What made film noir effective more than run-of-the-mill crime flicks was the visual ‘look’ that cinematographers adapted from 1920s German Expressionism, a visual style of filmmaking from the 1920s, and from 1930s Hollywood horror pics.
Full-flushed lighting was a given when filming light-hearted comedies and musicals, but shadows made a virtue of black-and-white filming to deepen the sense of film noir dread.
When sound was added to movies it was often as a melodic through-line, as though filmmakers believed that movie audiences, like radio audiences, required continual sound—either dialogue or an underlying orchestral music—to stay involved in the story.
Instead film noir was peppered with non-musical sounds—as were radio plays—to create tension and excite surprise and fright with traffic noise, gunshots, creaking floors or slamming doors, police or fire sirens, news bulletins, along with ambient street sounds drifting into open windows or muffled conversations from other rooms.
Top-billed in the cast of The Dark Corner was Lucille Ball (1911-1989). Decades prior to her phenomenal success in television’s I Love Lucy, Ms. Ball was a clothes model, then a Goldwyn showgirl and an unbilled bit player in more than two dozen feature-length movies and several short films.
Her co-starring films admitted Ball into Hollywood’s bevy of wise-cracking ‘movie dames’: Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Blondell, Glenda Farrell, Ann Sothern and Rosalind Russell, among others.
Private detective Mark Stevens is being framed for a murder but there are several layers to the deception. As his recently hired secretary, Lucille Ball provides him support and love, and nearly steals the movie from a fine supporting cast—except for Clifton Webb’s flashy turn as an art dealer and William Bendix’s as a thug.
IMDB rates The Dark Corner a respectable 7.1, while Rotten Tomatoes aggregate of film critics award it the rare 100%, with which 70% of film-goers agreed.
Lucille Ball didn’t waste her time fluttering in Hollywood’s social scene. She paid attention to experienced actors, especially comedians Buster Keaton, Bob Hope, Red Skelton and Harpo Marx, who helped Lucy realize her comedy potential, and to stage great Constance Collier, who in her later career taught acting and sharpened many a movie starlet’s dramatic skills.
Lucille’s parts got better and bigger in the late 1940s, and Ball took a leap into radio in 1948 for three seasons of My Favorite Husband and then into television with her then-husband Desi Arnez played her television husband in I Love Lucy for six seasons, (1951–1957) during which “Lucy” remained a ratings phenomenon, often in first place.
Further TV iterations of Lucy’s character failed to match the acclaim accorded I Love Lucy, and her final series was the single season, Life with Lucy. By which time she had starred in a six-month run in the Broadway musical Wildcat and was perched in the boss’ chair at DesiLu productions that bought ailing RKO.
Mark Stevens (1916-1994) was the male lead, in that staple of a private detective. Male-model handsome with an open face, Stevens played a private detective, but one less cynical than Humphrey Bogart, John Payne or Alan Ladd, who seemed to own that 1940s territory.
Mark Stevens never became enough of a box-office name to carry a movie on his own. Given his maleness, he would have seemed to director Henry Hathaway a logical choice for the private eye role in The Dark Corner. Mark Stevens seemed too nice to convey the hurt of a man escaping a troubled past.
Still a novelty, television in the late 1940s and early 1950s provided a promising home for many sensible second-line or fading movie actors with the sense to jump into TV: Lucille Ball, Lynn Bari, Joan Caulfield, Buster Crabbe. Lloyd Bridges, William Gargan, Loretta Young, Stu Irwin, Robert Young and Reed Hadley (who has the minor role in The Dark Corner of a police detective keeping his eye on Mark Stevens).
Stevens wisely augmented his career by producing and directing, as well as acting, in television (three dozen credits including the star role of Martin Kane); owning real estate and a restaurant.
Crowding Lucille and Mark for the spotlight was musical comedy singer-dancer Clifton Webb, turned comedy and serious actor, usually as an acerbic gentleman, whether benevolent or evil.
Making the most of his secondary role as a thug was William Bendix, an all-around dramatic and comedy actor who had scored in Hitchcock’s Lifeboat and in the title role of Babe Ruth Story. Yet Bendix may be best remembered as the lead on network radio and television in The Life of Riley. Watch free at dailymotion.com/video/x22su5e
Frank Cullen is a film series presenter, playwright and author of non-fiction and fiction showbiz books.