Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Her Kind of Man (1946)

Her Kind of Man is all about Steve Maddux, who is Georgia King’s kind of man. I was expecting the film to about a femme fatale and some hapless male hopelessly in love with her, but that wasn’t the case. Zachary Scott plays Steve Maddux, and he is great as the gambler who can’t seem to stay out of trouble but who really does love Georgia. Janis Paige plays Georgia King, who is no femme fatale. Their romance is true and on the level, which is a bit of a change compared to many films noir.

Janis Paige, who plays Georgia King in Her Kind of Man, lived to 101 years young. She died just recently, on June 2, 2024.

The one who really can’t get over his attraction to Georgia King is Don Corwin (played by Dane Clark). Corwin’s role is important to the plot, but he is not as important as he would like to be to Georgia. The story held my interest precisely because it wasn’t so typical of film noir, and thus it was almost inevitable that the plot would hold some surprises. And it wasn’t so typical for Zachary Scott, who is most often associated with his role as cad extraordinaire, Monte Beragon, in Mildred Pierce.

The narrative starts with Corwin’s voice-over narration. He is a newspaper reporter for the New York Star reminiscing about fifteen years since the end of Prohibition and about Steve Maddux and his “big night,” one that was even bigger than his big night on New Year’s Eve. The entire film is an extended flashback, or really an extended flashback within a flashback. Don Corwin is reminiscing about events starting on New Year’s 1932, at the Illinois Club, and the first flashback starts with Corwin and Georgia King arriving at the offices of the New York Star. Corwin is there because of a news bulletin about Steve Maddux and because he plans to be the one to break the story. Viewers know that Corwin will tell the story about Steve Maddux, but they don’t know yet why Maddux is a news item, who Georgia King is, or how Corwin and King are related to Maddux’s story.

Steve Maddux makes his first appearance in the film winning a dice game at a private gambling hall. Steve is already an outsider at a time, in 1946, when the film was released, when gambling was illegal. The film never explains how Steve keeps up his lucky run winning at all sorts of gambling: cards, dice, horse racing, dog racing. It’s a life outside the law, at least part of the time, and yet he can support himself. Someone named Felix Bender shows up in the private gambling hall demanding a rematch with Steve, who had won a lot of money from Felix earlier.

Felix wins betting against Steve, but he’s playing with a loaded pair of dice, and Steve catches him cheating. He takes back all the money that they bet and tosses Felix out. After this bit of success, someone named Candy appoints himself Steve Maddux’s bodyguard. Steve tells Candy that he doesn’t need a bodyguard, but he doesn’t object when Candy insists. They head to the Illinois Club, leaving Felix Bender behind and nursing a grudge. Steve is at the Illinois Club, which is owned by Ruby (Steve Maddux’s sister) and her husband Joe Marino, to hear Georgia perform.

(This article about Her Kind of Man contains some spoilers.)

Ruby wants to talk to Steve Maddux privately about whether he has a job (he does not) and whether he plans to give up gambling (he does not). She also wants to know if he is staying out of trouble, which leads to an argument that they both have had before. Steve tells his sister: “I want my hunk of the twentieth century right now. I’m tired of standing on the outside looking in while the heels of the world gorge themselves. I can do anything they can and better.”

This yearning for a better life is a familiar theme in postwar film noir, although noir usually features the lengths (usually criminal) that people will go to get what they want. One of my favorite films noir, Too Late for Tears (1949), is a perfect example. The United States had just won World War II in 1945, and the domestic economy was on the upswing. But not everyone benefited equally, and some people resented feeling left behind while the economy expanded.

