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Saturday, March 7, 2015

STRANGER ON THE PROWL / IMBARCO A MEZZANOTTE (1952)

In 1952, Paul Muni had run out of ‘distinguished’ Hollywood projects and director Joseph Losey was on the cusp of the studios’ Commie BlackList when they made this all but lost manhunt pic in Italy. (Better translation: MIDNIGHT DEPARTURE.) It doesn’t have much of a rep, in fact, it’s barely known, and the U.S. release print put out by Olive DVD is a little beat up, but it’s a fascinating one-off that almost works. Muni’s a weary, nameless tramp, hoping to raise some cash on an illegal gun and then ship out of the country. Midway thru the pic, he crosses paths with the secondo piatto, a cocky local kid who steals a bottle of milk from a small shop just as Muni makes a grab for a small round of cheese. Muni accidentally kills the store owner trying to keep her quiet and the kid runs off as police close in. He thinks they’re after him for stealing the milk. On the run together or hiding out for the rest of the pic, the relationship of these two and the merged storylines give the film an unusual structure with added interest coming from a combo platter of Italian Neo-Realism in the post-WWII ruins of Livorno, Italy, and French Poetic Realism, possibly modeled on LE JOUR SE LÈVE/’39 (remade Stateside as THE LONG NIGHT’47). Not everything works here, to put it nicely, the drama turns convenient & sentimental in the last reel or so, but Muni, playing with emotional blinders on, is generally very effective, barring a quick physical rejuvenation toward the end. And the little Italian pal (Vittorio Manunta) is just great. Losey, always a difficult man to judge, delivers hit-or-miss work, but responds strongly to the dilapidated city & living conditions, much helped by lenser Henri Alekan who’d soon show Italy’s glamorous side in William Wyler’s ROMAN HOLIDAY/’54.

DOUBLE-BILL: Roberto Rossellini’s GERMANY YEAR ZERO/’48 is probably the best Neo-Realist match-up for this, with its own strengths & weaknesses.

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