The Dark Corner
Rating -

Crime (US); 1946; Not Rated; 99 Minutes

Mark Stevens: Bradford Galt
Lucille Ball: Kathleen
Clifton Webb: Hardy Cathcart
William Bendix: White Suit
Kurt Kreuger: Tony Jardine
Cathy Downs: Mari Cathcart
Reed Hadley: Lt. Frank Reeves

Produced by Fred Kohlmar; Directed by Henry Hathaway; Screenwritten by Jay Dratler and Bernard C. Schoenfeld; based on a short story by Leo Rosten

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Written by DAVID KEYES

Film noir has a sovereign tendency of creating worlds in our movies that are pleasing to the eye and contain obsessive impulses, dark characters, and creepy, realistic stories of pain within them. We find in most cases that they stick in the back of their minds, and this is not always a good thing. Within these obscure worlds of noir, we are often confronted with emotions and feelings so frightening that we really would like to forget them, but we can't, because at the same time of being aghast, we are enthralled, manipulated, and convinced that these worlds exist not just in movies, but everywhere around and within us.

These things are manifestly demonstrated in Henry Hathaway's "The Dark Corner." It is like a transgressive moment in our lifetimes; overflowing with bitter sweet nostalgia, yet so frightening that it's almost tormenting. To see it is to live it. To live it is to be part of it.

The movie explores and penetrates us deep into the capabilities, consequences, and passions of crime, as it occurs by the minute without prediction. Crime comes along sometimes so intense and fast that you don't know what hit you. This is derived from which Henry Hathaway's "The Dark Corner" gets it's name: sometimes crime can push us into a dark corner, and we don't know what we are up against.

The plot of the movie investigates the troubled life of Bradford Galt, a private dick played by Mark Stevens. A few years ago, Galt's private investigator job in San Francisco was put to a halt when his former partner, Tony Jardine, began stealing money from the firm. When Galt threatened to squeal about his little crime, Jardine framed him for manslaughter--knocking him unconscious with alchohol in his posession and placing him behind the wheel of a moving car, which hit an oncoming truck and killed the driver. Galt was sentenced to two years in prison. After getting time off for good behavior, Galt relocated his business out of town, where a close friend named Lt. Frank Reeves (Reed Hadley) kept a close watch on him.

At his new location, Galt hired a secretary named Kathleen, played by Lucille Ball, whom seems to always have trouble with her nylons. Galt has his eye on her, and at times he finds himself throwing curves at her. But she knows his little game, and comes prepared with her own defense.

Example: Galt, early on, orders Kathleen to have dinner with him. Afterwards, they go to the town carnival, where Galt finds himself beaten at every game by her. During one scene, they have a conversation, which goes like this:

Kathleen: Well, what else can I beat you at?
Bradford: What kind of games do you like to play? You know, We've got some great playgrounds up on 52nd street.
Kathleen: Among them, your apartment?
Bradford: That's just a coincidence.
Kathleen: I haven't worked for you very long, Mr. Galt, but I know when you're pitching a curve at me and I always carry a catcher's mit.

She can beat him at more than just carnival games, apparently.

Kathleen is a character that can only be entertaining if you understand the way she works; she doesn't play with curves like Galt does--she plays for keeps, and she makes sure that Galt has that on his mind when he's around her.

During their date, Kathleen realizes that a man in a white suit* is following her and Galt. When she tells him of this, he can describe him perfectly; 5 foot 10, wears a white suit, heavyset, etc., yet he doesn't even have to look at the man to describe him. Apparently, we learn that White Suit has been following Galt for a couple of days, so it is no surprise that someone like Galt (keep in mind, he's a private investigator) can describe him perfectly.

When Galt finally confronts the white suit, he becomes fierce, and orders an explanation. "Who is paying you to follow me?" Naturally, White Suit can't tell Galt who is, because it's, well, unethical. But Galt manages to get what he wants; he squeezes the name 'Tony Jardine' out of White Suit.

This, of course, is an entire setup. Galt believes that Jardine is after him again, but in truth, Jardine's good friend, and owner of an art gallery, Hardy Cathcart, is the one who hired white suit to follow Galt. The reason: Cathcart's wife, Mari, is secretly carrying on an affair with Jardine, and when he overhears them make plans to run away together, he insists that Mari will always be his, and Jardine needs to be taken out of the picture.

White suit is hired to follow Galt to tip him off, believing that Jardine is the one behind this mess, so a feud between Jardine and Galt rekindles. Since Jardine's #1 enemy is his own former partner, Galt, Hardy schemes a plan to frame Galt for killing Jardine.

It almost works, too. Galt goes home one night, and someone knocks him unconscious. When he awakes, Jardine lies bludgeons to death in his apartment, and in Galt's right hand lies a fireplace poker, with blood on the tip. Galt, knowing that he's been framed, hides Jardine's body underneath his bed, which he knows will remain hidden until the maid cleans the apartment later in the week. Within this short time, Galt is forced to find the man responsible for backing him into a dark corner, before phony murder charges are brought up on him. Like all private investigators in the movies, Galt pulls this task off, and by the time the last moments of the picture arrive, Galt becomes held at gun point by Cathcart, and Cathcart is unaware that he has his own fate in store...

I'm not trying to make the impression that "The Dark Corner" is simply one of the greatest movies; it has a great story, yes, but what is so appealing about it is the setting from which it takes place. The city itself can be a merciless one, but it's made all the more creepy by the spectacular camera angles and excellent character shots. Most of the great shots occur in the dark, when there's only a dim light present, and the only things that can be seen are the character's shadows. These are, perhaps, what give film noir its fantastic appeal. Shadows are creepy and suspicious in dead darkness and silence, with only enough light to outline them. Without these shots, film noir would not be what it has always been.

Movies like "The Dark Corner" are never forgettable; you look at them and feel a shock of nostalgia come over you. We are never sure if it's the creepy characters, stories, or settings that make film noir so great, but if any one of these things is missing, then the film is, to me, no longer of noir background.

All of these combinations are the key concept of what makes "The Dark Corner" a masterpiece. I'm not sure what the best part of film noir is, and I'm not sure what the best part about this movie is, but perhaps it is best if we try to not decide. We can never make those decisions; we can only watch and appreciate them the way they are.

*credits list William Bendix's character strictly as "White Suit" and nothing else.

1998, David Keyes, Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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