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Author Topic: The Dark Corner (1946)  (Read 2589 times)
cigar joe
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« on: March 21, 2014, 02:16:06 PM »

Noir, New York Noir and PI Noir

Iíve reassessed The Dark Corner over the last couple of weeks. Most reviewers recognize this as just a good Film Noir and then go on to dismiss two of the leads, Mark Stevens and Lucille Ball, as being lightweights in their respective roles, I think their judgment is being jaded by the hard boiled performances of the likes of Bogart, Powell, Mitchum, Montgomery, and Meeker as tough PIís and on the flip side by all the slinky sultry Femme Fatales that proved to be their banes. The critics are being way too harsh.


Third Avenue El at Grand St. (Its actually Bowery & Grand)

Directed masterfully by Henry Hathaway, written by New York City born screenwriters Jay Dratler and Bernard C. Shoenfield and based on a story by Leo Rosten. The film stars Lucille Ball, Clifton Webb, William Bendix, Mark Stevens, Cathy Downs and Kurt Kreguer.

This is Noir, New York Noir and PI Noir distilled to its essence. Under the artistry of director of photography Joe MacDonald (Street With No Name, Call Northside 777, Pickup on South Street) visually this film is stunning, we see contrasts of deep blacks with sharp highlights that evoke the chiaroscuro of crime scene photography and graphic novels, diagonals stabbing into the frame, single source lighting throwing shadows that advance the story, tendrils of omnipresent cigarette smoke clouding atmosphere.


NYC circa 1940's

The story is firmly anchored in a New York City that juxtaposes, high society art galleries with tenement flops. The New York City of the Ď40ís its canyons with its Els, its traffic, its jazz clubs, fire escapes, Times Square, neighborhood penny arcades filled with nickelodeons, mutoscopes, pinball and skee ball games, shooting galleries, and 5 cent mechanical fortune tellers.


Chiaroscuro

This film does better what all the various New York based Mike Hammer classic era noirs (the ones that actually attempted to place the action in Manhattan) never came close to, it gives you a realistically gritty impression of New York City.


Bendix

The visual component of the film is complimented by a smart, equally impressive, sound design that floods your senses with the lullaby of THE CITY. I donít believe Iíve heard a better one in any contemporary noir set in NYC. You constantly hear the rattle of the El as it passes by the windows of Gaultís (Stevens) office or above your head when out on Third Avenue, you hear the honk and rumble of traffic on the street, you hear the cacophony of the arcade. There is even a sequence where Gault and Kathleen (Ball) are talking to a newspaper boy in a lunch counter who witnessed a near hit and run accident, after he leaves we even hear his news hawking faintly diminishing as a background to the conversation between Gault and Kathleen.

This constantly enveloping sound design ingeniously transitions seamlessly to diegetic and non diegetic music provided by various artists, Alfred Newman, Eddie Heywood and His Orchestra, Duke Ellington and others.

The honky-tonk piano and the street sounds smoothly transition to Duke Ellington's Mood Inigo as Bendix breaks into Gault's apartment in this video link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GnjJmSM5irs
 

The story goes like this, private detective Bradford Gault (Stevens) is looking to make a fresh start in New York City after a two year drunk driving manslaughter stint in California. He was framed by his ex partner Jardine (Kurt Kreuger) when he objected to Jardineís blackmail scam.


Kreuger & Webb

Jardine, who has also relocated to New York is running the same blackmail scam again with the cityís high society. He is seducing society women and then blackmailing them with their own love letters. Hardy Cathcart (Webb) a wealthy gallery owner, suspects that Jardine is having an affair with his young bride Mari (Downs). Cathcart hires Stauffer (Bendix) to deal with Jardine by trying to escalate the Gault/Jardine animosity to a deadly finale.


Webb & Downs


Webb & Downs

Watch for the see-through eye candy in the top right bg of the above sequence as Downs goes back to the bed a removes her robe see detail below (she must have been 15 feet tall on an old movie palace screen)


Downs composite


Downs. Yes, they are all sisters under the mink

Kathleen (Ball) is good as Gaultís plucky new secretary who evolves into a combination love interest/partner. Lt Frank Reeves (Reed Hadley) is the NYPD officer keeping tabs on Gault.

The Kathleen/Gault side story is unobtrusively woven into the fabric of the plot. Gault, is no iconic Sam Spade, Marlowe or Hammer, he is, as played by Stevens a bit vulnerable more soft boiled than hard, the average everyday PI, he gets stressed, he gets drunk, he tries to score with Kathleen. Ball plays Kathleen as the virginal good girl who begins to fall for Gault and there are some nice situational humorous sequences where Ballís virginity to onlookers and acquaintances is put doubt.


