Format: Amazon Watch Party
Director: Allan Dwan - Director of Photography: John Alton
This week's Tuesday selection by Jenifer was Slightly Scarlet (1956), an RKO noir picture that seemed to have all the hallmarks of an RKO crime picture, and - starring the late Rhonda Fleming - was released in technicolor. Jenifer no doubt selected the film because Fleming passed just last week on the 14th, and it seemed like a good way to remember the red-head bombshell, known as "Queen of Technicolor".*
Shot by John Alton, one of the now-most-famous noir DP's, it's wild to see a noir of this period in color, and one that was still being lit like all we were working with was gray tone and black and white. Even if the story of the film doesn't grab you, it's interesting enough just to see how the rules for how these movies would be shot that had been brewing for a decade works and doesn't work once your subjects are in living color.
The story is James M. Cain, who gave us Mildred Pierce and The Postman Always Rings Twice, so you know it's family melodrama mixed with MURDER.
Fleming plays a career-gal who has just landed the next mayor of her California coastal city (the fictional Bay City) as her beau. She's picking up her sister from jail, a troubled young woman with a bent psyche. But along comes John Payne - an educated fellow playing dirty in the rackets and has an eye on the Big Man's chair (Ted De Corsia).
Payne romances Fleming, the sister - who becomes increasingly unhinged out of her prison environs - decides she wants her some John Payne, and city politics mix with mob corruption.
All in all, a tight noir plot. Aside from color, the stand-out difference is really Arlene Dahl's portrayal of the troubled sister, who would be winding up in a Mental Health Court these days, and how treatment and support of family (even as Dahl is blaming Fleming for her state) is everything. It does lean into "there's a specific event that caused this" psychology of the time, at least as far as movies are concerned - and it is lifted wholesale from 1946's The Locket - but it's still an interesting twist to not just write off the sister as twisted or evil.
Also - a harpoon gun is deployed!
I think I did a phenomenal job of not acting like a Tex Avery wolf cartoon when Fleming was on screen - and the movie (in classic RKO noir fashion) - was certainly going for production value. I can't tell if this was part of the Howard Hughes era of the studio - certainly it has the feel of something he would have had his hands on, from Fleming's wardrobe, to Arlene Dahl's personal line of negligee playing a featured role, and fight scenes that feel a little bone-crunchy. My suspicion is: yes. But I'm not sure when Hughes' grip on RKO slipped, and it would have been around this period. But, man, that poster looks like something Hughes would have insisted on.
*it's hard to say the impact red-heads had on Technicolor and it had on red-heads. I know Maureen O'Hara was also considered a highlight of Technicolor film.