BluRay/DVD Reviews

NOCTURNE (WB ARCHIVES)

By • Feb 28th, 2014 •

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I’m not convinced that Raft was the first choice for this vehicle. He’s very good in it, with his normally placid demeanor as appropriate as could be for a noir. But some elements in the screenplay don’t ring true, even with the knowledge that scenes were cut. Nonetheless the film’s a keeper for all kinds of reasons.

First there’s the personal stuff. For someone who claimed to have slept with a different woman every night of the year for decades, it’s amusing to see Raft cast as a momma’s boy, and he pulls it off. (Mabel Paige as his mother really delivers.) Likewise, in a scene where he is looking for information about a suspect, he pretends he was sent to a dance studio for lessons, and the instructor tells him to loosen up. Raft was a fine dancer, behind the likes of Astaire, Kelly, O’Conner, Cagney, but still a strong contender. So that was another fun in-joke.

Now to the film. The opening scene goes on way too long, but the opening shot of the opening scene is amazing. Perhaps not TOUCH OF EVIL amazing, but not far behind it on the impressive shot list. And there’s a tight close-up, also in the opening scene, of a high-heeled shoe touching the floor, which communicates a surprising amount of emotion purely visually.

Raft plays Joe Warne, a smart detective who doesn’t buy that the death of a famous, womanizing composer was suicide. He has absolutely nothing to go on, but on and on he goes, getting in trouble with his boss for an accumulation of minor infractions, and getting nowhere fast with his obsessive investigation.

There’s a ‘LAURA’ element to the narrative, where the blowups of the many conquests made by the dead composer intrigue him, but it doesn’t have the propellant power that Gene Tierney’s portrait had on Dana Andrews. And there are a few logic slip-ups that perhaps remained in the script from an earlier stage in its development prior to Raft signing on. For instance, while searching tor the woman in the one missing wall portrait, he visits a diner and talks with a waitress. Angered for no apparent reason, he rips a music-roll out of a player piano, an expense that the innocent diner proprietor didn’t deserve. But that kind of flaring, unjustified anger isn’t established as part of his psyche, and the gesture rings false – and loudly. True, he later acts again out of sudden anger, but while the script nurtures this character nuance, Raft just can’t sell it as part of his nature.

Still, NOCTURNE is an enjoyable noir overall, populated with grotesque types (perennial components of the noir palette), very nicely shot and lit (one of the enduring stylistic traits of the genre), and one never tires of Raft’s persistent, low-key obsessiveness. He’s solid and sympathetic, and he gets good, hard-boiled support from Lynn Bari and Myrna Dell.

Joseph Pevney, who plays a smarmy pianist here, by 1950 had embarked on a directing career, giving us SHAKEDOWN (noir), MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES (Cagney as Chaney), and 3 RING CIRCUS (Martin & Lewis), among many other features, and episodes of ‘Star Trek (14 of them, tied with Marc Daniels for the most from a single director)’, ‘The Alfred Hitchcock Hour,’ ‘The Munsters,’ ‘Bonanza,’ and ‘Marcus Welby, M.D.’ among his numerous TV stints.

Edward L. Marin, NOCTURNE’s director, worked several times with Raft, on JOHNNY ANGEL, MR. ACE, INTRIGUE, RACE STREET and CHRISTMAS EVE, a few of them noirs. He also did a bunch of titles with Randolph Scott, a bunch more with Reginald Owen, and a slew of them with Robert Young. So obviously he was a director with whom actors got on well. The film does feel comfortably and capably helmed, with some gratifyingly sly interpretations of lines and scenes. You look forward to how people are going to react next, and that’s a fun state of suspense to be held in.

I’m a fight scene aficionado, and there’s a noteworthy one in the third act. Though seemingly missing one vital cutaway in the editing, it is still powerful.

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