Thursday, April 03, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Hardly a Criminal (1949) at the Noir City Film Festival

Tonight's double bill at the Noir City Film Festival was a tribute to Argentinian-born director Hugo Fregonese.

Fregonese began directing in 1945, and HARDLY A CRIMINAL (1949), known in Argentina as APENAS UN DELINCUENTE, was his fourth film. It's extremely well made, so it's no surprise Fregonese was then recruited to Hollywood, where his first film was the second movie from tonight's double feature, ONE WAY STREET (1950).

Fregonese immediately followed ONE WAY STREET with one of my favorite lesser-known Westerns, SADDLE TRAMP (1950), and then the atmospheric APACHE DRUMS (1951) for producer Val Lewton.

I see foreign films relatively infrequently, so I felt rather adventurous watching a '40s film from Argentina! It proved to be a rewarding experience. I was impressed by the production values and intrigued by just how much it felt like an American film noir. This year's Noir City theme, "It's a Bitter Little World," was created to illustrate that film noir was an international phenomenon, and this film certainly proved the point. I'd be interested in seeing more films like it.

HARDLY A CRIMINAL tells the story of Jose Moran (Jorge Salcedo), who toils as a clerk in Buenos Aires but dreams of a life of wealthy comfort. He attempts to enrich himself by gambling but instead ends up in debt to loan sharks.

He hatches a scheme to embezzle a huge amount of money from his employer and hide it; he expects to be caught and serve six years for fraud, but believes that once he's done his time he'll put his hands on the money and live out his days in the lap of luxury.

Although Jose thinks he's come up with a clever scheme, he's actually a rather stupid man. For one thing, there were no guarantees that the location in which he hid the cash would still be there in six more years! And with both the police and crooks trying to deduce where he hid the money, let's just say things don't go as well as Jose had planned.

This is a film in which the lead character can't even be called an antihero; he's simply sleazy and doesn't command any viewer sympathy. What makes the film very worthwhile is its confident storytelling and kinetic pacing. It's an absorbing 88 minutes as the audience watches to see whether Jose will get away with his plan or get what's coming to him.

One of the interesting things about the movie is the glamorous woman Jose meets in a casino during the brief period between the theft and his arrest. She's played by American actress Faith Domergue, who had married director Fregonese in 1947. Her part is almost entirely nonspeaking; I wondered if perhaps the role was designed that way if she didn't speak Spanish! Domergue's next film was WHERE DANGER LIVES (1950) with Robert Mitchum. She was later in IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955) and ESCORT WEST (1958).

In regard to HARDLY A CRIMINAL, I also especially enjoyed the close look at the very cosmopolitan 1940s Buenos Aires, shot by Roque Giaccovino.

The supporting cast includes Tito Alonso as Jose's brother and Linda Lorena as the otherwise bright girl who is inexplicably loyal to Jose.

Here's Eddie Muller's introduction of the film in Seattle earlier this year.

The movie is currently on YouTube under its original title, but it does not have English subtitles.

4 Comments:

Blogger john knight said...

Hi Laura,

I have never seen any of Fregonese's pre-Hollywood films and
your fine review has made HARDLY A CRIMINAL sound very
interesting indeed.
Hugo fregonese is also a favorite over at Toby's and Colin's
mainly due to being championed by Blake.
I am a great admirer of his striking Universal Western
UNTAMED FRONTIER which is generally overlooked,though certainly
not by Blake.
What really frustrates me as a film fan is not being able to
find unreleased (on DVD or Blu-Ray) key films in watchable
quality.
Several key titles on my "missing" list are STAGE TO TUCSON,
LARCENY,CAPTAIN CHINA and Fregonese's BLACK TUESDAY.
This was a blistering return to form from Edward G Robinson
playing the type of brutal gangster that he really made "his
own" The film is not for the faint hearted and also stars
Peter graves and Laura fave Jack Kelly.
I do believe the film was granted an X certificate here in
England.
With Noir being so popular I am amazed this film has not
surfaced somewhere.
After the Fifties Fregonese's career seemed to flounder
somewhat and he worked mainly in Europe.
There are a few interesting titles in his "Euro" portfolio worth
checking out.
SAVAGE PAMPAS is a Spanish shot vehicle for Robert Taylor and it's
a big budget affair with great set-pieces,but not totally
sucessful. FIND A PLACE TO DIE is a very superior moody Spaghetti
Western starring Jeffrey Hunter that Fregonese had a hand in
writing and directing.
He also directed one of the very popular (in Europe at least)
German Winnetou films OLD SHATTERHAND (Apache's Last Battle)
Again this a lavish production shot in 70mm and has the attraction of starring Lex Barker and Guy Madison.
I would love to re-view some of these Winnetou films but they only
seem to be available in Germany with German soundtracks.
Regarding Blake,who I am sure will contribute here,I am also
willing to bet a Fregonese film will appear on his "Five Westerns"
over at Rupert Pupkin's.

Just as an add-on to the above the Sony MOD series are about to
release Rod Cameron's only shot at the Winnetou franchise THUNDER
AT THE BORDER which I am intrigued to see to say the least.
It's supposed to be the weakest of the Winnetou films and has
Cameron playing "Old Firehand" following on from Barker and
Stewart Granger "Old Surehand"

5:23 AM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

Sad to say, I was unable to make it to this because of conflict with something else I had booked for the evening before I knew about it. Otherwise, I'd have definitely gone. I haven't seen any of Fregonese's early Argentinian movies yet. I've seen 15 of his films and all from the 50s except SAVAGE PAMPAS (the only 50s one I'm missing is I GIROVAGHI). Laura's review here made this even more enticing. Hopefully there will be another chance other than unsubtitled on YouTube.

I was very interested to see that Faith Domergue is in it--I had always wondered why (and regretted) that she didn't appear to be in any of his movies although they were married. I like Faith Domergue very much and wish she'd had a better career because she certainly had the talent.

I hope (and assume) Laura stayed to see the intriguing ONE WAY STREET and will be looking for her review here. Among his crime/film noir works I agree that BLACK TUESDAY is a terrific movie and with what you say about Robinson in it.

12:19 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

John and Blake,

Thanks so much for the very detailed information!

John, your mention of Jack Kelly got my attention! Thanks for remembering my interest in him. I'd love to track that movie down! (I may be able to help you with LARCENY...)

Blake, I recorded SAVAGE PAMPAS during Robert Taylor month on TCM a couple years ago but still haven't seen it. Didn't realize it was a Fregonese film. Need to pull that tape out of the closet!

Blake, Domergue looks so much the haughty, elegant Latina lady in this that at first I had trouble figuring out why she seemed so familiar! I just wasn't expecting to see her in the context of a film from Argentina, and then the light bulb went off. She's absolutely gorgeous in this! I enjoy her too.

Just posted my review of ONE WAY STREET -- that one didn't work completely for me yet had so much good stuff in it it's worthwhile nonetheless. Between going to see the Noir City films and getting ready for the TCM Festival I'm a little slow getting my posts up the last couple weeks! :)

Best wishes,
Laura

10:59 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

P.S. If you'd like a quick look at Domergue's appearance in this film, fast forward to about the 25-minute mark in the YouTube video. She's only in the film for a couple minutes but she makes a definite impression.

Best wishes,
Laura

11:01 PM  

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