Tuesday, May 27, 2014


This film noir has a beautiful nighttime opening shot, traveling from above the glittering Hollywood Hills down to a house in the hills, gracefully swooping through the open glass doors to focus on a man playing a piano, composing a nocturne and giving a girlfriend, sitting off in the shadows behind him, the kiss-off. As he begins to write the last notes, he is shot in the head.  The cops think it was suicide, since only his fingerprints are found on the gun and there is a power burn on his head, but the lieutenant (George Raft) thinks the set-up is fishy and suspects murder. Vincent, the philandering pianist, has portraits of all the ex-loves of his life on the wall, and the unfinished nocturne is inscribed, "To Dolores," but it turns out that he called all his girlfriends Dolores. Among the Doloreses: Vincent's busty blonde housekeeper (Myrna Dell) who insists she wasn't one of his conquests—"He was a ladykiller, but I’m no lady"; a bit-part actress (Lynn Bari); and her younger sister who sings in a nightclub (Virginia Huston). There's also a world-weary pianist named Fingers (Joseph Pevney) who had worked with Vincent on a song, and his assistant, a big lug named Torp who seems like he might have a vicious streak. Raft roughs some people up and gets in trouble with his bosses, and is on the verge of getting suspended when his mother (with whom he lives), in acting out a possible scenario for the killing, gives Raft a clue that might break the case wide open.

This is a nifty little noir that misses classic status due to its leading man; Raft, who peaked in the mid-30s, gives a listless performance that might pass muster in a B-movie second feature or series entry like The Falcon or Boston Blackie but is a big letdown here. His character is supposed to be obsessed with finding the killer to the point where it affects his life, but Raft just floats through the movie with a constipated half-smile on his face, connecting with no one else, not even Bari, with whom (I think) he's supposed to develop romantic feelings—they kiss at one point, but unconvincingly. (Frankly, between the way he plays the role and the fact that he still lives with his mother—and has more chemistry with his mom than with Bari—the character should probably have been played gay.)

But most everything else about this movie works well. The stylish cinematography is by Harry J. Wild, who did noirs, westerns, and even a couple of Tarzan movies. The director, Edwin L. Marin, though not especially distinguished, also had a wide range of genres under his belt. The best acting comes from Bari, a B-heroine stalwart (pictured above with Raft), and Pevney (pictured at right) who went on to be a very busy movie and TV director (best known for several episodes of the original Star Trek series). But even most of the supporting actors down to the smaller roles are good: Myrna Dell as the tarty Susan, Mabel Paige as Raft's mother, Bern Hoffman as the chunky Torp, John Banner as a gayish photographer. Even Edward Ashley as Vincent, whom we only see for two minutes, makes an impression. There’s a great windy night scene and a cute moment in which Raft visits Bari on the RKO lot and we see actual sets from SINBAD THE SAILOR. Despite the lackluster central performance, this is a solid noir that is worth seeing. [TCM]

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