Private Hell 36 (Don Siegel / U.S., 1954):

Ida Lupino's screenplay allows for two noir narratives, both receive the wry Don Siegel scrutiny. "First we look for a haystack. Then we look for a needle." The night is full of noises, the Los Angeles cop (Steve Cochran) investigates one and foils a drugstore robbery, in the process picking up a thread from an unsolved New York murder. The cold trail is rewarmed by a tip that leads to Lupino's nightclub chanteuse, who's rather wise to tough-guy routines: "You know, I've seen all this on Dragnet." The two forge a bond in mutual cynicism, meanwhile his partner (Howard Duff) dourly shares domestic anxieties with the missus (Dorothy Malone). The protracted stakeout at the racetrack suddenly gives way to a car chase, the central image lies at the bottom of Bronson Canyon: Corpse next to overturned sedan, radio still playing, bills fluttering out of the culprit's strongbox and stuffed into Cochran's pockets. Temptation sets off the moral steel trap of the second half, the slick bachelor dreams of escape with the songbird as the family man suffers the infernal intimations of the title. (The loot is stashed in a rented trailer, thus a corroded working-class garden: "Some people plant flowers in their backyard. I plant keys.") No baroque heroics but instead a quiet seediness, murky quandaries sculptured by Siegel into mini-marvels of deep-focus desperation—illicit meetings in bungalows and locker rooms, a suburban dinner cracked by fear and loathing. Nocturnal lives and "bad habits," a pitch of Simenon from the captain (Dean Jagger) who picks up on the terror all around with calm eyes and smoking pipe. "That was fun while it lasted." Way down in the credits, dialogue director "David" Peckinpah takes extensive notes for Ride the High Country. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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