Monday, April 11, 2011

Raindrops on the Windshield Like Tears

I have a friend who nicknamed me "femme fatale" when he met me a few years back.

When he e-mails me, he addresses me as "ff." The friend of his that he introduced me to has me listed as "femme fatale" in her phone.

For the record, I am not a femme fatale. I have never used my charms to ensnare a man into a compromising or deadly situation. I don't use lying or coercion to achieve hidden purposes. And now that I've seen a B-film noir with a true femme fatale, I'm a lot less fond of my nickname.

"Detour" from 1945 was showing at Gallery 5 as part of, yes, the James River Film Festival. I suggested my recently uncoupled friend join me for the distraction of an over-the-top film noir cult classic and a couple of readings from "Richmond Noir."

Although I'd seen some of the A-list film noir classics ("Double Indemnity," "The Postman Always Rings Twice"), I'd yet to see one from Hollywood's "Poverty Row" studios.

To add to the overall seediness, it was a lousy copy, dark and fuzzy, but we were informed that all copies of this movie are beat up because it took so long for it to be recognized as a classic.

The dialog was pure 40s potboiler-style, like "If you act wise, well mister, you'll pop into jail so fast it'll give you the bends!"

There was corny dame bashing, like "I was tussling with the most dangerous animal in the world, a woman." And even trash-talking of men. "Shut up, you're making noises like a husband!"

But it was the femme fatale character of Vera (were nice girls ever named Vera? I'm going to guess no) played by Ann Savage that was, well, savage. She wasn't just scheming or deceitful, she was a shrew, shrill, sneering and condescending; she didn't have a single redeeming quality.

Her occasional cough seemed to indicate that she was ill but not even that could make me like her. A reference to Camille dying of consumption did bring a moment of levity to her sheer meanness, though.

But of course with film noir, you're not supposed to like everybody. There were flashbacks, a confessional voice over, and an acknowledgment of the raison d'etre of film noir: "That's life. Whichever way you turn, fate sticks out a foot to trip you."

That's what I've been trying to remind my friend in his time of relationship crisis. As it turned out, "Detour" said it better in 67 dark minutes than I could have in twice the time.

Take it from Vera, my friend. "Life's like a ball game. You gotta take a swing at whatever comes along before you find it's the ninth inning."

Even this nerd gets that sports metaphor...and agrees.

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