Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Tonight's Movie: The Argyle Secrets (1948) at the Noir City Film Festival

It's hard to believe it's been 12 days since opening night at the 2022 Noir City Hollywood Festival!

It's been a whirlwind, with both Noir City and the TCM Classic Film Festival taking place in that time period. With the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival coming in just a couple more weeks, quickly followed by the UCLA Festival of Preservation, it's going to be a challenge to write about all the films I've seen recently, but I'm going to squeeze in as many reviews as I can!

First we'll rewind to the beginning of the Noir City Festival at the Hollywood Legion Theater. I relaxed in the Post 43 library during the first film of the evening, TRY AND GET ME (1950), which I've seen multiple times. It's a well-done film but very tough and dark, and I decided I wasn't ready to revisit it quite yet.

The next film of the night, THE ARGYLE SECRETS (1948), was written and directed by Cy Endfield, who also directed TRY AND GET ME. THE ARGYLE SECRETS is a minor "B" (C?) film which was originally distributed by Film Classics.

THE ARGYLE SECRETS originated in radio, based on Endfield's 1945 script for the SUSPENSE series, which starred Robert Taylor. The script was performed again in 1947 with Edmond O'Brien in the lead. Both shows can be heard via the Internet Archive.

My initial reaction to seeing the film version was to call it "the PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE of film noir"! It's a completely wacky and discombobulated 64 minutes; the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival site describes it for an upcoming screening as having "three films' worth of plot."

With that much story squashed into a little over an hour, one can just imagine how wild it gets. I saw it as a mashup of MURDER, MY SWEET (1944) and TOUCH OF EVIL (1958); the Lyons fest site refers to it as a parody of THE MALTESE FALCON (1941).

Vienna's Classic Hollywood, on the other hand, likens it to THE BIG SLEEP (1946), saying "the plot thickens to such an extent I wasn't sure what was happening." I felt the same way!

William Gargan is no Humphrey Bogart, but he's serviceable as dogged reporter Harry Mitchell. Mitchell is after "The Argyle Album," a dossier listing World War II traitors which serves as the film's Hitchcockian "MacGuffin."

As the film begins, Mitchell visits columnist Allen Pierce (George Anderson) in the hospital, where the ill Pierce is prepared to share what he knows about the dossier with Mitchell.

Pierce worsens as their conversation begins, and Mitchell inexplicably doesn't summon medical staff but instead goes into the bathroom for a glass of water. When Mitchell returns to Pierce's bedside he finds him dead, and soon thereafter Mitchell's photographer (Alvin Hammer) is murdered in the same hospital room. Mitchell flees the scene and the suspicious cops, who are led by Lt. Samson (Ralph Byrd of DICK TRACY).

Mitchell now must stay one step ahead of not only the police but a variety of violent people who are after the Argyle Album. In his quest to find it Mitchell will knock a secretary (Barbara Billingsley of LEAVE IT TO BEAVER) unconscious and later simultaneously choke and kiss (!) a femme fatale (Marjorie Lord of THE DANNY THOMAS SHOW) who's willing to change sides. Things get very weird.

Along the way there's also some amusing comic relief, such as when Mitchell escapes from some hoods down a fire escape and enters the apartment of a family he knows slightly; the mother (Mary Tarcai) gamely acts as though it's fairly normal for someone to come visit through a window.

The movie has grade C production values, making ample use of miniatures instead of full-sized sets, all filmed in black and white by Mack Stengler. That said, there's a sort of charm in the low-budget setting, which is entirely in keeping with the film's overall oddball tone.

The supporting cast includes another series TV regular, John Banner of HOGAN'S HEROES.

I definitely had a "What on earth did I just watch?" feeling when the movie ended -- but I'm up to watch it again next month at the Arthur Lyons Festival!

I hope eventually the restoration will make it to DVD -- perhaps from Flicker Alley? -- so that film fans who can't catch the film at a festival can also enjoy the strangeness which is THE ARGYLE SECRETS.


Blogger Vienna said...

Good to hear you feel much the same as I did watching it. Still, I’m envious of your viewing it on the big screen. As you say, let’s hope it makes it to dvd. ( and thanks for linking to my review.) I look forward to your further reports of the festival.

12:17 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I really enjoyed your comments on the film, Vienna, especially as this is a film relatively few people have seen. It was fun to compare notes! We did seem to see the film similarly, appreciating it both despite and because of its oddball aspects.

Best wishes,

7:04 PM  
Anonymous Barry Lane said...

I like William Gargan, who like Bogart lost his voice to esophageal cancer, but not his life to the disease. Instead, he mastered after his larynx had been removed esophageal speech.
a non-pro friend of ours, Ray Davis suffered from the same disease and he and Gargan became close. Both died later on from heart disease. Gargan had a great radio voice, and was indelible don't he air as Ross Dolan private detective in I Deal in Danger, Martin Kane, Private eye, which he also played on television, and Barrie Craig, Confidential investigator.
In 1940, Bill Gargan supported Carole Lombard and Charles Laughton in They Knew What They Wanted. He was nominated for the Academy Award. I liked him, a lot. In fact, I have an opposing view, because I liked him better than Bogart, but not as well when Humphrey Bogart was playing in his signature pictures: The Big Sleep. The Maltese Falcon, To Have and Have Not, Casablanca, or anything with Lauren Bacall. Not the other films.

8:27 PM  
Anonymous Barry Lane said...

Final observation re William Gargan. In 1932 he appeared in The Animal Kingdom, along with Leslie Howard, Ann Harding, and Myrna Loy in what must be the most sensuous performance ever given. The Gargans had a son and named him Leslie, so, like Bogart, there was clearly admiration and affection Howard.

8:40 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks so much for your interesting comments on William Gargan, Barry. I learned something from you -- if I ever knew it, I'd certainly forgotten that Gargan was an Oscar-nominated actor.

That's also a touching story about Leslie Howard. He seems to have been greatly admired and appreciated by his peers.

Best wishes,

9:02 AM  

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