Monday, May 15, 2006

The Dark Past (1948), My Name Is Julia Ross (1945), and On Dangerous Ground (1952)

I had some expectations for The Dark Past. It's director, Rudolph Maté, has enriched my life in various ways. Specifically, as the cinematographer for Dreyer's Michael, Vampyr, and The Passion of Joan of Arc. He also lensed Fritz Lang's dreamy fable Liliom. His resume after his emigration to Hollywood is a tad less prestigious. But I caught one of the films he directed, The Violent Men (1955) , at Film Forum's Western series last summer, and was impressed with its narrative economy and spatial intelligence. Glenn Ford sets up an ambush on short notice, and it is mapped out lucidly. Then it has Barbara Stanwyck emotionally devouring Edward G. Robinson with effortless brutality, and I sat soaking in pleasure.

Ah, but The Dark Past is only a cheap Freud-sploitation picture. A satisfyingly doughy Lee J. Cobb is a criminal psychologist who's dinner party is held up by a twitchy William Holden just busted out of prison. Cobb interprets Holden's recurring dream, and voila, he's violent no more! Viva psychoanalysis! Ok, it's dumb, but things it did have: a neat 1st person opening hypothesizing histories of folks on a bus (something I do on the subway each day), a neat solarized dream sequence, and um, Nina Foch had a nice figure.

My Name Is Julia Ross is 65 minutes long. That made me like it immediately. Then the bizarre supporting characters kept popping up and cracking me up. The cockney sticky-fingered maid at the apartment house was strangely endearing, while Ralph Hughes, the stab-happy son of a suffocating matriarch was reliably mad - fondling shivs at every opportunity. And guess who played Julia Ross? Nina Foch! Except now she's brunette instead of blonde - while still maintaining that figure. Anyway, she's hired as a secretary to Ralph's mum, but ends up getting drugged and set up as Ralph's murdered wife. She's to die to provide a corpse. It's all very Hitchcockian, I was reminded especially of a low-budget Notorious with the scheming aristocrats soiling a young beauty. I should mention it was directed by Joseph Lewis, of Gun Crazy fame.

A few days before this double-bill I was swaddled in the hues of On Dangerous Ground, a Nick Ray broadside that shifts from urban to moral decay through the angelic face of Ida Lupino. My hero Robert Ryan is a burnt out cop shipped out to the sticks after he gets too slap-happy with suspects. The noir tones of the city (encapsulated in a thrilling alley chase, including a brief euphoric bit of handheld camera) are shelved for the clean air of mountain landscapes, but Ryan finds the same old moral cowards, in the person of Ward Bond - too busy seeking revenge to deal with his grief over the loss of his daughter. Then I fall in love with Ida Lupino, as Ray seems to as well - in a series of rapturous close-ups as she outlines the details of her loneliness, and the psychosis of her brother. The delicacy in the scenes between her and Ryan are heartbreaking, he shedding layers of cynicism, she just baring her soul to the one guy who happened to be around. And who did not treat her blindness with pity, which she notes with bemused calm. Bring me a Robert Ryan retro ASAP.


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