Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Notes from a Losey double-header

M and The Big Night were only two of three dark films (along with The Prowler) that Joseph Losey made in the year that Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were sentenced to death; Lefty Losey himself would be exiled from Hollywood before their funeral. M is, of course, a remake of Fritz Lang's witchhunt classic, and (other than Jim Backus's nearly vaudevillian turn as a photo op-hungry mayor) faithful enough throughout so that the last half hour's detour into Peter Brooks territory is exhilaratingly jarring. Losey's trope of throwing a disruptive outsider into an already-fissured community is present here, but the scrim of noir means that these outsiders are going to be helpless against the surroundings that they've disrupted. And so Ernest Laszlo's camera fixes patiently on windows and stairwells while David Wayne's child-killer hopelessly walks, then runs, in and out of frame, eventually guiding a tour through Angel's Flight, the Pacific Ocean Pier, and the Bradbury Building. Laszlo also holds on glasses of milk, a balloon, and a ball, but these shots are more empathetic: heartbreaking reminders of lives abandoned. The Big Night, unfortunately, has the feel of a teleplay, maybe something from The Elgin Hour or The Goodyear Playhouse, though Preston Foster is a provokingly cast symbol of paternal castration. Seventy minutes culminate with an echo of M: untouched birthday cake as reminder of innocence abandoned.



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