|Now this my friends, this is a film noir.|
While I was on vacation, my buddy Kelly Greene and I watched THE LIMPING MAN (1953), a British film noir that was on a film noir double feature DVD I've had on my shelf for several years. I reviewed LIMPING here a while back and both Kelly and I found it to be disappointing thanks to its' "it-was-all-a-dream" ending. The other day, I sat down and watched the other film on the DVD, THE SCAR (1948). I loved it!
THE SCAR is the British title of an American film noir entitled HOLLOW TRIUMPH. It was distributed by Eagle-Lion films and looks to have been made on a low budget. Lead actor Paul (CASABLANCA) Henreid also served as producer of the film and he made a wise decision to hire ace cinematographer John Alton to shoot the film. Alton was a master of light and shadows and even though the transfer I watched wasn't of the highest quality, Alton's expressive chiaroscuro work still stands out and adds a great deal to this story of implacable doom.
Henried stars as John Muller, a convict paroled from prison at the beginning of the film. The warden sets him with a job on the outside, hoping he'll go straight. But Muller quickly falls back in with his old gang led by running buddy Marcy (Herbert Rudley). Muller plots a casino heist that goes bad leaving his fellow crooks dead and himself on the run.
In the kind of coincidence that can only be found in pulp fiction, Muller discovers that he's a dead ringer for Dr. Bartok, a noted psychoanalyst. Muller makes time with Evelyn, the doctor's secretary (played by the oh-so-gorgeous genre icon Joan Bennett). Muller decides to kill the doctor and take his place using his knowledge of psychiatry to get by in his role playing. Trouble is, Bartok has a vivid scar on his face which forces Muller to give himself an identical scar. But because of a flipped photographic negative, Muller scars the wrong side of his face.
Sure that his mistake will trip him up, Muller proceeds with his plan. He kills the doctor and takes his place but only Evelyn catches on to the masquerade and covers for him when Muller's brother comes to Dr. Bartok searching for his fugitive brother. He tells Bartok that the man who ran the casino and who has been pursuing Muller has been arrested and Muller is no longer in any danger.
Evelyn decides she's had enough and books passage on a ship bound for Hawaii. Bartok/Muller tells her he'll meet her on board and travel with her after he ties up a few loose ends. When he arrives at the pier, he's met by two gun men from another casino where the real Dr. Bartok had run up a sizable gambling debt which they've come to collect.
Things do not end well.
THE SCAR is a classic example of the film noir trope of one wrong act leading to another and another and another, finally culminating in death. THE SCAR is a one-way, express ticket to hell and it's beautifully made and acted. Sure, it piles coincidence upon coincidence but that just adds to the tightening of the noose around Muller's neck. Henried is quite good in the lead role while Bennett brings her unique combination of beauty and brass to her role. THE SCAR may be a minor film noir but it's a good one. Highly recommended.