The Reckless Moment

the reckless moment 1The Film Noir Odyssey

Writer: Mel Dinelli, Robert E. Kent, Henry Garson & Robert Soderberg

Based on “The Blank Wall” by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding

Director: Max Ophuls

Cinematographer: Burnett Guffey

Music: Hans J. Salter

Cast: Joan Bennett, James Mason, Geraldine Brooks

Release: December 29, 1949

Studio: Columbia

Percent Noir: 80%

“The Reckless Moment” was dumped right after Christmas in 1949 by Columbia with no fanfare. The reviews ranged from indifferent to scathing – with professional asshole Vincent Canby from The New York Times gleefully revealing the finale in his panning of the film. Even James Mason, who was good friends with the director Max Ophuls, said the movie was bad. And as for Ophuls, the film was the last straw that sent him back to France, where he would subsequently make several masterpieces, including “The Earrings of Madame de…,” which is often considered one of the best films of all time.

The movie languished, even after film critics reassessed it after realizing that Ophuls was a genius. Columbia chose not to release it on any of the Film Noir box sets, nor as mainstream physical release. I’m a huge fan of Ophuls, and I could only find it by buying a $40 DVD from Korea. So was it worth it?

Yes. Yes, it was.

“The Reckless Moment” is, in many ways, unlike any other film noir I have ever seen. Ophuls takes chances with his visuals and soundtrack which are completely unexpected. The storyline isn’t the norm for noir… and yet the film still retains that specific mood one desires from this genre.

the reckless moment 2The great Joan Bennett stars here as Lucia, matriarch of the Harper family who is trying to keep it together while her husband is in a different country for weeks or months at a time for work. Her father-in-law (Henry O’Neill) and her son David (David Blair) are already a handful, but her big problem of late has been her daughter Bea (Geraldine Brooks). 17-year-old Bea is dating an older gross guy named Darby (Shepperd Shrudwick, appropriately oily), and seems determined to destroy her own life. “Mother, can’t you trust me?” Bea asks while sitting in a robe, her legs wide open. Lucia obviously saw “Mildred Pierce” and knows she’s got to cut this shit off pronto, but later that night Bea handles it herself when she gets some sense and breaks it off with Darby.

End of movie? Nope. The next morning Lucia discovers Darby’s body impaled on an anchor on the beach (he fell on it), assumes her daughter did it and goes into full-on beast mode, disposing of the body like a boss. But then a man named Martin (James Mason) shows up with Bea’s love letters to Darby… wouldn’t it be awful if the police got these? Martin insists on $5000, which is way too much for Lucia even if she has a maid, several cars and a boat. But then an odd thing happens – Martin almost immediately falls head over heels for Lucia. He wants to call the whole thing off, but his blackmailing partner Nagel (Roy Roberts) isn’t going to give in… no matter what it takes.

Bennett was beloved by foreign directors who came to America, working with Ophuls, Jean Renoir and multiple times with Fritz Lang. They understood the balance between her hardness and softness much better than any of her American directors, who often reduced her either to the “bitch” role or made her lean too hard on her softness, forgetting what makes her interesting as a performer. This is the best performance from her I’ve seen – watching as she bravely attempts to keep her shit together in front of her family as her entire life implodes around her is watching a master in full control of her craft. I doubt many other actresses could pull off the long, dialogue-free sequence where Lucia discovers the body and, without missing a beat, begins to plot how to dispose it and save her family, but Bennett excels here.

the reckless moment 3And about that sequence – Ophuls makes the brilliant decision here to drop all the music, leaving the film silent except for sound effects. With no guiding notes telling us how to react to the situation, the results are excruciatingly suspenseful to watch… the maestro is telling us that anything could happen at any moment by refusing us a fundamental building block of filmmaking that usually guides our feelings.

And that’s just one of his many genius touches here. Anyone who has heard of him knows that Ophuls keeps the camera in motion constantly, and this film is no exception. Here the movement is purposeful, keeping in step with Lucia as it follows her through her day, watching her react first to normal problems and later with extraordinary ones. His collaboration with cinematographer Burnett Guffey (“My Name is Julia Ross,” “Scandal Sheet”) also deserves mention. There is an amazing single-take shot that follows Lucia from the kitchen/dining room area of her home, which is warm with bright lights and the love of her family, into the sudden shadows of the dark living room where Martin waits to explode her life that is simply astonishing. It’s one of my favorite shots in all noir, creating the perfect metaphor for her frame of mind.

“The Reckless Moment” is also interesting in how forthright it is about its characters’ feelings. One of the hallmarks of noir is the grey area that holds most of its characters’ motivations. Does she really love him? Is he plotting to kill him? How much can we trust her? But here, everyone just spells out everything. Bea doesn’t hide her love of the asshole. Lucia is honest about not being able to get the money. Martin bluntly states early and often that he has fallen for Lucia. This miraculously works in the story’s favor because it often causes more complications for our hero.

Mason has a difficult needle to thread in his performance… appearing at first menacing and villainous to us before turning on a dime and becoming a tragic romantic hero. Thank God Mason is Mason, because I don’t think any other actor except possibly Ray Milland could have pulled this off. But Mason made a career of these inherently flawed, good at heart men. He’s not quite as good here as he is in “A Star is Born,” but he comes close.

The film isn’t perfect… it feels much longer than its 80 minute running time, thanks primarily to a section in the middle where Lucia attempts to raise the $5000 herself. While wearing a mink coat (because of course), Lucia wanders from bank to loan company to pawnbroker. The scenes are all quiet, devoid of tension and these visits would have been much better suited as a montage.

Regardless, this is essential noir. Ophuls brings a bunch of new toys to the game and goes out of his way to reframe and create new permeations of the crime genre in every scene. He was perfectly matched with Bennett and Mason, and I only wish he had more films noir once he returned to France.

Score: *****

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Where Danger Lives

where danger lives 1The Film Noir Odyssey

Writer: Charles Bennett

Story: Leo Rosen

Director: John Farrow

Cinematographer: Nicholas Musuraca

Music: Roy Webb

Cast: Robert Mitchum, Faith Domergue, Claude Rains

Release: July 8, 1950

Studio: RKO

Percent Noir: 60%

Charles Bennett is one of the best screenwriters in the history of the medium. The classic films he penned are myriad – “The 39 Steps,” “Night of the Demon,” “Foreign Correspondent,” “King Solomon’s Mines” – which makes me almost believe that he penned “Where Danger Lives” as a meta-commentary/parody of film noir.

