Saturday, June 13, 2015

Stubs – Over-Exposed

Over-Exposed (1956) Starring: Cleo Moore, Richard Crenna. Directed by Lewis Seiler. Screenplay by: James Gunn, Gil Orlovitz. Story by Richard Sale. Produced by: Lewis J. Rachmill. Run Time: 79. Black and White. U.S. Drama, Film Noir

In the 1950’s every studio was looking for the next Marilyn Monroe or at least their version of her. The blonde bombshell was as old as Hollywood, dating back to the days of Jean Harlow. Cleo Moore, a native of Louisiana seemed to fill the bill for a few years at Columbia Pictures. She had all the requisite requirements: an hour-glass figure, big breasts, sex appeal and, of course, blonde hair.

Arriving on film, in 1948, the same year as Monroe, Moore never got beyond B-movie stardom. Not a Monroe imitator, Moore made 18 films in her ten year career. Along with Mamie Van Doren, Moore became known as a “bad girl”, a subgenre of films featuring sexy actresses playing ruthless and amoral young women. Moore was not only the queen of the “bad girls” she was also keen on publicity, including a five-minute kiss on live Chicago television in 1954.

But Moore’s star didn’t shine too brightly or last too long. While she garnered attention for her role as Myrna Bowers, the doomed gun moll in On Dangerous Ground (1952), her movie career began to wane, when her home studio, Columbia Pictures, hired Kim Novak in 1954. Over-Exposed would prove to be Moore’s penultimate film, before she retired from acting after Hit and Run (1957). After her film career was over, Moore would marry a wealthy real estate developer, but die in her sleep, three days shy of her 49th birthday.

In Over-Exposed, Moore stars as Lily Krenshka, a transient floozy caught up in a small town police vice raid on a clip joint. Charged with soliciting drinks at a bar, she is given the choice to either leave town or go to jail. Lily chooses a third option when she begs Max West (Raymond Greenleaf), a down-and-out alcoholic photographer, to give her the photo he shot of her when she was brought in by police.

When Lily (Cleo Moore) is arrested, Max West (Raymond Greenleaf) takes her photo.
Getting the photo back starts Lily on a life changing journey.

Max agrees to her demand if she accompanies him back to his apartment so he can safely extract the negatives from his camera. Lily, a brassy blonde suspicious of all men, is surprised when the elderly Max offers her a few hours work as a bathing suit model and then allows her to spend the night on his couch. When Max recalls his glory days as a society photographer, including winning an award at an exhibition, Lily asks him to teach her photography, but he refuses, insisting she follow the police edict and leave town the next morning, having already missed the last bus out that night.

Lily ends up posing for Max for a night sleeping on his couch.

But Lily is nothing but cunning. When a customer calls the next day about a job, Lily speaks for Max, who is still sleeping one off, and tells the customer that not only have the photos turned out great, but that Max is hand coloring one to enter into competition. Next she gets Max to do the work and the customer is impressed. Lily takes charge of Max’s career and gets him out of debt. In turn, Max teaches Lily everything he knows about photography, often posing for her himself. Months later, when she decides to strike out on her own to New York City, Max gives her a camera and suggests she change her name to the more elegant Lila Crane.

New York is not hospitable. On her way out of the Allied News Service building, where she couldn’t get anyone to talk to her, Lily meets reporter Russell Bassett (Richard Crenna) when they collide in a revolving door. When Lily mentions that she has been unable to find a job, Russ advises her to snap some exclusive pictures of a breaking news story. Lily continues to try and ply her trade, but gets turned down everywhere she goes, sometimes also getting propositioned along the way.

Lily befriends reporter Russell Bassett (Richard Crenna).

One night, when she hears sirens, Lily remembers Russ's advice and follows them in a taxi to the scene of a raging fire. Bluffing her way past the police, saying she’s with the press, Lily get recklessly close to the fire for a close-up. Russ, who shows up after her, sees the peril she’s in and sweeps her out of the way of falling burning debris. He then offers her the use of Allied News' darkroom to develop her negatives. While Allied is willing to buy her photo, they don’t offer her a full time job. Russ tells her those take time.

Lily bluffs her way to get close to the action as a wannabe news photographer.

But Russ does give her the name of an owner of a sleazy nightclub, Les Bauer (Jack Albertson), who is looking for a photographer or “flash girl”. Russ also helps her find a room in the cheap hotel he lives in. At the club, gossip columnist Roy Carver (James O’Rear) offers to pay her for any incriminating photographs he can print.

When Roy instructs Lily to take a photo of mob lawyer Horace Sutherland (Dayton Lummis) and his mistress, Lily takes the portrait to Sutherland herself. Carver had told her about Sutherland's boss, gangster Frank Backlin, is investing in a high-class nightclub that is opening soon, Club Coco. Always the opportunist, Lily threatens Sutherland with the photo, Lily convinces him to help her get the photo concession at the club.

Lily takes over the photo concession at Club Coco.

