Private Hell 36 (Don Siegel / U.S., 1954):

Ida Lupino's screenplay allows for two noir narratives, both receive Don Siegel's verve and wryness. The first is an all-business policier involving a New York City crime resurfacing a year later in Los Angeles, the second is a moral bear-trap slowly but surely snagging the protagonists; the unifying sequence finds the police detectives, Steve Cochran and Howard Duff, sharing a grim cup of coffee after learning of a colleague's death, "all a day's work." The city at night is full of noises, Cochran on his way home investigates one and foils a drugstore heist; a marked $50 bill from the unsolved robbery turns up, the cop traces it to nightclub chanteuse Lupino, who's hip to the tough-guy routine ("You know, I've seen this on Dragnet"). Cochran and Lupino find love in their mutual cynicism, Duff dourly endures domestic difficulties with the missus (Dorothy Malone), wondering aloud about getting "careless." Unmasked, the culprit makes a run for it and spills off the road -- while Duff broods about the loot found in the criminal's strongbox, Cochran is casually stuffing the fluttering bills down his pockets. The money is hidden in a trailer marked 36, each man experiences his own private hell differently: Duff as a family man eaten away by shame ("Some people plant flowers in their backyard, I plant keys," he mutters through clenched teeth) and Cochran as a practiced heel whose toughness is waned by his beloved's cravings. Despite the film's deceptively unassuming surface artifice (concocted via mini-marvels of deep-focus in diners, bungalows, and police stations) and the voiceover that dutifully assures viewers that "evil stumbles and falls," Siegel's vision still radiates a profound hatred for a comformity that would soon be re-imagined brilliantly as an alien takeover. With Dean Jagger. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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