The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Arnelo Affair

Certain movie gimmicks bother me more than others.  Typically I can deal with just about any of them as long as they're competently handled.  But one that has to hit it out of the park for me to abide by it is the voiceover narration, a technique that's been used to death over the last 10 or 20 years.  Positive uses that jump to mind include American Beauty and Kevin Spacey, The Shawshank Redemption with Morgan Freeman, examples that are near if not perfect in their execution.

When the voiceovers are handled poorly though, it can drag a whole movie down with it, like 1947's noirish The Arnelo Affair.  Film noirs more often than not nailed the main character narrating because it got you into the head of a typically tortured main character trying to deal with some inner demons.  Without any actions or dialogue, we get to know the character without a lot of background.  Those were usually cool characters though.  'Arnelo' is certainly a departure from the tough noir anti-hero with the perspective of a lonely housewife contemplating an affair just not being interesting enough.

After years of marriage to her lawyer husband (George Murphy), Anne Parkson (Frances Gifford) is in a bit of a mid-life rut.  She has everything she could ask for, but her husband takes her for granted, basically ignoring her even though he doesn't realize it. Looking for any sort of excitement, Anne meets a client of her husband's, a club owner, Tony Arnelo (John Hodiak), and gets that excitement. But as appealing and attractive as she finds Tony, she quickly finds out there's more than meets the eye.  Tony gets involved with an actress who is found dead soon after, but the sneaky club owner turns the tables on her, possibly pinning the murder on her.  Can she get herself out of the situation before she's in too deep?

Something was missing from this movie, but I'll start with the narration supplied by Gifford's Anne.  First, it's the most banal stuff I've heard in awhile.  "I like him, but why? What's going on in my head? I'm married so I shouldn't do it...but I'll see him anyway."  The first 45 minutes of an 86-minute movie is dominated by this never-ending stream of conscious narration that drove me up the wall.  If you're going to hit the audience with a lot of voiceover while the main character sits at a table looking worried, you've got to at least attempt to make it interesting.  But because it's dull as all get out, you're basically watching a book on tape.  Nothing interesting visually to look at, and nothing interesting to listen too in terms of dialogue.

Certain names come to mind when I think of femme fatales in film noir, and no offense intended, but Frances Gifford isn't one of them.  A wife stuck in a rut at home with a husband that isn't interested in her certainly has some potential, but there's no conflict here.  Maybe the censors went to town on the finished product from director Arch Oboler (<--- cool name, huh?) and took out any scandalous revelations, but there's a hole in the middle of this movie that needed filling.  Husband ignores wife, wife visits mysterious club owner, they TALK, other woman ends up dead, and we've got a case of blackmail.  Apparently somewhere in there Hodiak falls in love with Gifford while blackmailing her and her family.  It just doesn't come together, but it is 1947 so in the end everything is wrapped up nicely with a big red bow, including happiness for the precocious pre-Quantum Leap Dean Stockwell with a reunited family.

Once everything hits the fan for Gifford's Anne, she basically shuts down as a human being.  She wasn't much of an actress through the first part of the movie, and it only gets worse as things move along.  Her character isn't that well-written, but you've got to chalk some of it up to her.  It's just not an interesting lead character.  Murphy is pretty clueless as her lawyer husband (hate to have him defending me in court) who doesn't realize he's driving his wife away with his constant ignoring her.  Hodiak -- one of my favorite character actors -- is a bright spot with a smaller part as Arnelo, the club owner with some definitely shady connections.  He keeps you guessing as to Arnelo's intentions because he's charming in his evil way.  Other worthwhile parts include Warner Anderson as Detective Leonard, the investigating officer in the murder of the actress that links all these people together.

By the time the murder occurs near the midpoint, the movie's pacing does pick up.  The second half of the movie is noticeably better than the first half, but it's not like that was hard to do.  As mentioned, everything gets wrapped up too quickly, too nicely and with a little bit too much coincidence for my liking.  Not a lot to recommend about this dull noirish flick, maybe for diehards only.

The Arnelo Affair <---TCM trailer (1947): * 1/2 /****

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