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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT

Fritz Lang began & ended his Stateside career with Miscarriage of Justice stories about murder convictions gone wrong. But the drama & meticulously worked out compositional force of FURY/’36 has now devolved into a gimmicky plot with a tired filmmaker going thru the motions. Dana Andrews, largely immobile, is a one-book author trying to start a new project with the help of Sidney Blackmer, father to fiancĂ© Joan Fontaine. Together, they hope to blast the lid off Death Penalty sentencing by faking circumstantial evidence that all points to Andrews as a killer. But things go horribly wrong, and Dana lands on Death Row for real. Yikes! It’s the sort of shlock Sam Fuller might have eaten up. (Hey!, he did, in the sanitarium set SHOCK CORRIDOR/’63.) And it might work here too if only Lang could still motivate himself. The last reel or two show a bit of life to them (naturally, we’re in Death Row!), at least in comparison to the flat, flat staging & camera work seen elsewhere. But Lang, who fought bitterly with his producer after a slightly better return on WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS/’56, now seems past caring. If only the film had the sizzle of its poster.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Lang could never understand (or forgive) Hitchcock’s smooth Hollywood transition. Hadn’t Lang gotten here first? Wasn’t his early work something of a touchstone for Hitch? But unlike Hitch, even the best of Lang’s Hollywood pics retained a foreign accent. SCARLET STREET/’45 is like a UFA film made @ Universal, and all the greater for it. But when Hitch made his 1956 Miscarriage of Justice story, it turned out to be the least gimmicky of all his films, a sort of Neo-Realist Hitchcock pic, THE WRONG MAN, still one of his most under-rated. (Michael Douglas was in a 2009 remake of BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT, but this Peter Hyams film barely got released.)

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