill and Tony face-off, and not much follow-up on Bill’s discovery of the ‘do-tell’ letters.

Tony is the most interesting one here. He’s alternatively menacing, intimidating, creepy, dishonest, and loyal. The strongest scene is his ‘courtroom’ investigation of the Bill/Charlie confrontation, in which Tony shows most of these traits.

Stanwyck has the amorality tinge of some of her other roles. Other than their initial romance, Hayden and Stanwyck spend more time avoiding each other than being cozy.

Crime of Passion takes a weighty premise and a great cast and comes up with a decent drama; it just doesn’t scope out its angles clearly enough to make a stronger impact.

Bodyguard, 1948. 7/10

Lawrence Tierney stars as a fired cop who gets job as a bodyguard. His employer, who runs a meat-packing business, gets a bad case of the heebie-jeebies once an inspector has been killed. And, in true noir-style, our protagonist can’t just walk away from his past; his old boss gets killed, and he’s framed for the murder. Luckily, he’s got an ally at police HQ.

The cops are Lieutenant Borden (Frank Fenton) and Captain Wayne (Charles Cane). Mike’s (Tierney’s) employers are the Dysens: Gene and Freddie (Elizabeth Risdon and Phillip Rees). Then there’s Mike’s girlfriend/police contact/mole Doris (Priscilla Lane). And we’ve got the Fentons, Connie and Steve (Steve Brodie and June Clayworth). Steve works at the Dysen’s plant, Connie is their housemaid.

We start at police headquarters; Mike talks to a bunch of teenagers, but the real deal is that Borden has summoned him. Well, Mike’s been “going off half-cocked.” Exceeding his authority, etc. So, with the Captain’s blessing, Mike’s fired. Well, he was just suspended–until he punches out the Lieutenant.

So, later on, he and Doris are at the ballgame, when a stranger comes up with a proposition. It’s Gene Dysen’s nephew, Freddie, trying to recruit him as a bodyguard; Gene’s life is in danger. Well, Mike doesn’t bite right off. At Doris’s home, he and Doris get cozy, when they gets an envelope slipped under the door.

It’s Dysen’s retainer; this time Mike’s interested. Well, not entirely, just yet. He meets with Gene and Freddie–they discuss the situation. Mike’s full of quips. She insists that the “threats” she’s had are just “harmless pranks.” Just then someone fires a couple of shots into the room where they’d met. Mike sizes up the situation, and finally agrees to take the job.

He’s at first suspicious of Connie, who’s skulking about at all hours. Then, Gene is hustled off in her limo. Destination: the plant. Mike follows, but he gets sapped from behind. When he comes to, his car’s on the tracks, with Borden’s body inside. Bailing out of the car just before an incoming train demolishes it, he makes it to Doris.

Knowing both that he’s the obvious suspect for Borden’s murder, and that Borden was up to something devious enough to get killed for it, Mike hits on the idea of having Doris help out. She fills him in on the police angle by taking notes and then cutting records of the latest dope at an arcade booth. Returning to Dysen’s, Mike pumps Freddie for info on the long night; Freddie dissembles, seemingly oblivious. Mike goes back to the plant, looking for Gene. The foreman, Steve Fenton, wonders about him, but fetches Connie. Gene proves elusive. Mike’s amped up, as he knows the police will be on the lookout for him.

Mike fetches Doris’s new-fangled record–he gets the whole business on Borden’s cases. Meanwhile, his borrowed car arouses suspicion as it’s drifted in front of a hydrant. The record (that is Doris) narrates the story of the meat inspector’s demise (he’d been basically sawed in half). Anyway, the car disappears, so he takes a taxi (that’s the second car he’s lost). When he gets back to the Dysen’s they know he’s wanted.

He questions Gene about being at the warehouse where Borden popped up the night before. Doris answers when he calls homicide; they speak in some code (he probably needs her to cut a new record). Anyway, he goes to talk to the brother of the dead inspector, Adam Stone (Erville Anderson). Looking through the victim’s stuff, he doesn’t seem to find anything.

