The Fountainhead (1949) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

The Fountainhead is a novel by Ayn Rand about an architect named Howard Roark who embodies Rand’s ideal of the individualist.  It was made into a movie with Rand providing the screen play.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

Gary Cooper is Howard Roark, a young man who wants to build buildings where the form corresponds to the function of the building and the materials it is made from.  But the architectural profession demands that only the established patterns, like classical columns and facades be used.  Unwilling to compromise on these points he is scorned by his profession and denied any commissions by the corporate establishment and is forced to get work wherever he can find; a gas station here, a factory there.  But slowly he gains a reputation as an innovator who can build modern buildings that are structurally sound and gracefully beautiful.

During these years he meets friends and enemies that help or hinder his career and he meets his soul mate; Dominique Francon (played by Patricia Neal) who is the daughter of a prominent architect and is the first to recognize Roark’s great talent and integrity.  But because she sees that the world will try to destroy him, she leaves him to spare herself the agony of watching it happen.  He meets Gail Wynand (played by Raymond Massey) the owner of the New York Banner, a tabloid newspaper that profits from yellow journalism.  He is also Dominique Francon’s new husband.  Wynand recognizes Roark’s talent and hires him to build a mansion for him in the country where he will live with his wife.  Neither Dominique nor Roark keep their former relationship from Wynand and in fact Roark and Wynand become close friends.

Working for Wynand at the Banner is Ellsworth M. Toohey, the newspaper’s architectural critic (if you can imagine such a thing).  He is also Ayn Rand’s mouthpiece for the collectivist ideology.  He believes that individualists like Roark are criminals for defying the will of the majority and should be treated as such.

Eventually we reach a crisis when Roark agrees to design a low-income housing project on the condition that his design would be adhered to completely.  When the powers that be betray him and change his designs, he dynamites the buildings before they are completed and is put on trial.  Wynand attempts to defend Roark in the Banner but Toohey organizes a boycott of the paper and Wynand is defeated and must recant his defense of Roark.

In the climax of the picture Roark gives a summation speech to the jury defending every man’s right to the fruits of his labor, in his case the design of his buildings and the agreement that they would not be altered.  And of course, he is found not guilty.  Wynand sells the Banner and uses the funds to commission Roark to build the tallest building in the world and then shoots himself.  The movie ends with Dominique Roark taking a construction elevator to the top of the million story Wynand Building tower with Howard Roark standing there with his hands on his hips while the wind whips his shirt.

O good grief.  Where to start?  Ayn Rand was a novelist and social critic who proposed a theory of human values that she called “objectivism.”  It seems to be a justification for a libertarian view of human interaction.  It espouses individualism and the right of everyone to live life according to the individual’s free will without constraint as long as no one else’s existence is constrained by this behavior.  For Rand, the antithesis of objectivism and the epitome of evil is communism.  Since Rand had grown up under the Soviet regime, she knew something about how communism worked.  She was also a novelist and her books reflected her philosophy.  And Howard Roark was one of the exemplars of her philosophy.  And the book is a very interesting read in some respects.  But subtlety was not one of her attributes.  There are no shades of gray.  Howard Roark and Dominque Francon are demigods of individualist virtue and Ellsworth M. Toohey is a communist slug dripping slime wherever he goes.  But even this would be a starting point for a movie.  What is missing though is anything like actual human behavior.  The characters are there more or less only to mouth talking points and diatribes for their particular points of view.  Even the romantic entanglements are presented as examples of how these mythical objectivist supermen and women would behave.  At no point can you find yourself suspending disbelief and becoming immersed in the characters.  It’s more like one of those public service film documentaries from the fifties where you are told about how the air raid shelter will allow us to survive World War III and get on with our lives in the glorious future that awaits us.  I enjoy watching the movie as a lark.  But except as a philosophical treatise on Ayn Rand and objectivism I don’t think it can be recommended for entertainment value.

