Slightly Scarlet (1956) Allan Dwan

“Slightly Scarlet” is one of a few color noirs from the 1950’s (Niagara, Leave Her to Heaven and A Kiss Before Dying to name a few others). A flamboyant Technicolor crime film loosely based on James M. Cain‘s novel, “Love’s Lovely Counterfeit,” the film stars bow-tied John Payne, and two succulent looking redheads, Arlene Dahl and Rhonda Fleming.

Publicist Ben Grace (Payne) is a stooge for local underworld kingpin Solly Casper (Ted de Corsia). With an election coming up, Casper wants Grace to dig up some dirt on the anti-crime fighting mayoral candidate Frank Jansen (Kent Taylor). It turns out the weak link in Jansen’s armor is his beautiful secretary June’s (Rhonda Fleming) ex-con sister Dorothy (Arlene Dahl) who has just been released from prison. Dorothy is beautiful, sexually promiscuous and a kleptomaniac. Ben however falls for June and double-crosses his boss. Casper decides to go after the crime fighting newspaper publisher Norman Marlowe instead, killing him. With pressure mounting from the police, Casper leaves town. Ben, a guy who seems to work both sides of the law, steps in to take over the rackets. He also ends up in the middle of a sexual fantasy with the two sisters hungering for him. It all comes crashing down in a dramatic conclusion when Casper returns to town with a vengeance coming after Ben as he previously promised. 

Shot in lavish widescreen Technicolor, evocative of Douglas Sirk’s melodramas of the same period (Written on the Wind),  the visuals though drenched in rich color are filled with dark shadows and actors with half-lit faces suggestive of the bleak black and white atmosphere relished in classic noir settings. This is all attributable to cinematographer John Alton who remarkably shot this lush color film as if he were using black and white film stock. Alton, a veteran of B noir classics like “Raw Deal”, “T-Men”, “Border Incident”, all directed by Anthony Mann,  and “The Big Combo” was one of the most original and flamboyant DP’s working during this period.

    Rhonda Fleming and Arlene Dahl create their own style of heat, as the good sister (June) and bad sister (Dorothy), though one has to wonder how does June, a secretary afford a luxurious home and a maid too. Is she providing more than secretarial services to her rich boss Jansen?  Both women are dressed in the tightest clothes imaginable accentuating their assets to the fullest degree allowable by cinematic law. Dahl has the showier role as the kleptomaniac and seductive younger needy sister. She is at times a combination of frightened, vulnerable, flirtatious and deceitful. Fleming is continually trying to protect her sister and her own desires, which seem to bounce back and forth between Ben and the kind-hearted Jansen. With their flaming red hair, the two ladies are convincingly believable as sisters.  John Payne, as Ben Grace has the most ambiguous role in the film. His character seems to be all over the map, nice guy, criminal, double crosser. You never know for sure what he is going to do. Payne was in the middle of a second phase in his career. His first began in the 1940’s when he made a series of musicals (Tin Pan Alley, Hello, Frisco Hello) for 20th Century Fox. Later on, he re-energized and changed his image with a series of crime films (99 River Street, Kansas City Confidential) and westerns (Silver Lode, Santa Fe Passage). “Slightly Scarlet” also has one of the great character actors of the 1940’s and 1950’s, Ted de Corsia as mob leader Solly Casper (what a great name!). Brooklyn born De Corsia will be familiar to many for his roles in such films as “The Lady From Shanghai,,” “The Big Combo,” “Naked City,” “The Enforcer” and “The  Killing” (he is the cop who needs to pay off his wife’s medical bills).

    Director Allan Dwan was seventy years old when he made this work and he would go on to make five more films before retiring in 1961. His first film was way back in 1911! In between, he made more than 400 films.  The eternally constipated New York Times critic, Bosley Crowther once again proved his faulty judgment by trashing this film, calling Dahl’s performance laughable and the film “an exhausting lot of twaddle.”  While the film is not in the same class as Cain’s previously adapted to the screen works such as “The Postman Always Rings Twice”, “Mildred Pierce” and the remarkable “Double Indemnity”, this is an entertaining, if not quite a classic piece of work.

No Questions Asked (1951) Harold F. Kress a

No Questions posterage

“No Questions Asked” opened in the late summer of 1951 to mostly seen it all before reviews. The film stars Barry Sullivan, as Steve Kiever, an insurance company lawyer who finds that working for a corporation can be a slow path on the road to success. His beautiful girlfriend Ellen (Arlene Dahl), has expensive taste is just returning from a trip.  Steve is ready to put a ring on her finger and settle down to a blissful married life. Only problem is he does not have any money.

After being turned down for an increase, Steve learns from his boss that the company is willing to make any kind of a deal to get some recently stolen furs back with no questions asked (this would be cheaper than paying out on the policy). As a man who is motivated to climb the corporate ladder, Steve comes up with a plan and starts to make connections within the underworld, arranging a deal. The insurance company will pay ten thousand dollars for the return of the stolen furs with no question asked. For Steve, the company will give him a two thousand five hundred dollar bonus for arranging the exchange. With the bonus from the company, Steve buys a ring and goes over to Ellen’s apartment ready to pop the big question, only she’s gone. Packed up her bags, got married to a man she met on her trip and went off to Europe.

Steve continues to broker deals between the mob and the insurance company for other stolen property. He is oblivious as to who is doing the actual robberies; he does not want to know. All he does is make the connections. In the process making himself a fistful of dollars, enough to open up his own law office and move into a swanky penthouse apartment with a new girl, Joan (Jean Hagen) a former co-worker at the insurance company who has had a crush on him.cuvvb1txm59tt1mv

For a while, life is good for Steve, though the police are monitoring him. While he is not doing anything illegal, crime statistics have gone up because the underworld now realizes they can steal goods, call on Steve who will negotiate a financially satisfying deal for them to return the stolen items, no questions asked. They no longer have to worry about fencing stolen property. It all goes down smoothly until Ellen and her husband return from overseas. The ending turns out to be pretty standard stuff, the double crossers get their due, Steve manages to survive and find true love with Joan, all with a production code approving crime does not pay finale.

Barry Sullivan is stoic as Steve, and for some reason reminded me of David Janssen. He is good though somewhat uninspired in the role.  Arlene Dahl as Ellen, the double crossing first love who aspires to a rich life style is down right dull, managing to look good but that is about all. Part of this is due to a script that really does not bring out the danger of her character. The acting highlights, as they are, belong to Jean Hagen who gives a good performance as the caring former co-worker, Joan who has waited a long time for Steve to finally, realize she was the one.

The script, written by Sidney Sheldon, who also wrote quite a few screenplays before becoming a best selling author. Harold F. Kress, best known as a film editor of such films as “East Side, West Side”, “How the West Was Won, The Teahouse of the August Moon, “The Poseidon Adventure” and “The Towering Inferno” among many others, directed the film.

The film does have some nice noirish qualities, with some sleazy like locations and dimly lit streets, though this NYC is definitely located on an MGM back lot.  “No Questions Asked” gets a recommendation to watch, though the question remains open if you would want to revisit.