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Friday Film Noir

Ida Lupino’s ‘The Hitch-Hiker’ is as Simple as they Come, but Damn is it Good

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The Hitch-Hiker Directed by Ida Lupino

Friday Film Noir

How is it that when the topic of film noir comes up, most of the names connoisseurs and fans bring up are of the men who partook in the development of this fabled, legendary genre? Is it that the women were less important? Did they not feature as prominently in front of or behind the camera as the boys? While those hypotheses are partly true, lest that encourage people to honestly believe that the woman of the American movie industry in the 40s and 50s did not influence the quality of such films. True enough, what instantly recognizable names some would rattle off are those of actresses primarily who played the femme fatales or the wives and girlfriends of the doomed protagonists. Ida Lupino was one, co-starring in one of this reviewer’s all-time favourite movies, noir or otherwise, On Dangerous Ground (for which she was an uncredited director too). Lupino’s film credits stretched far beyond the camera’s field of vision. She was, as a matter of fact, a capable director as well, with one of her best efforts being The Hitch-Hiker from 1953.

There is a sense of panic along the southern border of the United States, particularly in the more rural regions. Creating provocative newspaper headlines is a mysterious hitch-hiker named Emmett Myers (William Talman) who kills the unfortunate souls who pick him up along the roads of the desert highways. His next two victims are longtime friends Roy (Edmond O’Brien) and Gilbert (Frank Lovejoy), who are driving into Mexico for some respite and escape from their ordinary lives. Roy is the seemingly optimistic one, anticipating their upcoming vacation, whereas Gilbert is a more subdued fellow, experiencing something of a midlife crisis, at least judging by the few lines that help describe his life and thoughts on the past. One evening they pick up Emmet, clueless as to his real identity and intentions. The killer rapidly turns their joyride into a hellish one-way road into danger!

The Hitch-Hiker
Directed by Ida Lupino

The Hitch-Hiker is a funny noir to write about. Whereas so many of the genre’s entries depend strongly on a sense of recognizable style and on an intricate story that speaks to the complicated nature of the protagonists and antagonists, complications which by the way tended to speak volumes about the state of America in the post-war years, Ida Lupino’s effort takes a different route, to borrow a pun. The plain and honest truth is that the film has very little in terms of story. The brief synopsis above essentially captures what the movie is about: two innocent men who suffer the misfortune of being the torture victims of a psycho killer who poses as a hitch-hiker. Who is Emmett Myers, where does he come from, how long has he been travelling the United States by means of the kindness of strangers, what does he hope to gain in Mexico, etc. None of these questions are ever answered. One may take some guesses, guesses that could make perfect sense in all honesty, but the fact of the matter is that for the purpose of this movie, that type of information is secondary, as are the backgrounds of Roy and Gilbert. The viewer is given some hints, tiny droplets of information at the very start of the picture, just before Emmett stumbles into their lives. Gilbert, played nicely by the always dependable Frank Lovejoy, is apparently discontent with his lot in life. There is something bothering him, whether it is a leftover depression of the war, an unfulfilled marriage, or anything else, we never get to know, but again, that is not of great importance. The tiniest bit of character development Lupino affords suffices for this story.

Where the film finds its strength is in the situational drama and tension Ida Lupino constructs, like a series of brief misadventures in the eyes of the audiences and more like tests of psychological, physical, and emotional strength for the ill-fated Gilbert and Roy. She contextualizes these short endurance tests expertly, taking full advantage of the setting she thrusts her trio of characters in: the dry, deserted region of northern Mexico. Emmett, for example, is an easily annoyed and excitable hoodlum who demands, as all perfect movie villains should, that everything goes his way. The few people they cross, on the dusty roads or in small independent provision stores, all speak Spanish, or ‘Mexican’ as Emmett describes it with a venomous sneer. Gilbert understands the language, which annoys Emmett greatly seeing as how his hostages could easily sound the alarms without him knowing it. Then there are the multiple problems they encounter while driving under the hot Mexican sun. A flat tire and a defective honking mechanism might seem like small fry to some, but under the circumstances with a mad man who can easily choose to liquidate the protagonists on a whim, such hurdles prove to be all the more stressful and carry exponentially greater risk. What might otherwise be considered mundane, or mild annoyances, morph into more reasons Emmett might have to kill Gilbert and Roy.

