Tag Archive | peter lorre

Quicksand

(Check out my previous film noir essay here: Notorious)

Irving Pichel’s 1950 noir was a B-movie shot with an attention to detail and cast by actors with didn’t command a huge purse but gave great performances. As such, today the film plays more like a taut, slightly short (under 80 minutes) A-picture. The film follows an average Joe type who makes one mistake, one moral error that throws him into a sequence, a stream of errors each of which is more egregious than the last, which pull him ever more swiftly into the Underground and a life a crime like the film’s title suggests.

Dan (Mickey Rooney) is a mechanic in a garage somewhere in California. He has a decent life, makes a little money, has close friends, and a girl (Helen) who is madly in love with him. But he’s not taken with the whole situation. He wishes he made more money and inexplicably keeps distance between himself and Helen, even going so far as giving one of his friends the go-ahead to try and court her himself. But one afternoon while on lunch break at the local diner, a new waitress/cashier from out of town shows up. Her looks have everyone’s heads turning from the moment she opens the door and Dan has the guts to asks her out on a date to a local jazz club that night. He’s got more than the nerve, he’s got the charm and good looks to get her interested too. So after some prodding, she finally assents to meeting him that night after her shift’s over at the diner.

Problem is, payday’s still a ways away for ol’ Danny Boy. So he decides to ‘borrow’ $20 from the cash register at his garage, which he fully intends to pay back the following day after he collects a debt from one of his friends. Dan takes the girl out, and the two hit it off, but her expensive tastes are immediately clear as she fawns over a $2,000 mink coat in the window of a dress shop. The next day, Dan goes back to work and finds that the accountant for the business is two days early to check the register. Dan tries to ring up his friend for the $20 payment, but his ‘pal’ has left town. Dan can’t get a bank loan for the money, so he buys a $100 watch on a payment plan from a local pawn shop and then goes to another and hocks it for $30, all the while planning on paying off the $100 at the rate of $10 bucks a month plus interest. He returns to the garage and sneaks the money into the till and thinks he’s in clear.

However, this is Quicksand and the moment one thinks they have stopped being dragged deeper, the next they’ve moved neck-deep. The next day, a federal officer arrives at Dan’s garage and tells him that the watch he hocked was not technically his property until he paid it off, that they expect that now he’s planning on skipping town, and that to ensure he doesn’t he must pay back the $100 within 24 hours or face federal charges of white collar crime: larceny, and grand larceny at that, as the watch was $100 (equivalent to around $1,000 in 2018 dollars). Dan tries his best to get a loan using his car as collateral, and again calls up everyone he has ever leant any money to, but neither of these avenues work as he has more payments to make on his car than banks are willing to loan him with it as collateral and all ‘friends’ disappear in film noir movies when it’s time to pay back the loans they were given.

Dan ends up stealing the money from a drunk man as he leaves a local bar and uses this to pay off the feds, but someone knows it was him who pulled off the robbery on account of his using $50 bills around town and it being common knowledge that the man he robbed only carried $50s (a noticeable element particularly in 1950 when $50 has the buying power of more $500 in today’s money). The man who is hustling Dan wants him to steal a car for him in exchange for the physical evidence he has collected of Dan’s involvement in the crime (a blood-covered handkerchief, once used in pre-soiled form by Dan during his robbery). Dan steals a car from his employer’s garage and gives the keys to his blackmailer who promptly returns the handkerchief, and again, everything things seems alright.

But again, the plot will twist and turn until the point of exhaustion, the point at which any viewer could do nothing more than feel exasperated and bad for this guy who through one moment of weakness set into motion a snowball that has been rolling downhill collecting steam and growing in size, gaining on him steadily and with no end in sight aside from his death or incarceration (dig that mixed metaphor?). The inevitability of each event, the fated nature of our protagonist’s predicament, and the darkness into which each failure drags him ever further are extremely distressing and characteristic of a film noir, though more often our protagonist seems to be the Wrong Man entirely. And because Dan isn’t the wrong man, the principal actor playing him is a crucial choice. Because if the man playing him was an evil type, a plotting type, a villain (like the man who blackmails Dan with the handkerchief, who is played by an archetypal plotting villain actor in Peter Lorre), we would be able to sympathize with him and would probably be tempted to say he got what he deserved for his inherently evil nature. But by casting Mickey Rooney against type, Pichel had a stroke of genius and most viewers who know his face can’t help but root for him all along the way, which heightens the dramatic tension and the tragedy of each event as his situation worsens.

