The characters played by Joan Bennett, Edward G. Robinson and Dan Duryea, as directed by Fritz Lang, perfectly exemplify noir themes of fate, moral bankruptcy and sexual perversity. Robinson’s Professor Richard Wanley meets the beautiful Alice Reed (Bennett) by chance. He ends up committing a crime and they try to put it behind them. Making sure they can’t is a lowlife named Heidt (Duryea). Noir decadence at its finest.
The Woman in the Window/1944/Christie Corp./99 min.
When you least expect your life to unravel is exactly when your life will unravel, at least in a Fritz Lang film. Take “The Woman in the Window” from 1944. Professor Richard Wanley (Edward G. Robinson) lives a cozy bourgeois life – he gives lectures on Freud by day, enjoys after-dinner port and cigars by night. But by the end of this night, Richard will be covering up a murder.
Sipping and smoking with him at their Manhattan men’s club are his friends, District Attorney Frank Lalor (Raymond Massey) and Dr. Michael Barkstane (Edmund Breon), who’s fond of barking “Great Scott!”
Richard leaves the club after their booze-fueled yack-fest and lingers at the window of the art gallery next door. While he gazes at the creamy-skinned, raven-haired lady peering out from the canvas, another creamy-skinned, raven-haired lady materializes – it’s the model, a woman named Alice Reed (Joan Bennett).
After chatting over drinks, she invites him back to her splendidly appointed place. Just as they’re getting to know each other, her flashy peacock boyfriend Claude Mazard (Arthur Loft) barges in. Clearly, Alice and Claude haven’t had that “Are we seeing each other exclusively?” talk and violence erupts.
Claude’s rumored “disappearance” doesn’t fool people for long – the cops are digging for info, Richard’s pals Frank and Michael chatter about the case endlessly, and a sleazy associate of Mazard’s named Heidt (Dan Duryea) sees a plum opportunity for blackmail.
Sharply written and brilliantly acted, “The Woman in the Window” proved a box-office hit. Nunnally Johnson produced the movie and wrote the script from the J.H. Wallis novel “Once Off Guard.” The movie’s original score, a group effort led by Arthur Lange and Hugo Friedhofer, received an Oscar nom.
Vienna-born Lang infuses the film with fatalism, despite its upbeat ending. “I always made films about characters who struggled and fought against the circumstances and traps in which they found themselves,” he said.
And, as usual, Lang pulls out all the visual stops, suggesting powerlessness, alienation and doom. A signature noir shot is Claude entering the shadowy lobby of Alice’s apartment building, against the backdrop of a lonely, rainy nightscape pierced by the glare of a neon clock. Later his body will be draped in more shadows, in the back seat of Richard’s car.
Inside Alice’s pristine white apartment, mirrors splice and distort images, contributing to a fractured sense of reality. The effect may have helped inspire Orson Welles to create the fun-house mirrors sequence in 1948’s “Lady From Shanghai.”
Though he got typically great work from his actors, Lang also had a reputation for being difficult. But he clicked with Bennett. Maybe he appreciated the sacrifices she made for her art – a natural blonde, Bennett dyed her hair black. She also had lots of drama offscreen – she married four times and endured a scandal after her third husband, producer Walter Wanger, shot her lover in the groin. (Her second husband was producer Gene Markey).
Lang and Bennett made four (almost five) films together: another famous noir, 1945’s “Scarlet Street” (which also starts Robinson and Duryea, and is definitely the darker of the two), “Man Hunt” 1941, and “Secret Beyond the Door” 1948. Bennett also starred in “Confirm or Deny” 1941, but director Archie Mayo was brought in to replace Lang.
Later in her career, Bennett portrayed Elizabeth Collins Stoddard in the ’60s TV series “Dark Shadows” and she appeared in the 1970 movie “House of Dark Shadows.” The Collinses will hit the big screen again next spring in a Tim Burton-Johnny Depp collaboration.
The mood of “The Woman in the Window” is pure Lang, and much of that mood comes from the actors. Duryea convincingly plays a slimy loser while, in reality, he was a standup guy. It’s a testament to his versatility that Robinson, though famous for his tough gangster roles, is completely at ease as the innocent, cultured professor caught in a film-noir web.
Best of all is Bennett, noir to the nines, spinning that web.
Scarlet Street/1945/Fritz Lang Productions, Universal Pictures/103 min.
