Summary Noir Reviews: Party Girl Across the Lake

Knock on Any Door (1949 – US)

Nick Ray directs Bogart as a lawyer with a social conscience, but the closing sermon to jurors is hammered and too late. A young John Derek impresses as a hood on a murder rap.

Bogart is disengaged in this minor Ray, which could have been great. Unusually for a noir, this picture attempts to portray the social origins of criminality, and how social disadvantage and a traumatic event in a young man’s life sew bitterness and rebellion. The movie fails by focusing on the lawyer who engages only at the end when he has to defend the hood after a cop is killed, with the young criminal remaining an enigma, despite some high melodrama that results in a girl’s tragic suicide. Visually pedestrian, the one ‘cinematic’ highlight is the placement of the camera in the court in the closing scenes.

A very imaginative poster for Party Girl (1958)

Party Girl (1958 – US)

30s Chicago mob lawyer Robert Taylor falls for a gorgeous Cyd Charisse in Nick Ray’s Metrocolored Cinemascope, but Taylor is wooden. Thankfully Lee J. Cobb chews up the scenery as an off-the-wall Mafioso.

A lot of money and wide-screen Metrocolor fail to infuse this rather dour film with any vitality. Ray’s direction is almost off-hand and the terrible acting of Taylor flattens any impact. Cyd Charisse is a great dancer and looks appealing, but her portrayal as the love interest lacks flair. Taylor who has built his career and wealth as a lawyer and fixer for the Mob, tries to go straight after falling for Charisse, who challenges his crooked life, with predictable consequences. Over-rated.

The House Across the Lake (aka Heat Wave) (1954 – UK)

Toff rip-off of J.M. Cain. A hack novelist falls for ice-cold blonde wife of English country gent played by Sid James.

This movie from English writer/director Ken Hughes, who specialised in Anglo-noirs with a Hollywood feel, is better than it sounds, as there are nuances that add some resonance. A Double Indemnity like scenario is given a cross-over treatment. Expat b-player Alex Nicol as an American writer of pulp novels attracts the perilous attention of the platinum-blonde wife of a wealthy English squire. She is a classic femme-fatale and is played to steely perfection by English actress Hillary Brooke, though the act comes unstuck in a too-melodramatic denouement. What is interesting is that the femme-fatale actually does ‘shove’ when push-comes-to-shove in her spider’s stratagem of seducing the hack into a murderous complicity, and that the hack’s capitulation comes not so much from greed or sexual obsession but from an existential ennui.

Manèges (aka The Wanton 1950 – France)

A cynical, dark and savage history of a femme-fatale and the sucker she destroys. But fate has the final say.

This very dark noir from the director of the superb Une si jolie petite plage (1949 – France), Yves Allégret, has the same essential plot-line as a later film from Julien Duvivier, Voici le temps des assassins… (aka Deadlier Than the Male – France 1956). A mother and daughter team of grifters are out to fleece a poor mug with dough. This time the chump is a naïve middle-aged petit-bourgeois, who runs a horse-riding academy for the local gentry. A young Simone Signoret plays the femme-fatale to the infatuated Bernard Blier. But this picture made straight after Une si jolie petite plage does not match the earlier film. The pace is laborious and the use of iris transitions and a weird sieve wipe to telegraph flashbacks is hackneyed. What is most disturbing is the strident misogyny of the story. All the women in the film are venomous, haughty, or stupid, while even a gigolo on the make has some redeeming virtue. Indeed Allégret hates everything and everyone. Nothing escapes his caustic condemnation: aristocrat, bourgeois, or worker. Even children are targeted: when an instructor is severely injured by a kick from a horse two young girl students observe “workers are always complaining”. The ending is as downbeat and vengeful as you will ever see.

5 thoughts on “Summary Noir Reviews: Party Girl Across the Lake”

  1. Bonjour! Tony,
    I have to agree with your apt description of Ray’s “knock On Any Door” and especially, with your use of the word(s) “very imaginative” when it comes to the description of the German “Party Girl” poster.

    I own a copy of the film The House Across the Lake(aka Heat Wave) and once again…I have to agree with your accessment of the 1954 film…
    Unfortunately, I have not watch the following three films yet…(with “yet” being the operative word.)
    …The 1950 film Manèges (aka The Wanton),
    Yves Allégret’s 1947 film Une si jolie petite plage and Julien Duvivier’s Voici le temps des assassins, but I will seek them out to watch too!
    Merci, for sharing!
    DeeDee ;-D


  2. I just realized you have never done a review for The Night Of The Hunter on this site. I guess you don’t classify it as film noir which is fair. I would love to know your opinion on it. I like when you do these Summary Noir Reviews. I watched Knock On Any Door many years ago and remember coming away disappointed. I agree with you that it could have been great. Not much of a fan of Party Girl either. Have not seen the rest.


  3. Well, I agree with Maurizio that your compilations bring out some of your very best work (though as of late everything here has been outstanding). I could have sworn that Tony did THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, but you are probably right, Maurizio.

    I like PARTY GIRL a bit more (I recently acquired and watched the Warner Archives DVD) but yeah it may be somewhat overrated, and is an obvious departure for Ray. You are dead-on in your assessment of Cobb’s scene-stealing. I’m sorry to say I have not yet seen the first film you feature, a Ray from 1949, but I wouldn’t doubt your verdict. It’s not a film that’s spoken about much, and it’s never even screened at Ray festivals. Typical noir subject too, and it’s been done so well in other works.

    Dee Dee, I own Allegret’s UNE JOLIE SI PETIT PLAGE (great film!!!) so we’ll talk. I must agree with Tony on his disdain with the oppressive mood in THE WANTON, and I much prefer Duvivier’s DEADLIER THAN THE MALE. HEAT WAVE is interesting, but not with the best noirs.

    Brilliant capsules.


  4. Tks DeeDee. Of the three you haven’t seen, Yves Allégret’s Une si jolie petite plage is de riguer. The other two are not essential noirs.

    Hi Maurizio. Your description of your reaction to Knack On Any Door as disappointing, mirrors my own feelings. I always look forward to a Bogart movie, and when it doesn’t work the disappointment is intense. Sam is right, I reviewed The Night of the Hunter last year: (I have missed adding it the review index page – thanks for the heads up!) You are right about my not seeing it as a noir. The best review of Hunter I have read is a brilliant essay by Alexander Coleman from 2008: Allan Fish also posted his thoughts last year at WitD:

    Sam, your description of The Wanton as ‘oppressive’ says it all: ‘brilliant capsule’ 😉


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