The Hitch-Hiker
Directed by Ida Lupino

Arguing that the cinematography and setting in The Hitch-Hiker are magnificent might be taking things a step or two too far, but there is something to be said about how the camera captures the treacherous land of the group traverses. The heroes, at the start of the film, had the intention of visiting Mexico’s vast landscapes for some much-needed relaxation. Hot, maybe, but quiet and tranquil with some pretty impressive sights. Now they would like nothing better than to escape it, yet where would they go? The hills are far between and steep, there are no towns in the vicinity, and, even if they did manage to flee Emmett, they would have to deal with the heat. What’s more, because their captor is so paranoid and prone to assuming anything and anyone is a threat, the precious few people they do in fact meet up with carrying the equal potential of saving them or getting them killed. The landscape is beautifully brought to screen, although its beauty is indifferent to whether the protagonists ever see their families again.

Edmond O’Brien and Frank Lovejoy, two actors who consistently gave strong performances throughout their respective careers, are all around solid in The Hitch-Hiker. Their roles do not require them to flex too many of their acting muscles however as both plays the victims. They are tense all the while trying as best they can to cling to hope of survival. O’Brien injects of ironic pathos into his character. At the start, he was the more outspokenly positive of the two, only for that to be reversed near the end when the pressure of the situation has affected his humour considerably, pushing him almost past the breaking point. Clearly, however, this is William Talman’s show to command, much like is the case for his titular murderer, and what a show he provides. It delves close to ‘over the top’ territory on occasion, something that might annoy a few viewers. Still, as far as rotten, downtrodden callous villains go, William Talman makes his mark. The character’s one lame eye, something that could just as easily be scoffed at for being cartoon-like, ends up being a surprisingly effective, eery device.

The Hitch-Hiker is as simple as they come. Emmett Myers may ask his captives to make left and right turns on a whim, but the film is as straightforward as they come in terms of plot. Whenever depth may be in small supply, execution in what little the director is concerned with becomes key. Ida Lupino has a stronghold on things, pumping in as much tension as she can in short running time and with the simplest of settings. So, dear readers, want to take a ride down Mexico lane?…

-Edgar Chaput

A native of Montréal, Québec, Edgar has been writing about film since 2008. At first relegated to a personal blog back when those things were all the rage, he eventually became a Sound on Sight staff member in late 2011, a site managed by non-other than Ricky D himself. Theatrical reviews, festival coverage, film noir and martial arts flicks columns, he even co-hosted a podcast for a couple of years from 2012 to 2014 with Ricky and Simon Howell. His true cinematic love however, his unshakable obsession, is the 007 franchise. In late 2017, together with another 00 agent stationed in Montreal, he helped create The James Bond Complex podcast (alas, not part of the Goombastomp network) in which they discuss the James Bond phenomenon, from Fleming to the films and everything in between. After all, nobody does it better.

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Friday Film Noir

‘The Chase’ is a Unique Film Noir that Few Have Seen

The Chase 1946

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The Chase 1946 Film Noir Review

Friday Film Noir

Hunted … haunted … hounded …

*A fair warning to readers: those sensitive to spoilers had best watch the film under review before reading the article. To properly dive into its themes and story, major plot points will be revealed.

Surprises in movies are a great gift the storytellers can offer viewers to wake them from the state of comfort, or boredom depending on whom one asks, which sets in when plot points are too familiar and the dramatic beats too predictable. For some, it can be a chore to get through just as it may offer the right type of simple escapism for others. Sometimes, however, the ingredients need to be shaken and stirred. In an amusing case of coincidence, this week’s column entry, the 1946 film The Chase, arrives only weeks after Steven Soderbergh’s supposed final theatrical feature, Side Effects, opened in theatres. The latter begins with a story which, while perfectly adequate and engaging, morphs into a different beast altogether at a one critical moment. Unsuspecting viewers who take a chance with this Arthur Ripley directed noir are in for a surprise of equal magnitude.