Joan Bennett, Edward G. Robinson and Dan Duryea regroup for more intrigue, manipulation and twisted love, having made “The Woman in the Window” with director Fritz Lang the year before. In this much darker flick, Christopher Cross (Robinson) is a bank employee who lets wannabe actress Kitty March (Bennett) think he’s a wealthy artist so she’ll give him the time of day. But that little fib is nothing compared with the con that her manager Johnny Prince (Duryea) has in mind. The sense of doom is almost palpable and you might wonder how Lang got this ending past the censors. Wry, stylish and very entertaining.
Scarlet Street/1945/Fritz Lang Productions, Universal Pictures/103 min.
The 1945 film “Scarlet Street” was director Fritz Lang’s favorite in his American oeuvre. Screenwriter Dudley Nichols based the screenplay on Georges de La Fouchardière’s novel “La Chienne,” which also inspired Jean Renoir’s 1931 movie of the same name.
“Scarlet Street” stars the knock-out Joan Bennett as “actress”/call girl Kitty March, Dan Duryea as her sleazy cad “manager” Johnny Prince and Edward G. Robinson as kindly bank cashier and weekend painter Christopher Cross.
On a dark rainy street (natch) in Greenwich Village, Chris happens to walk by as Johnny is pushing Kitty around and manages to fend Johnny off. Kitty and Chris have a nightcap and he lets her think that he’s a well-established artist with money to burn, not a hobbyist with a day job. With a name like Chris Cross, the man is a magnet for mix-ups.
Kitty has hobbies too: drinking, smoking, lying on the sofa, eating bon-bons, and letting dirty dishes pile up in her sink. She’s tried modeling but getting to shoots on time is kind of a drag. Even though Johnny’s a jerk, his nickname for her, Lazy Legs, is spot on.
When Johnny learns of the alleged Mr. Moneybags, he decides Kitty can milk Chris for all he’s worth, then hand the proceeds to him. Chris, smitten with Kitty, caves every time she asks for money. He’s also keen on finding a way out of his miserable marriage to the shrewish and domineering Adele (Rosalind Ivan).
Eventually, however, Chris figures out he’s being scammed, at which point he swaps his paint brush for an ice pick and acts on his fury. Through lucky circumstance, he gets away with his crime – pretty much unheard of in ’40s Hollywood. But his residual, unrelenting guilt is perhaps more of a punishment than prison could ever be.
In Lang’s gritty pessimistic view, the harder Chris struggles to do the right thing, the fewer options he seems to have – the world is out to get him and it does. Lang uses high-contrast lighting and extreme-angle shots to set the mood of tension bordering on paranoia. But fear not, the movie is such an entertaining entanglement that it can’t be called a true downer.
A year before this flick, Lang directed the same three leads in a similar noir “The Woman in the Window.” Building on the rich talent and lively chemistry of his actors, with “Scarlet Street” Lang delves deeper into the psychic nightmare of a pawn caught in a trap.
Bennett plays her role as effortlessly as a cat batting a piece of yarn. Duryea oozes unctuous badness and somehow makes his pimp’s wardrobe look perfectly plausible. Robinson, famous for playing tough-guy gangsters, turns that character type on its head and finds his simpering, submissive side, even donning an apron for his domestic scenes.
Considerably tamer and lighter, 1944’s “The Woman in the Window” was a box-office hit. The Spectator said of the movie: “Rarely has Art and Mammon been so prettily served.”
“Scarlet Street” remained loyal to Art and saw only middling commercial success, but many critics now consider it the superior of the two films. “The Woman in the Window” and “Scarlet Street” make a terrific double-bill regardless of whether you believe Art or Mammon makes the better master.
With the nuttiness of holiday travel and family gatherings nigh, we at FNB think it’s the perfect time for a little noir fun at the insane asylum. Crazy? Bring it on!
By Michael Wilmington
Sam Fuller’s B-movie noir “Shock Corridor” – about an arrogant reporter trying to solve a murder in an insane asylum – is a cheap little picture that packs wallop after wallop in one powerfully conceived and incandescently unhinged scene after another. Fuller fears neither God nor man in this show. And he especially doesn’t fear most movie critics, whose every canon of taste and judgment he tends to ignore or trample on, but who wound up largely on his side anyway.
Set mostly in the asylum’s endless corridor (an effect done with mirrors and midgets), the movie makes its very cheapness an asset – low-budget minimalism turning into something of a nightmare. It’s a world emptied of conventional signposts, an arena in which lunatics and doctors can act out their strange drama without interference. In the center of it all, reporter Johnny Barrett (Peter Breck of TV’s “The Big Valley”) poses as a psycho and gets committed so he can hunt for the asylum killer. This story, he reckons, will yield a Pulitzer and plenty of cash.
