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Tag Archives: Frank Fenton

Bodyguard (Sept. 4, 1948)

Bodyguard
Bodyguard (1948)
Directed by Richard Fleischer
RKO Radio Pictures

Richard Fleischer’s Bodyguard features Lawrence Tierney doing what Lawrence Tierney did best — knocking down everyone and everything that gets in his way.

In the first sequence of the film, LAPD detective Mike Carter (Tierney) is reprimanded by his lieutenant (played by Frank Fenton) for using his knuckles instead of his brain. Before Mike even has a chance to plead his case to the captain, the lieutenant informs him that he’s already talked to the captain on Mike’s behalf and that Mike is suspended effective immediately.

So Mike uses his knuckles instead of his brain and gets into a glass-breaking fistfight with his lieutenant.

When Mike and the lieutenant are gearing up to throw punches, the film cuts back and forth between the two men as they both step closer to the camera, eventually getting so close their noses are almost touching the lens.

After Mike is bounced from the force, a man named Freddie Dysen (Phillip Reed) approaches him with a proposition. He’ll pay Mike a $2,000 retainer to act as bodyguard to his aunt, Mrs. Gene Dysen (Elisabeth Risdon).

Who can say no to a $2,000 retainer?

Well, apparently Mike Carter can. He’s got better things to do, like spending time with his cute blond fiancée, Doris Brewster (Priscilla Lane, in her final film role), and playing the ponies down at the track.

But when Mike is framed for murder, he’s forced to get into the action. What do Mrs. Dysen and her meat-packing plant have to do with the murder Mike’s been framed for? And was the accidental death of a plant inspector really accidental?

One thing I love is when a B movie gives its peripheral characters interesting lives that in no way advance the plot. For instance, Bodyguard features a scene in an arcade where Mike tries to get the counter girl’s attention as she chats with a couple of sailors. He doesn’t succeed for awhile, and when he finally does, one of the sailors tries to start a fight with him. Bodyguard runs for barely longer than an hour, and has a dense, twisty plot, but it still finds time for entertaining little moments like that.

It also features a ton of location shooting in Los Angeles and great noir cinematography by Robert De Grasse. Bodyguard is unmistakably designed to be the second feature on a double bill, but it’s well-made, well-acted, and holds up as superior entertainment.

The director, Richard Fleischer, had a long career in Hollywood. He was born in 1916 and Bodyguard was only his fourth feature film (he made a number of documentary shorts in the 1940s as well). To put things into perspective, this is the same man who would go on to make The Narrow Margin (1952), 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), Fantastic Voyage (1966), Soylent Green (1973), Mandingo (1975), and Conan the Destroyer (1984).

Bodyguard is also notable for being the first time acclaimed director Robert Altman got his name in the credits. The screenplay is credited to Fred Niblo Jr. and Harry Essex, and the story is credited to George W. George and Robert B. Altman.*

Tierney

*Altman also worked on the script for Edwin L. Marin’s Christmas Eve (1947), which starred George Raft, but Altman’s name didn’t appear in the credits.

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Nocturne (Nov. 11, 1946)

Edwin L. Marin’s Nocturne is close to being a great film noir, but not that close. It’s an entertaining mystery thriller with plenty of clipped, hard-boiled dialogue that’s fun to listen to, if not particularly credible.

George Raft plays Lt. Joe Warne of the Los Angeles police, and it’s a role that seems designed to play to the public’s perception of Raft as a gangster and a thug. Warne conducts his murder investigation with the subtlety of a steamroller, pushing a mustachioed Lothario into the pool when he gets in his way and ripping up the roll of a player piano in a diner when the owner won’t cooperate with him.

And when was the last time you saw a hard-boiled detective who lived at home with his mother? It’s the kind of oddball detail that feels as if it would be more at home in a gangster movie starring James Cagney.

Raft’s first big role was as Paul Muni’s sidekick in Howard Hawks’s Scarface (1932). After that he starred in a string of gangster pictures, and was one of the most popular actors in crime melodramas, along with Cagney and Edward G. Robinson. His boyhood friendship with gangster Owney Madden and association with men like Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky aided the public’s perception of him as a hard man who didn’t just “talk the talk.”

By the ’40s, however, his star was beginning to fade. Turning down the lead roles in High Sierra (1941), The Maltese Falcon (1941), and Double Indemnity (1944) didn’t help matters. (Raft was reportedly functionally illiterate, which may have made choosing scripts difficult.) It’s safe to say that by 1946, he was getting the scripts that Humphrey Bogart used to line his birdcage.

Raft wasn’t a very expressive actor, and he had the range of a T-bone steak, but his tight-lipped acting style was perfect for B movies like Nocturne.

A flamboyant pianist and composer named Keith Vincent (Edward Ashley) is murdered, presumably by one of the nine brunettes he was running around with. He has glamour shots of all of them lining one wall of his living room, and it’s clear they were all interchangeable for him, since he called them all “Dolores.” (This may seem like a clever device to hide the identity of the murderess from the viewer, but it’s not.)

Lt. Warne investigates with ham-handed glee, and his investigative technique is as sloppy as the filmmaking. For instance, in one scene his chief (Robert Malcolm) bawls him out for bothering a character named “Mrs. Billings,” but apparently her scenes were left on the cutting room floor. This is fine, but why leave references to her in the film? Similarly confusing is the fact that Warne’s chief gives him two days to investigate Vincent’s murder on his own, but we only find this out after the two-day period is over. And it’s only after this two-day investigative blitz that Warne goes back to Vincent’s house and notices that one of the pictures is missing, since the pattern is disrupted, and there’s an enormous nail hole in the wall. Looking at the stamp on the back of one of the other pictures leads him to a sleazy photographer named Charles Shawn (John Banner). Wouldn’t a detective worth his salt have noticed all this immediately?

The most enjoyable thing about this film is the atmosphere. Lt. Warne spends a lot of time in smoky nightclubs, including the unique Keyboard Club, in which a hulking man-child named Erik Torp (Bern Hoffman) pushes a pianist named Ned “Fingers” Ford (Joseph Pevney) and his upright around on a rolling platform so they can take requests, table by table. When they get to Warne’s table, he hands Vincent’s unfinished piece “Nocturne” to Fingers to play. When he reaches the end of the handwritten sheet music, Fingers asks, “What did your friend do, run out of notes?” Warne responds, “More or less.”

Plenty of sex and sleaze run right below the surface of the picture, but it’s all pretty lighthearted. There’s a funny scene in a dance studio in which Warne can’t learn even the most basic steps (it’s mostly funny because Raft was a professional dancer), and his romance with his prime suspect, Frances Ransom (Lynn Bari), doesn’t carry much sense of danger or menace.

Nocturne is a really fun picture, despite its shortcomings. It has some of the snappiest, most hard-boiled, least naturalistic dialogue I’ve heard since I watched The Dark Corner (1946). Fans of B noirs are encouraged to seek out this picture.