Get out your rope and poker chips, we're reviewing Dark City!
No, not that one. Not the one with Keifer Sutherland as the mad scientist. NO, JUST-
Danny (Charlton Heston) and his gang are hard up on cash when they find an obvious mark and clean him out in a poker match. But then the gang finds out that the mark killed himself over the dishonor of losing someone else's money, and his brother ain't too happy. Suddenly, members of their group start turning up dead. Can they stop the killer before their luck runs out?
It's so weird watching a movie that's "introducing Charlton Heston." I think that kid's gonna go far. Also, how have I never heard about this? It's a really good noir!
Notably good about it is Heston's character Danny, who regularly straddles the good guy/scumbag line. Bonus: you get to understand why he's a scumbag, because he explains in the beginning that it's a tough world. See, Danny and his crew run a gambling den, and Danny's the smooth operating mastermind that's never been caught by the police. They had a good thing going until the police raided them. But now they're hard up on cash and they need to survive! Danny's constantly tussling with the cops, but he's also trying to keep his gang of crooks from going too dark, so you never know which side he's going to fall on. Heston sells the crap out of it. You can see how he got so big. He can be real smooth but he can also be real nasty.
The cast is really good. Along with Charlton Heston there's also Harry Morgan as the young guy (which is super weird), Jack Web, Lizabeth Scott, and Ed Begley! They're all really good in their roles and there's a ton of great dialogue, especially between Danny and the cops. "Are you clean, Haley?" "Immaculate."
Another great thing about Dark City is the narrative suspense and the constant paranoia of the criminals. The film has tons of beautifully choreographed shots that make you anxious for something to jump out of the shadows, and they have this great trick of showing nothing but the murderer's hand until the final ten minutes. It's complimented by the great score that adds a real sense of urgency. It's some really well-done stuff. I'm a little disappointed because I expected the story to be a bit more complex or have a bit more intrigue than it did, but it's pretty straightforward. Still, because it's simple and there aren't any big twists, that means they have a lot of room to let the story breathe.
Speaking of twists, not to spoil the ending (as much as possible considering the film is 60+ years old) but it's a much happier ending to a noir movie than I expected. It's at odds with the usual noir ending, in my opinion. It feels very out-of-left-field for the main characters, like they all suddenly grew a conscience and decided to be happy. Maybe it was rushed? Maybe Hollywood wanted a happy ending? The rest of the film feels totally noir, but I just expected an ending more morally ambiguous and nuanced.
The production feels very cheap. You expect driving shots to have projected footage. But a shot like Charlton Heston simply walking? There are shots like that over projected footage, too. Could they not afford to set up a street camera? There are also a few noticeable editing mistakes where the film is choppy. Lizabeth Scott has a nice singing voice and it's nice to see her sing, but she sings at least four or five times, which is a bit much for this film. They serve no greater purpose than to say "Look at her singing!" I feel like they were just trying to get their money's worth outta her.
Speaking of women, there are two who aren't used as damsels in distress, nor are they horribly murdered! They feel like actual characters with emotions and stuff. I feel like that's a lot better than some other movies that just recently come out. Why is a movie from the 50's slightly more progressive? How the hell did that happen?
Anyways, Dark City is a pretty great noir! It’s perhaps not as twisty and turn-y as some others, but I still found it a great study in guilt and debt, with a great use of paranoia and a nice cast.
THE GOOD: Good cast, Charlton Heston, great dialogue, great cinematography, great score, great paranoia, good characters.
THE BAD: Plot is simple, production feels cheap, ending too happy.
THE VERDICT: $$$$ It's great! If you like noir and suspense and want to see young Charlton Heston, go pick this one up.
MOVIES LIKE IT: 5 Against the House, The Killers, Murder by Contract, The Set-Up, Night in the City
ONE-SCENE METAPHOR: Barney is getting really nervous and thinks he was followed home, but Danny thinks he's just imagining things; Barney gets worked up about everything anyway. Barney goes through his apartment looking for something to jump out at him, and he's not sure if someone's there or if he is just seeing things. Then he finds some broken glass under an open window he was sure he’d closed.