Chasing a Crooked Shadow: The Sporgey El Hefe Story

I got thinking about Kris's last few noir posts and have really enjoyed his fresh takes on a genre that I've nearly squeezed dry of options. As overly dramatic as it may sound, the discovery of film noir in my 20's in a very real way changed the course of my/our lives. The Film Buff, and all that that includes, is directly connected to a dozen or so films we watched in the mid '80s. Thinking back as to which exact ones served as early catalysts for this adventure was an interesting exercise. Kris mentions three of them in The Big Heat, Kiss Me Deadly and The Lady From Shanghai. One of the problems I have with recommending noir these days is just how far from the core films my own viewing has strayed. There just aren't that many films that stay true to the generally accepted noir conventions and the last ten years have been spent trolling way out at the fringes and in the Grade-Z forgotten-for-a-reason outer reaches of the noir canon.

I thought it might better serve my championing of this interesting and unique genre to, as Kris is, take a fresh look at some of those early pictures that got me rolling in noir. One of the very earliest (if not the first) one we watched was Carol Reed's The Third Man. Strangely, it's not even really a noir, more a mystery that's shot like one. Regardless, it's a great film and if you've not seen it, it's highly recommended. In addition to Kris's excellent introductory triple bill, I'd add two of the B-noirs that managed, with limited budgets and truly imaginative direction, to become cult favourites for countless genre fans, including myself – Detour and Gun Crazy. Directors Edgar G. Ulmer and Joseph H. Lewis were the kings of doing amazing things with no money. They're both weird and wonderful.... and so are their films, Ulmer's Detour particularly.

The last couple that come to mind are really bookends for the classic noir period. Murder My Sweet from 1944 starring Dick Powell is a great take on Raymond Chandler's Marlowe. I prefer Powell to Bogart for some reason and this film, my favourite Chandler adaptation, might be why. At the other end of the classic period is the film that sort of closes it, Orson Welles's Touch of Evil from 1958. This film has long stood near the top of my personal favs and the restored version on DVD is a revelation. It's so goddamned weird that one marvels it ever got made. Thumbs way up if you haven't seen it.

From these early flicks, Donna and I ended up discovering a cinematic treasure trove of everything from '30s French neo-realism to Jean-Pierre Melville in the '60s to Japanese Yakuza gangster films to quirky revisionist Westerns to The Thin Man but they all traced back one way or another to a series of film noirs watched over a couple of years because we were too poor to go out and video tapes and Nick had just been invented. 25 years later, we watched Chase a Crooked Shadow tonight, a noirish 1958 film that I'd never seen. It wasn't fantastic like the films Kris is working through, but it made me remember why I still love these little crime/mystery/thrillers, how fun the journey has been thus far and what an appropriate title it would make for my yet-to-be-written memoirs.

1 comment:

the coelacanth said...

having only seen edgar g. ulmer's the black cat and detour, i'd have to agree with your assessment of him as being a king of doing amazing things with no money. i did some cursory follow up research after watching the black cat and his background is fascinating and kind of sad. i wonder how many directors or actors fled post-war (1 or 2) europe and went to hollywood, and didn't "make it"?