Gilda – An OCF Classic Movie Review

Currently the cable channels available to me contain two kinds of movies I might watch.  There are Halloween movies (horror and slasher movies) and classics (mostly movies from the 1930’s and 1940’s with a smattering of later movies that supposedly have “timeless” qualities).

So tonight, my choice was between John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (1982) and the 1946 film noir “Gilda.”  In deference to Camera Girl’s presence (she wanted something quiet in the background) I put on the older movie.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

The plot of Gilda is slightly goofy.  The motives of the three main characters are hard to reconcile with their actions.  Glenn Ford plays Johnny Farrell, an American down on his luck in Buenos Aires for some unknown reason.  We meet him he has just won a sum of money in a craps game from some American soldiers.  As he walks away, he is accosted by a robber armed with a pistol.  He is rescued by Ballin Mundson who happens by with a walking stick that has a retractable 18-inch blade hidden inside.  We find out that Ballin owns an illegal gambling casino.  And after a very short time Johnny inexplicably becomes Ballen’s indispensable operations manager.

When Ballen returns from a business trip he introduces Johnny to his new American bride Gilda played by the absurdly beautiful Rita Hayworth.  But of course, Ballen doesn’t know that Johnny and Gilda were married and divorced sometime before the start of the movie timeline.  And they vehemently hate each other.  But neither of them reveals to Ballen this common history.  And because Gilda resents Ballen’s trust in and friendship with Johnny she attempts to torture Johnny by forcing him to cover up for a string of flirtations that she initiates with every man who catches her eye at the casino.  The logic of this isn’t really well explained.  But Johnny apparently feels its his responsibility to keep Gilda from upsetting Ballen.

During this part of the movie, we learn that Ballen has other business interests in addition to the casino.  Somehow through patents he has a monopoly on the world-wide production of tungsten (of all things).  And eventually we find out that his position was provided to him by Nazis(!).  Eventually the Nazis return and want their monopoly back.  A crisis arises when Ballen refuses their demands and he murders one of the Nazis at the casino.  Ballen must flee the country to escape the law.  He tells Johnny to find Gilda and bring her back to his house from which he will be fleeing with Johnny and Gilda that night.

When Johnny extracts Gilda from a romantic rendezvous that she was on and brings her to Ballen’s house they have a bitter fight which of course ends with them in a passionate kiss.  And, of course Ballen enters the room at that exact moment.  He rushes out and drives away.  Johnny jumps in his own car and follows him to the airport where Ballen runs to a waiting plane and flies out over the ocean.  The police have followed both of them and they tell Johnny that they have been waiting for the Nazis because they want to bust up the tungsten cartel.  They watch Ballen’s plane heading off into the night when it suddenly explodes.  We are then shown Ballen parachuting into the ocean where he is picked up by a boat.  He tells his rescuers that he will be hiding out for a while but he will return to deal with a situation, which we assume is Johnny and Gilda.

Thinking Ballen dead, his will is read and Gilda is his sole heir but Johnny is the sole executor of his estate.  So, Johnny marries Gilda to get control of the casino and the tungsten empire.  Afterward he treats her like dirt as revenge for what Johnny thinks of as her disloyalty with other men.  Gilda rebels by acting even more disloyal.  Finally, there is a rapprochement when Johnny finds out that Gilda has only been pretending to have affairs with various men.  Now the police tell Johnny that he must give up the casino and tungsten business because Argentina is about to seize them.  Johnny and Gilda decide to return home to America.  But at that juncture Ballen returns and announces that he is going to kill the couple.  And because he has to kill them both he won’t use his sword cane but his gun instead.  But just as he bears down on them, the friendly philosopher/bathroom attendant (I didn’t mention him before?) Uncle Pio stabs Ballen in the back with his own sword cane.  The understanding police inspector declines to press charges against the amiable killer saying, “you can’t murder someone who has already been declared dead plus haven’t you ever heard of justifiable homicide?”  And Johnny and Gilda live happily ever after.  Well, anyway we hope so.

