Thursday, September 23, 2021


Gaspar is a frustrated journalist; he is in debt, is regularly reprimanded for his sloppy work habits, and doesn't get the assignments he wants--he got into reporting for adventure and heroics. A friend tells him his problem is that he has a blind will for submission, always seeking to be on a mission for someone. We also learn, by his reaction while watching a war movie, that he has some kind of war-related trauma, exacerbated by his relationship with his stern, hawkish father. One night, after what seems to he unfulfilling sex with his girlfriend, he winds up at a bar chatting with a fellow reporter, and gets what looks like a come-hither cruising look from the bartender, Liudas. But what Liudas recognizes in Gaspar is a need for a better life. Luidas, a former editor (and smuggler), gets Gaspar to lend his expertise to a get-rich scheme involving the setting up of a correspondence journalism school; they'll mass-produce articles to sell to poor suckers who think they'll really get a usable education. When Liudas mentions that he is trying to raise money to being his oldest son over from war-ravaged Europe, Gaspar, recalling his friend's words, decides that his mission should be to help the son, so he offers Liudas three-fourths of the firm's money until the son is brought over. Luidas is grateful, but one night, Gaspar overhears Luidas imply to a woman that there is no son, that he is bilking Gaspar. Acting on impulse, Gaspar plots to take Luidas on an overnight visit to Gaspar's mother’s home in the country and kill him. Complications ensue.

This long-lost Argentinian film noir, directed by Fernando Ayala and also known as BITTER STEMS, was brought back into circulation thanks to the efforts of Eddie Muller of Turner Classic Movies. It's a goodie, and it could serve as a dictionary definition of noir: moral ambiguity, a conflicted antihero, lots of shadowy nighttime scenes, some striking stylistic touches, and, of course, a murder that doesn't quite go as planned. Carlos Cores (pictured) is note-perfect as Gaspar; the character is a bit like Fred McMurray's character in Double Indemnity--he's attractive in a rumpled kind of way and, on the surface, likable (he's good to his mother and sister), but also weak and makes bad decisions. It's not a femme fatale that leads him to crime, but his own inner demons. (There are women in the movie, but they are strictly in support of the two leading men.) Vassili Lambrinos is just as good as Liudas; he does a nice job of keeping us a little off balance as far as his motivations--in real life, Lambrinos was a dancer and choreographer, though he had a featured role as a prince in The Unsinkable Molly Brown. Aida Luz and Pablo Moret are standouts in relatively small but important roles. There is a surreal dream sequence right out of Hitchcock's Spellbound and spectacularly discordant jazz music is an effective background for a disturbing nightclub scene. The noir atmosphere is beautifully conjured visually by cinematographer Ricardo Younis. Still difficult to see, I've heard that it's due for a Blu-Ray release soon. Catch it if you can, especially fans of genuine noir. [TCM]

1 comment:

dfordoom said...

Sounds great. I had no idea there was such a thing as Argentinian film noir, but there's British nor and French noir and Japanese noir so why not?