Sunday, June 7, 2020

Noir Watch: Cornered (1945)

Watched:  06/04/2020
Format:  Noir Alley on TCM on BluRay
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1940's
Director:  Edward Dmytryk

There's a lot to like in Cornered (1945), categorized here as Film Noir, but it's early in the movement and won't fit some people's ideas of the category.  Still, a man driven half-mad by obsession ignores common sense in pursuit of his goals, his weaknesses clobber him repeatedly and near fatally, and there are possibly scheming women, even as he sets about solving a mystery.  He's not a professional detective, but former Canadian RAF pilot Gerard (a not Canadian-polite Dick Powell) is recovering at the end of the war and learns that the French girl he met and married while hiding out in a village after being downed, was rounded up and killed by a Nazi collaborator.

Feeling his duty is clear, after faking his death so no one will go looking for him as he goes AWOL, he sets off on an international mission to find the killer who has fled to Argentina.  A rough and tumble-type, Gerard is a bull in a china shop of sophisticated European ex-pats, possibly ex-Nazis, all hiding beneath the veneer of European manners and a recreated society of manners hiding some deep rot.  Walter Slezak plays a local operator who sidles up close to Powell's Gerard, an opportunist playing both sides.  The collaborator's wife is found and things heat up as Gerard doesn't even know the rules or real stakes he's playing for.

Look, I just like Dick Powell in this era of his career.  I find him bizarre to see as a song-and-dance man in the 1930's, much as it's bizarre for me to see Jimmy Cagney tap dancing and singing about Yankee Doodle Dandy, but when he found this particular angle for his film persona, I am all in.  That said, I would have loved to have seen John Payne play this role, too.

Slezak is simply ahead of his time in this role, or perhaps paved the way for others to do similar work.  But, man, he's good in this as the poncy, overweight gadfly with a mean streak.

The rest of the cast is good, but maybe not great, but I am not sure why we never saw Nina Vale much after this (she plays a small but crucial part of a femme fatale, and is...  something).

how *you* doin?

For a film shot almost entirely on sets, and not on a Warner or MGM budget, there's some good camera work in this one, courtesy the always effective Harry J. Wild - who also shot several remarkable noir films (Murder, My Sweet), but also comedies and musicals (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes).

It's not a game changer, but as a movie arriving at the end of WWII it's a precursor of the anger some men would bring home, suggesting trauma both physical and emotional that would feed and inform more of the noir movement.  When everything else is stripped away, what else are you going to do but keep plowing forward, even if it seems like a bad idea?  I mean, constantly moving further toward Germany through Europe probably didn't seem like the safe bet either, and decisions could be made that didn't make much sense as life felt short and like something to grab onto - like French girls who said yes to proposals.  Or, in noir to arrive shortly, girls who were obviously a bad idea.

We, of course, never see Gerard's wife.  And the film doesn't actually tell us that he *really* loved her, but she did represent something to her, and he would have loved her, maybe, when they were reunited.

It's a tough film, and I'm sure there are analogs of the story elsewhere, but it could be endlessly remade for every era.  I'm just surprised it hasn't been and that this particular film has been sort of forgotten.

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