Though not Pichel’s final film (that would come in 1954) it was a kind of high point in his career as it came shortly before HUAC began investigating him in anti-communist purge. From this point onward, Pichel would direct his films in other markets, for other markets. HUAC had no real reason to target Pichel as a communist as he had never been affiliated with the communist party. It seems Pichel came to the committee’s attention because of a film he directed in 1940, which was staunchly pro-British and anti-Nazi. By targeting a man for being antifascist, HUAC only revealed their own stance as pro-fascist and pro-Nazi, and as we already know anti Free Speech, anti First Amendment, anti-Constitution, and thereby anti-American. Irving Pichel died in 1954, relatively unaffected by the HUAC committee’s bs, having directed multiple features in the few years after their indictment, and a true American. He was a lifelong Christian Socialist, which is to say he took the word and teachings of Jesus to heart unlike most Christians who somehow try and tie together Capitalism and Christianity, which are internally incoherent, and American realities like intervention and imperialism, which are fundamentally anti-Christian. In other words, Pichel was a Chretien, but at least was an internally consistent one (unlike McCarthy who would surely be rotting in hell, if such a place existed that is).

 

Pull no punches my friends,

Cody Ward

[Next up: Hangmen Also Die]

The Chase

(Check out my previous film noir essay here: Strangers on a Train)

The little-known 1946 noir, The Chase, is something of a deep-cut within the genre. At the time, it had a modest budget with some star power, but managed to barely break even at the box office. Since then, it has been forgotten within the canon of American films and of film noirs in particular as something of a minor film.

The film was directed by one Arthur Ripley who is a pretty minor director in the history of American film with very few features to his name. Ripley began his career in the 1910s as a screenwriter studying alongside Frank Capra. Into the twenties, he continued his screenwriting work and made a series of short films alongside W.C. Fields. After this experience cutting his teeth with some of the greats, he began making the occasional feature film before retiring in 1946 after The Chase to become a professor at U.C.L.A. where he would later go one to help found the Film Center there.

The story details the life of an ex-Navy man named Chuck Scott who has fallen on hard times. As he wanders about the streets of Miami one day, he finds a wallet on the street with $81 inside (the equivalent of nearly $1000 today). Scott uses a buck to buy himself some food in an adjacent restaurant before going to the address listed in the wallet to return it to its rightful owner. When he arrives at the address, he finds a stately mansion owned by one Eddie Roman, a crime lord with a group of thugs and goons always hanging around to do his bidding, like the cunning Gino (played by Peter Lorre).

Roman offers Scott a job as his chauffeur on account of Scott’s forthrightness, honesty, and respectability. Roman also respects the fact that Scott served his country during the war and wants to do his part by helping the man out of a financial bind. On the following morning, Roman awakens Scott, who is installed in his home by now, and requests a drive into the countryside. During this event, the boss demonstrates and interesting feature within his car: a backseat pedal system he can engage at will to break or speed up the car to his liking. The loss of control is unnerving to Scott who finds the car climbing to upwards of 130 mph (20 mph higher than the speedometer’s highest labeled speed). They just narrowly avoid slamming into a train as it crosses the tracks ahead, as the boss stops the car in the nick of time.

Eddie Roman, although an affable enough guy to friends, has a much darker side. The viewer is shown rather than told (always the best approach) about Eddie’s temperament throughout the film’s establishing scenes. Eddie beats his barber and her friend for no particular reason beyond bringing joy to himself in the process. Later, he will invite a competitor in his racket to his home. The discussion seems cheery enough, but eventually Eddie lures the man into his wine cellar only to lock him inside with Eddie’s fierce attack dog who kills the unwitting racketeer. Eddie’s wife Lorna is also subject to his abuse. However, this abuse takes the form of neglect and and overbearing relationship toward her in which she is not allowed to leave the house, to go out with him to social events, and remains a relative slave to his will with no recourse of escape.

As Chuck takes on his full duties at the house, Lorna increasingly calls upon him to drive her to her favorite spot by the sea. After some weeks of driving together, they begin to develop a romantic attachment and Lorna asks Chuck to bring her to Havana aboard a steamer. She offers him money for his accompaniment, which he will eventually refuse to take. Chuck has little problem finding a ticket aboard a ship and the two leave in the dead of night for their trip, but Chuck accidentally leaves behind a brochure about Havana in the trash bin in his room at Eddie’s manor. The chase is on and eventually, both Lorna and Chuck will end up dead in Havana, assassinated by Eddie’s goons, people on his payroll, and others willing to be bribed.

