Crime Wave (1954)

26 04 2009

I’ve always had a little trouble with film noir, with the exception of a film or two, but there’s something really special going on here that makes me want to completely rethink the genre as a whole. The only other film that fits into this genre (or mood, or whatever noir is actually considered) and sustains a similar type of realism is Jules Dassin’s Naked City, which is formally dazzling, but a little bit exhausting from a narrative standpoint. I guess I simply don’t love crime-driven films as much as most people do, but whatever the case, I did really love this.

If there’s anything “wrong” with the film, it’s that it is a little bit too short. It doesn’t need to be any longer than it is, but its hard to feel a big impact on the strength of only one viewing. On the other hand, it does help that the story, of what little there is, is pretty straight-forward and simple, if not predictable. Ex-con Steve Lacey is trying to start over with his wife, Ellen, but some old criminal buddies drag him into a bank heist. It’s really not at all a surprise where the film goes from here. There’s an obligatory dedicated cop, played surprisingly well by Sterling Hayden.

All these conventions and clichés work in the film’s favor, though, as it manages to squeeze in more atmosphere and inconsequential sequences into its limited running length. A perfect example of the latter would be Timothy Carey’s brilliant uncredited cameo. His absurd performance probably shouldn’t work with the low-key tone of the other actors and the film as a whole, but somehow it does. He’s like the white Stepin Fetchit, which is definitely a compliment. Like Fetchit, he brings this bizarre and beautiful world to the surface, even though the characters of both actors never had much more than a few pages of dialogue.

Carey’s apperance is brief, though, and it’s not like he carries the film or anything. That honor would go to the film’s director of photography, Bert Glennon, who had a stretch of gorgeous films with John Ford during the latter part of the 1930s. Here, he keeps thing brutually cold and precise, nearing an architectural cinematic beauty on par with Antonioni. Needless to say, it fits the film perfectly. I wish I could say more than “it looks really great” but the visuals here cannot be praised enough. This is without a doubt, one of the best looking Hollywood films of the 1950s and the best effort I’ve seen from De Toth so far.

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4 responses

27 04 2009
Jeff Duncanson

Just wanted to drop you a line to compliment you on your blog. I bookmarked it almost immediately, so you’ll be seeing me around these parts.

Jeff Duncanson

27 04 2009
zachary

ppppiiiiiittttffffaaaalllllllllllll

27 04 2009
Jake Savage

Want to explain?

5 05 2009
zachary

you should watch it next–part of dick powell’s desire to be a tough guy post-warner bros but pre-so tough he killed john wayne. plus raymond burr, who’s always awesome.

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