A Quartet of Shorties

Although I’ve been charged with including too many borderline noirs in the Encyclopedia  (odd for an encyclopedia to be accused of encompassing too much rather than too little!), in fact quite a few of the entries I wrote I decided later to reject. Some of those then got stuck back in again. In the absence of the usual collegial team you expect to be able to draw on when constructing an encyclopedia of this size, I had to be, as it were, my own collegiate: I conducted many internal debates over what to keep in and what to kick out, and often there were second thoughts.

The entries here on Noirish are in general far longer than I had space for in the encyclopedia. Here, just for interest, are my original entries for a few movies that got thrown out and stayed out; all the entries are very short because, of course, I already regarded the movies as borderline. That’s not to say these movies, especially The Velvet Touch, may not get fuller coverage here in due course.

The movies concerned are:

Sweet Revenge (1976; vt Dandy, the All American Girl)

There’s Always a Woman (1938)

The Unsaid (2001)

The Velvet Touch (1948)


Sweet Revenge (1976)

vt Dandy, the All American Girl

US / 89 minutes / color / MGM Dir & Pr: Jerry Schatzberg Scr: Marilyn Goldin, B.J. Perla, Jor [sic] Van Kline Story: B.J. Perla Cine: Vilmos Zsigmond Cast: Stockard Channing, Sam Waterston, Franklyn Ajaye, Richard Daughty, Norman Matlock.

Vurrla Kowsky (Channing) is a career car thief whose primary motive is to make enough money to buy herself a Ferrari. Lawyer Le Clerq (Waterston) believes he’s saving her from herself, but so do the other men in her life and she’s running rings round all of them. Although the movie’s determinedly comedic, its portrayal of the addiction that auto theft can become is (reportedly) very authentic.

On Amazon.com: Sweet Revenge

There’s Always a Woman (1938)

US / 81 minutes / bw / Columbia Dir: Alexander Hall Pr: William Perlberg Scr: Gladys Lehman Based on: story by Wilson Collison Cine: Henry Freulich Cast: Joan Blondell, Melvyn Douglas, Mary Astor, Frances Drake, Jerome Cowan, Thurston Hall, Rita Hayworth (uncredited).

Of strictly ancillary interest, There’s Always a Woman (1938) was intended by Columbia as first in a series to rival The THIN MAN. Joan Blondell and Melvyn Douglas star as husband-and-wife sleuths solving a society crime, she trying—and succeeding despite her husband’s sexism—to be a PI, while he acts for the DA’s office. It’s easy to see why the series never took off: while Blondell does wonders for an ordinary script, Douglas is insipid and, among the rest, only an uncredited Tom Dugan as a knucklehead cop stands out.

On Amazon.com: There’s Always a Woman (currently unavailable, but with luck might return soon)

Unsaid, The (2001)

Canada, US / 111 minutes / color / New Legend, Mind’s Eye, CineSon, Eagle Dir: Tom McLoughlin Pr: Tom Berry, Matt Hastings, Kelley Reynolds Scr: Miguel Tejada-Flores, Scott Williams Story: Christopher Murphey Cine: Lloyd Ahern II Cast: Andy Garcia, Vincent Kartheiser, Linda Cardellini, Chelsea Field, Teri Polo, Sam Bottoms, Trevor Blumas.

Psychologist Michael Hunter (Garcia) treats troubled teenager Tommy Caffey (Kartheiser) while haunted by memories of his own teenaged son’s suicide. The son, Kyle (Blumas), killed himself after sexual abuse by a therapist; Tommy was a victim of sexual abuse by his mother and then saw his father, Joseph (Bottoms), beat her to death. When Tommy hooks up with Michael’s daughter Shelly (Cardellini) he learns from her which of Michael’s buttons to press in order to exploit the similarities between the two cases. A trite ending undermines an otherwise interesting, thought-provoking piece.

On Amazon.com: The Unsaid

Velvet Touch, The (1948)

US / 97 minutes / bw / RKO Dir: John Gage Pr: Frederick Brisson Scr: Leo Rosten, Walter Reilly Story: Annabel Ross Cine: Joseph Walker Cast: Rosalind Russell, Leo Genn, Claire Trevor, Sydney Greenstreet, Leon Ames.

