Film Noir : What Film Noir did you see?:November/December Edition.

Scene of the Crime (1949)

Directed by Roy Rowland for MGM, Scene of the Crime is a Dragnet style police procedural/crime drama with occasional noirish touches. It was the studios slightly belated attempt to jump on the Noir bandwagon, likely under the influence of MGMs new head of production Dore Schary, who wanted to bring a different, more realistic sensibility to the studios wholesome universe. Schary favored darker message pictures. The result was Scene of the Crime, Noir-lite, its hard-boiled edges considerably softened by star casting and the studios famous glamour touch. MGM simply couldnt bring itself to go slumming and left the urban squalor to other studios.
It seems you could take the crime drama out of MGM, but you couldnt take the glamour touch along with it. The picture is too glossy to be called true gritty Noir. Broken dreams, shattered illusions, dingy run-down joints, crooked cops, alcoholic shantoozies, unfaithful spouses, shifty fences and private eyes who work for 20 bucks a day dont mix well with glitz.

Rowlands direction is solid and workman-like, he would also direct Rogue Cop and Spillanes The Girl Hunters later.

The cinematography is very good though not very noirish, only a few scenes display the shadow of Venetian blinds and chiaroscuro lighting. The dialogue is snappy and suitably hard-boiled, but sometimes feels a bit off, as if MGM had watched a few Poverty Row productions and tried to copy them without quite understanding the pulpy heart that beat underneath them. On the plus side, the picture has a great opening credits sequence showing a bullet from a crime scene being processed.

Van Johnson plays homicide detective Mike Conovan who investigates the shooting of fellow officer Monigan who may or may not have been on the take from the mob. He was gunned down in front of a bookie joint and nobody knew what he was doing there. Conovan is out for revenge and has to deal with many red herrings, blind alleys, crosses and double crosses before he gets to the bottom of things.
To complicate matters even more, his wife Gloria (Arlene Dahl) has grown more and more resentful of his profession which seems to interrupt their home life at any turn. She doesnt want a bullet-riddled corpse as a husband. Throw in sexy stripper and gangster moll Lili (Gloria DeHaven) who Conovan gets a little bit too cozy with, and we should have all the ingredients for a good Noir.

Its just that MGMs high production values are detrimental to the gritty universe that Noir should inhabit, the studios gloss treatment tended to have a sterilizing effect on a movie that begged for a more daring approach. A Poverty Row production wouldnt have shied away from a more ugly representation of police corruption and organized crime without a happy ending. As this was MGM, social comment and content is left out of it.

In many ways the movie could be called average, but is saved from being by-the-numbers and routine by a very good cast with lots of star appeal. This was MGM after all.

In a bit of stunt casting the producers hired Van Johnson to play the hard-boiled detective. This was Johnsons only foray into Noir. His wholesome, well-mannered, all-American boy-next-door image made him the perfect choice for romantic comedies and musicals which were his bread and butter.
In Scene of the Crime he can afford to go to a very ritzy nightclub in a tuxedo and fit right in, with the type of wife that would be way above Philip Marlowes pay grade. Bogart wouldnt be caught dead in a joint like that. But Conovan is no lone wolf who lives on cheap booze, with a dingy office that doubles as bedroom.
Interestingly enough, when the cops talk about PIs, Bogarts name is mentioned once or twice. Even in 1949 his name was already inextricably linked to private eye characters and it is as if the producers wanted to get the audience in on the joke.

If this all makes Van Johnson sound miscast, astonishingly enough he is not. He acquits himself amazingly well, though he is not quite hard-boiled enough, but he can throw a punch. Hes a bit light weight maybe, too youthful and not grizzled enough.

Van Johnson was in the running to play Eliot Ness in The Untouchables 10 years later, a casting I always considered off. However, having watched Scene of the Crime it may have worked out, though personally I am relieved that Robert Stack was cast instead.

Arlene Dahl, usually playing the temptress, is cast against type as the long-suffering wife who is miraculously enough not too fazed when she notices lipstick on her husbands collar. Her husband is working stripper Lili, strictly professionally of course, and romances her to milk her for information on her ex. Nonetheless, his emotions come into play too and had this been a different studio I believe their scenes together wouldnt have played out quite so chaste.
One can say it helps to have Dahl wait at home to resists DeHavens advances.

Gloria DeHaven, often the ingenue, is the films femme fatale. She turns in a sharp performance as specialty dancer Lili and is quite the competition for Dahl. She turns out to be the most hard-boiled character with one or two little surprises up her sleeve. Again though, with a different studio her musical numbers may have been a lot bolder.

All in all, a good crime movie, just without a heart of darkness.

Jessica Rabbit
"I'm not bad. I'm just drawn that way."

Re: Scene of the Crime (1949)

Saw this during TCM Summer Of Darkness Film Noir extravaganza. Enjoyed it when I watched it.

Re: Scene of the Crime (1949)

Hi Jess,thank you for the wonderful review of this "Gris Noir." Whilst they are known for their glamour,I'm surprised it took MGM right to the end of the 40's to go Noir,and I was wondering if they did any special Noirs in the 50's?


Re: Scene of the Crime (1949)

MGM seems to have caught on pretty quick from 1949 on.
The Asphalt Jungle
Act of Violence
Dial 1119
Mystery Street
Side Street
Bad Day at Black Rock
Party Girl

Jessica Rabbit
"I'm not bad. I'm just drawn that way."

