Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Warner Archive Instant Noir Picks: TENSION ""

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Warner Archive Instant Noir Picks: TENSION

TENSION (1949; John Berry)
TENSION has all the early earmarks of an almost cliched noir film, but it works great in the end. It starts with what is basically a fourth wall break and Barry Sullivan (as a police detective) talking to camera about the story we're about to see. From there, he continues to narrate for us in that way that, as I say, almost feels like a spoof. It works somehow though and what we're left to watch play out is a wonderful hard-boiled noir tale with a wonderful femme fatale at the center of it. That fatale is played perfectly by Audrey Totter. In the opening scenes between her and her henpecked pharmacist husband (Richard Basehart), I was immediately reminded of the relationship between Marie Windsor and Elisha Cook Jr. in Kubrick's THE KILLING. The two characters are so intensely dislikable that if they ever existed in the same room together I feel like they might create some kind of evil energy paradox and open up a rip in space-time. Both Totter's and Windsor's characters are a love-to-hate kind of proposition and they really drive their respective films in a very specific direction. Their evil is something so well placed in film noir whereas in most other genre's they would be absolutely intolerable. In the noir context these characters are endlessly entertaining and the centerpiece of the tension (and often comedy as well). 
The plot of this movie is simple enough. Lowly pharmacist has a trampy trophy wife who mistreats him in a big way and yet he will do anything to keep her. When she finally bails on him, the pharmacist decides to create an alter ego for himself to facilitate the murder of the man she has left him for. As is always the case, things do not work out as planned and their are many nice twists and turns that increase pressure in this pressure cooker. 
One thing I love to see in a movie is when they bring in some heavy hitter actors/characters more than halfway through the story. In this case it's Barry Sullivan and William Conrad as the two homicide detectives assigned to a murder case. It's neat because Sullivan has been narrating from the first frame but he doesn't appear in the movie for quite some time. On top of that, he and William Conrad have great chemistry together and are a force to be reckoned with (and both are often pretty funny too). The hardboiled dialogue levels jump way up when these two cops enter the scene. Audrey Totter's character has that kind of street-speak down as well so it's just fun to hear the characters interact. Overall, the movie just has everything you could really ask for from this kind of movie. Cops, jealousy, passion, murder, tramps and more. If you're in the mood for a fun noir flick, this one should fill that void rather nicely and it is currently streaming via Warner Archive Instant:
(which has a 2 week free trial if you haven't jumped on board yet)

1 comment:

Jon Lusty said...

I missed this film when it was on Warner Archive Instant but just watched it on TCM as part of their Noir Alley series. Great film! Even better the second time through. Yes, I watched it twice. :)