It's fairly well-known that Anthony Mann had a good run of noir-ish 'b' pictures before making his masterpieces in the Western genre. Unfortunately, these pictures remain seldom seen. Fortunately, I had a chance to catch three of these mid-to-late-40s gems in the past few days.
Two O'Clock Courage could easily be described as 'screwball noir'. It's a murder mystery, cleverly developed in a unique way by having the main character start the film with amnesia. Much to his chagrin, this man with no memory finds himself the prime suspect in a murder investigation. After being nearly run over by an unusually attractive female cab driver, he is assisted by the same woman, quickly falling in love as the two navigate a world of mystery together. My brief synopsis doesn't do it justice. This film is a delight from start to finish.
Desperate is an example of the "screw your characters until it can't get any worse and then make it worse" genre. One bad event follows another. A good husband, married four months, takes on a delivery job to make some extra cash. Unknowingly, he's been drafted to help commit a crime. When he discovers what illegal activities he's been tricked into doing, he attempts to stop the activity instead of playing along. Things go bad from there. There's some nice character stuff here, but the real star is the atmosphere. It's thick, thick, thick with menace. Another joy from start to finish.
The Black Book is historical epic as noir, detailing the activity of a resistance group during the French "Reign of Terror". I hate to say that this one was a total disappointment. The history is simplistic. The character relationships are hard to care about. The dialogue is often goofy if not stupid. I'm not a fan. I'm not even a fan of the John Alton cinematography. No amount of prettily crafted shadows can save this stinker.