Chuck Scott (Robert Cummings) is a WWII veteran roaming the streets of downtown Miami. He has served his country well during the war, yet his financial situation is rough, to say the least. Upon observing through a restaurant window a cook prepares wonderfully looking beat patties he takes notice of the wallet at his feet. Picking it up and snooping inside he discovers a hefty amount of cold hard cash. He opts to pay himself a swell breakfast before returning the object to its rightful owner, the name of address of which is on a small card in one of the pockets. It turns out the individual concerned, one Eddie Roman (Steve Cochrane), is a filthy rich gangster living in a grand palace none too far away. Always accompanied by his right-hand man Gino, Peter Lorre), Eddie is impressed by Chuck’s honesty for having delivered his lost wallet personally and gives him a job as a chauffeur. Just as things are settling in nicely for Chuck, his employer’s depressed and suicidal wife, Lorna (Michèle Morgan) offers him the chance to run away to Cuba. From there on things get quite complicated, although not always for the reasons some viewers might suspect.

Movies cut from the same cloth as The Chase are always fun to decipher and analyze, even those which fail to pay full dividends on its twists and turns, as is also the case with the film currently under review. It seems as though many films, especially in modern cinema, try far too desperately to shock and awe audiences with sudden twists which ultimately carry little weight in the grander scheme of the plot. They are, to put it bluntly, twists for the sake of twists and nothing more. Then there are films such as Side Effects and The Chase, which totally pull the rug from under the audience’s feat by venturing into territory completely unforeseen. A viewer believes for perfectly understandable reasons they are watching a film that falls under category ‘A’, only for its true nature to be unexpectedly revealed. Of course, in order to properly pull off this sort of a stunt, the movie naturally has to sustain enough dramatic heft. The twist on its own is insufficient. The Chase nearly succeeds in this respect, falling just short of concluding its story with the perfect climax. Nevertheless, the effort is well worth discovering this small yet creative film.

**From this point onward, the review shall delve into spoilers.**

Things start off well enough, with a story about a down on his luck yet all-around decent man falling prey to the desperate need to make any money he can and therefore accepting a job from a very nasty person. Robert Cummings is not an actor who ever went down in movie history as one of the greats, yet his performances are always very engaging. Here, as Chuck, his naturally affable manners come through vividly. His honesty is commendable, yet it brings him to a gangster’s doorstep. It is very easy to cheer Chuck on in his attempt to escort Lorna to safety in Cuba, and considering his experience as a war veteran, it is not difficult to accept his character as a brave individual. Bravery and honesty are admirable qualities, yet they can still get one in trouble, and as Chuck himself explains upon meeting Eddie for the first time, he is just ‘a sucker.’ In this case, he is a sucker for money and for love. Michèle Morgan is very believable as the desperate and depressed Lorna. Eddie has kept her on the tightest leash imaginable for three years, suffocating her as a person. Her desire to escape narrowly outweighs the fear of the risks she incurs by fleeing her nefarious husband. Morgan is also very sensual in her more tender scenes with her male costar, which helps the viewer fall for their relationship. Their high caliber performances prove crucial considering that the script is somewhat inadequate in elaborating on what the time frame is for the chain of events that take them to Cuba and have them fall in love. Strictly in terms of running length, only about 20 minutes have passed since their first scene together and when they admit their passions for one another. Steve Cochrane plays Eddie Roman as a mighty cool cat with a very mean streak. In fact, one could argue he underplays the role even. No temper tantrums or eruptions of rage, just quiet, calculated moves to always gain the upper hand or teach someone some manners. Peter Lorre is similar in how his character nearly seems aloof most of the time to what is going on, yet is also capable of communicating quiet malice.

