Monday, August 18, 2008

Unsuspected Noir

So here it is, Monday night. My book just came out (if I repeat it enough it may sink in) ... I spent a wonderful Saturday afternoon at the Hayward Public Library on a Sisters in Crime panel with the lovely and talented Camille Minichino, Michelle Gagnon and Peggy Lucke ... great company, great audience, great library, and terrific hospitality. I'm getting ready for a signing trip to the Seattle Mystery Bookshop and Portland's Murder by the Book. And now, as I type this, I'm waiting for the repairman to tell me what is wrong with our nearly-new dryer.

Yup. It's appliance noir.

Noir strikes you unexpectedly, from the failure of computerized mechanisms we rely on, as well as the rain-streaked and shadowed streets of Los Angeles. Yeah, we've got a graphite colored (you expected white?) top-of-the-line eco-dryer, but appliance noir hits you between the eyes, baby, and kiss your evening (and laundry) goodbye.

At least I've got my blog.

Though situations like this beg for depressing poetry and a bottle of Scotch, I'll refrain. And instead, tell you about The Unsuspected (1947), a deliciously nasty little Warner noir TCM aired the other day.

Directed by Michael Curtiz (Casablanca) and starring the most sympathetic and urbane villain to grace the screen -- Claude Rains -- along with noir stalwarts Audrey Totter (how do you define noir? Audrey Totter) and Jack (The Killers) Lambert, it's a highly charged and extremely suspenseful tale about a radio host of crime dramas who is implicated in some shenanigans of his own.

The opening scene--the first murder--is powerful and chilling film-making, even on a small screen. A bit later, Curtiz makes full use of the power of voice-over, shadows and light, in a tour-de-force sequence showing the effect of Rain's broadcast on a number of characters we've yet to be introduced to. The director does shamelessly purloin Hitchcock's famous teacup shot from Notorious toward the climax of the film, but since Claude Rains is in both movies, I guess he's entitled.

Joan Caulfield is the good girl here (Audrey, of course, plays the slut) and Constance Bennett takes on an Eve Arden-type role, and does it with panache. Ted North's stiffness as a mysterious young man who claims to have married heiress Caulfield is well-suited to the part ... is he Dudley-Do Right or Bar Sinister? Hurd Hatfield (Dorian Gray) ably rounds out the cast as Audrey's debauched and drunken husband.

The script, from a novel by Charlotte Amstrong, snaps and sparkles with lines like these:

Someone comments on the painting of Joan Caulfield above the mantle piece, asking whether it was a particular artist's Blue Period (not Picasso).

Audrey replies: "My husband. His drunk period. Began right after our marriage."

Or Ted North as Steven Howard: "I like matches. You never have to refill them. And when you're through with them, you simply throw them away... like people."

The Unsuspected is another gem thus far unavailable on DVD or video. Look for it on TCM, and don't forget to set your Tivo.

And my own unexpected unsuspected appliance noir? The part won't be in for ten days. Yup, you got it. *Bleeped* on page one.

1 comment:

Camille Minichino said...

I should have believed you, Kelli, when you said the movie wasn't on DVD.
I queried Netflix for The Unsuspected and got "The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep."

Now, that's noir.

Love your "appliance noir."