WORLD CINEMA: En La Palma De Tu Mano (1951)

For Noirvember’s WORLD CINEMA, we travel all the way to Mexico for a dose of clairvoyance and melodrama, with En La Palma De Tu Mano (In the Palm of Your Hand), a Roberto Gavaldón film noir from their own Golden Age.

Arturo de Córdova plays Jaime Karin, a clairvoyant and scam artist who uses his girlfriend Clara (Carmen Montejo) to get the gossip about everyone in town so he can use it to his advantage. When he learns that the wealthy Vittorio Romano has died, he befriends his widow Ada (Leticia Palma) and… you can guess how this goes.

In the Palm of Your Hand is a crisp-looking melodrama, with a suave and charming protagonist, a scheming femme fatale and a very, very tragic ending. Though not entirely unpredictable, it is still incredibly enjoyable nonetheless, with quite a few moments that just scream film noir. The scene in which Karin and Ada are stopped by the police, in particular, just gets more and more tense as it goes on and it is probably the best moment in the whole film – massive Decoy (1946) vibes! Karin’s friendship with an illiterate old woman whose son is in the military is used as a way of showing his caring side, a really nice touch which proves to be effective as we end up sort of sympathizing with him. Towards the end of the film, he has reached his limit and realizes he must pay for what he’s done and we certainly feel for him. Film noir is filled with these morally ambiguous characters and Karin is right up there with the rest of them.

Long considered to be one of Mexico’s greatest ever films noir, In the Palm of Your Hand won the Ariel Award for *takes deep breath* Best Picture, Director, Actor, Original Story (Luis Spota), Cinematography, Editing, Sound and Set Design. Not bad, huh? #Noirvember

The Distraction Blogathon – Kiss Me Deadly (1955) and the glowing box…

I’ve been flirting with the idea of taking this blogging thing to a whole new level – no, not podcasts. YouTube. ‘Cause I’m a visual person, you see. And while there are tons of classic movie channels and content on YouTube, something that hardly ever gets talked about are the screenplays of some of those classics. Sure, Casablanca and Citizen Kane get talked about to death – is it weird that I pride myself in never having talked about them at all here on the Garden? I mean, what could I possibly say at this point that every Tom, Dick and Harry hasn’t already said? – but what about those poor suckers that don’t get a chance? Personally, I’m amazed Kiss Me Deadly (1955, dir. Robert Aldrich) doesn’t come up more often. And because this is Noirvember, I shall rectify that. And because this is a Red Herrings and MacGuffins-themed blogathon hosted by my friend Rebecca at Taking up Room, I shall rectify that even more. Bring on A. I. Bezzerides! Bring on the glowing box that everyone’s been homage-ing for years (lookin’ at you, Tarantino)! Let’s go!

We’ve talked about Bezzerides here on the Garden, on the much-missed (or is it just me?) SCREENPLAY BY series. His greatest and best-known achievement is, of course, Kiss Me Deadly and one of the things that makes it great is Bezzerides’ tight screenplay, which moves along beautifully, edging ever closer to that great twist. This is where we start off: a woman (Cloris Leachman in her film debut) runs down the road wearing only a trench-coat in one of film noir’s greatest openings. She stops a car, driven by Detective Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker at his coolest), gets in, the opening credits roll… downwards… and then they crash, and she dies. But wait, it’s not quite that simple… You see, some guys railroad them, then torture her to death as Hammer loses consciousness. Before all of this, though, she tells Mike her name is Christina and to ‘remember’ her. What follows is typical film noir: anti-hero Hammer hounds the streets of Los Angeles looking for any clues as to who this Christina woman was and what she meant by ‘remember me’, he meets dodgy characters with cool names, he gets sent around town to all these places looking for anything that might be of use, he almost gets shot by Christina’s roommate Lily Carver (Gaby Rodgers) and he even gets to punch Jack Lambert at a pool party. He knows that there is something big connected to this Christina… something someone knows about but nobody’s telling. And then, just as we thought we were watching just another noir, Kiss Me Deadly gives us one of the greatest shock twists of all time.