It is once Chuck and Lorna make it to Havana that the picture makes some dramatic moves, practically turning The Chase into a Twilight Zone episode. Just as he and Lorna are dancing romantically at a nightclub, one of Eddie’s Cuban henchmen somehow murders her with a knife to the back. The leading lady drops dead halfway into the story. The local police only see Chuck as the most likely suspect, which has the movie turn into, for a while at least, a drama about a man wrongfully accused of murder fleeing the authorities. There is some very good tension in this portion, much of it deriving from the fact that there is evidently a ploy against the protagonist, with none other than Eddie pulling the strings all the way from Florida. No matter his pleas, false evidence piles up to make him appear all the guiltier.

As amusing as this portion of the story is, it does not last for the remainder of the running time, for once Chuck, after slipping through the police’s fingers, appears to have stumbled on evidence to prove his innocence…he wakes him in the room where he has been staying since working for Eddie. It was all an intensely vivid dream. It turns out Chuck needs medication to suppress severe anxiety and stress due to wartime trauma. The tiniest of hints was indeed dropped very early in the film, although kudos to anyone who correctly guesses the ebb and flow of this film even with that knowledge in mind. Ultimately, the film ends up being not only a love story between a pampered but oppressed woman and a good man but one that relates to the condition of all too many returning war veterans who must wrestle against the intangible demons of warfare, plagued by psychological and emotional turmoil inconceivable to anybody who has not had the misfortune of engaging in what soldiers have. Noir itself, in more ways than one, often tackles the issues of American society in the waning years of the Second World War and the decade that followed. The cynicism, bitterness, sadness, and frustration that actually existed in society overshadowed many people’s views of what fabled America was like. The real, darker world settled in and noir presented as an exaggerated (and in some respects not so exaggerated) cinematic translation of the resulting anxieties. The Chase is a more literal version in that its protagonist is actually suffering from postwar trauma, all the while offering an unreliable dreamlike evolution of its story. Sadly, the climax is disappointing if only because Chuck suddenly becomes a far more passive character, a strange decision considering how active he was leading up until then.

Faulty climax notwithstanding, The Chase is a very adventurous effort from director Arthur Ripley. It is next to impossible to guess what comes next. The thrill of the unexpected is almost enough to carry the film all the way through on its own, but that would be taking credit away from the fine cast and the effective tension the director builds throughout. Even compared to some of the wilder noir entries, The Chase is definitely a unique specimen.

Edgar Chaput

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Friday Film Noir

‘Laura’— More than Enough to Satisfy Fans of Film Noir

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Larua 1944 Film Noir

Friday Film Noir

A detective’s work is challenging enough already without the complications that arise when he or she is involved with one of the suspects of a crime. Determining the innocence or guilt of an individual or party would be a lot simpler were it not for the mind games suspects so often play with investigators, evading conviction with lies and half-truths. The sudden emotional attachment to one of the targets of police suspicion could send everything into a tailspin, provided the assigned investigator is capable of keeping a lid on his or her emotions. However, what if a detective grew attached to a person he could not physically relate to, such as the victim of a murder? What if, after believing the object of one’s desire was unattainable, a new reality suddenly set itself in which made the impossible possible?

Laura, directed by Otto Preminger, starts with a newspaper columnist, the unforgivably snarky Waldo (Clifton Webb), explaining to the viewer the circumstances under which detective Markk McPherson (Dana Andrews) arrived at his lush Manhattan condo: the shocking murder of his beautiful protégé Laura (Gene Tierny), shot in the face with a pistol filled with buckshot. From there the film follows Mark as he jumps down the rabbit hole of excuses, evasive answers, and the like provided by Waldo, Shelby (Vincent Price), another man vying for Laura’s heart, her housemaid Bessie (Dorothy Adams), and her aunt Ann (Judith Anderson), also a rival for Shelby’s affections. More than anything, it is the portrait of Laura herself that hangs above the fireplace in her living room that fascinates Mark the most. Everyone’s description of her makes the victim seem quite the extraordinary woman, and judging by the painting, she was especially alluring. One cannot fall for a painting, however…

