1939. Charles “King” Vidor (dir.) Starring Ralph Bellamy, Ann Dvorak, Chester Morris.
Criterionchannel.com avers Blind Alley is “one of the very first Hollywood films” accurately described as noir, though the basic premise– a crew of criminals on the lam take a bourgeois family hostage– depends heavily on the gangster genre. In addition the film’s claustrophobic locale– the interior of a psychology professor’s lakeside mansion– tends to render the action fairly static. The primary conflict between the main antagonists takes the form of the pipe-smoking academic (Shelby) and a neurotic yet sadistic escaped convict (Wilson), who wrangle over the content of the latter’s expressionistic dreams, which ultimately lend stylistic verve to an otherwise literalist interpretation of childhood trauma. The crushingly obvious Oedipal conclusion Shelby and Wilson arrive at– “every time you kill a man you kill your father”– disarms the gangster with self-knowledge, precipitating his sudden death. Ann Dvorak plays an appealing moll, not only devoted to her killer-lover but aroused by his spontaneous acts of violence.