Good lord.  This movie is a hopeless mess.  As I said earlier the plot and the motivations of the main characters are hopelessly absurd.  Gilda’s marriage to Ballen can’t be reconciled with her actions.  And Gilda’s and Johnny’s feelings for each other are hopelessly confusing and annoying to the audience.  The whole plot of the Nazi tungsten business makes no sense and seems ridiculous on its face.  Sure, uranium would have made sense for crypto-Nazis to be dabbling in but tungsten?  What were they planning to do, deprive the world of light bulbs?  And then there is the laid-back police inspector who wouldn’t let a little thing like homicide stand in the way of a happy ending.  Add to this Gilda’s almost incessant habit of saying Johnny’s name in every sentence she utters at him and you have a movie in which it is impossible to suspend disbelief.  The only possible motive for this movie was to showcase Rita Hayworth’s face and figure.  And without a doubt that is a worthwhile endeavor.  Hayworth is featured in several song and dance routines where she parades and shakes her very charming assets for the audience.  She was a very lovely woman in the prime of her life.  Now is this a movie worth recommending?  I would say only if all that I’ve said is taken into account.  You have to be going in just to watch Rita Hayworth dance to “Put the Blame on Mame.”  If not then don’t.

 

IT HAS ALL BEEN SAID

I’ve looked over my output for the last year.  It’s all the same thing.  It’s all been said.  I can’t say it again.

At this point talking about what needs to be done has very little value.  So, I’ll talk about things that I find interesting.  Maybe it’ll be technology or science or photography or science fiction or maybe it’ll be some current event that I think is noteworthy.  I’ll try to keep the outrage over Biden’s atrocities to a minimum since we all know they’re coming and talking about them doesn’t really accomplish anything.

If I see something happening that is progress, that’ll be discussed.  For instance, the red state governors sending illegal aliens to sanctuary cities worked!  It struck a nerve, it discombobulated them.  It was successful and that is newsworthy and worth discussion.  And if someone has some original and thought-provoking theory on how the world will be changing in the future and I think it’s worth discussing I might link to it and put in my two cents.

As I get a chance to make some progress on my sf book, I’ll probably put a few chunks of it up for comment.  And I’ll start doing more reviews of movies and books.  But banging on the “something must be done” drum has gotten too dull.  I’m preaching to the choir and the choir will start heading for the doors soon.

Things will be changing but hopefully folks will still find stuff here that they find interesting and worthwhile.  So, my daily announcement that the sky is falling has been cancelled and instead I’ll leave something entertaining.

 

OCF Goes to the Movies – Part 1 – Brainstorming

That post I wrote a few days ago about Disney’s woke movies losing money at the box office and some of the comments I got have inspired me to spend some time looking back at some of the good movies that have been made over the years.  What I’ll start out doing is put together a list of categories like comedies, dramas, and genre films like film noir, sci-fi, fantasy, westerns, war movies, etc.  Then I’ll start getting people to give me their favorites.  We might even divide it by decades or at least eras (30s/40s/50s, 60s/70s, 80s/90s, 00s/10s/20s)

At some point we can get some polls up to find out what the popular favorites are on the site.  Now this is tricky.  With the exception of some of the regulars, most people are pretty uninterested in commenting.  What I was thinking is if you know any movie fans encourage them to show up and contribute movie titles and when we get to the voting to pick their favorites.

Feel free to leave comments on how to enhance the process to get a good list together.  I know there are some specialists in such sub-genres as “schlock science fiction” and of course these will not be neglected.

In the next installment Ill start the ball rolling with my own best of lists for the various categories.

 

OCF Goes to the Movies
Comedies Dramas Science Fiction Fantasies Westerns Film Noir Historical Drama
30s/40s/50s
60s/70s
80s/90s
00s/10s/20s

Capitol L Small A. Capitol F Small O Small N Small G.

I have an inordinate fondness for W.C. Fields’ comedy.  His henpecked, misanthropic “heroes” are among my favorite comedic characters.  Here’s a part of a scene from his movie “It’s a Gift.”  I’ve always thought that the insurance salesman sounds an awful lot like the talk show host Johnny Carson.

