The Champ: THE PEOPLE AGAINST O’HARA (NY)
It’s amazing to me that Spencer Tracy did only one picture in the Film Noir genre. He seemed like such a natural, with his weathered, everyman features and tormented soul. O’HARA is a about a lawyer, but it’s not strictly a courtroom drama. It has a complex and engaging plot, and needless to say, Tracy is wonderful as the retired attorney who agrees to get back in the ring one last time to defend the son of neighborhood friends too poor to afford a lawyer. The son is accused of murder, and gangsters, narcotics and a beautiful woman are involved but what sets this movie apart is the deeply personal emotions brought to the table by tormented Tracy. The character’s losing battle with alcoholism mirrored Tracy’s own and his performance anxiety and inability to stay focused in court also reflected aging Tracy’s fears that he was losing it as an actor. These elements leant a deeper resonance to the standard Noir melodrama and earned this film a Best Picture nomination. It was a real treat for me and even better on a big screen
The guest of honor was Richard Anderson, who played Tracy’s son-in-law-to-be, though I’ll always remember him as Oscar Goldman on the Six Million Dollar Man. He was so charming with that deep, mellifluous voice and basically just took over the interview from the moment he picked up the mic. He had great stories about Tracy and director John Sturges and I would have loved to listen to him talk all night, but I was dying to see the next feature, one that had been on the top of my must-see list since day one.
The Challenger: I LOVE TROUBLE (LA)
Franchot Tone as a wisecracking tough guy? You gotta be kidding. Amazingly, he is wonderful in TROUBLE, a light-hearted Chandler remix full of shady dames and crackling dialog. A private dick (Tone) is hired to get to the bottom of a blackmail scheme involving a touchy business man and his hot young wife with a dark past. There’s a cute, spunky secretary and a sexy, desperate woman who claims to be the sister of the mysterious wife. The plot is fun and full of classic twists. Tone is more of a smart ass than a bruiser, always ready with a fast quip in the face of danger but yet not unwilling to mix it up when actions speak louder than words. Needless to say there’s nothing new here, but it’s so entertaining that you just don’t care. It was written by Roy Huggins, who would later go on to fame with TV shows like “The Fugitive” and “Maverick,” and while it’s filled with great character actors, the script is the real star in this one. On top of that, we were treated to a brand new 35mm print that was as crisp and lovely as the year it was shot. This is a rare gem that I felt really lucky to catch.
OK, so now the hard part. These were both really wonderful movies, though totally opposite in tone. There have been close calls before, but I think this is the closest yet and it’s very hard to fairly compare them when they are so completely different. Sure they both belong to the same genre, just like a German Shepard and a Poodle are both dogs, but that doesn’t make it any easier to pick which one is “better.” So, for the first time in the festival, I’m calling a draw. A tie. Maybe I’m just getting punchy, but I really enjoyed both of these films equally, though for totally different reasons.
So, I’m afraid it’s all over but the shooting. The score stands at 5-7 in LA’s favor. Even if NY takes the final bout, LA will still be the winner. Nonetheless, I will be there till the bitter end at Wednesday’s THE GARMENT JUNGLE vs ABANDONED.