is a two-part triptych. Obviously, it was intended to be a trio of Cornell
Woolrich (a.k.a. William Irish) short story adaptations, but in early 1950s
Argentina, there was even greater pressure on filmmakers to conform to
manageable running times. At least Carlos Hugo Christensen’s original vision
was more or less preserved. One segment became its own film and the other two
were released as a strange matching pair. Yet, the parallels between the constituent
stories work rather well together in Never
Open that Door, which screens as part of MoMA’s current retrospective, Death is My Dance Partner: Film Noir in Postwar Argentina.
the seventy-three minute If I Die Before
I Wake was split off, Door became
a lean and most definitely mean eighty-five minutes of hard-bitten noir goodness.
The first segment is very much in the tradition of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and the various incarnations of Lucille
Fletcher’s Sorry, Wrong Number, but
it also has a number of night club scenes for extra swinging fun.
“Someone’s on the Phone,” grown siblings Raul and Luisa have a wildly
dysfunctional, vaguely incestuous relationship. They both live in their absentee
parents’ spectacularly cinematic town house (that sort of looks like a Trader Vic’s
as designed by le Corbusier), but lead separate wastrel lives. However, their
privileged existence is shattered when Luisa’s mounting gambling debts culminate
in her suicide. Bitterly regretting his own ineffectualness, Raul sets out to
kill her tormenting mystery caller. Irony will be involved.
consider “Phone” the weakest of the two-film anthology, but it might be the
most stylish of the lot. The big band Latin jazz is hot and Pablo Tabernero’s slick
noir cinematography is super-cool. Production designer Gori Muñoz and his team
also crafted an ominously decadent environment perfect for the genre.
relations remain problematic in “The Hummingbird Comes Home.” Blind Rosa is a
virtuous widow, who lives with her devoted niece and memories of her beloved son
Daniel. After eight years without contact, Daniel suddenly returns, along with
two gangster associates (one of whom is unlikely to see the sun rise) and a
bullet-riddled car. Despite her love for her son, Rosa is not blind to the
circumstances. To save her niece, she will turn the tables on the criminals
during the dark of night—when the advantage shifts to her, assuming everything
goes as planned.
Mother Rosa kills the power, Christensen stages some wonderfully tense and
skillful cat-and-mouse skulking sequences. He and Tabernero evoke a sense of
her unsighted POV, while clearly conveying the action to viewers. These are
scenes that are worth close study. Of course, Ilde Pirovano is the crucial
X-factor as the sainted but resourceful mother.
Structurally, it is a little weird to have the considerably
shorter “Phone” stuck together with the longer “Hummingbird,” but they are both
crackerjack noirs, so they never clash in terms of tone or aesthetics. It is
still tough to beat Hitchcock’s Rear
Window or Truffaut’s Mississippi Mermaid, but Never Open that Door definitely
ranks close behind amongst the many film and television adaptations of Woolrich/Irish
stories and novels. Happily it has been preserved and partially restored for
future fans by the Film Noir Foundation. Highly recommended, Never Open that Door screens again this
Tuesday afternoon (2/16), at MoMA.
Labels: Argentine Cinema, Cornell Woolrich, Film Noir, MoMA