Ball


Cathy Downs plays the unfaithful wife of Cathcart and the films closest equivalent to a femme fatal. Clifton Webb is great as the possessive anal retentive Cathcart, but the really impressive performance is from Bendix. New York, (Manhattan) born and bred, Bendix plays a very convincing sleaze ball PI/muscle and the film is rife with some great sequences of Bendix interacting with Gault and Cathcart, and he has a very nice telephone monologue here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qbo90kmh9nY




Bendix, playing the softy

Topping it off Hathaway adds some nice stylistic touches, watch for the black humor sequence proceeding the discovery of Jardineís body, a coiled vacuum cord is slowly stretched in pulses as the cleaning lady vacuumís closer and closer to the bed under which the body is hidden.


style

If this 20th Century Fox film had starred say Dana Andrews, or Tyrone Power as Gault, and Gene Tierney or Linda Darnell as Kathleen it would be up there unquestionably with all better known the top shelf films noir.

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« Reply #1 on: March 21, 2014, 06:09:45 PM »

Nice job, CJ.  Afro I like this film too, though I find the ending a bit of a letdown. You are undoubtedly right that the lack of an iconic lead has hurt the picture's rep. The irony is, Mark Stevens isn't really all that different from, say, Alan Ladd.

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« Reply #2 on: March 22, 2014, 03:38:44 AM »

Nice job, CJ.  Afro I like this film too, though I find the ending a bit of a letdown. You are undoubtedly right that the lack of an iconic lead has hurt the picture's rep. The irony is, Mark Stevens isn't really all that different from, say, Alan Ladd.

There aren't many Fox Noirs with a down ending agreed, and I was just using the 20th Century Fox players available at the time, now if you could  pick anyone say Mitchum or Powell, Conte or Mature it would have been interesting.

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« Reply #3 on: March 27, 2014, 04:23:38 AM »

More discussion here:  http://www.fistful-of-leone.com/forums/index.php?topic=1822.msg170020#msg170020

....and from IMDb:

Ball, Webb, Bendix and Stevens in satisfying - and smashing looking - noir

Author: bmacv from Western New York
30 August 2003

It's a loss to the noir cycle that Lucille Ball never got to exercise her widely underestimated acting (as opposed to comedic) skills as a femme fatale; she might have gained entry to the Bad Girls' Club. She did, however, lend her welcome presence to three film noir: Two Smart People, Lured, and, the first and best of them, The Dark Corner.

She plays the new, spunky receptionist to private eye Mark Stevens (and gets top billing; logically the star, Stevens comes only fourth in the titles). Once framed into a manslaughter charge in San Francisco, Stevens has come east to start over with a clean slate. But he's being measured for an even bigger frame. White-suited William Bendix is the cat's-paw in a plot to goad Stevens into murdering the old partner who set him up (Kurt Kreuger).

Kreuger, however, isn't even aware that Stevens is out of prison and in New York; he's too busy romancing the young wife (Cathy Downs) of rich art-gallery owner Clifton Webb (she sits around bored, listening to `his paintings crack with age'). Webb is the puppet-master behind the elaborate scheme to eliminate his younger, more virile rival. When Stevens comes to on the floor of his apartment with a poker in his hand and Kreuger bludgeoned to death next to him, he, with Ball's help, must race against his inevitable arrest to find the real killer.

The story flits between two Manhattans: The shabby cityscape of penny arcades under the El and flats that open up onto fire escapes, populated by Stevens, Ball and Bendix, and the haut monde of ritzy galleries and high-ceilinged, richly upholstered apartments inhabited by Clift, Downs and Kreuger. Spanning the gap is the unholy alliance between the coarse Bendix and the p***-elegant Webb, reprising his Bitter Old Queen number from Laura and The Razor's Edge (though again, as in Laura, we're asked to swallow his obsession with a beautiful...woman half his age).

While maintaining a deft balance, the plot weighs in as quite a brutal one (Webb's quick dispatch of Bendix proves quite startling). Despite this role and The Street With No Name, Stevens never quite became the noir icon - like Ladd or Bogart or Mitchum (or even like Powell or Ford or Ryan) he seemed destined for, but he's persuasive enough as a man strained to the limit by forces he can't fathom.

Henry Hathaway directed, but the black magic comes courtesy of cinematographer Joe MacDonald. He ably lighted a number of estimable noirs (Street With No Name, Call Northside 777, Pickup on South Street), but here his work surpasses itself. When Ball and Stevens embrace, he turns a two-shot into a four-shot by placing them in front of a fireplace mirror; we see her face in the foreground, his in reflection. In plot, writing and direction, The Dark Corner falls just short of the finest entries in the cycle. But in its strikingly composed photography, finely filigreed with shadow, it could be shown at a gala opening in Webb's high-priced gallery.