Doris picks him up, but Stone’s brother recognizes Mike from a newspaper photo, and calls the cops. Doris stole some files; Mike has a revelation. The dead guy had a model ship hobby; for which he would’ve needed great eyesight–the opposite of what was in the files on him. He goes to Stone’s optometrist to get the straight dope on the eyesight thing. This time he avoids an ambush from “this mug who’s trying to sap me.”

Relentlessly, he continues on to the lens company to see if they have the goods on Stone’s lens prescription. He has to break in. He gets into the file cabinet, and finds what he wants. There’s a watchman, though. Some banter ensues; Mike gets the better of the old guy. He calls Wayne at headquarters boldly saying “meet me at the Dysen home and I’ll have the Borden case in the bag for you.”

Meanwhile, Doris skulks around the plant. Freddie and Fenton are inside, obviously up to something. She sneaks in, and hides. Fenton’s working on some meat. At the Dysen’s home, Mike pops in. He has the dope on Stone; the guy must’ve been pushed into the machine that killed him because he had perfect eyesight, and therefore easily would’ve sensed proximity to the dangerous saw. The company records had been altered to make it appear to be an accident.

Fenton, it seems, has a history–he’s an ex-con. Having wormed his way into the Dysen’s, he’s running a scam. He’d been tampering with the meat, falsifying the weight. That made Stone, the inspector, ripe for an ‘accident.’ Borden had Fenton on the hook for blackmail (thus covering up Stone’s murder, but, also, in effect, making him a target). Mike was the fall guy for Borden, set up by Freddie.

Captain Wayne arrives; but Mike, of course, eludes him. Playing out the latest episode of a running gag, Mike makes off with the handy police car. Back at the plant, Freddie pulls out a gun, and approaches an alarmed Fenton. “You killed Stone,” claims Freddie, “and Borden too…” Boom! Freddie plugs him.

Doris is still hiding. Mike arrives in the stolen cop car just as she’s flushed out into the open. Out of ammo, Freddie is jumped by Mike. Machinery is humming…will someone get sliced and diced? No, the cops arrive in force, and take both Mike and Freddie in (they also magically make night into day). All is well, as the happy couple skips out, on the way to their honeymoon. The end.

This was fun, tense, and fast-paced–until near the end. Then it just sort of reverts to ’40s serial-style action. That would be ok, but the showdown at the plant takes way too long. And Mike’s talky exposition to Gene (of Freddie/Steve scam) stalls the jaunty ride we’ve had up to that point.

Plus, no matter how you work it, the spam shenanigans are about as pedestrian as crime can get. Ok, deceived citizens, just buy the hot dogs that don’t look bloated; is all of that malefeasence really worth two murders? It might’ve added up if Fenton’s character had been built up a bit more–he’s about as much of an ex-con type as Doris.

It does make some convoluted sense for Freddie to want Mike snooping around; Mike’s the only character (besides Freddie and Fenton) who might have a grudge against Borden. Freddie must also have engineered the stray shots at the house; spooking Gene helps bring Mike into the picture.

The premise itself is good: frustrated ex-cop ends up in questionable territory–if not on the wrong side of the law. That sudden thrust into the dark side is where the best noir protagonists find themselves. Doris’s role works perfectly; the smart, loyal team player who will stick her neck out. In fact, she holds an ace-in-the-hole with her police status. Doris and Mike make a great couple too.

The lighter moments (Doris making the record, the continual car disappearances, the wisecracks) are actually sly rather than silly. We get the sense that Doris and Mike are just a few steps ahead of everyone else. Sort of like Holmes and Watson. And the atmosphere stays gritty and sordid enough to keep us on edge.

That is, until the ’30s-style murder mystery ending. This was entertaining, but needed a few more scenes to make its bad guys more credible, and some tighter editing to keep up the momentum. 7/10

Hot Summer Nights, 1957. 7/10

A late noir, and a rustic one at that. While honeymooning in the Ozarks Bill and Irene Partain (Leslie Nielsen and Colleen Miller) stumble upon a violent bank robbery. Bill, a reporter, seeks out the gang that’s behind the crime; finding a ring headed by local good old boy Tom Ellis (Robert J. Wilkes).

