Monday, June 17, 2013

Films Noir by author David Goodis

Friday nights this month (June 2013) Turner Classic Movies is showing films noir grouped by a certain author and/or screenwriter.  This past week featured films adapted from works or written by David Goodis.  I had seen his most famous film adaptation, "Dark Passage" (1947) starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, many times, and I have also seen "Shoot the Piano Player" (1960) a number of times.  But I never tied the two films together, and I had never seen other, more rare, Goodis works.  This night included "Nightfall" and "The Burglar," both from 1957. 

It was interesting to consider the different approaches the Hollywood studio system and the French New Wave approached Goodis' work.  "Dark Passage" has some realism with its location shooting, but the star power still required high studio production values.  "Shoot the Piano Player," however, has the low budget, immediate feeling of a film entirely shot on location, on the go, as if trying to keep up with the story. 
Marie Dubois (Lena), " Shoot the Piano Player," 1960.

I was really impressed with the acting of Marie Dubois as Lena, the barmaid who tries to help Charlie, the piano player, out of a jam in "Shoot the Piano Player."  Charlie falls in love with her and, at first, she keeps him at a distance.  It was fun watching him romance her and watch her reel him in.  Ultimately she is the one who pays the price for Charlie's poor choices, dying in a shoot-out between gangsters and Charlie's hoodlum brothers.
Dan Duryea, "The Burglar," 1957.
Actually, many of Goodis' main characters are unlucky, often made worse by making poor choices in desperate circumstances.  Dan Duryea as Nat in "The Burglar" successfully robs an expensive piece of jewelry, but he lets himself get seduced by a woman who's just after the loot. And it turns out her partner is a dirty cop who is also seducing Jayne Mansfield, Nat's ward.  Things do not end well for poor Nat.  Duryea was great as a crook alternately in charge and smart enough to pull of a complicated heist, then quiet and searching for something more lasting than his life on the run.  
Jayne Mansfield "The Burglar" 1957.
Mansfield almost steals the film in a short montage enjoying a day at Atlantic City, on the beach and on the amusement park rides.   She almost seems a love interest in the film, and her "dating" of the dirty cop a betrayal.  It's a complicated performance.

"The Burglar" was also interesting as bridge between "Dark Passage" and "Shoot the Piano Player."  It's a little less polished, and more desperate felling, than the big studio film, and a little more like the gritty "Shoot the Piano Player."  Praise goes to TCM for such interesting programming.

(all sketches by J. Betke)

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