Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Dark Corner

I’m guessing that if someone else besides Mark Stevens played the detective in “The Dark Corner” (1946) it would be better known today. Nothing against Stevens, who is fine but comes off a bit bland. Cast someone with an interesting face like Dana Andrews or Richard Conte in the role, and you would have a noir for the ages.

Stevens isn’t a total demerit however, and what we have is really nifty little noir, filled with enough colorful characters, gloriously moody black and white photography and on-location shooting to make it a prime entry in the post-war noir sweepstakes.

Stevens plays Bradford Galt (a terrible name for a detective, don’t you think?), who years before had taken the rap for his former partner Anthony Jardine (Kurt Kreuger). Jardine is now a big-time lawyer carrying on an affair with Mari Cathcart (Cathy Downs), younger wife of Hardy Cathcart (now that’s a name!), the city’s most prestigious art dealer.

Cathcart is played by Clifton Webb, who I will happily watch in anything. It was first role after his star-making turn in “Laura” (1944) and his Hardy Cathcart possesses as keen a wit as Waldo Lydecker, if not as barbed. Waldo had to bow to no one, but Hardy has to make nice to his customers. But he’s still the magnificently superior Clifton Webb we all know and love. Some people have said how it was an honor to have been insulted by Groucho Marx. Me, I would have liked to have been sneered at by Clifton Webb.

It looks like Jardine is looking to ensnare his old partner in another web of murder and deceit, with the help of Stauffer (William Bendix), an ex-detective with a penchant for white suits. Galt has a loyal secretary Kathleen (Lucille Ball) who helps clear him of a murder charge.


I’ll admit to not seeing all of Lucy’s movies, but I’ve never seen her as warm as she is here. She’s not the manic Lucy we all know, but a quiet, working girl possessing lots of street smarts. Her honest working girl character stands in strong contrast to all the upper class duplicitous characters here.

Galt also keeps a bottle of booze which he keeps in his bottom desk drawer, which is one of my favorite staples of detective fiction. I had a grin a mile wide when he pulled out that bottle. All detectives should have a bottle of rye in their desk drawer. I’ve thought about becoming a detective just so I can keep a bottle of rye in my bottom desk drawer, and I don’t even drink.

Director Henry Hathaway rarely made a film that I haven’t liked. He may not be a critic’s favorite – not enough of an “auteur” - but his films move with nary a wasted scene. His films are always so unfussy, and I mean that in the best way possible. Hathaway had scored a monster hit the year before with “The House on 92nd Street”, a semi-documentary film, based on a true story about how the FBI cracked a nest of Nazi spies in the early years of World War II.

“The House on 92nd Street” was celebrated for its use of on-location shooting, a rarity at the time, and in “The Dark Corner” Hathaway and his camera crew returned to the Big Apple’s streets for some fascinating on-location photography, even a car chase through the busy downtown streets. I’m not talking “The French Connection” here, but pretty good all the same.

I don’t want to talk too much about the plot, because there are some intriguing twists to be had here. Without giving anything away, what I liked about this movie is how tight the script is. So many mystery movies feel there has to be a never-ending series of twists and revelations that sometimes the story’s main focus gets lost. Here, everything happens for a reason and makes sense. It’s not contrived and one can see how the events could happen as they are playing out. 

A good script, taut direction, moody photography, a fine cast and the always watchable Clifton Webb make “The Dark Corner” a real winner.


Caftan Woman said...

My mom is quite different from the rest of the family in that she is not the sort of gal who re-watches movies. However, she surprised me by borrowing my copy of "The Dark Corner" because she "used to have a thing for Mark Stevens"!

A really fine movie for all the reasons you mentioned. One of these dark nights I'll have to give it another look.

Kevin Deany said...

CW, I watched "The Dark Corner" in the early morning hours last week when I couldn't fall back to sleep. It was lightly raining, misty and pretty other words, the perfect weather to enjoy "The Dark Corner."

I liked Mark Stevens as the undercover cop in another terrific documentary-like noir, "The Street With No Name", but in "The Dark Corner" I would have preferred the detective to have more of an edge to him. Stevens doesn't ruin the movie, but he doesn't do it any favors either.

Classicfilmboy said...

I think this is a terrific movie and am glad you reviewed it. I've always thought this was one of Lucy's best movie roles because it's not what we expect from her.

DorianTB said...

Kevin, THE DARK CORNER is one of my favorite film noirs, and I very much enjoyed your witty and thoughtful review! One of the things I've always liked about it was its "Film Noir's Greatest Hits" feel, and I assure you I mean that with great affection. I found it refreshing that Lucille Ball's character ends up bolstering Mark Stevens' character's spirits (not just the spirits in the bottle in the drawer :-)). I'd go so far as to say Lucy saves the day -- good for her! I also enjoyed your quote "Some people have said how it was an honor to have been insulted by Groucho Marx. Me, I would have liked to have been sneered at by Clifton Webb." Great post!

P.S.: If you'd like to compare and contrast for the fun of it, here's a link to my encore presentation of my TALES OF THE EASILY DISTRACTED blog post from Lucille Ball's Centennial last year:

Kevin Deany said...

Brian: I agree. I thought Lucy was just terrific in her role.

Dorian, glad you liked the piece, and I recommend everyone read Dorian's far more substantial look at "The Dark Corner" than I can offer.

I was originally going to blog about "The Oklahoma Kid" with Cagney and Bogart, and while I enjoyed it, I couldn't figure out what to write about it. I had watched "The Dark Corner" the day before and really enjoyed it. I wanted to put something up on the blog this week, so I opted for "The Dark Corner" instead. If I knew I would be blogging about it, I would have paid more attention to it.

I really liked how you nailed a lot of the subtleties of the movie, and, again, highly recommend your post to everyone. Thanks for providing the link.

Rick29 said...

Kevin, indeed it's the kind of movie that helps redefine Lucille Ball for a lot of people. She was more than just a terrific TV comedienne. Nice review!

The Lady Eve said...

I've come fairly recently to "The Dark Corner," but, thanks to TCM, I finally discovered it and am now a big fan. Agree that Mark Stevens might be one of its less strong points. Two very different actors popped into my mind that might've been interesting - Charles McGraw - for his serious sexy grit, and Alan Ladd (who must have been offered the role) - for his handsome-but-moody noir charm. But I'm OK with Stevens. This may be the film I love Lucy in most. How right you are about her real warmth as the working girl with street smarts.
On another subject, I, personally, would rather not have been on the receiving end of Clifton Webb's snotty sneer. I'm afraid it might have led to a fearsome dagger-tongued battle to the death.
Great piece, Kevin.

Kevin Deany said...

Rick, this title seems to be a raal favorite with Lucy fans. Thanks for commenting.

LE, I would gladly pay good money to see a dagger-tongued battle to the death between you and Clifton Webb. I have no doubt you would emerge victorious.

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silverscreenings said...

Ha! I completely agree with your comment about being "sneered at by Clifton Webb". Good review!

Huma Qureshi said...

Directed by Henry Hathaway and starring with Lucille Ball, Mark Stevens, The Dark Corner is a 1946 film noir and like other noir movies, it was filmed in black and white and considered as B-movie.

Huma Qureshi