And here is where the revolutionary act of the film really begins in earnest. Chuck wakes up in Miami. It is still the day Lorna and him are set to leave for Havana. the trip never took place, no one is dead as of yet, and everything seems set to go much smoother one would think. Unfortunately, Chuck suffers from shell shock and has somehow manifested his illness through forgetting about Lorna, about his job as a chauffeur, and about the trip. But a series of events will unravel, which will lead him back towards rediscovery of his memories and his obligations. The real chase begins here, the more dense paranoia and drama, which gains its strength by moving through the dream in a dialectical relation that could lead to either negation or sublimation, and the journey to find out which one will be the result is pretty riveting.

 

[Check out my next film noir essay here: Notorious]

The Samurai of Sincerity (Digimon Adventure 02 Episode 14)

(If you missed the part 13, check it out HERE. To go back to the beginning click HERE)

The episode opens with a party that Mimi seems to have attended in the states. Back in the computer lab at the Digidestined’s school in Japan, Izzy is musing over how Kari was able to enter the Digital World without going through a computer terminal portal in the last episode. Yolei notices a new Digi-Egg on her D-3 scanner and the five Digidestined children head off into the Digital World to check it out. Just after they have left, Izzy, who has remained behind, registers a new Digi-portal on his computer. One that has apparently opened in America.

The Digidestined kids are in the Digital World looking for something to eat when they come across a Diner owned and operated by the same Digitamamon who enslaved Joe and Matt as indentured servants in Digimon Adventure 01. The Peter Lorre impersonating egg tells them, after they have eaten, that their total comes to $87 Digi-dollars. Yolei has plenty of Japanese yen, but Digitamamon won’t take their human currency and insists that they work off their bill. Luckily, Mimi and her American friend Michael show up in the nick of time and offer to the pay the bill themselves.

As the gang go back to sit down in the diner while Michael and Mimi order more food, they notice that Michael has a Digimon partner, Betamon! It turns out that a Gorillamon attacked New York City at around the same time that other Digidestined were being terrorized by a Parrotmon in Highton View Terrace. Michael, as well as other children presumably, saw the event and were later gifted with Digivices and Digimon partners of their own as they were called to defend their own areas of the Digital World. Michael’s Digivice is an old model, which means that he is probably no longer a Digidestined, just as the older kids like Matt and Tai have passed on their titles as Digidestined.

The revelation about Michael’s encounter with Gorillamon elicits memory responses from the three new Digidestined Davis, Cody, and Yolei. It seems that Cody was in the plane that was saved from Digital distortions by Garudamon in Digimon Adventure 01. Davis was in the Convention Center being held by Myotismon during his search for the Eighth Digidestined Kari. Yolei saw the battle between Omnimon and Diaboromon online in Our War Game!. These events had an effect on them similar to the events of Highton View Terrace and New York on the other older Digidestined. There were, however, many other children who were held in the convention center and there may have been a few onboard the airplane that Cody was on. Yolei was only one amongst thousands or millions who saw the battle online against Diaboromon. So why were these three chosen and not some other kids? Does this mean that there may be many, many more Digidestined children throughout the world?

When they get ready to pay for their meal, Digitamamon apologizes for his behavior and reveals that he was just cranky and didn’t mean to berate them for being unable to pay initially, but before the payment can be undergone, Gorillamon appears and threatens to destroy the Digidestined with his Energy Cannon attack fueled by a Dark Spiral! Digitamamon blocks the attack and is thrown far off into the mountain behind. Betamon Digivolves into Seadramon and tries to defeat Gorillamon by dragging him underwater, while Togemon assists and destroys the Dark Spiral while Gorillamon is grappled, thereby freeing Gorillamon.

Kari and T.K. run off to search for Digitamamon who soon returns of his own volition, but exhibits evil behavior. Mimi tries to talk sense into him and Digitamamon attacks her in response. Then, the item whose capture was the sole original purpose for their trip into the Digital World finally appears before Yolei: it is the Digi-Egg of Sincerity: the Crest once held by Mimi. Yolei takes the egg and Digivolves Hawkmon into Shurimon with its use, which gives the gang the muscle necessary to pry open Digitamamon’s shell and destroy the Dark Ring that was placed inside when he was up on the mountain.