There’s also plenty of sketchy characters Oren (Jay C. Flippen), Kermit (James Best), Rosey (Sonny Chorre), and Elly (Paul Richards). Plus Deputy Lou Follett (Edward Andrews), Tom’s wife Ruth (Marianne Stewart), and mob girl Hazel (Leslie Parrish).

We start with an abduction of sorts, a hood taking an older guy ‘for a ride.’ In town, the hoods back their station wagon into an alley. Some sort of break-in is in the works. Ok, they’re going to torch a back door to soften it up, then pry it open. Yep, it’s a bank; and the old guy’s there because he knows the safe combination.

The banker activates an alarm. So, the hoods, after dispatching him, are quickly off and running. Swatching cars, they continue, to Chatsburg. A motorcycle cop pulls into a gas station/general store. Same spot that Bill and Irene have stopped at. Both sets of folks discuss the Ellis gang’s caper.

Bill drives back to the cabin they’re staying at. Irene’s very much in love–with this big lug? He wants to split, sensing danger; he doesn’t explain, other than he reiterates that he’s out of a job. So, he’s antsy, preoccupied. They take the road to Chatsburg. In a juke joint, they look out of place. Strangely, he buys a round for the bar; what’s he really up to? Kermit introduces himself.

Some honeymoon. Bill asks Kermit about a Ruth Childers (she’s someone in the know about malefeasence in town). Kermit, and everyone else, thinks he’s too nosy, and beats him up. The deputy comes in, which stops it. Bill and Irene sit down with him. Predictably, he asks what they’re doing in town.

Bill explains that he’s looking for a story; in this “bitter town” (the deputy’s term). The lawman agrees to take him too see this Ruth. “Can’t breathe in this town” Bill says, accurately. I just can’t see why he won’t just go along with his wife’s plaintive wishes to “do what lovers do.” She’s probably wishing they’d waited a bit before marrying.

He’s just got this mania–aren’t there other stories to dig up? He’s got to leave his wife alone in a hotel on their honeymoon, while he plays detective with some hoodlums. Makes plenty of nonsense. Ok, he meets Ruth; oh, he remembers her, from her mysterious past.

So, she’s last seen him at the Kansas City jail. He wrote a story “that made me famous among my friends” she says. They just chat, like old flames. He mentions Tom. Bill figures that Tom’s ‘story’ is sensational, and will jump-start his career. She’ll think about it. Is he going to level with Irene?

She asks if Ruth will help him get his job back; what Irene really wants to hear is “say that you desire me.” Man, that pesky Kermit comes calling. He shows Bill some shell casings–from the banker’s killing. There’s a sort of deal; Kermit will take Bill to Ellis, and Irene should be ok.

Ok, we’re out in the sticks, waiting for an “Indian.” Now we get Kermit’s sob-story bio. He just beat up Bill the day before; now Bill has this brotherly concern for him. Anyway, there’s Rosey (the so-called “Indian”) in the big sedan we’ve seen before, as one of the getaway cars. They blindfold him so he can’t recall the hideout’s location.

He meets Tom and the gang, including Hazel. Tom and Elly have some grudge. Elly “panics.” Bill gives his pitch about his article. Seems incredible that a wanted man would agree to do an expose on himself and his guys. Tom starts to talk, about how “loved” he is locally.

Back in town, Irene is in the hotel lobby. The deputy chats her up. “I want you to know about this town…nobody is gonna take Tom Ellis away from them.” Right. Meanwhile, Tom asks Bill if he wants to see a killing. Bill says he’s born with a “kink”; sure enough. When Tom expands on that concept, gloating, Elly can’t stand it, and shoots him.

Well, Bill got to see a killing, all right. And, halfway in, we’ve lost our antagonist. That’s original. Kermit’s done too. “Convince me!” Bleats Elly, basically demanding to know why Bill shouldn’t also be killed. Oren takes charge, and starts to dictate an ad for the Kansas City paper: basically an offer of Bill’s life for $50k. That’s clever.

What doesn’t make sense is how they expect to get away with it. Meanwhile, Irene has probably read the entire pulp novel rack at the hotel. She wants to find Ruth, so she can find Bill. Of course no one will help her–will the deputy? The bartender does tell her where the deputy lives.

