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Dark City would probably be an unknown film today if it were not for
the fact that it introduced Charlton Heston in the starring role in his
very first film in Hollywood. If not for that it would rate as a
passably good noir thriller.
In fact Dark City did not even lead to Heston getting his real screen break in his second film. After having done Dark City, Heston just happened to be passing by Cecil B. DeMille's trailer, one of many contract players toiling in the last decade of the big studio system at Paramount. DeMille who liked tall leading men for his films and had made up his mind to cast an unknown in the role of circus boss in The Greatest Show On Earth saw Heston and his height got him the part. Later on DeMille learned about Dark City and had it run for him and was convinced even more.
For a man who played such noble characters later on screen, Dark City presents Heston as a cynical gambler whose bookie joint got raided. Needing some working capital to get back on their feet, Heston, Jack Webb, and Ed Begley find a sucker in the person of Don DeFore and rope him into a poker game. DeFore loses his shirt and when he signs over money that isn't his to cover his debts, he later kills himself.
That sets psychotic older brother Mike Mazurki on the trail of those responsible. And Heston is desperate to get some kind of line on the brother before he winds up dead.
Part of the reason Dark City isn't a better film is precisely because Heston is not a nice guy. There certainly is no rooting interest in what happens to him. Especially when he starts romancing DeFore's widow Viveca Lindfors in an attempt to get information on Mazurki.
The film was later remade taking it out west as Five Card Stud with Dean Martin in the Heston role and Robert Mitchum taking Mazurki's part. The victim in this case was a card cheat who the other players lynch, though Dean Martin protests that. Doing it that way made you care more what happened to Martin than what eventually will happen to Heston.
Lizabeth Scott as nightclub singer/girl friend of Heston, Harry Morgan as a retainer at the bookie joint, and Dean Jagger as the homicide cop round out the cast.
It's interesting to speculate though what kind of turn Charlton Heston's career would have taken if Cecil B. DeMille hadn't spotted him that day on the Paramount lot.
Heston does a marvelous job is in his first star turn. Jack Webb, Harry
Morgan, and Ed Begley lend impeccable supporting work. Don De Fore is
re-teamed with Lizabeth Scott for the first time since You Came Along.
Scott (Dead Reckoning, Strange Love of Martha Ivers, I Walk Alone, Stolen
Face) is one of my all-time favorite femme fatales. Dieterle's direction is
fast-paced and interesting throughout. Unfortunately, the whole turns out
to be less than the sum of its parts.
The problem is in the inconsistent and unimaginative script. It's really a pedestrian tale of revenge with a miscast Mike Mazurki -- not a true film noir as it is normally billed. The parade of musical interludes is annoying. The chemistry between Scott and Heston doesn't work. And, the ending is a real letdown.
Chalk this one up as a well-acted and well-directed misfire.
This film is crime noir since Danny Haley, its lead played admirably by Charlton Heston, in his first major Hollywood starring role is running an illegal bookie joint. The film, as no one else seems to have noticed, is about a man who because his British wife left him after the war and he is disillusioned by the military-industrial complex's fostering of postwar injustice, has taken up "hustling" instead of trying to play by the Establishment's rules. All throughout the movie, people keep blaming Danny for untrue things, his crime being in giving up on an increasingly corrupt postmodernist national government--i.e. neither being an altruistic Democrat nor an overworking Republican. In the film, Danny's place is raided by honest police officer Dean Jagger. The raid leaves Danny with no source of income. A stranger, Don DeFore, strikes up a conversation in Danny's hangout; he ends up in a poker game with Danny's bookie friends Soldier (Harry Morgan), Barney (Ed Begley Sr.) and Augie (Jack Webb). DeFore loses 5000 dollars in a crooked game, pays with a cashier's check and hangs himself in his hotel room that night--some of the money was not his...But, soon after, Barney is found hanged, and the rope was just put around his neck to make the crime look like a suicide. The jumpy, coward Augie and Danny figure that they are going to be the next targets, since they learn Arthur has a psychopathic brother, Sidney. They fly to Los Angeles to seek out the man's widow and get a photo of the brother. Soldier did not participate in the card game. He goes to work in a Vegas casino run by his old-time boxing friend Swede (Walter Sande). This intriguing setup is then turned toward Danny's life-altering meeting with Arthur's gorgeous widow (Viveca Lindfors). He has avoided making a commitment to Lizbeth Scott, a lounge singer who is very much in love with him. But seeing how determined the honest Lindfors is to make a life for her son, he decides to try to get enough money in Vegas to pay the widow back and pair with Scott. The kicker in the deal is the crazed Sidney is still hunting him and Augie as well. Cinematography is luminous B/W by Victor Milner, and the art direction by Franz Bachelin and Hans Dreier complements the great William Dieterle's direction effectively by my lights. Franz Waxman provided serviceable music, Sam Comer and Emile Kuri did complex set decorations; and the female participants looked lovely partly thanks to Edith Head's costumes.Larry Marcus' story "No Escape" has been adapted here by Ketti Frings, with John Meredyth Lucas. The script's episodic elements prevent this movie from being recognized for the fascinating character study it is. It is about what happens to those