Cinemax Friday: Striking Poses (1999, directed by Gail Harvey)

Gage Sullivan (Shannen Doherty) is a freelance photographer who makes most of her money as a member of the paparazzi and who hates what her life has become.  When she realizes that she and her assistant, Casey (Tamara Gorski), are being stalked by someone whose trademark is leaving behind wads of chewed bubble gum (?), she calls in a security professional named Nick Angel (Joseph Griffin).  When it appears that not even Nick can protect her from the stalker, Gage turns to a former associate of Nick’s, a hitman named Gadger (Aidan Devne).

This direct-to-video film is pretty dumb,  Once Gage meets up with Gadger, the film goes off the rails as everyone reveals that they’re not who they say they are and multiple double crosses are revealed, each leaving behind plot holes so big that a convoy of trucks could probably roar through them without even having to slow down.  I don’t have much experience with professional con artists but it seems like the really successful ones would know better than to come up with a con that’s as pointlessly complicated as the one in this movie.  Even the fake gambling parlor in The Sting wasn’t as needlessly complex as what happens in Striking Poses.

Striking Poses is a let-down and, for an R-rated direct-to-video film, it’s also extremely tame.  I’m not really sure where that R rating comes from because there’s no nudity, very little violence, and I don’t think I even heard much profanity.  Maybe someone slipped the ratings board some money to avoid getting slapped with a dreaded PG.  This is a movie about a con that feels like a big con itself.

30 More Days of Noir #6: The Dark Past (dir by Rudolph Mate)

Now, this is an interesting little film noir!

This 1948 film stars William Holden, Lee J. Cobb, Nina Foch and Lois Maxwell.  William Holden is Al Walker, an escaped convict and a ruthless murderer.  Nina Foch is Betty, Walker’s devoted girlfriend and partner in crime.  Lee J. Cobb is Dr. Andrew Collins.  Lois Maxwell, years before she would be cast as Miss Moneypenny in the first Bond films, plays Ruth Collins, Andrew’s wife.  When Walker, Betty, and the gang break into the Collins home, they hold he doctor and his family hostage.

That may sound like a similar set-up to Desperate Hours and hundreds of other low-budget crime movies.  And, indeed, it is.  What sets The Dark Past apart from those other films is that Dr. Collins is a psychiatrist and his response is not to try to defeat or trick Walker but instead to understand him.  Even after Walker kills a friend of the family’s, Collins remains convinced that he can get to the heart of Walker’s anger and help the criminal start the process of reform.

When the nervous and violent Walker threatens the family, Collins calmly offers to teach him how to play chess.  When it looks like Collins might have a chance to escape, he instead stays in the house and continues to talk to Walker.  Eventually, he finds out about a recurring dream that Walker has been having, one that involves Walker standing in the rain under an umbrella that has a hole in it.  Collins links the dream to Walker’s traumatic childhood and he shows Walker why he feels the need to be violent and destructive.  But will it make a difference when the cops show up?

The Dark Past is an interesting relic.  Watching it today, it can seem a bit strange to see just how unquestioning the film is of the benefits of analysis and dream interpretation.  Nowadays, of course, we know that dream symbolism is often just random and that it’s impossible for a psychiatrist to “cure” a patient after only talking to them for an hour or two.  However, The Dark Past was made at a time when psychiatry was viewed as being the new science, the thing that that no one dared to question.  This was the time of The Snake Pit and Spellbound.  The Dark Past suggests that all any criminal needs is just a night spent talking to someone who had studied Jung and Freud.  Today, the film seems a bit naive but it’s still an interesting time capsule.

William Holden is great as Al Walker.  That, in itself, isn’t a surprise because William Holden was almost always great.  Still, Holden does an outstanding job of making Walker and his neurosis feel real and, like the best on-screen criminals, he brings a charge of real danger to his performance.  Lee J. Cobb has the less showy role but he also does great work with it.  It takes a truly great actor to make the act of listening compelling but Cobb manages to do it.

The Dark Past may not be as well-known as some film noirs but it’s an interesting and occasionally even compelling film.  Keep an eye out, eh?

Music Video of the Day: Say You’ll Be There by Spice Girls (1996, dir. by Vaughan Arnell)

I promised Lisa that I would post at least one video from Spice Girls this week and I picked this one because, when it first came out, we used to drive our mom crazy by trying to duplicate all of the flying jump kicks at the start of the video.

I guess the idea behind this video is that the members of the Spice Girls are a bunch of international assassins who hang out in the Mojave Desert and tie up men.  The man in the video is played by Tony Ward.  The idea behind the video was Geri Halliwell’s.  At the end of the video, the girls kidnap an ice cream man.  Ice cream!

This video was directed by Vaughn Arnell and it was nominated for the Viewer’s Choice Award at the MTV Music Awards but it wasn’t nominated for anything else because MTV sucks and they couldn’t handle the Spice of it all.