November 28th, 1998

(no subject)

Club Havana (1945) 1:02
directed by Edgar G. Ulmer

starring Tom Neal, Margaret Lindsay, Don Douglas, Isabelita, Ernest Truex, Renee Risno, Paul Cavanah, Marc Lawrence

Talk about moving camera. This one doesn't stop. More than any Ulmer movie I've yet seen, the camera movement here contributes so much to the flow of this one, its progression through space from scene to scene.

Perhaps it's because Ulmer only had one single set to work with for the entire movie. But what he does with it! Yeah. Six couples, five musical numbers, one set, no feeling of tedium.

The couples are:

'The Doc' (Tom Neal) and his nervous, first-date girl.

'The Killer, Joe Reed' and his blonde Floozy.

'Isabelita' (played by Isabelita) and her beau, the band's pianist.

The Old Sentimental Fart reuniting with his Golddigging Wife.

A Suicidal Woman, fresh from her divorce in Reno, just come back to run into the arms of a hesitant Mr. Norton.

A Rich Old Broad (with her bespectacled brood of three) and the Broke Gigolo.

To try to summarize the ploy beyond that would be madness, and so I wont't even attempt it.

Needless to say, Ulmer works these six storylines for all he can get from them. Sort of. I mean, little actually happens among the six characters, the most dramatic resolution of the night comes for Isabelita and her pianist boyfriend, who happens to be able to contradict the alibi of The Killer, Joe Reed on a charge of murdering a shopgirl who worked at the Club Havana. Then again, nothing happens to him personally. The telephone operator girl, who ratted him out to The Killer, Joe Reed for ratting Reed out to the cops (she thinks Reed's innocent because she has the hots for him) spots one of Reed's hired cannons about to grease the pianist and she runs down the hitman with her car. Poor girl, in the process the hitman shoots her in the face through the windshield (in a non-gory but tremendously visually arresting shot; incredibly violent considering it's only 1945). Luckily enough for the pianist, he survives unscathed and admits to the cops who chide him for not giving them his name when he ratted on Reed (which would have, in the long run, saved the phone girl's life) that he's definitely 'learned his lesson'. Well thank God for that. He's learned his lesson.

Other than that all the stories have pretty much undramatic denouments, the one bullet fired, leaving a shocking spiderweb of cracks on the windshield provides a cathartic climax for the other five stories as well. You can't really have six back-to-back explosive climaxes in an hour-long movie.

Otherwise... Doc Neal saves the would-be Suicide Lady (who makes me think very much of Barbara Stanwyck on a bad day) yet still has a good date. Mr. Norton loves the Suicide Lady veery much.

Ulmer, keeping it briskly moving, hops from table to table following the tenuous interconnectedness of the couples back and forth and around the room in a pretty quick tempo; each scene is permitted two beats and no more, generally, and often only one. And now that I'm thinking about it, this tempo, energetic without becoming frantic that Ulmer sustains throughout, while entertaining and certainly atmospheric, almost makes one feel upon leaving the theater that you've just watched the beginning of a really good movie, a really long first scene perhaps. I don't really see how that can be avoided seeing as there's only one location and only one set and all, but Ulmer does just about all that is humanly possible to make a real movie that more or less never leaves the same room (okay, I guess Hitchcock did it a few times). He stays in close with the actors so we don't become exhausted with the same old scenery and same old backgrounds (or maybe he used his old trick of shooting his tight CU's against a blank wall so he wouldn't have to bother being on-set, where time was beyond precious) he juggles six different sets of personal stories before our eyes, and he does sufficiently succeed in dazzling (or hoodwinking, same diff) us into not asking the question: 'Why are we still in this goddamn ballroom?'

All of these things he accomplishes nicely but there it is. Still. That nagging sensation that, as entertaining as that all was, I've just watched an hour long scene of some tremendous movie and some action happening outside the Club Havana ought to come up soon.

But I'm bitching too much about this. You can't seriously think of taking Ulmer to task over the flimsiness of his scenarios, there's no point to it. I wasn't watching Club Havana because of the screenwriting credit, whoever the hell it was. I was watching it to see Ulmer spin the flax into, if not gold, then something at least solid and substantial.

One other gripe... and this one is Ulmer's fault. Probably. The musical numbers. Boring boring boring. Mostly one setup for each of five songs and he lets it play out like that, on the stage, in front of the camera, with little or no cinematic intercession between action and audience. He strictly documents the songs; and they're excruciatingly tedious in their own bad 'Besame Mucho' Ricky Ricardo awfulness. And there are five of them! Subtract these scenes, which have zero connection to the narrative, if cut from the picture, would leave behind a movie only about 40 or 45 minutes long. An episode of a television drama would be longer.

The reason I say that Ulmer is only probably guilty of these musical faults of this film is the strange way the bandleader and his band appeared in the credits, in large letters at the end of the list of actors.

What gives? Was this guy already contracted before the movie began shooting or something? It looks fishy.

(no subject)

Danger is My Beat (1955) 1:17 (aka Murder is My Beat)
directed by Edgar G. Ulmer

starring Paul Langton, Barbara Payton, Robert Shayne, Selena Royle

I don't know what all the hub-bub about this movie is about. It's good. It's not great though. It's no minor Detour. I figure it's about as good as Her Sister's Secret: less, even? I actually found it a bit dull. Maybe just above middle Ulmer. Not bad, not bad at all. Just not really engaging.

Homicide cop busts beautiful murder suspect, then takes off with her because she supposedly sees the dead man walking around a train station. He believes her story and hunts down the real culprit: Frank Deane.

Frank Deane? Why does that name sound so familiar...

I don't know. Perhaps one of the things that wearied me about the plot was the fact that the gimmick used, that of the dead-guy switcheroo was identical to the one in The Third Man or A Coffin for Dimitrios, both of which do a much better job of making it surprising that the guy you thought was dead really ain't. Here, you see it coming miles away. Mainly because no one seems to be curious that the supposedly dead Frank Deane, in dying, fell head first into a fireplace, and is specifically said to have burned his face and hands (hence no fingerprints) to unrecognizable ashes. This lack of positive identification is specifically mentioned, but no one seems very concerned about it, which, in my book, is a red flag for some weirdness going on.

Paul Langton and Barbara Peyton are okay. I didn't have any strong opinions about them one way or the other. Although I definitely didn't feel like there was any chemistry there, romantic or erotic.

It moved kind of unevenly and I wasn't getting much noir atmosphere beyond the dour, tough attitudes of the actors. Perhaps the look did not suit me (I consider myself spoiled in this respect, I'm always a bit disappointed when a noir doesn't look like it was lit by John Alton) but it just didn't feel too much like a noir.

I don't know. Other than that, I didn't think it too memorable. I don't know why people rate it so highly in his filmography. Perhaps it's only the current vogue for noirs.