Friday, September 21, 2007

Crime Wave

Vince Keenan recently posted commentary on a noir film called "Crime Wave" with Sterling Hayden and Gene Nelson as the stars. Hayden is the cop, Nelson the decent but vulnerable ex-con who's dragged back into crime by former associates. Before this plot was used by crime writers western writers did something like a thousand riffs on it.

But director Andre DeToth makes it work. Hayden's always been an interesting actor, which isn't to say that he's always good. He needs the right words to make a character come alive. He's not one of those actors who can take a nothing script and make something of it. And sometimes he's got a tin ear for the rythm of a line. But when he's on... Here, to me at least, the performance is good but needs more variety to be really memorable. But what Hayden lacked in words he always made up for in sheer presence. This guy could steal a scene just by leaning against the wall in the background. He was just one of those actors the camera automatically zeroed in on.

Vince notes that James Ellroy feels that this film is superior to Chinatown. Well, I'd sure like to have some of THAT weed. But it is a very exciting and visceral picture not so much because of the story but because of the way De Toth uses Los Angeles circa 1951. It's one of the few films I've ever seen where the city is also a true character, much as NYC is in The 87th books and Paris is in the Magraites. Ellroy claims that this film inspired some of his best work. And I can see that. This is Ellroy country for sure. The opening scene, an action set piece, is so vivid you almost break out in a sweat. And you're in the center of it, in a nowhere little gas station at night, with the big city rolling past you in every direction--and you nailed down in a tiny life and death drama that won't be worth more than an inch or two in tomorrow's newspaper. A scene with true ingenuity and power.

Well worth the money especially with Eddie Muller on the commentary track as well.

1 comment:

pattinase (abbott) said...

You are so right about Sterling Hayden. I have only seen a few of his films (Suddenly, Johnny Guitar, The Asphalt Jungle, Killers) but he stands out, even when Joan Crawford's eyebrows are center stage. You can't take your eyes off of him.