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the best film noir ever made ?


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#1 of 11 OFFLINE   Richard--W

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Posted August 14 2007 - 03:04 PM

If you love film noir, VICTIMAS DEL PECADO (1951) is essential viewing. A benchmark in the genre that goes places where Hollywood feared to tread. Don't let the Spanish title scare you away. SINFUL VICTIMS is the intelligent translation, but literally it translates as VICTIMS (female gender) OF SIN. It is the epitome of Mexico's caberatera, a female-lead genre that combined film noir with nightclub life. The film is very accessible and the subtitles are clear and accurate. Ninon Sevilla stars as a caberat singer - dancer who rescues a baby from a trash can on the curb. Her boss wants her to put it back so she won't miss work, or he'll put her out the street. This film is brutally honest in its depiction of prostitution as well as brutally violent for 1951. It creates a palpable sense of evil from which nobody can escape and to which everybody contributes, however unwittingly. It's also a plea to show compassion for homeless and disadvantaged women. Hollywood never went this far down the dark streets of film noir. It was directed brilliantly by Emilio Fernandez and lit by Gabriel Figueroa as if he were peering out of an abyss.

If you like the WB box-sets or the Fox series, you'll be even more impressed with VICTIMAS DEL PECADO. I think it blows away most American noirs. After you seen it once, you'll want to collect as many caberateras as you can find.

Buy it from amazon and elsewhere.

#2 of 11 OFFLINE   Haggai

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Posted August 15 2007 - 01:30 AM

Sounds interesting, and I see that it's actually on Netflix. How does the DVD look? Amazon says it's from "Strand Releasing," which I've never heard of. I assume it has subtitles?

#3 of 11 OFFLINE   GerardoHP

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Posted August 15 2007 - 03:37 AM

Thanks for this recommendation. I love AVENTURERA and I imagine this must be somewhat like it. I'll put it on my Netflix queue as soon as possible. It's always great to discover these old classics!
Gerardo

#4 of 11 OFFLINE   Richard--W

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Posted August 15 2007 - 04:48 AM

The DVD looks fine. Some print damage, but otherwise excellent. Not as excellent as a Warner Home Video or a Criterion, but what is. Strand Releasing is an unlikely label for a Mexican noir; and in fact the film does not conform to the rest of their catalog, which is of no interest to me. I bought it because I've been collecting the films directed Emilio Fernandez, the John Ford of Mexico, and it has won me over to the noirs of that country.

VICTIMAS DEL PECADO is a much darker, nightmarish noir than AVENTURERA (which I love too) and the tip of the iceburg, so to speak, of the caberatera, or Mexican noir.

Quick, buy it now before you take another breadth:
http://www.amazon.co....7195620&sr=1-1

#5 of 11 OFFLINE   Haggai

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Posted August 15 2007 - 05:15 AM

OK, thanks. I'll definitely rent this one (it does have English subtitles, right?).

#6 of 11 OFFLINE   Craig Beam

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Posted August 15 2007 - 10:52 AM

Added to my Netflix queue. Thanks for the recommendation!

#7 of 11 OFFLINE   Richard--W

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Posted August 15 2007 - 12:20 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Haggai
OK, thanks. I'll definitely rent this one (it does have English subtitles, right?).

Yes, good clear subtitles.

#8 of 11 OFFLINE   Haggai

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Posted August 20 2007 - 02:52 AM

So I got this from Netflix and watched it over the weekend. Well, as for "the best film noir ever made," I don't think this one is exactly going to make me forget about Out of the Past, Double Indemnity, etc. Posted Image There are several song and dance numbers that go on for quite a while with strangely hyperactive editing. The ending is so sentimental, and the stuff leading up to it is so over-the-top, that it makes Joan Crawford's nuttiest roles look sedate by comparison. I did really like the lead actress, Ninon Sevilla; she was a great personality and seemed to know exactly how to handle this kind of character. The male leads are good as well, although the actress playing the battered woman who abandons her baby was hilariously overdoing it.

But Richard-W is absolutely right that to claim that "this film is brutally honest in its depiction of prostitution as well as brutally violent for 1951...Hollywood never went this far down the dark streets of film noir." It shows quite a few jaw-dropping things that you wouldn't see even in the most subversive B-movie noirs of the time, and for that alone I think it's very interesting for noir aficionados. So, Richard, thanks for the recommendation!

#9 of 11 OFFLINE   Richard--W

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Posted August 20 2007 - 05:33 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Haggai
So I got this from Netflix and watched it over the weekend. Well, as for "the best film noir ever made," I don't think this one is exactly going to make me forget about Out of the Past, Double Indemnity, etc. Posted Image There are several song and dance numbers that go on for quite a while with strangely hyperactive editing. The ending is so sentimental, and the stuff leading up to it is so over-the-top, that it makes Joan Crawford's nuttiest roles look sedate by comparison. I did really like the lead actress, Ninon Sevilla; she was a great personality and seemed to know exactly how to handle this kind of character. The male leads are good as well, although the actress playing the battered woman who abandons her baby was hilariously overdoing it.

Feedback is most welcome, Haggai, and I'm glad you gave Mexican noir a chance.

Hilariously over the top? Surely not. The caberatera noir is deliberately and intentionally over the top; but in a realistic way. That's one of it's pleasures.

