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The novel writter Dashiell Hammett is involved in the investigation of the mysterious disappearance of a beautiful chinese cabaret actress in San Francisco. Written by
Michel Rudoy <email@example.com>
Atmosphere and acting can't rescue unexciting story
It's the 1920s and writer Dashiell Hammett gets involved in a Chinatown blackmail and murder mystery.
I liked the atmosphere, cinematography, set and production design. If I watch it again, it will be for these and some of the performances. It was all done on sound stages. Most of the time, this didn't matter, but once or twice the sound track announced this and intruded. The direction was unexciting. It was too much of the same pacing, with not enough variation.
I liked the acting of Frederic Forest, Marilu Henner and veteran Elisha Cook. I like Peter Boyle, but here his part was too tame or he was directed that way. Richard Bradford managed to give a creditable showing. R.G. Armstrong was borderline parody. The movie fell down quite badly with many of the other acting parts, including Lydia Lei (enunciation gave her a problem), Michael Chow (not too bad but not good in comparison with Turhan Bey), Roy Kinnear (awful in comparison with Sydney Greenstreet), David Patrick Kelly (a poor excuse for Elisha Cook), and Jack Nance (a parody that threw the movie out of gear whenever he appeared and spoke.) I love John Barry's music in James Bond movies and some others, but he really missed the mark here. The James Bond chords are out of place. Can an English composer catch the American jazz sounds of the 20s? Maybe, but not in this case. Instead the score is dripping in a stylized, fake, bluesy imitation that represents nostalgia. This kind of sound has been the case in other such movies of this period. As I recollect, even The Sting is infected by some of it. It's slow, undramatic, and syrupy. Too much piano, not enough saxophone, trumpet, and rhythm.
The story is all right. It appears that the film makers decided not to play it as a straight 40s or 50s style mystery set in the 20s. That would have worked better. Too much homage to past symbols and nostalgia, mixed in with a serious story acted poorly, produced an uneven outcome without a mind of its own or a clear dramatic thrust.
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