Egotistical and argumentative, Johnny seems a bit of a head case himself. His ruse starts when he rehearses the symptoms of psychosis with a friendly psychiatrist, Dr. Fong (Philip Ahn). Then he enlists his stripper girlfriend Cathy (Constance Towers) to masquerade as his sister, for whom he feigns an incestuous obsession. That would seem an easy lie to check and disprove, but, as usual with Fuller, we let it pass. The movie, though, would probably have been stronger if there’d been a real sister, in addition to Cathy.
Played out with maximum impact against severe white backdrops, the script starts succumbing to B-movie infatuations and noir shtick of its own. Johnny jaw-bones with the know-it-all Dr. Menkin (Paul Dubov) and befriends the huge-of-girth, opera-singing Pagliacci, played by Larry Tucker, the comedy/scriptwriting partner of Paul Mazursky. (Mazursky asked Fuller why he wasn’t cast in “Shock Corridor” too, only to be told, “You were too skinny.”)
Johnny interrogates three crazy witnesses: Stuart (James Best), a Korean war veteran who thinks he’s a Confederate Civil War general; Trent (Hari Rhodes), a trail-blazing black student at a Southern white university who thinks he’s a grand wizard in the Ku Klux Klan, and Boden (Gene Evans, the Sgt. Zack of Fuller’s great Korean War movie “The Steel Helmet”), the world’s most brilliant nuclear scientist, now with the brain of a 6-year-old. As Johnny gets closer to the truth of the murder mystery, he also edges closer to real madness, stumbling closer to the traps of insanity that seemed to bedevil him from the start.
If you compare the pulpy, uninhibited “Shock Corridor” to a relatively realistic picture of mental institutions and psychiatry like Milos Forman’s film of Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” or the Olivia de Havilland asylum drama “The Snake Pit,” you’ll find it wanting.
Fuller is a polemicist who likes to editorialize and use his stories to get at overarching truths. The Cold War, racial prejudice and the arms race are as loony as the inmates. Journalism is a trust, not a goldmine. Madness and sex are nothing to toy with.
The seeds of “Shock Corridor” were in a thriller script with an exposé attitude called “Straightjacket” that Fuller wrote for Fritz Lang in the ’40s. In “Shock Corridor,” Fuller spreads his net wider. American society itself, in addition to psychiatry, is under the lens.
The movie was a hit with audiences and critics, especially ’60s auteurists. The cast, though less than A-list, is good and the technical talent is ace-high. Eugène Lourié (of Renoir’s “Rules of the Game” and “The Southerner”) did the sets. Stanley Cortez (“The Magnificent Ambersons,” “The Night of the Hunter”) was the cinematographer. They make the movie look great.
Shot and cut by Fuller just as he wanted, with nothing held back and probably nothing softened, it’s a movie that, like Johnny, may seem at first too brash, too loud and too wild. But it gets the story told. Shockingly.
Luck so bad it borders on absurd, a story as flimsy as cardboard, a femme fatale who’s downright feral. That would be 1945’s “Detour,” a B classic that director Edgar Ulmer shot in less than a month for about $30,000.
Despite these limitations (or maybe because of them) Ulmer manages to work some visual miracles. Those foggy scenes where you can’t see the street? He didn’t have a street so he filled in with mist. Born in what is now the Czech Republic, Ulmer came to the US in 1923. He brought a high-art, painterly disposition to this tawdry little flick, as he did to most of his work. (Ulmer’s “The Black Cat” from 1934 is a must-see.)
With a screenplay by Martin Goldsmith (he also wrote the source story), you might say “Detour” is Ulmer’s meditation on Fate. As the film’s doomed hero puts it: “Whichever way you turn, Fate sticks out a foot to trip you.” And later: “Fate or some mysterious force can put the finger on you or me for no good reason at all.”
The doomed hero Al Roberts is memorably played by rugged, slightly boyish Tom Neal. Al plays piano in a New York nightclub; his girlfriend Sue Harvey (Claudia Drake) sings. Sue is the most wholesome nightclub singer you can imagine and maybe that’s the rub – they find it hard to make ends meet. She decides to leave New York and try her luck in Hollywood, only to end up slinging hash. (Look out for Esther Howard as a diner waitress; Howard played the haggard Jesse Florian in “Murder My Sweet” from 1944.)
