Sunday, May 19, 2019
Noir City Austin - Day 1 - "Trapped" (1949) and "The Turning Point" (1952)
Format: Noir City Austin at Alamo Ritz
Viewing: First for both
Decade: 1940's/ 1950's
Eddie Muller is back in Bat City for Noir City Austin, our annual showing of films I'd never find on my own, and always can't believe the gold Muller is able to surface. Muller isn't just host of TCM's Noir Alley weekly dose of crime, implied sex and moral gray areas - he's also head of the Film Noir Foundation. Proceeds from the festival and merch sales go back to the FNF, who, in turn use the money to rescue films from obscurity and eventual loss.
Trapped (1949) was a project of the FNF, who located a print in a personal collection, and have struck a new print and restoration.
Part of the era of filmmaking where they advertised loudly both the participation with law enforcement and claimed to show the real-life drama of those in law enforcement, this movie was made in cooperation with the Treasury Department. Lloyd Bridges plays a crook who was floating counterfeit money, but wound up in jail. New bills are appearing, so the Treasury guys get him out to help them when he up and escapes, heading out to LA to meet up with his lady-friend, played by Barbara Payton. There's Treasury guys working undercover, and a slow circling of the dirty players to get to the bottom of everything that plays well - and Bridges is a terrific, firecracker sort of villain.
Frankly, my favorite part in the movie was John Hoyt, but I don't want to spoil how he fits in. I also don't know much about Dorothy Payton - but as the loser/main squeeze of a noir crook, she does well.
And, had we not then watched The Turning Point (1952) as a point of comparison, I'd have given Trapped higher marks. But with an all-star cast doing some terrific and - at times - wonderfully nuanced work, The Turning Point also featured more complex themes of the cost of justice and played as grim and tonally on-point as anything you'd want to see at a film fest called "Noir City".
Starring William Holden, Edmond O'Brien and Alexis Smith, the film captures a "ripped from the headlines" take on the mid-century commissions tasked with investigating organized crime. O'Brien is a former academic and attorney brought in to break up a Los Angeles mob, a guy with an iron clad sense of justice instilled from his street-cop father. Holden plays the childhood pal who works as a reporter and may have a more nuanced sense of both crime and justice and the real challenges facing anyone who wants to take on racketeers. Smith is the society dame who arrives with O'Brien (and is bankrolling him?), but who as a - frankly - buyable connection with Holden that should feel cliche'd but hits on all cylinders
You're unlikely to find The Turning Point available for a bit, but it may be coming to home video or cable, and when it does, I highly recommend the movie. If movies of nearly 70 years ago tell us nothing else, it's that they remind us of that these times we're in are nothing new, that the challenges we think of our own are just the same story with a new face, in need of new voices to step up. As a film, it's an amazing bit of noir with stellar performances all around. Highly recommended.