How else could you explain our main character, while suffering from a concussion, telling his femme fatale that he’s about to make a bunch of awful, non-sensical decisions before he does them? Or the fact that, instead of the main character sitting there passively while the femme fatale destroys his life, our guy literally keeps losing consciousness to allow her to continue her misdeeds? And while we all know that femmes fatale are crazy, Bennett has made this one certifiably insane… doctors say it and everything.

where danger lives 2If Bennett did indeed mean this film to be a sly send-up of the crime genre, he probably didn’t tell anyone else in the cast or crew, because everyone else seems to be playing it straight. Patron saint of noir Robert Mitchum plays a kind doctor named Jeff Cameron. Despite the fact that he’s already with a nurse (Maureen O’Sullivan), when a suicidal woman is brought into the hospital, he immediately falls head over heels. She is Margo, played by Faith Domergue, who really should thank either her parents or her agent for the most awesome name ever. Jeff and Margo begin to date, but she keeps talking about how her dad is keeping them from getting married. Jeff goes to her house to confront her father (Claude Rains), but four minutes into the conversation he realizes that the man he thought was her father was really her husband. Things escalate, with Margo’s husband beating Jeff over the head with a poker and Jeff knocking him out. While Jeff leaves the room to splash some water on his face, Margo smothers her husband and then says he just up and died. Despite Jeff’s concussion, the duo immediately go on the run, heading for Mexico with the cops on their tail.

Taken as a straight example of noir, the film is just okay. The real stand-out is Bennett’s dialogue, which is biting and engaging throughout. When Margo’s husband explains the situation to Jeff, he says, “Margo married me for my money. I married her because she was young. We both got what we wanted.” No movie with wit like that can be awful. And Mitchum, who could have easily sleepwalked through the role, gives a fine performance, never playing up his concussion to the point where you want to roll your eyes. Raines really sinks his teeth into his vicious cameo, and cinematographer and noir MVP Nicholas Musuraca (“Out of the Past,” “The Spiral Staircase”) keeps everything moody and lovely to look at.

That said, if we are to take the film straight, I can’t comprehend why the filmmakers thought it would be a good idea to handicap the main character throughout the second half of the film, losing all his mental abilities and, later, physical movement. When the climax of your film is a barely coherent Jeff waddling on his mostly paralyzed body toward Margo, you probably lost the thread somewhere earlier. Sure, it’s an easy way to get the nice guy to go along with Margo’s more awful shenanigans – he literally lost his mind! – but it makes for a boring main character.

where danger lives 3Also, despite her awesome name, Domergue is not a good femme fatale. This film came out just a few months before “Vendetta,” Howard Hughes’ other film that was supposed to put the starlet on the map. Neither did. “Vendetta” was also the film where Hughes hired and fired iconic director Max Ophuls, who would later parody Hughes in the noir classic “Caught.” That random trivia is more interesting than Domergue’s performance here, which is fine, I guess. She hits her marks, says her lines, but shares little chemistry with Mitchum, hasn’t mastered her angles yet and her line readings often come across as quite wooden. Director John Farrow, apparently realizing this, has Domergue break the fourth wall twice and stare straight at the camera seductively, and the visual invention is the only time the viewer’s pulse quickens in her performance. And this is a pity, since Margo’s character could have been delightful if it had been interpreted by a better actress.

The film is peppered with wild moments of humor that is way off tone with the rest of the production. Margo and Jeff are stopped in a small town because they’ve broken the law. What law, you ask? Why, they don’t have facial hair! It’s some sort of weird festival, one that wildly ends with them being pressured into getting married to one another to avoid paying a $25 donation fee. Yeah, weird. And the movie has great fun with the fact that our main characters think the world is on their tail for days when no one is. There are multiple cutaways to suspicious looking cops and detectives, only for us to find out after Jeff and Margo panic and run away that they only wanted to deliver well wishes, or get donuts, or whatever.

It also indulges multiple times in one of my most hated clams, which happens when a character turns on the radio to see if there is news about them. The radio is ALWAYS just starting the story about the manhunt for Jeff and Margo, giving us all the exposition we need immediately. Talk about a coincidence! Ugh.

And while part of me still believes Bennett was going for parody, the smarter part of my brain tells me that, even if it were, the movie still wouldn’t be all that great. It lacks the bite or fun of real noir parodies like “His Kind of Woman.”  Either way you take “Where Danger Lives,” it remains firmly mid-tier, with enough good qualities to recommend it but not enough to make it very memorable.

Score: ***

Whirlpool

The Film Noir Odyssey

Writer: Ben Hecht & Andrew Solt

Based on the “Methinks the Lady” novel by Guy Endore

Director: Otto Preminger

Cinematographer: Arthur C. Miller

Music: David Raksin

Cast: Gene Tierney, Jose Ferrer, Richard Conte, Charles Bickford

Release: January 13, 1950

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Percent Noir: 80%

When you have a great actress like Gene Tierney in your film, why don’t you use her?

“Leave Her To Heaven” was one of the first movies I covered in this Odyssey, and in it Tierney gave the definitive femme fatale performance – she’s the one I compare every other actress to when I think of that type. And yet in each subsequent noir she is featured in, I find myself continually frustrated to see her trapped in average rolls that don’t give her anything to sink her teeth into. Even her most iconic performance in “Laura” doesn’t give her much to do – it’s thanks to the fact that she invests so much of herself in the role that it is remembered so fondly today.

And thus we get to “Whirlpool,” which is a good thriller with a tantalizing hook. Tierney is first-billed and grounds the first half, quickly capturing our sympathies and holding them tight as her circumstances get more dire. Then she all but disappears from the film, just when things get most interesting, replaced with two much less engaging characters who solve the puzzle on behalf of her. Blerg.

Tierney plays Ann Sutton, a housewife with a history of kleptomania that her husband, a psychoanalyst named William (Richard Conte), knows nothing about. After she subconsciously steals an expensive pin and is caught, she is rescued by the oily hypnotist David Korvo (Jose Ferrer). Ann begins seeing Richard on a regular basis to cure her problems, and one night snaps out of a fugue state in a house standing before a woman who has been strangled to death with Ann’s scarf. I hate it when that happens.