Blood on the Moon (1948) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

“Blood on the Moon” is a western that manages to transcend some of the cliches of the genre.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

When we first meet Robert Mitchum as Jim Garry, he’s riding through an Indian reservation to reach an old partner of his, Tate Riling (played by Robert Preston).  He’s intercepted by a cattle outfit run by John Lufton.  He tells Garry that Riling is trying to prevent Lufton from getting his cattle off the reservation in time to avoid their confiscation by the government over a voided contract.

When Garry finally reaches Riling, he finds out what kind of job he’s been summoned to perform.  Riling is in cahoots with a federal agent named Pindalest that procures the cattle for the reservation.  They’re trying to force Lufton to sell his cattle for pennies on the dollar and then sell them to Pindalest at the full price with a goodly bribe to Pindalest.  Out of the huge profit Riling will cut Garry in for ten thousand dollars for being the gun hand to make sure nothing interferes with Riling’s plan.

When Riling and his men and the homesteaders that he’s fooled into helping him attack Lufton’s herd they manage to scatter it thoroughly which should be enough to guarantee that Riling’s plan will succeed.  But one of the homesteaders, Kris Bardon (played by Walter Brennan) loses his son in the stampede and Garry decides the whole plan is too dirty for him to go on with.  He quits Riling’s crew and manages to save Lufton’s life when two of Riling’s men were preparing to gun him down.

To further confuse the situation Lufton has two daughters.  Carol Lufton is in love with Riling and has been providing him with information about her father’s plans and actions.  Amy Lufton starts out hating Garry but over the course of the movie as she sees his actions are well-intentioned, she changes her mind and comes to trust him.

When Garry quits the crew Riling goes looking for him and they have a huge brawl in a cantina.  Garry finally knocks Riling out.  When one of Riling’s henchmen gets ready to execute a defenseless Garry, Kris Bardon shoots the gun hand.  Now Garry goes to Lufton and reveals the whole plan about Riling conspiring with Pindalest to steal the herd.  They come up with a plan to defeat it.

Garry goes to Pindalest as if he’s still working with Riling and tells him to suspend the government’s seizure order on Lufton’s herd and creates a ruse that has Pindalest go with him out into the mountains to give Lufton enough time to gather the herd and bring it off the reservation.  The ruse succeeds up to a point but then an Indian whose friends with Riling tips him off that Pindalist is being stalled by Garry.  Riling and his men come after Garry and in an altercation, Garry is stabbed and Pindalist is rescued.

A badly wounded Garry escapes to Kris Bardon’s cabin where Amy Lufton joins them to nurse Garry’s wound.  Soon Riling, Pindalist and one other gunman show up and surround the cabin while Bardon and Amy hold them off with rifles.  That night Garry, sensing that eventually the outlaws would manage to overcome the defense, tells Bardon and Amy to provide a diversion while he slips out the door and sneaks behind the gunmen and takes them on.

He manages to pistol whip Pindalist into unconsciousness and shoot the other gunman.  And in the final confrontation he shoots it out with his former friend Riling.  Garry is victorious and he reappears at the cabin.  Later John Lufton and his men appear at the cabin.  They take Pindalist into custody for delivery to the marshal.  And as the drama ends Amy tells her father of her plans to marry Jim Garry.

Although this western was made during the heyday of that genre, this production differed substantially from the typical black hat, white hat conflict.  Mitchum’s character is more reminiscent of the characters he usually portrayed in film noirs where he would be a small time criminal or a gun for hire.  He straddles the line between good and evil pretty thoroughly until almost the end of the movie.  And that’s what keeps the movie from devolving into a typical good guy, bad guy shootout.  Mitchum and Preston manage to keep the battle between light and darkness alive and interesting throughout the movie.  The rest of the cast isn’t afforded much opportunity to rise above the normal western tropes.  The two actresses in love with Garry and Riling are given fairly stereotypical plot and dialog for those roles and the other parts fairly equally follow the conventions of the genre.  But Mitchum and Preston provide the fireworks and it boosts the movie well above the average.  Highly recommended for fans of westerns and fans of Robert Mitchum.

