Friday, January 28, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Flaxy Martin (1949)

FLAXY MARTIN is a minor but enjoyable film noir which is worth catching thanks to its three lead actors.

Virginia Mayo plays the oddly named title character, a scheming wench who frames Walter Colby (Zachary Scott), the lawyer who loves her, for a murder rap in order to protect her mobster boyfriend (Douglas Kennedy).

Walter escapes from the police and is aided by librarian Nora Carson (Dorothy Malone) as he attempts to clear his name.

The movie is fairly derivative, but that's part of its charm. The couple on the run needing to clear the hero's name seems inspired by Hitchcock's THE 39 STEPS (1935) and SABOTEUR (1942), but certain aspects of the film are also curiously reminiscent of IMPACT (1949), which was released just a month after FLAXY MARTIN. (Perhaps it would thus be more accurate to say that IMPACT is reminiscent of FLAXY MARTIN.) As in IMPACT, the hero is betrayed by the glamorous, two-timing love of his life; at one point he has to deal with being charged with a murder he didn't commit, and he has hope restored by the love and assistance of a small-town girl.

Of course, any movie with Elisha Cook Jr. calls to mind the classic crime titles THE MALTESE FALCON (1941) and THE BIG SLEEP (1946).

It's a nice touch that Malone's character works in a library, given that she appeared in THE BIG SLEEP herself, in a small but notable breakout role as a bookstore clerk who flirts with Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart). Malone and Scott are sympathetic as a couple with big problems who quickly recognize each other as kindred spirits. Mayo is striking as the amoral Flaxy, who's willing to do pretty much anything for an easy meal ticket. A little more background to understand the motivations of both Mayo and Malone's characters would have been nice, but the actresses do what they can with the roles as written.

Helen Westcott, who plays Peggy, starred with Gregory Peck in THE GUNFIGHTER (1950) the year after FLAXY MARTIN. Other roles in the early '50s included TAKE CARE OF MY LITTLE GIRL (1951) and THE SECRET OF CONVICT LAKE (1951); the latter film costarred Zachary Scott.

FLAXY MARTIN was directed by Richard L. Bare, billed here simply as Richard Bare. Bare, who directed the long-running SO YOU WANT TO... series of short subjects, later directed episodes of several Warner Bros. TV shows of the late '50s, including MAVERICK. Bare last directed in 1973 and is now 97.

This black and white Warner Bros. movie runs 86 minutes. It isn't available on VHS or DVD, but it can be seen on Turner Classic Movies, which has the trailer available here.

Some parts of FLAXY MARTIN are a little hard to buy, such as the speed with which Walter decides to plead guilty to a murder he didn't commit, but all in all it's a diverting movie which builds to a satisfying conclusion.

2015 Update: FLAXY MARTIN is now available on DVD from the Warner Archive, which I've reviewed here.


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