Playing Catch-Up — Crime of Passion; They Live By Night; The V.I.P.s

crime

Crime of Passion (Gerd Oswald, 1957). This sordid little number casts Barbara Stanwyck as Kathy Ferguson, a San Francisco advice columnist who abandons her career after falling love with and marrying a Los Angeles police lieutenant (Sterling Hayden). It turns out Kathy’s not well-equipped to settle into a domestic life of inane chit chat in the kitchen with the other wives of police force members, and her stir crazy energy compel her to psychological manipulations and finally straight out lawbreaking. Gerd Oswald directs the film with a ribald cunning, but it’s of course Stanwyck who gives the film its reason for being. Coming at a point when her career prospects were dwindling, Stanwyck tears into the role with an clear appreciation for its wild character twists, no matter how improbable.

 

they live by night

They Live By Night (Nicholas Ray, 1957). Considered one of the cornerstone offerings of classic Hollywood film noir, They Live By Night has its place in the canon for clear, unassailable reasons. Nicholas Ray’s direction smothers the visuals with shadowy mood and the story of young fugitives in love is hard and brutal as crags of shattered granite. The film is also, I’m duty bound to report, a little bit dull. As great as Ray is at inking in the grim, heavy atmosphere, he’s lax — or maybe disinterested — in twisting the tension ever tighter. That strips the film, for all its richness and steel-eyed fervor, of the sort of narrative drive that makes the best film noir offerings so compelling.

 

the vips

The V.I.P.s (Anthony Asquith, 1963). The second film to pair Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, reaching theaters around three months after the notorious Cleopatra, The V.I.P.s is built around the crafty conceit of several travelers having their time-sensitive plans dashed when the airport is fogged in. Screenwriter Terence Rattigan and director Anthony Asquith cut between a handful of plots (including one about an Australian business magnate that boasts a very nice performance by Rod Taylor), but the most loving attention is reserved for Burton and Taylor as a couple whose marriage is on the brink of collapse. The combustible, passionate pair were keeping the gossip magazine business afloat at the time, and the Asquith takes evident pleasure in giving their scenes a probing intimacy that truly feels like voyeurism dramatized. But the film largely works, even without the charge of novelty. It’s especially fun to watch Burton, without tempering his approach one bit, level his Shakespearean boldness at emotional contrivances straight out of soap opera,