The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

I think the chief interest in this movie is that it comes across as a light-hearted crime drama.  In a real sense I think it could be considered a comedy.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

Edward G. Robinson is the eponymous Clitterhouse, a surgeon with a keen and inquiring scientific mind.  When we first meet him in the opening scene, he is in a darkened bedroom rifling through a wall safe.  Just then a burglar enters through the second story window.  Clitterhouse trains a strong flashlight on the burglar and convinces him that he’s being covered by a gun.  He gets the burglar to stand facing the wall with his hands up.  Just then a second burglar who’s on the ladder looks in.  It’s Bogart playing Rocks Valentine (some name, huh).  He sees the situation and heads back down the ladder to escape.

Clitterhouse leaves the burglar in the bedroom and reenters a society party that’s going on downstairs.  A coloratura soprano is singing an aria.  Clitterhouse accepts a brandy from a butler, calls one of his associates about a patient he is treating and then calls the police and an ambulance just as a woman screams from upstairs and someone in the house shoots the burglar as he attempts to exit the house.  Clitterhouse treats the wounded burglar but he is recognized by his voice.  But Police Inspector Lane played by Donald Crisp laughingly allows Clitterhouse to be on his way to a surgical appointment without even inspecting Clitterhouse’s medical bag filled with the pilfered jewels.

Thus, the scene is set.  Clitterhouse is engaged in research on the physiological aspects of crime.  For this experiment he has committed four burglaries.  Now to expand his research he is reaching out to a jewelry fence, Jo Keller (played by Claire Trevor) and a gang of burglars headed by Rocks that includes such familiar character actors as Ward Bond, Vladimir Sokoloff and Burt Hanlon.  Clitterhouse identifies the victims and meticulously plans the heist.  The gang and Keller provide the manpower and the connections to perform the thefts and sell the loot.

In the final crime, a theft of furs from a warehouse, Rocks tries to double-cross Clitterhouse by locking him in the refrigerated vault.  But one of Keller’s men saves him.  At this point Clitterhouse has completed his research.  He has taken blood samples, blood pressure and other diagnostic tests on the gang members and now he wants to end his association with the underworld.  But Rocks figures out Clitterhouse’s true identity and tells the doctor that he will be forced to continue his criminal activities indefinitely.

Clitterhouse seems outwardly to agree to Rocks’ ultimatum but actually he doctors Rocks’ drink with a deadly dose of a drug.  Rocks falls asleep and then Clitterhouse and Keller dump the body in the river.  Eventually the police discover Clitterhouse’s guilt in Rocks’ murder and he goes on trial for murder.  His lawyer uses an insanity defense.  The prosecution gets Clitterhouse to testify against himself by stating that his scientific study is completely accurate and therefore the work of a sane man.  But the jury finds him insane based on the idea that only a madman would knowingly admit his sanity when he knows it would cause his own death.

Despite the fact that Clitterhouse murders Rocks in cold blood I see this movie as a comedy.  Throughout the story the atmosphere of the whole thing is light-hearted and I find it impossible to take any of it seriously.  There are a number of silly moments when the various gang members come off more as clowns than criminals.  The only menacing character is Bogart’s Rocks.  And as we see he is no match for Robinson’s genteel madman.  So, what can I make of a whimsical film noir?  Well, not too much.  It’s not a great movie but it is amusing in its own way.  I’ll recommend it to fans of the 1930s.  If we need a serious movie with Bogart and Robinson we’ll have to wait for their rematch in Key Largo

Murder, My Sweet (1944) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

Murder My Sweet is based on Raymond Chandler’s book “Farewell My Lovely,” one of his books about the fictional detective Philip Marlowe.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

Marlowe (played by Dick Powell) is contracted by an ex-con named Moose Malloy to find an old girlfriend named Velma.  Malloy is a hulking brute who has just spent eight years in prison for some violent crime and several times in the movie he overreacts over some disappointment by strangling or roughing up one of the protagonists.