The episode ends with Digitamamon once again becoming kind and expressing his friendship with the Digidestined. He decides that their meals are on the house too! Yolei has been crushing on Michael pretty hard, and before he and Mimi leave, Michael asks Yolei out on a date. The saved Digimon total for the series has risen to 109. But the Digidestined have been unable to destroy another Control Spire in this venture and are running behind in their quest to free the Digital World from the Digimon Emperor’s control.

 

Till next time,

The Digidestined Cody

[Continued HERE]

WereGarurumon’s Diner (Digimon Adventure Episode 23)

(Check out part 22 HERE. To go back to the beginning click HERE)

So what happened to Matt and Gabumon last episode? Why didn’t they return to T.K. and Tokomon at the desert amusement park within the few hours they promised? What could possibly explain Matt abandoning his brother for a full week?

Matt and Gabumon are looking over the surrounding area from the swan boat they commandeered at the amusement park. They see Monzaemon, Frigimon, and Kokatorimon walking toward along and decide to follow. The Digimon go into a building that turns out to be a restaurant run by Vegiemon. Joe and Gomamon are inexplicably working as cooks and busboys in the restaurant. It turns out that the two found the place and ordered a lot of food but were unable to pay for it (they only had real-world money). Vegiemon and his evil friend Digitamamon (who we know is evil because of his Peter Lorre voice. That and he’s an egg with creepy eyes peering out of the darkness of a huge crack across his front) forced them to work for the food, but Joe is a clutz and keeps breaking plates and ruining food by cooking badly, so his bill keeps rising and one day of work turned into six weeks.

Matt and Gabumon offer to help Joe work off his debts once they go get T.K. and bring him back with them. However, their trip is cut short as Digitamamon threatens to bring harm to Joe and Gomamon while they are gone. Long story short, Matt and Gabumon stay and try to help work off the bill and free Joe and Gomamon from indentured servitude, Joe continues to make mistakes that keep them there for much longer than necessary, DemiDevimon convinces Matt that Joe is making mistakes on purpose so that Matt won’t leave him behind, and then Tai and T.K. show up and reveal DemiDevimon for the evil Digimon he is.

The brothers are reunited and four of the seven Digidestined are once again together with Sora not far behind. She and Biyomon have been following the other Digidestined and helping them circumvent the trickery of DemiDevimon (as in last episode when they warned Agumon of the mushrooms of forgetfulness, and earlier in this episode when they prevented DemiDevimon from causing more trouble for Joe).

Before the Digidestined can leave Vegiemon’s restaurant, however, they must get through the Ultimate-level Digimon Digitamamon. His Nightmare Syndrome attack creates a void that sucks in good Digimon and weakens them. Vegimon captures T.K. with his vines and threatens to harm him if the Digimon continue fighting back and trying to to escape the restaurant. Joe shows a bit of bravery and frees T.K., all the while getting himself caught in Vegiemon’s vicegrip. Ikkakumon and Garurumon free him momentarily, but seem beaten moments later by Digitamamon. All of a sudden, Matt’s Crest of Friendship begins to glow and he realizes that he can no longer be the loner he has always tried to be. He understands finally that his role is as one of the Digidestined team: “together we’re strong and we can beat anything.” In one of the most nostalgic scenes of the series, the “Hey Digimon” theme queues up and Garurumon Digivolves into the anthropomorphic WereGarurumon and defeats Digitamamon, Vegiemon flees, and the gang celebrates their victory over the forces of evil who would deter them from fulfilling their destinies and saving the Digital World and their own real world back home.

At the end of the battle, WereGarurumon de-digivolves to his in-training form Tsunemon, which corroborates my observation earlier that Ultimate levels consume so much energy they must revert back to a pre-Rookie level after battling. We see DemiDevimon being punished again for failing to hold back the Digidestined from regrouping. This time his master, Myotismon is named, but we still don’t get a clear image of what he looks like. finally, the team is halfway assembled and again off on their adventures to save the Digital World. This time with the power of Ultimate level Digimon in tow, a little more resolve and acceptance of their roles as Digidestined, and closer bonds between one another and their Digimon partners.

 

Smell ya later,

The Digidestined Cody

[Up next MegaKabuterimon!]

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