It’s 4:45 on a Friday and the library staff is staring at you like you’re the kind of person who would put a tomato in a fruit salad – in the meantime, you’re just an honest Joe trying to find a DVD but all that’s left are PBS documentaries and old movies – #2 and #1 respectively on your “what not to watch “ list.
Now it’s 4:50 and you pull your Fedora down a little further over your eyes and wish for a cigarette or a .45, anything to look tough as the staff now sees you as the only thing between them and freedom … you hear a low growl and just then you see a DVD cover … a tough looking hombre with a .45 stares back at you – you know the staff will back down when they see this hard-boiled material in your hands, who knows such a patron is capable of , this will show them … so you gamble one of your movie rentals away and also pick up a couple of Ken Burn’s documentaries just for good measure.
You will have chosen well – odds are you know much more about film noir than you know. Wikipedia lists 366 film titles in its article on “neo-noir” 91 of which were release in 2000 or later, you do the math. Blade Runner is more noir than sci-fi and was written with Robert Mitchum in mind – think Batman Begins, think Bourne Ultimatum and The Man Who Wasn’t There - think Marellus Wallace and his glowing suitcase – a direct homage to the McGuffin found in Repo Man and then originally in Kiss Me Deadly … all the way back in 1955. What’s a McGuffin? It’s a subject for another day.
In 1947 WWII vet “Lucky” Gegin (Robert Montgomery) stepped off a Greyhound bus in a small border town and walked into the bus station. He pulled a .45 and a piece of paper out of his suitcase, stuck the .45 in his waistband, the paper in a locker and the key to the locker behind a map in the station. Film noir is as American as Greyhounds and .45s and faith in chewing gum. America of the 1940s and 50s had World Wars and weapons of mass destruction, it had disillusioned vets and it had crime and greed and desperation. It had cities and newly it had suburbs.
Gegin finds himself in a small border town with revenge in his heart and $30,000,000 on his mind. His sweet-heart left him for a man who had what it takes – and what it took was money. Gegin is met by Pela (Wanda Hendrix) a visionary who sees what’s in Gegin’s future. Because she can’t shake the vision, he can’t shake her and he’ll be glad for it eventually. Gegin goes straight to work but misses his target and then has his second bit of luck – he runs into Pancho. Montgomery is incredibly generous as the director of this film – Thomas Gomez won the first Oscar nod for a Hispanic actor – sure he plays a stereotype but it’s a positive one and Pancho is the better man – it’s hard to see what he sees in Gegin but I think that’s an important point in the film – I won’t give it away, but I think it’s all in the ending – and you can read it Hollywood, or you can feel a little sorry for Gegin.
Anyway, I won’t say much more except that Fred Clark is always the man you love to hate – he made a career of it – and that the femme fatale is almost as much of a non-presence as Montgomery himself – which I also think is the point. You take the “hero” down a notch and de-glamourize the beautiful dame … yeah, this is sounding more and more modern all the time.
So put a little noir in your life. The Stranger, Touch of Evil, Night of the Hunter, Rope … oh, and stay tuned to find out what a McGuffin is.