As Marlowe begins to get a lead on someone who knew Velma, he is sidetracked when he is hired by Lindsay Marriott to assist in an attempt to pay ransom money for the return of an expensive piece of jewelry.  The two men head out to a lonely stretch of road to perform the exchange but when they split up both Marlowe and Marriott are attacked by an assailant using a lead sap.  Marlowe eventually regains consciousness but when he returns to their car, he finds that Marriott has been bludgeoned to death.

The police, in the person of Lt. Randall, grill Marlowe on the details of the murder and after threatening him with indictment over his involvement finally let him go.  They do ask whether Marriott mentioned a Jules Author in regards to the stolen jewelry but they refuse to give him any details about Amthor and warn him to not get involved in the case any further.

The next day a woman pretending to be a reporter questions Marlowe about the jewelry theft.  She refers to it as a necklace.  Marlowe figures out that she isn’t a reporter and finally gets her to admit that she is Ann Grayle, the daughter of the man who lost the necklace.  Or rather she is the stepdaughter of the woman, Helen Grayle, who actually lost it.  She hates her stepmother but is trying to recover the very expensive jade necklace that her father gave to Helen.

Ann and Marlowe drive to the Grayle estate.  The house is a palace and we find out that Mr. Leuwen Grayle is a collector of fine jade and the necklace cost over $100,000.  We then meet Helen who is a beautiful blonde who barely waits for her husband to leave the room before she comes onto Marlowe and hires him to recover the necklace.  At that point Jules Amthor shows up at the Grayle residence and Marlowe finds out that he is a quack doctor who is mixed up with both Helen and the deceased Marriott.  Later Ann tries to persuade Marlowe to give up the case because of the unscrupulous nature of her stepmother.  But Marlowe refuses.

Amthor gets in touch with Moose Malloy and has him bring Marlowe to Amthor’s penthouse.  He questions Marlowe about the whereabouts of the necklace but when Marlowe assures him, he hasn’t got the necklace Amthor convinces Malloy that Marlowe is hiding Velma from him so Malloy chokes Marlowe into unconsciousness and Amthor has Marlowe installed in the private sanitarium of a Dr. Sonderborg where narcotics and truth serum are used to try to pry the necklace’s location from Marlowe’s mind.  After three days of this treatment Marlowe manages to escape his captors and when he meets up with Moose Malloy again, he convinces the dimwitted giant that Amthor was lying to him.

Fearing that the police and Amthor might have his apartment staked out Marlowe shows up at Ann Grayle’s home and tells her about Amthor’s actions.  She decides to help Marlowe and after updating the police on Amthor’s involvement in the necklace theft Marlowe and Ann head to Marriott’s beach house to try and figure out what was actually going on among all the shady characters involved in the case.

And there they find Helen.  She chases off Ann and then provides the real situation with the necklace.  Amthor was blackmailing Helen over things in her past.  The necklace was the price he was demanding.  Marriott was working with Amthor.  Helen admits that she murdered Marriott in order to get back the necklace.  Now she wants to enlist Marlowe to murder Amthor and thus get herself clear of his blackmail.  Marlowe appears to go along with her plan.

When he gets back to his office, he finds Moose there and discovers that Moose has killed Amthor by accident.  Marlowe brings Moose back to the beach house and leaves him outside waiting to bring him in to see Helen whom he has figured out is Moose’s “Velma.”  Helen is in the house and Marlowe brings her up to date on Amthor’s death.  Now Ann and her father show up.  Helen then reveals that she’s had the necklace all along and was only toying with Amthor.  When she finds out that Marlowe is going to turn her over to the police for Marriott’s death, she pulls a gun on him and has her husband take Marlowe’s gun from him.  But when she points the gun at Marlowe to kill him her husband shoots her with Marlowe’s gun and she dies.

