Sunday, January 27, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Man in the Dark (1953)

MAN IN THE DARK (1953) is another film from "B" movie director Lew Landers, but it's something a little different. Instead of a programmer from the '30s or '40s, MAN IN THE DARK is a film noir from the early '50s. It's one of the last feature films Landers directed, as he switched to doing mostly TV work in the '50s.

Unfortunately MAN IN THE DARK was a bit of a disappointment, with an interesting premise but a weak script. Nonetheless, the movie has its worthwhile aspects, including its history as a 3D film and its extensive location shooting.

MAN IN THE DARK is a loose remake of THE MAN WHO LIVED TWICE (1936) and CRIME DOCTOR (1943). Edmond O'Brien plays Steve Rawley, a crook who agrees to undergo experimental brain surgery to remove his criminal impulses. There's just one problem -- the surgery also erases his memory. Steve is told he's an amnesia victim named Jim, which is fine until Steve's old cohorts (led by Ted de Corsia) kidnap him from the hospital.

The men don't believe the confused Steve has lost his memory, and they are determined that he lead them to the $130,000 they stole together before his surgery. Steve's girl Peg (Audrey Totter) initially believes Steve is faking it as well, but after a while she realizes Steve really has no memory...and she likes the new Steve just fine. But then Steve starts having nightmares involving an amusement park...

The makings of a good film are here, if only the script had been better. An inordinate amount of screen time is spent with Steve's former partners in crime trying to pummel the whereabouts of the money out of him. These scenes go on too long, and the three gangsters tend to blend into an indistinguishable mass; on the other hand, an insurance man on Steve's tail goes AWOL for way too long, simply showing up at the end to collect the dough. Meanwhile the fabulous Audrey Totter spends much of the movie simply sighing "Oh, Steve..."

MAN IN THE DARK was the first Columbia film shot in 3D, and it would definitely be interesting to see it in that format. Watching the flat version, it's easy to spot various moments which must have been startling in 3D, including a roller coaster barreling straight toward a man standing on the tracks. The lucky folks at the 11th annual Noir City Festival in San Francisco have the chance to see this film in 3D on Friday night, February 1st. Although the movie could have been better, I'd definitely watch it again on a big screen if it happens to come to the Noir City festival in Hollywood!

The last 20 minutes or so make this 70-minute film worth watching, featuring both a dream sequence and then the grand finale which were shot on location at Santa Monica's Ocean Park, the predecessor to what would be known as Pacific Ocean Park. Ocean Park, which looks rather seedy, was also seen in GUN CRAZY (1950). The High Boy roller coaster seen in the film went by that name from 1925 until 1957, when it was renamed the Sea Serpent.

The scary laughing character which terrorizes Steve in his dreams is named a Laffing Sal.

The supporting cast includes Nick Dennis, Horace McMahon, Dayton Lummis, Dan Riss, and Paul Bryar. It was filmed by Floyd Crosby. For those who don't know, Crosby was the father of rock star David Crosby.

MAN IN THE DARK has been shown on Turner Classic Movies. To my knowledge it has not had a video or DVD release. February 2014 Update: This film is now available on a limited edition 3-D Blu-ray from Twilight Time.

Films directed by Lew Landers which have previously been reviewed at this site: NIGHT WAITRESS (1936), WITHOUT ORDERS (1936), FLIGHT FROM GLORY (1937), THEY WANTED TO MARRY (1937), THE MAN WHO FOUND HIMSELF (1937), DOUBLE DANGER (1938), CRASHING HOLLYWOOD (1938), SKY GIANT (1938), SMASHING THE RACKETS (1938), TWELVE CROWDED HOURS (1939), CONSPIRACY (1939), STAND BY ALL NETWORKS (1942), and THUNDER MOUNTAIN (1947).


Blogger Vienna said...

Any film with Audrey Totter is always worth seeing. I agree with you it could have been better but still enjoyable, especially that dramatic beginning with O'Brien having that operation to remove his criminal tendencies!
Memory loss is always a good plot line.
And ,yes, Audrey was rather wasted.

12:52 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

This mediocre film, probably because of the 3-D presentation, and Edmond O'Brien, had a first run New York opening. Not especially well received but did quite a bit of business for what it was.

11:05 AM  
Blogger Raquel Stecher said...

I really enjoyed Edmond O'Brien in D.O.A. (1950), another '50s Noir so I'm wondering if I'll like this one despite the weak plot. I actually don't mind a weak plot sometimes. Sometimes I'm in it for the ambiance!

11:40 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I agree, Vienna, it's always worth checking out a film with Audrey Totter!

Interesting to know this film had a first-run showing in NY, Barrylane. Thanks for the info.

There's tons of ambiance in MAN IN THE DARK, Raquel, mostly in the last half which has such interesting location shooting.

I also liked D.O.A. and particularly recommend O'Brien in 711 OCEAN DRIVE which was released the same year as D.O.A.

Best wishes,

11:53 AM  
Blogger Lee1001 said...

Any movie with Edmond O'Brien, Ted de Corsia and Audrey Totter can't be all bad.O'Brien& de Corsia were also both great OTR voices.De Corsia donated his body to medical science upon his death.And this movie is now out on DVD Blu-Ray in both &2D.

8:19 AM  

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