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Nocturne Poster
Your January 2009 Random Movie Club Results Are In!

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I taped this movie off of A&E back in 1988. We knew it was A&E because during the commercials (including George Plimpton for Architectural Digest and Telly Savalas for Player's Club!) the announcer said, "This is the Arts and Entertainment Cable Network." There was also a commercial for CBS Video Library that began, "Got a VCR and a taste for high adventure?" I do! As long as I don't have to leave the house. Anyway...

AERIAL SHOT of a house high atop the Hollywood Hills, overlooking Los Angeles. PUSH IN through the window. A songwriter is at the piano, composing a tune while he talks to a girl in a chair. Only her legs are visible. The rest of her body is in shadows. He does all the talking. He tells her he is through with her. He dedicates the song to her. A song he calls... NOCTURNE. But it will remain unfinished.

This is how 1946's NOCTURNE begins. It's a good start, but the rest of the movie, though spotted with good moments, doesn't hold up.

Whoever killed Keith Vincent made it look like suicide. And they'd have gotten away with it too, if not for the persistence of Detective Joe Warne (George Raft), who won't let it go. He's not convinced it was a suicide, so much so he has trouble sleeping.

There's a row of pictures on the wall at Vincent's house. All women named Dolores (they're not, that's just what womanizing cad Vincent called them all...for reasons never explained). So if this was a murder, was it committed by the houseboy, who conveniently was on an errand when the murder occurred? Or was it one of the rejected "Doloreses" hanging on the wall? Or....

The housekeeper Susan Flanders, a smart-mouthed ("He was a ladykiller, but don't get any ideas. I ain't no lady.") dame who did time for a jewel robbery at another house she was working at. Or the smart-mouthed ("This may be a crummy joint, but a nickel don't buy more than a cup of coffee.") waitress in a Greek diner? Or the smart-mouthed ("Hey, are you a copper?") roomie of Nora, yet another "Dolores."

Because of Joe's ways (he does stuff like breaking a player piano or pushing a lug into a pool) he gets called on the carpet by his boss who takes him off the case. I mean, it's a suicide with no evidence of foul play. But for some unknown reason, Joe doesn't want to give up. True WE saw a murder, but Joe didn't. Yet somehow he has that 1940's tough guy bug up his hard-boiled ass. Even though he's seen nine Doloreses and each one has an alibi.

And that's when he meets a smart-mouthed ("I think your needle's stuck.") broad named Frances Ransom ("Woo Woo Girl" Lynn Bari), an actress whose alibi seems well rehearsed. But Joe likes her, so the murderer can't be Frances, can it?

His search, with Frances in tow, takes him to The Keyboard Club, where he meets Frances' kid sister Carol (Virginia Huston), a smart-mouthed little number who sings to the piano stylings of Ned Fingers. Fingers just happened to have written some songs with the late Vincent.

NOCTURNE is an okay movie highlighted by numerous Los Angeles locations like the Pantages Theater, a 24 hour bowling alley right on Sunset Boulevard, The Frolic Room, a place called Holly Vine School of Beauty and the Brown Derby. They also utilized their own studio, RKO Radio Pictures, as we see Frances on a job as an extra. (When Joe shows up she tells him, "Why don't you hop on your scooter, sonny boy. I have to emote." See? Smart-mouthed.)

O.S. (Original Scarface) George Raft plays Joe Warne so one-note it actually made me laugh. When he and Frances kiss, she does all the work. It's like she's kissing a George Raft wax figure.

NOCTURNE was written by pulp novelist turned screenwriter Jonathan Latimer, who also wrote THE BIG CLOCK (remade 40 years later as NO WAY OUT) and the great COLUMBO episode THE GREENHOUSE JUNGLE. Joan Harrison produced NOCTURNE. She not only wrote some Hitchcock films and produced his TV show, but among many of her trailblazing endeavors (she was a woman producer, which was pretty huge back then) was producing one of my favorite thriller anthology series - JOURNEY TO THE UNKNOWN.

Sergeant Schultz (John Banner)
The cast is filled with contract players whose combined credits probably equal infinity. But two stand out for me: Ned Fingers was played by Joesph Pevney, who ended up directing dozens of TV shows like THE MUNSTERS and the original STAR TREK. And the photographer was played by John Banner, who 20 years and maybe a hundred pounds later became Sgt. Schultz on HOGAN'S HEROES.

NOCTURNE is sort of a sloppy attempt. We never get to follow along with the mystery because, well, the mystery feels forced. It's as if they put a bunch (too many, I'd say) of elements in a bowl and mixed them up. But there are other mysteries surrounding NOCTURNE. For instance, why does Joe even suspect foul play? Why do the housekeeper and houseboy still work at a dead man's house? Why doesn't Joe care at all when he is kicked off the force? How does he locate all the girls in the pictures? And most importantly, why does a guy in his 40s live with his mother?

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