Sunday, December 23, 2012
Heat Wave (1954)
Of all Hammer’s film noir output Heat Wave has perhaps the strongest claim to being pure film noir rather than a noirish crime thriller. It has flashbacks and voiceover narration, it has light filtered through venetian blinds, it has hardboiled dialogue (the hero wants to escape from “fast women and slow gin”), it has a femme fatale, it has an air of sleaze and desperation.
Mark Kendrick (Alex Nicol) is an American novelist living in England. He’s not a hugely successful writer but he makes a decent enough living. He’s writing his latest novel in a house by a lake. It’s not a fabulous life but it’s all he has ever known and he’s used to it. Until he meets Carol.
Beverly knows all about it. He’s not happy about it, but he doesn’t see that there’s very much he can do about it. His daughter Andrea (Susan Stephen), Carol’s step-daughter, is even less happy about the situation, but there’s not much she can do about it either.
Carol’s latest amusement is pianist Vince. Their affair is very open, much to Mark’s disgust. Adding to his disgust is that he can’t help admitting to himself that he’s attracted to Carol. Women are his weakness. Especially blondes like Carol.
While Beverly is prepared to overlook Carol’s affairs and to finance her extravagant tastes while he is alive, he’s not prepared to do so after he’s dead. He intends to cut Carol out of his will almost entirely. His thoughts have turned to such matters because he knows he doesn’t have much time left. He has a heart condition and the doctors have given him a year to live if he keeps away from the booze and the cigarettes which of course he has no intention of doing.
Alex Nicol does the noir hero thing quite well. Like any good noir hero he is tempted by the femme fatale and he succumbs to the temptation, and like any good noir hero his personality is a mixture of weakness, self-pity and self-loathing. Hillary Brooke plays the femme fatale role like a pro. Both Nicol and Brooke were American, giving this movie even more of a transatlantic flavour than most Hammer noirs.
Sid James, as so often in his early movies, plays the supporting role and steals the picture. This is a good meaty role for him and he relishes it, demonstrating that his talents extended well beyond comedy. He makes it impossible not to like Beverly and he carefully avoids self-pity. Despite the betrayals of his wife and his friend we can’t being ourselves to despise Beverly. He’s a decent man and he faces life’s sick little jokes with stoicism. And with whisky.
VCI’s DVD is typical of all their Hammer Film Noir releases - not much in the way of extras but you get two films both presented in fairly good transfers. VCI certainly deliver value for money with this series. They’re absurdly cheap and they offer the opportunity of a quick introduction to the very interesting world of British 1950s crime B-movies.
If you’re prepared to accept Heat Wave as an unpretentious B-movie that isn’t trying to be anything else then there’s plenty to enjoy here. Recommended.