To reunite with Sue, Al heads to California, hitching a ride with smug and chatty Charles Haskell Jr. (Edmund MacDonald), whose hands are mysteriously scratched. “There oughtta be a law against dames with claws,” says Haskell.
When Haskell suddenly dies during Al’s turn at the wheel, Al panics and takes off with the car. Next, Al meets the striking but cheap Vera (Ann Savage), also thumbing rides and in need of a shower. (The hairdresser slathered her hair with cold cream to make it look dirty and stringy.)
Vera happens to know Haskell and she knows a good chance for blackmail when she sees one. She works one angle after another, including a scheme to steal Haskell’s inheritance money.
She. Runs. The. Show. As director Wim Wenders says in Michael Palm’s “Edgar G. Ulmer: The Man Off-Screen” documentary: “she’s 30 years ahead of her time … a revolutionary female character.” In the same documentary, actress Savage (who made five films with Neal) says of Vera: “She’s mean to the extent that she wants to be boss. She’s a real b-i-t-c-h.”
True, Vera is not the most complex character – she’s short on nuance and dimension. But then, Vera herself would sneer at the mention of nuance and complexity, and snipe something like, “Do I look like a dictionary to you?” And as a ruthless, conniving, raw femme fatale, Savage’s Vera is hard to match.
Ulmer amazes with his deft and daring handling of the material. It’s unfortunate that he didn’t get to unleash his imagination and talent on higher-level projects. Though he worked with directors such as Fritz Lang, F.W. Murnau, Max Reinhardt, Ernst Lubitsch, Cecil B. DeMille, Erich von Stroheim, Robert Siodmak, Fred Zinneman and Billy Wilder, he was never part of the Hollywood elite.
Ulmer has said he would’ve been unhappy with the constraints of mainstream, commercial productions, but it’s likely he still craved the recognition and respect that A-list status confers. Also, Ulmer was ostracized from the in-crowd when he fell in love with the wife of an independent producer. She left her husband, Max Alexander, the nephew of Universal president Carl Laemmle.
Still, it seems Ulmer fared a bit better than his leading man Tom Neal (1914-1972) whose off-screen life would be good fodder for a noir. Neal was born into a wealthy family in Evanston, Ill., and attended Northwestern University and Harvard Law.
In 1951, he attacked fellow actor Franchot Tone in a jealous fit over actress Barbara Payton, inflicting broken bones and a concussion, and damaging his own reputation to the point of ending his career. In 1965, he was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the shooting death of his third wife; he was paroled after serving six years of a 10-year sentence.
“Detour” was remade in 1992, starring Tom Neal Jr.
The original is recognized as corner stone of the noir genre. Filmmaker Errol Morris counts it as a favorite film, noting that: “It has an unparalleled quality of despair, totally unrelieved by hope.”
Ann Savage photo from AP/Ann Savage Archive
Love Crime/2010/UGC/106 min.
“Love Crime,” a splendidly suspenseful ride, just might be the late Alain Corneau’s best film. A great script, excellent actors, perfect pacing and a terrific final twist make this a must-see movie.
Sleek and savvy Christine (Kristin Scott Thomas), a powerful exec at a multinational company, seems to have a charmed existence – success, style, a glitzy social life and a gorgeous lover, Philippe (Patrick Mille). Reporting to Christine is ambitious, hard-working and eager-to-please Isabelle (Ludivine Sagnier).
Their relationship is subtle and complex – a mix of admiration and affection, rivalry and rude awakenings. Isabelle’s first jolt is when Christine takes credit for Isabelle’s work. (In corporate life, really?) Acting as a pawn in their mind games and manipulation is Philippe, one of their many male colleagues. It’s not long before barbed convo at the water cooler shifts to a malevolent life-and-death battle. (In corporate life, really?) We see that Isabelle’s methodical, meticulous approach applies to every project she tackles, at the workplace and beyond.
Corneau, who died last August at age 67, referred to the film as one of his little Fritz Lang labyrinths. “It can be summed up very simply,” he said. “After you have committed the perfect crime, of which you will definitely be suspected, how can you prove you are innocent by making yourself look guilty?”
“Love Crime” is an impeccable noir with a stark look and restrained palette from director of photography Yves Angelo. It’s also an original, insightful portrait of two characters’ identities. Corneau, aided by co-writer Natalie Carter, explored fresh terrain by focusing on female characters. “I’ve recently discovered how exciting it is to have women in leading roles,” said Corneau. “I thought, without knowing why, that it would be more spectacular if the labyrinthine plot were feminine.”
