Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Road to Hell Paved with Cops and Cash

She looks so peaceful when she's asleep, but Ida Lupino not only starred in 1954's Private Hell 36, she co-wrote the screenplay. She plays Lilli Marlowe (perhaps a nod to "Lili Marleen"), a nightclub singer whose lust for wealth leads already reckless cop Cal Bruner (Steve Cochran, namesake of Steven Patrick Morrissey) to steal from a crime scene, though she doesn't know it. The only one who does know is Cal's partner, Jack Farnham (a Howard Duff improved greatly from his appearance in The Naked City), who's torn up with existential noir angst from the knowledge. It's a good little B-movie noir.

Oh, yeah, Dorothy Malone's in the movie, too, as Jack's wife who's mainly there to worry him about how they don't have as much money as they'd like to support their kid.

I've yet to find a movie that uses Malone as well as she was used in that tiny scene as the bookstore clerk in The Big Sleep. It's a shame, because she was so gorgeous, and had such nice mischief in her eye.

Lupino is great, as always, coming off as very sharp, psychologically more together than "loose" women were generally allowed to appear at the time. When she does get some idea of what Cal's done near the end, she asks, hey, why not, cops work hard for less money than they deserve anyway. In one line she brings in the moral ambiguity that somehow wasn't quite working with Duff stewing over having to play by the rules when he has a kid to worry about.

This movie doesn't really make any missteps, though. Lupino sings at one point, and you can hear the cigarettes over her frequent inability to hit the right key, but maybe Lilli's not such a great singer. She sure looks great, though.

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