Odd noir

What a strange little film this is. Robert Montgomery directs himself as a man who comes to a small southwestern town intent on blackmailing a local criminal. We know it's noir from the hard-set jaws, space between dialog, and an endless parade of talk-tough encounters between the characters. The usual noir hallmark of voice over is thankfully absent, as any explanation of the quirky activities in this town would spoil the illusion.

First off, for the longest time it's unclear what Montgomery's Lucky Gagin is really trying to accomplish. There's something curious about how he's going about it that begs the question of whether he really knows what he's doing or not. By the end, well, we don't get a clear answer, but more about that in a minute.

Add in Pilar, the native american girl (or is that young lady?), who starts following him around because she "sees" things about him. They simply cannot relate on the same level. He tells her how to dress, what to eat. She goes along, to a degree, but we always cut to a deep, understanding gaze which really should freak Gagin out.

Gagin's mark is a guy named Frank Hugo, who walks around with a strange precursor to the modern hearing aid. He seems more interested in petty domination of people than any financial gains, and could be a distant relative of Frank Booth - Dennis Hopper's character in Blue Velvet. Among his entourage is Marjorie Lundeen, who tries to manipulate Gagin so transparently she may as well be a piece of cellophane.

The mechanics work for a while, taking us deeper into this little blackmail dance. The stakes seem to rise, as does the desperation. When the smoke clears at the end, there's an emptiness to it. Fortunately, the parting scene between Gagin and Pilar is restrained, but not without implying some kind of a romantic interest between them. What does it all add up to? Not much, and if that's not the point of the film, then that makes it so much the more strange. I'll give it the benefit of the doubt, and knock it down for wimping out at the end.

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