Tuesday, December 22, 2015

This World, Then The Fireworks (1997) - White Trash Noir

Directed By Michael Oblowitz with excellent cinematography by Tom Priestley Jr., written by Larry Gross; adapted from a story by Jim Thompson, edited by Emma E. Hickox; a complimentary soundtrack by Pete Rugolo. The film stars Billy Zane (Twin Peaks TV, Dead Calm (1989)), Sheryl Lee (Twin Peaks TV, Wild At Heart (1990) Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992) Mother Night (1996)), Gina Gershon (Bound (1997) Palmetto (1998)) looking like a dead ringer for Ava Gardner, Seymour Cassel ( The Killers (1964) Dick Tracy (1990)), Will Patton ( After Hours (1985) Romeo Is Bleeding (1993), William Hootkins, and Rue McClanahan (Angel's Flight (1965)).

A circa 1950s period piece This World, Then The Fireworks (the title, a Southern colloquial expression translating to basically "here and now then Hell") absolutely wallows in stylistic Noir atmospherics without the hinderance of the old Hollywood Hayes code censorship. It's a wide open anything goes story of a quite possibly genetically deficient, inbred, murderous screwed up family.

In a flashback sequence Marty Lakewood (Zane) narrates the traumatic event of their life.  On the occasion of his and his twin sister Carol's (Gershon) 4th birthday party they, along with their Mother (McClanahan) follow their neighbor into his house where he finds their father Mr. Lakewood naked in bed with his wife. During the heated confrontation Marty's father pulls a shotgun from beneath the bed and blasts the man in the face before his neighbor can pull the trigger of the gun he's brandishing. Marty's mother standing in shock is also hit by some stray buckshot and brains. Marty tells us how funny things looked especially his nakedfather and the naked neighbor lady and how the man had only half a head. Marty concludes telling us that his father was executed for murder and the neighbors wife committed suicide. All this left Marty, Carol, and Mom, what you may call seriously not quite right in the head. 

The defining moment in the lives of the Lakewoods

Back in the present we learn that Marty has become a successful investigative reporter for a Chicago newspaper. He leads a somewhat normal life with a wife and two children, but he gets his info on police corruption underhandedly and illegally, from pushing morphine to informants. The corrupt police get wise, they gun down Marty's informant and almost trap Marty in a Chicago Blues Bar. Marty decides to skedaddle out of town and head to California where his mother and sister have moved.

Chicago Noir-ish

Death of an informant

Marty gets away
In a seaside town in California, Marty finds his mother an increasingly hopeless bible thumper and his recently divorced sister now a successful prostitute. In another flashback Marty relates the story of when a bunch of his cousins tried to gang rape Carol dragging her out behind the barn and holding her down on the ground. Marty came to her rescue with a two by four. Marty and Carol become close, real close, incestuously close. Marty's arrival and his renewed relationship with Carol under her own roof sends his mother very close to the edge.  

Marty Lakewood (Zane channeling George Hamilton)

Mama Lakewood

Carol Lakewood (Gina Gershon channelling Ava Gardner) 

Carol hooking at Clair's Cocktail Lounge

Carol and Marty

Carol & Trick
Marty gets a job at a local paper, his big city journalist career expertise soon increases circulation, but Marty is at heart a flake, he quits his job in quite spectacular fashion and soon becomes involved with a sexually frustrated police woman Lois Archer (Lee) who is a masochist. Marty happily dominates her and hatches a scheme to get her to sell the seaside house she owns with her brother (who is in the military and stationed in Hawaii) and abscond with the cash. Lois becomes sexually insatiable.

Lois Archer (Sheryl Lee) the cold fish gets moist for Marty

Before Marty can put his scheme to sell Lois Archer's house into action. Marty gets side tracked when he spots a detective tailing Carol. Following the detective back to his office Marty pretends to be interested in hiring him for a job. Once the detective is at ease Marty brutally kills him.

Detective office

Detective Jake Krutz (William Hootkins)

If you think things are not depraved enough, before the film comes to its conclusion we witness a matricide, sister Carol literally screwing a man to death, Carol & Marty disposing the body, another murder and a botched abortion, This is one of those car wreck type of films where you stay hypnotized, rubbernecking in a trance to the very end.

The film's main flaw is that Billy Zane comes off as a bit too modern for the 50's, and not hard boiled enough for either the genre or the time period. Still the film is entertaining enough to keep you interested and it could be visual treat with a decent restoration, the sub standard screencaps are from an Orion VHS release (currently the only option) the colors are oversaturated on the tape. I used Corel Paintshop to desaturate them. This should definitely have a restored DVD release. 7/10 

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