Saturday, June 23, 2012

Noir Watch: Desperate (1947)


Desperate (1947) feels very much like a movie that was made because somebody needed a thriller and they needed one fast.

One of the things I like best about noir can be the the tightly woven plots that fit together like a Swiss timepiece.  Desperate is not an exemplar of this mode of noir-making.

The world's most illogical criminal gang, led by a pre-Godzilla Raymond Burr, decides that to make their heist run well, they should just hire a truck from a guy Raymond Burr knew when they were kids.  So, they hire the incredibly potent newlywed Steve Randall, played by Steve Brodie.

Steve is onto their scheme after showing up and letting the guys who announce "hey, we found some furs!" load their stuff onto his truck at a warehouse, but gets twitchy when one of them shows his pistol for absolutely no reason.  The gang decides to hold Steve in the truck, but in the cab of the truck where he signals a security officer with the lights.  Bullets fly and mayhem ensues.

Desperate to see the closing credits, maybe.

Burr's brother is caught by the cops (but somehow nobody else).  The gang reconvenes and decides that what needs to happen is for Steve to march into the police station and state that he was the mastermind, which they believe will spring Burr's brother, who was seen shooting a cop.  This plan, of course, is CLEARLY what someone would follow through with, and in no way relay their harrowing tale to the police.  

Refusing this plan, the thugs threaten Steve's wife.  Steve caves and the thugs insist that they better see Burr's brother set free by midnight or else (which, whaaaaat...???).

En route to the police station, Steve knocks out his escort with a quick elbow to the ribs and escapes.  He calls his wife and gets her to join him on a train headed out of town.

Bear in mind, none of the thugs know what Steve's wife looks like, so just getting her out of the apartment was all the resolution he needed.  Why he didn't go to the cops with her in tow and show how the thugs beat him him up and state that he was there to protect his wife is anyone's guess...

Instead, they go on the lam.  Like you do.

Of the various "big themes" of noir, this one follows the "average joe gets in over his head with the underworld" schtick.  That seems to have been about as far as the writers got before rolling film and needing to have the actors say something, absolutely anything.  Apparently "how can we make this interesting" was not part of the formula.

Actor Jason Robard's father (also known as Jason Robards) plays the cop who points out how ridiculous every decision made by our hero has been.  It's sort of gratifying.

As Jamie pointed out "I know these people are on the run and all, but they're really boring."  Indeed so.  I will give them that they enjoy a nice scene with a Czech wedding that goes nowhere, but suggests that unless you get married by a minister, its not official.

The only major things to like in the movie are seeing how much the Jason Robards you're thinking of sounds like his father.  It's creepy.  And hats off to the DP as there some nice shots during a stairwell bound gunfight and the scene where Steve gets the snot kicked out of him is pretty well done.  Aside from that...  meh.

In short, I cannot recommend Desperate.  I can't say I even particularly enjoyed the movie.   You can feel free so skip this one.


J.S. said...

You've been watching a lot of noir. At some point, as you've been wandering further and further afiled, you were bound to start running into some weaker examples of the genre. I look forward to some upcoming post about Noir's Dumbest Flicks (or something similar).

The League said...

yeah, after the first WB noir set, which is more or less solid gold, they started stacking these flicks per set with one or two great movies, some mid-tier flicks, and then some god-awful cluster bombs. These movies were often cheaply produced in the pre-TV era when it was all grist for the mill, and sometimes it really, really shows.

I mean, this was pre-TV, so the producers only had to fill a screen for one or two weeks. They weren't necessarily thinking they needed to hit it out of the park every time.

Part of the fun of talking about every movie I watch in 2012 is bothering to talk about things I'm regretting watched. I shall keep you apprised of my progress.