Monday, August 3, 2015

Journey Into Fear (1943) Cattle Boat Noir

(originally published SLWB - February 26, 2013, revised September 2018)

Director: Norman Foster, Writers: Orson Welles (screenplay), Joseph Cotten (screenplay), Richard Collins un-credited & Ben Hecht un-credited. Staring Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Dolores del Rio, Agnes Moorehead, Jack Durant, and Everett Sloane.

In a bizarrely strange opening sequence we see an ugly, corpulent man, Banat (Jack Moss), going though his toiletries before a mirror. It's a dingy, dimly lit hotel room. He's playing a very scratchy 78 RPM record, on a crank gramophone, of some unidentified opera that skips constantly. It effectively becomes his eerie leitmotif. Banat's final action is to screw a silencer on the barrel of a gun. He is a very unlikely looking assassin.  It's a very dark and effective intro.

Peter Banat (Jack Moss)
Joseph Cotten plays Howard Graham, an American ballistics expert who is in Istanbul with his wife just prior to US involvement in WWII. Checking into a hotel he is intercepted by a weaselly character named Kopeikin (Everett Sloan). Kopeikin is Graham's Company Turkish representative.

Kopeikin quickly persuades a tired Graham to have a drink with him before retiring for the night. Graham thinks it's in the hotel bar but Kopeikin insists they go to a nearby nightclub. There during a performance on the stage a magician is shot and killed, but Graham believes he was the target.

Howard Graham (Joseph Cotten)

Kopeikin (Everett Sloane)

Josette Martel (Dolores Del Rio)

The club goers are all rounded up and brought before Colonel Haki (Orson Welles) the head of the Turkish Secret Police. Haki knows that Graham is vital to the Turkish Navy.

murder in the club

Colonel Haki (Orson Welles)
Fearing for Graham's life, Haki immediately places Graham on a cattle boat to his destination rather than a train, telling him that he Haki, will protect his wife. However the cattle boats eccentric passenger list of strange characters includes Banat. There are some excellently noir-ish sequences of expressionist lighting and Dutch angles throughout the final two thirds of the film.


Cattle Boat

I was pleasantly surprised, what really makes this great is that you never know what's happening next, although a caveat to that is you also don't know if this is intentional or if the studio cuts made it way more convoluted than it was actually intended to be. Regardless it works!

Either way the chiaroscuro cinematography, the sound design, studio sets, and the bizarre characters that Joseph Cotten encounters in The Levant aboard a cattle boat crossing the Black Sea are priceless  8/10

A short atmospheric vid I put together, enjoy: 

From IMDb:

Of such strokes is suspense made…, 24 April 2005

Author: ironside ( from Mexico

The operatic approach of adding a musical dimension to menace with a killer-theme on the soundtrack has been greatly used in Orson Welles' glorious suspense film, "Journey Into Fear," where the little killer obsessively played a scratchy old 78 rpm disc of someone singing "Chagrin d'Amour."

The assassin was short and fat; his belly large, his chin and neck flabby... I do not recall him having a line of dialog to speak… But the whole film was spread with heightened menace when he sat, his little round eyes blank behind his little round pebble lenses, listening compulsively to the atrociously scratchy record, confusing the words of the song at the wrong speed, the needle jumping from groove to groove; his nerve-ends, unlike ours, immune to the discordance…

This was a spy thriller set in the wartime Near East, about an innocent American engineer (Joseph Cotten), pursued by Nazi agents and blundering from danger to danger without seeming to know too much of what it was all about…It was essentially a hunter-and-hunted story, with settings that were often seedy but always exotic…

The opening was in Istanbul, the climax in Batum, and all the terrors between were forced claustrophobically between the low ceilings and narrow partitions of a neglected little steamer plowing the Black Sea…

"Journey Into Fear" lives for its portrait gallery, its atmosphere, and for Welles' touches and excesses…

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