Spectacular it definitely is; and of course sad that his first foray into the inner lives of women was also his last.
And one more thing. There’s particular attention paid to Isabelle’s blonde hair. She starts out with a mane of slightly messy curls; as she climbs the corporate ladder, she taps her inner Veronica Lake for a peek-a-boo effect that’s smoothly sexy and seductive. Looking good is always key, especially when you’re up to no good.
“Love Crime” opens Sept. 2 in Los Angeles and New York.
In ‘Human Desire,’ Gloria Grahame as a devious temptress gives us raw sexuality, a glimpse of tragedy
Human Desire/1954/Columbia/Sony/91 min.
By Michael Wilmington
Gloria Grahame was a film noir doll and movie moll of the first rank – and in Fritz Lang’s 1954 “Human Desire,” she gave one of her most fetchingly sultry, and powerful, performances. As a tricky, trapped, unfaithful but resourceful railroad wife named Vicki, she seduces the camera, the audience and her co-stars (one in real life), in one of the two noir classics she made with Glenn Ford for noir master and reputed on-set tyrant, Fritz Lang.
1952’s “The Big Heat,” that great scalding saga of gangsterism and revenge, is the more famous Lang-Ford-Grahame collaboration, and rightly so. But “Human Desire” is a moody little classic as well, one of Lang’s last American films, and among the most complex and chilling roles ever for Grahame and Ford – who spiced up the movie this time with an offstage affair.
“Human Desire” is one of two Lang American remakes of French film classics directed by Lang‘s great colleague Jean Renoir, a generous-hearted, humanistic Frenchman who seems at first, the temperamental opposite of the icy-eyed Lang. But Lang’s 1945 noir masterpiece “Scarlet Street” was derived from Renoir’s 1931 “La Chienne,” and “Human Desire” is a remake (and a softening) of Renoir’s great dark, violent crime drama/romance “La Bête Humaine” (1938), a noir precursor adapted from the classic 19th century novel by Émile Zola.
“La Bete Humaine” and “Human Desire” are both set mostly in grim gray railroad yards, the shadowy surrounding cities and on the trains – and both Renoir and Lang get great mileage out of the hypnotic scenes they both shot of speeding trains, landscapes rushing past and train tracks merging and diverging inexorably below, echoing the characters’ headlong plunge into madness.
Ford, like “La Bete Humaine’s” Jean Gabin, plays an all-too-human train engineer: in Ford’s case, returning Korean War vet Jeff Warren, a good guy tormented by illicit, adulterous desire. (Gabin’s fireman and train sidekick was the ebullient Julien Carette, the imp of “Grand Illusion” and “The Rules of the Game.” Ford’s is crusty old westerner Edgar Buchanan.)
The desire of course, is for Grahame’s provocative, minx-eyed blonde Vicki, the persecuted wife of brutal, alcoholic, insanely jealous yard boss Carl Buckley, played by Broderick Crawford five years after his “All the King’s Men” best actor Oscar. (Another great French actor, Fernand Ledoux, played the equivalent part for Renoir.) And, as Vicki, Grahame touches many noir bases: tempting cutie-pie, disturbed and abused wife, haunted adulteress, lady in distress, and classic scheming femme fatale (a note she didn’t strike in “The Big Heat,” when she played coffee-scorched Debby, Lee Marvin’s tragic moll.)
Ford was a great brooder, as was “Bete Humaine’s” Gabin. And, when Jeff broods over Vicki, as she pulls him into her sexual web, the whole screen heats up and then darkens and goes cold. The original “Bete Humaine” adulteress was the legendary French sex kitten Simone Simon (in a role that made her an international star and eventually brought her to America for “Cat People”).
Grahame is scarier and deeper and more human (and desirable) than Simon – mostly because, in the beginning, we like Vicki. We sympathize with her, feel sorry for her because of her violent mistreatment by the obviously pathological Carl, whose jealousy drives him to murder and drink, and puts him on a collision course with Ford’s glowering, love-drunk Jeff. [Read more...]
The Big Heat/1953/Columbia Pictures/89 min.
“When a barfly gets killed, it could be for any one of a dozen crummy reasons,” says Police Lt. Ted Wilks (Willis Bouchey) in “The Big Heat.” Fritz Lang’s grim but gratifying crime drama from 1953 is laced with violence that’s still a bit shocking even by today’s standards.
