Sunday, August 5, 2007

The Dark Past is no White Heat

Saw this last night on TCM, with a couple glasses of red wine and my William Holden Drinking Helmet™ firmly attached. The plot sounds better than the movie - a criminal psychiatrist, his family and some friends held hostage by crooks, psychiatrist matches wits with the gangleader - but the battle of nerves isn't anything more than Freud For Dummies. Some of my Leftist film school zombies had a point, even if it wasn't their own, when they decried this type of psychology as it was used in Titticut Follies. Not because it doesn't attempt compassion through reinforcement of *gasp!* nuclear family values like being at peace with mom and dad, but because it's cornball. Cheesy as fuck.

You can sort of ignore it through most of the flick since Holden is so good, but the unpassable giggling point comes in the final scene when he's about to fire on a cop, and he just CAN'T - see, Lee J. Cobb made him realize that every time he kills someone, he's killing his father. No joke, those literal words. So he can't do it. And in case you can't figure out why, director Rudolph Mate (who at least made the classic D.O.A.) superimposes the dude's father onto the cop he wants to plug. Yeesh!

The script was based on a play from '35 or so, making the state of the psycho-discourse dated even at the time it was filmed, though it was also adapted in '39 as Blind Alley (thanks Robert Osbourne!)

Compare all that to the Oedipal glory of Jimmy Cagney and his machine-gun momma in White Heat and it's obvious how to apply Freudian psychology to crime potboilers: hard, fast, merciless! Top o' the world, ma! No sissy boy psychologist was gonna talk CODY JARRET out of pluggin' a screw or knockin' his mother-substitute around!

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