Friday, May 25, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Slightly Scarlet (1956) at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

SLIGHTLY SCARLET was the second film on tonight's agenda in the series The Sun Sets in the West: Mid-Century California Noir at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. I've been interested in seeing this one for quite a while, so it was the biggest draw for me this evening, although it turned out that THE DAMNED DON'T CRY (1950) was also a highly enjoyable film.

SLIGHTLY SCARLET stars two red-haired, green-eyed lookers, Rhonda Fleming and Arlene Dahl. Fleming plays the secretary of a "good government" candidate for mayor, Frank Jansen (Kent Taylor), while Dahl is her kleptomaniac sister, newly released from prison.

The sisters become entangled with Ben Grace (John Payne), who works for mobster Solly Caspar (Ted de Corsia). Ben helps out Jansen's campaign, benefiting himself when Solly is forced to flee the country and Ben moves in to run his operations. Ben falls in love with June and walks a line between good and bad behavior, until Solly returns for a fateful confrontation.

This is a very interesting film, with an absorbing story and a fantastic sense of visual style, as well as a curiously ambiguous ending. I've always liked Payne and Fleming, who are both very good, but it must be said Dahl is especially impressive as the troubled sister. Having also seen Dahl recently in REIGN OF TERROR (1949) and SCENE OF THE CRIME (1949), I've come to feel she's a rather underrated actress. While her role in SCENE OF THE CRIME was a fairly standard part as Van Johnson's worried wife, she was compelling as the daring, brave conspirator in REIGN OF TERROR; in SLIGHTLY SCARLET she's quite striking as a woman with strong compulsions for both thievery and men.

Fleming and Dahl were born in 1923 and 1928, respectively, and both ladies are still with us today.

The film is a true visual feast, as photographed by the great John Alton in RKO's Superscope. Alton is most famous for shooting black and white film noir titles with directors such as Anthony Mann, yet it should be remembered he won an Oscar for shooting the brilliant Technicolor ballet in AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (1951). SLIGHTLY SCARLET has bright reds and greens, starting with the two lead actresses and their wardrobes, yet Alton also frames many scenes in deep shadows, at times almost achieving a mix of color with a black and white look. As a side note, the vivid colors made me think at times of the Douglas Sirk film WRITTEN ON THE WIND, which was photographed by Russell Metty and released the same year as SLIGHTLY SCARLET.

SLIGHTLY SCARLET is one of seven films Alton made which were directed by Allan Dwan; the series also includes SILVER LODE (1954) with John Payne, which I reviewed last summer, and TENNESSEE'S PARTNER (1955), a Payne-Fleming film I reviewed in 2010.

This 99-minute film is based on James M. Cain's novel LOVE'S LOVELY COUNTERFEIT. The Museum's information sheet on the film happened to quote my friend Blake Lucas's entry on the movie in THE FILM NOIR ENCYCLOPEDIA, in which he explained that the film changes the original story quite a bit.

The supporting cast includes Ellen Corby, Buddy Baer, Lance Fuller, and Myron Healy; if you don't blink you'll notice Frank Jenks as a bartender.

This film is available on DVD as a single-title DVD or in the Deadly Dames Film Collector's Set. The Deadly Dames DVD includes a commentary track.

SLIGHTLY SCARLET has also been released on VHS.

The film program at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), seen at the left, has struggled in recent years, but The Sun Sets in the West was a slice of outstanding programming, with an interesting theme and equally interesting film selections. The movies I saw were all well attended, especially CRISS CROSS.

Good things seem to be on the horizon with last fall's announcement that LACMA and the Academy would collaborate on a movie museum. My compliments to LACMA for an excellent series, and I hope classic film fans can look forward to more good viewing in the future.


Blogger Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

I really envy these noir adventures of yours. So great these venues you've visited are presenting these films, many of which I haven't seen.

4:57 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I feel very fortunate not only that there have been so many great movie-going options this year, but that I've had the time and ability to take advantage of them! Hope you can catch up with some of the titles I've seen this year, lots of really worthwhile titles. :)

Thanks for your note!

Best wishes,

8:28 AM  

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