Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Not the Baloney Pony

Happy to be back at The Projection Booth podcast this week with Mike White and Carol Borden talking about Robert Montgomery's adaptation of Dorothy B. Hughes' Ride the Pink Horse for Noirvember. You can find the episode here. Sounds like the title of an AC/DC song if ever a noir film did.

Of the three of us I turned out  to be the biggest fan of the film while Carol was bullish on the book and Mike wasn't quite sure what to make of it. That's okay though because I was a big enough fan for all three of us.

Certainly I think it's a big improvement for Montgomery over his directorial debut (the Raymond Chandler adaptation) Lady in the Lake which may not entirely work, but is at least ambitious and interesting for Montgomery's choice to shoot it entirely from his/Marlowe's POV and for Audrey Totter's amazing facial expressions. Ride the Pink Horse doesn't go near as hard on the calling attention to its style front, but it is stylish.

And handsome. Damned handsome. And, I, for one, think Montgomery wears that suit like the handsome damned of many of my favorite gringo noirs, though the ending of the film is a far sight more hopeful than the ending of Hughes' novel (or films noir in general). Carol and Mike have got more to say about that, but the episode also features a swell Dorothy B. Hughes-focused interview with Sarah Weinman, so I defer to everybody else there.

For the episode I read the novel and watched all the films I could find that Hughes had a hand in including Nicholas Ray's adaptation of Hughes' novel In a Lonely Place which I'd seen before, but only just learned how different it is from the source novel (lots on that in the interview with Weinman). 

I also watched The Corpse Came C.O.D. and Follow the Boys, a forgettable couple of toss-offs Hughes did some un-credited work on, but I quite enjoyed John Garfield and Maureen O'Hara in Richard Wallace's adaptation of The Fallen Sparrow about a damaged-goods veteran come home to find out who killed the policeman who helped him escape torture in a prison camp. It made for an interesting disillusioned vets double bill with Ride the Pink Horse, though Sailor, the protagonist of Hughes' novel, is not a soldier Lucky, the protagonist of Montgomery's film, is.

I listened to Montgomery and Wanda Hendrix reprise their film roles for the the radio drama edition of Ride the Pink Horse and watched the Destry episode Ride to Rio Verde which is also adapted from the text. The last adaptation I consumed was Don Siegel's The Hanged Man starring Robert Culp. As a big fan of Siegel's I was disappointed in The Hanged Man, which felt pretty slight though it had a nice touch or two (including nightmarish clown make-up on Gene Raymond). It wasn't nearly as satisfying to me as Montgomery's version. In the episode Carol notes that Culp's nastiness better represents the Sailor character from Hughes' novel though. 

Here's an interesting bit. In February 1964 Siegel directed Destry's first episode, The Solid Gold Girl. Episode 9, Ride to Rio Verde based on Ride the Pink Horse, aired in April. Siegel directed an adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's The Killers (or, if you prefer, a remake of Robert Siodmak's 1946 version) which was supposed to be a made for TV film (the first made for TV film in color), but which NBC passed on due to the shocking colorized violence and was subsequently released theatrically in October '64. Then, in November, one year after John F. Kennedy's assassination (which had delayed filming on The Killers), Siegel's second attempt at a made for TV movie, his Hughes adaptation, The Hanged Man airs.

And that's it for Hughes movies. According to Mike, Carol and Sarah I really need to dive into more of her books and based on my enjoyment of Ride the Pink Horse I will. Seriously, the book is super hardboiled and unsentimental, nasty, brutish and has a scorcher of an ending. And it sounds like judging her books by their movies is a mistake regardless of how much I like the films.

Incidentally, before Ride the Pink Horse was an episode of the TV show Destry, Destry the character had a couple of hit movies: Destry and  Destry Rides Again inspired by a Max Brand novel starring Audie Murphy, himself a veteran of WWII who came back with some awfully deep war scars, like Montgomery's in Ride the Pink Horse and especially Garfield's in The Fallen Sparrow, that caused his marriage to Ride the Pink Horse co-star Wanda Hendrix to fall apart very quickly.

Anyway, check out the episode, I think you'll enjoy it. Also, subscribe to The Projection Booth's patreon if you can, check out Sarah Weinman's books and get acquainted with Carol Borden's website The Cultural Gutter: thoughtful writing about disreputable art. This is great company to be in.

Speaking of great company, tune in to The Projection Booth for the last Noirvember episode where I'll be back talking with Mike and Andrew Nette about William Friedkin's To Live & Die in L.A. That episode will also feature an interview with Willem Dafoe!

No comments: