Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Framed (1947) with Glenn Ford & Janis Carter

Framed (1947) with a good performance from Glenn Ford, a steamy one from the mysterious Janis Carter, a reptilian Barry Sullivan and Edgar Buchanan as a would-be fall guy, was one of the movies shown on Ford's Summer Under the Stars day on TCM. It is one of the movies that my friend Elliot Lavine is showing as part of his upcoming Best of Columbia Noir program at the Roxie theater in San Francisco. Not quite an A picture, this movie toys with fate and the dichotomy between appearances and reality, making this a prime piece of noir.

The only other movie that I can recall seeing Janis Carter in, (even though she was in several well known movies, such as Flying Leathernecks, The Woman on Pier 13 and the like), was Night Editor (1946-Henry Levin), a small scale story in which Janis gets her jollies by seeing a girl murdered. She is so turned on, she seeks out the murderer for an affair.


It doesn't get quite so twisted in the more mainstream Framed. Carter, (seen at right) plays a posh looking waitress in a cheap bar in a small town. She is so blonde in this story, which was clearly drawing on The Postman Always Rings Twice for inspiration, she makes Lana Turner look swarthy. The filmmakers also have Carter wear white during the initial scenes introducing her seductive, self-assured presence into the film, and she wears progressively darker clothes in the second part of the movie, as the Lana Turner character did in the movie based on a the James M. Cain novel. Janis Carter also makes Lana look highly principled as she goes to extremes to get her manicured, white-gloved mitts on some loot, first by hatching a scheme to find a man who looks a bit like unhappily married bank v.p. Barry Sullivan in height, build and coloring. Then, she tries to manipulate events to her advantage, regardless of the consequences for others. Btw, other than the hair color, Carter, who radiates a considerable spark of intelligence as well as an awareness of her sexual allure, also reminded me a bit of Leslie Brooks, another small time femme fatale who enlivened Blonde Ice (1948) and a few other movies (though none of Brooks movies had as big a budget).

Left: Janis Carter and Glenn Ford get cozy.

All Janis does in this one is entice a clueless, down-on-his-luck mining engineer (Glenn Ford) into an arrangement that leads to another murder and theft. Btw, in a moment that made me think of Barbara Stanwyck's expression in Double Indemnity in the car, and of Janis Carter's odd moment of rapture in Night Editor, in this movie, as a car holding her alleged beloved careens off a cliff and burns to a crisp, the director Richard Wallace has the camera hold on her face as something like fascination, and arousal passes across it. Carter's schemer does have her redeeming qualities. She doesn't conk Glenn Ford on the noggin and push him over the cliff as originally planned, nor does she off him with some poisoned coffee, so I'm guessing that when she meets St. Peter at the pearly gates, she will have a few marks on the right side of the ledger. Not many, but a few. If you'd like to see a good piece about Janis Carter's life and times, you might want to read this obit from The Independent, which is one of the better sources I found.

Rt.: A peeved Glenn Ford in a gambling sequence reminiscent of Gilda, but this time it's in small town America.

Glenn Ford plays this role that has hints of the same weaselly character he played so well in Gilda, (complete with a crapshooting sequence and a bad temper on display), but he is much closer to other "nice guy" roles he often played. His cynicism is of the school of hard knocks variety, and doesn't seem to spring from a belief that he is more clever than others. Though it takes quite some time for the truth to dawn on Junior, er, Glenn, and he shows some poor impulse control (especially around bottles of hooch), I really like the way that the character is literally careening out of control of his life (and his truck) from the moment we meet him as he crashes into town behind the wheel of a truck with no brakes.

Left: A weary, cynical Glenn Ford tries to straighten out his life in Framed (with Janis Carter in the background observing his interactions with John Law and friends.) Can anyone please provide me with the name of the bartender here? He is the bald guy over Ford's right shoulder and he was in a kajillion movies.

The character of the out of work engineer has his moments, especially when he has a hangover. Particular actions that are not necessarily scripted but are true to life and fit his character are one of the things that I enjoy about Ford's work when his performance is good (don't ask about his poor performances, 'cause some of them are humdingers). Here, there is a long sequence when he awakens in a cheap hotel after blacking out from drinking. His posture, expressive face and the agony that he seems to feel as he speaks to the desk clerk (the wonderful Art Smith) conveys his befuddled state and self-disgust perfectly. When he is given a note with Janis Carter's name an phone number on it with the 'come hither' message written on it, you can see him struggle to remember her and what he might have done. Interestingly, even as the movie segues into the next scene when he goes into an assay office to ask about jobs in his field, the aching hangover is carried over into the scene he plays there as he struggles to make a good impression. Fumbling with a paper cup, he finally finds a way to get some water down his dehydrated throat. It's a nice, unobtrusive bit of acting that I normally don't notice, but I liked it.

Ford, who manages to convey a puppyish confusion and a lingering guilt throughout the movie, is a tentative hero, who might go either way, into indifference or evil. His sudden commitment to the newly formed friendship he forges with mine owner Edgar Buchanan is one of the few less than credible elements in his character's development--at least to me. Ford's last scene, when a bank guard tells him he'll get a big reward for what he has done, is also beautifully done. As he turns away and walks down the street, muttering "you can keep it." with a mixture of self-revulsion, disenchantment and some guilt, you sense that this guy may not stay in this burg to take that promised job with Buchanan at his silver mine.

The cinematography by Burnett Guffey is exceptionally well lit and the print used by TCM was exceptionally fine. I particularly like the bar scenes, the scene at the mine and when Ford is on the run from the police in the rail yard. Carter gets the lioness's share of the closeups, but the cameraman had a great time recorded the mug of Edgar Buchanan throughout this film as well. Btw, cheapskate that Harry Cohn was, Columbia used the palatial "shack in the hills" where Carter and Sullivan met for their assignations in more than one other movie. You'll recognize the exterior and the interior from The Dark Past (1948), where psychiatrist Lee J. Cobb analyzed William Holden's personality disorder(s) while Cobb and friends were being held hostage. It was a great house set, might as well get your money's worth from it!


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