We interrupt our regularly scheduled blog post.
In answer to Moira Finnie’s call for imaginary film noir dream casts (see her post at Skeins of Thought), and because I can’t refuse a double-dog dare, here is a film that should have been made, but for studio politics, or the Code, or maybe just nobody got around to it. The cast and crew are assembled without regard to studio affiliation, like a dream team, if you will.
“Dead Men Need a Plot.”
The time: 1949. The place: Los Angeles. It is raining. It rains the entire movie. There is a severe trench coat shortage. Things couldn’t get more bleak. Well, yes, they could.
Charles Lane - Perennial character actor playing scowling sour types for all of five minutes of screen time in a million movies, for once in his life, gets to play the lead. He is a private investigator on the hunt for his missing partner, played by…
Humphrey Bogart - who, for once in his life, plays a happy go lucky schmuck for all of about five minutes of screen time. His name is Clarence and his socks don’t match.
Barbara Stanwyck is his sister, Inez De Valencia, who arranged to have brother Bogey kidnapped for his own good, because he knew too much, until the heat is off, until his memory comes back, until it stops raining. Her name, like the blonde wig, is fake. She liked the sound of it. She used to have a cat by that name. Then the cat died.
Stanwyck is crazy in love with Charles Lane. Who wouldn’t be? That nasal twang and those glasses! But she has competition. Lizabeth Scott, Ruth Roman, and Lauren Bacall are society dames all with secrets only Bogie knows, and all not so secretly harboring passionate desire for Charles Lane, perhaps even enough to kill for him. (In the 1977 parody/remake written by Neil Simon, “Only Funny If You’ve Seen the Original So You Get the Jokes”, Lauren Bacall’s part is played even better by Eileen Brennan.)
James Gleason plays the hard-boiled police detective with seasonal allergies and a grudge against Charles Lane.
Regis Toomey is his desk sergeant with the sick mother, played by Ethel Barrymore, who accidentally shoots Toomey when he tiptoes into her room to check on her. Charles Lane happens upon the scene shortly afterward, and gets pinned for the murder. Nobody would believe Ethel Barrymore would shoot anybody, even though we hear she’s done that sort of thing before.
Dana Andrews and Arthur Kennedy are bitter war veterans, one of whom is engaged to Ruth Roman, but they can’t remember which one, so they duke it out in the waterfront bar where Bogey is being held in the basement under heavy sedation, “Liebesträume” played over and over again on a nearby upright piano by…
Van Heflin, a drifter who took the job only because he needed the money and was out of cigarettes.
On the lam from James Gleason, Charles Lane enters the bar, gets hit with a blackjack for the 47th time, and, over the noise of the fistfight, as he regains consciousness hears dimly the strains of “Liebesträume” coming up from the floorboards, which of course leads him right to Bogey.
Stanwyck has a great scene here where she pleads with Charles Lane to leave Bogey safely where he is, so that she and Charles Lane can be married. Charles Lane has no idea what she’s talking about, but isn’t surprised she’s in love with him, because he’s, well, Charles Lane. He gives her the brush off in his utterly macho Charles Lane way, and she pulls out a bullwhip. Heflin segues into a spirited rendition of “Mule Train” when Stanwyck’s whip snapping sends the astonished Charles Lane sprawling over Van Heflin’s piano. Heflin quits on the spot.
Bogey comes out of his stupor. Stanwyck crawls out the cellar window, not easy in beaded crepe de Chine, leaps onto a horse in the alley and rides off. The whole thing nearly turns into a western, but for the quick thinking of cinematographer, Gregg Toland, who pulls off a remarkable shot where we can see the retreating Stanwyck galloping down Sunset Boulevard in the distance, and the extreme close-up on her husband’s service revolver in the gloved hand of the late-arriving Ruth Roman (who has thrown over whichever of the bitter war vets is her husband for Charles Lane) at the same time. The dizzying effect makes our eyes hurt and we are diverted away from all thoughts of westerns.
Look for a cameo appearance by Alfred Hitchcock as the man at the bar trying unsuccessfully to tell a funny story. Odd for Hitchcock to have a cameo, because he didn’t direct this picture. He just showed up at the wrong soundstage, and they put him to work.
Mary Astor also has a brief role as the Crazy Woman with Tuba in the nightclub scene, but she’s uncredited and you have to pause it to really see her standing behind redhaired, gum snaping cigarette girl played by Moira Finnie.
“Dead Men Need a Plot” is directed by Ida Lupino, script is by Raymond Chandler and Olive Higgins Prouty, and several other writers who shortly became blacklisted so of course, we cannot mention their names. They’d probably rather we didn’t.
Anybody else want to try? Grab a cast.
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