Underneath this Veronica Lake–Alan Ladd thriller (1946) lies Raymond Chandler‘s only original screenplay—a suitably hard-nosed affair about a war vet whose homecoming coincides with the murder of his unfaithful wife. Though it has the Chandler flavor and occasionally captures the feel of his sunbaked Los Angeles, the film falters under the uncertain, visually uninventive direction of George Marshall—wildly miscast here, when any vaguely sympathetic hack from Stuart Heisler to Frank Tuttle would have been just fine. With William Bendix and Howard da Silva.
Blake Edwards originally wanted William Friedkin to direct this spin-off of his successful TV series, Peter Gunn, but he ended up doing it himself—luckily, as it turned out, for this murder mystery set in Los Angeles gave Edwards the opportunity to create one of his most acidic essays on emotional superfluity in the urban world. Everyone seems to have a heart of Formica as private detective Craig Stevens investigates the murder of a gangster while trading one-liners with police lieutenant Ed Asner. Edwards’s LA is conceived entirely in harsh primary colors, a plastic wasteland relieved only by a cozy bar with the painfully ironic name of “Mother’s” (1967).
A superb, too-seldom-seen film noir from 1951. Director Robert Parrish junks the expressionist shadow play that usually goes with the genre, substituting a keen eye for gritty Los Angeles locations and a sharp handling of dialogue. Dick Powell is sent to prison on a trumped-up charge; finally released, he goes looking for the gang boss who set him up. With Rhonda Fleming and Richard Erdman.
A brilliant 1975 film noir by Robert Aldrich, with all the power of his Attack!, Kiss Me Deadly, and Legend of Lylah Clare. Burt Reynolds is an emotionally damaged police detective searching for his lost motivation in the rubble of an LA shadow world populated by pimps, whores, and killers. Aldrich’s vision of a spreading, inescapable moral corrosion is insidiously depressing when it is not immediately horrifying. The sinister mise-en-scene is compromised only by a few overripe lines from screenwriter Steve Shagan, and Reynolds reveals himself as an actor of depth and complexity.