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Peter Rogers's Blog
Artist-in-Residence at Chez Firth

Monday (2/14/11) 10:48pm - ... wherein Peter posts a Weekly Media Update.

Movies:  Cry Danger [spoilers]
TV:  <none>
Books:  Dark City



Cry Danger [spoilers]
Preparations for the noir show continue apace, this time with Cry Danger, a 1951 crime drama from Robert Parrish.  This one features Dick Powell as Rocky Molloy, just out of prison for a heist he didn't commit.  And, like Leo from Appointment with Crime, his first order of business is to get back at the people who set him up.  First he just wants some cash, but that goes badly, so things... escalate. 

So now I've watched two noirs in a row with essentially the same plot:  a thief gets out of prison, and is immediately out for revenge.  But they play out differently in lots of ways.  Leo is much more immediately hostile, threatening the men from the job, telling them how he's going to get even.  Rocky starts quiet -- he wants a large, though reasonable, sum of money (after all, he never ratted anybody out) -- and only gets violent when he's pushed (and pushed and pushed).

And the way things go wrong differs in the two films.  For Leo, his criminal cohort is never much of a threat, but Sergeant Rogers (the visiting Canadian attached to Scotland Yard) relentlessly closes in on him, catching him up in every little error, and finally pressing his girl to turn on him.  For Rocky, his criminal cohort only *seems* harmless -- you think Rocky is starting to get the money he asked for, and suddenly he finds himself framed and then nearly gunned down.

It's like Leo keeps tap-dancing faster and faster to throw the law off his track, while Rocky just gets madder and madder at the thugs who keep trying to screw him over.

Both films have endings that hinge on their respective love interests revealing that they've screwed them over.  Leo realizes Carol has ratted him out to the cops; Rocky finds out Nancy was covering for her guilty husband so she could hold on to half of the loot.  Of course, it goes opposite ways after that:  in Appointment, Leo gets hauled off to jail; in Cry Danger, it's Nancy that gets arrested.

And while both protagonists give themselves high status, it feels like Leo is working at it a lot harder.  Leo does a lot of shouting, a lot of stiff body language, and a lot of exaggerated sneers.  Rocky, on the other hand, is low-key almost to the point of lazy.  It's not quite insolence, and not quite sloth.  Rocky just quietly and efficiently goes about his business without really doing anything anybody asks of him.  And, in the few cases where he gets backed into a corner, he does what he's gotta do without much complaint.

I suppose this attitude defines the film.  Some crime dramas are about paranoia, some are about desperation.  This one seems to be about facing down harrowing adversity so you can intelligently take care of business and get what's yours.


Dark City:  The Lost World of Film Noir by Eddie Muller
As part of noir prep, I read this overview of film noir.

It was very useful, especially in the way it sketched out the various sub-genres of noir.  There are noirs about trapped and repressed suburbanites; noirs about insane-asylum patients who just can't remember the five hours surrounding the murder; noirs about drivers who pick up the wrong hitchhiker.  We all think we know the clichés of film noir -- the dangerous dame, the weary gumshoe, the simile-laden voiceover.  This book picks up on clichés -- patterns, really -- that are more subtle, more accurate, and more useful.

The book isn't perfect.  Mr. Muller tries to write the whole thing like it's stylized and clever noir-voiceover, or prehaps the text of an old dime-store pulp crime novel.  I find this useful as a performer -- the more noir-y sentences I have rattling around in my head, the better it is for my performance -- but it annoys me as a reader.  The mannered writing gets old fast, and eventually you want Mr. Muller to just get out of the way and let the information speak for itself, without any "Look!  I! am! writing!" getting in the way.

The book also leans a bit heavily on biographical information.  I'm sure it makes for a good read -- many of the Hollywood types both in front of and behind the cameras led knockabout lives worthy of the grimmest film noirs -- but it's sort of useless for understanding the genre or performing it.

In any case, I'll hopefully skim through it one last time and take a bunch of notes before returning it to museofchaos.


For next time:  more noir!  I think Kansas City Confidential is next.  I've started reading Sex at Dawn:  The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality.  On audio I'm still picking off podcasts, but I may have a go at these Parker audiobooks that Ms. firth has been raving about (more noir!).  Plus, I eventually want to listen to this writing audiocourse I just picked up.

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