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Nocturne (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on March 24, 2014

Playboy composer Keith Vincent (Edward Ashley) has shot himself in the head.  Or has he?  Although the physical evidence points to suicide, detective Joe Warne (George Raft) is not convinced.  He’s troubled by the unfinished composition “Nocturne” found on the piano, some indications that Vincent wasn’t planning on going anywhere… and the row of portraits on the wall, all of beautiful brunettes.  The composition has “For Dolores” written in the corner.  The trouble is, Vincent called all his gals Dolores.  In defiance of his captain’s repeated warnings, Joe tracks down all the Doloreses (Dolori?), none yielding any results.  But one photo is missing: bit part actress Frances Ransom (Lynn Bari).  Frances coughs up an alibi that’s unconvincing in its specificity, and Joe is further intrigued in her as suspect… and as a woman.  Other players in this twisty whodunit include Frances’s lounge singer sister Carol (Virginia Huston), a piano player named “Fingers” (Joseph Pevney), a towering brute named Torp (Bern Hoffman) and the photographer Charles Shawn (John Banner).

I really got a kick out of this the first time around, but found it didn’t hold up so well on a second viewing.  While a convoluted plot is a noir staple, this one really fails to satisfy in its conclusion, which feels like a hastily-assembled bit of misdirection.  But the bigger problem is the movie’s lack of noir guts.  It doesn’t commit to the dark obsession it hints at.  Bari is set up as a femme fatale, but only in a kinda-sorta way, trying to weave that element into her character only when needed and leaving it by the wayside the rest of the time.  She doesn’t have any real sense of danger to her.  Likewise, Raft is miscast for this kind of role.  He’s great at tough talk and a lot of fun to watch, but he doesn’t do anything to sell the obsession of Joe Warne.  We never get a sense of why he’s so driven by this case, and his passion for Frances is unconvincing (again, it only seems to pop up when convenient for the script).

It’s still an enjoyable little flick in a lot of ways.  As I said, Raft is fun and so is Mabel Paige as his mother (who gets a terrific scene demonstrating how difficult it is to make someone shoot himself… macabre humor that reminded me of Shadow of a Doubt).  Hoffman’s sheer physical stature makes him a natural for the heavy… oddly, most of his few noir roles are bit parts.  And Pevney — director of the great Female on the Beach, not to mention Tammy and the Bachelor — has a unique presence, struck me as a combination of Jon Cryer and Steve Buscemi.  The dialogue pops, with a lot of terrific cracks and zingers.  Some of the scenes are put together quite well, individual moments stand out.

But it never really comes together as a whole, and while it’s a refreshing diversion, it lacks the oomph to resonate.  Rating: Good (72)


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