Meanwhile, Rosey’s busy dumping the bodies. Hey, check this out! One of the stiff’s arms can move. Oren mails the ad to the city. At the hideout, Elly keeps pumping Bill on the timing of the ad’s appearance. In KC, the editor knows he has to play along (they can only narrow down the postmark to one of a half dozen towns).

No one will help Irene; but, she gets a call from the paper’s editor. He tells her that Bill’s being held for ransom. He disclaims responsibility but he “will do what I can.” Very pitifully, she begs the people at the hotel for info on Ruth. Finally, one elderly lady tells her.

Oren returns to the hideout. Elly, of course, is nervous. Bill thinks “Just between you and me, I won’t get out of this thing alive. Neither will you.” Oren agrees. Bill tries to bargain with him, but Oren knows he’s got nothing to offer. Oren and are all worked up. Across town, Irene gets in Ruth’s face; y’know, that killing Bill isn’t such a good idea. Inopportunely, Kermit stumbles in, bloody “he killed Mr. Ellis, and he killed me…” That does make an impression on Ruth–Irene leaves.

Stumbling back to the hotel, she tells the clerk about Kermit’s sudden reemergence. She tries to call Bill’s (former) paper, but can’t get through. Quickly studying the want-ads, she sees that the paper is “trying to arrange financing;” i.e., the ransom money isn’t available yet, but might be. She gets a ride with the truck driver who delivers the paper.

She pumps him about Ellis, but he’s wary. I suppose she figures that the driver will lead her to Bill (obviously, the hoods get the paper). Meanwhile, back at the hideout, Elly is still going ape. But it looks like their ship is coming in.

Irene has accurately reduced the hideout’s location–to the tell-tale guy waiting in middle of the night for the iconic paper. She hustles over to the deputy’s place with the info–he promises to get help. Oren is calculating how the random money can be safely delivered. Now Irene, the deputy, and back-up are poised outside.

Well, Bill manages to turn the tables; Oren, bemused, tells him “knife? gun? what difference does it make! You don’t have the guts to kill a man.” Maybe so, but he doesn’t have to; bursting through a doorway, with Oren as Bill’s shield, the old wise hood is shot by Elly.

Bill escapes, but he’s shot in the leg; Elly is blown away by arriving cops. To tie things up, there’s a sort of Tom Ellis funeral procession/celebration on main street, very Faulknerian. The deputy sees the (finally) happy couple off. The end.

We got two major surprises in this: Tom getting knocked off, which pretty much kicks the action up a notch or two; and Kermit seemingly coming back from the dead. Both actions are plausible and highly effective–and, thanks to loose-cannon Elly–stem from the same violent scene. These are some really interesting hoods.

None of them are alike; Tom and Orel are smart and smooth, Rosey is the ‘muscle,’ inarticulate, but effective, and then, there’s Elly, who seems a complete psychopath. The women are interesting too: Hazel we really don’t get to know, but that’s kind of the point–shes a hanger-on; Ruth, though not a bad person, is resigned to some dismal fate. And, Irene, although duped by the obsessive Bill, is nonetheless loyal and sincere.

Unfortunately, the Bill/Irene relationship doesn’t really make any sense. We know nothing about them beforehand; usually that’s a good ploy, as nothing is more distracting than a long build-up sequence. The problem, hinted at earlier, is that Bill has almost no redeeming qualities. If he’s so determined to get his career back on track–why not postpone the honeymoon until he can relax?

He acts as tough as the hoods. All of this makes me think he should’ve been undercover (on assignment from the paper) to get the goods on Tom’s gang. He could fall for Ruth or something (they’re already acquainted anyway). Irene and Bill could simply be engaged; keep her on the sidelines until the ace reporter cleans up the mess.

It’s absurd to think that any spouse (especially a newlywed!) would be left in a jerkwater hotel while her unemployed husband chases around after local gangsters. That would be like the guys in Deliverance bringing their wives along so they can take pictures of the mayhem.

Either Nielsen is miscast or the script skewers his role to death. As noted, the other problem is the concept that a bunch of criminals would willingly tell their story–before they’re caught.

There’s plenty of interesting characters here (Bill excepted), a great atmosphere, and some cool twists, but the premise is too full of holes for the viewer’s willing suspension of disbelief. 7/10