|All of a sudden with no advance notice, the grocery store deli has two Britons. This coincides with the elevation of a brusque Russian at the other store I frequent. His English skills I do not trust. He was presiding over a wheel of cheese large enough to give Sisyphus a hernia, and I noted that it was gouda. I like gouda. I asked if it was as good or better than the Masterpiece brand, which heretofore had been their prime gouda.
“Yeah,” he said, in a way that guaranteed he neither understood the question nor cared about my inquiry. I repeated my question. He shrugged. “Yeah.”
Fine, well, yob tvoyu mat, tovarische, and I went back to the cold cuts. This isn’t the first time the store has put non-English speakers into the one job that requires, you know, ENGLISH. But having Britons at the counter is entirely different. They say “cheers” in a way that says “don’t even think of starting with the tally-ho pip pip stuff, mate.” I’m tempted to say “ta,” just for fun, but these guys would either light up or grow grim and dark. Never irritate a professional meat sliced.
I actually know a little British slang, but if I used it I would sound like one of those pathetic wannabees who watch too much BBC America.
Speaking of which: I was lucky enough to see the upcoming two-hour finale of “The Office,” the brilliant British teleplay. (I considered both “Brit-com” and “mockumentary” but was overwhelmed with shame. Teleplay works fine.) If you enjoyed the first two seasons, well, be prepared. The finale is better than anything they did previously – and what they pull off at the end makes you realize that this isn’t just a minor little cult TV show but a masterpiece of writing and acting.
It’s a double-column night, so I’ll have to leave you with this week’s Spotlight on Noir, with a special meaningless video that gratifies me at the expense of making everyone else shrug and say, “so?”
Every noir movie needs a creepy gunsel who’ll kill whomever the bossman wants killed. There are different genres. There’s the mad-eyed lunatic who looooves killin’. (One of the priceless twists in “The Maltese Falcon” was the way Bogart confronted nutball Elisha Cook Jr. and utterly unmanned him in seconds flat.) Then there’s the flat-faced sociopath devoid of emotion, and these guys are scarier than the nutcases. They won’t give you a speech before they off you. They won’t toy with you, wave the gun around, stick the barrel up your nostril or do other stupid things you could take advantage of. They’ll just pop you, roll their shoulders, and wonder where they’re going to eat tonight. Tadd’s? Went there a few nights ago. Maybe chow mein. I dunno.
“The Big Clock” is noir by virtue of its title, which has the all-holy Noir Adjective. BIG. So many “BIG” movies in those days. (In college I wrote a parody of “Crime and Punishment” a la Chandler, and called it – of course – “The Big Axe.” ) Ray Milland is a good protagonist, because sweats convincingly. Charles Laughton defines his character’s essential evil with a single gesture: grooming his lip with the back of his pinky. It’s a great thriller – they recycled the idea in “No Way Out” with Costner and "Out of Time" with Denzel Washington. Neither had a bad guy quite like this:
The masseur is publishing tycoon Laughton’s personal go-to guy for your murdery things. Recognize him?
How about now? One of these days I'm gonna tell that Joe Friday what I really think about him, and I won't do it by the book. Uptight fascist oppressor mofo.
Not exactly the most fearsome fellow, eh? Is that because you see a younger Col. Potter, or because he just looks like a loser of limited intellect trying to look like a badass? In any case, when he gets his gun taken away by Ray Milland - of all people! - you're hardly surprised.
I ran the trailer, expecting the usual clip job, and was surprised to find Ray Milland walking into a radio studio. Wha? That wasn’t in the movie. Then I heard the theme.
In the late 90s I went back and forth to Fargo much more than I do now, and I listened to old radio dramas. Mostly “Suspense,” a long-running CBS show sponsored by Autolite and Roma Wines. The announcer promised “a tall well-calculated to keep you in – SUSPENSE!” Stabbing horns. I used to take my hands off the wheel to cue the trumpets and the announcer.
The trailer has Ray Milland doing a promo for the movie on the “Suspense” show, and features the announcer I heard as I drove through the dark, and the producer, Anton Leader.
He gestured, too. And now these are the gestures I will use.
Oh, the movie? It's fine. Gripping, you might say. The art direction is miles ahead of most noir movies, because much of the action takes place in the oh-so- moderne offices of a skyscraper HQ of a magazine publishing HQ. (The elevator scene in the opening segments is a nifty bit of work - every time the doors open to a new floor, we see the offices for a different type of magazine. News fashion sport crime. It's all done in a single take.) I like Ray Milland, who does Bitterly Annoyed better than anyone. Ninety-six tight minutes; you could do worse.
Back to work - see you tomorrow. (New Fence, as usual for a Tuesday)