Laura is much ado about love, much of it quite evil in fact…

It might feel somewhat odd to include this Preminger effort in the noir category. On the whole, the movie masquerades as a romance story stuck in a murder mystery. It is indeed both of those things, unmistakably so even. That said, noir has a funny way of continuously shape-shifting itself to conform with other genre staples. Sometimes one stumbles onto a noir without even knowing it, the familiar traits seeping their way into the fabric of a picture like black ink sinks into a white dress. Romance, in the case of Laura, enables the picture to take on an altogether different identity than originally anticipated, playing into the hands of noir’s more gloomy aspects. Whereas by and large antagonists make their presence known quite clearly in films of this nature, here the villains are, in many ways, decent folk at their core, compelled to act out against their better instincts for love’s sake. There is no big cash prize to snatch after knocking off rivals, no criminal dynasty to control, no great escape from gangsters to perform. Nay, everything almost every character does in this film is out of some form of love for the titular victim. Director Preminger, working with a script ripe with potential, exquisitely plays on this idea of love perverting people’s behaviours. Laura herself is provided some scenes via flashbacks to flesh her out somewhat, yet she represents more a symbol of love in the early stage of the film than a three-dimensional person. She is what corrupts those around her but only despite herself. Laura is a perfectly good person by and large (she is also by far a more engaging personality than Waldo) and to think that the picture is sexist in any overt way because of her role as a concept, so to speak, is off the mark. People do silly, regrettable, and even awful things to obtain and retain love, something money cannot buy. The mistakes and lies the suspects engage in are not the result of who she is in the traditional sense, but because of what they think they can get from her.

As was the case with the film reviewed two weeks ago (The Chase), there is not much else that can be written without revealing the film’s big secret. In a dreamy scene about 40 minutes into the film, detective McPherson, at this stage clearly in love with the victim and having decided to stay the night in Laura’s Laura’s condo, takes a few stiff drinks before slumping into a chair in the living room. Moments later, whom other but Laura herself walks in. She had gone away for the weekend and a classic case of mistaken identity has led to the death of another person!

In what is perhaps the director Preminger’s most interesting coup, Laura‘s narrative does not make a dramatic shift after this startling revelation. Suspects continue to either tell lies or the truth depending on what will have them gain the upper hand over McPherson’s sharp skills as he tries to unravel the new identity of the victim and the killer. The only major added level of tension is that the detective has fallen for Laura, placing him in the most awkward position possible. Yet another curious aspect to this portion of the film is the relative ease with which the love between Mark and Laura blossoms. The lack of time to fully develop their relationship, not to mention that their bond only adds to the two romances already boiling feverishly, partially explains this. That is but one way to interpret the situation, however. Another, more thematically rich understanding is that Laura and Mark are falling prone to the same mistakes witnessed up until then. Just as Waldo and Shelby craved for Laura, the latter who sought after her like a true playboy with only limited knowledge of who she was, so is Mark. It is a little bit of history repeating in a perverse way. To make matters even more interesting, knowing how Laura has behaved in the past, there is no guarantee that she and Mark will live happily together. She had quickly responded to Waldo’s advances once he began to promote her career in advertising and was easily swayed by Shelby once he began to woo her. This is not to argue that Laura is a tramp or anything along those lines, only that her idea of what sort of man would best suit her as a companion is not well defined as of yet. A possible case in point is the movie’s final shot, a broken clock that was a gift to Laura from Waldo, obviously a symbol of their no longer existent relationship. The viewer is not even given the satisfaction of a shot with Mark and Laura in a loving embrace.

