It’s a formula as old as Thomas Alva Edison:
Screwball Comedy + Nazis = Film Noir
What if IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT were set in England during WWII and the leads were Brian Donlevy and Diana Barrymore? Why, you’d have NIGHTMARE (Tim Whelan 1942), that’s what. A down-on-his-luck American in London (Donlevy), quite by happenstance, breaks into a home. He cooks some eggs and gets caught by the lovely owner (Barrymore). They see her husband (Henry Daniell), in the library, with the knife…in his back. To divert any possible attention from her for the murder, he agrees to dispose of the body. Upon his return to the house, the dead husband’s body is in its former position. What gives, guv’ner?
Luck? I saw seven straight elevens on dice once. They were loaded.
Upon her request, Donlevy drives her to the home of her uncle (Gavin Muir), a maker of fine Scotch, in the uncle’s car. Along the way, a hitchhiker, walking the opposite direction, stops them and asks if Donlevy is SI-10. Odd. After being greeted at the home by the uncle’s butler (Ian Wolfe), Donlevy starts driving back to catch his passage to America. But, when he pulls out the cigarette lighter, he hears German. It’s a Nazi short-wave radio! And the car’s license plate is SI-10!
He returns to the house. In the meantime, Barrymore learns that her uncle (who really is German; he was adopted by the family as a youth) has placed a powerful explosive in several Scotch bottles bound for America. The ships will go Ka-blooey! Donlevy must save Barrymore and America from bad Scotch! And he does, but only after disposing of – in a quite shocking manner – the ace killer Nazi (Hans Conreid) and a feverish confrontation with Muir and gang. Yes, a stand-off between Muir with a gun and Donlevy with a bottle of Scotch…that just may have the explosive. ”Do I feel lucky?” Well, do ya, Nazi punk? (Well, Donlevy could have said that.)
The dialogue is incredibly hard-boiled, but said so straight…with knowing smirks (Donlevy is fabulous at both)…and sexual nuance. And the cinematography of George Barnes (SPELLBOUND; THE BOY WITH THE GREEN HAIR; FORCE OF EVIL; THE FILE ON THELMA JORDON) adds menace to the proceedings. This is the find of the Festival…thus far.
I start out the evening with a nice poker game in view and wind up in Central Park playing Cowboys and Indians. Now I don't know where I am. How about that! Me, in the middle of New York City, lost in the woods.
Ever see a movie several times and always like it, but never really think about it? Then, see it again, in a different context, and its many virtues become clear? It certainly happened to me last night watching ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT (Vincent Sherman 1941). Oh, the seriousness of the theme – Nazi fifth columnists undermining American confidence – was always there mixed with the Runyonesque humor, but never had I noticed how dark, nasty, mean and brutish the movie can be and how quickly after such a scene there is a seismic paradigm shift to humor…humor that is just really, really funny, not merely droll. But always with a dark-edge. And the death of Mr. Miller (Ludwig Stossel) at the hand of Pepi (cue for Mr. Lorre) early on can stand proudly with the pushy Tommy Udo as a scene of terror.
Yeah, I recognize the face but I don't know where to put it. Hey, there's more here than meets the F. B. I.
And the Cast…O, the Cast…one for the Ages: Humphrey Bogart, William Demarest, Wallace Ford, Conrad Veidt (Yikes!), Judith Anderson (Double Yikes!), the aforementioned Peter Lorre (Triple Yikes!), Jane Darwell, Frank McHugh, Barton MacLane, Edward Brophy, Jackie Gleason and Phil Silvers. What? Billy Halop, Bobby Jordan, Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall weren’t available? All beautifully shot by one of the greats, Sid Hickox (TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT; THE BIG SLEEP; DARK PASSAGE; WHITE HEAT; THEM!).
Brilliant programming, Sir!
In the post-screening de-briefing disorientation, Don, Dewey and I mulled over a possibility: If, as here, William Demarest always has the best lines and timing, was he the real auteur in the films of Preston Sturges? Essays, not to exceed two pages, double-spaced, 12-point type, are due on Friday.
As Greek Yia-yias say, Po, po, po, po, po (roughly translated, Tsk, tsk, tsk, tsk, tsk, but with a hint of regret). I have been negligent in failing to mention the new addition to the Festival – a Dewey pal scanned the low-downiest, nastiest panels from the cheapest pre-code comics and created a slideshow scored by Dewey himself. It runs during intermissions and is the talk of the Festival.
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles