Sunday, May 20, 2018

Noir City Austin: The Accused (1949) & The Underworld Story (1950)



Watched:  05/19/2018
Viewing:  First/ First
Format:  Noir City Austin at the Alamo Ritz
Decade:  1940's/ 1950's

Both films were shown as part of Noir City Austin, hosted by TCM Noir Alley host, Eddie Muller and presented in 35mm. 



Eddie Muller introduced The Accused (1949) in both its historical context - Young's personal background and history - and in our current context of the #MeToo movement.  I'll be honest - this is a very good movie, but it is not a *fun* movie.  Loretta Young is fantastic, as are co-stars Wendell Corey and Robert Cummings.  It's a thrill to see Sam Jaffe show up in a supporting role as a police scientist, and special kudos to Douglas Dick, who plays Bill Perry in the film for a thankless but unforgettable role. 

Young plays a young college professor in the psych department who has a brilliant but undisciplined student in Bill Perry.  He begins publicly "acting fresh" with her, leading her to summon him to her office.  Thinking better of it, she goes to leave and leave a note - handing this over to the Dean rather than deal with the student by herself (a good move in a higher ed environment, FYI).  As she goes to depart, she runs into the student and he sweet talks her into helping him with how he can talk his guardian into letting him stay at UCLA.  The student takes her way out to Malibu for dinner, and then to a cliff to show her where he goes diving for abalone.  She starts to realize he wants more than abalone and states her intention to head back on foot when he begins to sexually assault her.  Young finds a heavy object in the car, and in defending herself kills the student with a blow to the head.

Certain this will destroy her career and reputation (it certainly looks odd she was taking beachfront drives with the student) she fakes his death by drowning. 

While a grand jury accepts this as the set of circumstances, Wendell Corey isn't as sanguine and begins his own police investigation. 

The sexual politics of the film are surprisingly undated, and the reality of both victim-blaming and a tendency of cops to find fault with anyone who isn't a white and male who defends themselves.  But neither is the student going too far a relic of the past, nor the cold-blooded approach of the police, the sureness that coming forward would destroy a professor's life and career if she did fess up. 

SPOILERS:  The movie doesn't actually end particularly well for anyone involved.  Young does leave her post at UCLA ostensibly to marry for love, but it's certainly suggested otherwise.  If she'll work again is anyone's guess.  The cop who was dogging her does come around and while he charges her he knows and hopes he'll lose - and does.  But he also realizes that this job of his and how he deals with people mean he'll likely die alone.  It gives the trappings of an upbeat ending, but that's a pollyanna-ish view of events.  END SPOILERS

Like I said - it's a wonderfully made film, but it's stressful as hell to watch.  I do want to give it another go sometime to just see what they did and how they did it when I'm not chewing my nails off.

The second feature I caught on Saturday was The Underworld Story (1950) starring noir-ista favorite Dan Duryea. 

It's an oddball name for the movie - and if I expected a movie about hard-hitting city reporters blowing the lid off organized crime: this was not that movie at all. 

Instead Dan Duryea plays a bit of a grifter who has fallen into the news game.  He loses his job by giving away specific details he's supposed to keep under wraps, and it gets people killed by the mob.  He finds a possible way back in by getting cash from the mob as a "thank-you" gift, and goes off to invest in a small-town paper - anything to get some footing.  There, the daughter-in-law of a newspaper magnate is found murdered, and Duryea follows his chiseling instincts to exploit the story.

There's a racial element to the movie that was a bit surprising for a film of its vintage as a Black maid is suspected, her race specifically used against her (I have a hard time thinking of many movies that admit as much from the era that aren't message pictures).  Confounding the film-goer, and thank God Eddie said something before the movie - the actress cast is not actually Black but a White woman with dark eyes in some make-up. 

I know.  You take a step forward with trying to make a point, and then...  Humanity, we are so bad at this.

There's no murder mystery to the film - it's all there for the audience to simply see how things sort out in a David v Goliath situation.   Duryea is typically good, as are the rest of the cast.  Special note for actor Howard De Silva who plays a mob boss in the film - eschewing the usual tough-guy banter for a sort of cheery malice.  Also of note: we got Alan Hale, Jr. as a tough.  It's always weird to see The Skipper show up as a young man in these movies but with the same booming vice, but he's really pretty good.  And I just want to pause to note that Duryea's female counterpart in the movie was an actor named "Gale Storm", which - if that's her real name - hats are off to her parents.

Anyway - of the two films I saw, this one was definitely the more fun of the two, issues and all.  A classic windy rich-people murder mystery, a guy who learns how to do good, and some exposure of how the media spins and spins both reality and public opinion (and why). 

All said - a good double-bill for me, even if it was only half of what they Noir City Austin had to offer on Saturday. 

2 comments:

J.S. said...

Amy and I both enjoyed Underworld Story. The whole Noir City festival is always a good time.

Signal Watch said...

Yeah! Thanks for coming out! That one was a lot of fun!