Soon after, Russ returns from an assignment and informs Lily that Allied plans to hire her as a staff photographer. But the ambitious Lily refuses to relinquish her lucrative position at the nightclub which pays her more than Allied would. Russ chides her for choosing to work for a gangster.

One night, Mrs. Payton Grange (Isobel Elsom), a café society dowager, whom Lily recognizes as someone Max once photographed, comes to Club Coco. Mrs. Grange has refused to be photographed for years, but relents when Lily asks if she can take a picture for Max. After Lily develops and retouches the photo, Mrs. Grange is so pleased that she agrees to let Lily publish it, thus launching her career as a society photographer.

One year later, Lily is still striving to reach the top, although she has achieved a certain amount of acclaim. She has branched out and while she still works at Club Coco, where she does society photography, she also does some agency work as well. Despite telling a television interviewer that she does all the work herself, she sends for Max to assist her.

Meanwhile, Russ invites Lily to go to Maine with him on vacation, but she tells him she can’t get away. That is until one night at the club, a prominent judge asks Lily to shoot his party's photo to celebrate his wedding anniversary. But a dancer bumps into Lily and her framing is thrown off. Later, when Max develops the film, she notices two strange men standing in the background. The next day, Coco Fields (Donald Randolph), the club's manager and namesake, phones Lily and instructs her to testify that she spent the night with Backlin, providing him with an alibi for the murder of one of his associates the previous evening.

Upon reexamining the mis-framed photo, Lily realizes that Backlin and his murdered associate are pictured in the background. Unnerved, Lily joins Russ in Maine and things seem to be going great between them. But when he asks her to marry him and work with him as a photographer on his new assignment as foreign correspondent, she refuses to resign her job at the club.

Lily returns to New York alone. Mrs. Grange returns to Club Coco to celebrate her birthday. While Lily is in the midst of shooting some photographs of Mrs. Grange dancing, the older woman collapses and dies. After Lily rejects Roy's offer to buy the print, he steals the negative and publishes it anyway. The world thinks  Lily violated Mrs. Grange's trust: Coco fires her, and soon her other clients do the same. After Russ refuses to believe Lily’s innocence, she decides to sell Sutherland his client’s incriminating photograph for $25,000, keeping back one copy as insurance.

But that is one copy too many for Backlin, who has his thugs kidnap Lily and ransack her place looking for it. Russ goes to Max’s looking for Lily and finds a copy of the photo sent to Max, instructing him to go to the police if anything happens to her. Alarmed, Russ hurries to Lily's apartment and is met by the burglar. After throwing photo developing chemicals into the man's eyes, Russ forces him to reveal that Lily is being held prisoner at a trucking company warehouse. Russ manages to overpower her abductors, and, having finally learned her lesson, she presents the police with the incriminating photo. When Max takes her photo on the way out of police headquarters, they jokingly re-enact their first meeting. Coco, who is also there, offers her job back at his club, but Russ informs everyone that he doesn’t want his wife working at any nightclub.

While Cleo Moore might be one of the few reasons to watch this movie, her character Lily is all over the place. Part of the character’s interest in learning photography is that a woman can do it and not rely on her looks. And she assumes, rightly, that all men see her as a sex object (there are more than a fair share of them who practically salivate at the sight of her figure). She is immediately suspicious of any man that offers to help her. But at the same time, she is not above using her sex appeal to get what she wants, whether it’s to get the bell hop to act as stand in for her so she can frame her own cheesecake pose, or to exchange meeting male patrons after work to get them to order more prints of the photos she takes in the clubs. It’s hard to feel sympathetic for a woman being treated as a sexual object when she uses her sex appeal to her advantage. She perpetuates the same problem that she is supposed to be fighting against.

Co-stars Cleo Moore and Richard Crenna in publicity shot for Over-Exposed.
Richard Crenna is fresh from his role as Walter Denton, the well-intentioned but clumsy high school student on the Our Miss Brooks television situation comedy (1948-1957) and a feature film of the same name released in 1956. Crenna seems like an actor in transition from playing juvenile to adult roles, even though he’s thirty years old when this film is released. His Russell Bassett, while a definite change of pace from Walter Denton, has his own character problems. Russ seems to be written to fill whatever need the movie has at the moment. Lily needs a man to help her find work and a place to live but without sex being attached, there’s Russ; Lily needs someone to love her unconditionally while she acts the bitch, there’s Russ; Lily needs someone to rescue her from harm, there’s Russ. And at the end of the film, when she needs to get married (don’t all single women in these movies?); Russ is there, too.

Outside of the two leads, there really isn’t that much to recommend. This is not a bad film, but it is far from great. There is perhaps one too many plot twists for the movie to pull off. And while this has been included in a collection from Sony Pictures (Columbia’s successor) Home Entertainment of Bad Girl Film Noirs, the film really doesn’t qualify as noir based on the usual definitions of the subgenre. Sometimes rebranding a movie can give it new life. Since this film has been branded a film noir, my inclusion is as a cautionary tale. Don’t be fooled by the deliberate mislabeling to elevate this film from the routine drama it was to something more.

Be sure to check out our Film Noir Review Hub for reviews of films in this genre.

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