October 15, 2010

HER KIND OF MAN (1946)




Generalizations about the sexes are treacherous, but men and women alike agree that there’s a certain kind of girl who invariably finds herself attracted to the wrong type of guy. Such relationships have been film fodder since the birth of the medium, and1946’s Her Kind of Man is no different. It tells the familiar story of a girl, in this case a lounge singer, who finds herself caught between two men — one a professional gambler and heel, the other a clean cut newspaper hack. At first glance Her Kind of Man appears to be nothing more than a routine Warner Bros gang programmer — not to mention one made in the days after such films had gone out of style. However it has the shadings of film noir, and features a cast and production team well-represented in the noir cycle. In the end though, it’s just one helluva strange movie.


Her Kind of Man is strictly a star vehicle. The good guy / bad guy love triangle plot was familiar even to 1946 audiences, so the picture consequently sinks or swims based on the charisma of its three leads. The inescapable fact that this has been unseen and unmissed for many decades provides some insight into the relative magnitude of the star power in play. And yet there’s something to be said for the rediscovery of forgotten performers — in this instance TV’s Janis Paige. She’s the attractive part of the three-way, the other two sides of the triangle being noir stalwarts Dane Clark and Zachary Scott. It practically goes without saying that Scott is the heavy (and the real star despite third billing), while Clark seems uncomfortable and miscast as a gossip columnist. It’s not that the stars aren’t competent — they are — it’s just that it’s hard to escape the fact this project was probably intended for, and would have been more gratifying with, water dipped from the deeper end of the Warner Bros talent pool.


Janis Paige (still with us!) was a talented singer with a throaty voice and fleshy, yet angular Maureen O’Hara-like good looks. She and Hollywood never quite saw eye-to-eye during the studio period, so Paige left the west coast for Broadway in the fifties and made a splash in the initial theatrical productions of a few iconic musicals — particularly The Pajama Game. Doris Day got the nod for the film role, but Janis returned to films and cemented her reputation as a firecracker alongside Astaire and Charisse in 57’s Silk Stockings, the film role for which she is best remembered. She transitioned to television, and worked steadily on the small-screen until the late-nineties. When Her Kind of Man was made the studio was trying Janis out in a variety of parts in low-rent pictures to see how audiences would take to her.


The film is a sort of hybrid of multiple forms: romance, gangster movie, film noir (just a little), and musical. Paige gets to do three numbers, but despite being a popular singer herself the studio decided to dub her — and with at least two different vocalists. The music is worked into the story seamlessly — after all, Paige plays a lounge singer — with the highlight coming in a glamorous, if incomplete version of Body and Soul. Somehow the melding of forms works here, though as the film takes on a more and more noirish look and feel as it spirals downwards to its climax the rah-rah musical numbers of the first reel seem a bit incongruous. But perhaps the interplay of such diverse genre-based thematic at play in one B picture is what makes Her Kind of Man inordinately interesting.


Besides, I’m not even certain it’s fair to call this a legitimate gangster film. Zach Scott’s character is more a gambler and opportunist schooled during the Prohibition era than he is a professional criminal. And while it’s true that he eventually gains enough of a bankroll to open his own nightclub-cum-backroom-gambling-parlor the film depicts him more as a cad and a polished bumbler than a Robinson-esque big-timer. He mixes it up throughout the film: slapping his toady (Harry Lewis) around, talking tough at the dice table, shooting it out with a second-rate Moose Malloy, and finally with the cops; but we are constantly left with the impression that Scott is a lot more lucky than good — and in the end he ain’t so lucky. His criminal ineptitude is never more evident than the crucial scene at the end of the film when Scott finds himself wielding a shotgun from on high, tossing barbs through a large bullet-proof glass window at the cops who have just busted in on his gambling operation. Scott fires a few shots to let them know he means business, but forgets to aim and accidentally blasts his sister in the gut. What a schmuck.


Clark is little better — frankly it’s hard to believe that this is the same actor who made such a vivid impression in Moonrise. Despite top billing, he plays second fiddle — leering his way through the reels, hair standing tall enough up front to evoke Kramer-esque comparisons. In one eyebrow-raising scene he and Scott actually put on boxing gloves and climb into a ring in order to fight for the right to romance Paige. The good guy wins, though in ludicrous fashion, as Clark puts Scott on the canvas with a twice-around-the-world haymaker of an uppercut that looks as if it were lifted directly from a Popeye cartoon. Hard to fathom considering that before coming to the movies Clark tried to make a go of it in the ring.


Film noir? Forget it — though some familiar devices are put to use: narration, flashback, montage; and as mentioned above Her Kind of Man takes on a decidedly noirish tone as it comes to a close. So much so that on the basis of the final sequence alone the movie has been erroneously described as a film noir throughout the years. While not putting the seal of approval on this, I’ll happily acknowledge that the final moments do much to redeem an otherwise absurd movie, and make the noir label understandable — particularly since it’s easier to give a 1946 film the benefit of the doubt than it is, say, one from five years later. It’s an exciting scene: Scott, having killed his sister (Faye Emerson, the Lady Gangster herself) is holed up looking to dodge the cops. The toady with the red left check drops a nickel on him and the police, along with Clark, come roaring through the downpour hellbent for blood. They get it when Scott, the born loser, staggers out into the storm and a hail of gunfire. The visual atmosphere and fatal determinism of the scene come on like a ton of bricks as Scott collapses face-first into the gutter — his blood and Paige’s tears mingling with the filthy rainwater as it rushes into an eddying whirlpool that drains into the sewer. The camera sweeps from the corpse along the gutter to the whirlpool, then upwards to rest on a one-way street sign before cutting abruptly to a long shot and the end title.

Note: for another write-up about Her Kind of Man, check out Laura’s review over at Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings.


Her Kind of Man (1946)

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Directed by Frederick de Cordova
Produced by Alex Gottlieb (Macao, The Blue Gardenia)
Screenplay by Gordon Kahn and Leopold Atlas (Raw Deal)
Story by Charles Hoffman (The Blue Gardenia) and James V. Kern
Cinematography by Carl Guthrie (Caged, Hollywood Story)
Art Direction by Ted Smith (High Sierra, The Mask of Dimitrios)
Starring Zachary Scott, Janis Paige, Dane Clark, Faye Emerson, Harry Lewis.
Released by Warner Bros Studios
Running time: 78 minutes

2 comments:

  1. I thought the film was very good, Liked all three of the leads and Harry Lewis. Just saw it on TCM

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  2. Sounds cool. I'll have to check it out!

    ReplyDelete