Movie: Appointment with a Shadow (1957)

On October 3, 2027, I will have gone twenty years without a drink.  I look forward to celebrating that anniversary with a round of shots.  I kid!  Well, about the shots, at least.  About the temperance, not so much.  I guess since I write under an alias, I really put the “anonymous” in Alcoholics Anonymous.

It is sometimes difficult to see this illness portrayed on screen.  Sometimes elements of how it is portrayed feels uncannily close to my own experience.  Other times, it is handled broadly and awkwardly.  This is a subject perfect for melodrama, which is the least appropriate manner in which it should be handled.

George Nader is largely believable as a perpetually soused newspaper reporter in 1957’s Appointment with a Shadow.  At least, he is awfully sweaty, which is half of such a performance right there.

Nader explains why he describes himself as a “two below par” kind of guy, and I felt this was a better description of my own experience than I ever could have articulated.  First, he can’t function in society before having two drinks.  As he feels better, he keeps drinking, thinking he will continue to feel better as he has more.  Then he has had so much that he makes an ass of himself.  Then he drinks out of embarrassment, and as courage to try to face the next day.

His girlfriend (Joanna Moore) is a fellow reporter, and she’s giving him one last chance to redeem himself.  She has a hot scoop courtesy of her police lieutenant brother (Brian Keith) and she gives it to him.  The police happen to know a notorious gangster Frank DeKova is going to be at a particular restaurant at a certain time, and they anticipate that, when they try to apprehend him, they will have to mow him down in a hail of gunfire. 

Is that pessimistic or what?  And they are so certain about this that I’m surprised they don’t set up bleachers outside the restaurant and sell tickets.  They should have had these cops, with their amazing powers of precognition, around when Kennedy was assassinated.

Nader has to stay clean for the day leading up to the event and it is interesting to see him try to adhere to the schedule he has made for himself.  These scenes are without dialog, which makes them all the more powerful.

Then the big hour arrives and the expected confrontation happens.  The guy shot dead by the cops doesn’t resemble DeKova, but they believe they got the right man, as there had a rumor circulating that the gangster had received plastic surgery.  A weird twist is DeKova didn’t have that surgery, and so the police have killed the wrong man.

That seems like a strange development to me.  After all, the gangster’s face is well-known, and so he runs the risk of being recognized as he is.  Whereas, if he had had the surgery, he could look like anybody.  For the life of me, I can’t understand why he didn’t have his appearance changed.

Nader will only discover this when he finds himself face-to-face with the still-living gangster. The reporter had been perched on a rooftop across the street from the restaurant where the shooting happened.  He manages to flee DeKova, only to find Keith and the other cops don’t believe his story that the mobster is still alive.  It might have helped Nader if he would have phoned them from anywhere other than a bar.

Also in the mix is Virginia Field, a stripper and DeKova’s girl.  She was working in cahoots with both him and police, going to the fateful restaurant with DeKova’s brother and passing him off as the real thing.  She just says this is how the man looks now that he has had plastic surgery, and the cops buy it.  Thank god the police in real life never mistakenly shoot the wrong person.  (*cough*)

I liked Appointment with a Shadow better in its first half, when it just a straight-up (so to speak) drama about an alcoholic.  The chaser of noir intrigue consistently felt a hair too contrived, in my opinion.

Dir: Richard Carlson

Starring George Nader, Joanna Moore, Brian Keith

Watched as part of Kino Lorber’s blu-ray box set Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema XIV