Monday, February 1, 2010

Noir City no. 3: Richard Widmark

Widmark's night started with the rare 1949 film, Slattery's Hurricane. Along with Road House (1948), this film seemed to cement Widmark's future as a psycho jerk ready to explode at any moment. While not so much the lunatic he played in Road House (no trademark maniacal laughter this time around.....although I do recall some drunken singing that came close) Widmark's Will Slattery is a first-rate douche-bag. Although practically engaged to Dolores Grieves (Veronica Lake), he blatantly flirts with the wife of his best friend, Aggie Hobson (Linda Darnell), while the two couples are having dinner. Apparently, unbeknown to their partners, Aggie and Will have quite a history together. You can imagine where it goes from here. Darnell was a bit flat in this role, though she wasn't given much to work with. Widmark was his usual magnetic self, and handled the overdone narration as best he could. But it was Ms. Lake who really shined in this film. A bit older, a bit wiser, and without her signature bob, she gives a wonderfully subtle and stirring performance. She never gives in to the sentimental whims so many other actresses would have exploited to the max, but she's also not afraid to be completely vulnerable. In fact, director Andre De Toth, also Lake's husband, used this role as sort of a therapy session, forcing Lake to confront issues that were present in her own life. The result is a very beautiful and touching portrayal.

Any tribute to Richard Widmark, even if it's limited to two films like this one was, is not a genuine tribute unless it includes his 1953 classic, Pickup on South Street. By this time Widmark had mastered the hard-edged prick so well you couldn't help but wonder about his real character. Thelma Ritter gives a performance of a lifetime as Moe the informer, and I seriously doubt the tart from the wrong side of the tracks has ever been played as great as Jean Peters plays it here. The cinematography is gorgeous, the dialogue is sharp, and after another 50+ years I doubt it will have lost any of its
appeal. This was definitely one of the highlights of the festival.

1 comment:

Wayde said...

I love all the posters on your site! I'm sad I missed Pickup on South Street. Night and the City is my favorite Widmark film, though Pickup is a close second. He's so great at playing the guy you want to hate, but yet you feel for him.

I do a great imitation of that Widmark Road House laugh!