I wish you'd take a another good hard look at the story being told. It's a different story than either Out of the Past or Double Indemnity, and in its own way, every bit as memorable. These characters are infinitely more desperate and more cruel than in any American noir. Think of VICTIMAS DEL PECADO as a foreign film reflecting a foreign culture; what you describe as hilariously over the top is actually down-to-earth and close to the bone in Mexican culture. How the fates of women play out in this film is something that Mexican audiences, and Mexican women in particular, relate to and identify with. There are some truly gut-wrenching moments in this noir; the only American noir that comes even close is Anthony Mann's BORDER INCIDENT (which is being rediscovered now that it's on DVD) in which the good guys and the law really take a beating, but not as much of a beating as the women take in VICTIMAS DEL PECADO.

There are so many memorable scenes and confrontations. The film is about survival, temptation, facing death, confronting evil, and the end is about redemption; but in Mexico, even redemption must be paid for. There are moments when the lighting by Gabriel Figueroa matches if not surpasses the best of Alton or Toland or Mate or Musaraca, and that's saying a lot. This is one intensely atmospheric noir. Figueroa sustains the mood consistently in every frame from beginning to end. I think it looks better than either OUT OF THE PAST or DOUBLE INDEMNITY. Note how the musical numbers differ in the two different clubs; these are noir numbers which function as part of the story. Note how the second club is designed like a cockfighting pit; it is here that the real fates are decided.

VICTIMAS DEL PECADO is considered to be one of the great achievements of Mexico's golden age of cinema. In my opinion it lives up to its reputation. Here is a fair review from the imdb. I cannot find the spoiler function, so I will just paste it here:

========= SPOILERS ============

VICTIMAS DEL PECADO (VICTIMS OF SIN) is a very Mexican melodrama that focuses on the position "marked women" have in the underbelly of society where pimps control what their women can or cannot do, and they entertain and are not allowed to have children inasmuch as be curvaceous fixtures that dance the night away. Ninon Sevilla, a dancer herself and an icon of the times, plays Violeta, a cabaret dancer at Cabaret Chango who witnesses one of her co-workers, Rosa (Margarita Ceballos), fall from grace when she winds up bearing the child of her pimp, Rodolfo (Rodolfo Ayala). Rodolfo faces Rosa with the tough decision to keep the child of stay with him. Rosa, completely co-dependent on Rodolfo, abandons her baby in a garbage can. Violeta, outraged, rescues it and becomes the baby's mother, which brings her a huge amount of trouble from the cabaret manager, who fires her, to Rodolfo himself, who gets into a violent altercation with her when he encounters her as a hooker working the streets. Fortunately for her, she gets a chance at redemption when she becomes the protégée and later wife of Santiago (Tito Junco), but not before Rodolfo walks back into her life.

This is a rather sordid story that Emilio "El Indio" Fernandez directed, one that has a good amount of melodrama without going overboard like many of the movies of its time -- notoriously Hollywood productions that featured strong-willed actresses playing equally larger-than-life heroines. Ninon Sevilla plays a character not too far removed from the likes of Bette Davis' character in MARKED WOMAN, even though Davis never got the chance to sing or dance due to major cultural differences and the fact that MARKED WOMAN was a movie produced under the heavy eye of the Hays Code, while VICTIMAS DEL PECADO was not. Sevilla's Violeta goes one step further than Davis' Mary Dwight: she is a tough-as-nails female who doesn't think twice to pounce on a man who would touch her the wrong way or pump his body with bullets at the outrage of having her life invaded, and her suffering in a women's prison is quite touching even when she doesn't overdo it. She has a strong but not overpowering presence throughout, which makes her character's plight more believable, balanced with her physicality which is erotic, but not overbearingly so -- closer to Violeta's reserved sensuality.

A strong melodrama from Mexico, one that allows Ninon Sevilla to twirl like Ann Miller (and show off that spectacular body). It has strong support from both Junco and Ayala, a cameo appearance by Pedro Vargas, and a particularly funny performance from Rita Montaner who has an outrageous scene where she chews out the cabaret manager after having sung a terrifically salacious song about a woman telling her man how to have sex with her the right way.

#10 of 11 OFFLINE   Haggai

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Posted August 20 2007 - 06:21 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard--W
Hilariously over the top? Surely not. The caberatera noir is deliberately and intentionally over the top; but in a realistic way. That's one of it's pleasures.

I was really only referring to the actress playing the abused woman who gives up the baby--I thought her performance, specifically, was amusingly broad. But Sevilla was great. Even though the story material was way over the top, she was always compelling and convincing. Or, as you say, deliberately broad, but realistically so.

Quote:
There are moments when the lighting by Gabriel Figueroa matches if not surpasses the best of Alton or Toland or Mate or Musaraca, and that's saying a lot. This is one intensely atmospheric noir. Figueroa sustains the mood consistently in every frame from beginning to end. I think it looks better than either OUT OF THE PAST or DOUBLE INDEMNITY.

Well, our opinions diverge on most of those points, but of course you're welcome to them.

#11 of 11 OFFLINE   Richard--W

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Posted August 20 2007 - 07:27 AM

VICTIMAS DEL PECADO does have a sense of humor about itself, I should add.

I particularly enjoyed Rodolfo Acosta's pimp, especially that scene on the dance floor. I'm used to seeing Acosta play indians, compadres, and heavies in American westerns and TV horse operas, but nothing he's done prepared me for his zoot-suit wearing, high-stepping dandy in this film. He's the very essence of slime.


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