M (Joseph Losey, 1951) and The Big Night (Joseph Losey, 1951). M and The Big Night were only two of three noirs Joseph Losey made in the year that Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were sentenced to death; Lefty Losey himself would be exiled from Hollywood before their funeral. M is, of course, a remake of Fritz Lang’s witchhunt classic, and (other than Jim Backus’s nearly vaudevillian turn as a photo op-hungry mayor) faithful enough throughout that the last half hour’s detour into Peter Brooks territory is exhilaratingly jarring. Much has been made of Losey’s trope of throwing a disruptive outsider into an society or relationship that’s already at its breaking point, and that’s true here, but the scrim of noir means that these outsiders are going to be helpless against the surroundings that they’ve disrupted. And so Ernest Laszlo’s camera fixes patiently on windows and stairwells while David Wayne’s child-killer hopelessly walks, then runs, in and out of frame, eventually guiding a tour through Angel’s Flight, the Pacific Ocean Pier, and the Bradbury Building. Laszlo also holds on glasses of milk, a balloon, and a ball, but these shots are more empathic: heartbreaking reminders of lives abandoned. The Big Night, unfortunately, has the feel of a teleplay, maybe something from one of those shows with names like The Elgin Hour or The Goodyear Playhouse, though Preston Foster is a provokingly cast symbol of paternal castration. Seventy minutes culminate with an echo of M: untouched birthday cake as reminder of innocence abandoned.
This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.