Things are getting interesting, but Ann is yanked offscreen and thrown into jail for looooooong stretches of the movie, only have one substantive scene where she vents all her frustrations about what is happening to her and who she has become. It’s an incredible scene, with bristling dialogue by co-screenwriters Ben Hecht and Andrew Solt, and Tierney knocks it out of the park. Then, suddenly, she’s gone again.

In her place are William and a police detective named Colton (Charles Bickford), who keep searching for answers despite Ann’s obvious guilt. They both suspect it’s Korvo, but he was just out of gallbladder surgery when the murder took place, and that’s as airtight an alibi as you can get. Bickford brings some gravitas to his performance, and almost sells that he’s open to hearing William’s cuh-razy pants theories, but Ferrer and his unfortunate bowtie are completely wooden as William. I didn’t buy for a moment his connection with his wife, his fury about the situation, his arc leading to believing in her, or how he put together the pieces mentally. With a slew of leading men who would have lined up to work with director Otto Preminger, this miscasting especially hurts.

It also doesn’t help that Conte wipes the floor with him, giving a fantastic performance as the trash person who caused all this. Conte’s scenes with Tierney in the first half of the movie are especially crackling, with Conte digging into the script’s strong dialogue with relish. Every time Ann begins to complain or pick up on his villainy, Korvo seems three steps ahead of her, waving away all of her reservations. It’s fascinating to watch because Conte doesn’t even try to make Korvo a likeable presence – but he sure as hell makes him engaging to watch. In the second half of the film, when he’s barely able to speak from his hospital bed, Conte still manages to upstage every actor he interacts with.

The screenplay by Hecht (“Notorious,” “Spellbound” and uncredited work on all your favorite films) and Solt (“In a Lonely Place”) is outstanding in its first act, exploiting Ann’s fragility and having fun with Korvo’s glee at what he can accomplish through his “work.” They handle all the (admittedly preposterous) mythology of hypnotism with ease, so you always feel grounded. And despite my frustration at throwing Ann’s character in the backseat when exploring her psyche more would be advantageous, the second half isn’t bad – it’s just not as good as the first.

Preminger directs with his usual firm hand, smartly not going visually over the top with the hypnotism sequences. We never go into Ann’s POV in these scenes like Hitchcock did with “Spellbound” or Alfred L. Werker did in “Shock”… instead he understands that the audience will be more engaged watching and screaming at the screen while Ann wanders around doing horrible things under Korvo’s control. Preminger does allow himself some atmospheric fun in the final act when all the main players converge in the murder house, some unaware that others are there.

“Whirlpool” is the third of five (six if you count “Daisy Kenyon”) films noir that Preminger directed for 20th Century Fox in quick succession, the others being “Laura,” “Fallen Angel,” “Where the Sidewalk Ends” and “The 13th Letter.” All are fascinating, quality films that most consider pinnacle noir, and “Whirlpool” fits nicely into the group.

Still, one can’t help but wish it had focused on Tierney throughout the entire film, instead of only in its first half. How many great performances did we miss from her when she was stuck playing routine roles in movies like “Night and the City,” “Black Widow” and more? But her absence from acts two and three of “Whirlpool” aren’t enough to sink the film, just tarnish it a little bit.

Score: ***1/2

Undercurrent

The Film Noir Odyssey

Writer: Edward Chodorov

Based on the “You Were There” story by Thelma Strabe, published in Women’s Home Companion

Director: Vincente Minnelli

Cinematographer: Karl Freund

Music: Herbert Stothart

Cast: Katherine Hepburn, Robert Taylor, Robert Mitchum

Release: November 28, 1946

Studio: MGM Pictures

Percent Noir: 50%

“Undercurrent” is one of the most interesting failures I’ve ever seen. Sure, there are fundamental problems with its cast and storytelling, but one can’t help but appreciate the psychological complexity the writers, director and star were going for. Had things gone well, this could have been a classic noir that stands with the best of ‘em. As it is, it’s a mostly forgotten footnote in the careers of all concerned.

The idea of a woman marrying the man of her dreams only to realize he may be an evil dick was nothing new when this movie being released. Alfred Hitchcock had famously done it in 1941’s “Suspicion” and netted Joan Fontaine an Oscar for it. George Cukor had done it to even more critical acclaim in 1944’s “Gaslight” and netted Ingrid Bergman an Oscar for it. Screenplay adaptor Edward Chodorov and director Vincente Minnelli seem to have approached “Undercurrent” with less interest in the thriller aspects of the story and more in exploring the psychology of the type of woman who would marry such a man.

And thus the character of Ann Hamilton was created. Nearing middle-age, she has never been married and never had much interest in clothes, beauty or the like. She tells herself that she’s never going to find love, even though those around her keep bugging her about it. When a man finally does show interest, named Alan Garroway, Ann completely seems to surrender her character to him, investing herself in clothes and a lifestyle she never gave a thought to before. When you read this description, perhaps the last actress you would picture in the role would be Katherine Hepburn, but that is who was cast.

It’s fascinating to see Hepburn struggle with such a passive character, and she, almost astonishingly, pulls it off. It’s the quieter moments, the half-tender/half-afraid looks she gives, that sell the performance. A major part of this, of course, comes from Minnelli and Chodorov giving her character the space she needs to convince the audience she can pull it off. Minnelli was a master at getting excellent work from his actresses. Sure, he’s most well-known today for his myriad of MGM musical classics like “Meet Me in St. Louis,” “Cabin in the Sky” and “An American In Paris,” but he was just as talented at crafting great character pieces. Look no further than “The Bad and the Beautiful” or the grossly underrated “The Clock,” which has Judy Garland’s best performance. He and Hepburn found the character and made her great…

…but then paired her with Robert Taylor. Whoops.

Taylor (who has no relation to this writer, thank God) is famously one of Hollywood’s least talented leading men, and one of its more notorious a-holes. “Undercurrent” represented Taylor’s return to film after completing the now-imfamous “Song of Russia” and heading into the army for several years, and is the first of a string of underperforming films noir he would make (“High Wall,” “The Bribe” “Conspirator”) before switching to Westerns. To say he was mismatched with Hepburn would be an understatement. To see Hepburn bending over backward to give a grounded, loving performance contrasted with Taylor’s let-the-mustache-do-the-acting-for-me block of wood acting is kind of astonishing. The two actors famously had very disparate views on politics, and Taylor genuinely never seems like he wants to be in the same space as Hepburn, unsure of how to respond to her emotive work.

