Judge Brendan Babish misses those good old days when a guy could demand his secretary goes on a date with him without the pesky law getting involved.
Save your lipstick girls, he plays for keeps.
In 1946, Director Henry Hathaway took a chance on young Hollywood starlet Lucille Ball (yes, that Lucille Ball) in this tiny noir about a deadpan detective whose sordid past is about to catch up with him.
Facts of the Case
Brad Galt (Mark Stevens) is a laid-back private eye with the hots for his sassy secretary, Kathleen Conley (Lucille Ball, I Love Lucy). While on his first date with Kathleen, Brad notices a large man in a white suit shadowing them. After confronting White Suit—and roughing him up a bit—Brad learns that it was his pretty boy ex-business partner, Tony Jardine (Kurt Kreuger), hired him to follow Brad. After confronting Jardine—and roughing him up a bit—Brad begins to suspect that the fat man in the white suit lied to him. But why?
While Brad investigates this strange series of events, dead bodies start piling up. The police think he's involved and soon Brad's picture is decorating the front page of every paper in the city. With nowhere to hide, and the law on his tail, Brad turns to the only person who believes in his innocence—his secretary, Kathleen.
While watching The Dark Corner I was reminded of a venue for obscure movies that is about to close. Last year I purchased a TiVo and since then I pretty much only watch television that I have pre-recorded. It used to be, if I couldn't sleep I would be up at two in the morning flipping through the channels looking for a movie to watch. The far majority of films were insipid trash like Anaconda or Collision Course. But then there were the rare occasions when I would come across something I had never seen before; something I might never have seen if I hadn't been up at 2 a.m.; something that was actually good. Money that you find lying between cracks in the sidewalk is found money. I always considered these to be found movies. Some of my all-time favorite films have been found movies: Zazie Dans Le Metro (why isn't this on DVD yet?), Butterflies Are Free, and The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, & Her Lover. Sure, I'm not very productive at work the following day, but movies like these make it worth staying up.
Now that I have TiVo there's always a hoard of recorded shows (those Daily Shows and Colbert Reports pile up pretty fast) on call to entertain me until it's time for the morning shower. I no longer have to look to Turner Classic Movies or the Independent Film Channel or HBO-7 in desperation. In fact, I don't even get desperate anymore. In many ways that is a good thing. But it is with a bit of melancholy that I recognize, while TiVo has improved my life in so many ways, it has brought about the end of found movies, at least for me.
I was reminded of this while watching The Dark Corner, because The Dark Corner is a film I had never heard of; it is a film I never would have seen if I wasn't reviewing it; and it is a movie I would have been happy to stay up until 4 a.m. to watch.
Probably the most notable aspect of The Dark Corner is that it features Lucille Ball in a straight role. Years before she became America's favorite ditzy redhead, she had achieved modest success playing a series of sassy-talking romantic leads. In fact, The Dark Corner was the 62nd film she appeared in. It is interesting to note that she did not like The Dark Corner. In particular she hated her part and her performance. She only took the role because she was in the midst of suing MGM Studios to get out of her contract and The Dark Corner (which had a B-movie budget) was the only work she could get.
It is difficult to understand Ball's disdain. Her performance is funny and airy, without any hints of the ditziness that would later launch her into superstardom. In fact, she even radiates a sultriness that would be almost entirely absent from her Lucy Carmichael character. The cast of The Dark Corner may be full of second-tier noir actors like Mark Stevens as the detective and William Bendix as the heavy, but they all turn in capable performances.
Another of The Dark Corner's assets is its datedness. While this might be distracting for some, I found it endearing. In the first scene, Brad begins openly flirting with his secretary. When 6 p.m. approaches and Kathleen asks to go home for the day, Brad refuses and orders her to go out with him that evening instead. In 2006 America, this would be clear grounds for a lawsuit. Audiences would bristle with anger and discomfort. But in 1946, it's just romantic banter. Later, while the two dally around the local penny arcade, Brad uses a suggestive double entendre involving baseball to propose they go back to his apartment. Kathleen responds unaffectedly, "I know when you're throwing a curve at me, and I always carry a catcher's mitt."
In addition to the rapid-fire dialogue, The Dark Corner has many of the ingredients that signify a classic film noir: dark lighting, smoky sets, a stoic detective and mysterious forces out to get him. The film follows the formula with such exactitude and competence that it seems to effortlessly entertain. However, The Dark Corner is a small film, with a small budget. Its story is conventional, straightforward, and lacks any great surprises or ambition. This is no so much to the film's detriment; it merely prevents the film from becoming great, or transcending its genre.
20th Century Fox has released The Dark Corner as another title in its Fox Film Noir collection. I cannot comment on the video or audio quality of other films in the collection, but The Dark Corner's is merely adequate. There are no problems with the audio; the movie has few sound effects to test the DVD's Dolby Digital soundtrack. But the video quality could certainly have been improved. Director Henry Hathaway shot the film with a lot of shadow, and in a few scenes those shadows darken the entire picture. Still, the video quality is nowhere near poor enough to affect one's enjoyment of the movie.
There are few extras on the DVD, but Fox has provided an educational commentary by film historians Alain Silver and James Ursini. If you don't know much about classic film noir, but would like to learn, this commentary would make an excellent primer for the genre.
If you keep your expectations modest, and you're up late with nothing else to watch, The Dark Corner should entertain you just fine.
Mr. Galt ought to thank the stars he's got such an easygoing secretary. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Film Historians Alain Silver and James Ursini
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