Sunday, January 23, 2011

'Bad Blonde' is an okay crime drama

Bad Blonde (aka "The Flanagan Boy") (1953)
Starring: Tony Wright, Barbara Payton, Frederick Valk, Sid James, and John Slater
Director: Reginald Le Borg
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

A boxing promoter's trophy wife (Payton) seduces and manipulates a young prize fighter (Wright) into murdering her husband.

"Bad Blonde" is a crime drama mixed with a sports movie and a dash of film noir. Despite the American title, the film's main focus is actually the up-and-coming boxing star Johnny Flanagan, to whom the original British title referred, and how he is undone and ultimately destroyed by the sociopathic Lorna Vecchi.

It's a tragic story, because we watch Lorna destroy two decent men--and ruin the lives of two others--as the film unfolds. Boxing promoter Giuseppe Vecchi (played by Frederick Valch) is a kindhearted man who works very hard to treat everyone he interacts with fairly and to make all his friends happy, so as Lorna keeps pushing Johnny to murder him with her lies and sexual wiles, we keep hoping that he will come to his senses and tell his manager about what is really going on between him and Lorna. The fact that Johnny is also a good person makes us root even harder for him, especially when Lorna preys on Johnny's naivete by claiming to be threatening suicide and claiming to be pregnant to push him over the edge.

Because her victims are so likable, it is very satisfying to watch Lorna get her just rewards at the end of the movie. It would be even more satisfying if it made a little more sense than it does, or if one didn't have the feeling that she might easily be able to lie her way out of full punishment, but there are few characters in films that viewers want to see dragged off in chains than Lorna Vecchi.

The ending might also have been more satisfying if Barbara Payton had been a slightly better actress. She excels at putting sexiness--or, more accurately, horniness--on the screen, and she's quite good at delivering lines that are supposed to come across as haughty or bitchy, but when required to act angry or scared, her performance falls flat.

Fortunately, the rest of the cast is strong enough to carry the movie, with the supporting actors providing enough emotion and the tension to bring life and strength to the flawed ending. Likewise, the character of Giuseppe Vecchi could easily have come across as an annoying buffoon if he had been portrayed by a lesser actor than Valk. Much credit also goes to director Reginald Le Borg for keeping the film moving at a fast pace and further negating the lack of range in Payton's performance.

"Bad Blonde" is one of a dozen or so film-noirish crime drama's that Hammer Films co-produced with American B-movie mogul Robert L. Lippert. It's worth checking out if you want to see a neglected side of the greatest British B-movie studio. It's not the best film that came out of the partnership, but it's still very entertaining.