Honestly, I love it for a whole lot of reasons but only one in particular that I often share with readers here: I see film noir as a black-and-white existence most often populated with broken people making broken choices, and I like to call these characters ‘monsters of a sort.’ That’s why I’ll occasionally cover noirs in this space – along with the Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror features – when I get the inkling, and that happens a lot when I can squeeze in the screenings.
Such is the case today as I was graciously provided a complimentary Blu-ray set by Kino Lorber: Film Noir – The Dark Side Of Cinema, Volume XIV.
Today’s viewing: 1950’s Undercover Girl comes from the combined efforts of director Joseph Pevney (who interestingly enough marshaled a lot of Star Trek to the small screen in the late 1960’s) and writers Harry Essex, Robert Hardy Andrews, and Francis Rosenwald. The crime drama stars Alexis Smith, Scott Brady, Richard Egan, Gladys George, and Edmon Ryan.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the film’s IMDB.com page citation:
“A young woman joins the Police Department in order to track down the killer who murdered her father.”
Sometimes, readers notice that I’ve remarked how a certain film – one that gets advertised to me as film noir – doesn’t quite fit with what I’ve known as noir for much of my life.
In short, this kinda/sorta exposes that film noir – as its own unique subset of the conventional thriller – has never quite operated culturally from the same starting place. For me, I’ve seen its definition shift over the years; and while those in certain circles have always maintained some very specific criteria requiring a title for inclusion in the genre, viewing audiences have been a bit more tolerate.
I think it’s safe to say that most folks who’ve seen Undercover Girl – regular folks, people like you and me – would stop short of thinking of it in the same breath or context as Laura (1944), Double Indemnity (1944), or Out Of The Past (1947). Simply put, it doesn’t quite have the narrative stuffing much less the intellectual weight of those pictures, instead offering up a fairly routine crime drama that only hints at the complexities other entries bring front-and-center. Again, I’m not offering that observation to suggest it isn’t worth the time and effort; rather, it’s that most audiences will likely not much remember it except for a few passages that only approach what others accomplishes a bit more vividly.
Sadly, the picture is absent a real enemy. (Don’t get me wrong: there’s an obvious bad guy or two in here, but they’re fairly tame.) Without a baddie with which to truly appear either in tandem with or in opposition to, Undercover occasionally feels like it could’ve twisted and turned in any direction whilst never really amounting to all that much. A few good moments of melodrama – along with her blown identity in the final reel – finally brings a bit of boil to the pot; it’s all just a little too little a little too late for this lover of black-and-white thrillers.
Undercover Girl (1950) was produced by Universal International Pictures (UI). DVD distribution (for this particular release) is being coordinated by the good folks at Kino Lorber. As for the technical specifications? There’s no indication of this particular pressing was afforded any new mastering, but don’t let that put you off: it all looks and sounds very good, and there’s some pretty solid cinematography here and there for those who like that kinda thing. Lastly, the disc boasts a theatrical trailer and an audio commentary from historian/author Julie Kirgo.
Undercover Girl (1950) is one of those thrillers that definitely ends better than it begins. The set-up sequence is good, and it hints toward something that feels more hard-boiled than it evolves, instead going a bit softer with villains a bit too photogenic for their time and place. Smith proves up to the task in a good finish, but this one kinda/sorta failed to resonate the way so many other noirs have with me. Perhaps it’s a bit too crisp and clean for my tastes, after all.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Kino Lorber provided me with a complimentary Undercover Girl (1950) – as part of their Film Noir: The Dark Side Of Cinema XIV collection – by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review. Their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.