Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Bad Blonde (1953)

Bad Blonde (the original British title was the much less picturesque The Flanagan Boy) was one of the series of excellent film noir B-movies made by Hammer Films in Britain in the early 50s, before the company switched to the horror films for which they’re mostly remembered.

These movies all featured one American star, with strong supporting casts of excellent British character actors. The American import was usually someone whose career was no longer flying high, but mostly they were fine actors and Hammer got good value out of them. In this case the US import is Barbara Payton, and she’s the bad blonde.

The Flanagan boy of the British title is Johnny Flanagan (Tony Wright), a merchant seaman and aspiring boxer who is discovered by Sharkey (Sid James) who runs a boxing tent at a carnival. Sharkey believes Flanagan has the potential to be a champion and persuades promotor Giuseppe Vecchi (Frederick Valk) to become the kid’s manager. Everything would be hunky dory except for one thing - the middle-aged and overweight Giuseppe has a very young and very attractive (and very blonde) wife named Lorna (Barbara Payton).

Lorna doesn’t care about Flanagan’s talents in the ring but she’s eager to see how he shapes up in the bedroom. And she’s obviously fairly impressed by his performance. Soon there’s a torrid little love affair going between the two of them. Johnny Flanagan is a nice enough kid but he’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer and with Lorna he’s way out of his league. He’s basically like a deer caught in the headlights.

When Lorna mentions to Johnny how wonderful it would be if only Giuseppe could meet with some sort of accident, an accident of the fatal variety, it’s clear that this situation is not going to end well for our innocent bright-eyed young pugilist. He’s nowhere near smart enough even to contemplate getting involved in schemes of that sort, but when Lorna tells him that he really really loves him and she wants them to be together forever then poor Johnny is going to do whatever she asks him to do.

The movie owes quite a bit to The Postman Always Rings Twice, and it compares reasonably well to the 1946 Hollywood adaptation of James M. Cain’s novel. It’s less glossy but that’s actually an advantage. It’s a sordid tale and works better as a B-movie. Reginald le Borg was a capable B-movie director and he’s turned out a well-paced and competent film.

Tony Wright is rather dull as Johnny, but he’s a weak-willed character so that doesn’t really matter. The important thing is that he convinces us that Johnny is na├»ve enough about women (and life in general) to fall completely under Lorna’s spell.

Barbara Payton’s career was a brief one, cut short by her reckless and scandal-filled private life. She did a couple of good films in the early 50s, most notably the underrated Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye starring opposite James Cagney. As the scandals mounted she found doors closing on her in Hollywood and headed to England where she made two movies for Hammer (the other being the rather good sci-fi film Four Sided Triangle). She makes a terrific femme fatale in Bad Blonde - she’s brassy, sexy and dangerous and in general she’s a very bad blonde indeed.

The big surprise is Sid James as Sharkey. Not just seeing him as a straight character actor (which is what he was until he found fame as a comic actor) but the fact that he’s so good.

I’ve now seen four of Hammer’s film noirs and while the best of them are certainly the ones helmed by Hammer’s ace director Terence Fisher they’re all pretty good, and all are definitely worth seeing. If you love crime B-movies you’ll have a good time with this Bad Blonde.

No comments:

Post a Comment