This film is an adequate film noir (kinda…we’ll get to that in a bit) set in New York City. A washed-up boxer impulsively gets involved with a willowy blonde neighbor who lives in his building. He pretty much falls in love with her at first meeting and they plan to run away to Seattle together (he’s got family there) and start a new life together. But her seedy boss who runs a Taxi Dance Hall (noted hotbeds for prostitution back then, the film basically hints that he may be her Pimp – thank you Hayes Code) in Times Square has other, more violent ideas.
I liked this. I probably wouldn’t watch it again, purely for entertainment, but it’s serviceable noir at times.
First the good. The shots are tremendous. A combination of well-framed scenes, especially in the two apartments, really make use of perspective (the Boxer and the Lady are in the same building and their windows look in on each other’s apartments). Kubrick uses these shots to good effect in terms of foreshadowing and plot advancement. The acting is middling, but acceptable. Frank Silvera, a holdover from Fear and Desire , turns in the best performance as the volatile dance hall boss, leading you to wonder if he is playing her and the boxer, or he is being played by her. The boxing match scenes are amazing; they presage Raging Bull in my opinion (without the blood – Hays Code…). Kubrick masterfully went guerilla a bit with his external shots of Times Square and NYC and they are really wonderful to behold. There are quite a few scene cuts or transitions to items or trivia that provide foreshadowing or accentuate events in the film. He is really growing and finding himself as a director and cinematographer. There is a haunting death scene in an alley worthy of Fritz Lang you see up under this post’s title.
Now for the meh. Story-wise, this thing is pretty simple. There is a running use of voice over narration in this one by the boxer, as the story begins at the end, with him at Penn Station, telling us the tale in his mind. This is for two reasons. Firstly, Kub fired his sound people who kept “getting their equipment in his shots” so the whole thing has dubbed dialogue. Secondly, after the debt incurred by the loss taken on Fear and Desire (which was covered by Kub doing some documentary work for a guy in Kentucky) his moneybags Uncle had no desire to fund this project. So most of the initial budget was covered by Morris Bousel, a Bronx pharmacist who was rewarded with a co-producer credit (Kub’s dad was a wealthy doctor, hence all the medical connections here). However, United Artists offered to pay $100,000 for this film another $100,000 for a second film. But they wanted a happy ending. To a Noir. Whatever. So the Penn Station framing device was tacked on to create a happy ending.
Another befuddling decision was to have a digression filming a ballet dancer performing on an empty stage while the blonde tells our boxer fella her life story, which is a long digression completely unrelated to the plot. This is a 68 minute film, folks. Gotta keep it moving. Not surprisingly this is Kub’s wife at the time, Ruth Sobotka. So Kub really watered down a lot of impact this film could have had with bad decisions on the sound, and compromises - personal, code-driven and professional.
But watching this really made viewing the dreadful Fear and Desire worthwhile as comparisons. And knowing what his next picture is, you can really see the near-logarithmic growth of the artist as a Filmmaker.