Noirvember: Tight Spot (1955)

November 27, 2019


Noirvember 2019 is coming to a close, and I couldn't let the month pass by without a few words on Tight Spot (1955). Last year, I wrote about Black Widow (1954), a whodunit crime drama. This year, we are discussing probably the least known of Ginger's three film noirs.

Centered around the violent world of fictional mob boss Ben Costain (Lorne Green), Tight Spot offers a thrilling adventure into the lives of those affected by his crimes. Our leading lady, Sherry Conley (Ginger Rogers), is a tomboyish inmate at a women's prison. The first time we really saw Ginger portray a tomboy character was in the 1940 drama Primrose Path. But where Ellie May Adams was reserved and timid, Sherry Conley is brassy and outspoken. She is immediately drawn to Vince Striker (Brian Keith), her guard upon receiving the news that she will be released from the prison walls, but she is not informed as to why. That liking toward Vince gets pushed aside as the two quickly develop a distaste for each other on the way to the hotel.

Tight Spot was filmed shortly after Ginger's trip to Paris with husband Jacques Bergerac, in which he made the suggestion that she chop off her gorgeous, blonde locks in favor of a shorter style more suitable for warm, summer months on the beaches of Rome. Jacques managed to convince her to follow through with this, even though her hairdresser was adamant that he would not perform the task. After much insisting on Ginger's part, the result was a cut that she referred to as a "French poodle." In her autobiography, she states, "That was not the way I had intended it to be. I was very dissatisfied, but it was too late now."

photo from IMDb

While not the greatest hair style she ever had, it fits the character for this film. Although tomboyish by nature, Sherry has a natural affinity for feminine accessories (much like Ellie May). Her sour engagement with Vince is interrupted when a polka dot dress in the window of a nearby shop catches her eye. Sherry provides various one liners throughout the film, indicating her ability to make light of a severe situation. She does not seem to take these circumstances very seriously, and although reluctant, she does as she is told.

At the hotel, she is notified that the only reason she is no longer in prison is because she must testify against mobster Ben Costain. The last person to attempt this was shot and killed before he got the chance, as shown in the beginning sequence of the film, so it is understandable why Sherry would initially refuse.

When prosecutor Lloyd Hallett (Edward G. Robinson) is briefing her on the situation, he offers Sherry a cigarette. There is nothing unusual about this gesture (hey, it's 1955), unless you are familiar with Ginger's habits. You might know that by this time she had quit smoking. One who has this in mind might notice that only once during this sequence does Ginger take a puff of the cigarette. On a couple occasions she puts it up to her lips, and seems to intentionally avoid inhaling. Now I do not have anything to prove this, but I speculate it could be a clove cigarette. But whether it is a real one or a fake one, this is an interesting scene to watch for that reason.

Vince soon inquires about Sherry's past. Sherry reveals she had been model since she was 16 years old, striking Vince's attention the most. Several minutes earlier, he had slapped her bare bottom with only a shower curtain between them, angry when he learned that policewoman Clara Moran (Eve McVeagh) had left her in the bathroom alone. If this action had not made it clear that something was stirring, then it is during the scene in which she is discussing her past. His body language speaks volumes as he follows her around the room from his post on the couch, rolling every which way almost like a school boy. The staging of this scene reverses the power. Sherry becomes the dominant one, standing tall and facing toward the camera while Vince's back is turned and he is sitting. She presents her view on men, that "they're all alike," and that they "only wear different faces so we girls can tell you apart."

This is the point where Vince begins to return to his stoic, guard persona. Sherry has insulted his manhood and he is not having it. He fires back with, "I could come back from ten years alone on the moon half-crazy and watch you swimming and stripped at the Y for hours and walk out of there with no thoughts in my head except where I could get myself a good meal." Visibly hurt, but firm, Sherry's response is, "Now that was a crummy thing to say." Vince issues an at first forced apology before becoming more sincere. The two make up and the conversation ends on a steamy note.

There is an innocence about Ginger's tough character in this film, and it is from this point that it shines through more and more. This connection with Vince is very much the slow burn kind, something Ginger excels at in her craft, in my opinion. If you want more of these types of romances in a Ginger film, I would recommend checking out Perfect Strangers (1950), Week-End at the Waldorf (1945), Once Upon A Honeymoon (1942), and Lucky Partners (1940) to start.

 Film noirs are famous for their lighting techniques, and if this really can be classified as a film noir, it seems to be less about that moody lighting and more about complex staging. The positions of the actors, their movements throughout the room, whether they are standing or sitting; that can explain a lot about a scene and a dynamic between the characters if you know what to look for. And this movie is full of visual clues.

The connection between Vince and Sherry reaches its climax when they are the only two in the hotel room one night. Sherry suggests soft music, and the couple engages in an intimate slow dance. One of the most notable scenes in this film follows. Vince and Sherry are pressed close together, and Vince pauses as the camera very obviously focuses on his action of sliding his gun holster to his side, and the two continue to dance ... I'll leave that open to interpretation.

from IMDb
This peaceful scene is soon interrupted as a stranger who appears at the window. Loud gun shots follow, and in order not to spoil the film too much, I will not reveal who is on the receiving end of the bullet.

The remainder of Tight Spot has lots of action and character development to follow. As you view it, take into account the staging of the scenes and what makes the characters tick. It is an easy film to sink yourself into, always wondering what is going to happen next. But this is a film noir, and as with most of its kind, don't expect the hero to skip away into a field of flowers upon the fade out. It has its weaknesses, as does any other picture, but for the most part Tight Spot can get pretty gripping, and is another example of Ginger's ability to conform to any genre. This would mark her final of only three noirs, and one can only imagine what else she might have been able to bring to the table had she had the opportunity.


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