Taylor’s best scene is the one he shares with his estranged brother Michael, played by Robert Mitchum in an extended three-scene cameo as the black-sheep who really is a good guy. They confront each other in a barn with the wind whipping outside and frightened horses bucking in the stalls, and here Taylor’s lack of emotion is quite impactful. But this is four minutes out of the nearly two hour film.

Hepburn’s Ann becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to Michael, and here is the other place the film stumbled badly. She becomes so fascinated with his secrets and goes to such lengths to uncover the truth that some of these scenes come across as humorous. At a certain point, she’s spoken with every single character at length about Michael but there is still more exposition to get out, so they have her talk to the dog (!!!) about him. Oy. The pacing and repetition of these scenes grates and ruins the pacing of the second hour of the film.

Visually, Minnelli and his cinematographer, the iconic Karl Freund (“Metropolis,” “Dracula,” “Key Largo”) shoot the film without the usual noir trappings until an hour in. They bring in the shadows and tension of the situation in an explicit visual way as the story tips to show Alan is a villain. Alan arrives at a house to confront his wife and loses his temper, knocking a lamp over in the process. The shot does not cut when he does this, instead staying on him as the filmmakers suddenly paint the entire house’s canvas in shadows and menace. Suddenly, Hepburn and Taylor have gone from visible to only in profile. It’s one of the greatest shots in all of film noir, and for it alone the film is almost worth the price of admission.

They stumble a little later in a short scene taken from Ann’s POV with a coffee cup that goes nowhere and the big climactic sequence. In it, Alan and Ann are riding and he attempts to shove her and her horse over the edge of a cliff. The stuntmen are none-too-convincing and the intercutting between close-ups of the actors and the location footage is unfortunately quite bad, as is the moment one of the horses tramples Alan.

It’s an unfortunate coda to a film that touched greatness often in its running time. The film was incredibly popular at the box office when released, but I have yet to find a single film buff friend who has actually seen it besides myself. And you should see it, especially if you feel like Hepburn was only capable of playing variations on herself in film.

Score: **1/2

The Woman on the Beach

The Film Noir Odyssey

Writer: Frank Davis, Jean Renoir, adaptation by Michael Hogan

Based on the novel “None So Blind” by Mitchell Wilson

Director: Jean Renoir

Cinematographer: Leo Tover, Harry J. Wild

Music: Hanns Eisler

Cast: Joan Bennett, Robert Ryan, Charles Bickford

Release: June 7, 1947

Studio: RKO Radio Pictures

Percent Noir: 70%

“The Woman on the Beach” is one of those many films that is more notable for its behind-the-scenes happenings than anything in the movie itself. RKO had famously made director/co-writer Jean Renoir reshoot somewhere between a third and half of the film after a disastrous preview audience laughed derisively at the first cut.

The story concerns a veteran named Scott (Robert Ryan) who is suffering from PTSD after some sort of naval disaster. He’s engaged to Eve (Nan Leslie), but finds himself attracted the mysterious dame of the title, Peggy (Joan Bennett), who is married to Tod (Charles Bickford). Tod was one of the most in-demand painters in the world, but after Peggy accidentally blinded him, he is now incapable of doing what he loves. Peggy and Scott begin an affair, but Scott suspects that Tod may not be as blind as he seems.

It’s all fairly straightforward noir storytelling, with Tod’s suspect blindness an interesting wrinkle. This should be a grand slam for all involved – Bennett is best in dark noir turns (“The Woman in the Window,” “The Reckless Moment”), and Ryan would go on to give great performances both as a homewrecker (“Clash by Night”) and an emotionally vulnerable alpha male (“The Set-Up”). Renoir, of course, is one of the greatest directors of all time (“Grand Illusion,” “The River”), and his French noir prototype “The Bitch” was remade in America by Fritz Lang as the masterpiece “Scarlet Street,” which just happened to star Joan Bennett.

But “The Woman on the Beach” doesn’t work.

Sure, there are a few outlier critics who keep trying to insist that this is some undervalued masterpiece and one of the best portraits of an imploding marriage ever placed on film — but they obviously are watching a different movie called “The Woman on the Beach.” Most historians and critics place all the blame squarely on executives at RKO – they never quite write “Everything bad about the movie was forced in by RKO and everything good was put in against RKO’s will by Renoir,” but they might as well have. That’s a fun narrative. It’s easier to blame faceless execs, despite the fact that RKO was, on a regular basis, producing the best crime films in the industry and were, on the whole, very supportive of their filmmakers. The truth is probably somewhere in between, with everyone genuinely doing what they thought was best to make a good movie… and not succeeding.

Watching the film is an odd experience, because you can feel both points of view pushing and pulling right in front of you. Renoir wanted to bookend the film with fire and water, but upend expectations, with the water in the opening representing destruction and the fire at the end representing rebirth. And the execs obviously looked at Ryan’s non-chemistry with Bennett and panicked, forcing Hanns Eisler’s score to be so loud in certain sections it overwhelms everything around it.

And, to the movie’s credit, there are a couple very good things about it. Ryan’s maritime nightmare sequence, which opens the movie, is dripping with great imagery (no pun intended). And despite not being able to sell the affair with Ryan, Bennett still gives a very good performance as a possible femme fatale – the camera loves her cold features and I loved how you could never quite get a handle on when she was lying and when she was telling the truth. Finally, there’s a scene between Peggy and Tod where Tod admits that, no matter how old the couple gets, he’ll always think of Peggy as a young, beautiful woman from the moments before he went blind.

Most everything else, though? Yikes.

First, Ryan does not give a good performance – he is unable to sell the drama of someone recovering from a trauma, and his interactions with Bennett are devoid of any heat or romance, despite Bennett trying hard. Was his frustration at having to reshoot all of his romantic scenes coming through in the finished product? Perhaps.

Second, the dialogue throughout is atrocious. Bennett somehow manages to sell most of her lines, but even she can’t pull off the following exclamation at her husband: “I wish I’d never heard of painting! Or artists!” Oooh, you tell him, girl. In another scene, Tod shows off his paintings, dropping this none-too-subtle exposition bomb: “They’re safe here, just as long as I’m alive.” Film noir really needs crackling dialogue, and all we get here are vacant babblings.

There are many other inane moments sprinkled throughout, none more inadvertently laughable as the one where Scott (who still suspects Tod isn’t blind), leads the guy off a cliff. It’s almost as funny as the follow-up moment where Tod forgives Scott and insists that the near-murder is perfect evidence that the two should become besties.

