Thursday, February 22, 2018

Noir City 2018: The Accused/The Threat

Wednesday was day six of Noir City 2018 - the penultimate day.  Two very different films, but both good.

The Accused (1949)
Dr. Wilma Tuttle (Loretta Young) is a tight-laced yet beautiful psychology professor.  When she reluctantly goes on a date with one of her smitten students, the lad tries to rape her.  During their struggle, she kills him - and flees the crime scene after making his death look like an accident.  Soon she has to deal with the boy’s uncle (Robert Cummings), who falls for her, as well as pesky homicide detective Lt. Ted Dorgan (Wendell Corey), who doesn’t believe that the boy’s death was an accident at all.  William Dieterle directed this well-made and gripping noir.  

There are three important points to make about this movie.  First, women weren’t usually in the lead in these kind of noir tales, so that’s an intriguing twist.  And that the lead should be played by lovely, doe-eye Loretta Young makes it doubly intriguing.  

Loretta Young and Douglas Dick from The Accused
Second, this role must have had a special poignancy for Young.  As festival host Eddie Muller explained before the movie, Young was the subject of one of classic Hollywood’s biggest scandals: in the 1930s she had child out of wedlock.  In addition, it was rumored - and is now largely accepted as true - that the girl’s father was Clark Gable.  In the 1990s, when she was an old woman, Young heard the phrase “date rape” on Larry King Live but didn’t understand what it meant.  When a friend explained it to her, she immediately responded that that is what Gable did to her in her train compartment back in 1935.  This added a new - and timely - perspective to viewing her performance, which, let me note, is excellent.  Also striking a chord was the persistent misogynistic stereotyping throughout the movie.  References are made to women - and in this case Young - being chatterboxes or never being dressed on time for a date.  At one point, Cummings, seeing her dressed up prettily, says “It’s remarkable!  Your brains don’t show a bit.”  I’d like to say that this kind of stuff was normal in those days, but after sitting through almost a full week of 1940s films, none of which showed the sort of flagrant misogyny on display in The Accused, I’m not so sure.  I don’t doubt that men in the 40s held those opinions - they most certainly did - but it’s worth noting that they’re most strongly expressed in a movie which features a woman as a professional in the lead role. 

And third, Wendell Corey is exceptionally good in this movie.  I liked him in I Walk Alone, but he’s even better here - tough, relentless, stone-faced but wise-cracking.  In one scene a colleague hands him a file and says “Good job, boss.”  “Shut up,” Corey mutters as he closes the door on him.  Awesome.  As for Robert Cummings, I’ve never been a fan of his but I’ve never disliked him either - I’m a strong meh.  After watching him in this film, I see no need to change my opinion. 

The Threat (1949)
Stone-cold killer “Red” Kluger (Charles McGraw) busts out of Folsom prison.  His goal - to get even with everyone who sent him up.  

How violent and action-packed is this movie?  The title sequence plays over machine-gun fire.  Felix Feist directed this taut and brutal B film, but it’s McGraw’s movie.  With his gravelly voice and slightly rugged face, he takes full possession of this movie the moment he enters it.  The beautiful Virginia Grey plays a gun moll he takes hostage.  In real life she and Clark Gable were lovers.  Their affair was an on-again-off-again thing over the years.  She always carried the torch for him but he’d drop her for others, knowing she’d be there for him whenever he wanted.  What a bastard.  I don’t have anything more to say about this movie - except that maybe one day, when I’m home sick, laying on the sofa, I’ll put on TCM, and this film will be playing - and that will cheer my spirits.          

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