Long before video became the standard home format for movies taken by family of loved ones, friends, and maybe even of some gory accidents you happen to come across that may make it on the local news, there were 8mm home movies. One of my uncles was the first in the family to have an 8mm camera which he purchased around the time of the birth of their first child and my cousin. We lived near each other and subsequently I made it on to the grainy screen in quite a few of the 50 foot reels. While most of the movies were dedicated to family there were a couple of minutes of celluloid my uncle shot that had nothing to do with family. This was way back in the 1950’s and they were dismantling the 3rd Avenue El, the last of the above ground subways to run in Manhattan. My uncle shot some footage and its amazing footage to watch of a New York City now long gone.
I bring this up because in the opening shots of Henry Hathaway’s The Dark Corner there are some prominent shots of the elevated subway’s structure. Standing underneath is a creepy looking William Bendix. Bendix is a thug who’s trailing P.I. Bradford Galt (Mark Stevens) who recently relocated to New York from San Francisco to start life anew after serving a two year jail term. He was framed by his lawyer/associate, Anthony Jardine (Kurt Kreuger). Galt’s new secretary, Kathleen (Lucille Ball), not only likes her job, but is hooked on her handsome boss. Galt doesn’t know why he’s being followed. Hoping to get him to divulge who hired him, he roughs up Bendix, whose character claims his name is Fred Foss, Foss refuses to say anything.
Later, an attempt by Foss to run down Galt leads the P.I. to make him think it’s his old partner, Jardine that is behind it all. Foss it turns out was driving Jardine’s car, ‘borrowed’ for the occasion. Naturally, it’s all a setup. The man behind it all, is gallery owner Hardy Cathcart (Clifton Webb). His motive becomes clear when we learn Jardine is having an affair with Cathcart’s wife, Mari, (Cathy Downs). They plan to leave town together. The gallery owner wants Galt to rid him, unknowingly, of his problem.
New York has always been an island of both gritty mean streets filled with fire escapes, dumpy local diners and glaring streetlights as well as the world of expensive 5th Avenue apartments and art galleries. The Dark Corner straddles both worlds going back and forth mixing them together with deadly results.
It’s all pretty standard stuff in the crime genre. There’s a lot of tough talk, some of which seems strained, there’s plenty of violence, particularly the death of Bendix. However, thanks to Hathaway’s tight crisp direction and Joseph McDonald’s low key lighting the film is visually satisfying.
I have mixed feelings about Lucille Ball’s role. It’s not that she’s bad, she is not. However, here she is more of a Girl Friday than femme fatale. She’s sassy enough for sure, but there’s a twinkle in her eyes that are a bit too bright for a dark film. And my biggest problem is, buried in the back of my mind…Lucy is Lucy. She is embedded in my psyche as Lucy Ricardo of I Love Lucy. Having grown up with the classic sit-com and her later shows, I just cannot find her believable in a dark film noir. She comes across as too perky… well too Lucy. It’s in her eyes. On the other side of the coin is William Bendix. I first became aware of Bendix from his own 1950’s TV sit-com, The Life of Riley. Yet, in his film career, I have no problem taking him in a variety of roles from dumb clucks to nasty villains, both of which he has played on various occasions. Lucy, of course, is somewhat of a cultural institution which is not the case with Bendix and The Life of Riley, an almost forgotten show.
Watching Mark Stevens made me wonder what Bogart, Dick Powell or Robert Mitchum could have done with this role. Stevens just does not seem cynical enough. He doesn’t have that look of walking down those mean streets.
Overall, The Dark Corner is a middle of the road film noir that needed a more original script and actors who look like they lived the life. You watch, you enjoy it, yet feel like you have been there before.