Thursday, August 23, 2012

Shakedown


















SHAKEDOWN           B-                  
USA  1950  (80 mi)  d:  Joseph Pevney 

Noir City Chicago 4 ( 3rd Night)  Dan in the MW from a film noir discussion group, The Blackboard, August 19, 2012:            (excerpt) 

Thus far, the audiences have been enthusiastic and the ticket sales have been quite good overall. This is my fourth such festival and I was able to recognize many repeat customers in the audience from prior years. One of the nicest things about Noir City Chicago is that, when time permits, the Film Noir Foundation hosts have been approachable and patient in terms of answering questions and holding conversations with theater patrons. The Music Box, which opened its doors in the late Twenties, has always been a neighborhood theater, but it does have a fairly large lobby area that allows people an opportunity to do a bit of casual socializing. I am not certain that such intimacy would be possible in Los Angeles or San Francisco where the audiences are oftentimes much larger.

There is an interesting aspect to film noirs in the way they exaggerate masculinity, which is particularly noticeable in this film where Howard Duff as photographer Jack Early, in his shoulder padded suit, walks confidently into a San Francisco newspaper office looking for a job, turning women’s heads standing at every door.  Even more dramatic is the support and admiration he receives from a newspaper executive Ellen Bennett (Peggy Dow), who after a flirtatious introduction drops all moral standards and not only goes to bat for him with her editor David Glover (Bruce Bennett), but agrees to go out on a date with him, inviting him to her place for dinner.  These kinds of mixed signals are rarely received in real life, especially from an intelligent, well balanced, good looking and independent woman.  But the film’s introduction gives the audience a clearer picture of the man’s moral character, as we see him get the snot beat out of him at a vacant waterfront pier, apparently for taking a picture of a gangland beating—but he persists, using the photo to get his foot in the door at the paper, claiming he just happened to be in the neighborhood at the time, weaseling his way into a one-week trial period.  While Glover distrusts him from the outset, Bennett has other ideas and quickly turns into his love interest, despite her claim that her real love is a dentist living in Portland.  Duff is a fairly wooden actor, but he gives a maniacal performance here as a man ruthlessly driven to step over anybody to get what he wants.  Wearing his ambition on his sleeve, he’s little more than a cynical opportunist, which is particularly evident in the next two photos he provides, where he basically instructs accident victims in peril to pose for his camera, always getting the shot he wants. 

With Bennett leading the charge, Early is hired full-time as a photo editor, all but ignoring the others at the newspaper, where he’s continually driven to get an “exclusive,” quickly making a name for himself, but also boosting newspaper sales.  In something of an ironic twist, Glover decides to have a little fun at Jack’s expense, sending him to the criminal courts building to photograph a criminal, Nick Palmer (Brian Donlevy), who notoriously refuses to show his face to photographers.  The film takes on a different air when Jack strikes up a distinctly inappropriate conversation with Palmer’s wife sitting in the waiting car, Nita, Anne Vernon, easily the best thing in the film, a French actress in her only American appearance, perhaps best known as Catherine Deneuve’s mother in THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (1964).  Not only is she gorgeous with a distinct French accent, adding a touch of class and sophistication to what is otherwise a rather crude depiction of an overzealous craving for the American Dream, but she takes no guff from the guy, showing she has the balls to stand up for herself.  After promising Palmer a positive newspaper slant if he’d stop hiding and come clean, showing he has nothing to hide, Jack surprisingly gets that exclusive photo, which is little more than a pose, where Palmer invites him to his house with a proposition.  Early often comments how Ellen’s living room, with a picture window view of the city, or Palmer’s lavishly decorated home, is exactly what he’d like, including the woman (Nita) sitting on the sofa.  She, of course, encourages his foreplay, more likely curious what kind of deep shit it will get him into.  

Palmer promises to offer tips on the criminal underworld, knowing where they will strike before it happens, where Jack can get his exclusive photos, which Palmer figures is a way to get rid of some of his rival enemies, but Jack has other ideas, playing each side against the other, as he gets his photo of men coming out of a heist, but rather than take it to the newspaper, he decides to blackmail Palmer’s ex-partner, Harry Coulting (Lawrence Tierney), who committed the department store robbery, which is a much more lucrative, though dangerously ambitious con, which nearly gets him killed, but instead they only make him sweat in a beautifully constructed scene at a bowling alley where as he cautiously exits Coulting’s office with a bag full of money, you can hear the sound of the pins explode with each strike, a suspenseful reminder of the fearful anticipation pounding in his head.  Jack’s head swells with his apparent success, turning down the regular gig at the newspaper, despite Ellen’s protestations, believing the sky’s the limit for him now that he’s made a name for himself, where as an independent photographer he can sell to the highest bidder.  While playing such a dangerous game, Jack’s amorally loathsome character comes into question, as even Ellen decides he’s a callous opportunist where it’s only a matter of time before he falls from grace.  What’s interesting is the way the war plays on Jack’s post-war noir character, as a guy who witnesses the devastation of war comes home numbed by the experience with his values altered and disoriented, where his ambition erodes any personal integrity, developing an insatiable appetite for sordid sensationalism, which brings him a quick buck, but likely an early demise, as he continually flaunts and disparages the wrong kind of people.  The finale is more comical irony, as it’s hard not to root *against* this guy. 

1 comment:

  1. There is a interesting article and fantastic.your article a good and useful. This is a Soviet anti-war film that unfortunately has been forgotten by many people...

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