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One excellent noir, one good noir, but poor quality video and audio
on 15 July 2007
In Hollywood, directors get the credit. With The Chase, a strange, fascinating, neurotic noir, the credit should go to one of the masters of noir pulp fiction, the writer Cornell Woolrich. Like Phantom Lady, another Woolrich creation, the story centers around what might be struggling to get out of a person's head.
Woolrich wrote masterful pulp using his own name or the pseudonyms William Irish or George Hopley. He was a homosexual who loathed himself. He married a girl he idolized and saw the marriage annulled. Despite the money he made, he lived most of his life with his mother in decaying New York apartment buildings where his neighbors were lushes, prostitutes and drug addicts. At night, he'd troll the waterfront for anonymous sex partners. He became a deep alcoholic. And he turned out a stream of mystery novels and short stories that still are worth reading nearly 40 years after his death. Much of his material has been made into movies. If you like Hitchcock's Rear Window, you're watching a Cornell Woolrich short story. More often than not, the stories revolve around the black struggles that can happen inside a person's head. The Chase, based on Woolrich's The Black Path of Fear, is a noir worth watching.
One morning a down-and-out young man, Chuck Scott (Robert Cummings), finds a wallet on a Miami sidewalk. He finds the owner's name and address and delivers it to him. The owner, Eddie Roman (Steve Cochran), is a soft-spoken gangster with a penchant for hitting women, eliminating business competitors and for always being the man in control. His partner, Gino (Peter Lorre), who grew up with him, is just as ruthless and amoral, but not as psychopathic. Roman has been married three years to Lorna (Michelle Morgan), a beautiful, frightened woman who wants only to escape from him. Eddie Roman is amused by Chuck Scott's honesty and hires him as a chauffeur. Scott quickly learns two things. First, Roman has a car that is built so that from the back seat Roman can take over the accelerator. When he flips a switch he can move the car up to over 100 miles an hour. The driver can only steer and pray. The second thing Scott learns is that he is drawn to Lorna Roman.
It all comes together when Scott agrees to flee with Lorna to Havana. And then we descend into a dark swirl of murder, pay back, amnesia and fear. Half way through the movie we find ourselves in a paranoid dream of night-time Havana, of a horse-drawn carriage that rides off into a busy street, of a man glimpsed throwing a knife in a crowded bar, of a Cuban detective who casually uses a murder knife to spear a piece of melon from the table of a sobbing prostitute. Only later do we learn what is dream and what is real. If what was dream is frightening, what is real may turn out to be worse.
This really is an excellently developed story, and photographed with all the poorly lit streets and shadowy rooms a good noir needs. Cummings does a credible job as the uncertain but determined hero. Steve Cochran is first-rate as the menace. He's quiet, even thoughtful, but ready to do violent and unpredictable things in an instant. He has no intention of letting Lorna go. Lloyd Corrigan, a long time character actor, makes a memorable appearance as a businessman who won't sell his ships to Roman. He spends the rest of his life, which is brief, in Roman's wine cellar with a large dog. The music score is a strange dreamy underlay that suits the movie just fine.
Bury Me Dead:
A woman in black takes a taxi to a cemetery one afternoon. She's going to attend the funeral of a person she knew quite well...herself. Barbara Carlin (June Lockhart) is a wealthy, self assured young woman who lives in a large mansion with stables and servants. She has a handsome and unreliable husband, Rod (Mark Daniels), and a troubled younger sister, Rusty (Cathy O'Donnell), who technically isn't a sister since Barbara's father never got around to adopting Rusty before he died. One night there was a terrible fire which destroyed the stables. The corpse which was found burned beyond recognition was assumed to be Barbara. On the way back from the funeral she hitches a ride with the family lawyer, the fussy, dutiful Michael Dunn (Hugh Beaumont), who helps manage Barbara's and Rod's affairs. As those around Barbara realize she is still alive, through a series of flashbacks we learn about the tense relationship between Barbara and Rusty, the likelihood of a divorce between Barbara and Rod, and Rod's relationship with the money-hungry girlfriend of a boxer who is as thick in the head as he is in the shoulders. As we learn more, we realize that Barbara is in danger as the real killer moves closer to rectifying the mistake when the wrong woman was murdered.
This is a classic B noir made on the cheap by a low-budget production house with B level actors. Cathy O'Donnell may have gotten off to a great start with The Best Years of Our Lives, but when she married an older man and infuriated Sam Goldwyn, she found herself in movies like this. June Lockhart at 22 gives a remarkably assured performance as a smart, rich woman who has a wry sense of humor and a realistic way of looking at things. "Perhaps I'm being a bit morbid," Barbara says to Michael and Rod. "Funerals always depress me. Especially my own." Also to be admired are two character actors who never made star names for themselves, but who appeared in dozens of movies. There's Virginia Farmer, a tall prune of a woman, who plays the housekeeper, and Milton Farmer as the butler, who played many a mortician.
This is a noir with a light touch, full of sharp, comic dialogue with a morbid twist. The end of the movie, when the killer is revealed and begins a cat-and-mouse game in the silent mansion with Barbara, builds a competent amount of suspense. Is the movie good? It is if you accept the charm of second-billed B movies on the double feature marquees of movie theaters in the Forties. The killer, for instance, is not too difficult to spot if you enjoy red herrings, B list casting and the conventions of low budget noirs. Accept it for what it is and enjoy an hour at the movies.
Both movies lack a lot on this double bill, with fuzzy, grainy images and noticeable static on the audio.