Classic Film Noir Double Bill

A heads-up this week for UK readers, as BBC2 is screening two of the very best film noirs on Thursday and Friday morning. Make sure and set the video. (Or the Sky+, for those who live in the 21st century and have one of these new-fangled, hi-tech 'box' set-ups). As an introduction to film noir, you could do much worse than start with these two.

Jane Greer. A Lovely Girl.
In Build My Gallows High (Jacques Tourneur, 1947) (aka Out of the Past) Robert Mitchum plays Jeff Bailey, a man who can't escape his shady past as an investigator who was hired to find the girlfriend (Jane Greer) of slick gangster Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas). Inevitably, it all catches up with him and we are treated to double and triple crosses as the convoluted plot unfurls on its way to the tragic conclusion. It's a sexy, stylish story with believably flawed characters and great performances driving the tale along. The spiky, aggressive style of Douglas and the laconic, laid-back nonchalance of Mitchum makes for a terrific contrast in their scenes together and they also seem to be having some sort of smoke-off, as they puff their way though a colossal number of cigarettes and succeed in making smoking look very cool indeed (at least until we remember Mitchum died of lung cancer and Douglas suffered a stroke in later life). In fact, even a near-fatal plane accident on the way to the film set couldn't unruffle Mitchum, when the brakes on his plane failed upon landing and it crashed through a fence, over a ditch, and ended up in a shed. Mitchum crawled out of the wreckage, checked the other unconscious passengers were okay, dusted off his clothes and thumbed a ride into town to begin filming. Too cool. And perhaps the entire ethos of all film noir is summed up in his classic line as Greer's femme fatale tells Jeff "I don't want to die." "Neither do I, baby," drawls Mitchum, "but if I have to, I'm going to die last." Great stuff.

Clare Trevor. Another Lovely Girl.
Farewell, My Lovely (Edward Dmytryk, 1944) (aka Murder, My Sweet) is an adaptation of Raymond Chandler's classic novel in which sardonic private eye Philip Marlowe (Dick Powell) is hired to track down a missing girl, dumping him into a murky world of crooks, cops and corruption. Chandler’s snappy dialogue and twisty-turny plot is rendered wonderfully onscreen and the whole thing is beautifully and inventively shot, particularly the hallucinatory sequences as Marlowe is drugged and tortured for information. At the time, Dick Powell was better known as a singer and the film initially flopped because US audiences thought it was a musical. However, when the title was changed to the tougher Murder, My Sweet it became a huge hit, and Powell surprised everyone with his successful re-invention as a tough guy, giving what is probably the best screen incarnation of Marlowe. (Coincidentally, Robert Mitchum played the role in the very good 1975 remake). You gotta love a guy who describes one woman as "a charming middle-aged lady with a face like a bucket of mud." I wish more people talked like that these days.

So tales of murder, lies and lust with a pervading sense of doom will grace UK screens on Thursday and Friday morning. But enough about The Jeremy Kyle Show. Make sure you catch the films instead. 

Build My Gallows High is on BBC2 on Thursday 18th August at 11.40am
Farewell, My Lovely is on BBC2 on Friday 19th August at 11.45am

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