Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Warner Archive - RIFF-RAFF (1947) ""

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Warner Archive - RIFF-RAFF (1947)

RIFF-RAFF (1947; Ted Tetzlaff)
From its excellent (and stylish) six-minute, wordless opening - RIFF-RAFF is a movie that lets you know you are in good hands. The opening its is a really neat little short film unto itself that sets up the proceedings nicely. It deals with a tiny group of people prepping to board a small private flight from an eerie deserted hangar during a thunderstorm downpour. It's really just about exchanged looks, glances mostly, between the seven or eight characters in the opening. It is a simply lovely piece of filmmaking and I've said this before, but movies don't bother much with opening sequences anymore. You do see the occasional well thought out introduction to a film, (the latest MISSION IMPOSSIBLE film comes to mind) but it's mostly a thing that directors rush through to get the movie going. I really do think that your movie's opening is really like the front room of someone's house. It can give you an accurate indication of who lives there. When people take time to craft a beginning properly it both takes advantage of the cinematic medium and gently sets up a foundation for the story you are about to see unfold. RIO BRAVO is my go to example of brilliant wordless openings. It is absolutely sublime how Hawks sets up his characters and his story to beatifically and economically with that sequence. There's a reason it's one of my very favorite movies of all time. It's a shame though that there are very few memorable beginnings in cinema this days. I'm not sure why this kind of thing has become less prominent. Perhaps tighter budgets mean an opening sequence has to be more perfunctory - as a place for the titles and credits. Some people just don't understand that the beginning of a movie really announces what you are about watch. I feel like Paul Thomas Anderson talks about they on the BOOGIE NIGHTS commentary as his reading for doing such an elaborate opening shot on that film. Anyway, I guess I'm saying that you filmmakers should always work on opening your movies with pinache.
So RIFF-RAFF. It's a good little Noir. Pat O'Brien plays Dan Hammer (seriously). He's a private dick of sorts and he has Panama wired. He knows everyone there and need only scribble into a business card to call in any number of favors he seems to have at his disposal. His town is invaded by oil-hungry low-lifes who will do anything to get their hands on a map to a large group of unregistered claims. A map - that's right. Like something out of Scoiby-Doo, but I love it. It's kind of like a mini-MALTESE FALCON or something though. Dan Hammer is a bit more of a grafter than Sam Spade, but he's just as charismatic. And there's a dame of course, there almost always is. Thankfully she's played to charming perfection by Anne Jeffreys. This is easily my favorite Pat O'Brien role. I like him as an actor, but I've not been able to connect with a lot of his second fiddle performances. Here he really owns the Hammer character and makes him one of the more memorable on-screen private eyes in movies. He even wears a pimp hat. Few characters like this gave pulled off a pimp hat, but he does it. This movie is an underseen classic ripe for rediscovery. I will definitely be counting this movie among my favorite film discoveries of 2016.

Clip of the opening of RIFF-RAFF:

RIFF-RAFF can be purchased from Amazon here:


dwiff said...

You forgot the dog!

Laura said...

Awesome, this was one of my Favorite Discoveries of 2015 and I'm thrilled to see it will make your 2016 list!

Looking forward to seeing this again in 35mm on the opening night of the Noir City Fest!

Best wishes,