who for whatever reason stop trying to fight for life in the world of normative values, whoever the opponent, and who enter the world of the collective--crime--for whatever reason. In this story about Danny, the man who escapes the "dark city" he had thought to hide from life in, Charlton Heston is very good for his age. Jack Webb, a powerful radio actor, here turns in what I regard as his best screen performance ever as the nasty and cowardly Augie., Ed Begley Sr. was one of Hopllywood's best dramatic actors, infusing a small part in this feature with his usual dynamic intelligence; and Harry Morgan as the brassy "Soldier" is charismatic and effective. Viveca Lindfors is very well cast I suggest as the suffering but courageous wife; Don Defore was very good at playing a man shallower than he appeared, and here he has a lot to work with. This film is the first since Ayn Rand's "Love Letters" to reunite DeFore and Lizbeth Scott. Scott had limitations in drama although she was adept at comedy, and here she looks lovely as the singer, Fran. Others in the cast who showed to advantage included Dean Jagger, Walter Sande, Walter Burke, and many lesser known persons. Mike Mazurki was miscast as DeFore crazed brother but does his powerful best as usual. This is a very seminal-transitional film, I claim, from a period when noir films, crime or otherwise, had been set in the underworld, to the period where the breakdown of U.S. society had begun to affect law-abiding folk. It is also one of the post-war angst films wherein the war to "make the world safe for democracy" had been revealed as leading to difficulties for returning servicemen. It just misses being very good indeed.
Charlton Heston is wonderful as a gambler with a conscience who plays a fixed game of poker with his war buddy and in turn is accused of the murder in which the companion actually committed suicide. The supporting cast is equally great in this stereotypical 1950s film noir. Far from Heston's best, but still an very above-average film debut.
The description "Film Noir" still seems to cause lots of confusion:
some people seem to think that every black & white movie with some
cynicism in it is a Noir movie. By extension, Dark City is often
labeled as Noir. It's OK with me to use jargon, but let's only use it
correctly, shall we
Although Dark City certainly has elements of the Noir genre, there is a very simple reason why this movie really don't qualify as such: indeed the cynical main character Dan Haley slowly but surely turns into a better man, gradually allowing his conscience to play a more important role in his life, and taking several correcting steps after a life of causing sadness and anger. In the end, there's even the promise of a bright future for him with torch singer Fran. All this is very un-Noir ! That doesn't make it all of a sudden a bad movie. On the contrary !
To me, Dark City actually has a very clever psychological plot. All along the way, we get bits of information about why Haley has become a cynical hoodlum. He has been a courageous soldier during the war, but the infidelity of his British wife led him to kill her new love interest. Charges against him were dropped, but it clearly left him quite cynical about interpersonal relationships. Still, he's not rotten to the core. We get first evidence of this, when he discovers that his poker game buddy Augie has been cheating in a game that left L.A. business man Arthur Winant penniless.
Another indication of his double feelings about the world around him can be found in his relationship with Fran:
Fran: Don't you ever need somebody Danny ? Danny: What for ? Fran: Just to need
Although he keeps on pushing lovesick Fran away when she's once more trying to get too close to him, he will remain -in his own particular way- loyal to her.
So, if one of the reviewers complaints about the lack of chemistry between Heston and Scott, he seems to have completely missed the point this movie is trying to make. Of course there are no sparks flying around here !!! Heston's character is still too much influenced by his troubled past, by the betrayal of his love by his British wife and a friend. He's still in the process of adapting, of regaining some hope. In the end of the movie, he's only beginning to think about romancing again.
Then, several small elements distributed cleverly along the storyline like Tom Thumb's crumbs will lead to big changes in Haley's life. His friend Soldier's remark that he's "Worse than the others" is one of these little seeds, that makes him reflect about his actions. Another one is dropped, when Swede tells him about the Irish boy he killed during a boxing contest. Swede brought all the money he could find to the mother of the deceased young man, but she spat him in the face. This element makes Haley review his reactions concerning Victoria. Victoria too has an important impact on his life, as he sees how she's taking care of Billy, protecting him against uncle Sidney, and how difficult she must have got it, after her husband came back from the war. (Unless he was boasting, he is supposed to have been involved in Special Operations, a kind of work that generally leaves no one without psychological changes. The man is a heavy drinker, and although he has a gorgeous wife and a young son, he's soon playing Casanova in Chicago, dating Fran). Fran too drops several little seeds in Haley's mind, and so does the Police Captain. Although he remains outwardly cynical, all these little drops soon find a way to his heart. The fact that he was upset when he discovered that Augie had been cheating during the poker game already made it clear he wasn't rotten to the core. There still was the possibility for him to change his life. The several meetings with people he has after the suicide of Arthur Winant all turn out to be guiding lights to the right path of life again. And in the end, the patience and extreme loyalty of Fran is rewarded.
