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Other/Miscellaneous => Off-Topic Discussion => Topic started by: cigar joe on June 17, 2012, 06:00:51 AM

Title: Cornered (1945)
Post by: cigar joe on June 17, 2012, 06:00:51 AM
Cornered (1945) Director: Edward Dmytryk, Stars: Dick Powell, Walter Slezak, Micheline Cheirel and too many to count to its detriment. On being demobilized at the end of the war, Canadian flyer Laurence Gerard returns to France to track down who ordered the killing of a group of Resistence fighters including his new bride in a convoluted plot that has Buenos Aries as its centerpoint. RKO's back lot is not a very distinctive Buenos Aries, not much atmosphere no diegetic music that would have helped.  Still a 7/10.

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The Professor 
Cornered (1945)

In 1945’s Cornered Dick Powell plays a man exhausted, angry, and with little hope for the future. Though almost fatally marred by its serpentine plot, Cornered is worth seeing — it’s even an important film noir. It offers an extraordinarily bleak worldview, precocious even for noir, and helped pave the way for the spate of neurotic, cynical, and dark movies that would define the post-war classic period.

Character and atmosphere trump story here, so let’s cram this into as small a nutshell as possible: Powell plays Laurence Gerard, recently of the Royal Canadian Air Force, who endured the last gasps of the war as a PoW. His young bride got the blindfold and the brick wall as part of La Résistance, sold out by some Vichy prick named Marcel Jarnac, believed by all but Gerard to be dead. His dreams of post-war bliss splintered, Gerard goes on a globe-hopping manhunt for Jarnac. The story shuttles him from England to France to Switzerland and finally lodges in Argentina — destination of choice for gold-laden absconders — Fascists fleeing the tribunals; terrified of the rope. Powell settles into Buenos Aires like a tornado settles into a trailer park; upending not only those eluding justice, but those working for it. By the time this whirlwind of a story blows itself out, its twists, turns, zigs, and zags will have left every viewer not holding a flowchart in the same state as its protagonist, who gets lied to, led astray, and pistol-whipped so often that he spends much of his screen time massaging his temples.

Cornered was brought to the screen by the same team that reinvented Dick Powell as tough gumshoe Philip Marlowe the previous year in Murder, My Sweet. Unlike the 1944 film however, Cornered reflects a less glib, less stylishly expressionistic; and far more irresolute world. Considering the current events of the time it’s easy to understand why the filmmakers would find such convoluted intrigue appropriate, but also situate it among such frightened, neurotic, and selfish people. Yet a filmic idea can be appropriate and damaging at the same time. The plot of Cornered is so overwrought, the vision so depressing, that even director Edward Dmytryk found the film unsatisfactory. Given the significance of the film in his life though, the sentiment is understandable. Dmytryk, producer Adrian Scott, and replacement writer John Paxton were loosely involved with the Communist party during the production of Cornered (Dmytryk paid dues for a mere two months, amounting to a total contribution of four dollars, along with a fifty-cent initiation fee), and the friends actually broke with the reds when party leaders, along with the original screenwriter, tried to turn the project into something of a socialist manifesto. Dmytryk and Scott, both imprisoned by HUAC in 1947 as members of the Hollywood Ten, would cite Cornered as the catalyst for their break: “This is the thing,” Dmytryk said, “which actually got me out of the party.” He would serve four months at an honor farm in my home state of West Virginia, only to become the lone member of the Ten to reappear before HUAC and name names. (That whole story is far too big for this essay, but Dmytryk himself wrote of his experiences with the blacklist in Odd Man Out: A Memoir of the Hollywood Ten.)

