Let’s get to it. Presenting:
New York. Old New York. That’s Penn Station, of course - one of the most spectacular spaces in New York, torn down for a rathole station and dull blunt skyscrapers up above.
We can get the Star Trek connection out of the way in the first minute, thank heavens:
Gerald Fried, red-shirts died! Nothing very Trek about the score; it’s does the job. Sounds nice and crisp, thanks to the Criterion transfer. And why would Criterion lavish time and money on a little 1955 crime story that’s 67 minutes long?
Ah. Well. There you go. It’s considered his first, although he’d done a few before. A young man with a head full of ideas, our Stanley. Three problems, the actors being two of them. The hero:
Given the title, you might think he’s a Hard-Boiled French Killer in town for a job, but no - he’s that favorite profession of the old noirs, the Washed-Up Boxer. He has no money, no future, no hope, but he does have a suit. He’s waiting on a dame:
Her real name was Chris Chase, and she was a journalist. She did one other movie, a quarter century later: “All That Jazz.” It’s hard to tell whether or not she’s a good actress, because every - single - line of dialogue was redone in post-production, is if they didn’t discover until the movie was wrapped that they’d been shooting next to a jackhammer testing facility. No room tone, no ambient sound mixing with the dialogue. The other problem is the plot, which is rather bare and dull. The movie hits the canvas early and stays there. But you keep watching, because Kubrick’s eye is peerless. The composition and the lighting are noir-plus:
Let’s see, though - if it’s Noir, it has to have a scene in a staircase:
Like all good noirs, you could sell a screen grab as a work of art, Fraught With Modern Ambivalence. (TM) Hey, how about another:
I think if they really wanted people to Watch Their Steps they might have chosen a floor-tile pattern that didn’t make it difficult to judge distance if you’d had a cocktail. The headers people must have done going down those steps.
He had a budget of $75,000. But who needs money when you have a good lighting man, and the city of New York?
Once again: you really don't need to know what's going on to know what's going on. The real star of the film, to state the obvious, is New York.
Much of the action takes place in Times Square. Old Times Square, heading towards the seedy period. It can be difficult to sort out what’s where, because every shot is full of enormous blaring signs, all of which are gone. This movie is the definition of inadvertent documentaries. No budget? No problem: treat the city as your set.
Himberama? It’s a work by magician Richard Himber, which explains the rotating rabbits on the sign. Bonus fun: Himber was also a songwriter, and wrote the original theme for the Today Show.
Newsreel theaters, a sign of the past: CNN for the pre-TV age. I don’t know if people went inside eager to learn about the world, or just wanted a warm place for a nap for a cheap price.
One other amusing ananchronism:
Drunken Shriners! Complete with fezes! So apparently the cliche of the hammered conventioneers had some truth. Everyone else is sober and cinched-off like good New Yorkers, but these merry out-of-towners are so full of Gotham’s glee they’re dancing around Times Square while one plays a harmonica.
The great BOND building, formerly the International Casino, notable for the giant pink nude statues that would later be replaced by giant brown nude Pepsi bottles.
Finally, something that gave me a start. Recognize this?
No? Well, old movie fans with cable TV, this ought to click:
That's used in a late-night Turner Classic Movie channel promo. And now you know: the man who would direct 2001 gave us the smoky-noir images for that wonderful old piece of bygone New York.