So, although this film starts as a Film Noir, this clever movie is in fact about how all kind of positive little events can set in motion important positive changes in someone's life. It's about hope, about starting all over again, about how something positive still can come out of sad events, such as a suicide. Real Film Noir isn't about optimistic at all. The main characters are cynical and self serving, and don't go through changes. Or if they do, it's only to become even more cynical at the end. See for ex. Fred MacMurray's character in Pushover, or Lizabeth Scott herself in Too late for tears. That's Noir with a capital N.
I was extremely pleased by this movie. I'm still trying to find out who actually sung the songs Lizabeth Scott's singing in this movie. Although she took 2 ½ years of singing lessons in the 1950's, and even released an LP, she never reached a sufficient good level to leave an impact as a singer. But the female singer who sang the songs in Dark City surely did. It are haunting melodies such as "Letter from a lady in love" or "Old black magic", sung with a sultry voice. Globally: nice storyline, fine cast, a movie that's worth adding to your collection ! 9/10
Dark City, a pretty decent 1950 film noir, is fairly enjoyable, at times excellent, and might have been a minor classic had the dreadul romantic sequences, plus songs, not pulled it down a couple of notches. Charlton Heston is a gambler who, with his friends Ed Begley and Jack Webb, play hardball poker with a hapless out of towner who signs over a check that doesn't belong to him to the gamblers and shortly thereafter hangs himself. Problem: the dead man's brother is a psycho who decides to track down the card sharks and kill them one by one. Heston is good though not wildly convincing as as the youngest and shrewdest of the gamblers, Lizabeth Scott is as enigmatic, mannish and unappealing as usual, and Viveca Lindfors is fine as the dead guy's widow, with whom Heston (inevitably) falls in love. The film was directed by William Dieterle, whose career was in inexplicable decline at this time, and he does a yeoman job. Reasonably well-paced and none too imaginative, the film gives good value for the dollar and ends satisfactorily. It's not too atmospheric,the photography is adequate and no more. Dark City is a decent example of a late studio film noir; it has neither the moody, murky, artificial qualities of the forties noirs nor the comparative realism and occasional outlandishness of the fifties noirs. As such, it is an interesting, transitional film.
Dark City (1950)
A surprise, really great. It's not quite a B-movie, though it has some of the honesty and simplicity of a lower budget film. And it has a whole host of terrific actors, including Charlton Heston in his first Hollywood film.
Did I just say Heston was terrific? Yes, here he is, a strong, stubborn, Heston-like character, well cast and well directed and beautifully filmed. And he's at the center of a plot that has several large twists that all make sense, and some great tension throughout. Except for two or three key moments where Heston (or some other actor) does something not quite plausible, the timing and direction by William Dieterle is superb.
The leading woman is a common type in post-war movies, a woman trying to make a living singing in a night club, and she is played with restrained simplicity by Lizabeth Scott. This gives the movie a chance to feature several songs, which she performs herself (Scott even recorded an album in 1957).
Beyond the truly engrossing story, where an unseen killer is on the loose thanks to the greed of a group of backroom poker players, the movie is held together but a half dozen terrific performances. The poker players themselves, including Heston and Ed Begley, are petty and greedy and eventually scared. The man they dupe, a visiting nice guy, is Don DeFore, who pulls it off brilliantly. There are even two guys who later became steadies in "Dragnet." And then there's the detective played by Dean Jaggar, and this talkative, philosophizing, good-guy investigator actually manages to see what's going on right away. Then the cat and mouse game begins.
Dark City is likely most notable as being Chuck Heston's film debut. But it's also worth seeing for then-supporting actor Jack Webb (actually quite good) teaming with Harry Morgan, some 16 years before they'd pair up in the color reincarnation of Dragnet 1966. It's also significant in the script acknowledging the ugly possibilities of returning to post-WWII society (albeit without the impact of the vaguely similar theme of 1932's I Am A Fugitive Of a Chain Gain and WWI, or the more recent The Best Years of Our Lives). With the talent involved I'd expected a noir classic... but Dark City solidly misses the mark. What's wrong? I can name 3 things: The subplot involving grieving widow Viveca Lindfors is all wrong and slows the picture down to a crawl (and frankly it makes Heston look creepy in the pursuit of her--- without giving away why). The suspense of the mystery homicidally-inclined brother just isn't there. And I personally hated the lip sync'd intrusion of Lizbeth Scott's songs (I found myself saying "why weren't these whittled down in the editing room?"). Director William Dieterle's career was inexplicably on a slide by 1950 and his work here could best be described as yeoman-like. There's absolutely nothing wrong with any of the performances... it's just the script needed about 20 pages tossed and the musical numbers axed.
