The Loneliest Jukebox

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Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Edgar's award

‘Fate or some mysterious force has put the finger on you or me for no good reason at all.’ So says Tom Neal as the closing line of the movie Detour. In my case, fate was relatively well-behaved for a change, and meant my home's previous residents left their Sky TV box and satellite dish behind. This means all the decent channels are no longer beamed to me – no Sky Sports, Filmfour, TCM or countless Law and Order re-runs. Anyone for Virtual Horse Racing? How about Pornstar TV, where you text in your name to a premium rate service for it to be translated into something like ‘Fluffity Ramrod’? No takers? Shame.

Anyway, part of the barrel-scraping free service includes the Horror Channel and, at 10am, this means two hours of mystery and suspense. The selection criteria for these movies, I assume, is their lapsed copyright or some other dubious existence putting them in a grey area of the public domain. Which is entirely appropriate given the amount of vintage film noir showing up there at the moment. I’m talking treats like Lizabeth Scott and Dan Duryea in Killer Bait a.k.a. Too Late for Tears. I’m talking an unofficial Edgar G. Ulmer season, including Bluebeard and Detour. And jeepers mister, as they said at the time, Detour is good.

If alcoholic femme fatales are your thing – my friends can insert timely comments on my private life below – then Ann Savage does the business. Although the reliance on coincidence makes it a bit hokey, what’s amazing is what director Ulmer comes up with on a microscopic amount of resources. Estimates suggest he was rationed to 15000 feet of film and six days to come up with the picture (Lyons: 49), so the results are amazing.

Tom Neal puts in a good performance too, but it’s clear he wanted to live the film noir life for himself. It wasn’t the finger of fate but his own dumb conduct that stopped him going on to better things:
‘Neal made headlines and fractured his movie career by beating up Franchot Tone in an argument over actress Barbara Payton, who then married Tone, left him a few months later, and took up again with Neal. Then Neal murdered his third wife, Gail Evatt, got convicted of involuntary manslaughter and did six years. He died soon after being released from prison.’
All in all a ‘hellish spiral from rich-kid Northwestern and Harvard University grad to Hollywood lout and wifeslayer.’ (Gifford: 55)
Puts our own Pete Docherty in perspective.

Read on:
Gifford, Barry (2001) Out of the Past: Adventures in Film Noir (Roundhouse Publishing, ISBN: 157806290X) Buy it here
Lyons, Arthur (2000), Death on the Cheap: The Lost B Movies of Film Noir (Da Capo Press, ISBN: 0306809966) Buy it here


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