The Dark Corner: Detective Noir: Lucille Ball, Clifton Webb, and “for 6 bits you’d hang your mother on a meathook”

The Dark Corner (1946) Director Henry Hathaway’s (Niagra, Kiss of Death )rhythmical detective Noir, with more than just one great line here or there to fill out the plot. Based on a story by Leo Rosten and adapted to the screen by Bernard C Schoenfeld and Jay Dratler

In most Noir films there are the elements of existential anguish– the angst that runs through the central characters’ narrative. Bradford Galt is a prime example of the detective with this sense of being at the mercy of his past burden, the one that haunts his present life. He got a fast shuffle out west. Now he just wants the chance to start up a legitimate business.

Mark Stevens (The Snake Pit, The Street With No Name) is Bradford Galt, the hemmed in protagonist of the film. A private dick who just can’t escape his past, and is targeted as the fall guy in a plot of revenge.

Lucille Ball is Kathleen Stewart his always faithful and trustworthy secretary who is with Galt for keeps. And then there’s the inimitable Clifton Webb as Hardy Cathcart the overrefined art dealer who’s sanctimonious utterances drives much of the film’s best lines. William Bendix is the quintessential muscle, Stauffer alias Fred Foss who’s been hired to tail Galt. Unnerve Galt into having a confrontation with ex partner Tony Jardine in hopes of framing him by creating a motive for Jardin’s murder. Jardine is a man who blackmails women with incriminating love letters, in addition to having set Bradford up for the manslaughter sentence.

Hardy Cathcart has a sexually grotesque obsession with his wife Mari played by Cathy Downs In fact, his icy preoccupation with owning fine things in particular his wife, who bares a striking resemblance to a rare painting, makes Webb’s character a collector indeed, by entrapping his wife in a marriage as the ultimate ill fated possession. Hardy: “The enjoyment of art is the only remaining ecstasy that is neither immoral nor illegal.”

In the realm of the Noir as detective yarn, Dark Corner goes smoothly through each scene, while less darker than some contributions to Noir, it is sustained by some memorable dialogue.

Dark Corner utilizes some of the characteristic visual motifs of the Noir film The frame within a frame, which creates the environment of imprisonment. Bradford Galt is an iconic figure who’s existential anxieties create the environment of no way out.

Bradford murmurs “There goes my last lead. I feel all dead inside. I’m backed up in a dark corner, and I don’t know who’s hitting me”. This reflects the uncertainty of the character’s situation. Mired in the existential despair of going down blind alleys and not being able to see who his enemies truly are.

Even the shot of Kathleen waiting in the cab, looking out the window, Ball’s face is framed by the glass and the darkened night. She is fixed within her love for Bradford. As she tells him, “she’s playing for keeps.”

There is a very memorable scene in The Dark Corner which has a very vivid moment of someone being flung out a window. I guess defenestration is a popular method of character disposal in Noir/Thrillers. Being hurled out a window is quite a drastic way to die, lets say rather than being shot in the heart once with a small pistol.

The Dark Corner has other inherently typical themes of Noir in addition to the detective yarn, it also shares the Wrong man. Galt has been framed for a crime he did not commit. For the first part of Dark Corner it is also not made very clear the who and/or why someone, possibly this Jardine character is persecuting Galt.

The visual technique chiaroscuro is used powerfully when obscuring  the embrace of Jardin and Cathart’s wife’s downstairs in the lower level of the art gallery, while Hardy Cathcart stands off stage. This ambiguous shadow play that Hardy witnesses reveals that he might have known for quite some time about his wife’s unfaithfulness.

More disturbing is the idea, that as his prized possession, wife Mari is an object d ‘art, a thing, that will remain with him even if she doesn’t love him, even if she’s been with other men. This is the main underpinning for the film. Without Cathcart’s obsession there would be no story.

Bradford Galt (Mark Stevens)is superb as the private investigator who after serving 2 years for vehicular  manslaughter, in which he was set up by his ex-partner a shyster lawyer  the suave Tony Jardine (Kurt Kreuger), Galt comes to New York from San Fransisco to start over. He’s got a kind of Alan Ladd, nice guy look about him.

He opens up his new detective’s agency. Bradford sits in his huge mostly empty office with one large desk and a map of the city on the wall, and a phone.

Lt Frank Reeves ( Reed Hadley) is the ever present detective on Galt’s back, watching over him to make sure that he isn’t going to slide into any criminal behavior again, and let’s Galt know that he’ll be watched from here on out. The detective promised his friends in California that Galt wouldn’t get into any mischief, saying “He’s an impulsive youth” he’d be smart to keep it clean.

One of the driving narratives of Dark Corner is Galt’s self persecution and Ball’s need to prop him up and keep him from feeling sorry for himself. The more he tells her to forget him, the tighter she holds on and sticks by him.

The banter between Stevens and Ball is believable and it’s quite sweet the way they develop their relationship. Even when she mentions him being a detective and uncovering a pair of nylons size nine for her and he keeps saying he’ll make a note of that. It’s their partnership that’s yet the other real focus of the story.

