October has come and gone, and with it, Halloween. But November gives us more fun in the shadows. Yes, it’s time once again for Noirvember: a month devoted to the twisted world of film noir. Once again this year I’ll be spotlighting some of my favorite noir titles. Some will be familiar to you, while others are hidden gems I’ve discovered in the last year or so. My first selection is one that may be new to you. It doesn’t appear on that many great film noir lists. But it’s worth discovering all the same. It’s 1945’s Cornered. Starring Dick Powell in his second noir outing following the wonderful Murder, My Sweet, it’s a solid film noir offering.
Cornered has a twisted plot, even by film noir standards. It involves murder, international intrigue, and revenge. The film really has everything.
On being discharged at the end of the war, Canadian flyer Laurence Gerard (Dick Powell) returns to France to discover who ordered the killing of a group of resistance fighters, including his new bride. He identifies Vichy collaborator Marcel Jarnac (Luther Adler), who is reported as dead himself. Not believing this, Gerard follows the trail to Argentina where it is apparent that Nazism is also far from dead.–IMDB
The way the plot unfolds does get a bit overly convoluted. The crosses and double crosses of characters seem to come left and right. You almost need a map of who is connected to who and what their place is in the story line. It’s not as confusing as, say, The Big Sleep. But it does get bogged down in plot elements at times for a little too long. That quibble aside, the film is never boring. It has some solid dialogue, fascinating characters, and some fun shooting locations (including Bronson Caves). All of these elements provide a very effective film noir world.
One of the many reasons I picked Cornered was Dick Powell. Most classic film fans know him as a crooner from films such as 42nd Street and Gold Diggers of 1939. As much as I love Powell in musicals, the part of his career where he dabbled in noir is even more fascinating. I was skeptical when I watched him in Murder, My Sweet. How could anyone come close to be as good of a Philip Marlowe as Humphrey Bogart? While Bogart is still the interpretation of the character I prefer, Powell’s take on the iconic private eye was very effective. He won me over in that film as a noir actor. In Cornered, he continues to go over to the dark side in the characters he plays. It’s gripping watching him evolve into a high-caliber dramatic right before our eyes. Did I mention that Powell directed a few films too? He really was one of the most versatile people of the Hollywood golden age.It should be noted that in Cornered Powell has a strong supporting cast that includes Walter Slezak.
Cornered also benefits from the direction of Edward Dmytryk. His other film credits include Murder, My Sweet (also with Dick Powell), Crossfire, and The Caine Mutiny. Cornered is one of his many solid directing efforts. The screenplay by John Paxton, John Wexley, and an uncredited Ben Hecht has a good mix of gritty noir dialogue and creates a very effective labyrinth of a plot for us and the characters to sort through. It’s fascinating how Nazism ties into the plot and reveals and anti-fascist message in this international detective story. Harry J. Wild’s cinematography is the icing on the cake. This is a gorgeously filmed noir. The scene where Powell goes to visit his wife’s grave, for example, is very moody and somber.
Cornered is flawed, but definitely worth seeing. Dick Powell is solid in the lead role. We really believe him as the grieving husband who wants to avenge his wife’s death. The screenplay is good, even though it’s occasionally a little murky. Overall it’s a very involving noir tale and it’s worthy of more recognition.