Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Movie review - "Riffraff" (1947) ***

It's wonderful when you watch an old B movie and you can feel the director really try - that's clearly what Ted Tetzlaff was doing on this RKO number, which is made with a lot of care. There's a fantastic opening sequence, starting with a lizard growling and crossing to a rain drenched airport at night (I saw this as a kid and it's always stayed with me) and kicking on into a silent 5 minute or so sequence on a plane.

The plane lands in Panama and the action gets more conventional with Pat O'Brien too old and not particularly charismatic to play a man about town, but he tries, as does everyone in the cast. The leads are B players - O'Brien, Anne Jeffrey - but the support is solid: Walter Slezak, Jerome Cowan.

It's based on an original screenplay by Martin Rackin, but isn't that original being a compendium of a whole lot of Humphrey Bogart/Alan Ladd films set in a Hollywood backlot version of a big city in a third world country, with Panama hats, lounges, lounge singers (Anne Jeffreys doing an Anne Sheridan impression), bars, venetian blinds, comic dogs and off siders, no one looking too foreign, lots of smoking, wacky sidekicks (Percy Kilbridge seemingly channeling Walter Brennan from To Have and Have Not).

Story wise its big flaw is that O'Brien is passive a lot of the time, being ignorant of the fact that the Macguffin - a map - is on his wall. This is frustrating and caused me to lose a little interest by the end. But it has charm, loving photography and design, and is well directed; and I have a soft spot for late 40s RKO film noirs.

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