Noir Fest!

One of the more positive outcomes of injuring my back is the opportunity to sit still and watch old movies.

Through the month of June, TCM is serving up noir films every Friday night. If you’re a fan, then you know what a treat this is. If you’ve heard of film noir, but haven’t ever acquainted yourself with these pictures, here’s a terrific chance to dive in.

Last Friday’s programming was Dashiell Hammett night and included the first film version of THE MALTESE FALCON. I missed the initial 5-10 minutes, but the “stagey” delivery of dialogue from some of the actors makes me think it had to be very early among the talkies. I’m guessing about 1930 or 1931. The plot makes more sense in terms of the way it’s laid out, compared to the later Bogart version, but of course my heart will always belong to Bogie. TCM also showed the Humphrey Bogart/Mary Astor version later that night–too late, though, for me to stay up for it. (Drat!)

Sandwiched in between the two TMFs were other delightful films: AFTER THE THIN MAN with William Powell and Myrna Loy and my all-time favorite, THE GLASS KEY. Starring Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, Brian Donlevy, and William Bendix, THE GLASS KEY is violent, quick, edgy, and full of sharp dialogue. Romance criss-crosses beneath the mystery. The taut triangle among the three principal players works well, but the relationship I like better is the deep, long-standing friendship between the characters Paul and Ed. That friendship, and the temporary rift of it, fuels their motivations. Man, it’s a good movie.

The most powerful scene comes very late in the film, in a confrontation between Alan Ladd and William Bendix. Bendix plays the edge between thug and madman perfectly, and when he crosses that line he is scary. Ladd’s character–having barely survived a beating from this man–is afraid, but forcing himself to go through with the encounter. His fear–under the cool, seemingly brave façade–is what makes this scene so intense.

AFTER THE THIN MAN is the second of the famous series centered around married sleuths Nick and Nora Charles. I think it’s a bit too comedic and sparkling to really be classified as noir, but I’ll never argue with the chance to watch it. If you’re new to this series, start with the first THIN MAN film and then watch AFTER because their story chronology is tightly linked. The next-to-last, THE THIN MAN GOES HOME, is another charmer. The rest in the series are okay, but lesser efforts. Nick and Nora portray one of the best, most delightful married relationships ever presented on-screen.

The witty dialogue is amazing, especially when it centers around wordplay. My favorite moment is when Nick is pontificating about illiterate spelling, and one of the suspects snaps, “What d’ya mean, illiterate? My mother and father were married before I was born!” Nick pauses long enough for the movie audience to get the joke before he turns to Nora and asks, “Having a good time, dear?”

Priceless!

I haven’t looked at the TCM Web site yet to see what’s on this coming Friday, but I can’t wait.

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