Good-Time Girl, 1948. 8/10

Pretty salacious title, huh? This early postwar British drama concerns a rebellious teen, Gwen (Jean Kent). To escape her abusive father (George Carney), she leaves home, gets involved with all sorts of folks and has some adventures, including hitting a cop while driving drunk.

Gwen has so many people in her life that we have a huge cast: Dennis Price, Herbert Lom, Bonar Colleano, Peter Glenville, Flora Robson, Beatrice Varley, Hugh McDermott, John Blythe, Zena Marshall, Diana Dors, Amy Veness) Elwyn Brooks-Jones, Jill Bacon, Harry Ross, Jack Raine, Danny Green, and Griffith Jones.

We start out in juvenile court with a Miss Thorpe (Robson), who has to deal with wayward runaway Lyla (Dors). Thorpe brings up the example of Gwen, who had similsr circumstances, and made a mess of it. So, the frame story segues into the main plot concerning Gwen.

In the pawnbroker’s shop where Gwen works, we see her put back a purse she’s ‘borrowed’; her boss, the creepy Pottinger (Brooks-Jones) , accosts her. Then he insinuates if she is “good” he’ll overlook her indiscretion. She rebuffs his moves, so he threatens to get the police; the alternative is merely that she’s fired.

When she gets home, her sister warns her that Pottinger’s already told their dad. He (Carney) immediately sets about smacking her. Next day, she tells her mom she’s leaving. She finds an apartment from a fusty landlady, Mrs. Chalk (Veness); also she meets the dapper Jimmy Rosso (Glenville).

Jimmy is on the make with Gwen; but he reads her well, figuring why she’s left home. He thinks he can get her a job as a hat-check girl in the club where he works as a waiter. There she gets hired by the creepy Max (Lom). Like Jimmy, Max is openly disgusting, but immediately accepts her.

Anyway, she hits it off with the customers right away. Art (Blythe) and Red (Price) are with the club band. “youre in the middle of a spider’s web.” Red sees her after work, but Jimmy takes her home. of course he puts the moves on her too. Her mom comes to see her; the whole family’s messed up because dad lost his job. Basically, she’s being ordered home to provide for the family.

Now Max is going to promote her. Red says she’s a born cybarite,” liking fancy stuff and such. But he seems to care for her, implying by his playful tone that he knows he’s full of it. Someone’s lurking in the shadows…Jimmy, probably jealous of Red, looks in on her; based on what we see in the next scene, he’s hit her. Max stands up for her, and fires Jimmy. As a parting blast Jimmy threatens both of them.

Red tells her, aptly “you have strong men fight over you…but you’re the one that gets hurt.” Jimmy apologizes to her; and with no end to his swagger, he asks her to pawn some of his mom’s (translation, stolen) jewelry. She does it, but gets a promissary note or something instead of cash. “I’m not finished with you” he says, evasively, reiterating his threat to Max into the bargain.

Sure enough, Max gets jumped by two guys on a dark street. The doorman and Gwen pick him up and bring him back to the club, where a doctor fixes him up. She tells Red that she knows Jimmy’s behind it; not to mention that he’s still up to something with her. He says that she can stay with him.

Back at the club, Max calls on his henchman, Billy (Green). Retaliation for the attack is brewing…Sure enough, Billy the goon finds Jimmy in a pub, and jabs him with a broken bottle. At Red’s though, all is quietly domestic; she takes a bath, he plays the piano. He tells her she can stay the night, but then has to look out for another situation. He continues to be polite and caring.

However, the police come looking for her in the morning. Jimmy has set her up; his jewelry she pawned for him was stolen from the landlady (didn’t we figure some such). So we flip back to the Lyla/Miss Thorpe frame story briefly. Then, good old juvenile court for Gwen’s case. How did Jimmy survive the attack? Anyway, he tells the court a different story, of course. He even has the nerve to blame her for injuries inflicted by Max’s goon.

Red stands up for her, and backs her story. She’s still found guilty. Lecture-city from Thorpe. So, “we’re going to send you somewhere else…an approved (reform) school.” First she gets framed, then railroaded, and literally sent-up. At least she gets to talk to Red; he’s the only one who cares about her. She says she loves him.

