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Tight Spot

Posted by martinteller on February 18, 2012

Sherry Conley (Ginger Rogers) is a convict who happens to be the government’s last chance witness against a gangster (Lorne Greene).  While an attorney (Edward G. Robinson) tries to convince her to testify, a cop (Brian Keith) has to protect her from being rubbed out.  This is my 8th noir by director Phil Karlson, who helmed some of the finest the genre has to offer — Kansas City Confidential, The Phenix City Story, Scandal Sheet, 99 River Street.  While this one has some strong elements, it doesn’t reach those lofty heights.

Rogers, in her mid-40’s at this point, doesn’t get to do any fancy stepping (although there is a brief slow dance).  But her comic chops come in handy… she’s a brassy, streetwise gal with a quick comeback for any situation.  There are a lot of juicy zingers in the script, and most of them come from her mouth.  But even hard-boiled dialogue can be overcooked, and one starts to grow weary of her constant one-liners.  It’s a welcome relief when she starts to show a bit of vulnerability.  It’s an excellent performance and a side of Rogers we don’t get to see very often, but the writing is a little too clever.

The cinematography by the great Burnett Guffey makes superb use of shadows, especially in the dynamite location work.  Problem is, for the most part the film is confined to a hotel room.  It often feels more like a chamber drama than a noir, with little action to break up the monotony.  Sure, it’s a fine character study of a woman who hasn’t caught many breaks, but after such a tantalizing opening it’s a bit stifling to have so many dialogue-heavy scenes without any real tension.  I won’t go so far as to call it dull, because it isn’t.  I suppose it’s just a matter of adjusting your expectations.

Worth seeing for Rogers and Robinson, some sharp (although sometimes too sharp) writing, and an unexpected third act twist.  But I’d have to call it the weakest of this box set.  Rating: Fair


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