Friday, August 24, 2012

Noir Watch: FBI Girl (1951)

I'm going to spoil the ending, but there are two great things in this movie.
  • Lots of Audrey Totter
  • Raymond Burr in a moving speedboat shooting at Cesar Romero who is shooting back from a helicopter.  Heck.  Yes.
Oddly, the movie doesn't really live up to either (a) containing Audrey Totter nor (b) the exciting Burr/Romero sequence I've described.

In the post WWII-era FBI director J. Edgar Hoover did a fine job of getting Hollywood in line and making sure movies about the FBI almost invariably celebrated the DOJ as a machine so powerful that even when infiltrated or somehow compromised, the power of righteousness would prevail.  And, if you were a red-blooded movie exec looking to stay away from HUAC, you could do worse than promoting J. Edgar's little club.
nothing like what you see of Audrey Totter here ever happens in the movie

FBI Girl (1951) spends no small amount of energy establishing the flawless nature of the FBI's fingerprint department - something criminals and lawmen alike in mid-century crime fiction seemed to worry about.  I've never understood how the whole fingerprint mechanism worked before computers, and this movie does nothing to shed light on why it was even an issue for criminals (I mean, with a million prints on record, and requests coming in all the time, how do you even know where to start with a comparison?).

Well, this movie is not giving up that secret.  But it does pin down Governor McGeneric in Capital City (it actually is named "Capital City" lest any state feel slighted) as a former criminal with his fingerprints on file under his real name.  He's under a bit of heat from the FBI for possible criminal something-or-other and concerned that he's going to be exposed.  How or why they would compare his fingerprints to those of a criminal named "John Williams" is never explained.  Or how you get to be Governor if nobody can ever remember you from your childhood or publicized background.

Raymond Burr plays a crook who, I think, works in PR in Washington DC by day and runs the mob at night...  maybe.  It's confusing.  He's partnered with a decidedly slumming George Brent partnered with a slightly-less slumming Cesar Romero, and Audrey Totter squeezed into the role of virtuous woman - because its 1951 and it's a movie of somewhat limited imagination.  While she's good, she's working in the confines of a "good guys wear white hats" b-movie that really wants to be an FBI movie and not much else - but she's a pro and I think she gives the part a lot that isn't on the page.

The crooks wants to pull Williams' fingerprint file and make it disappear and to do so, they need to recruit one of the clerks who works in the fingerprint file area.  And then things get dangerous-like.

The movie is listed as noir, released under a "Forgotten Noir" banner - but it's really just sort of a cop movie with a lot of guys in hats.  Slapping "noir" on a movie doesn't make it so.

There's also a weird moment where the studio was clearly trying to promote comedy duo Tommy & Pete, and a couple of girls just watch them on TV for about three or four minutes.  It's the damndest thing.

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