Broadway comedienne Valerie Stanton (Russell), during a tussle with producer and dumped lover Gordon Dunning (Ames)—over her desire to take the lead in a revival of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler and over her new boyfriend, Michael Morrell (Genn)—hits him with a statuette and inadvertently kills him; the body’s discovered by fellow-actress Marian Webster (Trevor). While the latter’s hospitalized with shock, cop Captain Danbury (Greenstreet) concludes Marian must be the killer, ignoring Valerie as even a suspect; she has, unwittingly, committed the perfect crime. A witty screenplay and fine performances raise this mystery above the average level of the pack.

On Amazon.com: The Velvet Touch [VHS] and The Velvet Touch [Region 2]

Business of Strangers, The (2001)

US / 83 minutes / color / IFC, i5, HeadQuarters Dir & Scr: Patrick Stettner Pr: Susan A. Stover, Robert H. Nathan Cine: Teodoro Maniaci Cast: Stockard Channing, Julia Stiles, Frederick Weller, Marcus Giamatti.

On a business trip, software company vice-president Julie Styron (Channing) fires the junior who arrived late at a meeting and thereby embarrassed her, Paula Murphy (Stiles). That night Julie learns from her boss, Robert (Giamatti), that, far from being herself fired, as she’d imagined was imminent, she’s been appointed CEO of the company. Later, Julie discovers that bad weather conditions have grounded Paula’s flight home, and so the two women are stranded overnight in the same airport hotel. So too—although Julie doesn’t yet know it—is Nick Harris (Weller), the “employment consultant” whom Julie summoned when she thought she was out of a job.

Business of Strangers

Julia (Channing) and Paula (Stiles) on their way to dumping the unconscious Nick (Weller).

Julie apologizes to Paula for her earlier fit of temper, and the two women begin a drink-fueled evening together. Paula informs Julie that really she’s not an office dogsbody but a writer—a writer of nonfiction, however, rather than fiction: she prefers the sloppiness of real life as her subject over fiction’s tidiness. It soon becomes evident to us that, for Paula, she uses the real world rather than paper and ink as her literary medium: her “writing” consists of godgaming those around her. She starts with a harmless effort, persuading Julie to join her in a madly risqué conversation that entertains the other passengers of the elevator in which they’re traveling. Soon Julie is for once letting herself be a wild girl, like Paula.

When Nick reappears on the scene, Paula at once freezes up, explaining to Julie privately that she recognizes him as the man who, four years ago, raped a friend of hers at a Boston frat party. Together, Paula and Julie—who figures out that it was Paula herself, not some friend, who was the rape victim—exact a bizarre revenge on the hapless Nick . . .

This is a movie whose noirishness stems from the fact that it’s all about godgaming, a central theme of cinematic (and written) noir even though often not recognized as such. The term “godgaming” was apparently invented by John Fowles to describe the situation in his classic novel The Magus (1965) whereby the narrator, unrealizing, moves through a form of the world that has been almost entirely shaped by the deceptions of those around him. In the classic-era noir CROSSROADS (1942), for example, we find an amnesia victim being godgamed by the bad guys into believing for a while that in the life he’s forgotten he was himself a bad guy, one of the worst.

In The Business of Strangers the person being godgamed is, very obviously, Julie. Afterwards, when she realizes what’s been done to her, her pain is only partly to do with the overt humiliation meted out to her, being far more concerned with her loss, on returning to sobriety and reality, of the irrational freedom she enjoyed for those few hours when she was obeying someone else’s invented, cockeyed rules rather than those that govern the—and in particular her—real world.

The movie’s really a two-hander (Weller spends much of his scant onscreen time unconscious, Giamatti’s role is essentially a cameo) and plays out on a limited number of sets; it’s thus reliant entirely on the performances of the two leads. Luckily, after a slightly creaky start, they both show themselves more than able to carry the piece, Stiles deploying enigmatic half-smiles and expressionless eyes to show her control over and self-distancing from the situation, Channing managing even more effectively to convey the feeling of a woman torn between triumph and despair, and by the realization that she suddenly finds herself having difficulty telling the difference between the two.

On Amazon.com: The Business of Strangers