Before I head back to Noir City DC this afternoon, I wanted to briefly report on two film noir movies that’ve been on my radar for quite awhile that I’m just now getting around to watching.
Johnny Eager (1941) Mervyn LeRoy
Warner DVD – library – interlibrary loan (1:47)
He might try to pass himself off to his parole officer (Henry O’Neill) as a straight-and-narrow cab driver, but we know early on that Johnny Eager (Robert Taylor, right) hasn’t reformed at all: in fact, he’s the head of a far-reaching gambling syndicate. Johnny becomes involved with Liz (Lana Turner, left), the daughter of prosecutor John Benson Farrell (Edward Arnold) responsible for sending Johnny to prison. Now that Farrell’s the new D.A., he’s preventing Johnny from opening a dog track and trying to keep him away from his daughter Liz.
Johnny Eager has a lot going for it, but it lives in that frustrating gap between the end of the gangster movie era and the full realization of film noir. Some of the gangster tropes remain (gullible parole officer, stereotypical supporting characters, etc.), but there’s also some excellent stuff going on as well, particularly with the staging, lighting, and pacing of the film’s finale. The biggest problem for me is that the ending is too strong to support most of what comes before it. The finale’s tone and payoff seem much darker (and noirish) than many of the elements leading up to it, although LeRoy gives us several good scenes, particularly one involving how Johnny takes care of one of his unfaithful associates, and practically every scene with Van Heflin (right), playing Johnny’s alcoholic philosophizing friend. If you haven’t seen it, you should.
Boomerang (1947) Elia Kazan
Fox Film Noir DVD – library – interlibrary loan (1:28)
After a priest is shot dead on a Bridgeport, Connecticut street at night, the entire city begins buzzing with public outrage over police incompetence, political motivations, and more. An unemployed WWII veteran named John Waldron (Arthur Kennedy) is the leading suspect in the crime, but State’s Attorney Henry Harvey (Dana Andrews) isn’t convinced Waldron’s guilty. There’s a lot at stake here, including lots of local political implications, issues of confidence (or a lack thereof) in the police force, and, of course, a man’s life. This is the kind of stuff that Kazan loved to explore and although Boomerang usually doesn’t really look like a film noir (most of it occurs during the daytime), it is. The film has a documentary-like feel to it (and was produced by Louis De Rochemont, who was – along with Roy E. Larsen – responsible for the March of Time newsreels) but not at all to the film’s detriment.
John Greco has some excellent thoughts on the film that are well worth reading over at Twenty Four Frames, particularly about the different acting styles of the actors (theater vs. Hollywood). Boomerang is loaded with great actors (including Ed Begley and Lee J. Cobb) and one of Hollywood’s most underrated actors, Arthur Kennedy, has a superb role here. I certainly understand and respect Greco’s thoughts on the performance of Dana Andrews (another highly underrated actor), but I’d like to think that the unnaturalness in his character comes largely from the situation he finds himself in. To me, it’s totally in character.
Boomerang is a solid film, another that you should see if you haven’t already. Both this film and Johnny Eager are worth seeing and revisiting.
Photos: Doctor Macro, Bobby Rivers TV, Lasso the Movies, Twenty Four Frames