William Bendix, (Frank Foss) hired muscle and tail dressed in an ‘out of season’ linen white suit is tailing Galt and his secretary very conspicuously,while the boss and his lady friend are on their first unofficial date, wandering through the Tudor Penny Arcade, they confer that white suit’s been tagging along.Both Bradford and Kathleen notice him and conspire to get him up to Galt’s office. Kathleen is supposed to wait in a taxi and then follow Foss to where ever. After Galt finds out what his game is. Once Bradford Galt gets hold of Foss (Bendix) he hits back hard and finds out that Jardine the ex partner who had framed Galt back in San Fransisco is now after him once again.

This sets off a chain reaction for Brad to uncover why Jardine is so interested in him again. Brad Galt roughs up Bendix, humiliates him, takes his wallet so he can remember his name and where he lives and when Foss spills ink on his desk, he wipes his inky fingers all over the nice white linen suit.Brad also breaks Bendix’s thumb. Which becomes significant later on in the film.

During the film Galt is as sullen as a wounded animal having been set up a few years earlier by his ex partner and now is being targeted once again, but this is secondary to the plot. It’s the vehicle for which Galt can finally put the demons from the past to bed and start over as a stronger more complete man who’s found his strength and love in his “faithful noir lady” Kathleen(Lucille Ball), who dotes on him and is the strong shoulder to lean on, whenever things get frenzied or dangerous. Kathleen’s in it for keeps.

Kathleen just won’t quit her boss. She knows he’s in trouble and wants to help him in any way she can. She keeps pushing Galt to open up his steel safe “heart”, of his and let her help. After a wonderful kiss, He just tells her ” if you don’t want to lose that stardust look in her eyes to get going while the door’s still open””If you stick around here, you’ll get grafters, shysters two bit thugs, maybe worse, maybe me”

The one liners are great in this film. And there are very many of them. Webb is perfect as the art gallery snob/fop who is more concerned about his collectibles namely his wife than matters of pride, dignity or  moral principal. His wife being his possession and keeping her as such is the only thing that matters to Cathcart.

There is a wonderful element with the little blond girl who keeps playing her penny whistle which irks Bendix’s character and adds a light comical edge to the picture. Galt is being hounded by Bendix using the alias name Foss who doesn’t succeed in running him down with his car, detective Frank Reeves is trailing Galts’ every move to make sure he isn’t into any unsavory business.

Tony Jardine looms over Galt, the memory of having been framed for manslaughter by Jardine who loaded him up with booze, puts him in the car and leaves him to take the rap for killed someone. At times we see Galt as he sits in his big mostly empty office except for his desk. This shot makes him look small and swallowed up. Again, the use of framing the shot with the atmosphere of entrapment.

The Dark Corner is a really fun detective noir film that flows smoothly and pays off at the end as lyrically gritty as it starts out with the sensually playful musical score by composer Cyril J Mockridge.

Just some of the memorable lines:

Bradford Galt to Anthony Jardine: For six bits you’d hang your mother on a meat hook

Bradford Galt: I’m playing this by the book, and I won’t even trip over a comma!

Bradford Galt: I can be framed easier than “Whistler’s Mother”.

Mrs.Kingsly: Isn’t my Turner divine? Look at it! It grows on you.

Hardy Cathcart: You make it sound like a species of fungus.

4 thoughts on “The Dark Corner: Detective Noir: Lucille Ball, Clifton Webb, and “for 6 bits you’d hang your mother on a meathook”

  1. Nice review of The Dark Corner, Jo Jo. This is a movie that didn’t do much for me the first time around. It was like meh. But I rented it a few years later, liked it more, saw it on the old AMC. This one gets better with each viewing.

    Stevens is excellent in the lead,–but gets 4th billing, WTF!–and I’ve never seen Lucille Ball give a better dramatic performance. She’s a revelation in it. Between them, plus William Bendix, Clifton Webb is nearly outclassed by his co-stars, and this is maybe the only time I’ve ever seen this happen. It’s like he’s still playing Waldo Lydecker from Laura.

    The push out the window was a shocker. Director Henry Hathaway did solid work on The Dark Corner. My only beef with it, and it’s a slight one, is that because it’s 20th Century-Fox it has a somewhat slick look to it as to its art direction, which is first rate but doesn’t have the grittiness that it surely would have had had it been made for RKO or even Universal. I like my noirs down and dirty, and this one is a tad antiseptic looking.

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    1. I agree about the film. It’s almost Noir Light. but I found Webb’s character delightfully droll as usual, and Ball was great as the femme demure. It’s sad that Stevens didn’t get top billing he really was great as the sullen lead backed into the dark corner. And the defenestration scene was bold!
      thanks for stopping by the Drive In! Happy New Years hope you’re doing okay~Joey MG

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  2. Of the four stars, after Stevens, I find Lucy the most impressive, and the biggest surprise. Bendix was pretty good, showed that he could play mean, and without a trace of the lovable Chester A. Riley. White Suit was a jerk, kind of got what he deserved.

    I’m hangin’ in there. Health is okay for the time being, money not so good.

    And a happy new year to you, too.

    John

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