Dark City is a well crafted film. Most film noir fans will love it. It
was released in 1950 and Stars Lizabeth Scott and Charlton Heston.
Heston plays a gambler (Danny Haley) who along with two friends sucker a man from out of town into a game of poker. Only one problem...it wasn't his money to gamble with. He signs over his check with the knowledge, (I'm in big trouble!) It is later revealed that he hung himself.
Now the story really takes off. The dead mans brother (who is insane), vows to track down those who were responsible for his brothers death, one at a time! This is a very intense storyline and will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Heston is wonderful in this film as is Lizabeth Scott. Scott had been in the film business for a number of years by the time she made this picture. But remember, this was Heston's first film. To watch him, you would never know. However it didn't hurt to have so many veteran actors surrounding him. Names like Dean Jagger, Don DeFore, Jack Web, Harry Morgan, Walter Sande, and Mark Keuning. This was a solid cast! If you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend it. You will need this for your film noir collection.
(There are Spoilers) Charlton Heston known for the Biblical epics and
movies with cast of thousands that he made during his fifty or so year
career in motion pictures started out in his very first movie, back in
1950, in a little known film-noir curiosity piece playing a small-time
hoodlum running a bookie joint in Chicago.
Having his gambling den raided three time in just over a month by the cops, even though he was paying them off, has Dan Haley, Charlton Heston,and his three fellow bookies Barney, Ed Bagely, Augie, Jack Webb, and Soldier, Henry Morgan, wonder if they should get into a much safer business like working a bar or being a croupier in a casino.
Trying to figure out where the next dollar is coming from Dan goes to the nightclub where his girlfriend Fran Garland, Lizabeth Scott,is doing a show and runs into out of town businessman Arthur Winant, Don DeFore. Seeing Winant pull out a number of big bills, including a $5,000.00 bank check, from his wallet as he paid for his drink Dan invites him for a game of cards at his now closed down bookie joint with his friends Barney Augie & Soldier. Winning $350.00 from the four book-makers Arthur is invited back the next evening, his last day in Chicago, for another card game with the four wanting another chance to win back their money.
This time around the bookies were ready for Winant and had the cards rigged, or marked, wiping the poor guy out of everything he had including his $5,000.00 bank check, which Winant signed over to them, which didn't even belong to him. Sick depressed and heart broken Winant goes back to his hotel room and hangs himself. It turns out that Arthur Winart's older brother Sidney, Mike Mazurki, found his body and called the police but Sidney didn't wait around for them to show up, he went out looking for those who drove his brother to kill himself, Dan Barney Augie & Soldier, and pay them back in kind.
Superior film-noir thriller with Sidney Winant, who spent a number of years in a mental institution for the criminally insane, out hunting down and killing those responsible for his brothers, Arthur, death and going from Chicago to Los Angeles to Las Vages to do it. Murdering Barney in Chicago and making it look like he killed himself, by hanging, Sidney has the remaining bookies on the run not even knowing What he, Sidney Winant, even looks like.
Both Dan & Augie travel to Los Angeles to see the late Arthur's wife Victoria, Viveca Lindfors, to get a photo of Sidney to be able to spot him before he attacks and murders them. Dan saying that he's an insurance investigator and that Victoria and Sidney are to receive a $10,000.00 policy that Arthur made out to them can't get a photo of Sidney since Victoria burnt all the photos she had of him wanting to keep him out of her memory forever, he's a dangerous homicidal lunatic she tells Dan.
Dan for his part starts to fall in love with Victoria and want's to give her back the check that her dead husband Arthur signed over to him. When Dan tell's her that he's one of the people who cheated him out of his money, that lead to his suicide, she rejected both Dan and the check.Back in his L.A motel room Dan finds that Sidney got to Augie, while he was at Victoria's house, with him hanging in the shower with a rope tied around his neck.
The movie then moves to Las Vagas with Dan on the run getting a job as a card dealer at his friends Swede's, Walter Sande, casino and meeting his fellow bookie Soldier and his girlfriend from the "Windy City" Fran who both were working there. Sidney finding out that Dan is in Vegas from Victoria's young son Billy, Mark Keuning,makes his way down there from L.A. Victoria then unexpectedly calls Dan and warns him about her brother-in-law finding out where he is has the police using Dan as bait set a trap for the big gorilla, Sidney is well over six feet tall and weighs about 270 pounds. The plan almost backfires when Sidney get's to Dan before they, the police,can get there in time to save Dan's life.
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