Tuesday, January 29, 2013

DARK CITY (1950)

Cops raid a bookie joint and though the head of the operation, an unhappy WWII vet (Charlton Heston), escapes, he's pissed off because he believed he was paid up on his protection money. His cronies (the older Ed Begley, the cocky Jack Webb, the slow-on-the-uptake Harry Morgan) are left high and dry, and they wind up engaging a traveling salesman (Don DeFore) in a rigged poker game; the first night, they lose to him to build up his confidence, only to fleece him the second night. Because the money he lost belonged to his company, DeFore kills himself. Soon, Begley is found hung in his apartment, an apparent suicide, but a police captain (Dean Jagger) thinks it was murder, and sure enough DeFore's brutish and mentally ill brother is on their trail, trying to pick off the players one by one.

This is a solid film noir, though Heston, in his big studio debut, is a little lightweight for a noir hero. We get some gloomy backstory (he was court-martialed for accidentally killing his best friend in a fight over Heston's wife, from whom he is now divorced) and he feels conflicted about the crooked poker game in the first place, but he never really seems to be in great moral turmoil, though he does go to DeFore's widow to help her out financially. Lizabeth Scott (pictured with Heston) as Heston's squeeze, a nightclub singer, doesn't have a lot to do, but she does a nice job with her songs, including "I Don’t Want to Walk Without You." The supporting cast is great, with Webb in particular doing a nice job in a role that is 180 degrees away from his best-known part as Joe Friday on Dragnet—and of course Harry Morgan was not only his co-star here but also in the 1960s incarnation of Dragnet. DeFore was mostly known for light comedy but is surprisingly good in a serious turn here, and Viveca Lindfors is fine as his widow. There are a number of good setpieces, including the opening raid, the foggy nighttime streets that evening, and the chase and fight at the climax, but Begley's paranoid scene just before his murder is exceptional, and reason enough to watch the film.  [DVD]

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