Σάββατο, 26 Σεπτεμβρίου 2009

RIDE THE PINK HORSE (1947, ROBERT MONTGOMERY)


Weird, off-beat, and dark even by postwar noir standards, RIDE THE PINK HORSE is the definite cultish item, a film of some other order that happens the way it does either by accident/inexperience on the filmmaker's part or from some kind of intuitive design, a basic way of saying "everyone makes films this way but what if I take out these little parts and see how it works". Knowing that Robert Montgomery helmed LADY IN THE LAKE, a Raymond Chandler adaptation shot entirely from Marlowe's POV seemingly for novelty's sake, I'm inclined to think it's the second, with the first factoring somewhere in the process. For all Montgomery know, the result could've been a muddled incoherent mess. But it's not. For some reason, it's mysterious and elusive, oddly captivating and nightmarish even when it doesn't make a whole lot of sense (or perhaps because of it), because the characters are left incomplete and indecipherable, the way real people are most of the time, doing what they do out of some sense of obligation or skewed honor they can't even explain to themselves. Hollywood usually explains that motivation and in doing so turnes people into plot devices created to move the story forward or halt it long enough for the necessary exposition. Montgomery opens the film with his protagonist, a disillusioned GI blackmailer, wandering in a small New Mexican town the day before a fiesta and doesn't bother explaining why's there or what's he there to do until we're 20 minutes in. In the meantime, he has soaked up enough eerie smalltown atmosphere and sense of impending doom, Mexicans giving him false directions to his hotel, a weird wideyed girl giving him strange charms to ward off bad luck, that when the plot kicks into motion we've established so much mood that the story need not be anything more than a skeleton. The second half is not as great as the first because the potboilerish noir aspects of the story take hold, something about a blackmail scheme and characters trying to outwit and deceive each other while a government agent stalks in the perimeters trying to arrest the blackmailee, but it's not for too long. Soon we get dingy Mexican taverns and the fiesta pouring through the streets, a crane shot that rises to meet the Zozobra figure towering above the town, we get a great set piece in a merry-go-round from which the movie takes its bizarre title, stabbings in the dark, our knifed protagonist staggering in the dark around town automaton-like, the government agent showing up at just the right time to bail him out or tell him things he needs to be wary off, rumbling monologues against flag-waving and working 9 to 5 that reveal a movie as disillusioned with the postwar American dream as its own characters, all wrapped in a structure that has an odd mystical/mythic quality about it. And of course, we get Pancho, the merry-go-round owner, and his pearls of wisdom such as "when you're young, everyone sticks knife in you". A true delight for the cult movie afficionado and the film noir fan who always cared more for BLAST OF SILENCE than THE MALTESE FALCON. Don't miss it.

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