Thursday, 4 March 2010

Build My Gallows High (1947)

Build My Gallows High has all the ingredients of film noir in spades. The film is essentially a three hander. Robert Mitchum is never better as the smart talking doomed hero, cigarette hanging loosely from his bottom lip as he helplessly watches the demons of his past catching up with him and propelling him to his destiny. Equally good is Jane Greer as the most beautiful and devious of femme fatales, her eyes intently focused as she watches two men fighting over her. Kirk Douglas completes the triangle as the shady, oily gambler, menace and violence thinly concealed behind his grimace as he draws Mitchum back into the dark pool of their shared history (the film was actually called "Out of the Past" on it's release in the US).

The script literally sings off the screen with the snappiest of dialogue and first person monologues which seem to have a poetic jazzy rhythm all of their own. The narrative plays out full of lies, lust, deception and betrayal, crosses, double crosses, all of them perfectly threaded through the plot as director Jacques Tourneur and his scriptwriters (one of who is uncredited crime novelist James M.Cain) create a mean world where men are foolish fated creatures and women end up holding all the cards. The film is really Mitchum's. He is on screen for the entirety of the movie yet his performance seems effortless as he drives dreamlike to his fate, eyes half closed, disenchanted half smile playing on his face.

Build My Gallows High was remade in the 80s as (cue Phil Collins soundtrack) "Against all Odds" with Jeff Bridges, James Woods and Rachel Ward. The story was also used as the basis for the instantly forgettable Tony Scott/Kevin Costner turkey "Revenge" in the 90s. You don't need to watch either of those, go straight to the original and accept no substitute. Now do you wanna talk business or do you wanna play house?

Watch Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer going loco down in Acapulco here...