The Champ: ACT OF VIOLENCE (LA)
Suburban family man Van Heflin is stalked by Robert Ryan, a psychologically scarred war buddy who knows the ugly truth beneath Heflin’s shiny war hero veneer. The genius of this film is the way it takes what could be a standard melodramatic thriller and turns it inside out. You start off feeling for Heflin and thinking of Ryan as nothing but a villainous psycho with a vendetta. By the end of the film you see both men as painfully human and deeply sympathetic despite their flaws. I love that kind of moral ambiguity. I also love the way this film takes a bland, cheerful suburban house and makes every angle as shadowy and sinister as an urban back alley. The downtown LA locations are gorgeous, including a great shot of historic Angel’s Flight, and it was even more beautiful on the big screen. This film is one of my favorites, a must-see for any hardcore Film Noir fan.
The Challenger: FORCE OF EVIL (NY)
FORCE starts off with a shot of Wall Street and Trinity Church and ends beneath the legs of the George Washington Bridge, but so much of this film is confined to small spaces like cramped back room bookie joints, office buildings and sad little apartments, giving it a real claustrophobic New York City flavor. It’s about the numbers racket but the core of the story is the complex relationship between corrupt mob attorney John Garfield and his older brother, a small time bookie. The script is more than a little heavy handed and bombastic but still quite entertaining. Garfield is wonderfully sleazy and amoral and I particularly liked his cocksure seduction of his brother’s pretty young secretary, played by Beatrice Pearson, although I didn’t like Pearson at all. I thought she came off as phony and smug. Statuesque Marie Windsor, on the other hand, is an absolute knockout as the mobster’s wife. I just can’t imagine why anyone would turn down a goddess like Windsor for the bratty Pearson. Maybe it was because Windsor clearly towers over the sawed off Garfield despite the creative blocking and use of apple boxes to give him the illusion of height.
I have to give this round to LA. I’d even call it a knockout. FORCE is good, but ACT is superb and seeing it on the big screen for the first time made me love it even more.
Tonight’s match; ARMORED CAR ROBBERY vs. ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW.