This proved to be a big mistake…because like the prototypical femme fatale who lures the hero to his doom in any respectable film noir, I answered the siren song of the Archive’s 30% off Select Film Noir Classics sale like the prize chump I am. Here’s what ended up in my cart:
The Man I Love (1947) – Okay, say it with me now: “If Ida Lupino is ‘the poor man’s Bette Davis’—thank heavens I’m a poor man!” This is one of my favorite Ida films; she plays a nightclub chanteuse (“She wouldn't give you the time of day if she had two watches.”) who gets a job at a jernt run by gangster Robert Alda (no offense to Alda fans—but how did this guy get to be such a player in films back then?) and spurns his amorous advances in order to make time with ex-jazz pianist Herman Brix…er, I mean, Bruce Bennett. What I like about this picture is that Lupino transcends the usual torch singing stereotype by playing a woman struggling to keep things together with her sisters, brother and next-door neighbor—she’s a bluesy Donna Reed, with a slinkier wardrobe. Film buffs know that Man was the inspiration for Martin Scorsese’s much-discussed (is it brilliant or a clinker?) New York, New York (1977).
Split Second (1953) – The very first time I saw this guilty pleasure was on the USA Network—long before they surrendered their schedule to endless NCIS and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit reruns. Directed by Dick “Richard Diamond” Powell, Second’s a nail-biting suspenser about a trio of convicts (Stephen McNally, Paul Kelly and Frank “Chief Wild Eagle” DeKova) who hold a group of individuals hostage in a “ghost” town—oblivious to the fact that the town is scheduled as the site for an A-bomb testing. The hostages include reporter Keith Andes, nightclub chanteuse (and TDOY fave) Jan Sterling and bitchy socialite Alexis Smith—Smith is accompanied by her boy toy Robert Paige and is later joined by her cuckolded doctor hubby, Richard Egan. (Arthur Hunnicutt also stumbles onto the assembled crowd, playing—oh, what a range he had!—a grizzled old desert rat.) This is perfect non-think entertainment, with goofy dialogue (“Well, Colonel, when you've seen one atom bomb, you've seen them all.”) and a memorable finale. (And soon it will be mine…all mine!)
The Tall Target (1951) – Dick Powell takes his rightful place in front of the camera in this underrated Anthony Mann thriller based on a true story. Powell plays John Kennedy(!), a New York detective who’s hip to an assassination plot involving President Abraham Lincoln—and boards a train that Lincoln is traveling on when his superiors refuse to believe his info. He tries to get word to the proper authorities—and runs into the predictable problem of who can be trusted…and who can’t? I’m afraid my brief description can’t do justice to this wonderful little sleeper (John DiLeo has a smashing essay on the film in his book Screen Savers: 40 Remarkable Movies Awaiting Rediscovery; here’s a sample) and though I had originally planned to wait until TCM showed this again to secure a copy (well, that was pretty much the case with all the movies I purchased) I finally decided that this movie (with the discounted price of $13.96) was too good to pass up. I love the supporting cast in this one: Paula Raymond as Powell’s love interest, Adolphe Menjou, Marshall “Daktari” Thompson, Leif Erickson, Will Geer, Richard Rober, Florence Bates and a young Ruby Dee—plus bits contributed by Barbara Billingsley, Ken Christy, Robert Easton, Jonathan “Mr. Dithers” Hale, TDOY’s favorite silver screen weasel Percy Helton, Regis Toomey and Will Wright.