Playing Catch-Up — Storm Warning; Pickpocket; Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story

Storm Warning

Storm Warning (Stuart Heisler, 1951). This drama about the power of the Ku Klux Klan in a small U.S. town plays as a odd hybrid of courtroom potboiler and lurid thriller. A woman named Marsha Mitchell (Ginger Rogers) is passing through the town when she witnesses the murder of a man by a gang of hood-adorned thugs. She’s enlisted by the community’s crusading district attorney (Ronald Reagan), who sees this as his big opportunity to finally levy justice against the hateful organization. It seems primed to become one of Hollywood’s proud exercises in cinematic social justice advocacy. Instead, the characters onscreen are more likely to lament the notorious group’s chicanery with union dues than call attention to their virulent bigotry. With cinematography by Carl E. Guthrie, director Stuart Heisler does craft some striking, shadow-drenched images, especially in the opening portions of the film. In every way, the community is scarred by darkness.

 

pickpocket

Pickpocket (Robert Bresson, 1959). It’s always a little reassuring to snuggle up with a classic French film to find it is indeed très, très French. Robert Bresson’s examination of a crafty ne’er-do-well named Michel (Martin LaSalle) has the thinnest of plots and aching mood to burn. Martin learns the craft of picking pockets, while maintaining a distant but caring relationship with his ailing mother (Dolly Scal) and perhaps developing a soft spiritual connection with one of her caring neighbors (Marika Green). Bresson takes great care in showing the intricacies of the pickpocket trade. The film almost becomes a procedural of petty crime. It’s not exactly riveting material, but Pickpocket has the quality of a restrained dream. So, again: très, très French.

 

bombshell

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (Alexandra Dean, 2017). Alexandra Dean’s documentary on the glamorous star Hedy Lamarr traces the actress’s journey from her Austrian homeland to the glittery realm of Tinseltown, but it’s primarily intrigued by the growing awareness of her sideline efforts as an inventor. Most notably, Lamarr co-held a a patent for frequency hopping technology (awarded in the early years of World War II) that is foundational to all manner of modern tools, such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. With a tumultuous film career, admirably combative relationship with the sexist Hollywood power structure, and staggeringly complicated personal life (she was married seven times in just over twenty years), Lamarr’s life defies even the most heroic attempts to condense it into ninety minutes. Director Alexandra Dean does her level best, taking artful advantage of recently rediscovered audio recordings of interviews conducted for an old magazine profile. The resulting film is fascinating, but also a little staid. That’s certainly not a description that should even be connected to Lamarr.

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