Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Movie review - "Red Light" (1949) ** (warning: spoilers)

Roy del Ruth isn't that well remembered today but at one stage he had his own production company. This was going to be made by Monogram but they sold it to United Artists.

It's a half good film that could have been a great little B. It's got so many good bits - a perfect decent idea (tough trucking guy looks for his brother's killer), great cinematography, some atmosphere, San Francisco setting, George Raft in the lead, a support cast that includes Virginia Mayo (not a great actress but easy to look at), Barton MacLane, Raymond Burr and Henry Morgan.

But it's a mess. Two main flaws. One is the story - we know Burr killed Raft's brother because we meet Burr early on and he says he wants revenge against Raft and he gets Morgan to do it. So there's no mystery. You know who did it - you're told in the first scene pretty much that Morgan is going to do a job for Burr. So it's frustrating watching Raft take so long to figure it out. We aren't rewarded with a character study or extra twists. Mayo's role in the film is kind of pointless.

The second problem is tone. Raft's brother is a priest, which is fine, but it triggers a whole bunch of stuff in the last act to do with God. Raft searches for a Bible, it turns out the Bible was taken by a blind person who was going to kill himself but his life was saved by being talked out of it by a random cleaner (who we don't meet), Raft finds God and refuses to shoot Burr but it's alright because Burr gets electrocuted and has already killed Morgan (twice... first time it didn't stick so he does it again)... The film goes from tight, snappy film noir to sappy religious stuff, complete with organs playing and people praying. That sort of stuff can work if its set up, maybe... but it doesn't here. It's embarrassing.

A really disappointing film because it's got so much going for it, with that cast and photography.

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