Prolific director Edward L. Cahn's Guns, Girls, and Gangsters is the kind of red meat B movie that manages some genuinely weird flourishes in spite of its undeniable limitations as a factory-line commodity. The Vegas heist plot is barely motivation for Mamie Van Doren's curves, and the film itself blends right in with the roadside motels and cheap nightclubs. It's a particularly egregious offender in the redundant voice-over category ("It was a moment of great tension for Wheeler"), but then Van Cleef shows up — fresh out of prison with Mamie on the mind. The sight of him lurking outside a motel window at night in his sunglasses is something to remember. Van Doren may be the "merchandise," as her character says, but Van Cleef conjures noir's actual libido: leering, desperate, and unpredictable.
The same cheap thrills that Cahn serves up with gusto come under close scrutiny in Stanley Kubrick's Killer's Kiss: here we find pulp as object d'art. Made when Kubrick was 27, the film emulates its Times Square setting in its barrage of perceptual jolts — like a Weegee photograph sprung to life. Plenty of noirs delineate capitalist degradations of the city, but rarely with a cleanness of line as the sequence in which Kubrick cuts between a man being prepped for the boxing ring and a woman making herself up for her nightshift as a dancing partner.
It's all so much meat in Kubrick's unsparing view, and one might add here that the rain of footsteps trailing down a New York canyon is more eloquent than any of the human dialogue (call it an anti-social problem picture). Kubrick acts as his own cinematographer, making great use of his chops as a magazine photographer to scavenge bitter ironies from street locations. His editing knocks things further lopsided, revealing only mirrors where you expect to find character. You know the hour is late watching Killer's Kiss and The Big Combo, both of them released in 1955 and both advancing a self-conscious apotheosis of the style in the ruins of its bygone glamour — in a word, modernism.
"I WAKE UP DREAMING: THE FRENCH HAVE A NAME FOR IT!"
May 11-24, $11
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