The gun shot causes Moose to enter the house and seeing his “Velma dead he goes to attack Mr. Grayle.  When Grayle raises his gun at Malloy, Marlowe tries to stop the gun play but he instead has his face near the gun muzzle as it goes off and his eyes are scorched by the muzzle flash.  The scene shifts to Marlowe with his eyes bandaged telling his story to the police.  Unbeknownst to him Malloy was killed by Mr. Grayle but not before he had a chance to turn the gun on Grayle.  In the final scene we see Ann Grayle drive off with Marlowe in passionate embrace.  Somehow love has triumphed over murder and greed!

As with all Raymond Chandler stories the plot is convoluted, confusing and loaded with bizarre characters.  Moose Malloy is definitely a cartoon character.  And several of the female characters seem unable to resist Marlowe’s debatable charms.  There is a decidedly frantic aspect to the constant action.  Maybe some people would find this off-putting and unreal.  I think of it as the hallmark of the film noir style that this film exemplifies.  Humphrey Bogart played Marlowe a few years later in “The Bid Sleep.”  But I think Powell in Murder My Sweet is the quintessential Marlowe.  I recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys film noir and anyone else who would like to try out the genre.  Highly recommended.

Out of the Past (1947) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

This is one of the quintessential film noirs.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

Robert Mitchum is Jeff Bailey, an auto repair shop owner living in a small town.  He has a girl, Ann Miller who is in love with him and a deaf-mute boy who helps him with his shop.  But he is hiding from his past.  He was Jeff Markham, a private detective that was sent on an assignment by underworld boss Whit Sterling (played with good natured panache by Kirk Douglas) to find a girl who stole $40,000 from Whit and shot him for good measure.  The girl, Kathie Moffat is hiding out in Mexico and while staking her out Jeff falls entirely in love with her and the two run away to live their lives far from Whit Sterling.

But Jeff’s partner Jack Fisher, hunts them down and demands the $40,000 to keep from telling Sterling about their double cross.  During a fistfight between Jeff and Fisher Kathie shoots Fisher dead.  While Jeff buries Fisher’s body Kathie skips out on him.  Jeff decides to take on the new identity as Jeff Bailey and settles in the small town of Bridgeport, California.

But now one of Whit Sterling’s men arrives in Bridgeport and recognizes Jeff.  He summons Jeff to Whit’s summer house on Lake Tahoe.  When Jeff gets there, he finds Kathie has reconciled with Whit and now it’s Jeff’s turn to square accounts with the underworld boss.  There is a complicated scenario where Jeff is supposed to recover some tax documents that Whit’s accountant is using to blackmail him.  But it’s really a set-up whereby Jeff will be the fall guy for the accountant’s murder.  And, of course, Kathie is part of the double cross too.  There are a number of reversals but finally Jeff arranges a deal with Sterling such that Kathie will be on the hook for Fisher’s murder and Jeff will be cleared of all the various crimes he’s been framed for in return for the return of the tax documents.

But Kathie decides to upend the deal by murdering Sterling.  Now she and Jeff are on the run for the various murders that have been committed and Jeff realizes that he’ll never have that small town life he tried to escape to.  He and Kathie die in a hail of bullets as he drives their car into a police ambush.

Interspersed between the action scenes we have the love story between Jeff and Ann.  She’s a gentle woman who believes that Jeff has a good side that exists beneath the tough persona that he projects to the world.  And her belief in him propels him to try and escape from the criminal existence that Kathie has drawn him into.  But fate eventually claims his life and leaves Ann to mourn him.

As with all good film noir, the plot is an awful mess.  All of their terrible choices propel the protagonists to their bleak fates.  But the movie is a pleasure to watch.  Mitchum is at the top of his game with a tightly knit plot and lots of great lines to toss off.  Kirk Douglas is an affable crime boss and adds a lot to the film.  Kathie is a wonderfully dishonest femme fatale and is constantly double-crossing everyone in sight.  And the rest of the supporting cast is fine too.  I highly recommend this movie for film noir devotees and basically anyone who likes a good story.