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Growing up in L.A. always meant a fun trip to Pacific Ocean Park near Venice and riding the "Sea Serpent" roller coaster--and taking a whirl on the "Laff In The Dark" dark ride (while getting creeped-out by the caged "Laffing Sal" in her polka dotted dress who cackled at you from behind bars). "Man In The Dark" takes us back to 1953, and a pre-POP era, when amusement parks were generally seedy and frightening, especially Ocean Park as it was known then (POP came about after Disneyland was built in 1955, and gussied-up by CBS who had purchased it and turned it into a family-oriented theme park-by-the-sea). The "Sea Serpent"--which was "modified for family riding" by CBS in 1957-58 for the new POP, was originally known as the "High Boy"... a John Miller out-and-back masterpiece built circa 1927. This ride was a true thriller...and can be seen to full advantage in this rarely screened noir drama. Laffing Sal was there too, perched above a fun house back then, and she steals the show in many scenes shot to take full advantage of the 3-D process. Since I had experienced both parks back in the '50's through its last season in 1968 before it was torn down, I really wanted to see this movie. I wasn't disappointed. Although not up to the standards of "D.O.A." by a longshot, the movie holds one's interest from the get-go, further capturing the sleeziness old L.A. of the '50's as a place you didn't want to go to if you were trying to stay out of trouble...or if you were on the lam. Edmond O'Brien holds is own, but the other characters do seem a trifle cartoonish to be truly believable. Audrey Totter comes off a little too harsh (even for her) to be considered an attractive prize. The interior shots come off as being filmed a little too flat, but once the film goes on location to the run-down areas around Ocean Park (a real slum at the time), and the park itself, the noir experience kicks-in...Big Time! You can't really call this film a "B-Noir Classic" because its almost impossible to find today...not in the league of "Gun Crazy" (shot at Ocean Park too!) or "D.O.A" or a host of others... but Google it...and you'll find it! Then judge it for yourself.
Edmond O'Brien has a severe case of retrograde amnesia, but he didn't
contract it in the Pacific. He's a robber who got away with $130,000 in a
Christmas Eve heist, was convicted and served his time. But he'll get a
second chance if he submits to an operation to excise the criminal portion
of his brain. Understandably, he's conflicted, and when they move it up
from the scheduled day he balks: `I was born on a Monday. I may as well go
on one like dirty laundry.' But the operation proves a stunning success,
so delicate that it erases all memories of his past life but leaves him with
a perfect command of American slang.
But the placid life he leads at the sanitarium pruning hedges and daubing canvases comes to an abrupt halt when he's kidnaped by his old gang, now led by Ted De Corsia. They want the money, which was never recovered; so does an implacable Javert of an insurance investigator. Even his old girlfriend (Audrey Totter) sees him only as a ticket to the high life, until she falls for the new, improved O'Brien and renounces her grasping ways. (The often ill-used Totter shines here, especially on a martini bender when she asks the bartender, `Oh, Fred, what do you do when you hate yourself?')
Odd clues begin to surface from O'Brien's troubled nightmares, however, leading him and Totter (with the rest of the cast plus the police in pursuit) to claim a parcel left at an amusement park. And this is the big set-piece of the movie, originally released in 3-D. Cars come whooshing around the curves and down the dips of a roller coaster while pitched battles are being fought on the tracks. Watching these 3-D movies now is like drinking soda that's gone flat: All the ingredients are there but the sparkle's gone. But in their endearingly gimmicky way, they evoke their era, as do the flats equipped with party lines and furnished with lampshades bearing reproductions of paintings. Man in the Dark's too short, and needs an extra layer of complexity. But there's still a bit of fizz left in it.
I watched most of Man in the Dark without realising it was originally shot in 3D. At first I thought I was watching a lost Fritz Lang classic---extreme closeups, odd points of view, shattering glass---until I remembered the film had been directed by, ahem, Lew Landers. Now nothing against old Lew, he delivered many a fine B picture, but Man in the Dark doesn't look like your typical Columbia programmer. It's black and white take on the 3D process is more noir than you'd expect and it obviously helped to have Floyd Crosby behind the camera. Edmond O'Brien and Audrey Totter are good as always, overcoming a pretty hackneyed script that is the film's major shortcoming. Worth seeing for the dream sequence alone, where O'Brien is pursued by policemen in bumper cars!!
After reading some negative reviews of this film, I expected it to be a
pretty stale B-movie about gangsters and stolen dough. However, I found
to be a pretty entertaining B-movie with some humorous 3-D effects, and
wonderful footage of an amusement park circa 1953.
The script for this film, is indeed pretty routine with the typical gangster stereotypes seen in most films of the period. Edmund O'Brien gives a very good performance, however. There are also a few other familiar character actors in the film, which make for interesting viewing.