Georgia King is in love with Steve Maddux even though he shows up when he feels like it and doesn’t keep dates with her. She learns that she has a chance at Broadway, and Steve wants to go to New York City with her. He heads to Joe Marino’s nightclub office to make train reservations. Joe warns Steve about Felix Bender, who just then shows up at the office door with a gun. Steve outmaneuvers Felix and lands a punch that causes Felix to fall and lose the handgun, but Felix reaches for another as Georgia King walks into the office, just in time to see Steve shoot and kill Felix Bender. Even though Steve shot Felix in self-defense, he plans to cover up Felix’s death. He asks Candy to get rid of the body, then flees to Miami. Georgia heads to Broadway and is an instant success. Ruby and Joe Marino eventually sell their nightclub and follow Steve to Miami.

Don Corwin first appears in Steve Maddux’s story via Georgia King and Broadway. He is a newspaper reporter in New York City, and a friend of his, Bill Fellows, is a police detective on what they call the Broadway detail. He and Corwin show up one night when Georgia is performing on Broadway. For Corwin, it is love at first sight. Detective Fellows warns Corwin about pursuing Georgia King. It’s always dangerous to come between a gambler and his girlfriend, but Corwin ignores his advice.

The intersecting paths of the three main characters—Steve Maddux, Georgia King, and Don Corwin—create tension and competition among all three. The story line around Don Corwin is hard to believe at times, which is too bad because the film would have been more believable if the plot details had been more realistic. For instance, Don Corwin jeopardizes his own professional integrity mooning over Georgia King. He is so infatuated with her that he gives her more press coverage than anyone else who usually makes the news.

And then there is the obstruction of justice. Someone named Fitzroy shows up at Don Corwin’s office at the New York Star with witness testimony implicating Steve Maddux and his henchman Candy in the death of Felix Bender. Don Corwin does nothing with the tip, but Detective Bill Fellows intercepts Fitzroy outside Corwin’s office to bring him to the police station and obtain his signed statement. Detective Fellows berates Corwin for his behavior—and more than once—but he doesn’t administer any consequences, even when he confronts Corwin about ignoring Fitzroy’s incriminating evidence. It would have been more believable (and more noir) for Corwin to have been brought in for questioning and then released on his own recognizance. That would have given the narrative more credibility and would still have allowed Corwin to meddle in Georgia King’s life.

These two points didn’t get in the way of my enjoyment of the film. The story is different, and I always enjoy being surprised by plot twists. And Zachary Scott (another noir favorite of mine) is great as Steve Maddux. He’s a wonderful combination of the bad boy gambler and earnest suitor. Most film fans are probably more familiar with Scott’s work in Mildred Pierce, in which he plays the slippery cad Monte Beragon. But he has more range in the character of Steve Maddux than he shows in his performance as Beragon, and it was fun to see him play someone who is bad—but not really all that bad.

Sheldon Leonard deserves a shoutout for hamming it up as Felix Bender. Leonard played several bit parts in film noir before he moved to television, and most of them were criminals and mobsters. When he shows up as Felix Bender in Joe Marino’s nightclub office looking for Steve Maddux, he twitches all over, repeatedly shrugging his shoulders and sticking out his chin—and pointing his handgun at Maddux. Leonard was a producer on The Dick Van Dyke Show, but he also made a guest appearance in season 3, episode 71, “Big Max Calvada,” in which he plays Max Calvada. In The Dick Van Dyke Show, he is more threatening as the mobster father of a wannabe nightclub singer because he is more restrained, more in control, but the episode is still hilarious. And, of course, all ends well for Rob Petrie, Sally Rogers, and Buddy Sorrell.

May 3, 1946 (New York), release date    Directed by Frederick De Cordova    Screenplay by Leopold Atlas, Gordon Kahn    Based on a story by Charles Hoffman, James V. Kern    Music by Franz Waxman    Edited by Dick Richards    Cinematography by Carl E. Guthrie

Dane Clark as Don Corwin    Janis Paige as Georgia King    Zachary Scott as Steve Maddux    Faye Emerson as Ruby Marino    George Tobias as Joe Marino    Howard Smith as Detective Bill Fellows    Harry Lewis as Candy    Sheldon Leonard as Felix Bender    Joseph Crehan as Bob Fordham

Distributed by Warner Bros.-First National    Produced by Warner Bros.-First National

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