« Last Edit: March 27, 2014, 04:33:44 AM by cigar joe » Logged

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« Reply #4 on: March 20, 2017, 06:12:50 AM »

This is a beautifully illustrated appraisal of 'The Dark Corner.' I recently got the 70th anniversary DVD of this film.

I like Lucille Ball in this. She has some good snappy yappy streetwise dialogue. I'm not so keen on Mark Stevens. Appearance-wise he does remind me a lot of Cornel Wilde. I think the film could have done with the real Cornel Wilde to give his character a bit more screen presence. But it has some great photography as can be seen with the illustrations that you have provided us with.

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« Reply #5 on: March 20, 2017, 08:33:15 AM »

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OP4inToUMlQ

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« Reply #6 on: March 20, 2017, 08:52:03 AM »

I love this noir, which I revisit every so often, it's such a fun & beautifully photographed movie to watch IMHO.
And unlike most it seems, I am a fan of Mark Stevens, at least where his noirs are concerned. Stevens and Ball (who's simply irresistible) and the dynamic between them (the 'tough on the outside, soft on the inside' PI and his strong almost motherly secretary) really works here.
Hell, now I want to see it again...

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'I feel all dead inside. I'm backed up in a dark corner and I don't know who's hitting me.' - The Dark Corner (1946)
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« Reply #7 on: March 20, 2017, 02:44:11 PM »

I adore this movie. Good review Joe.

Quote
You constantly hear the rattle of the El as it passes by the windows of Gaultís (Stevens) office or above your head when out on Third Avenue, you hear the honk and rumble of traffic on the street, you hear the cacophony of the arcade.

Hathaway did exactly the same thing in Call Northside 777. I liked that a lot. It lends a realism to the movies.

The cast was good, street-wise Lucy is great, but I too thought Mark Stevens is the film's only weakness, a slight weakness though. I wish Dana Andrews had played his role, Stevens just seems to be the understudy.

As for Clifton Webb, much has been written about his old queen persona. There used to be great discussions about that on imdb. I can swallow his obsession with a woman, just as in Laura, because his obsession for her amounts to her being more of a cherished art object, just like the artifacts in his gallery. He doesn't want to make love to a woman, he just wants to possess her.

Greenbudgie, is the 70th anniversary DVD any different than the older edition?


« Last Edit: March 20, 2017, 02:57:47 PM by Jessica Rabbit » Logged

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« Reply #8 on: March 20, 2017, 08:27:13 PM »

Great stuff on this thread. I like it, but not as much as some.

He's in a dark corner and he doesn't know who's hitting him.

Private investigator Bradford Galt has a troubled past, starting afresh in New York, it seems the past is back to get him though as an old nemesis may be out to kill him? But, aided by his intrepid secretary, Kathleen, he intends to get to the bottom of the shady mystery that's lurking in the dark corner.

Henry Hathaway (Kiss of Death/Call Northside 777) directs this very tidy Noir/Crime picture that stars Lucille Ball, Clifton Webb, William Bendix and Mark Stevens. Expertly photographed by Joseph MacDonald, The Dark Corner has a plot that although simple to follow, has a few tricks up its sleeve along the way. Though it ultimately amounts to really being a race against the clock "whodunit," as opposed to a gritty web of deceit, there's dashes of brutality and pinging dialogue to ensure that interest is held for the viewer right up to the finale. Hathaway and MacDonald utilise the Manhattan setting to the max, be it the more affluent side of the story involving Webb's art gallery, or the down and dirty penny arcade streets where the likes of William Bendix prowl. Fine settings that are given a shadowy sheen by the talented makers. The cast are strong, particularly Lucille Ball as Kathleen and the little snatches of jazz in the score heighten the mood.

Recommended with confidence for fans of Noir/Crime/Mystery movies of the 40s and 50s. 7/10

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« Reply #9 on: March 21, 2017, 05:32:39 AM »

To Jessica regarding the 70th anniversary DVD:-

There is new artwork which I don't think is taken from any of the old posters for the film. I don't know if the print of the film has been enhanced on this edition. There are no bonus features and no trailers so it is not that special really. Anybody who has the old DVDs of this movie wouldn't probably think about buying this. But I didn't have the film in my collection so I bought it anyway despite the lack of extra features.

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« Reply #10 on: March 21, 2017, 07:45:17 AM »

Thanks, Greenbudgie, so I don't have to invest the money for it.

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« Reply #11 on: March 21, 2017, 04:23:10 PM »

My question is, Where's the blu? Now that would be something worth investing in.

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« Reply #12 on: Today at 08:47:11 AM »

Here is the building from which Cathcart (Clifton Webb) pushed Stauffer aka Fred Foss (William Bendix) out the window, you can see it has the old style windows, I think it was originally called the Grant Building it's at the corner of 5th Ave and 42nd St.


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« Reply #13 on: Today at 09:12:03 AM »

Nice shot, Joe. Love it.

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