Slightly Scarlet (1956) Director: Allan Dwan, Cinematographer John Alton Writers: James M. Cain (novel "Loves Lovely Counterfeit"), Robert Blees (screenplay), Stars: John Payne, Rhonda Fleming and Arlene Dahl and Ted De Corsia.
WOW! here a an unexpected diamond in the rough, a color Noir that slightly surpasses "Niagara", shot in Superscope, that has got a David Lynch feel to it .
This Noir was definitely off my radar.
First, the film has a weird juxtaposition of color, light & shadow. Its this Lynchesque look that is sort of indescribable, unless you've seen it, the set designer, flamingly went overboard, (even in the extremely noirish seqments) and filled the screen with a pallet of colors, its like "Seven Brides For Seven Brothers" meets "Blue Velvet, except where Blue Velvet and Niagara used color, the colors were somewhat muted, in this film they basically run riot. The film even recalls somewhat the pallet of Warren Beatty's comic book film "Dick Tracy". Another treat of the use of color is that it recalls all the True Crime/Pulp Fiction/Detective Magazine and paperback covers
John Alton's color noir cinematography *note these screencaps leave much to be desired the VCI DVD is an excellent transfer:
Check out the pallet on the suits.
ominous shadows on the wall
Second, Rhonda Fleming and Allene Dahl playing two gorgeous, smoldering, redhead sisters one "good" the other BAD. I say "good" because Fleming is June, obviously the mistress/secretary of the reformer mayoral candidate living quite lavishly in a perfect "Leave It To Beaver" suburbia with kept woman undertones.
Dahl plays over the top kid sister Dorothy just of of prison for a kleptomania relapse, she's also a bit of a nymphomaniac but one excusable flaw in the screenplay is that this is not hinted at sooner. It's supposedly a big improvement over Cain's novel where the Dorothy character is almost an afterthought. For the film I can understand that for the fifties the revelation of her tendencies must have been quite extraordinary, but looking back through the prism of time, realistically she should have been shown more open about it, as it is, its hinted at symbolically, i.e. in one scene Dahl flicks a lighter on under the palm of Payne's hand in another she brandishes a speargun.
Regardless both actresses are stunning in their beauty and provide quite a bit of eye candy throughout the film and you wonder how each will upstage the other next. Another plus, their costumes, their body language, and the backdrops again provide a living pulp fiction magazine/paperback book cover shot extravaganza.
Here is a series blatantly showing off a couple of Fleming's assets (PS these caps aren't as good as the DVD, BTY) and the battle of the sisters over John Payne.
Fleming & Dalh with a pretty blatant phallic symbol:
There must be a full minute of Fleming flashing her breasts under the flimsy nightgown good stuff way to go Rhonda
Dahl's turn in a nice slip:
Dahl on a couch using a back scratcher on her legs and probably something else... use your imaginations
Dahl wins... she is spread eagled on the couch dripping for John Payne but when it turns out to be Ted De Corsia who sees the "display show" she has spread out she doesn't bat an eye lash
Third, Payne and De Corsia wonderfully reprise (for me anyway, since I've seen their other outings first) some of their rolls in other Noir films so they bring that cinematic memory factor into their characters, some of De Corsia's lines recall William Conrad's in "The Killers", all in all giving that slipping into a comfortable pair of old shoes feel to the film which adds to the mix making Slightly Scarlet what it is.
If this film has one major weakness its the score which is a bit too bland. The VCI DVD has some nice special features, a good commentary by writer and James M. Cain enthusiast Max Collins, a James M. Cain bio, a collection of stills from the film, and trailers from other James M. Cain based films. 9/10