Thursday, April 6, 2017

Noir Watch: The Blue Gardenia (1953)

I'm not entirely certain what to make of The Blue Gardenia (1953), and possibly talking about it right after watching it is a mistake.  It was this week's pick on TCM's "Noir Alley", introduced by the great Eddie Muller.

My current take on the film is that I like a huge amount of the pieces that made up the movie, but wasn't a raging fan of the movie itself.  I mean, it stars Richard Conte, Raymond Burr and Anne Baxter (who does some kind of edgy stuff for 1953 - but that's noir all over).  It's got a scenario as treacherous as many or most in noir, pulling the world down a normal person's ears because she made a bad decision or two.  And it's one of the more straightforward "no means no" messages you're going to see in a movie, but baked into the social standards of the era - which makes it all the more challenging.

And did I mention Fritz Lang is the director?  And Nicholas Musuraca (Out of the Past) was DP?

AND it had George Reeves in a supporting role as a wiseguy of a cop?

Yeah, I don't quite get why the movie felt a little flat.

Anne Baxter plays a phone operator in the days of the physical plug-in switchboards.  She's got a boyfriend she considers her one-and-only over in Korea, so she doesn't bite when Raymond Burr - playing a lecherous artist drawing a calendar of operators (don't ask) tries to pick her up.  On her birthday, she's sent her two roommates away for some me-time when she reads a letter from her boyfriend that tells her he's met a nurse and they're engaged.  She intercepts a call from Raymond Burr to her roommate asking for a date and takes her place.  Burr, who just wants to make time with a girl at a swanky tiki club, is okay with the switch.

While taking in a live performance by Nat "King" Cole (no foolin'!), Baxter gets utterly trashed and is talked into going to Burr's apartment, believing they won't be alone.  They are.  He gets aggressive, won't take no, she picks up a fireplace poker and then...

In a genre that's often about sexual indiscretions and bad ideas, this fits right in, in it's way.  But one could write a thesis on the inversion of Burr (Burr!  You're giving us big-dudes hope, man) as seductor and the inverted effects of saying "no" rather than the guy saying "yes" to the wrong girl.

Conte plays a newspaper reporter who knew Burr as an acquaintance and comes to the crime scene not realizing that's him.  He has the scoop and wants to track down "The Blue Gardenia", the name given to Anne Baxter as the mysterious woman seen at the club of the same name with Burr prior to his death.

In a way that in no way reflects Mildred Pierce, this is also a 1950's "woman's film" but, we can certainly categorize it as noir as well.

I suspect that my problem with the movie is that there aren't exactly twists and turns - there's not a lot of plot for the run time of the movie.  The basic elements of the story are there, it's as well acted as you get out of Burr and Conte, and it's fun to see George Reeves in a mustache, smoking cigarettes and playing a flatfoot.  It's even pretty well shot, with some nice stuff here and there.  But there's not as much there as you'd like, and a portion where Conte meets Baxter in the last act kind of makes him seem a bit thick.

Not bad, exactly, but no one was knocking it out of the park on this one.

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