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Re-visiting Noir

Posted at 1:58 PM on December 11, 2006 by Euan Kerr

The new George Clooney/Stephen Soderbergh "The Good German" opens on the 22nd, and to promote the movie the Edina Theater is mounting a film noir mini-festival. You can see "Casablanca" tomorrow night, and "The Maltese Falcon" Wednesday, The screenings are both at 7.30pm and free. People who attend will get passes for an early screening of "The Good German."

Co-incidently another noir rolled through the Kerr household at the weekend, Orson Welles' detective drama "Touch of Evil."

Years ago I watched the opening in a film class. It's a single shot which follows a crime in process. It begins with the setting and planting of a time-bomb in the trunk of a car then follows the car through a border town across the Mexican border and into the US. The first cut comes when the car blows.

It's an amazing shot and it presages almost two hours of classic Welles, playing a corpulent corrupt US detective called Captain Hank Quinlan. He butts heads with a Mexican state attorney Miguel Vargas played a little implausibly by bottle-tanned Charlton Heston. Vargas is meant to be celebrating his marriage to Susan (Janet Leigh) but events conspire to take him away from her then her away from him.

The plot is a little ridiculous, but Welles is fascinating to watch. Quinlan is a complicated and odious character and Welles sweats his way through it with gusto. When he is on screen it's hard to take your eyes off him.

The DVD I saw begins with a note that the version it contains is not the film originally distributed. Apparently the studio took the film from welles and added various explanatory scenes, while cutting about 15 minutes of other material. The 1998 version is a restored version following a 58 page memo Welles sent to the studio after seeing the studio version.

Apparently there are copies of the studio release which would be interesting to compare with the Welles cut.

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