Night of Noir


Title: The Turning Point

It’s a dark, cold, rainy night. Everyone’s face is obscured by hoods and umbrellas. Outside of the streetlights, people move around in shadows.

In other words, it’s a perfect night to watch a film noir.

The local independent theater is running its annual Noir City film festival, where somewhere between a dozen to about twenty films are shown. I’d previously written about the festival here. Last time, the musical interlude was a trio. This time was a jazz quintet playing songs that were seemed perfectly at home in the 1950s. The leader played the flugelhorn, wore a black beret, and would snap his fingers when one of his band members performed a specially cool solo.

The film that I watched was The Turning Point. I’d never heard of it. It starred a young, very thin William Holden.

Holden played Jerry, a world weary cynical newspaper reporter. His best friend from childhood, John, is now a crusading prosecutor intent upon bringing down the local syndicate being led by a heavy named Eichelberger. Helping John is his assistant and love interest, Amanda.

The film was made in 1952. Of special note is that the Kefauver Senate hearings took place in 1951. This is probably long faded from memory, but the Kefauver hearings were significant because Senator Kefauver led an investigation into organized crime. Before the hearing, most people followed the lead of J. Edgar Hoover in believing that there was no effective organized crime in the United States. The Kefauver committee exposed the falsity of this opinion. Among others, Mickey Cohen, Meyer Lansky, and Frank Costello were subpoenaed to testify. One of the most famous images is Costello’s hands nervously twitching as he testified.

The plot of this movie centered around a similar device. John is bringing members of the syndicate in to testify under oath. At one point, he brings in Eichelberger. As John questions him, you see Eichelberger nervously twitch his hands. A detail lost now, but must have been amusing to audiences in 1951.

Unsurprisingly enough, the syndicate fights back against the pressure. It turns out that John’s father, a police officer that is also on the task force, is secretly under the thumb of the syndicate and is forced to divulge information to them. That is until Jerry discovers it and pressures John’s father to betray the syndicate. This directly leads to the father’s death, much to Jerry’s guilt.

At the same time, Amanda and Jerry discover their mutual attraction, which adds to Jerry’s guilt and puts even more pressure on John.

Despite all of that, it looks like John is going to get enough evidence to bring the syndicate down. The syndicate, in desperation, is willing to go to extreme lengths, including murder and arson, to protect itself.

The film is over sixty years old and is very rarely released, so there’s probably not a lot of point in avoiding spoilers. Let’s just say that in true noir mode, the cynical guy has a moment of idealism for which he pays with his life. The previously idealistic guy now has been given a heavy dose of reality but has steeled himself for the fight to come. The woman in the middle has a broken heart but is ready to stand and fight as well.

All in all, a very good entry in the noir canon.

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