Sunday, April 14, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Appointment With a Shadow (1957) at the Noir City Film Festival

The theme for tonight's double bill at the Noir City Film Festival was focused on alcoholics. Perhaps it should have been a rather depressing evening at the movies, yet it turned out to be a very interesting night watching the stories of two men simultaneously struggling with addiction and crime.

First up was APPOINTMENT WITH A SHADOW, a 72-minute film directed by actor Richard Carlson. The Film Noir Foundation's Alan Rode said that this film was originally envisioned as an "A" picture for William Holden, but it ended up as a lower-budget Universal film with George Nader in the lead role.

Nader plays Paul Baxter, an alcoholic who's lost employment as a newspaper reporter. His girlfriend Penny (Joanna Moore) is reluctant to give up on Paul, and she has a plan she believes will help him.  Penny has the inside scoop from her brother (Brian Keith), a police lieutenant, on the planned arrest of a notorious criminal, Dutch Hayden (Frank DeKova), who is supposed to have had reconstructive surgery to change his appearance.

Penny has the notion that if Paul can stay sober for the day and be at the scene of the arrest, he'll have an amazing scoop and be able to go back to work as a reporter. Paul manages to avoid temptation and cover the arrest, which turns into a shootout leading to the apparent death of the crook.

However, Paul spots the actual criminal at the scene and realizes the police have killed the wrong man. The only problem is that the police and newspapers believe it's just the fantasy of a drunk. How can Paul convince everyone of the truth, and stay both sober and alive in the process?

The movie is nothing particularly special, but it was briskly paced and proved to be an enjoyable film; like Friday's STREET OF CHANCE (1942), it was a film completely unknown to me which was fun to discover for the first time thanks to Noir City. The story requires a suspension of disbelief, what with Penny's steadfast belief that Paul can turn his life around in a day, not to mention the whole plastic surgery storyline; however, if one is willing to accept the parameters of the story, it's a nicely told and engrossing movie.

It's worth noting that Nader and director Carlson manage to make Paul's extended solo scenes, as he fights the craving for a drink, from becoming dull or repetitive; the cards Paul types up planning out how he'll stay busy every hour of the day are a nice touch. Paul's line near the end of the film that if he's made it one day without a drink, maybe he can make it for another day, and then another, are optimistic yet seem to address the challenge of his recovery more realistically than was the case earlier in the film.

Joanna Moore is the movie's weak link as Penny; she's simply kind of drippy and uninteresting, without anything to give the character color. Brian Keith, on the other hand, has limited screen time but communicates a warm and appealing performance as Penny's caring brother, and Virginia Field is terrific fun to watch as the mobster's lady friend, in a performance that reminded me a bit of Audrey Totter. Field was seen earlier in the festival as the duplicitous playwright in REPEAT PERFORMANCE (1947); I've seen her in other roles here or there, but I will now make it a point to see more of this actress's work.

Some bits of trivia regarding the cast: Joanna Moore was the mother of Tatum O'Neal, and George Nader was the uncle of DYNASTY actor Michael Nader.

The crisp black and white CinemaScope cinematography was by William E. Snyder.

This is one of a handful of movies directed by Richard Carlson. I've also reviewed his films RIDERS TO THE STARS (1954) and the excellent Western FOUR GUNS TO THE BORDER (1954).

This Universal film is not available on VHS or DVD.

Next up on the double bill: Zachary Scott in GUILTY BYSTANDER (1950).


Blogger Raimundo said...

I liked the Cinemascope closeup which lets the audience know just what a burlesque theatre stagehand reads in the wings -- "The Merchant of Venice". And Nader's appraisal of Virginia Field's performance: "You have a nice voice".

11:23 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

That stagehand cracked me up too! It was a nice little touch.

Best wishes,

10:39 PM  
Blogger Gemini730 said...

Richard Carlson and William Holden were close friends in real life. Their wives were best friends and appeared together on the "I Love Lucy" Hollywood Wives Fashion show.
Lorraine C

10:19 AM  

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