Re: Scene of the Crime (1949)

I quite enjoyed this when I first saw it a year or two back. I, like yourself was somewhat surprised how well Johnson fit in. Well done write-up as always!

The Cry of the Owl (2009)


"Like Jimmy Stewart's banister."

** This review may contain spoilers ***

Looking back at my viewings this year,one of the highlights was finally catching the Bourne franchise. Checking BBC iPlayer over Christmas,I was thrilled to discover a Patricia Highsmith Neo-Noir adaptation starring Bourne co-stars Paddy Considine and Julia Stiles,which led to me getting ready to hear the owl cry.

The plot:

Stuck in a bitter divorce, Robert Forrester begins spying on Jenny Thierolf,due to the image Forrester sees of Thierolf being of blissful happiness. Succeeding in not being spotted when her boyfriend Greg Wyncoop is in, Forrester's tracks get spotted by Thierolf.Telling her about his recovery from mental illness (always a good ice breaker!) Forrester gets set for the cops to be called. Understanding his issues, Thierolf invites him in,and starts a relationship with Forrester. Furious over his lover leaving him, Wyncoop starts making plans for Forrester to hear the "crying owl of death" as Thierolf lets slip how she met Forrester.

View on the film:

Looking ill at ease in every encounter, Paddy Considine gives an excellent,skin-crawling performance as Neo-Noir loner Forrester. Carry a well handled fake US accent, Considine expertly makes Forrester completely uncomfortable in his own skin,which is squeezed into every dark corner by Considine,whose ill-fitting clothes barely hide the shrunk view Forrester has of himself. Replacing Sarah Polley at the last moment, Julia Stiles gets an impressive grip on rural Femme Fatale Thierolf. Giving Thierolf an outer, emphatic appearance,Stiles digs into one of Patricia Highsmith major theme of a "good" character having a narrow vision and being blind to the Noir decay seeping in.

Flying from music Videos to a Noir adaptation,writer/director Jamie Thraves dissects an icy Neo-Noir that cuts deep into Highsmith's major themes,with Thraves making every Noir loner be "detached" and unable to connect with the shattered conditions of each other. Uncoiling a possible murder, Thraves sharply tugs at Forrester's fragile mental state and pushing down to hit Forrester with a freezing shark of Noir serendipity.

Walking on the pure snow with Forrester,director Jamie Thraves & cinematographer Luc Montpellier melt it with a blistering evil under the sun Noir atmosphere,cracking the pristine image of Thierolf by stepping into the dark side street Forrester is trapped in. Bringing acid snow down with a blunt use of violence, Thraves releases pure Noir magic of switching the point of view to the audience,who are given the chance to stalk and look into Forrester finally having a "blissful" view,as Forrester hears the cry of the owl.

Re: The Cry of the Owl (2009)

Tick has been sent and one my list it goes.

The Informant (2013)


*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Reading reviews by a fellow IMDber in the run-up to Christmas,I found a review for a "ripped from the headlines" French Neo-Noir. Not having many X-Mas viewings planned,I was pleased to find the title in the handful of French flicks on Netflix UK,which led to me listening in on the informant.

The plot-

Gibraltar 1987:

Fleecing his boss, Marc Duval leaves with his family and bags of cash for Gibraltar.Wanting to have a dream family life,Marc buys a boat and opens a café (both of which end up costing far more than the cash he stole.) Due to disagreements between the UK and Spain over who owns "the rock" Marc notices shady characters visiting his café,who appear to think that there is no risk of the underworld drug deals being broken. Tracking Marc down,French customs officer Redjani Belimane offers to help Marc pay his bills,in exchange for spying on his customers. Accepting the offer,Marc soon finds his life on the rocks.

View on the film:

Sailing to Gibraltar with the Duval's,director Julien Leclercq & cinematographer Thierry Pouget present a golden paradise of warm,sand colours layered on the café,and vast helicopter shots placing Gibraltar at the entrance of the underworld boarders. Taking the offer with the hope it will brighten his family life, Leclercq shakes Marc into a brittle Neo-Noir choke-hold,that drains the colours from Marc's life into dry dirt and low-hanging shadows closing down Marc's hopes in the café. Pushing Marc deeper into the Noir tar pit, Leclercq holds back from presenting the violence lavishly,to instead deliver it in short shocks which shakes Marc's Noir loner awareness over what he is now trapped in.

Ripped from the headlines,the screenplay by Abdel Raouf Dafri makes his adaptation of Marc's own book a terrifying Noir tale,which is still unfolding (one of the gangsters who was up and running in '87 was finally arrested in Spainin 2010!) Peeling open the "issues" Marc had with cash, Dafri puts the pieces of his Noir life down piece by piece, clattering with the fantastic dry atmosphere of underhanded deals being typed up by Marc and Belimane,being thrashed by the sobering anxiety of Marc having to prove to the underworld that he is one of them. Joined by a brilliantly shifty Tahar Rahim as Belimane, Gilles Lellouche gives an extraordinary gritty performance as Marc. Open and relaxed round the café, Lellouche knocks the wall down to a Noir dread which closes Marc off into a loner,with Lellouche pressing the law and the unlawful on his shoulders,as the informant becomes misinformed.

Re: The Informant (2013)

Thanks again for the heads up here. Tick has been dispatched.