In case you can’t tell, it’s impossible to relax and surrender to the storytelling. Every time there’s a genuinely good moment, it’s undercut by three moments that just don’t work. I haven’t even brought up the unfortunate Eve subplot, which takes up probably a quarter of the movie’s running time, but is so useless that you find yourself forgetting it exists the second Renoir cuts away to anything else.

Despite being only 71 minutes, I’m struggling to come up with a valid excuse for you to watch the movie. All the creators did better work elsewhere that definitely deserve your attention before this. Perhaps “The Woman on the Beach” is best forgotten, a footnote in the careers of all involved and nothing more. What a shame.

Score: **

The Woman in the Window

The Film Noir Odyssey

Writer: Nunnally Johnson

Based on the “Once Off Guard” novel by J.H. Wallis

Director: Fritz Lang

Cinematographer: Milton R. Krasner

Music: Arthur Lange

Cast: Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, Dan Duryea

Release: November 3, 1944

Studio: RKO Radio Pictures

Percent Noir: 80%

“The Woman in the Window” is a very fine film noir film – indeed, it is one of the quintet of movies that famously got the French to coin the term “noir” in the first place. But something has always bugged me about the fact that Paste Magazine counts it as the best noir of all time in a list I’m not going to bother to link to… which is weird because I don’t normally care much about rankings (let’s face it: their only use is to legitimize the status of newer films and inform the new generation of important, great older films). Perhaps part of this is because it is so obviously a warm-up for Fritz Lang/Edward G. Robinson/Joan Bennett’s second go-round with noir in the following year’s “Scarlet Street,” which I consider to be a masterpiece.

And yeah, I’m pretty sure a lot of it has to do with that fucking cop out ending.

But we’ll get there when we get there. First, the set-up: Robinson plays Richard Wanley, a seemingly content middle-aged professor who sends his wife and kids off to vacation before finding himself drawn to a painting of a pretty woman that is posted (wait for it) in a window. When Richard runs into the real version of the woman, whose name is Alice (Bennett), they end up back at her swanky apartment, but before anything too pre-code can happen, Alice’s other lover shows up and becomes hysterical, forcing Richard to stab him to death with scissors in self-defense. They dispose of the body and promise never to contact one another again, but things are complicated when Richard realizes the dead man was a person of importance, and Richard’s best friend, a district attorney named Frank (Raymond Massey) is investigating the crime. Things get more complicated when straw-hat wearing Heidt (Dan Duryea) begins blackmailing Alice. It gets delightfully dark, with Richard committing suicide while Alice concurrently finds Heidt’s dead body and desperately tries to contact him to let him know they are free…

… and then it all turns out it was a dream. A fucking dream.

Fucking Hays code.

The movie doesn’t even play fair with its twist ending – often going outside Richard’s point-of-view over the course of the movie with long scenes of which he knows little or nothing. That said, it does marginally pay off the film’s Freudian thematic material… but if I’m very honest, the introduction of that material isn’t handled well in the first act either. Richard is hanging out with Frank and another friend in a swanky club (the kind of place where you can tell a rando employee to wake you up at 10:30 and they actually will) and Frank spoon-feeds “Richard” i.e. the audience some atrocious exposition about what type of person he is and why he behaves the way he does etc. This is AFTER like a two-sentence opening, which I’m betting was a Hays Code addition, of Richard in his classroom saying self-defense means murder is okay.

But while the exposition is clunky, director Lang’s visual interpretation of those motifs is superb. The way he uses reflections both in mirrors and glass to showcase the two sides of Richard’s personality, and the way he uses Alice’s perfect reflection in the window directly over her painting is inspired. Later, he frames Richard and Alice behind metal bars of a fence when they are discussing the second murder.

The film improves exponentially after Richard meets Alice, and the murder scene and aftermath are one of Lang’s best set-pieces. Note the viciousness with which Richard stabs Alice’s lover over and over contradicted by his attempts at calm as they clean up the mess. And his rain-soaked ride out to dump the body is filled with delightful bits of suspense that Lang pulls off like no other filmmaker.

And as clammy as having your best friend investigating your crime could have been, screenwriter Nunnally Johnson has a ton of fun with the concept. Richard accidentally lets fly some details about the murder before Frank tells him them. Then, when they visit the dump site, Richard absentmindedly begins walking toward where he left the body before Frank can lead him there. By the time they note that the killer cut his hand on the fence right next to some poison ivy, Richard can’t help but show his own infected cut and make a joke that he’s the killer. There are other great swatches of great dark humor, as when we see the boy scout who discovered the body interviewed about what happened, or when Alice just stands there and lets her blackmailer search her apartment.

Robinson is aces as Richard throughout, though he falters a little in the epilogue twist (then again, who wouldn’t?). I love the bit where he calmly and logically explains exactly what needed to happen concerning the blackmailer. Bennett is fascinating to watch because you keep expecting her to become more evil than she actually becomes – by the time she is trying to poison a man, you are more engaged with her emotional journey than Richard’s – and I love how she treated him straight the entire time. Duryea plays his small role like a silent actor, hamming it up and going overboard on the mannerisms, which fits the character well.

Those three actors, Lang and cinematographer Milton Krasner would reunite a year later for the aforementioned “Scarlet Street,” which had the actors playing variations on these same characters and a painting (well, a few paintings) driving the storyline. That movie is one of the pillars of film noir, and this one is damn good too – though better if you pretend the last four minutes don’t exist.

Score: ****

The Unsuspected

The Film Noir Odyssey

Writer: Randal MacDougall, Bess Meredyth

Based on the Charlotte Armstrong novel “The Unsuspected”

Director: Michael Curtiz

Cinematographer: Woody Bredell

Music: Franz Waxman

Cast: Claude Rains, Joan Caulfield, Audrey Totter, Constance Bennett

Release: October 3, 1947

Studio: Warner Brothers Pictures

Percent Noir: 70%

“The Unsuspected” has long been considered second-tier noir, perfectly enjoyable but nothing special. Even director Michael Curtiz thought so, once stating, “It looks as though I tried to make a great picture out of a story that wasn’t a great story.” Far be it from me to contradict the director of “Mildred Pierce,” and “Casablanca,” but I think that this is a good story and a great picture.