On the topic of Mark and Laura, Dana Andres and Gene Tierny are extremely captivating in their respective roles. Tierny carries the heaviest responsibilities as the center of attention. She has to convey the attraction, sweetness, and confidence for which Waldo, Shelby and Mark think so highly of her for and she is aces in all three respects. Stevens is convincing as the no-nonsense, tough as nails detective who asks the hard questions, even when the suspects take offense to his lines of inquiry, yet it is in the brief, subtler moments when he lets his police detective guard down that the viewer recognizes a softer, emotionally driven person behind the stern mask. Such moments stand out much more than those emphasizing the hard-edged persona. The same comments are applicable to Clifton Webb, whose performance is showy for the most part, in an amusing way, but really shines when his recollections of Laura reveal his genuine affections for her. As self-aggrandizing and antagonistic as he can be, there definitely exists a beating heart somewhere inside. His own relationship with Laura was complex, never reaching the level of true love, if only because the latter never reciprocated. That lack of fulfillment goes a long way in explaining the sense of loss. There is so much great acting on display that the iconic Vincent Price comes off as rather ordinary by comparison. Seeing him a meeker character than usual is a bit strange, especially considering his gigantic figure. Price is fine, although the panache and charisma he is mostly known for are missing.

Laura has built itself a tremendous reputation throughout the years and it is easy enough to understand why. Under Otto Preminger’s guidance, the film has more than enough to satisfy many pallets, from a unique romance story to a depiction of the desperation of men when love is at stake.

-Edgar Chaput

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Friday Film Noir

‘Sin City’ is a Wild Ride

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Mickey Rourke Sin City 2005

Friday Film Noir

The spillover effect can be a wonderful thing, especially when the subject matter is as malleable as noir. A good story about fatalism characters either coming to terms with or foolishly fighting the inexorable downward spiral their lives are condemned to suffer, decent people doing questionable things for supposedly noble causes, others not investing in noble causes at all…There is more than one venue for such wonderfully depressing tales about wonderfully depressing characters. Since noir is recognized as a variety of storytelling which is visually arresting, comics (or graphic novels) also spring to mind, something author Frank Miller took to heart when he wrote his Sin City series, a hyper-stylized, super violent version of an already stylized a violent genre. It was only a matter of time, therefore, before somebody came along to transplant what was on the page to the screen. That man was director Robert Rodriguez, with a little bit of help from Frank Miller himself.

Sin City the film takes an interesting narrative route in order to cinematically translate what was in the comic. Given that Miller wrote several different stories occurring in the same metropolis but which concerned different characters, rather than pick one, director Rodriguez chose to adapt three (four in truth, given that the trilogy has a bookend involving a recurring character) in a single movie. One involves a hardened police detective (Bruce Willis) as he tries to save, for the second time in his life, the same innocent girl (Jessica Alba) from the clutches of the sadistic, perverted son (Nick Stahl) of a corrupt senator (Powers Booth). A second sees a beefed-up, career criminal (Micky Rourke) go all around town in an attempt to avenge the death of the one hooker (Jamie King) who was ever nice to him, a journey which sees him face off against villains as curious and terrifying as an influential priest (Rutger Hauer) and the latter’s demonic assassin (Elijah Wood). Finally, another has a vigilante gunman (Clive Owen) put an end to a crooked cop’s (Benicio Del Torro) reign of terror, which has reverberations on a city district literally run by hookers (chiefly Rosario Dawson, Devon Aoki, Alexis Bledel).

What Frank Miller, in his original comic series, and Robert Rodriguez, with this unforgettable comic book movie, have done is send the noir genre into another dimension entirely. At its heart, Sin City is pure noir, no question about it. There is, just as one example, a cop, played by Bruce Willis, who is beaten up on the inside as well as psychologically, yet remains persistent in his quest to assure the safety of a young girl, the older version played by Jessica Alba, even if it means confessing horrid crimes he did not commit as the fall guy, sustaining prolonged beatings from crooked cops, wrestle with the doomed love of the very girl he is trying to protect and pull all of this off despite a terrible heart problem. He has set out to do well regardless of the tallest of odds that starkly stand against him. In essence, he is doomed from the very outset because life, as dictated by humanity’s vile nature to consume and self satisfy without a care for the consequences (in a completely warped, stylized fashion here in Sin City) will not, and maybe even cannot let him win entirely. He may accomplish parts of his goal, but he will fail at one of them, either the girl’s safety or his own. And that, readers, is an assessment of only one of the film’s three stories.

