Saturday, April 11, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Abandoned (1949) at the Noir City Film Festival

I really liked THE UNDERWORLD STORY (1950), the top half of tonight's Gale Storm double bill at the 17th Annual Noir City Film Festival, and it's safe to say I loved ABANDONED (1949). Dennis O'Keefe and Jeff Chandler tracking down murderous baby brokers on the mean streets of Los Angeles? Yes, please! ABANDONED is a terrific example of "L.A. noir."

Storm plays Paula Considine, who as the movie begins enters L.A. City Hall to inquire about her missing sister Mary at the missing persons desk. There Paula meets helpful reporter Mark Sitko (O'Keefe), who notices that Paula is being followed by a shady P.I. (Raymond Burr).

Mark is quite taken with Paula, and as he gets to know her and learns more about her missing sister, who had recently given birth to a baby girl, he begins to see an interesting news story taking shape about a baby adoption racket. Mark continues to investigate, hoping to simultaneously find out what happened to Paula's sister while also coming up with a good news story and a case for his friend, the District Attorney (Chandler), to prosecute.

This movie caught my interest from the minute it opened at City Hall, and it didn't disappoint. It was simply a noir lover's delight, from the cast to the well-written script to the great locations, including what appears to be Echo Park Lake.

There was a moment early on when O'Keefe walked into his newsroom late at night and I thought, "I love this!" There's just something about the mood and look of the late-night newsroom which appeals to anyone who loves crime or newspaper movies.

This was the second time I'd seen O'Keefe as a newsman in this festival, though this time he played a far less ambiguous character than his role in WOMAN ON THE RUN (1950). Over the years he's become a real film noir favorite in films such as T-MEN (1947), RAW DEAL (1948), WALK A CROOKED MILE (1948) and more. It's interesting to consider that he wasn't even on my radar as an actor until a few years ago, and now when I see him listed in a movie's credits I'm immediately intrigued.

This was one of Chandler's very earliest roles, following his part in JOHNNY O'CLOCK (1947) and a handful of other films; he not only serves as the secondary "good guy," he's also the film's narrator. It's a nice part, and Chandler is charismatic enough in a supporting role that one can see why he became a leading man in short order.

Burr and Mike Mazurki are the chief villains, along with Marjorie Rambeau as the head of the adoption racket; Mazurki's first onscreen appearance in the movie elicited a smattering of appreciative applause from the Noir City audience.

The cast also includes Will Kuluva, Meg Randall, Jeanette Nolan, David Clarke, and Frank Cady.

The Irwin Gielgud screenplay has "additional dialogue" by the great William Bowers, and it was easy to pick out Bowers' influence in some of the sharp and funny dialogue.

By chance I found myself sitting next to Bowers' widow Marjorie, and it was a pleasure to chat a bit with her. She commented to me that her husband "didn't know he was writing 'film noir'!" and that he'd be gratified to know that some of his films were still being enjoyed today. I was able to let her know how much I love his SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF! (1969) and also shared my fondness for the Yvonne DeCarlo Western comedy THE GAL WHO TOOK THE WEST (1949). She said he used to joke he'd written more movies for Yvonne than anyone else!

ABANDONED was directed by Joseph M. Newman (711 OCEAN DRIVE). It was beautifully photographed in black and white by William H. Daniels. The 35mm print shown tonight wasn't brand-new but it was nonetheless in lovely shape.

Alas, this film from Universal Pictures is not on DVD. Let's hope that changes in the future...perhaps in another Dark Crimes DVD set from TCM?

May 2015 Update: I had the pleasure of seeing this beautiful print screened again at the 2015 Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in Palm Springs, California. I enjoyed it just as much the second time around!

2016 Update: This film is now on DVD as part of the Universal Vault Collection.

April 2020 Update: This film will be released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber in June as part of a three-film Film Noir III collection.

August 2020 Update: My review of the Blu-ray may be found here.


