Sunday 9 September 2007

Flamingo Road (1949) Michael Curtiz

There's a Flamingo Road in every town, apparently: it's the road to which everyone aspires, or so tells the introduction. We begin in Boldon City, which is no exception to the rule, and Sheriff Titus Semple has a very solid spot on Flamingo Road. He's a corrupt soul and he has his eyes set on the Coyne Carnival which owes money and is about to skip town. Of course it skips in time, before deputy sheriff Fielding Carlisle gets there to serve papers, and he's on his way to Flamingo Road courtesy of his boss and the future wife his boss has picked out for him. However the carnival leaves behind Lane Bellamy, lately a Sultan's dancer, and who catches Field's eye from moment one.

Lane is played by Joan Crawford, who I'm not sure I believe as a dancing girl but she's fine as everything else here. The deputy is Zachary Scott, who is thoroughly decent at being decent while surrounded by corruption, and his boss is no less a body than Sidney Greenstreet. Big Sid ought to have got far more roles like this because he's simply perfect as the disapproving, quietly seething power behind the throne. Unfortunately he only had one more film in him, 1950's Malaya, leaving us only 22 films to remember him by. However, given that those include such select titles as The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca, he remains inherently memorable. I've been catching up on his less famous roles and this one is one of the better ones for sure. He's slime but very very believable slime.

The story itself is a little beyond credibility, mostly because Joan Crawford seems to be someone that everyone and their dog fall for the moment they meet her. She looked good but she was rarely the best looking girl in any of the films she was in, this one included. She had her talents, for sure, and she has plenty of them on show here, most notably a powerful sarcasm at the right moments, but she wasn't the best eye candy. Virginia Huston is loathsome as a society girl with the screwed morals and expectations that come with that status, but she looks a lot better than Joan Crawford. There's also Gladys George as the owner of a roadhouse called Lute Mae's.

Lane Bellamy falls for Field Carlisle when he falls for her, but he follows the high road to the Senate and marries a proper girl. Sheriff Semple arranges for Lane to be locked up for a while to keep her out of the way, but she ends up getting out, working at Lute Mae's and eventually marrying one of chief political opponents, Dan Reynolds. The scene is set for a political showdown with Lane the key player right in the middle of all of it. As I mentioned, it's more than a little unbelievable but the actors, led by Sidney Greenstreet, carry it a lot further than it probably ought to have gone. They, along with the powerful direction of Michael Curtiz, even make it rivetting viewing.

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