Sin City Impresses by Committing all Imaginable Sins

However, despite all of these ingredients, many of which should feel familiar to fans of the genre (certainly the overall sense of impending doom which permeates throughout this and the majority of traditional noirs), the intensity with which the aforementioned ingredients are swirled around produces a very special experience. The irony of the situation is, of course, that while visually the film is ostensibly a scene by scene moving reproduction of the source material’s individual frames, said original source material, in its own way, emulated the visual tones of the old noir films, to begin with. The book is entirely in pure black and white, with the drawings highlighting contrasts whenever possible in order to make the blacks or the whites stand out even more than they normally would have. Granted, the film offers far more nuance in its colour scheme, with shades of grey allowing for a slightly more natural look (as natural as it ever will be in a film like this) Prescription glasses, shafts of light, bullets holes and even blood itself look astonishing in the film even though it’s all white, simple as that. The film brilliantly exposes how the amazing can be when filmmakers use the simplest of colour schemes judiciously and to maximum effect. This is not filming in natural locations and subsequently stripping the picture of its colour. Rather, Rodriguez and company opted, in every instance, to film the actors in front of a green screen and fill in the backgrounds, some of which look deliciously artificial, later on, and accentuate the iconic images with pure white or black, the scene when Clive Owen’s character sinks into a lake of tar is a stunning moment precisely for the look. There is rarely, if ever, a scene that does not make one simply appreciate the visuals. Hyperbole? For sure, although this is one of the rare instances when such high praise is very much warranted.

Naturally, if Sin City is to be a hyped-up version of the emotionally, psychologically, and sometimes graphically violent world of noir, then one should come to expect a terrifically violent film on all fronts. In that regard, Rodriguez and Miller do not disappoint in the slightest. Lovers of traditional noir should, perhaps, be forewarned. When it is argued that the film ups the ante, it truly ups the ante. The characters are put through a nearly ridiculous amount of physical and emotional pain throughout the film, with the villains clearly stating their cases and letting the heroes, or anti-heroes, know it and not letting them forget it either. Rape, torture,  and murder are all in a day’s work for the antagonists in Sin City, so anybody expecting the film to merely accentuate the visual look of traditional noirs might have another thing coming. The language is often foul, the motivations vile and the consequences despicable for the most part, like men having their groins literally shot off or women being eaten by a mute cannibal. In some respects, the movie is almost a noir mixed in with some horror elements.

Sin City Takes Noir Deeper into Blacker Depths

The cast, from top to bottom, do their best to fit the bill, even though not everyone possesses the acting chops to live up to the demands. While the likes of Brittany Murphy (sporting an atrocious accent) and, surprisingly enough, Benicio Del Torro fairing rather poorly, many of the actors feel right at home with the sort of characters each is asked to bring to life on screen. Bruce Willis is superb as the weather-beaten cop who won’t give up an inch if it means compromising his principles, Clive Owen is cool as a cucumber, Micky Rourke is the ultimate homicidal hero (how often does one read or here that sort of description?), Rosario Dawson is freakish and incredibly sexy as a warped out femme fatale and Jessica Alba, yes, the often criticized Jessica Alba pulls off a decent performance as the wide-eyed, innocent yet mentally tough target of one grotesque looking and appropriately filthy Nick Stahl. Other have smaller if no less impressive role, like Michael Clarke Duncan as a sort of enforcer for the senator yet dresses up like a Nazi (on second thought, maybe that is not so strange), Devon Aoki as Rosario Dawson’s silent assassin and the inimitable Rutger Hauer in a tiny but memorable role as a dirty priest.

Clearly Sin City is not for everybody. Some, for example, the noir die-hards, may even decry its inclusion in a column about the genre. It is noir on ecstasy and so excessive, it might, therefore, be seen as a mere perversion, or bastardization of the genre. The simplest response is…so what? Sin City takes noir deeper into blacker depths than ever before. True enough, it never has to go to such depths again, but as one, singular wild ride it works wonderfully.

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