Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Crime Wave (1954)


Crime Wave

File:Crime Wave aka The City is Dark Poster.JPG

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 1954. 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 Simenons. 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.


Peter L. Winkler said...

I saw it on TCM a couple years ago. I'd heard a great deal about the film and it has a cult reputation and a good cast. Sad to say I was underwhelmed. Only two directors really managed to use Hayden properly--Nicholas Ray and Stanley Kubrick. Hayden often had a tendency to bellow his lines for dramatic emphasis and seem hollow. His offscreen life was quite colorful and interesting.


Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Terrific little Noir and I do love the contrasty look of it and de Toth's mobile but not flashy camera moves. Ellroy is barely on the leash in the commentary so it's just as well Muller is there to reign him in!