Barflys don’t get much sympathy in the fictional city of Kenport, an upstanding community full of white-picket fences and happy homemakers that also harbors a flourishing criminal empire and rampant police corruption.
Wilks is talking to an upright cop, Det. Sgt. Dave Bannion (easy on the eyes Glenn Ford), about the torture and murder of Lucy Chapman (Dorothy Green). Lucy was the girlfriend of police sergeant Tom Duncan, also dead; his suicide is the film’s opening scene.
Tom’s widow Bertha (Jeanette Nolan) is not what you’d call crushed at her husband’s demise and she’s martini-dry as she answers questions from Bannion. Bertha claims her husband was ill, hence the suicide. Bannion got a rather different story from Lucy Chapman.
Unlike Tom Duncan, Bannion seems to have a perfect wife, the golden-haired Katie (Jocelyn Brando, Marlon’s sister), and a cute little daughter, named Joyce. As Mr. and Mrs. Bannion share smokes, sips of drinks and steaks, they banter easily and make each other laugh.
In addition to questioning barflies and ungrieving widows, Bannion noses into the business of an oily mobster named Mike Lagana (Alexander Scourby), a vicious operator whose right-hand man is the lithe and snarling Vince Stone (Lee Marvin).
The incomparable Gloria Grahame plays Debby Marsh, Stone’s inamorata. Debby spends most of her time shopping, drinking and looking at herself in the mirror. What’s not to like? As she tells Bannion: “I’ve had it rich and I’ve had it poor. Believe me, rich is better.”
(In, 1954, Ford and Grahame starred in another Lang noir, “Human Desire,” a film version of Émile Zola’s novel “La Bête Humaine”/“The Human Beast.”)
Shortly after the exchange in Lagana’s living room, a car bomb meant for Bannion kills the lovely Katie. Bannion doesn’t take much time to mourn; instead, with eyes glazed, he’s hellbent on proving the link between the police and Lagana’s mob. Suspended from the force, he seeks vengeance on his own, setting the pace for ’70s vigilante cops such as Clint Eastwood‘s Dirty Harry. As Bannion obsesses over hate and revenge, in a chilling transformation of character, he becomes the moral equivalent of the gangsters he despises.
Known for stark, intense visuals, here director Lang contrasts gloomy, barlike shadows that bind the characters to their destiny with shocks of scouring white light suggesting revelation. Lang was also known for being difficult with cast and crew, but Ford for one never saw Lang’s tyrannical side.
In “Glenn Ford: A Life” by Peter Ford, the famed actor describes his experience: “Fritz Lang came out of the old German studio system, where the director was like a dictator, barking commands and making people jump. He had a pretty nasty reputation in some quarters. There were people in Hollywood who had worked with him who hated his guts, especially some of the crew guys down the line. I mean, there were stories of people throwing lights at him and threatening to kill him for the way he treated them.
“So I head into this picture wondering how bad it’s going to be. And then Fritz and I met and had a couple of cocktails, and he couldn’t have been sweeter. He treated me with great respect. A wonderful friend, and I learned so much from him. We’re talking about one of the real geniuses of the movie business.”
“The Big Heat” drew inspiration from real-life events a few years before the film was made. When the U.S. Senate set up the Kefauver Committee to probe organized crime, televised hearings brought the Mafia into the consciousness of the American public. Sydney Boehm wrote the script from a serial by William P. McGivern in the Saturday Evening Post.
And of course, any time crime’s on the rise, you know loose women are involved, which brings me to the pièce de résistance: Grahame as Debby. Though she doesn’t get a huge amount of screentime, she’s funny and fresh, and brims over with sexpot charm – striking the perfect balance between waifish, wide-eyed vulnerability and pleasure-seeking sophistication.
Once Debby realizes the depth of Vince’s depravity – burning a young woman’s hand with his cigarette is small potatoes to this guy – she switches her loyalty to the righteous but rigid Bannion. And when Vince learns of her betrayal, she gets burned, literally, with a pot of boiling coffee. We hear, but don’t see, Debby’s wounded reaction in one of the most famous moments in the movies.
With her looks gone, Debby tells Bannion everything she knows and commits the murder that will bring down the syndicate. Oh, and throwing coffee? Two can play at that game. I’d like to see a Starbucks barrista do better.
Fritz Lang’s expose of a crooked police force reveals the painful price of corruption. Glenn Ford is the clean cop bucking the system; Lee Marvin scores as a sadistic villain and Gloria Grahame shines as a vamp who slowly wakes up to the badness all around her. Well since when is there a law against sleeping till noon?