Wednesday, March 26, 2008

'The Dark Past' gets inside your head...

Some nights, when the weather is just so and the mind is of a particular temperament, there’s nothing better than curling up on the couch and losing yourself in one of those glorious black-and-white movies from the 1940s. I got lucky last night and sat down to eat supper just as such a film began airing on TCM.

Called "The Dark Past," the film stars Lee J. Cobb as a pipe-smoking psychologist and a very young William Holden as the mentally-troubled escaped convict that interrupts Holden’s quiet weekend at his lakeside cabin. Although a near literal remake to an earlier film starring Edward G. Robinson, this examination into the criminal mind is an engaging little flick. More importantly, it’s a lot of fun.

Al Walker (Holden), on the run from the local police, shows up at the weekend home of Dr. Andrew Collins (Cobb) along with his entire gang. Collins has his wife and young son at the house, along with several weekend guests.

While everybody is held at gunpoint, Collins and Walker engage in a literal and mental game of chess downstairs. Walker pretends to dismiss Collins’ profession. But he’s fascinated.

Oh, and it turns out that Walker is having a recurring dream. He wants Collins to stop it. Witty psychological banter ensues, as well as a bit of adventure that was a staple of these kind of films. It put me in mind of a picture Humphrey Bogart made late in his career called "The Desperate Hours."

No doubt psychologists and police officers would find much to scoff at during this film. I doubt there’s any serious psychology here. But the idea is a good one.

What motivates someone to turn to a life of crime? Is it behavioral? Is it personal choice? Is it both? Is it neither?

But let’s not get too wrapped up in all that. The point of this movie is to entertain, not preach. And entertain it does.

I didn’t nod off the first time, which is more than I can say for most of the modern day, big-budget, CGI blockbusters.

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