Sunday, January 21, 2024

Noir Watch: I Died a Thousand Times (1955)

Watched:  01/21/2024
Format:  TCM
Viewing:  First
Director:  Stuart Heisler
Selection:  Me

Uh...  I don't know why this movie exists other than the fact money is a good thing to have.  

TCM's Noir Alley host, Eddie Muller, forewarned this was a remake of a personal fave of mine, High Sierra, from 1940.  That film stars Bogart and a very young Ida Lupino, is directed by Raoul Walsh, and generally kicks ass.  

A mere fifteen years later, the studio decided to remake the movie, but not in the way I'm used to remakes on Noir Alley.  Generally, studios would use the skeleton of the plot, relationships and conflicts, but reset the movie in a different place, changing circumstances, combining characters, etc...  You might have to squint, but you can tell.  

This movie is a straight remake, beat for beat, scene for scene.  It would be like someone deciding "let's remake Iron Man now, but with Andy Samberg and call it Super Suit".   And then you'd roll through all the same scenes with different dialog, etc...  Which is an amazing academic exercise, but - if you've seen Iron Man, not exactly thrilling.  

Rather than Humphrey Bogart, we get Jack Palance.  And, rather than Lupino, we get Shelley Winters.  Which, look, I don't think I can hurt Winters' feelings many years after her passing, but she just isn't my cup of tea.  

Palance is an iffy enough choice himself.  In my limited viewing, and certainly in this film, he lacks the vulnerability that Bogart had beneath his version's surface - or at least some level of empathy.  Unlike Bogart, you don't think Palance is helping the poor farmers from Illinois because he feels kinship, he just wants to bang Velma, the 19 year old.  He doesn't soften for the dog, he just doesn't know what else to do with the dog.

Winters, in my limited viewing, is a product of her time.  Apparently an award-winning actor on the stage, in this movie, she's basically hitting one note, and it's wildly different from the strong but desperate young woman Lupino plays, but using basically the same sort of dialog.  Lupino played it as flattering to Bogart, appealing to him as a big, strong man, when she was pretty tough herself.  Winters is just a hopeless mess who really does need Palance to tell her what to do.  She makes the same face of sad confusion through 85% of the movie, and you just... can't really pull for the character.  And you *have* to.  That's the heart of the story - the chance that this crook will maybe get away and he's realized this girl actually matters to him.

But in those 15 years that passed between 1940 and 1955, a lot had changed with how women could be seen in media - and while there are innumerable instances of tough, smart women in 1950's movies and media, the tomboyish tough guy girl of the 1930's and 40's had been replaced with the idea of maybe someone might make a good little wifey who would let the man tell her what to do.


It doesn't help that one of the movies I associate with Winters is He Ran All the Way, in which she also plays a kind of weepy sap for the wrong guy.  

The Velma in this version - the crippled 19 year old that Roy (Palance) helps out is... a lot worse and less sympathetic than the one in High Sierra, and the relationship seems doomed from the start.  


Steven said...

I am fully prepared to stan for "Super Suit." Can you imagine the Lonely Island theme song alone?

Super Suit knows there ain't nothing to it
industrial complex like Dad used to to do
de-fense com-plex,
ARC(tm) flex,
please....go back to ya cave(, bitch).

The League said...

I did not expect a hip-hop musical, but appreciate this is where we landed!