Friday Noir: ‘Backfire’ is a well acted, poignant and fun little gem
Directed by Vincent Sherman
Written by Larry Marcus, Ben Roberts and Ivan Goff
Reviewing movies with the benefit of hindsight offers ample opportunity to discover, analyze and extrapolate the several issues of the day their stories were concerned with. It puts such films into historical context, awarding them a sense of worth perhaps movie goers at the time overlooked. Film Noir is frequently cited as being specific in relating to the American post-Second World War experience, a time during which the innocence of a large and powerful country was shaken, the disillusionment created by mankind’s unhinged ferocious nature exposed during combat having deeply affected returning veterans. People fell on hard times, forced to strive to earn a living all the while reckoning with the truth of human nature. Backfire, from director Vincent Sherman, exposes the down and dirty side of people’s desperation through the thin shiny veneer of glitz and glamour, not to mention being poorly received upon its release in 1950.
At a hospital for war veterans somewhere not too removed from Los Angeles, California, Bob Corey (Gordon MacRae) is resting his badly injured back. What little respite his currently humdrum life is given comes in the form of visits from his old pal Steve Connelly (Edmond O’Brien), with whom he has begun to plan a ranch business for some time down the road, as well as the delightful presence of nurse Julie Benson (Virginia Mayo). Bob has taken a liking to her, and she to him, and while they do not give in to their inhibitions at the medical centre, it is pretty obvious they shall be seeing each other once Bob has fully recovered. Good news about Bob’s back and his fast approaching final day in bed coincides with the commencement of a shocking mystery. Steve has inexplicably ceased his recurring visits. Then there is the mysterious nocturnal visitor (Viveca Lindfors) who, while Bob is wrestling with a drug induced sleep one night, reveals that his old friend Steve is contemplating suicide following a terrible accident. The woman vanishes like a dream, but for Bob, the peculiar clues as to his friend’s whereabouts are piled on days later when he finally leaves the hospital, only to be immediately accosted by the L.A. Police, who warn him that Steve is the prime suspect in a murder case…and on the run! Is Bob’s old friend a fugitive or a wrongfully accused man?