Friday, June 8, 2012

Film Pairing — 1940s Brothers Noir

Not all films that I’ve enjoyed are actually good movies.  Redeeming qualities — a glimpse into history, extraordinary cinematography, interesting actors — can easily erase even the most serious flaws.  In my case, I’m curious about what audiences looked at in the late 1940s when I was just becoming aware of the world?  Cars, clothing, interiors — much of which is distantly familiar.  The added mystery and danger are pluses.

Lawrence Tierney
Scott Brady (Tierney)

I paired these two films because, beyond the closeness of the times and the dark nature of the stories, because each starred one of two brothers, Lawrence Tierney and Scott Brady (Gerard Kenneth Tierney), who were significant stars of “B” movies.  Both transitioned to TV at the same time the world did. I suspect both were able to keep food on the table by taking supporting roles in a whole range of popular TV shows and in the occasional film.  Brady was a regular on Police Story and later made an appearance in All In The Family. Brother Lawrence, who was the bad guy in many movies, continued to play the heavy as recently as an appearance on Seinfeld.
Before you begin the evening, a warning: If you want to watch Born to Kill (1947) you have to give in to the melodrama. Some of it is improbable.  Much of it is overacted or poorly acted.  It is difficult to tell whether Tierney has more than one octave or facial expression, but his character’s essential meanness is never in doubt. I kept thinking his lines were meant for Humphrey Bogart — and things might have turned out better if Bogart had delivered them.  Claire Trevor nearly makes up for Tierney’s shortcomings. She matches his nastiness word for word and deed for deed, except with a slightly more subtle portrayal. Trevor is one good reason to watch the film.  The other is that the plot is extremely clever and timeless. If there was ever a film that deserved a remake, I vote for this one.  Walter Slezak plays a corrupt P.I.  Robert Wise directed.
Scott Brady plays a good cop in He Walked By Night (1948), documentary-styled film about a multiple murderer.  Richard Basehart, who had been pretty invisible to me as a star, turns in great performance as the cold-blooded killer.  And a pre-Dragnet Jack Webb plays what might have been the first CSI-type character in a crime drama. (I’m sure I will be corrected).  If you can believe cops who talk like they never heard a curse word, you will find yourself being seduced by the film. And the end makes any investment you made worthwhile.  A fantastic bit of cinematography comes at the end in a chase through vast storm drain system of L.A.  Webb and Basehart are fun to watch (Scarcely a woman in sight).  Brady seems to do a spot-on impression of his brother.  This isn’t necessarily good.

Incidentally, a third brother, Edward Tierney, also made a few films, one with his brother Lawrence called Hoodlum. Edward never quite achieved significant notice.

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