Velda (Maxine Cooper), Hammer’s girlfriend and secretary, mentions the great Whatsit about an hour into the film and we soon learn that it comes in the form of a mysterious box containing… radioactive material. It is here that Kiss Me Deadly goes from being a noir with a familiar formula of ‘we don’t know what we’re looking for but we know we gotta find it’ to an allegory for all that American society feared in 1955. The interesting overlapping of the classic noir period and futuristic Sci-fi dystopia couldn’t have come at a better (or worse?) time and though Bezzerides himself admits that his screenplay was not, in fact, a metaphor for the whole McCarthy situation, one can’t be blamed for assuming so. With its nihilist and cynical tone, Kiss Me Deadly starts with paranoia and ends with paranoia. From the presumed femme fatale being chased by the bad guys, to the threat of a nuclear apocalypse. It’s a fun one, Kiss Me Deadly… For more entries on the Distraction blogathon, click here!

Overlooked and Underrated: Film Noir’s unsung heroes, villains and in-betweeners

Happy Noirvember to all of you dames and misters out there in the dark! This year, I thought I’d do something a little different. There’s a big blogathon coming up and WORLD CINEMA will logically be featuring a noir, so for Noirvember’s first post, I wanted to give a little shout out to just SOME of the characters and performances that I’ve enjoyed over the years that don’t seem to get a whole lot of attention. So, obviously, Robert Mitchum in Out of the Past or Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity won’t be here. Here’s to the unsung heroes, villains and in-betweeners!

Dana Andrews in Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950, dir. Otto Preminger) – Where the Sidewalk Ends is one of the most ingenious noirs out there and Dana Andrews’ Mark Dixon is a delicious anti-hero: a troubled cop who must come to terms with the fact that his own father was a crooked cop himself and that he must do everything he can not to end up like him. He almost manages, until one night, when everything goes wrong…

Richard Basehart in He Walked by Night (1948, dir. Alfred Werker) – I wrote about this amazing film a few years ago and referred to Basehart’s Roy Morgan as an impenetrable psychopath. A smart, resourceful and mysterious killer who manages to outsmart the cops as they chase him around the streets of Los Angeles. It’s a quiet performance which, in 1940s noir, was slightly rare and its calmness is its strength. Basehart is on top form in this.

Louis Calhern in The Asphalt Jungle (1950, dir. John Huston) – The wealthy lawyer in one of cinema’s most iconic heist operations, Alonzo D. Emmerich is a calm and calculating man and Calhern delivers a nuanced and restrained performance that kind of almost breaks your heart, even though it shouldn’t. He was Oscar-nominated that year for The Magnificent Yankee (1950, dir. John Sturges), so understandably went un-nominated for Jungle, but I maintain that he should have been. 

Jean Gillie in Decoy (1946, dir. Jack Bernhard) – I talked about Jean Gillie’s performance in this film a few years ago and I mentioned that I’ve long considered Margot Shelby, the mastermind behind one of the most far-fetched plots in any noir, to be a nuanced anti-heroine, rather than a villain or a femme fatale. She’s a fascinating, endlessly analysable, double-crossing badass.

Dennis O’Keefe in T-Men (1947, dir. Anthony Mann) – As I’ve said a few times, I think T-Men is the tensest of ALL noirs. Two Treasury men go undercover to bring down a notorious counterfeit ring – what could go wrong, right? The brief friendship between both of them is quite sweet and, as the tension builds, it slowly breaks your heart… This is a far cry from O’Keefe’s Joe Sullivan, the charming, two-timing cad from Raw Deal (1948, Mann).

Thelma Ritter in Pickup on South Street (1953, dir. Sam Fuller) – One of Thelma Ritter’s six (!) Oscar nominations, Pickup on South Street’s police informant Moe is a smart, endearing, wise-cracking woman whose exit is still one of the most heart-breaking I’ve ever seen…

And on that happy note, Happy Noirvember and stay tuned!