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The Forgotten: On the Lam

Steve Cochran and Ruth Roman are lovers on the run in Felix E. Feist's realist noir.
David Cairns
At Il Cinema Ritrovato, the festival of restored and rediscovered films in Bologna, one intriguing item was a short season of the films noir of Felix E. Feist, with Tomorrow Is Another Day (1951) advertised as the best of these. A couple-on-the-run movie in the melancholy vein of Nicholas Ray's They Live By Night, it benefits from strong performances from its unusual leads, and Feist, intermittently a striking stylist, seems fully engaged.
From the start, when anti-hero Steve Cochran is paroled from the prison he's spent eighteen years in since killing his brutal father as a teenager, low angles make the hero hulking and threatening. But then, released into an uncaring and alien society, he wanders for silent minutes, observed by a crafty newsman, but not speaking, merely staring in bewilderment at the modern cars and fashions.
Then he wanders into a diner and orders three different types of pie, at which point I fell in love. Evidently, they don't have pie, or not pie worth a damn, in stir. The hardships of prison have never felt so real to me. We sense that our hero is still adolescent, trapped at the age at which he was jailed, unable to progress. Certainly, as he prowls the darkened streets looking forlornly for girls, his social skills seem dangerously minimal.
Rebuffed rudely by a dame outside a cinema, he wanders to a doorway flanked by two similar girls, only these are unthreatening cardboard cut-outs. Entering the establishment affords us an unusually detailed and depressing-as-hell look at the world of the dime-a-dance taxi dancer, and allows us to meet Ruth Roman, startling in her peroxide.
Roman is as unconventional a lead, in her way, as the vaguely thuggish, yet now sympathetic Cochran. Self-assured at the best of times, here she's brassy, smart, and hard as nails. The way she snatches Cochran away from a rival evidently endears her to him, and knowing no way save the commercial transaction to woo a woman, he buys her a gold-plated watch and begs her to show him the city.
This being a noir, it's a dizzyingly short time before the pair are on the run, facing a murder rap, and the victim a cop, too. One twist is, Cochran was punched out and doesn't remember the killing, and Roman, who fired the fatal shot, convinces him that he was the trigger-man. Thrown together by crime, ill-fortune, and deceit, they seem a couple unlikely to succeed. Which is where the film surprises us with them falling in love.
OK, so Tomorrow is Another Day is a wretched name for a movie, but if so it must be a pretty weak last line for a Civil War epic, mustn't it? The script defies the cliched title and keeps taking left turns, not always successfully but always interestingly: there's a long, elaborate sequence where the couple try to stow away in one of the cars fastened to a car-hauler truck, and then they get a job on a lettuce farm, whose vicissitudes are detailed just as carefully as the taxi-dance racket.
Feist often floundered outside of his favored genre—Donovan's Brain is godawful—but his noirs, particularly this, The Devil Thumbs a Ride and The Man Who Cheated Himself, are well worth your time.
The Forgotten is a regular fortnightly column by David Cairns, author of Shadowplay.


Felix E. FeistThe ForgottenColumns
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