Bradford Galt (Mark Stevens) is an old-school gumshoe with bigger problems to deal with than his painfully stagy name; he has just done time in prison for manslaughter after having been set up by his own sleazy ex-partner, and now he's trying to start his life and his business anew. Unfortunately, he keeps being dogged by the police, and a creepy hood in a white suit is following him around town, acting all creepy and hood-y. And then there's Kathleen (Lucille Ball), Galt's new secretary. The girl may be a wiz with the Rolodex, but she does have a way of distracting a feller with her sultry sidelong glances and her little habit of constantly adjusting her nylons.
When Dark Corner is mentioned today—on those rather rare occasions when it is mentioned at all—it is usually skimmed over as a peculiar footnote in Lucille Ball's career, a film noir picture featuring an incongruous performance by America's favorite zany redhead. Dark Cornercatches her toward the end of her long dues-paying period.
Ball was no overnight success in Tinseltown, to say the least; before I Love Lucy premiered in 1951, she had worked her up through more than 80 motion pictures. Beginning in the '30s with uncredited roles as various chorus girls, tough cookies and assorted scrappy and/or kooky hotties (the young Ball was a startlingly attractive woman), she was promoted ever so gradually over the years to roles with names: an Annabelle here, a Jean there, the occasional Bubbles. By the mid-'40s she was well-known enough that an uncredited part in an Abbott and Costello picture was considered a cameo rather than a simple bit part, but it was still a few years before she and Ricky Ricardo would move into that little apartment down the hall from the Mertzes.
There's something delightfully inappropriate about seeing Ball get all flirty and smirky with Stevens (HE: "What kind of games do you like to play? You know, we've got some great playgrounds up on 52nd street." SHE: "Among them, your apartment?"); Ball's performance here is quite charming, even a bit sexy, and it's certainly an interesting departure from the domestic slapstick we're used to expecting from her.
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But while Ball plays it well, her role is not so utterly different from other loyal, cutie-pie secretaries in dozens of other noir pictures. She may bring a certain zest to the scenes where she slings zingers with our hero, pines for him and commiserates with his sorry plight, but her character isn't what sticks in your mind after the houselights come up.
Fox had high hopes for poor Stevens; they gave him a good shot as a leading man, and while he did manage to hold onto fame for a few seasons, within a couple of years of Dark Corner, he was bouncing back and forth between B-pictures and short runs on TV. By the '60s, he had split for Spain to appear in a number of Spanish-language Westerns. Here, he does the private dick thing with great aplomb, and he's ably arch-enemy-ed by William Bendix and Bendix's boss, a sinister art dealer played by Clifton Webb, both of whom had good long runs as scheming, waspish fancy lads.
If the picture never quite rises to the great noir heights of, say, The Maltese Falcon, it is also a picture you will almost certainly adore. Dark Corner is a moody, effective noir picture in its own right that deserves to be remembered for more than Ball's involvement.
Dark Corner screens at the Orange County Museum of Art, Lyon Auditorium, 850 San Clemente Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 759-1122, ext. 204. Fri., 6:30 p.m. $4-$5.