The reason why this film has fallen by the wayside is obvious – it has several similarities to noir masterwork “Laura,” a fact that critics took pains to point out both when the film was released and in contemporary reviews. They both have a painting of a dead girl who isn’t really dead, a murder mystery based in the upper class and a killer who is quite the gentleman. And since “Laura” was already anointed as one of the pinnacles of the genre, luck appears to have run out for the unfortunately titled “The Unsuspected,” and it has been dumped on the same heap as subsequent badly-timed films “Deep Impact,” “Infamous” and “Jobs.” And that’s a fucking shame, because the movie is great and deserves rediscovery.

Claude Rains stars as Victor “Grand-y” Grandison, who is the popular radio host of a true crime series… and also a murderer. No one would suspect upon first glance, because Rains ups his charm factor to 11, which makes his insidious dealings even creepier when they happen. His family has a bunch of their own drama to deal with. His beloved niece Matilda (Joan Caulfield) is presumed dead in a boating disaster but makes a triumphant return before the end of act one. Steven Howard (Ted North) claims he’s married to Matilda, but she can’t remember him. Drunk Oliver (Hurd Hatfield) is also in love with Matilda but is married to Victor’s other niece, the vindictive Althea (Audrey Totter). Oh, and Victor’s new secretary Jane (Constance Bennett) will hopefully have better luck than the last one, who was discovered hanging from a chandelier in Victor’s office.

If all of this sounds incredibly complex, it works like gangbusters in the movie, and the biggest strength of the screenplay by Randal MacDougall (“Mildred Pierce”) and Bess Meredyth (“The Mark of Zorro”) is its ability to turn the ensemble into engaging, human characters, each with interesting dynamics concerning the others. The good girl character of Matilda, played quite well by Caulfield, would be a tedious bore in 99% of other screenplays like this, but the writers give her wit and agency that are unexpected. Victor is truly a great noir villain, and watching Rains’ interpretation of the character as he balances his kind words with his disgusting actions is perfection. Unlike lesser actors who would overact the “nice guy” persona to wink at the audience, Rains plays Victor as a hero except in the moments when he is doing something dastardly, and the results are amazing.

Rains is perfectly matched by Totter as Althea, who is obviously having a ball with the character. She has a gangbusters wardrobe, wipes the floor with any character she encounters and can really sell a line such as “I like breaking things.” Not content with having her just be a spiteful (censored), the writers go out of their way to give Althea some depth before Victor offs her, which is appreciated.

I’ve gone over half this article without mentioning how stunning “The Unsuspected” looks. I hesitate to call it the best-looking noir I’ve ever seen, because there are some really beautiful films noir, but I’ll be damned if I can find a single shot here that I don’t want to screencap. Curtiz and his cinematographer Woody Bredell offer up a world where every room – and, by extension, every angle used to capture every room – is stunning. I expect this kind of excellence from Curtiz, but the revelation here is Bredell. I know his work from “The Killers” and “Son of Frankenstein,” but the guy’s filmography isn’t extensive or filled with iconic movies like James Wong Howe and Karl Struss, but this movie alone should be enough to place the guy on a list with those greats. That opening murder! The hotel sign that reads “KILL”! The poisoned champagne! The recurring visual motif of Rains staring down into a reflective surface! Need I say more?

I should also note how expensive the movie seems. Curtiz also produced the movie (with Charles Hoffman) and has spared no expense when it comes to the aspects of the movie where a producer would usually tighten the purse strings. When Matilda lands in an airport in the middle of a thunderstorm, it really looks like they shot at an airport in the middle of a rainstorm. There’s a sequence near the end of the second act when Oliver’s car’s brakes go out, and instead of using stock car footage, we see some stunning (stunning!) stunt work that sees the car careening out of control just past the camera, narrowly missing another car by spinning up a steep hill and a smashing (literally) climactic crash. A later chase is just as impressive, and appears to have almost killed several stunt men.

So yeah, you need to see “The Unsuspected.” Critics claiming the story is too close to “Laura” are spouting bullshit – no one says “Body Heat” is too close to “Double Indemnity.” Film noir is already a closely knit grouping of movies linked by theme, visual style and character… it is inherently unfair to give this movie flack while not doing the same for others. Perhaps then critics will finally recognize it as the great example of the genre that it is, with a villain for the ages and an Audrey Totter performance that rivals any of her other iconic roles. Drop what you are doing and go find this treasure now.

Score: *****

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers

The Film Noir Odyssey

Writer: Robert Rossen

Based on “Love Lies Bleeding” by John Patrick

Director: Lewis Milestone

Cinematographer: Victor Milner

Music: Miklos Rozsa

Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin, Kirk Douglas, Lizabeth Scott

Release: September 13, 1946

Studio: Paramount Pictures

Percent Noir: 90%

We need to talk about Barbara.

Watching “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers,” it was impossible to look away from Barbara Stanwyck’s astounding performance. The title character is a nearly impossible needle to thread and, in any given scene, somehow be all things to all people. She’s an enigma, and yet you have to completely understand her. Within one scene she must be completely sympathetic, but also the harshest of femme fatales. It’s an almost-literal interpretation of the main character from W. Somerset Maugham’s masterpiece “Theater.” As the movie progressed and I watched Stanwyck perform this incredible tight rope walk, I began wondering if any other actress could have pulled this role off. I don’t think anyone could.

Once, years ago, Martha murdered her guardian/aunt (Judith Anderson, sinking her teeth into a thankless cameo) in cold blood. There was one witness for sure – the frightened, malleable Walter (Kirk Douglas as an adult), and another possible witness in their friend Sam (Van Heflin as an adult). Walter keeps Martha’s secret, but Sam disappears into a thunderstorm, never heard from again for decades. Then one day Sam reappears in the town and crashes his car, then bonds with a jailbird named Toni (Lizabeth Scott), who is arrested soon for probation. With Walter now the district attorney and Martha head of the biggest company in town, Sam decides to reintroduce himself into their lives and ask a favor.

Martha and Walter are already white-knuckling it through marriage, and when Sam reappears they immediately assume he’s there to blackmail them about that night. We realize that not only did Martha lie, but then she blamed an innocent man who ultimately hung for the crime. Yikes. Things escalate quickly, with Marta using her seduction tactics on Sam and Walter hiring people to beat the fuck out of him… all the while Sam tries to figure out what is going on.

