This is my entry to the Film Noir Blogathon sponsored by yours truly, Quiggy.
Film noir. The concept is one that is familiar to aficionados of classic film, but may be a strange term to the novice. Film noir (or dark film, or if you will, "black" film) is a term that is used for films made in the 40's and 50's that featured some gritty crime dramas with characters who were not all that socially acceptable by the norms of the day.
The classic film noir characters were bad guys with almost no scruples and good guys who had only a few more scruples than their counterparts. Or, as in the case of the following two entries, the good guys just found themselves thrown into a hellhole they never expected and had to confront demons that would never have happened to the average person.
Edmond O'Brien, the star of both of these entries, (the man with the "shattered look" of the title of my blog piece), had a stellar career in noir. He was the star or co-star in many noir movies from the classic period, including The Killers, The Web, An Act of Murder, Shield for Murder, White Heat, and of course D.O.A. and The Hitch-hiker, just to name a few. He was also a two-time nominee and one time winner for an Oscar (both as Best Supporting Actor, the win coming for 1954's The Barefoot Contessa, not a noir role, but still worth a look-see)
He ended his career mostly as a character actor on various episodes of TV shows, but had one memorable role as one of The Wild Bunch in 1969. But we are here to discuss the noir O'Brien, so....
This is NOT a spoiler! Frank Bigelow (Edmond O'Brien), in a long opening sequence goes in to the L.A. police office to report a murder, his own. The police however are expecting him. He had last been seen in San Francisco. Bigelow goes into detail, via flashbacks, of what happened since a couple of days before.
The flashback sequence opens with Bigelow making plans to take a few days away from his accountant office in Banning. He has something of an argument with his secretary, Paula (Pamela Britton), who is also his girlfriend, who resents that he is taking the trip alone. She thinks he is just going to get away from her.
After, he arrives, he finds a town and a hotel room that is awash in parties. Apparently he has arrived on the last day of a convention. He hooks up with a fellow attendant across the hall of his hotel room and ends up in a bar called "the Fisherman" down on the waterfront. He makes arrangements to meet a girl he sees there later, while, unbeknownst to him a mysterious figure switches his drink on him. (It will become apparent shortly that the drink was poisoned).
He wakes up, not feeling all that hot, and attributes it to having too much to drink. When the hangover does not dissipate, he goes to a doctor where he is informed that he has ingested a "luminous poison" and that he is going to die and nothing can be done to save him. He doesn't believe the doctor, and with a "shattered look", apparently runs across the entire city of San Francisco to get a second opinion. This doctor not only confirms the poison, but also tells him since he didn't know he took it, he has been murdered.
He then runs across town to the bar where he thinks he was poisoned. (Doesn't San Francisco have cabs or cable cars or something?) Finding the place closed he goes back to his hotel room, where Paula informs him that a man who had tried to get in touch with him the day before had committed suicide. Now Bigelow thinks there might be some connection, so he goes to the office where the man worked and then to visit the man's widow. Since all the remaining figures in this story are in L.A., he flies there. (Thank God he didn't try to run from S.F. to L.A....)
The plot reveals that Bigelow had unwittingly notarized a bill of sale to the dead man for a batch of stolen "iridium". The man to whom it was sold, a man named Majak (Luther Adler), tries to dissuade him from investigating any further, including having one of his henchmen, Chester (Neville Brand, a familiarly sadistic character actor) take care of him, but Bigelow gets the upper hand and ditches him.
It turns out, of course, that the notarizing of the stolen "iridium" is NOT exactlyy the reason Bigelow was poisoned. Red herrings abound within this movie, and all issues are resolved, but if you are a little dense like me, you may have to watch it twice to figure out the real reason he was poisoned. Still, this classic edgy noir is one of the best of the bunch that I've had the pleasure to see.
The Hitch-Hiker (1953)
The movie starts out following a mysterious figure who keeps hitch-hiking, and then hijacking the cars while killing the owners. The police come across the remains, or at various times, the ditched cars, but we don't see the killer only the victims until later in the movie.
Roy Collins (Edmond O'Brien) and Gilbert Bowen (Frank Lovejoy) are driving in Mexico on a fishing trip. They pick up a hitch-hiker, who, unbeknownst to the two is the escaped criminal Emmett Myers. Of course, if you watch the opening credits, you already know that the third star, William Talman, is going to be the titular "hitch-hiker". Even knowing that, you could hardly be blamed if you didn't recognize him.
Previously, in my own experience, I only knew Talman as the straight-laced D.A. Hamilton Burger on the TV series "Perry Mason". In this movie, Talman is a lot more rugged looking and has a partially paralyzed eye which gives his face a gaunt look. Perfectly fitting for the type of character he is essaying, a sadistic, moral-less criminal.
Myers hijacks our reluctant duo and forces them to drive to Santa Rosalita, where he plans to take a ferry across the Gulf of California to safety in Mexico. Along the way he sadistically threatens to shoot them if the radio reports end up linking him to the two and his whereabouts. Luckily for them, at least in the early part of the movie, the authorities think he is anywhere BUT south of California.
Myers hampers any success attempts at escape by refusing to let his victims us Spanish when talking to the locals, some of which don't understand any English.
Collins and Bowen, for their part do any number of various attempts to give away their whereabouts, but Myers always seems to be having the upperhand on any of these tricks. Things don't look well, even after Collins manages to sabotage the car so that the three have to continue on foot. They are slowed somewhat by the fact that Collins has a twisted ankle and can't move as fast.
When the trio finally arrive in Santa Rosalita, it turns out that the ferry that was to be Myers salvation had recently burned up, so they are stranded in Baja California. But they find a willing man to charter his fishing boat to get them across. Will Myers escape? Will he kill Collins and Bowen before he does? Tune in to find out.
Enjoy both of these. And always watch you drink, and NEVER EVER pick up strangers on the side of the road. Drive home safely kiddies.