Noir City DC 2018 Part VI: A Lesson in "B" Movies
“We restore films,” Eddie Muller said as he kicked off Sunday’s first double feature: The Unsuspected (1947) and High Tide (1947). “Let’s also restore the filmgoing experience in great venues.” Muller spoke of the need for film noir to reach younger audiences, ensuring the future of film noir preservation. One of the reasons Muller chose the “A” and “B” pairing of films from the same year was to show audiences just what a “B” movie was. Yes, “B” pictures certainly had lower budgets than the “A” pictures, but “B”s often served as a training ground for younger directors, writers and stars on their way up (and sometimes those on their way down). When they were originally released, these movies were the second half of a double bill, a very common practice in the 1940s and 50s. Double features are a foreign concept to younger audiences, but watching the “A” and “B” pictures back-to-back, you soon realize that the “B” pictures often contained some excellent writing, acting, and more. They just looked a little… threadbare, let’s say.
Sunday’s pairing provided an enormous contrast. With The Unsuspected, you’ve got the legendary Michael Curtiz in the director’s chair. Although this was his first independent feature, the Curtiz style (aided by brilliant cinematography by Woody Bredell) comes through wonderfully. The film owes much to Laura (1944), opening with the death of the secretary of the popular true crime radio host Victor Grandison (Claude Rains). Was it a suicide or was she murdered?
The film is loaded with talent. In addition to Claude Rains (Curtiz’s second choice after being unsuccessful in landing Orson Welles for the role), we have Joan Caulfield, Audrey Totter, Constance Bennett, Hurd Hatfield, Fred Clark, Jack Lambert, and more.
Curtiz hoped that his “discovery” Michael North (who had previously appeared as Ted North (above right) in the excellent noir The Devil Thumbs a Ride earlier in 1947) would rocket to stardom. It didn’t happen, but that doesn’t stop The Unsuspected from being a terrific (if somewhat convoluted) film.
Muller frequently goes beyond the stories of the stars and directors to focus on the writers of film noir. The Unsuspected was based on a novel by Charlotte Armstrong, a prolific writer of novels, short stories, plays and screenplays who should be better remembered. The novel was adapted by Ranald MacDougall and Curtiz’s wife Bess Meredyth.
High Tide is a film restored by the Film Noir Foundation, but that restoration hasn’t yet been released on Blu-ray or DVD. Let’s hope that release comes soon; High Tide is a fun “B” picture that deserves to be seen and enjoyed.
The opening scene shows two dying men in a wrecked car on a beach as the night tide approaches. Newspaper man Hugh Fresney (Lee Tracy) is bleeding out in the car’s passenger seat while a man named Tim Slade (Don Castle) lies on the beach, his leg trapped underneath the car. “This never would’ve happened if you hadn’t answered that telegram,” Fresney tells Slade, which initiates our good friend, the film noir flashback.
Fresney, who’s been writing stories about a gang boss in his newspaper, hires former co-worker turned private investigator Slade to come back and work as Fresney’s bodyguard. To reveal more about the plot would ruin the fun, but High Tide is classic “B” movie filmmaking, complete with the most ridiculous set that’s meant to pass for a major metropolitan newsroom. Tracy (who seemed to appear in just about every newspaper flick in the 1930s and 40s) and his rapid-fire delivery fill the screen. He’s the perfect foil to Castle, an actor Muller said was so tight-lipped he was practically a ventriloquist.
High Tide was based on the story “Inside Job” written by Raoul Whitfield, a writer of hardboiled pulp fiction and friend of Dashiell Hammett.
Photos: DVD Beaver, Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings, Zeus, BAM