Thursday, August 22, 2013

FEAR (1947)

This Poverty Row film noir adaptation of Crime and Punishment has some of the typical hallmarks of a below-B budget movie including cheap-looking sets, an underpopulated look due to a lack of extras, and some screenplay loopholes, but the stylish direction by Alfred Zeisler knocks this one up a notch and makes it worth seeing. Larry (Peter Cookson) is a struggling medical student living in a shabby apartment. He's behind in his rent, and when he gets a letter telling him the college has had to cancel all their scholarships (first screenplay weirdness), he takes his father's engraved watch to Prof. Stanley who acts as an unofficial campus pawnbroker, but Stanley won't give him enough to cover rent. The next evening at a college diner, the guys all badmouth Stanley, saying he's no better than "a leech or a black beetle." Inspired by the chat, Larry returns to Stanley's to kill him and steal money from his locked box. He smashes the professor's head in with a fireplace poker, but before he can get away with the money, visitors at the door scare him away. Suddenly, Larry's luck changes: a journal accepts an article he wrote about "men above the law" and he gets a check for $1000. He also hits it off with Eileen (Anne Gwynne), a young woman he loaned money to earlier who is now working at the diner. But since his watch was found at Stanley's apartment, he also comes to the attention of Inspector Burke (Warren William) who plays cat-and-mouse games with him, first treating him as a sidekick, then trying to get him to admit his guilt. When a housepainter who was in the building at the same time as the murder is arrested, Larry thinks he's all set. But of course, fate has other plans in store.

If you know your Dostoyevsky, you may think you know the resolution, but there's a twist ending that's kind of a cheap trick, though it's also sort of fun. At any rate, it doesn't really spoil the rest of the movie for two reasons: 1) due to weak writing, we don't really care about any of the main characters or their outcomes; 2) the rest of the movie is enjoyable. The acting is slightly better than average for a Monogram cheapie: Cookson holds the screen well—and he's on screen for almost the entire running time—and Gwynne (pictured with Cookson) is fine, though underused. William, only in his early 50s, looks rundown—and indeed he died the next year—but he brings an old pro's touch to the movie. Busy character actor Nestor Pavia slinks in and out as a cop who is constantly following Larry, or at least Larry thinks he is. A very young Darren McGavin, with bleached blond hair, has an amusing bit as a student who tires balancing a beer bottle on his chin. A strong noir atmosphere is present in the murky nighttime look of the film. There are a few very nice directorial touches, including Stanley's murder—we don't see the killing blow, but we do see Stanley fall to the ground and a cup of coffee spills, looking just like blood. A shot of Larry strolling the streets at night and contemplating suicide by stepping in front of a train is also nicely done. [TCM]

1 comment:

Luciferus said...

You whore, I had no idea you had a weblog ("Why Patrick, you never said your aunt was literate!"). Now I have a lot of reading to do.