Man, the school is pretty much a gothic castle. First thing is hazing from the other girls. There’s Roberta (Bacon), the bully. Gwen gets some points for chewing out the matron. Now she’s going to see the shrink. Gwen’s affected a survivalist form of politeness. The big deal now for the girls is getting mail. What’s interesting is how Gwen can be such a hard case, which is off-putting, but she’s pushed into defensiveness.

Anyway, thanks to a huge free-for-all in the cafeteria, Gwen has a chance to escape. What’s going to happen? Which is one of the best aspects of this movie, that, despite the constraints of the social commentary theme, Gwen’s life is completely unpredictable. It’s sort of a film noir in a strange parallel universe alongside a cautionary tale.

Well, she gets away, wisely changing clothes. Of course, the guy who picks her up has designs on her; she gets rid of him. Problem is, when she goes to call Red, his wife (Marshall) answers. When she finds her way back to the club, she gets the doorman’s attention. It seems that Max has a club in Brighton.

He’s hardly glad to see her; “this is a respectable club,” meaning, ok, but hide upstairs. She doesn’t. Instead he has to introduce her to some of his respectable mates, Danny (Griffith Jones), Billy (Green), and Fruity (Ross). Bad timing, as a detective (Raine) is passing through the club. They take off in Danny’s car, ending up at a party. She’s getting a bit tipsy.

Danny’s ‘turn’ to put the moves on her. “I’m a rough boy,” he says, lamely. More party action, and more, this time at the club. They’re up for a ride; Max doesn’t want her to go, but Danny gets her in the car; not only that but she’s driving. Whang! She runs over a policeman who’s on a bike.

They drive away. Danny knows they’re toast. Back at the club, he takes charge “there’s nothing to worry about as long as you keep your traps shut!” Except that the nosy detective notices bits of damage on Danny’s car. He knows about the cop who was killed. Gwen acts up, telling off the detective.

Time for her to leave town again; well, looks like Danny trailed her aboard the train. He threatens her–more than that–he slugs her, and then pushes her into the corridor. Two U.S. soldiers see her lying there; she’s ok, but her luggage is gone. She goes off with the soldiers, as she’s got no plan.

Apparently, they’re a couple of deserters, Al and Mickey (McDermott and Colleano). They overwhelm some M.P.s and split. Now, the three of them are basically running the streets, rolling easy marks. Mickey figures that they should split up, and get to Manchester. So, they get her to flag down a car (but it’s Red). She tries to warn him off, but they attack him.

She tries to get away; but they shoot Red, and stuff Gwen in the car. Well, the jig’s up. Everyone’s caught. Back to Thorpe wrapping up the story for Lyla. That girl, convinced both that the stodgy lady is decent, and Gwen’s story is so nightmarish (Gwen got fifteen years), that she agrees to go home. The end.

This is an interesting movie for a couple of reasons. Gwen is an enigmatic character; she always seems to make the wrong choice. On the other hand, she’s at the mercy of others (mostly creepy guys) for the whole time. Only Red is consistently good to her. It’s really hard to determine if her malleable personality is meant to show how she has to adapt to her situation, or if we’re to think that she has no conscience and is truly ‘delinquent’.

The other odd thing about her character is Kent’s age; she’s been described as a young-looking twenty-seven, but that hardly helps her pass as a sixteen-year-old. She’s simply too self-assured and savvy for the average teen. Kent does a lot with a complex role, but it’s too bad that Dors, a genuine teen at the time, couldn’t have played Gwen.

The supporting cast really fills out the multitude of major and minor players whom Gwen has to manuver around. Some are just sort of stock hood types; all except Red are compromised or flawed in some way.

Like the plot, the tone shifts from the preachy to the poignant, and back to the merely wreckless and hedonistic. Especially sad is the scene at Gwen’s apartment when her mom visits. It’s nothing but bad news, along with a terrible sense of hopelessnes; likewise when she’s sentenced to the reform school.

The reckless and the poignant themes intersect with tragic results when Red’s murdered. Ultimately, this shows a very pessimistic view of society, and the difficulty of even beginning to participate in it. Gwen’s destroyed bit by bit; the only consolation remains Lyla’s second chance.

Different, well-worth watching. 8/10.

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