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Dark City (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on November 23, 2012

“One day you’re going to lose that smile, Danny.  One day you’re gonna hit bottom and break every bone in your body.  And when it happens you’ll be like all the rest of them, you won’t have the guts to do anything but lie there.”

Danny Haley’s (Charlton Heston) gambling joint has just been raided.  He and his partners Barney (Ed Begley) and Augie (Jack Webb) are in need of some new cash flow.  Then they come across Arthur Winant, a G.I. (Don DeFore) with some money to lose, and cheat him out of his whole wad, including a big cashier’s check that wasn’t his to gamble with.  Winant goes and kills himself… and now his brother Sidney (Mike Mazuksky) is grimly determined to get revenge.  Danny’s got people on his side: his gal Fran (Lizabeth Scott), his buddy Soldier (Harry Morgan) and even — reluctantly — the police captain Garvey (Dean Jagger).  But it may not be enough to keep him out of Sidney’s deadly clutches.

At first, I couldn’t believe I had given this movie a 6 out of 10 score when I first saw it two years ago.  I had forgotten most of it, but what I was seeing was some top-notch noir.  I mean, yeah, Scott is pretty lame in it.  She doesn’t have the allure that she’s supposed to, she sings five songs in the movie and none of them very well, and the way she keeps punctuating all her sentences with “Danny” is really, really annoying (it kept making me think of The Shining: “Come play with us, Danny”).  But otherwise, it’s pretty hot stuff.  Fantastic photography and music, great performances from everyone not named Lizabeth, a tense, well-constructed plot, some beautiful snappy dialogue, a wonderful air of seediness and the fickle finger of fate playing its hand.  It’s the type of thing that makes a noir fan’s heart leap in his chest.

And then comes the third act.  Heston and Webb go out to California to try to find Sidney before he finds them.  Heston, using a phony insurance story, meets up with Arthur’s widow Victoria (Viveca Lindfors) to get some information.  And Heston gets instant redemption and even more implausibly, Lindfors falls in love with him.  It’s not only incredibly forced, but this whole section of the movie just puts the brakes on everything, lets the air out of the tires.  As the film slogs its way towards the predictable and not very exciting confrontation between Mazursky and Heston, one can’t help feeling profound disappointment.  So much potential, down the drain.

There’s about an hour’s worth of excellent noir here.  Unfortunately, the movie runs for 97 minutes.  Rating: Fair (67)


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