Saturday, October 1, 2011
NYFF 2011: Rusty Knife (1958) (Nikkatsu Centennial)
Screening as part of the Nikkatsu retrospective, but also available as part of the Eclipse set Nikkatsu Noir, Rusty Knife is for much of it's running time a solid little crime drama.
The film opens with a crime boss getting arrested yet again. Sadly the DA doesn't have enough evidence and is forced to let him go. Reading of the arrest one of three witnesses to a murder five years earlier writes a letter to the DA saying he'll testify to seeing the murder. He also foolishly sends a letter to the crime boss asking for more hush money. While the mob manages to remove this loose end, it also puts the two other witnesses (who've since gone on the straight and narrow) in danger when the police begin snooping around. The fact that no one, either on the police force nor in the mob, will let things alone set the rest of the film in motion.
Great looking widescreen black and white photography sets an instant mood. This is classic Film Noir territory, not to mention the territory that is pure Japanese crime film.
I don't know what it is but there is something about the cinematography, the use of light and dark and especially the use of widescreen that puts the vast majority of similar American films to shame. Sure Hollywood more or less invented the Noir genre but the Japanese managed to come up with way of shooting their stories that instantly suck you in and make you sit up and take notice.
For me the film is a mixed bag in regard to it's story. The basic plot of two gangsters who have given up the life and are now straight, only to be sucked in by the police snooping, is a good one. I like how the film sends up conventions to expand the story in ways neither we nor it's characters expect (there are revelations about supposedly long buried events that bring back old emotions).
What I don't like is that after about an hour the film takes a turn and the film sets off after the real mastermind behind it all. Its the point where a film that avoids convention by playing with them becomes down right conventional. To me it seems like it was simply added on to get the run time up to a certain length. Worse the identity of Mr Big is obvious from his first second on screen. Granted there aren't that many possible suspects but they could have used a tad more creativity, or better yet went completely off the board. It doesn't kill the film it just sort of deflates it.
Definitely worth seeing. If you can manage to get to one of the screenings at Walter Reed do so. The use of widescreen will be lessened on anything smaller than it's massive screen. (It screens October 8 at 640). If you can't make it do try and pick up the Nikkatsu Noir box set from Criterion's Eclipse label since it's five films worth your time.