In order to peg what makes a difficult film like Cornered worthwhile, it has to be placed within the macrocosm of film noir. The noir movement, genre, style — call it what you will — encompasses numerous generic and thematic types, as well as its share of –isms. The list is almost endless, and seems to become more inclusive with each new boxed-set, dissertation, or edition of the Film Noir Encyclopedia (Invaders from Mars, really?). What makes Cornered important within this grand scheme is its unprecedented view of the world. Certainly no Hollywood film to date had brought to the screen a milieu so desolate or a hero so pathologically dour. Coming so quickly on the heels of cataclysm, previous efforts couldn’t have imagined the world portrayed in Cornered, neither This Gun for Hire or Journey into Fear come close — and no previous film featured a protagonist with so little hope. In terms of global change the Second World War is the defining moment of the twentieth century, and a pivotal one in the development of the noir style. Insofar as this is concerned, no entry is more emblematic of that change than Cornered; whether or not it’s a particularly good narrative film is secondary.

Much of Cornered’s originality comes from Powell’s interpretation of Laurence Gerard. He’s ill tempered, irate, and intent on bowling over anything in his way. Frustrated after spending the better part of the war interned, he needs to get in his share of the licks, and who gives a damn if the hostilities are over. Yet along with this, there’s something in Powell’s performance that goes beyond the clichéd term world-weary — Gerard isn’t just tired, he’s dead tired. This is a man on fumes. He simply wants to find Jarnac and execute him, and he’s incapable of thinking about what happens after. He lives only in the now; having learned that thinking about tomorrow gets your heart broken and your teeth kicked in. It has been said that Cornered might have suited Humphrey Bogart better, an actor for whom tiredness was natural. Yet while Bogart could do angry, his rage seemed to have a leering quality — and while Gerard is reckless he’s no head case. Powell was surely no Bogart, but he nails Gerard.

Cornered is also stark in its brutality, even if its most heinous acts are committed just off-screen. In the film’s climactic scene an important character is shot not once, but seven times. The camera lingers on the gun as the shooter pumps round after round into the victim — not passionately, but in a cold effort to render the corpse’s face unrecognizable to the police. Later in the same scene one character, using bare knuckles, beats another to death; the camera moving in and out of focus with each blow. The beating is administered with so little passion that it barely registers on the perpetrator. Violent acts, especially the up-close, dirty, wet ones, have become frighteningly impersonal in Cornered, as the survivors are now numb to the moral absolutes of pre-war society. It’s in this notion of lashing out, of poker-faced violence, that Cornered also anticipates film noir’s shell-shocked man apart, plagued by some unknown neurosis or forgotten demon.

Like most good noir, the brooding thematic elements of Cornered are supported by the mise en scene, which pushes the dark frame to extremes. Dmytryk, art director Carroll Clark, and cinematographer Harry Wild give us the expected interplay of shadow and light (though some shots are much better than others), as well as numerous offbeat camera angles. In fact the only conventional shots seem to involve one of the film’s two female characters, which is a subtle clue to her true nature. Wild often shoots from behind a pillar, around a corner, or from on high to obfuscate our sense of environment. Filming Powell in tight close-up, making him difficult to place and reinforcing the idea that he doesn’t belong further heightens this confusion. The effect is claustrophobic, disorienting, and perfectly in keeping with the film’s tone. Cornered gets progressively darker and darker as it approaches its climax, eventually to place Gerard in utter darkness, groping and bumbling through a deserted warehouse.

With the end of the war came a gradual return to normal life in the United States. Cornered was a bitter reminder for a people still celebrating victory that not all was well in the world, yet it did well with critics and audiences. It may be a shallow reason, but the film’s box office owes itself directly to the casting of Dick Powell. Preview audiences were ecstatic to see him again in what they described as a “he-man” role, with hardly any comment cards recommending a return to musical comedy. Even New York Times grouch Bosley Crowther lauded the film: “Cornered is a drama of smoldering vengeance and political scheming which builds purposefully and with graduating tension to a violent climax, a committing of murder that is as thrilling and brutal as any you are likely to encounter in a month of movie-going.” Yet while Don Craig of the Washington Daily News also recommended the film, he referred to the “new” Dick Powell as “ a bit self conscious” and the character Gerard as “plain stupid.” The focus on Powell aside for a moment, Cornered provides a time-capsule vision of a world gone to hell, and it does it early enough in the noir cycle to set the bar for the films of the subsequent ten years.
Title: Re: Cornered (1945)
Post by: cigar joe on June 17, 2012, 06:02:52 AM
From IMDB:

Dick Powell in anti-Fascist intrigue in Buenos Aires, 4 February 2002

Author: bmacv from Western New York

Buenos Aires enjoyed a vogue (so far as the movies were concerned) in the mid-1940s, providing the locale for Notorious, Gilda and Edward Dmytryk's Cornered. In all three, it serves as a sort of terminal moraine for Nazi refugees from the shambles of the Axis powers.