The 3-D gimmicks utilized throughout (scalpels, cigars, guns, a flower pot, roller coaster) are fun to spot, and good for a laugh. The greatest asset this film has though, is it's use of location filming. There is an interesting chase across some rooftops which works very well, but best of all are the amusement park scenes, including a roller coaster ride, and some really nice close-ups of the Fun House Laughing Sal figure. If for no other reason, see the film for her presence.
Originally made in 3-D, this is another of Columbia's black & white releases of this genre (like Vincent Price in the Mad Magician). 3-D process and numerous subjective camera techniques (like scapels used in operation coming out at the screen, bullets firing at speeding cars, whirling around car rides at an amusement park, etc.)make this interesting viewing and out of the ordinary story about a thug who can't remember anything about his $130,000 heist after brain surgery.
Edmond O'Brien plays a criminal who is paroled to participate in experimental brain surgery which will remove his criminal impulses as well as his memory. The problem is that his former partners want their shares of $130,000 he stole before he went to jail. (Big Plot problem: Why would O'Brien agree to participate in this experiment if he knew he had a bundle waiting for him? Wouldn't he just do his time?) This B-crime drama, too light in tone to qualify as a Film-noir (check out O'Brien in DOA if you want to see some real Film Noir), with its paper-thin characterizations and dated tough guy dialog, would be easily forgotten if not for its status as the first Big Studio picture released in 3-D. Check it out: It beat "House of Wax" to the screens by one day. I just had the good fortune to see an excellent print of the film today at the Maryland Film Festival. (I should say prints, since it was projected by two cameras simultaneously.) The 3-D experience more than compensated for any deficiencies in the script. (In the film's defense, it does move along quite quickly in its effort to entertain.) I have seen many of the classic 3-D films in their natural format, and I found the 3-D in this film fabulous. Just seeing the black & white Columbia logo itself was worth the price of admission. Oddly, however, the intentional 3-D effects, amusing as they could sometimes be, distracted from the overall 3-D experience. I found myself fascinated simply by the illusion of depth in simple conversational scenes with the occasional object in the foreground. If I were flipping through the channels and watched a bit of this film flat on television, I doubt I would linger very long on it, but the excellent 3-D made it a worthwhile theatrical experience. Check it out if you ever get the chance.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I recently watched Bluray's 3D release of this for home theaters. Well,
when I saw it was directed by Columbia workhorse Lew Landers, I sort of
knew instinctively this was NOT going to be a film that could
potentially be confused with something directed by say, John Huston.
Yes, I was right! Edmond O'Brien is his usually sturdy self (just a
year away from winning an Oscar for "The Barefoot Contessa") and any
flick with Ted DeCorsia benefits greatly from his menacing presence).
The somewhat convoluted plot is made slightly more credible by the
earnest cast and swift direction by Landers, but does lag at times.
There's a chase on the rooftops between O'Brien and the cops and somehow I just couldn't picture the somewhat stout O'Brien leaping from about from roof to roof and scurrying up and down fire escapes without winding up being on a respirator at the Hollywood Hospital after completing the scenes.
Another aspect that confused the heck out of me is O'Brien's flashbacks detailing how he was finally apprehended by the police. There seems to be two versions flash backed, both entirely different.
As for the 3D, there is a somewhat startling shot of the surgeons' heads looming in a circle over the camera (methinks Landers used this same composition for a scene in "The Raven", a 1935 horror film he directed with Lugosi and Karloff) and some other nice touches, although the "gag" sequences (i.e., things thrown at the audience) don't always come off well (admittedly, these gags probably worked best on the big screen, not on a 3D television).
For example, the goons and O'Brien visit his old house, which has been abandoned and boarded up. Making their way through the cobwebs and dust inside, we are treated to what was either a bird, or a bat, or a hand towel flying out of the screen (it was just BOGUS whatever it was--well, the rubber spider pulled on a string effect, which made the animation on "Gumby" look like "Jurassic Park", was rather jarring as well).
The highlight of the film is definitely the climax taking place at an amusement park, but I somehow felt they could have made more use of the location, particularly with the advantage of filming in 3D.
A fairly good little film, particularly if you are able to see it as it was originally presented.
PS: Not related to the film, but to the Bluray release, as this was not a major movie by Columbia in any way, perhaps they should have added one of Columbia's Three Stooges shorts, namely "Spooks!", which was filmed in 3D. Who knows? Perhaps it did appear on the bill with "Man in the Dark" originally!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The 3D "Bwana Devil" had proved a surprising success and Hollywood now
felt it had a secret weapon in it's fight against the infiltration of
television. "Man in the Dark" was one of only two noirs filmed in 3D
(the other being "I, the Jury") and it was quite an expensive process
for what was really just a programmer. From the start, with punches
flying and guns exploding in front of the camera, it was quite
different to the usual Lew Landers production. Mobster Steve Rawley
(Edmond O'Brien) is due to be operated on as part of a unique brain
experiment to see if his murderous criminal tendencies can be stopped.
