Friday, March 6, 2009

Movies: Night World and Upper World

Movies for the Noir set: Upper World for the Noir Romantics, and Night World for the Noir Existentialists. Since I’m of the second party, I’ll write about Night World first.

Here’s an hour of beautiful photography and slice of life couplings. Bright marquees swirling across the black screen to bring us into the night world—a night club, to be exact, where the singer, who’s married to the owner, is having an affair with the man who trains the dancers. Meanwhile, the owner has designs on one of those dancers, but she’s too busy blowing off a local gangster and feeling sorry for a young drunk, soaked to his socks for the third night in a row after his mother shot his father dead when she walked in on him and his mistress. The doorman wants to go home early because his wife’s in the hospital, but the owner is making everyone stay late—the dancers have to rehearse after closing!—because he’s mad at his wife. To get back at him, she sets him up against the local gangsters, who are threatening decisive action if he doesn’t start buying his hooch from them (he of course refuses). As a tender meet-cute unfolds between the dancer and the sot, over a steak and a pot of coffee, after the dancers have all gone home and the doorman’s wife has died alone in the hospital, the gangsters bust in and shoot everyone dead—everyone, that is, but the new young couple, who make plans to marry the next day and sail for South America. I guess it’s a film for romantic existentialists. But I do love a romance between a stripper-with-a-heart-of-gold and a heart-sick sot.

Upper World? It’s not quite as fresh, even though it’s from Ben Hecht story (as much as I love his novels, his films do often seem the work of a brilliant hack, a man too smart for his own good, too conscious of the mediocrity surrounding him, so that he was nearly paralyzed by fear of being mediocre himself, and in that stymied state, became precisely what he loathed). A wealthy tycoon finds himself isolated in his marriage (his wife too busy throwing costume balls to engage with him in a meaningful way), and so is ripe for friendship when he meets the totally unaffected Ginger Rogers, a showgirl who sings a burlesque program at a seedy joint. They really are merely friends, but the showgirl’s smarmy boss—who may also be her lover—sees an opportunity to make a quick buck by blackmail, and the confrontation turns into an accidental murder: both underworld characters are shot dead with the tycoon in the crossfire. Though he’s responsible for one of the two deaths (the showgirl stopped the boss’ bullet aimed for him, and so he tangled with the boss, the gun firing in the scuffle), he tries to get out of the situation by switching some bullets, planting his gun in her hand, and sneaking out. As usual, though, a nosy cop gets involved, having a personal grudge against the tycoon who got him demoted over a speeding ticket (those tycoons all think they are above the law!) At a dinner party in front of his wife and colleagues, just as they are toasting the success of his latest merger, the night before he sails purposefully abroad with his family, the police come in, along with the newspapermen. At last realizing that he’s not above the law, the tycoon confesses. But the film doesn’t end there, because those tycoons actually are above the law! Though he’s tried, he’s found. . . (there is a dramatic pause; we never hear the words “not guilty”) or we find him, on a ship, with his wife, laughing, promising to again be devoted to each other, as they make their way abroad. Perhaps a film for existential romantics. . .

No comments: