Thursday, September 10, 2009

Black and Blacker

The Act of Violence / Mystery Street double bill turned out to be a very good deal.

We started with Mystery Street, a 1950 John Sturges (Magnificent Seven) procedural. It starts with a look at the life of a bar girl trying to get something out of a man on Cape Cod. She leaves a pretty big trail - she lets people overhear her phone conversations, writes down his phone number, even hijacks a drunk so she can take his car out to the Cape. That's the last we see of her.

About 6 months later, an unidentified skeleton turns up on the beach. It's Barnstable's youngest detective's job to find out who the skeleton was, and how it died. This detective is Ricardo Montalban ("Kha-a-a-a-a-n!").

They only put in two lines to justify a Hispanic detective in old New England - he says he's been working with the Portuguese (a big fishing community in the area). And when a New Englander from a pre-Mayflower family tries to give him attitude, he puts him right in his place.

He teams up with a Harvard doctor, doing some early CSI-style forensics. Little by little, he traces the skeleton to the girl, and then it all breaks open. It's a well done little film with some fun characters (Elsa Lanchester as an evil landlady), nice location filming around Harvard and Bunker Hill, and a strong story. Worth watching.

Next, Act of Violence (1948) with Van Heflin as a successful business, a war veteran with a wife and young son. He will soon meet up with Robert Ryan, a war "buddy", crippled, bitter and contemplating violence. What is the dark secret of his past? What will he do to keep it secret?

This one starts out tense, but ratchets the tension way up to the sticking point, as Heflin gets more and more desperate. He meets up with b-girl Mary Astor, who might help him out or get him in deeper. She shows a lot of courage in this role, looking nice but roughly used, hopeful and despairing at once.

The outcome is inevitable and somewhat ridiculous, but at least it ends the tension.

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