Our story starts in “Chicago, in the early 1930s” as the cursive script title informs us. But this isn’t the rarified Chicago penthouses, with their lush string sections. No, this is the down and dirty, saxophone and euphemistically-named nightclubs Chicago. The kind of movie even Metrocolor was wary about visiting.
During the initial Vegas-style Chorus Girl number, with it’s boozy-and-yet-moralistic opening number “Party Girl” (that’s right, just like the movie!) we meet Miss Vicki Gaye (Cyd Charisse- Singin’ in the Rain, Silk Stockings), a dame so classy, the local mob boss’s boys offers her big bucks just to show up at their party (where she can stand around and be a girl, presumably). She’s also a tough-love-as-nails confidant to her clueless roommate (also a dancer). Vicki tells her not to get so hung up on men, especially married men. She’s a tough dancer. Will the young dancer listen?
Robert Taylor (Quo Vadis, Ivanhoe) plays the Defense Attorney (read: mob lawyer) Thomas “Tommie” O’Farrell, whose wry sarcastic, cynical exterior hides a wry, sarcastic, cynical interior. Except when it comes to dames. Then he’s just wry, moralistic and cynical. Plus, he walks with a cane... very mysterious!
The two meet at the previously mentioned party of Mob Boss Rico Angelo (Lee J. Cobb- On the Waterfront, 12 Angry Men) who is distrught over his favorite movie star Jean Harlow getting married. He’s never met her, but he has seen all her pictures. Our two leads meet when Tommie steps in to cockblock “Lucky Louie” (John Ireland) a drunken mobster who is pressuring Vicki to go home with him. But Tommie is respected in this group, why he can even speak truth to power in front of Rico, which he does, often.
The noir-talk is great, with this little exchange when Tommie’s goes to drop Vicki off at her apartment:
Vicki: “Would you like to come up for a minute? There’s nothing in the icebox, but I could whip you up... some cocoa?”
Tommie: “Cocoa? I haven’t had any cocoa since I was 9 years old! Maybe you got a new recipe.”
And she does, Tommie, oh how she does. Except that they find her roommate dead in the tub from suicide, and that puts a damper on the evening.
Over time the lawyer that gets criminals off has a moralizing, self-esteem-building effect on her and she has effected him in return. She begins to think maybe she’s better than the tawdry life she’s leading. And after her grand speach about his morals (after he’s gotten Lucky Louie a “Not Guilty” verdict) he – this shark, this shyster, this terror of the courtroom starts to look at the clients he represents, the too-easy quick path to success he’s taken, and .... you know... what it all means...
Being a Noir story, the two fall in love. Being a Noir, there are outside forces effecting to two. Being a Noir story, Tommie shows how much he truly loves Gaye by leaving for a year “to think about things...” Will they triumph? Will Love save them both? Watch the film and find out. What? I’m going to give it you for free?
Though not a huge critical success when it came out, the movie has attained a sort of cult status. What it doesn’t offer in plot originality, it makes up for in staging, camera angles, and of course that gorgeous Metrocolor technique. Cyd Charisse in particular does an incredible solo dance number featuring a long red dress and all the things you can do with it. Not like that, gutter minds, more in a choreographic kinda way, see?
Ryk McIntyre is a Multi-Hyphen sort of person. Poet, critic, performer, workshop facilitator and co-host at both GotPoetry! Live (Providence) and Cantab Lounge (Cambridge,MA). He's been living in RI for the past 6 years, with his wife and daughter. Ryk has performed his work at Boston's ICA, NYC's New School, Portsmouth, NH's Music Hall and Lollapalooza, to name just a few. He has toured the US, performing in countless Poetry open mics and festivals. He turned down Allen Ginsburg once.