Friday, February 09, 2018

Cheap Thrills For A $1.98 Budget: The B-Noir

At this year's Noir City 16 film festival, this hard-boiled blogger relished the A-pictures, but also found himself highly entertained by the Bs. Some this writer had never seen or heard of, such as the newsroom noir High Tide, starring fast-talking Lee Tracy.

Alas, 15 years and 15,000 stiff drinks transpired between Tracy's memorable appearances as slick operators, gossip columnists, p.r. flim-flam men and obsessed journalists in a slew of pre-code masterpieces (Blessed Event, The Half-Naked Truth, The Night Mayor, Love Is A Racket, Washington Merry-Go-Round - to name just a few) and High Tide.

So Lee looked like hell and his patented "machine gun" style delivery was a tad less rapid fire, but he still embodied his signature newsman role from first frame to last in this fast-moving Monogram Pictures production. Eddie Muller, the Czar Of Noir and author of Dark City The Lost World Of Film Noir and Dark City Dames: The Wicked Women of Film Noir, elaborates in his intro to High Tide, featuring Tracy, Don Castle and Julie Bishop (who the denizens of Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog recognize from her appearance, under the name Jacqueline Wells, in a 1932 Laurel & Hardy 2-reeler, Any Old Port).

A striking opus at Noir City 16 that fully lived up to the phrase "trashy B" was Night Editor, co-starring William Gargan of the Martin Kane Private Eye TV series and the wonderfully over-the-top Janis Carter, who portrays a horny, thrill-seeking socialite with crazed enthusiasm.

The 2018 festival finished with Wicked Woman, a deliciously tawdry little programmer starring blonde bombshell Beverly Michaels.

Her co-star, Richard Egan, becomes more like "Dick" Egan as the lust triangle storyline progresses.

Beverly Michaels also played a femme fatale part with mustard, relish and pickles in the Hugo Haas directed noir Pickup.

As Michaels would hit bombshell roles out of the park in Pickup, Betrayed Women and Blonde Bait, while also nailing parts in television (Cheyenne, Alfred Hitchcock Presents), Haas would go on to produce a few more B-thrillers for Columbia starring former serial queen Cleo Moore.

It's clear that in the latter 1940's, B-noirs were cranked out so quickly, efficiently and in such quantity that not even the most avid classic movie buff could possibly see all of them - and the granddaddy of economically produced noirs would be Edgar G. Ulmer's Detour, truly a brilliant piece of work produced for PRC on such a microscopic budget that Roger Corman very likely viewed it for inspiration and asked "how did Edgar do it?"

Ann Savage's blistering performance as a gal you don't want to mess with still commands both the moviegoing audience and doomed co-star Tom Neal.

While not anywhere near as cheap as the Monogram and PRC films, Rudolf Maté's D.O.A. is a personal favorite that crams maximum style, creativity, unabashed exaggeration and filmmaking swagger into a programmer budget.

The appearance in D.O.A. of swing-bop-r&b saxophone genius Illinois Jacquet, rocking the house at The Fisherman nightclub, is an added plus.

Wrapping this post up: the trailer for a film with the unrelenting spirit, unintentional bizarreness and frenzied action of a hard-hitting B picture along the lines of Detour, but produced on an A-budget . . . Robert Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly.

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