Saturday, July 29, 2017

Movie review - "Nob Hill" (1945) **1/2

George Raft, who made some of the dumbest choices in Hollywood star history (turning down High Sierra, The Maltese Falcon and Double Indemnity, among others) got so sick of being a gangster that he quit a studio that was perfect for him, Warner Bros, and went freelance. At first it started well for him, and he was in a number of successful movies. This was one - little remembered today but at the time a hit, a technicolour musical, set in old time San Francisco.

I think Darryl Zanuck put Raft in it because he once had a big success with Raft in The Bowery, set in old time San Francisco. (Zanuck made lots of films set in old time San Fransisco). He plays the manager of a saloon, but although Raft was on a musicals kick at the time (Follow the Boys, Broadway) he doesn't do any dancing or singing, just introduces acts, which seems a waste.

One of those acts is Vivienne Blaine, best known for her turn in Guys and Dolls. She's good, as is Joan Bennett as the rich girl from Nob Hill who Raft chases after. Peggy Ann Garner has a big a part as anyone, playing an Irish girl who comes looking for her uncle, finds out he's dead and gets kind of adopted by Raft and Blaine. Still it's hardly packed with names who you think would mean something to aficionados of musicals - there's no Betty Grable, June Havoc or John Payne; yet people still came to see it.

It's an odd sort of movie. There's plenty of colour and production value, and some songs, but the script feels as though it was rewritten a lot. Garner runs around speaking in an Irish accent which gets wearisome after a while. I couldn't really follow the subplot where Raft was wooed politically by Bennett's brother - something about shutting down saloons, and him being a clean skin, and other saloon keepers being upset. This felt undramatic and un-utilised. It was crying out for a real baddy to be beaten in the climax and it doesn't happen - just Garner getting lost which was hardly exciting.

Also the film badly could have used a comic character to keep things fun - like Phil Silvers was in Coney Island. Raft, Bennett, Garner and even Blaine are all kind of downers. Raft's character is surprisingly weak - Bennett gives him the run around (only she doesn't because she secretly loves him) so he sulks and gets smacked around. I had trouble telling Bennett and Blaine apart at times.

This was Henry Hathaway's first musical - maybe that was part of the problem. It does get points for novelty - Raft in a musical (though he was in a few throughout his career), the B-list star power of Bennett, Garner and Blaine.

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