Monday, 28 March 2016

Lucy Before Lucy: The Dark Corner

In most people’s minds Lucille Ball and film noir don’t occupy the same space. But, in 1946, Lucy co-starred in a neat little thriller called The Dark Corner.

At this time, she was 35 years old and making her B-movie circuit, starring in pretty much any genre that would have her. It was a strange time in her career, since she’d just aged out of the pin-up girl personae she’d had at RKO. You can’t be sexy and 35, that’s ridiculous. Everyone knows that when a woman hits the big 3-0, her faces just dissolves like Walter Donovan’s at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Noir suits her, surprisingly – and then not so surprisingly at all, because she’s the enterprising career girl here and not a femme fatale or a moonlit gardenia like Veronica Lake.

She plays Kathleen Stewart, loyal secretary of private eye Bradford Galt.

Apart from having the kind of name you might give to punish an unwanted child, Bradford Galt has got some problems. He recently relocated his business to New York, trying to escape the Faustian bargain he made with his friend and lawyer Tony Jardine. The end result of that bargain was some jail time for Galt, and some lifelong anxieties for Jardine.

Galt’s pretty sure all of that’s behind him, though, and he’s eager for a fresh start. That’s why it’s such a bummer when he’s almost bumped off by a hired goon. But, naturally, it’s not as simple as he first thinks.

There’s a lot we’ve seen before from earlier noir offerings. The opening music is the exact theme heard in 1941’s I Wake Up Screaming; a takeoff on “Rhapsody in Blue” that sounds undeniably like a cityscape full of sad, busy people. Lucy’s character has more than a few echoes of Ella Raines in 1944’s Phantom Lady, another steadfast secretary who sticks by her boss through thick and thicker. And rounding out the villain’s team is Clifton Webb as Hardy Cathcart, a more complicated but less interesting version of the character he played in 1944’s Laura.

For me, Lucy carries the human elements of the tangled Chandler-inspired plot, and she carries them well. Kathleen seems lonely. Deeply lonely. It’s been a few layers of snappy dialogue and plucky gal Friday stick-to-it-iveness, but it’s there. And it’s Lucy who puts it there, saving you from spending too much time wondering just why she’d be so loyal to a man she’s had two dates with and calls “Mr. Galt.”

She made two other noirs, by the by, Two Smart People, also in 1946, and Lured in 1947. Two Smart People is about a conman love triangle, while Lured is a more precariously categorized film about Jack the Ripper copycat murders. Both are worth watching, but fall a little short of The Dark Corner.
And the reason for that is thanks to cinematographer Joe MacDonald. MacDonald was no stranger to the genre, and while the plot doesn’t measure up to the other entries on his resume, this is probably his best work.

So if you’re in the mood for something a little off the beaten path, both in the noir category and for a Lucy fan, check out The Dark Corner sometime. It’s a fine way to kill a Saturday afternoon.

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