Friday, January 7, 2011

Cry Vengeance (1954)

I watched this Mark Stevens noir -- truly a Mark Stevens noir, both directed by and starring him -- last night through Netflix. The film is listed as being in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio at the IMDB; however, it is not listed as being made in an anamorphic process (not so indicated in the film's credits either), and it looks perfect as shown by Netflix in the Academy ratio. So this must be one of many instances where the widescreen ratio was achieved by a soft matte during projection. Personally, I think that such films often look better in Academy ratio, although occasionally you'll encounter an instance (John Cassavetes' A Woman under the Influence comes to mind) where the director has failed to "protect" the bigger image, and boom mikes and such show up in the unmatted picture.

Anyway, Cry Vengeance. I quite enjoyed it, even though the plot and characters are standard-issue. Stevens shows himself an adept director visually -- the compositions are pleasing. But what really saves the film is the location shooting in San Francisco and Ketchikan, Alaska. I love the hermetic worlds that soundstage filming can create, but I also feel that genre films gained by "busting out" into the real world during the Fifties. It was a new frontier. And in my personal experience, perhaps because I was trained as a historian, I always find the semi-documentary aspect of such films to be completely riveting; my eyes feast on the simple revelation of what things looked like. I am pretty easy to engage, really, and a film made largely in such a piquant location as Ketchikan does the trick!

Based on the performances of his I have seen, Mark Stevens' specialty seems to have been psychological pain. The pop psychologist in me has to wonder what his life was like, because anguish just drips off the screen whenever he is up there. Stevens was a strikingly handsome guy, at least early on; from the standpoint of one gay man's taste -- mine! -- he rivals William Holden in the "handsome as it gets" category (although this was apparently partly achieved by darkening his red hair and covering his freckles). Yet I haven't often seen Stevens in self-confident or optimistic mode -- I should look at the musicals he made, I suppose -- and his characteristic gloom undercuts his good looks pretty thoroughly. In Cry Vengeance, in which he plays a psychotically vengeful "Mad Max" type (as with Max, his family has been killed), the pain manifests in facial scarring fx, as well as in the acting itself. Mark Stevens does not seem like a promising date.

Looking at his IMDB filmography, I notice among other marginal projects late in his career a 1969 drama intriguingly titled Cry for Poor Wally, also featuring Elisha Cook Jr. and Russell Johnson of Gilligan's Island fame, that seems to have disappeared completely. I haven't even been able to uncover what it was about. My life is strewn with "subjects for further research."


Mike Dennis said...

Patrick, you should check out THE DARK CORNER, a great film noir from 1946 directed by Henry Hathaway. In addition to Stevens, it also stars Lucille Ball and William Bendix. Stevens plays a hardboiled type in this film and he's as confident as you can get.

Patrick Murtha said...

Oh, I have seen "The Dark Corner," but I think we have a difference of perception there. In fact, that film is where my notion of Stevens's depressiveness originates. He is restored to confidence by the end -- it is a relatively upbeat noir, finally -- but during the course of the story the mood of Stevens's character, detective Bradford Galt (love the name!), is on a steep downward trajectory, culminating in the title-yielding line: "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."

But however you look at it, it's a great movie. Thanks for writing! I enjoy your blog a lot and have it in my RSS feed.