Mystery Collection Disc 11

The motto for this disc appears to be All Noir, All The Time—or at least most of it. Unfortunately, it combines two very strong movies with two movies where the chief redeeming value is that they’re barely over an hour each.

Detour, 1945, b&w. Edward G. Ulmer (dir.), Tom Neal, Ann Savage, Claudia Drake, Edmund MacDonald. 1:07.

What a strange little film. Mostly told as heavily-narrated flashbacks from a down-on-his-luck guy in a little Nevada roadside café. He begins as an incredibly talented pianist (with very long fingers) reduced to playing in a dive nightclub from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m.—but in love with the singer, and engaged as well. Except that she wises up and takes off for Hollywood. After a day or two (?), he decides to follow—hitchhiking across country. He gets picked up by a snappy dresser in a fancy convertible, who turns out to be trouble—and who turns up dead, in the rain, as the hitchhiker’s driving and stops to try to put the top up. (As he’s hitching, half of the drivers are on the right side of the car and in the left lane…but never mind.)

Things go downhill from there, as the hitchhiker decides he has to impersonate the dead guy…and manages to pick up a no-good dame who’d earlier been hitching with the guy. The rest of the story, such as it is, involves these two and it’s neither pretty nor very interesting.

All in all, this seems like an attempt at noir, but not a very good one—mostly just depressing. The print’s generally OK except for a minute or so of damage. IMDB says it was shot in six days; I believe it. After reading a few of the rave reviews at IMDB, I’ll just accept that different people view low-budget, overacted, downbeat, depressing flicks differently. Charitably, I’ll give it $0.75.

Too Late for Tears, 1949, b&w. Byron Haskin (dir.), Lizabeth Scott, Don DeFore, Dan Duryea, Arthur Kennedy, Kristine Miller. 1:39 [1:33]

Now this is noir—and a good, complex mystery. It begins with a couple (Scott and Kennedy) on their way to a party—but the wife wants to turn around because she doesn’t like the hostess. This wife always gets her way—in this case, by nearly crashing the car. As they turn around, though, another car comes alongside and the driver throws a valise into their car (a convertible, conveniently). They stop—and find that the valise is full of cash.

The straight-arrow husband wants to turn it in to the cops. The wife wants to keep it. That’s the start of a plot that eventually involves the blackmailer who was supposed to get the money (Duryea), the husband’s beautiful sister who lives across the hall (Miller), several murders along the way…and a mystery man (DeFore) who claims to be, but is not, someone who fought WWII in the same outfit as the husband. Who he really is…well, you’ll have to see the movie. Scott plays a classically amoral money-hungry cold-hearted bitch, on her second husband and not yet into the money. Duryea isn’t quite enough of a villain, which makes him more interesting. DeFore and Miller are both interesting characters (Kennedy, not so much).

Well-acted, very well plotted (Roy Huggins wrote the screenplay, based on his own serial), reasonably well filmed. Unfortunately, the print’s missing a few minutes and is a bit choppy at times. That brings it down to $1.50.

Mystery Liner, 1934, b&w. William Nigh (dir.), Noah Beery, Lila Kane, Major Pope, Gustav von Seyffertitz, Ralph Lewis, Cornelius Keefe, Zeffie Tilbury, Boothe Howard, Howard Hickman. 1:02.

The basic plot is straightforward—but also ludicrous: Running ships by remote control, over radio linkages, from land—and testing the concept on an ocean liner, passengers and all. (Would you like a lesson on why remote-controlled oceangoing passenger vessels make no sense at all?) Oh, and one specific tube is the key to all this working. But the captain seems to have gone crazy (and is supposedly removed from the ship), although that’s not enough to keep the test from going forward. (The equipment could have been in Baron von Frankenstein’s lab—it’s that level of sparks, tubes, switches and other nonsense.) The means of communication between the ship and the remote control center, weirdly, is through panels that flash on and off and then show handwritten messages from the other source—since, you know, radio voice would be too advanced, but scanning from a panel is straightforward.

The real problem here is that the movie seems to be excerpted from a longer version—lots of scenes disappear partway in, there’s no sense of overall flow, some of the characters make no sense whatsoever. It’s an odd combination of slow-moving “action” and pieces-missing plot. It was also clearly shot on the cheap. The most I can give this unfortunate little flick is $0.75.

Scarlet Street, 1945, b&w. Fritz Lang (dir.), Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, Dan Duryea, Margaret Lindsay, Rosalind Ivan. 1:43 [1:41]

Edward G. Robinson’s always interesting when he’s playing something other than The Tough Guy. Here, he’s a bank cashier with 25 years on the job and five years in a loveless marriage to a harridan. His only pleasure is weekend painting—and he doesn’t understand perspective, but does interesting work. He meets a lovely young woman (Bennett) and is attracted to her; she, with the goading of her abusive boyfriend (Duryea) who appears to be several steps below ordinary sleaze, starts taking him for money that he really doesn’t have. Ah, but she and her boyfriend believe he’s an Important Artist, not a low-level bank employee, so of course he’s rolling in it…

One thing leads to another, including the boyfriend’s bizarre decision to try to make money from the unsigned paintings (which the cashier’s moved to the apartment he rented for the girl, largely because his wife threatens to throw out the paintings), which leads to the girl being identified as the artist. I won’t describe the rest of the plot; even by noir standards, it’s complex and downbeat…including the execution of someone where, well, he didn’t commit the murder, but it’s hard to be as outraged as we should be.

The print’s damaged at points (with a line running down it and two minutes missing) and once in a while the sound’s not great. But it’s well directed (by Fritz Lang), well photographed, well acted and the bleak outlook is appropriate. It’s a solid noir—I found it discouraging but definitely well done. $1.50.

One Response to “Mystery Collection Disc 11”

  1. D B Reeder says:

    “Mystery Liner” sounds like a potential “Twilight Zone” episode minus the very excellent writers.