On June 3 I’ll be at the World of Bob Dylan conference in Tulsa to give a keynote address, “The Only Thing Missing Was Gloria Grahame: Noir Tones in 21st-Century Dylan.” Details for the event are here.
1. Harry Belafonte in Odds Against Tomorrow (HarBel, 1959). If you want to see Belafonte, who died April 25 at ninety-six, as a singer, an actor, and an activist, this A-list film noir—directed by Robert Wise, written by the blacklisted Abraham Polonsky with credit to John O. Killens, is the place. No one’s any good: Ed Begley is an ex-cop with a bank job plan. Robert Ryan, a leftist-humanist off-screen with an unmatched talent for cruelty on it, is a racist ex-con living off Shelley Winters and sleeping with Gloria Grahame. Belafonte is a singer and bandleader with gambling debts to the mob whose ex-wife can’t bear to touch him. The direction and cinematography is exquisite: noir is a style that makes an atmosphere, but common cinematic gestures, from ugly rooms to wet streets, can extend a style into a purchase on life, a defining vision, convincing to the degree that certain individuals can momentarily give themselves over to it, to a degree that their careers may not escape its definition no matter how many times they say it was just a movie. Here life is a miasma of confinement, waste, and no way out, and Wise makes a world of it, opening with a piece of paper floating in gutter water, shooting down to bring out the grotesqueness of Begley’s features, as bleak on deserted New York streets as on the main street of a small town on the Hudson river. There’s never a question anyone’s going anywhere but ruin.