Posted by martinteller on May 25, 2012
Fritzi Haller (Mary Astor) runs a casino in a small Nevada town. She has higher aspirations for her daughter Paula (Lizabeth Scott), who has just quit finishing school and returned home. Meanwhile, the racketeer Eddie Bendix (John Hodiak) rolls into town with his sidekick Johnny (Wendell Corey, in his debut appearance). When Paula starts falling for lowlife Eddie, Fritzi bribes deputy Tom (Burt Lancaster) into proposing to her. But Tom lets Paula know about the deal, driving her further into the arms of Eddie. Now Tom and Fritzi try their hardest to spare Paula from a dark future.
That sounds like a whole lot of story, but it doesn’t really add up to much. Though falling loosely into the noir category, there isn’t much sizzle to the story and the love triangle at the center is pretty dull stuff. More interesting are the clues of other, more illicit relationships. I don’t want to be that guy who reads homoerotic subtext into everything, but I’ll be damned if Johnny doesn’t have the hots for Eddie. He’s followed him around for decades, cooks his meals, cleans his house, fetches his drinks… and seethes when Eddie shows an interest in Paula. He acts like a petulant housewife, a jilted lover. He’s downright bitchy about it. And there’s also a hint of an incestuous, lesbian relationship between Fritzi and Paula. That part might be stretching it, but it really doesn’t take a big leap to get there.
Lancaster isn’t very interesting here, playing a generally straight-and-narrow kind of fella, and Hodiak isn’t bringing a whole lot to the table either. I run hot and cold on Lizabeth Scott, this time out I’d have to say I’m pretty cold. Normally it wouldn’t be a big deal for a 24-year-old to play 19, but Scott’s husky voice and aura of world-weariness doesn’t suit a character with Paula’s impetuousness and naiveté. And there aren’t any sparks between her and Hodiak (of course, each is too busy having sparks with their same-sex companions) nor her and Lancaster. It’s Corey and Astor who make the most compelling characters.
This makes my 6th noir by Lewis Allen, and I don’t know why I keep coming back. They’ve all been rather underwhelming. As much fun as homosexual subtext is, it’s not a big part of the film and the rest of it lopes along without sparking much interest. It feels longer than it should. However, the Technicolor photography does look very nice, and doesn’t get in the way much of the noirish atmosphere. Rozsa’s score isn’t his greatest, but it’ll do. There’s also some nice, snappy dialogue. It’s very much a mixed bag, with good facets and not-so-good facets. Probably skippable for most folks. Rating: Fair