Monday, May 21, 2018

Noir City Austin: The Unsuspected (1947) & The Threat (1949) - Sunday shows

Watched:  05/20/2018
Format:   Noir City Austin at Alamo Ritz in 35mm
Viewing:  fourth/ first
Decade:  1940's

We attended two films on the final day of Noir City Austin, The Unsuspected (1947) and The Threat (1949).  Two extremely different movies, but both a real treat.  The Film Noir Foundation isn't just Eddie Muller, and as he had to depart, we were lucky to have author Alan K. Rode in attendance to introduce the films.

Longtime readers will know we have a certain affinity for actor Audrey Totter here at The Signal Watch, and so we were thrilled to note one of her films was listed in the program.  We've certainly talked about The Unsuspected here before, but it was a terrific opportunity to both get some background on famed director Michael Curtiz from Rode, who has a book out on the director, and to see the movie on the big screen presented from a 35mm print. 

Totter schemes!
The film begins with a distinct feeling maybe we're watching a spin on noir-staple Laura, but quickly finds its own way, with a windier plot and arguably more complex characters with more complex motivations.  Rich people at odds with each other under a single roof, a mysterious husband seeking information on the dead/ not-dead girl, and a suicide in the house that was clearly not a suicide. 

Claude Rains is typically superb as the household patriarch, a classy radio host specializing in thrilling tales of crime and suspense.  Totter plays the cousin to the dead/ not-dead girl, a cynical noir dame, looking for her angle, all sharp edges with a wounded heart. 

it's also the movie featuring Totter in this black dress.  We support this decision.
Plot-wise, character-wise, I can recommend the movie plenty.  But the dialog in the film is honed to a razor's edge, the weapon of choice the characters wield upon each other - a lost art in writing and delivery in today's age  of scripting and performance.  And I'd be deeply remiss not to mention the phenomenal photography of Woody Bredell paired with Curtiz.  The lighting of the cavernous mansion throws depth and shadow, dutch angles and choice blocking tell the story more than any exposition.

If you note I'm mostly avoiding discussing the plot: hats off to you, detective.  The Unsuspected is best left to the viewer to watch unfold from beginning to end and enjoy all the twists and turns.

If The Unsuspected was high crime in a high-class world, then The Threat is a working class thriller in the mold of other hostage-situation potboilers.  An RKO b-lister, it's rough and tumble stuff taking a page from the Key Largo's and Petrified Forest's and mixing it with a prison-break drama.

Charles McGraw and a pair of pals bust out of Folsom and go to ground.  Along the way they kidnap the cop (Michael O'Shea) who brought down McGraw, the DA who prosecuted him, and Virginia Grey.  This is McGraw in his pre-granite cop mode, still a threatening thug here, maybe not as smart as he thinks he is.  For my fellow Superman-fans - the movie does feature Robert Shayne who played Inspector Henderson on The Adventures of Superman

While an enjoyable, genuinely fun movie, I don't want to analyze it to death.  Rode noted it was what it felt like - a movie made quick and cheap, that happened to be better than it needed to be, helped along with better performances that you'd expect and a tight script that keeps the story moving. 

It also doesn't exactly borrow from anything else - it never feels derivative, but there's just enough stuff in the movie that's familiar (if a car ever needs gas in a noir movie, you know some @#$% is going down at the gas station), that you can't sell it on originality.  But do check it out - they don't program bad movies at Noir City, so there's always something to enjoy in every picture.

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