(Open Thread) Noir Side Street — “Mr. Soft Touch”

Nouvelle Vague (the residues of alphaville). Photo by Emiliano Grusovin.

Today’s film is 1949’s “Mr. Soft Touch,” starring Glenn Ford (Joe Miracle), Evelyn Keyes (Jenny Jones), John Ireland (Henry “Early” Byrd), Beulah Bondi (Clara Hangale), Percy Kilbride (Rickle), Clara Blandick (Susan Balmuss), Ted de Corsia (Rainey), Stanley Clements (Yonzi), Roman Bohnen (Barney Teener), and Harry Shannon (Police Sergeant Garrett). Directed by Gordon Douglas and Henry Levin; cinematography by Charles Lawton Jr. and Joseph Walker. Produced by Milton Holmes for Columbia Pictures. Distributed by Columbia Pictures. Edited by Richard Fanti. Screenplay by Orin Jannings from a story by Milton Holmes.

“Mr. Soft Touch” runs 93 minutes and cost $1.6 million, back when a million dollars was a heckuva lot of money! So you can see what a big budget from a big studio can buy you.

The movie was released in August of 1949, so the studio didn’t regard it as a Christmas movie back at the time.

Milton Holmes’ story here is a retread of one he sold several times, as “Mr. Lucky,” “Johnny O’Clock,” “Salty O’Rourke,” and “Boots Malone.” Weirdly enough, he even won an Oscar for “Best Original Screenplay,” proving that the definition for “original” here is kinda loose. 🙂

I didn’t find a trailer for this film, but did find the complete picture here, if you want to watch it:

(No, it isn’t in portrait mode; I don’t know why the image above shows up like that…)

This film is an odd mixture of Christmas, comedy, romance, and noir, which doesn’t always blend together as well as you’d like, which is unfortunate; but then, existential ennui and Christmas don’t always go together…

Joe Miracle is a WWII veteran and gambler who, before the war, owned San Francisco’s River Club. But while he was away serving his country, his partner was killed by the mob because they wanted ownership of Joe’s nightclub. The film opens with a skittish Joe driving a car with a broken windshield and acting pretty hinky every time he encounters police officers. It’s soon clear he’s being sought by the law and the mob. It turns out he robbed his own club.

He’s planning on catching the first boat out; but, unfortunately, it doesn’t leave until tomorrow night (Christmas Eve). So Joe’s got to find someplace to hide out for 36 hours. And through a serendipitous series of events (including mistaken identity), he willingly ends up in the hands of the cops. A do-gooder social worker ends up intervening on Joe’s behalf, and he’s remanded into her custody.

Well, he needed a place to hide out, and the Borden Street Settlement House is as good a place as any. While Joe’s alone in Jenny’s office, he spies a sign that says, “Once you’ve heard the people calling, you can never heed aught else.”

You can guess the rest of the film’s plot from that. After all, it’s in the title: the guy’s a soft touch.

The acting is good in this, as you’d expect, with so many recognizable names in the credits. It’s also well-directed. Even the retread script is different enough from its predecessors that it’s a fairly “fresh” story. While it’s a fun watch, though, it’s predictable at every turn. In Eddie Muller’s intro to the movie, he suggests that some studio executives saw this as an action movie with a romantic element for the chicks, while others saw it as a heartwarming romantic comedy with enough action to keep the husband’s awake. I’d agree with those making the case for the latter.

All in all, I’d give it a 3.75 out of 5 unfiltered cigarette puffs. (The downgrade is for the obvious and well-worn plot.)

Eddie will be away for a couple of weeks, so I’ll be doing my own programming. Next week’s film is “Christmas Holiday,” starring Gene Kelly and Deanna Durbin.

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