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Noir-vember 2015: Larceny

Posted by martinteller on November 8, 2015

A pack of con artists, led by Silky Randall (Dan Duryea), has a new fix in mind. Silky wants to fleece Deb Clark (Joan Caulfield), a wealthy Californian war widow, into sinking a bunch of money into a war memorial… a youth center that will never actually be built. He sends his man Rick (John Payne) to win her over. But Silky has a weakness: his girl Tory (Shelley Winters). Rick’s been seeing Tory on the sly, and Silky’s suspicions are raised. He plans to send Tory to Havana while Rick’s putting in the fix in Mission City. But Tory’s got a mind of her own, and threatens to gum up the works for everyone.

My viewing habits have changed lately, to put it mildly. Movies are no longer the priority they once were for me, and what was once a 40-to-50 per month habit has trickled down to 2 or 3. But I couldn’t let a November pass without trying to squeeze in a few noirs. It just wouldn’t feel right.

This one, directed by George Sherman, was a random pick from my watchlist. I had no idea what to expect, but what I got was a solid genre piece. The opening scene tries to establish our con men as masters of their craft, but it’s unconvincing. The way they try to keep their mark from running to the cops doesn’t hold much water. Beyond that first stumble, however, I have no major complaints. Caulfield is bland, but that’s to be expected from the good girl role. Although one would hope for more Duryea, he’s in good form during relatively brief screen time. One doesn’t often see him in the boss role, but I like how he handles it, with an edgy caution.

The best scenes, however, are those between Payne and Winters. There’s something about Shelley Winters in a noir that pushes all the right buttons. Her hard-boiled delivery of the script’s best line is the star of the show. Payne doesn’t match her intensity (nor should he try), but he helps keep things moving, fielding her zingers with a hardened weariness. And while Payne isn’t the first person you’d think of when you try to imagine a ladykiller (every gal he comes near seems to fall for him), he sells it well enough to make it believable.

Common noir themes are present and accounted for: postwar cynicism, the corrupt taking advantage of the well-meaning, honor (and lack thereof) among thieves. Like I said, it’s a solid entry in the genre. It could use bolder cinematography, better music and a few more interesting angles to really shine, but the script is good and it’s worth watching for Winters alone. Good fun. Rating: Good (77)


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