Monday, August 3, 2015

Naked Alibi (1954) Cali-Mex Noir

Gloria Grahame at her peak of voluptuousness. 

That fact is the high water mark, and this is not just from my own personal opinion from actual statements from Gloria recorded in her biography, "Suicide Blonde." This is the reason to seek out this film. In The Big Heat and in this film, she never looked more sexier and you wish that the director, the studio and the material would have pushed the bubble on the Motion Picture Production Code. There is one sequence during her song number in a Tijuana dive bar where she gets to shake her booty, however it looks like the negative was cropped right above Gloria's breasts. Can't have the sight of those corrupting America's youth.

Grahame herself off camera certainly pushed the bubble on social and societal norms, married four times, had four children and caught in bed by Husband Nicholas Ray with her thirteen year old step son.  Now there's a bio pic screaming to be made.

Which makes her more germane to the work, it's a film essentially about "Bent" people.

Too bad that Naked Alibi was directed in an almost production mill, pedestrian manner by film and television director Jerry Hopper (The Atomic City (1952), Alaska Seas (1954), The Private War of Major Benson (1955)), Grahame, Hayden, and Barry deserved better. A B-minus Noir. The film was written by Lawrence Roman for screenplay and J. Robert Bren and Gladys Atwater for the story "Cry Copper." 

The cinematography was by Russell Metty (Whistle Stop (1946), Ride the Pink Horse (1947), A Woman's Vengeance (1948), Kiss the Blood Off My Hands (1948), The Raging Tide (1951), Crashout (1955), and the iconic Touch of Evil (1958)), you just wish that this could have been directed by Orson Welles. The music, stern tones segueing into a sleazy jazz was by Hans J. Salter and Frank Skinner though both are uncredited.

 Capt. Owen Kincaide (Connors) and Chief Conroy (Hayden)

Det. Lt. Fred Parks (Showalter) and Al Willis (Barry)
The film stars Sterling Hayden (eight Classic Noir) as Chief Joe Conroy, Gloria Grahame (nine Classic Noir) as Marianna, Gene Barry as Al Willis, Marcia Henderson as Helen Willis, Max Showalter (four Classic Noir) as Det. Lt. Fred Parks, Billy Chapin as Petey, Chuck Connors as Capt. Owen Kincaide, Don Haggerty as Matt Matthews, Stuart Randall as Chief A.S. Babcock, Don Garrett as Tony, Richard Beach as Felix, Tol Avery as Irish, Paul Levitt as Gerald Frazier, Fay Roope as Commissioner F.J. O'Day, and Joseph Mell as Otto Stoltz. 

"I'll get you."
The Bent people in the story are, Al Willis (Barry) local baker who is picked up for drunk and disorderly conduct without ID and is in an interrogation room at the local Police Station, He's being questioned by a Det. Lt. Fred Parks (Showalter) about some robberies. Willis is belligerent.  A scuffle results in Barry smacking Showalter in the head with an ashtray and threatening the cops that he will get even, the two other plainclothes cops in the room subdue him just as Chief of Detectives Conroy (Hayden) walks into the room.

Willis is identified as a good citizen, is married and has a daughter. and is the owner of a bakery, he apologizes for being drunk and is let go. Willis is shown going home to his wife and daughter. Sometime later Showalter is gunned down in the street at a police call box. He slides down the pipe with the call box microphone swinging, its speaker squawking fruitlessly above. 

bent shadows

gunned down

There's nothing to go on  until a ballistic report narrows down the likely gun. A German mauser. Conroy, remembers Willis's threat to get even and hauls in him in after a brief chase. The slightly "bent" Conroy (who has a reputation for brutality in his police work) develops a hard-on for Willis convinced that he is the killer, but Willis and his lawyer pull strings with a commissioner and Willis is released. All hell breaks loose when the other two cops in the interrogation room are killed by a car bomb planted (like in The Big Heat) in the car's starter. On top of that Conroy is photographed physically attacking Willis while trying to get him to confess. Conroy loses his job but becomes obsessed with "getting" Willis stalking him around town.

car bomb

Conroy stalking Willis in a stylistically Noir sequence.


Willis getting unnerved decides to leave town and his wife (Henderson) and child to take a vacation away from Conroy. Up to this point the film effectively has you sympathizing with Willis against loose cannon Conroy, but when Willis ends up in "Border Town" and assumes a new identity and joins gal pal B-Girl chantreuse Marianna (Grahame) our perceptions change drastically.

Border Town/Noirsville  (Tijuana)

Below Femme Fatale Grahame with director Hooper showing the inside of her thigh this would never pass the Hayes Code. ;-)

It would have helped if this film would have been shot more on actual locations as it is it's almost all Universal backlot, it picks up when it moves to "Border Town" (Tijuana) and Barry is revealed, but that location looks minimally used  at best, it pales in comparison to say what Welles did with Venice, California in  "Touch of Evil". Its also one of those quasi Noirs that take place way too much in the sunshine for the first 3rd of the film. But Barry is way better than I was expecting (showing a lot of range), and Grahame & Hayden are great as usual, Connors plays Conroy's second in command adequately, but the budget lets this film linger in the second tier of Noirs. Graham sings a song at the bar obviously a lip-sync, but shakes that thing a bit doing it so who cares, lol.  I'm a Gloria & Sterling fan so it's an essential for me. 7/10

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