True confession: I picked this week’s film and couldn’t remember why until I looked up old movie reviews (besides the obvious point in its favor as a film noir). Our film this week was banned in several US cities for its questionable moral message, and one of the first mainstream Hollywood films to feature a serious crime going unpunished (er, spoiler?). I’ve also finally accepted that I’m never actually going to watch Metropolis, and a Fritz Lang noir must be the next best thing, right?
A fairly white bread man with artistic aspirations becomes obsessed with a mysterious young woman whose main interests are money and looking aloof.
The Uncondensed Version:
Note: One thing you just have to live with in this film is the lead’s name, Chris Cross, which works on a symbolic level but also might make you giggle every time you are reminded that this is his full name.
Chris Cross is a good little worker bee—he’s just been recognized for 25 years of loyal service by his boss, cares for his wife Adele, and looks upon his boss’s affair with vague disapproval. On the other hand, Chris dreams of being recognized as an artist, freedom from his loveless marriage, and the admiration of a young woman that comes so easily to his employer. The answer to his problems seems to come via a chance encounter with a young woman named Kitty.
As Chris emerges from the subway following a sort of a work bros dinner party, he sees a violent altercation between a man and woman. He rushes towards the scene and sort of taps him with an umbrella, which somehow knocks the man flat. Chris then rushes to alert the police, but returns to find the other man has vanished. Kitty, the young woman, tells the officer the man was a stranger who demanded her money and ran away.
Chris has more than a casual interest in Kitty and takes her out for a drink before bidding her good night. Alcohol decidedly does not strip away their inhibitions, as everything they reveal to each other is a complete crock. Chris claims to be a successful artist who goes around selling $50,000 paintings and buying works by Cezanne to hang on his wall. Kitty, on the other hand, is very concerned about finding Johnny, though she later insists he’s no one. According to Kitty, she’s an actress…but it’s heavily implied she’s a sex worker.
Soon after, we learn Johnny is none other than the scumbag who beat her up at the beginning of the film, and is sort of her boyfriend and pimp. Seeing the potential for a scam, Johnny persuades Kitty to get more and more money from Chris, and she even manages to have a fab studio/apartment set up where she can live. In reality, the oodles of money Chris is shelling out is stolen from his wife and workplace. Surely no one will notice significant amounts of money missing.
Kitty is vaguely uncomfortable with asking for all of this money, but is very devoted to her horrible boyfriend and their schemes to get rich and settle down. When Johnny gets the idea to sell the valuable paintings, Kitty objects but ultimately goes along with it. Unsurprisingly, Johnny’s first attempts to sell work by a “famous” artist no one has heard of doesn’t go well…until a collector likes the paintings and recognizes their potential.
When pressed to identify the artist, Johnny points out Kitty. This complicates their scheming as Kitty must now explain where Chris’s paintings have been disappearing and why Johnny is perpetually hanging around her. Chris doesn’t like Johnny to begin with (as virtually no living human being could) and becomes increasingly jealous and suspicious of his relationship with Kitty. Nevertheless, he chooses to ignore his doubts and is convinced she’ll marry him if he can find a way out of his marriage with Adele.
Things finally seem to be going Chris’s way when a mysterious stranger from Adele’s past offers a clear path to ending the marriage and living happily ever after with Kitty. …Unless, of course, the truth comes out…
4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads
This isn’t quite up there with my noir favorites (Laura, Out of the Past, Sunset Boulevard, Notorious), but Christ, it’s close. There’s not a single likeable character to be found, all morality is skewed, and the ending is pitch black.
The atmosphere is tense AF, the dialogue is so spot-on (Chris has this brilliant line about how he never could manage perspective that is too fucking real), and the acting is quite subtle considering the high melodrama involved in the plot.
My biggest complaint is that Kitty isn’t quite as cool as I wanted her to be–I found myself wishing she had more agency. All of her decisions revolved around Johnny even though he was a despicable human being. It’s frustrating to watch a very street-smart female character make awful choices while remaining blind to reality.
However, we do get perhaps the most progressive film noir scene ever when Chris paints Kitty’s toenails (though, of course, this is also a symbol of her power over him and his emasculation).
I CHOOSE THE FORMER INTERPRETATION.