Friday, November 17, 2017
The Golden Age Of The B-Film Noir- Barbara Payton’s “Bad Blonde” (1953)
The Golden Age Of The B-Film Noir- Barbara Payton’s “Bad Blonde” (1953)
By Film Critic Emeritus Sam Lowell
Bad Blonde (released in England unbelievably as The Flanagan Boy), starring tragedy-filled blonde bombshell Barbara Payton, Tony Wright, Belinda Lee, Hammer Productions, 1953
I am done, finished, ended, kaput, vaya con dios, adios, out of here or whatever expression you like to indicate that before I blow my top I will go no further with this series of B-noirs (noirs not to die for unlike the lead-ins expression on each DVD intro). Part, the lesser part now, of that reason is based on getting tired, very tired, of the razing I have been receiving from my fellows here on this site after an irate reader called me out as essentially a “penny a word” buffoon “padding” my reviews with extra stuff that she believed didn’t need to be included in order to get the gist of what each film was about. The greater reason now is rather more simple one of B-noir exhaustion after struggling through trying to find any reason for watching the latest film in the series Bad Blonde which had many ways to go, had many possibilities to reach high B-noir almost A-level but sank into its own funk and never rose from the mud again.
To give one very germane example of what I should have expected since I have already reviewed a half dozen or so in the series is that in England the film was released under the totally boorish title The Flanagan Boy making me think of the old-time Boys’ Town out in Nebraska I think run by Father Flanagan from which every Christmas I would get some kind of Christmas stamps was supposed to send dough for the wayward boys as a result. Being wise to the world a little even then I never sent nothing since I had nothing to send although that did not stop me from using the stamps as cheap Christmas wrapping for presents. Yeah, times were that hard for us, for my family back then. But this Flanagan is nothing but an up and coming prize fighter, you know a boxer who spends his eye time eying like any good-looking young guy blondes, good or bad, or any other color around should. To name the film after him when this bad blonde dish comes hither and yon his way seemed like such a travesty along with the dialogue that I, like a used up prize fighter threw in the towel, or will after this excursion is over.
Here’s the beauty of a last review though. I don’t have to give, as we used to say in the old neighborhood, a rat’s ass about that irate reader who tagged me with that “penny a word” designation that will probably hang around my neck until they put me under the ground if my dear colleagues, led by Sandy Salmon, Alden Riley, and Pete Markin have anything to say about it. So I will “pad” this baby with whatever comes into my head.
This is what I started with in my last review as a lead in for this dog’s tail, a review of has-been (hell he did three of these Hammer films not to his subsequent film career advantage I don’t believe) Dane Clark’s Blackout (released in England under the quizzical title Murder by Proxy so this latest title travesty was hardly the first):
“Wouldn’t you want a long-time film reviewer like me, or my colleagues in this space who are the regular reviewers, Sandy Salmon and Alden Riley, to draw a map for you, let you know what is what about any particular film in relationship to others in the genre. As the headline to this review notes (and has on other occasions in this ten film series) I am reviewing a series of B-film noirs from the 1950s produced by the Robert Lippert Hollywood-based organization in conjunction with Hammer Productions in England. The idea, at least this is what I have been able to gather from various readings and speculations after now having reviewed scads of these efforts, by Lippert was to grab some faded Hollywood star who either needed the dough or was looking for some film, any film, to satisfy whatever stardust lust drove him or her to the studio lots in the first place and back him or her up with an English cast, do the production in England and get away with costs on the cheap. If you knew that and then somebody, me, came along and told you that these efforts didn’t compare, didn’t compare at all with classic noirs, you know Out Of The Past, The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon, The Last Man Standing and others that you almost know all the lines from by heart since you have seen the films so many times, wouldn’t you appreciate that knowledge
“You would think so but you would at least in one case, actually more, but the reader I am thinking of as I write this has become something of a thorn in my side, my efforts to draw comparisons have given me nothing but grief, and had hung on me the title of “penny a word” writer as a joke by my colleagues.
“I noted in my last review in this series, The House Across The Lake, another has-been title that in my long career in the film reviewing racket, a profession if you will which is overall pretty subjective when you think about it, I have run up against all kind of readerships and readers but my recent escapade with one reader takes the cake as they used to say in the old days. That is the person I am thinking of right now as I write yet another screed against the injustice done to me by that person. To cut to the chase a B-grade film noir is one that is rather thin on plotline and maybe film quality usually made on the cheap although some of the classics with B-film noir queen Gloria Grahame have withstood the test of time despite that quality. I have contrasted those with the classics like The Maltese Falcon, Out Of The Past, The Big Sleep, and The Last Man Standing to give the knowledgeable reader an idea of the different.
