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.
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.