Blogger Mary-Catherine said...

This does sound like a must see, thanks for the review:-)I really like O'Keefe as well, and also became a fan only a few years ago.

I recently saw his directorial effort "The Diamond_1954" and loved it. Another film he's in that I really enjoyed was "Mr. District Attorney_1947", with Adolphe Menjou terrific as the title character (Michael O'Shea and Jeff Donnell also have nice supporting roles.)

Another movie of his that I've see recently: "Chicago Syndicate_1955". I wasn't expecting much (Sam Katzman produced) but I was pleasantly surprised... it was a trim little crime tale, with some tough bursts of action.

6:02 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Maricatrin!

I also liked THE DIAMOND (aka THE DIAMOND WIZARD) and I also enjoyed THE FAKE. Thanks for the recommendations of the other films, I have both of them and just need to watch them. Sounds like I have more to look forward to. :)

Best wishes,

9:43 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hi, Laura.
I have never seen THE UNDERWORLD STORY but glad to know there IS a DVD copy of the movie. I must rent it -- and soon. :)

I did see ABANDONED when it was originally released. It had a first-run enagement at the Criterion Theater on Broadway, where many Univeral pictures like THE SUSPECT, THE CLIMAX and, later, WOMAN ON THE RUN played. Though, when ABANDONED hit the large RKO circuit in the "nabes," it was on the lower half of a double bill with OH, YOU BEAUTIFUL DOLL, a Fox Technicolor musical with June Haver and Mark Stevens. In fact, the RKO circuit retitled ABANDONED and called it ABANDONED WOMAN. Occasionally, they did things like that. (Another example: They re-titled THE BISHOP'S WIFE and called it CARY AND THE BISHOP'S WIFE. !!!) Though, when you saw the movie, the title remained as originally released.

I thought Gale Storm made a very appealing heroine. I only saw the picture that one time but I always remember her pounding her fist down when she came upon the shot of her deceased sister during the identification phase. Prior to her contract at Universal, she must have been Monogram's biggest star. How she escaped "Poverty Row" probably would make quite a story!! :)

As to Dennis O'Keefe...
Prior to the film noirs, he had quite a career in light comedies and farces like BREWSTER'S MILLIONS. Have you ever seen any of those, Laura?

And as for Jeff Chandler...
I am of the generation that grew up with radio. Mr. Chandler was quite a busy radio actor on the West Coast. Well, he had that great deep voice. Originally, he was credited on shows like SUSPENSE as Ira Grossel, which was his real name. Then, he became Jeff Chandler. He created the role of Mr. Boynton, the Bashful Biologist on the original radio version of OUR MISS BROOKS starring Eve Arden. Then, it was so interesting to see him turn out to be this big handsome man. Sometime radio actors AND actresses didn't have the looks to match those terrific voices, I'm afraid. But Howard Duff and Frank Lovejoy also made that successful transition from radio to movies.

Once again, I've gone on too long, As they used to say in those Biblical movies, "Hold your tongue!" :)

Regards, David Johnson

10:28 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi David,

It's very interesting to hear the creative ways the movies were marketed on first run!

That moment you mention when Storm pounds down her fist on the page was one of the movie's most memorable scenes for me, touching and perfect, just the right amounts of anguish and restraint for her courageous young character. You can also feel O'Keefe's sympathy and admiration of her growing in that moment. This brief scene alone is a great reminder of the "good stuff" which can be found in these lesser-known films.

I've seen a few of O'Keefe's earlier films, such as MGM's HOLD THAT KISS, and it's always fun to spot him from his years as an extra and bit player, too. Will look forward to seeing even more of his films in the future.

I love Jeff Chandler and for that matter am also a big fan of Frank Lovejoy. I would love to explore some of their radio work when time permits. Chandler's recordings singing standards have become some of my favorite "go to" music. What a talented man.

Best wishes,

12:56 PM  

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