Daily Archives: November 6, 2020

Party Girl (1958)

Cyd Charisse plays the titular character, a chorus line dancer named Vicki Gaye working at mob-owned nightclub the Golden Rooster. Set in the 30s, this film noir simultaneously celebrates the Gangster genre and ignores the Depression almost entirely, grafting a very 50s style onto a traditional, strait-laced story arc of redemption. The choreography for Charisse’s dance numbers, for example, is undeniably modernist– resembling something along the lines of Merce Cunningham. While these performances are certainly spectacle they lack the wholesome kicks-and-dimples aesthetic of The Gold Diggers of 1933 and instead come across as burlesque-flavored dance art. Shooting in dazzling Technicolor, director Nicholas Ray bathes Vicki in hot pinks and reds, though offstage her palate dims a bit to coral. Lee J. Cobb is loutish, borderline psycho Rico Angelo– whose name is a nod to that other, iconic Rico of Little Caesar fame. And if Robert Taylor’s rigid performance as mob lawyer Thomas Farrell gets a little tiresome there’s an abundance of other attractions here.

Harper (1966)

Based on a screenplay by William Goldman (Marathon Man, The Princess Bride) adapted from Ross MacDonald’s first Lew Archer novel, Harper follows a winding plot that includes kidnapping, murder, a fake cult, torture with cigarettes, and human trafficking. Chewing gum aggressively, Lew Harper (Paul Newman) searches for disappeared millionaire Ralph Sampson at the behest of the latter’s tony wife Elaine, played with Black Widow charm by Lauren Bacall. Despite the baffling complexity of events, it’s relatively easy to peg Sampson’s excessively handsome and slightly louche private pilot, Allan Taggart (Robert Wagner) as the most likely suspect. As the mystery unravels, however, almost no one can claim to be innocent. The film’s debts to Raymond Chandler’s Socal noir are obvious, especially in its contrast between the sunny opulence of Sampson’s estate and the gaudy interiors of second rate clubs and low rent apartments.