Dick Powell continues his transformation from lip-glossed song-and-dance man for Busby Berkeley into a five-o'clock-shadowed tough guy, a makeover he had begun the previous year as Philip Marlowe in Murder, My Sweet (also by Dmytryk). Here he's a Canadian Royal Air Force veteran who ends up in Argentina, via France and Switzerland, on a mission to avenge the murder of his war-bride wife. He enters a whirl of black-tie affairs in cavernous mansions (those Nazis knew how to party) and a nest of duplicity surrounding the mysterious, and presumably dead, war-criminal-in-chief, known as Jarnac -- the object of his deadly hunt. An at-first bewildering cast of sinister operatives gradually sorts itself out into villains (Walter Slezak the most memorable of them) and members of an anti-Fascist group; Powell, the while, skulks along the moonlit streets of the city in pursuit of Jarnac's "widow."

Dmytryk displays his pioneering flair for noir devices, keeping the atmospherics and tension high. He's let down a bit by the murkiness of the plotting, where the political theme emerges and disappears, leaving abstract stretches of suspense that might as easily have taken place in Boston or Bombay. And it's hard to buy into the convention that, in rooms blazing with gunfire, the red-blooded American will always prevail by means of a manly sock to the jaw. Somewhat dated by its wartime politics and its roots in the international-intrigue genre, Cornered remains a solid piece of work by both Dmytryk and Powell.
Title: Re: Cornered (1945)
Post by: Jessica Rabbit on August 24, 2017, 03:15:21 PM
"You did not understand our methods…You continue to attack the wrong things in the wrong way. You attack the evil in man. We accept it. We find it good and fertile."

Cornered was directed by Edward Dmytryk, the same man responsible for reinventing former song and dance man Dick Powell as tough PI Philip Marlowe the previous year in Murder, My Sweet. The script of the movie is adamant in its anti-Fascism. Four men associated with the film would later be blacklisted: Director Dmytryk, producer Adrian Scott, and actors Luther Adler and Morris Carnovsky.

WWII had barely been over for a matter of minutes when a new style of filmmaking emerged, cynical and dark, that would define the post-war classic period. The heroes had just come home, and Hollywood promptly started producing anti-heroes with a capacity for violence they had learned in the War. 
Cornered is Noir alright, but has a different tone to it than other early 40s Noirs. It doesn’t go in for sarcasm, wise-cracking, gumshoes, gangsters and dames. Instead the audience gets something much more sinister: Nazi war criminals.
Cornered is in a way a difficult film, but that shouldn’t mean it’s not a worthwhile one. Made just a few months after the end of WWII, the movie already deals with the new world order, and it must have resonated deeply with post-War audiences who had no idea yet which way the new world was heading.

Dick Powell plays Canadian flyer Laurence Gerard, former POW and recently demobbed from the RCAF. Now that the War is over, he’s returning to France to look for his young French wife of 20 days, only to find out she was executed by Vichy collaborator Marcel Jarnac for her involvement in the Resistance. Gerard has only one goal from then on: to find Jarnac and kill him. Jarnac has disappeared, is presumably dead, but Gerard doesn’t buy it so he goes on a chase around the globe, finally trailing Jarnac’s supposed widow to Argentina, one of the few havens for fleeing Nazis. He runs into many shady double and triple crossing characters who may or may not be on his side.