“I have as already noted done a bunch of these (excluding a couple which I refused to review since they were so thin I couldn’t justify the time and effort to even give the “skinny” on them) using a kind of standard format discussing the difference between the classics and Bs in some detail and then as has been my wont throughout my career giving a short summary of the film’s storyline and maybe a couple of off-hand comments so that the readership has something to hang its hat on when choosing to see, or not see, the film. All well and good until about my fifth review when a reader wrote in complaining about my use of that standard form to introduce each film. Moreover and this is the heart of the issue she mentioned that perhaps I was getting paid per word, a “penny a word” in her own words and so was padding my reviews with plenty that didn’t directly relate to the specific film I was reviewing.
“Of course other than to cut me to the quick “penny a word” went out with the dime store novel and I had a chuckle over that expression since I have had various types of contracts for work over the years but not that one since nobody does that anymore. The long and short of it was that the next review was a stripped down version of the previous reviews which I assumed would satisfy her complaint. Not so. Using the name Nora Charles, the well-known distaff side of the Dashiell Hammett-inspired film series The Thin Man from the 1930s and early 1940s starring William Powell and Myrna Loy, she still taunted me with that odious expression of hers. (I also mentioned there as an aside that one of the pitfalls of citizen journalism, citizen commentary on-line is that one can use whatever moniker one wants to say the most unsavory things and not flame any blow-back). Now Sandy, Alden, Pete Markin, the administrator of this space and a few others have started to call me that as well-‘hey, penny a word.” That has made my blood boil on more than one occasion but I have calmly put up with it rather than blow-up and threaten murder and mayhem to them-and to Nora…..”
As I pointed out in that review enough of this or Nora will really have case about me “padding” my reviews. Here is the “skinny” on the film under review Bad Blonde in any case as is my wont and let dear sweet Nora suffer through another review-if she dares. A lot could have been done with this plotline, no question, and no matter dear Nora now that I have flamed out I will explain a little by comparison why this damn film is a B and not a classic. Hey this one has the eternal dilemma at its heart. A young, bored, beautiful, 1950s standard beautiful blonde, which meant very blonde and very well aware of that hard fact to the sorrows of all the brunettes, red-heads and raven-haired beauties who took back benches to goddess blonde starting with Marilyn and working down to the bad blonde in this one, Barbara Payton, playing Lorna, the unhappy young trophy wife, of an older man, a wealthy man who seemingly made his dough in some kind of rackets, but who nevertheless seems to believe that everybody in the world was his friend. And maybe they were-except that young, bored, very blonde wife who nevertheless knew that she had tagged into the next best thing-grabbing a fistful of gold in her cheapjack tank dancer life. She was not about to give up the gravy train but she was also fed up with the old man’s pawing and grabbing. And she was savvy enough once her change came to have that action stop-stopped cold.
Enter as if manna from heaven a young prize-fighter, a young handsome Johnny, played rather woodenly and distractedly by Tony Wright, with plenty of muscle and a fatal attraction to everything that wore a skirt. Enter her life through his manager’s connection with her husband whom he knew previously and who could provide the backing necessary to get this Johnny boy, this, huh, Flanagan boy to the top of the fight racket. Once the husband sees handsome bulging Johnny, but more importantly once Lorna see him in action in the ring, her lips pursed, teeth bared, sexually aroused by the sight of him she gets her act into high gear. That husband is headed for an early grave and that is that. Of course Lorna played her Johnny like a yo-yo ignoring him at first and making little of his manhood and then letting him steam up. Easy work. So easy that when she springs the deal, the real deal, although he isn’t bright enough to see her devilish play, he is all ears. Figures that he will sweep her and the dough up. Needless to say while the murder was rather tiresome, supposedly by drowning hubby, drowning him good and dead Johnny was put on the spot, would be the fall guy, would face the big step-off for his misdeeds.
That is all in a day’s work as far as this film goes. A hard day’s work since while Lorna (Barbara Payton) played her role pretty well as the, well, bad blonde, this muscle-bound Johnny, this Tony Wright is an airhead. Now for comparisons. Look the theme of the bored younger wife, although not always a blonde, trying to get rid of an older husband for dough, for another man, hell, just to have him stop mauling her no matter what the money situation is as old as Adam and Eve, maybe older. In film think about Lana Turner leading John Garfield right up to the big step-off after putting her old curmudgeon cheapie diner chef husband to the big sleep and he still smiling at the thought of her right before the lord high executioner is ready to do his work in The Postman Always Rings Twice. Think about Fred MacMurry once he sees that ankle bracelet walking down the stairs and even before he sees Barbara Standwycks’ face he is a goner-and so is her older cheapskate engineer stay-at home husband in Double Indemnity. Think, oh forget it, those classics should not even be mentioned in the same paragraph as they interplay between Johnny and Lorna here. Do you see now why I no longer give a rat’s ass about this Hammer Production material.
Unlike a few other films in this series this film never took turns like a real thriller but the lifeless dialogue and the wooden acting by the Brits (and by faded Barbara in spots too too) made this thing a holy goof. As I have mentioned before in other reviews where things actually looked promising at the beginning here despite the come hither title (in America anyway) and the titillating advertisement poster (see above) for the film this one faded away on its own dead weight. B-noir but seriously B not heading to classics-no way. I am done.