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Noirvember 2018, Episode 1: Nobody Lives Forever (1946)

It’s finally here: Noirvember! I hope you’ll follow along each day this month and find some good films to purse (and just possibly some to avoid). Some of my reviews may be extensive, others quite short. Let’s get started with a movie starring one of my favorites, John Garfield.


Nobody Lives Forever (1946)

Directed by Jean Negulesco

Produced by Robert Buckner

Screenplay by W.R. Burnett, based on his novel of the same name

Cinematography by Arthur Edeson

Edited by Rudi Fehr

Music by Adolph Deutsch

Warner Brothers

(1:40) New to me - Borrowed from a friend

Jean Negulesco is one of those directors that doesn’t get talked about enough, but should, especially in film noir circles. His first credited full-length feature was the romantic melodrama Singapore Woman in 1941, but he bracketed that movie with many short films, mostly of musical acts (the 1940s equivalent of music videos). In 1944 Negulesco directed The Mask of Dimitrios, one of the better Peter Lorre/Syndey Greenstreet pairings, and the disappointing but entertaining film The Conspirators. Two years later, Negulesco worked with Lorre and Greenstreet again in the wonderful noirish crime film Three Strangers (1946). With stars like John Garfield, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Faye Emerson, Walter Brennan and George Coulouris, Negulesco’s next film, Nobody Lives Forever, promised to be dynamite.

Nick Blake (John Garfield, in a role originally meant for Humphrey Bogart) is a returning GI ready to get his civilian life back on familiar ground: as a con artist. Nick takes his pal and fellow con man Al (George Tobias) with him to find Nick’s former girlfriend Toni (Faye Emerson), who was holding $50K for Nick while he fought in the war. Finding her at a nightclub called Toni’s, Nick thinks she invested his money in the nightclub. All well and good, until Nick learns that Toni gave his money to her new boyfriend Chet King (Robert Shayne). Nick “encourages” King to cough up Nick’s share of the money so Nick and Al can travel to L.A., but Nick’s problems are far from over.

In L.A., a rival con man named Doc Ganson (George Coulouris) seeks Nick’s help in fleecing a wealthy young widow named Gladys (Geraldine Fitzgerald), claiming they can walk away with a cool $2 million. Nick’s good friend and pickpocket Pop Gruber (Walter Brennan) hates Ganson almost as much as Ganson hates Nick, resulting in quite a hate triangle. To make this work, Nick has to earn Gladys’s trust and steer clear of her financial advisor and would-be suitor Manning (Richard Gaines).

My favorite scene occurs in a very non-noir setting: Nick and Gladys walk through the city with a flock of pigeons swooping down just as they approach, then fly off again, symbolizing how close they are to realizing their dreams, if only for a moment. (How this was done pre-CGI, I don’t know.) Nick and Gladys next enter a church, which reminds Nick of the war, but more significantly unveils the uncomfortable realization that Nick is conning Gladys, pretending to be a respectable guy. He also realizes that even if he was legitimately trying to win her, he’s not in her league at all.

For all its moving parts, Nobody Lives Forever is fairly straightforward and predictable, never quite living up to its promise. Yet it contains several good elements, including its cast and Arthur Edeson's wonderful cinematography. Also on the positive side, George Tobias gets to do more than just provide comic relief, but Geraldine Fitzgerald is completely overshadowed by Faye Emerson. As Nick’s rival, George Coulouris plays Doc Ganson like a one-note tune on a broken record. Although the script is familiar, even by 1946 standards, Nobody Lives Forever is definitely worth watching.

Next time: the first of several Brit noir titles about a rescue that leads to big trouble.

Photos: DVD Beaver

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