The Second World War was one of the seminal events of the 20th century. A cataclysm of such magnitude that the world had gone to hell but somehow managed to come back.
Cornered offers the audience a singularly desolate view of a world that was unsettled and uprooted, where absolutes didn’t exist anymore. In their place had come paranoia, anguish and unease. Post-War disillusionment was already setting in. There is nothing of end of the war euphoria in Cornered and certainly no Hollywood film to date had brought to the screen a mood so utterly pessimistic.
Fascism had been defeated in Europe but Neo-Nazism was already on the rise again with many high-ranking Nazis escaping to South America. Argentina, which hadn't declared war on Germany until right before the very end, now became a haven for Nazi war criminals, with explicit protection from Juan Perón. There they infiltrated society and circles of power, biding their time to carry on the fight because “they do not consider themselves defeated”.
Asking prying question about someone’s recent past was fraught with uncertainty, lest people got an answer they didn’t want to hear. Not only in Germany but also in Spain, Italy, Denmark and France where many citizens quickly wanted to forget that Vichy had ever existed.

Laurence Gerard is certainly a different type of hero. He’s a tough guy and classic lone wolf protagonist, but he’s no wise-cracking PI and lady’s man. He’s a war vet who single-mindedly an doggedly pursues one goal in his life: revenge on the man who killed his wife. He doesn’t think any further than that. He’s almost pathologically bitter, angry and grim. Gerard is suffering from PTSD before they had a fancy name for it. He’s shell-shocked and thus emotionally fragile, barely able to feel anything other than rage. There is something hopeless and defeatist about him. He’s done with the world, he’s bone weary of war and fighting. Investing in hope and a future is something he doesn’t even dream of because so far it’s got him nothing.
Problem is he’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer. He’s a blunt instrument, ham-fisted, barging into situations like a bull in a china shop when a cool head would have served him much better. He’s a loose cannon. He’s so consumed by his personal vendetta that only allows for justice for his own dead wife but nobody else, that he becomes an easy target for his enemies and a great risk to his possible allies, the Nazi hunters whose work he nearly destroys with his blundering. Especially when they are trying to bring war criminals to justice by law, defeating them with facts and evidence so the world can take notice.
Gerard is not driven by any kind of common sense, just pure animal instinct, which quite frankly, is off half the time. It takes Gerard quite a while to figure out who’s friend and who’s foe, because absolutely no one can be trusted. Nobody is what he seems. Allegiances and boundaries are not clearly drawn, people have hidden agendas. It’s a  tangled web of lies and deceit.
When Gerard finally finds Jarnac and he emerges from the shadows that he’s been hiding in for so long, Gerard has to realize that the face of evil is commonplace and ordinary, easily able to blend into a crowd and hide in plain sight. Jarnac is in his own words “a man you have never seen, a man you don’t know”. People like him live in a conspirational shadow world, in darkness and absolute obscurity which is what makes them so successful.
In an amazingly brutal scene Gerard beats Jarnac to death in a violent frenzy, again completely forgetting that Jarnac could give invaluable information about Nazi activities. However, by pure dumb luck Gerard finds the documents that prove Jarnac planned to launch a Fourth Reich. And this is where the movie goes off the rails. The ending feels tacked on, it’s too upbeat for a movie that until then had been relentlessly bleak. It’s almost humorous. I was half expecting Powell to do a little song and dance routine.

Ultimately the movie is not altogether successful, there are too many problems with the script. Apart from the pat ending, Cornered is another one of those movies where, at least for quite a while, the audience is completely in the dark as to where the plot is headed. The narrative is messy. The movie would have benefitted from brevity, at a 102 min it is marred by an overly loquacious script and a labyrinthine plot that is hard to follow for both the viewer and the protagonist. Powell’s character too would have been better served by less one-note bullheadedness.

As a mystery the picture is rather tepid, but then plot is not that important. It’s about character and atmosphere.

If Cornered falls short in terms of narrative coherence and logic, it excels however as a study in obsession.It’s a heartfelt warning to not let instinct and impulse override reason and logic.

Special mention should go to Luther Adler as Jarnac, a short but flawless performance, and Walter Slezak as enterprising, crooked, ultimately traitorous but still oddly likable scoundrel. A great role for a great character actor.

Title: Re: Cornered (1945)
Post by: cigar joe on August 24, 2017, 07:54:20 PM
great review  O0 O0 O0