Tuesday, August 25, 2020
Noir Watch: Journey Into Fear (1943)
Format: TCM on DVR
Director: Norman Foster
Show on TCM as part of "Summer Under the Stars", Journey Into Fear (1943) was pitched as a Dolores Del Rio movie, and as I'd never seen a Dolores Del Rio movie and just knew who she was via a general awareness of classic film and talent.
Well, first, Dolores Del Rio was a delight, and I look forward to watching her in more movies. But I was also deeply curious as the film had Agnes Moorehead, my fave Joseph Cotten, and Orson Welles. And if you're like "hey, that sounds like a Mercury Theatre production..." you are not wrong!
Honestly - this movie was terrific and I'd watch it again in a heartbeat. It's a bit before the noir movement, but it features an everyman getting in way over his head by circumstance (but not obsession, which leaves me on the fence for calling it 100% noir). There is a foxy dame (Del Rio) who is not his wholesome and unhelpful wife, shady characters abound, and the aesthetic kind of hollers noir.
Cotten plays a munitions engineer on loan from the US to Turkey. The Nazis figure if they bump him off, it sets the Turks back months or a year in Naval military advances. And all Cotten wants to do is stay in the hotel with his wife - when he's whisked away by a cloying company man. At a nightclub he's nearly missed as the target of an assassination attempt. Welles, playing a bombastic head of the Turkish security forces makes moves to get him out of the city to meet up with his wife later.
The boat which Cotten takes is full of folks who don't travel luxury class or in refined circles - and it's pretty great.
There are a lot of really clever bits and touches that give the film character and texture. Cotten himself wrote the screenplay, and he has a real knack for it. The ending isn't even all that tidy, and we see his character go through a chance and arc. But other characters are so well imagined (the businessman who became a Socialist to annoy his overbearing wife is brilliant), it's just a delight to watch.
I'd honestly love to watch it with an audience as there's plenty for classic film fans to chew on.
As a wartime movie, it's interesting none of these players served, and you get a bit of that "we're all on the same side here" stuff that makes wartime movies in non-American locales so interesting. Before 42 and after 45, its tough to say that characters like Welles' Turkish character would be ancillary heroes of the film. We'd return to making those characters untrustworthy and antagonistic.