It reminded me a bit of "The Crime Doctor" - you know, the first one of
the series where Warner Baxter, originally a crime boss, is hit on the
head and wakes up in hospital, not knowing who he is or what happened
to the stolen money.
Only Edmond O'Brien, being a much superior actor is able to imbue this gritty little noir with much edginess. In his case it is $130,000 and both his old gang and the insurance assessors are all eager to find out where he has hidden the loot. The only thing is he has lost his memory so even though his old gang get to him first and give him a thorough beating it does them no good. His old girl friend, hard boiled tough girl Peg (as only Audrey Totter can play her) is bought in to try to soften him up but she likes the new, gentle Steve and now wants no part of the money.
Just so you don't forget it was originally a 3D movie, there are punches thrown, a bird flies toward the camera, an exciting gun fight from a speeding car with guns levelled right at the cameras and a man hurtling feet first toward the camera from a roller coaster ramp which must have given the original audience a few thrills. Steve starts to regain his original hardness and through a vivid dream, his memory of a chase through an amusement park. The roller coaster ride could have been inspired by the opening shot in the recently released "This Is Cinerama" but a couple of years previously in "Woman on the Run" (1950), the climax came with Ann Sheridan in a particularly scary roller coaster ride filmed at the same Pacific Ocean Park. Peg, now aligned with the police and assessors can only watch as Steve battles his greedy partners atop the ride.
This is a pretty excellent movie with O'Brien, seemingly still on the run (like he was in "D.O.A"). In the original prints Columbia advertised the movie as made in "glowing monocolor" - in reality it was sepia, but prints don't even have that now, just plain black and white.
Here's an example of a routine thriller that could have been so much
better if the script hadn't been so banal. Unfortunately, nothing
really riveting happens until the last twenty minutes when the amnesiac
victim enters an amusement park with some startling results.
It's the final chase scene that make the film come to life, but by that time (and even though the running time is brief), many a viewer will be turned off by the pedestrian script and the average performances.
Even old pros like Edmond O'Brien and Audrey Totter look as though they know the script is the problem. Totter, minus her usually scrappy dialog has a colorless role. She plays it straight but makes almost no impression as the woman who wants her boyfriend to amend his old ways after he finds the missing loot that the villains are chasing him for.
It was originally intended to be shown in 3D, and this is obvious from some of the gimmicky B&W photography for the carnival scene. Still, the low-budget aspect of the whole thing is apparent from the start and the final impression is of a quickie B-film unworthy of O'Brien and Totter.
Ted De Corsia has his usual tough guy role as the punk who likes to slam O'Brien around but even he is handicapped by the hackneyed tough guy dialog. Lew Landers directs the story without any distinction until the final scenes at the amusement park.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
****SPOILERS*** More like his previous movie D.O.A then the film it's
based on "The Man who Lived Twice" Enmund O'Brian is gangster Steve
Rawley who's undergone court order brain experimental surgery to cure
his aggressive and anti-social tendencies. The operation worked but it
obliterated Rawley's memory. One of the things that it also obliterated
is his memory of where he hid the $130,000.00 he and his fellow crooks
Lefty Arrnie & Cookie, Ted de Corsia Horace McMahon & Nick Dennis,
ripped off in a payroll robbery.
Kidnapped off the grounds of the hospital where he's recuperating by Lefty Arnie & Cookie Rawley is worked over in order to find where he hid the payroll money only to get absolutely nothing out of him since his memory has been wiped clean because of his brain operation. It's Rawly squeeze or moll Peg Benedict, Audrey Totter, who realizes that he's telling the truth and rekindles her hot and heavy affair with him not to get the money but him in, the the totally confused Rawley, in the sack together with her.
Originally filmed in 3D and it shows in many of the scenes in the movie "Man in the Dark" especially it's heart dropping final at the Ocean Park, in Santa Monica, Amusement Park. Edmund O'Brain as the confused Steve Rawley recreates his role as Frank Bigelow in D.O.A as a man on he run and does it, he had a lot of experience by then, picture perfectly. Ted de Corsia is also perfect as the greedy and at times brainless tug Lefty who as much as he would love to do in Rawley can't until he finds out where he hid the loot that Rawley has no memory of. Audrey Totter turns out to be the gun moll with a heart of gold in forgetting about the stolen loot and just wanting to get back with her former lover, who has absolutely no idea who she is, Steve Rawley and screw the money and live happily after after together with him. But it's the 3D special effects that's the real star of the film with or without 3D capacity on your TV screen that makes the movie as good and exciting as it is.
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