Friday, April 29, 2011

I Love Trouble (Cornell/Columbia, 1948)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The night before last Charles and I watched a movie we’d downloaded from called I Love Trouble, a really strange film that was the worst-quality item we’d ever got from the Internet: in addition to the splices (and resultant missing footage) we’re used to from public-domain items, there were portions in which the screen went all wavy and blurry, portions in which it blacked out altogether, and beginning about midway through the movie the picture and sound got inexplicably out of synchronization, with the soundtrack running ahead and the picture vainly trying to catch up with it, producing some hilarious results in which the men started speaking with the women’s voices and vice versa — the sort of thing that happened in the early days of Vitaphone when the sound was on a separate record (and a splice in the film or a scratch on the record could spell disaster) and was hilariously spoofed in Singin’ in the Rain but which one thought was relegated to history once sound-on-film replaced the sound-on-disc Vitaphone process.

It’s a pity because I Love Trouble comes across as a potentially good (if not great) film noir, in which private detective Stuart Bailey (Franchot Tone — the same character was later played by Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. in the 1958 film Girl on the Run and the subsequent TV show 77 Sunset Strip) is hired by a rich man to find the wife he married seven months earlier, who has now disappeared. The film was produced and directed by S. Sylvan Simon — not exactly the first name that comes to mind when one thinks of noir directors, but his work is surprisingly atmospheric and I especially liked his technique of showing phone conversations: an inset photo of the person the caller is talking to shows up on screen but as either a diagonal split-screen or just a ghostly image in one corner, rather than the straight-line split usually used to show both participants in a phone call — from a script by Roy Huggins, who’s probably best known today as the creator of the TV series The Fugitive, based on a novel he wrote called The Double Take.

The gimmick is that the wife, Jane Breeger (Janis Carter), is hiding in plain sight; Bailey spends a lot of time in Portland, where she was from, tracing her movements to L.A. — she’d been a stripper in Portland and when the authorities closed the club at which she worked, she moved to L.A. with comedian Buster Buffin (Sid Tomack) and they opened a club together, only he gets murdered and so do a lot of other people who once crossed her path, mainly because in the meantime she’s married yet another man, John Vega Caprillo (Eduardo Ciannelli), under yet another identity, and like Velma in Raymond Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely she’s systematically eliminating anyone who could link her to her sordid past. At least that’s what I think this movie is about; watching it under such wretched conditions made Huggins’ already confusing plot line — this story is so convoluted The Big Sleep looks like a model of narrative clarity by comparison — almost totally incomprehensible.

The direction is surprisingly good for someone with as hacky a reputation as Simon, and though Tone isn’t in the Bogart/Powell/Mitchum/Ladd league as a noir hero he’s a lot better than a number of other actors who tried it at the height of the cycle, and he gets better as the movie goes on and his superficial demeanor in the opening scenes gets more (and more appropriately) serious. I’d like a chance to see this under better circumstances, and it’s frustrating to know that a much better print exists — Columbia Pictures, which co-produced this with an independent company called Cornell, struck a new one for the 2007 Noir City 5 film noir festival in San Francisco and it was shown there to great acclaim; one commentator on wrote enthusiastically, “This is a must-see for any film noir aficionado. Alas, it’s not yet on DVD and was never on VHS; if you see it coming on cable, Tivo it, tape it, miss work, skip your vacation, stand up your date, do what it takes as long as you DON’T MISS THIS GEM.” Just don’t watch it on this crappy download that utterly fails to do justice to this interesting, if not necessarily gemlike, film!