It’s a complicated story that embraces melodrama more often than other films noir, but that is not a bad thing. Walter in particular is a train wreck, saying things he shouldn’t while drunk, which is approximately every scene in the film. And Sam’s triangle with Toni and Martha engages as soon as you realize what the filmmakers are looking to explore with it – your heart breaks when it seems like Sam is about to abandon Toni, but another part of you is just so fascinated with Martha that you can’t wait to see what happens next. The screenplay by Robert Rossen takes time to develop three of the four leads into three dimensional characters. Walter is given the short end of the stick, but since he’s the wild card of the quartet that is probably a good sign. You can feel the history between Martha and Sam in almost every line of dialogue they speak to one another – watch how the characters relax, tense and the actors show so much emotion through a simple glance or a clearing of their throat.

There is another lower-budget version of this movie that takes place completely in sitting rooms, offices and the like – I’m actually surprised this has never been adapted for the stage before. But director Lewis Milestone (“All Quiet on the Western Front,” “Anything Goes”) is smart to open the film and world up. There’s a visual distinction to Iverstown missing from many other comparable films noir – it feels a touch more real. Like there are other lives happening around our four characters that will be affected by how things turn out for them. Milestone and his cinematographer Victor Milner (“Dark City,” “Jeopardy”) are attempting to create an entire world out of this town, one as distinctive in its own way as Mandalay in “Rebecca” or the town in “Clash By Night.” Perhaps the one place the movie shoots itself in the foot from a crew standpoint is Miklos Rozsa’s score – the guy is a master composer, but this is an exception, with the music way too insistent. Throughout, it telegraphs emotions instead of underlining them.

I’ve already mentioned Stanwyck, but it bears repeating – she is fabulous here. That said, I must admit that her costumes were not the best… this is perhaps the one misstep I’ve ever seen from costume design icon Edith Head. Heflin is fine as her maybe-lost love, having insane chemistry with Stanwyck and okay chemistry with Scott. Scott is otherwise enjoyable as the good girl with the dark past. Douglas seems miscast at first as such a passive character (this was his first major role in a film), but he acquits himself very well to the proceedings, nailing his more complex stuff in the last act of the movie.

Now “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers” is a noir touchstone, which is odd considering it’s not very hardboiled but is very deliberately paced (at two hours, it feels long but not overlong). The reason this happened is obvious – Paramount let the copyright on the film lapse decades ago. In a way, that’s the best thing that could have happened to the movie… everyone who starts exploring the world of noir buys one of those six-film sets for eight bucks that includes “Detour,” “Scarlet Street,” “The Stranger,” “DOA,” “The Red House” and, you guessed it, this flick. When you think about it, those six flicks are a great intro to noir, even if they aren’t all masterpieces, but that’s another story. The movie would have probably fallen through the cracks of time otherwise, especially considering it’s more melodrama than noir.

And that’s a great thing, because the movie is a small treasure for noir fans. Stanwyck would give iconic performances elsewhere in noir (and comedy, with her masterpiece “Christmas in Connecticut”), but this may be her most layered, successful one ever. She makes this movie unmissable.

Score: ****

The House on Telegraph Hill

The Film Noir Odyssey

Writer: Elick Moll and Frank Partos

Based on the novel “The Frightened Child” by Dana Lyon

Director: Robert Wise

Cinematographer: Lucien Ballard

Music: Sol Kaplan

Cast: Valentina Cortese, Richard Basehart, William Lundigan, Fay Baker

Release: May 12, 1951

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Awards: The film was nominated for Best Art Direction, Black & White, but lost to “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Also nominated in that category was “Fourteen Hours.”

Percent Noir: 70%

“The House on Telegraph Hill” has one of the most intriguing set-ups in all of film noir, and with it perhaps the most genuinely three-dimensional heroine of the genre. It’s a purposely messy, emotional set-up, and I loved the frankness with which the writers and directors approached the story. You can imagine my unpleasant surprise, then, to see the filmmakers completely shit the bed in the last act.

But before we get there, I must give credit where it is due, because this film rarely steps wrong in its first half. Victoria (Valentina Cortese) is a polish woman who has lost her home and entire family when she arrives in the concentration camps during WWII, and quickly befriends a frail woman named Karin. Karin has a son who she successfully shipped to America to live with an aunt… but is soon dead from the conditions of the camp. As the camps are liberated, Victoria (who has nothing left to lose) assumes Karin’s identity, and writes to “her” aunt so she can come to America to be “reunited” with her “son.” She learns the aunt is dead but is soon in San Francisco, meeting Alan (Richard Basehart), who is the child’s guardian. Through voiceover, Victoria states that she purposely seduced Alan into a quickie marriage because it would make everything easier for her as an immigrant, and soon she meets the boy, Christopher (Gordon Gebert) and his overbearing nurse Margaret (Fay Baker), and moves into a gorgeous old mansion on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco.

Phew – that’s a lot of set-up. But I wanted to get it out in all its complexity to underline how far the screenplay, which was co-written by Elick Moll and Frank Partos, goes to portray Victoria as an actual human being, not a boring cipher or the tedious “good girl” so many comparable female characters in noir are boxed in as. She does several morally suspect things, one right after the other, and though of course we sympathize because of what’s happening to her, the writers are bold in never having her apologize for her choices. She makes them, informs us of her reasons, and moves on. I’m frankly shocked they got away with it, but oh-so-happy they did.

And once Victoria gets to that house on Telegraph Hill, the screenplay continues to deepen her character, first by the odd power-battle she seems to be having with Margaret, and secondly through her bonding scenes with Christopher. Lesser movies would have not even had the child complication or, if they did, make him into a non-entity, but the film goes out of its way to show Victoria playing with him, chatting with him – learning about him as a person. Their first meeting is a great scene, where Victoria hesitates during the introduction, somehow afraid that Christopher will sense she isn’t really his mother.

And then the movie begins to go off the rails, slowly at first and then faster… to the point where you can’t believe you’re watching the same film. A second love interest is introduced in Marc (William Lundigan), and it becomes apparent that Alan is plotting to murder Victoria and Christopher. Really apparent. Like, it couldn’t be more obvious. Leatherface would watch this movie and say (if he could speak) “Wow, you’re being a little on-the-nose here about making Alan a killer, aren’t you?” And suddenly Victoria loses every shred of her strength and agency. She becomes a weeping, insufferable woman who knows everything but refuses to act on any of it, even though the front door is, like, three feet away. How bad does it get? After Alan accidentally poisons himself instead of Victoria, she weeps and cries and attempts to HELP HIM, even as he cackles that he hates her and wishes she was dead. Girl, really?

