Saturday, April 16, 2011

VICKI (1953)

This noir melodrama tries hard to conjure up comparisons to the classic film LAURA, and even if it can't quite live up to that, it's still an enjoyable little movie. The stylish opening scene shows billboards featuring the model and singer Vicki Lynn (Jean Peters), who seems to be the rage of New York and, as we learn later, was about to head out to California for an acting job; as a "Laura"-like theme plays, we see the police taking her dead body out of her apartment. Richard Boone is a cop who is determined to find her killer. As in LAURA, we learn Peters' story in flashbacks. There are several suspects including Peters' sister and roommate Jill (Jeanne Crain), an actor she had dated (Alex D'Arcy), and a columnist (Casey Adams) who wrote about her frequently, but Boone is certain that the killer is her PR man (Elliott Reid) who discovered her as a waitress at a late-night diner, worked hard to get her modeling career off the ground, and was about to be left with a broken contract when she decided to leave New York. However, the plot thickens with two developments: 1) the seedy telephone operator at Peters' apartment building (Aaron Spelling) took a powder after the discovery of her body; 2) Reid finds out that Boone had been unnaturally obsessed with Peters, spying on her when she was a waitress and having turned his apartment into a shrine to her. I will admit I was surprised at the final solution.

With all the controversy about what constitutes film noir, I'm inclined to take the view of Justice Potter concerning pornography: I may not be able to define it, but I know it when I see it. This movie, with its focus on sexual obsession, fatalism, conflicted characters, and the night world, feels a lot like noir to me, even if it seems too brightly lit to fit the visual noir mold. The B-ish cast works well, especially Peters and Reid; Crain (pictured above to the left of Peters), playing a good girl, is bland, and Boone wildly overdoes the obsessed cop bit, harshly screaming at people right and left. He almost leers at Reid when he tries to break him and calls him "pretty boy," which gives his character a delightful little sex-kink subtext. I liked Carl Betz, who gained fame as the husband on The Donna Reed Show, as a darkly handsome cop, and it's fun to see Spelling (long before his TV tycoon days) as a geek. Technically this is a remake of the Victor Mature/Betty Grable film I WAKE UP SCREAMING, but clearly it was trying to ride a LAURA vibe at the box office. [FMC]

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