movie review: Close-Up (1948)

Whatmovie did you seek out to inform yourself of the human condition? I typed “noir movie” on youtube and Close-Up (1948) was one of the first movies to pop up.

Is it noir? No. It’s a late 40’s accidental crime film directed by Jack Donohue, who had a long career behind the scenes in movie & TV, working with a lot of the Rat Pack a few decades later. It was written by John Bright, who helped form the Screen Writers Guild, and like many of its founders was later blacklisted by investigations from the House Committee On Un-American Activities.

What could be more American than capturing a former Nazi though? That’s part of the accident here, our hero Phil is a cameraman who films a lot of b-roll for a newsreel company. This includes a shoot where he ogles women in 40’s business wear, about as sexy as wearing several layers of heavy coats as it gets, I guess. This is done in front of a bank, and it’s a bank that is holding some liquid assets for a Nazi officer in hiding, Beaumont. Beaumont and/or his cronies walks past the camera on his way to withdraw a sizable amount from the bank, which knows his identity and I guess is laundering it for him or something…? I’m not sure how many people are involved in this scheme. The focus in on Phil and his relationship with his coworkers in these initial scenes, their gambling and womanizing camaraderie interrupted by Beaumont’s team trying to steal the film, and then a beautiful reporter, Peggy Lane, stops by the office to do a story on the what it means to be a newsreel cameraman.

The slapsticky attempts to steal the film followed by the “wink wink don’t show that film to anyone I don’t want my wife to see me walking by with some dame in your newsreel” request from Beaumont (no, really) gets a little dark when Phil’s boss is looking at the film to ogle the dame and recognizes Beaumont. He pulls up reels of a Hitler speech that shows Beaumont as a Nazi officer. He shows it to Phil, who offers to take the film to the authorities. From there, a police officer shows up to investigate the film, but it’s really one of Beaumont’s henchmen who takes Phil on a ferry out of town. Phil manages to escape, running around the ship until it passes a dock for another ship heading the opposite way.

He runs into Peggy at his apartment, who claims that some goons had trapped her in his closet. He calls his boss who still has the negative. He heads over there with Peggy, only to find that his boss has been killed, with the police believing suicide. It’s a fakeout, Phil’s boss is still alive, it was the goon sent to kill him who must have tripped and fallen to his death after grabbing the negative. The police give Phil the negative and DON’T escort him to the authorities. Or take the film themselves. Nope, Phil is off on his own, and offers to drop Peggy off.

Turns out Peggy is a double agent in this movie, and sells Phil out. She feels guilty about it, and ends up calling the cops. Phil is about to be escorted to his death at the hands of Beaumont’s goons while Beaumont makes his getaway, but one of the Americans who regrets helping the Nazi steps in to try to kill Beaumont and despite dying manages to give Phil a diversion to escape. Beaumont also manages to catch his plane out of town, but is filmed doing so by Phil’s wacky partner in leering at women in the first scene, so now the authorities have proof that Beaumont is in America etc.

Sounds like there’s a Maltese Falcon setup here, where Marlowe says goodbye to Bridget… No. Phil thanks Peggy for helping him out, she asks for cigarettes because she’s going to jail, they say their goodbyes, she is driven off by the police. And then 2 seconds later Phil’s dejected gaze is interrupted by a woman walking past him. Wah-wah. Oh, that Phil.

There’s a few nice shots of New York, of course, but most of it takes place in offices, save for the ferry ride and then the walk to the river for Beaumont’s plane (it’s one of those planes that can land on water) where they’re accosted by street vendors and beggars before Phil can escape. There’s definitely some potential here – the Americans who had failed at their careers who were helping the Nazis, getting into a drunken stupor before fighting back to regain their dignity (and failing). I’m not sure exactly about Peggy’s turn to help Phil. The movie is kind of flat and there’s more concern from Phil for his boss than anything else. Whatta pal. The film chooses to end on a joke where Phil has already forgotten Peggy, whom he was clearly falling for, another ‘stand-up guy’ that could end a sea of vapid dates he’d been having (I’m guessing).

It’s a poverty row type film, from a company that gave us movies like The Hoodlum but also one of my all time favorites, Hollow Triumph (aka The Scar). It’s also the same company that produced the crime noir The Amazing Mr. X, which was hilariously riffed by Rifftrax.

Somewhat interesting premise that really doesn’t go anywhere with no real stakes…and the versions I see on youtube appear to be in bad shape. Find and watch at your own risk.

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