Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Wrong Man - (1993) - The Good, The Bad, And The Heart-breaker

(from SLWB July 26, 2015) 

Director: Jim McBride, Writers: Roy Carlson (story), Michael Thoma (screenplay), Cinematography by Affonso Beato. Stars: Rosanna Arquette, Kevin Anderson, John Lithgow, Jorge Cervera Jr. and Ernesto LaGuardia

This one is way off the radar or "noirdar". Probably because its never seen or has been dismissed or mislabeled as fluff.  It's probably forgotten for two reasons, one it was a Showtime film (much like The Last Seduction was an HBO premier), and two, it had a lot of adult T&A but its all germane to the story, its TITS & ASS with CLASS believe it or not. It can be done and done well. It's also as noir a tale as you can get.  Half Road pic, half Policier, half dysfunctional Drama.


Kevin Anderson plays a young 30-ish American, Alex Walker, a sailor on the run after a fight over a woman that went seriously wrong. He's fleeing from a manslaughter charge in Massachusetts, he says he didn't want to spend 10 years picking up cans along the highways.  His cargo ship The Starfish is working the Gulf coast of Mexico, think of the classic Noir roles that went to a young Steve Cochran, William Holden,  Glen Ford, etc.

The Good (Anderson as Walker)

John Lithgow plays a chain smoking "ne plus ultra" Ugly American John Mills, channeling Henry Fonda and touches of other classic Noir performances, you see a bit of Jimmy Stewart and get impressions of Broderick Crawford, he's so very entertaining in the role, an excellent performance.

The Bad (Lithgow as Mills)

Rosanna Arquette plays Missy the Heartbreaker, Mills' younger wife/common law friend with benefits, a real sweetheart Floozy of a Femme Fatale. Missy's past is shrouded in Noir. She spins a honey dipped, storybook fantasy background, but we learn later that she "worked" at an infamous Georgia highway truck stop in probable salacious endeavors "giving the best business in hash house history".  Arquette is playing the exact type of exhibitionist, free spirit role that in the late 50s early 60s would have been given to Brigitte Bardot, Arquette is smoking-ly sultry in this film and beautiful to watch, a siren luring men to their fate.

The Heart-breaker (Arquette as Missy) 

There is also a good policier angle that is nicely fleshed out of a young ambitious Mexican Criminal Law graduate Ortega played by Ernesto LaGuardia, who will remind you of a young Ricardo Montalban, vs. the old school Police Chief Diaz,  played excellently by Jorge Cervera Jr. who gives off a John Wayne/Harry Carey vibe. The cinematography is outstanding, the noir sequences to die for, the  Mexican locations humidly hypnotic.

Diaz (Jorge Cervera Jr.)
Ortega (LaGuardia)

Rainy Tampico
Robert Harper is also excellent as the ex pat fleece joint operator in Tampico, he has some memorable sequences, I think Timothy Carey or Dan Duryea as I watch him.

Felix (Robert Harper)

Our story begins at the rain gray edge of the Gulf of Mexico a languid tropical sea, the primordial soup bowl of the Americas. The Starfish makes port and Walker takes shore leave in Tampico. While doing the town he steps into the street and stumbles right into Noirsville. Walker passes through a swinging bat-wing door and upon an immanent showdown at Felix's Dorado Cantina and becomes in the process "the wrong man".

Missy & Mills take Walker in tow as he flees Mexican authorities in what becomes a bizarre ménage à trois.

Walker & Mills

Missy cooling off

I'm starting to believe that what makes Neo Noirs authentic Neo Noirs for me,  is not only a heavy dose of Noir stylistic cinematography along with a simple Noir storyline, but also a bit of cinematic memory, when you can picture the stars in these Neos as inheritors of Classic Noir star parts, or see a nod to Classic Noir type locations combined with an old school, without bells & whistles, low budget, "B" film artistry you reach the tipping point into full blown Noirsville.

Mills the Ugly American
All the action sequences are done very well and all low key, mostly on foot, no automatics, no car chases, no explosions, just good choreography on existing location, Bravo!

Watch for the "Duello of the Wrong Man" sequence, "The Death Of Felix" sequence, "The Ballad of the Heartbreaker" and "The Dance of the Siren". You wont be disappointed.

The Dance of The Siren Sequence

I had to order this off Ebay from Hong Kong, it's worth it. It's equal to the best Neo Noirs of the 90s, a great, great soundtrack by Los Lobos too, 10/10 enjoy.

Wrong Man Walker going South to Guatemala, Adios!

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