I was gobsmacked that the film would so fully shift into the suspicious wife identity, but then do it with so little style or subtlety, which was on display everywhere else in the screenplay. What the hell happened?! One would think that the screenwriters would use Victoria’s time trapped in that concentration camp to somehow inform how she reacted to her husband’s villainy or, even better, make her catch onto his machinations sooner. But nope, in the space of about ten minutes of screen time Victoria lost every brain cell she had. And, to add more insult to injury, the thread of Victoria assuming Karin’s identity is basically lost in the ether as the film progresses, coming back as an afterthought in one conversation with the second love interest.

Cortese gives a good performance as Victoria, nailing the alienation of her character in the first half, though her crying sad sack variation on the character in the final third is less successful. I’m gonna be blunt here and say Basehart and Lundigan are completely interchangeable. They are both boringly handsome and turn in decent work, but I would not blame you for asking yourself in any given scene “Now which one is that?” After all, I did it once or twice.

Director Robert Wise (“The Set-Up,” “Born to Kill”) was finishing up his noir phase and moving onto bigger epics (“The Day the Earth Stood Still” was released the same year as this film), but he still shot the first half of the movie in an awesome, subtle way where he let the set-design (which was nominated for an Oscar) and location photography do the work for him. Alas, in the second half he and cinematographer Lucien Ballard (“The Lodger,” “Inferno”) lather on the atmosphere to the point where it almost seems like a send-up of this type of thriller.

I get the feeling that there is a masterpiece somewhere hiding in “The House on Telegraph Hill,” and I feel like it would be well-served by a remake. As it is, the film is a hot mess I’m not sure I like, even though I love many things about it.

Score: ***

The Hitch-Hiker

The Film Noir Odyssey

Writer: Collier Young & Ida Lupino

Director: Ida Lupino

Cinematographer: Nicholas Musuraca

Music: Leith Stevens

Cast: Edmond O’Brien, Frank Lovejoy, William Talman

Release: March 21, 1953

Studio: RKO Radio Pictures

Percent Noir: 40%

The idea of a hitch-hiker bringing anarchy and death to innocents has proven to be one of the most fruitful tropes of thriller and horror films of the past 70 years or so. You’ve got the classic “Twilight Zone” episode, “The Hitcher,” the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” franchise and dozens more, and with good reason. The idea of a stranger forcing his way into your life and making you to drive into the unknown is fundamentally terrifying, cheap to produce and damn appealing. But as far as I can tell, “The Hitch-Hiker” is the first filmed iteration of this idea. And, all things considered, it’s not a bad start.

The film was directed by actress Ida Lupino (who starred in the noir films “Ladies in Retirement” and “Jennifer,” among others), who acquits herself much better to the job than fellow actors-turned-directors Dick Powell (“Split Second”) and Robert Montgomery (“Lady in the Lake”). The film begins especially well, following the mysterious hitch-hiker (William Talman) as he moves from car to car offing people, but we witness the sequence from the ground, only seeing his feet at first. Moments later, when the main characters pick up the hitch-hiker, Lupino and her cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca (“Stranger on the Third Floor,” “Out of the Past”) keep his face in shadow for just long enough to make us really want to see what he looks like.

Lupino also co-wrote the screenplay with Collier Young, but here things aren’t as successful. The biggest fundamental mistake the movie makes is right off the bat — its two protagonists, Roy (Edmond O’Brien) and Gilbert (Frank Lovejoy), are completely interchangeable. Neither one has much of a personality besides “Well, guess we have to listen to the psycho with the gun,” and neither shows any resilience or fight that would make the audience want to cheer. Instead, they seem to only function to listen to the exposition and thought processes of the other. Compounding things is the missed opportunity to off one of the heroes at the mid-point to up the stakes, but they remain transposable lunkheads until the end.

Luckily, Talman picks up all the slack. It’s not one of the great villain performances in noir, but it’s a darn good one, and Talman does wonderful things with very little. There’s this wonderful, creepy recurring bit where the hitch-hiker warns the men that one of his eyes never closes when he sleeps, so they’ll never be able to tell if he’s watching to make sure they don’t escape during the night. And seeing that eye open…staring…multiple times during the film gets under your skin every time.

Also excellent is the location shooting, which is pretty extraordinary throughout. Lupino and Musuraca give a real feel of desperation to the desert, which looks overgrown and dead in the stark black-and-white. It’s astonishing to me that Musuraca could handle both the expressionism of “Stranger on the Third Floor” and the realism of this film without missing a beat, but I guess that’s why he’s considered one of the greatest of cinematographers. Note the way he and Lupino introduce the beach near the film’s finale, not with a grand statement but a simple pan, and you realize that often the subtle way gives the viewer the most impact.

Unfortunately, every time things get really interesting with the hitch-hiker and his hostages, Lupino makes the odd decision to cut away from them to the police, who are desperately trying to track the men. These moments don’t offer anything of note aside from unnecessary exposition and actively hurt the pacing of the film. Why not leave the thoughts of the police a mystery – it would have ultimately been stronger for the film as a whole. The moments stink of padding for the running time, actually, and though the movie is only 70-odd minutes, I would happily have these bits cut if they could be replaced with more character development for the heroes at the outset.

The film also stumbles in its final moments, which should have been its best. Thematically, I love the idea that we have been in the desert for almost the entire film and now, suddenly, we are dealing with water – so on a macro level it works. That said, the final moments, when the guys get the upper hand on the hitch-hiker and take turns beating him on the docks is completely underwhelming – I wanted some ingenious twist to get them out of their hostage situation, not boring brute force. I did enjoy that it took three police officers using all their strength to get the hitch-hiker under control, and that his last statement isn’t with words… it’s spitting blood toward the men. But what led into that should have been bigger and better.

It’s interesting that this film and the previously discussed noir “Jeopardy,” which also features the main character taken hostage in the middle of the Mexican desert, opened within days of one another. Despite the fact that “Jeopardy” was the bigger box office success back in the day, “The Hitch-Hiker” has been the film that has lasted longer in the zeitgeist, remaining an essential noir for most. Still, I have to say that I think “Jeopardy” is the better film and echo that it’s unfortunate that it has fallen by the wayside of history as it has.

That said, I give a thumbs up (sorry I couldn’t resist) to “The Hitch-Hiker.” It’s got problems both major and minor, but the essence of the movie and its cinematography remain aces and will linger with me longer than most films noir.

Score: ***