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Noir-vember 2013: Man in the Dark

Posted by martinteller on November 7, 2013

Nah, these [bruises] are nothing.  They hurt on top, not inside.  And you know why?  Cuz there’s nothing inside to hurt.  I’m dead.  Your friends ought to be arrested for beating up a corpse.

The crook Steve Rawley (Edmond O’Brien) is undergoing a new type of surgery.  In exchange for parole, he’s agreed to let doctors remove the “criminal element” part of his brain.  The catch is, his memory goes with it.  He has a new lease on life, but can’t remember where he hid the $130,000 he stole.  Several factions want him to remember.  One is a persistent insurance investigator (Dan Riss).  One is his old flame Peg (Audrey Totter).  And another is his old gang, now led by the brutal Lefty (Ted de Corsia) and his two hoods (Horace McMahon, Nick Dennis).  The gang plucks Steve out of the hospital and tries to jog his memory… by any means necessary.

A rare case of noir in three dimensions.  I did not watch it in 3D, of course, but the uses are obvious.  The most unusual is a brain’s-eye view of the operation, with doctors huddled around the camera, scalpels coming at the viewer.  Other things flying at the camera include a haunted house spider, a lit cigar intended for O’Brien’s eye, and a bird that is clearly tied to a wire while still alive (where’s the ASPCA when you need them?).  But it’s not just gimmicks… there are chase scenes that seem designed to exploit the added sense of depth.  The movie concludes with a rollercoaster chase that features cars whizzing around the screen.  Amusement parks make for great noir climaxes: Strangers on a Train, The Burglar, The Lady from Shanghai, and Woman on the Run (like this movie, shot at Ocean Park) all immediately come to mind.  The park makes an earlier appearance in the film’s most bizarre scene, a dream sequence that includes O’Brien being chased by cops in bumper cars!

Except for the 3D effects — some of which are quite silly — there’s not much special about this one.  It’s the third noir I’ve seen by Lew Landers (the other two being Inner Sanctum and Power of the Press) and so far he has yet to impress me.  O’Brien and Totter are solid as always, and there are some moments with the supporting cast that have a little extra oomph… but none of the characters really sing, and the premise is ludicrous.  Although the location shooting is nice, the sets are cheap as hell, and the film has little atmosphere.

There is some decent dialogue, and at 67 minutes it makes an easy watch.  But on the whole, the film rarely rises above mediocre and is really only recommendable as a 3D oddity.  Rating: Fair (66)


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