Saturday, November 2, 2013

I Walk Alone (1948)

Director: Byron Haskin                                   Writer: Charles Schnee
Film Score: Victor Young                               Cinematography: Leo Tover
Starring: Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Lizabeth Scott and Wendell Corey

I’m a big fan of film noir, even some of the low-budget stuff, but I Walk Alone leaves me a little cold. I’m not sure if it’s the script and the way that it has very little originality, or perhaps it’s Lizabeth Scott who always seemed like a poor man’s Lauren Bacall to me, or even the pedestrian characterization of Burt Lancaster who acts like a petulant teenager throughout the whole thing. There’s also a real sense of claustrophobia to the first half of the film, taking place almost exclusively in a nightclub, and shows the film's beginnings as a stage play. Byron Haskin doesn’t really seem like the right kind of director for the film, either, though that’s only in retrospect. He had worked in Europe for a while, and became Warner Brothers’ head of special effects during the late thirties and early forties. This was only his second sound film as a director, and while the beginning is slow, he does some nice work in the second half.

The story begins with Burt Lancaster getting out of prison after fourteen years. His brother, Wendell Corey, picks him up at the train station and takes him to a room he’s rented for him. But Lancaster has things on his mind, foremost among them meeting with his former partner, Kirk Douglas, who had left him holding the bag in an arrest running illegal liquor over the Canadian border during prohibition. He comes into Douglas’s club, but the owner has no idea what he wants. It’s not until Douglas sets up an intimate dinner with Lancaster and Lizabeth Scott that Lancaster tells her that just before Douglas ran out on him that he promised to share fifty percent of his profits with him. The scene in the office when Lancaster hires some thugs to get his share from Douglas is a classic. The world of Prohibition has passed him by and organized crime has become big business.

What’s interesting is that the conventions of noir had only been established a few years earlier, but they already seem like a cliché here. It’s an odd little film that really doesn’t get going until the second half and, as impressive as some of the camera work and lighting is, there’s no getting around Scott’s ponderous presence. Another disappointing element is Victor Young’s score, which tends to overwhelm the action at times with rather generic music that competes with the dialogue. This was only Kirk Douglas’s fourth film, and Burt Lancaster’s fifth, but they both do a nice job. It's also nice to see Wendell Corey again, best known for his minor role in Rear Window. There are also small roles that are filled impressively by Marc Lawrence and Mike Mazurki. I Walk Alone is a weak film noir that has an impressive cast but takes far too long to deliver something interesting. It’s worth watching for its historical value, but wasn’t one of my favorites.

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