“Film Noir.” The words, meaning “black pictures”, come from French movie critics, enraptured by low budget black and white American productions of the 1940’s and 1950’s. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, film noir festivals became brisk money makers for archives, repertory theatres, video and DVD distributors plus countless late night broadcasters and cable programmers.
Unsurprisingly other copyright holders of vintage European titles wanted to get in on this profitable phenomenon. Michael Keaney’s “British Film Noir Guide” from McFarland Publishers provides noir buffs with an illustrated guide to noir efforts across the pond.
One of Keaney’s favorites (and mine) is “Black Narcissus” which shows the struggle of 5 nuns to keep their faith in Calcutta. The film is not a pro or con argument about nuns. It shows how women cope with their emotions in a different environment with a very different climate. The leader of the group, (Deborah Kerr as Clodagh) is swept away by her romantic memories of lost love (lost in the sense that she loved him and he didn’t love her back). Another nun (Flora Robson) is supposed to supply the convent with vegetables from the garden but, dreamily she plants flowers instead. An unbalanced young nun (played to the hilt by Kathleen Byron) imagines herself in love with Mr. Dean (David Farrar) as a local man sent to help the group. She also engages in a deadly power struggle with Clodagh, whose youth and inexperience leave her unprepared to cope with the violent undercurrents of insanity. Why does “Black Narcissus” qualify as film noir? Mainly because it gets to the heart of the noir universe, with nary a gunfight nor fisticuffs in sight. A noir atmosphere is more about feelings and perceptions than it is about direct action and uncluttered decisions.
“No Orchids For Miss Blandish” is a 1948 film heavily influenced by U.S. gangster lore. Its star, Jack La Rue as Slim Grisson, had a long career in Hollywood and is perfect as a bad guy to whom a rich English Rose (Linden Travers as Miss Blandish) is irresistibly drawn. English critics detested the picture, but American audiences liked it and Robert Aldrich remade it in 1971 as “The Grissom Gang.”
Michael Keaney likes the movies he likes and lets the other ones go, sometimes with just one sentence. His dislikes are described in such a cursory fashion that I wondered why he bothered to include them at all. 1959’s “Beat Girl” is a subversive little film which women seem to appreciate more than men. Keaney complains about the score (by John Barry, no less, clearly revving up his gears for the James Bond scores to come) and gives the rest of “Beat Girl” short shrift in a few disparaging sentences.
Still, the main aspect of a book like the “British Film Noir Guide” is that it supplies the reader with an overview of movies they might otherwise not even notice. “Dual Alibi” with the great Herbert Lom playing two parts, “The Fallen Idol” revealing adultery through the eyes of a lonely little boy and “Frieda” which shows life in a British village through the eyes of a German war bride who is driven to despair by the prejudice and bitterness of her neighbors, are some of the titles receiving examination. There are 369 entries, a useful start for any noir buffs. For more information, check out mcfarlandpub.com.
© 2012 -Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 02/12/12
Movie Magazine International
Movie Magazine International