Our most enduring images and memories of film noir are often rooted in the 1940s and 1950s: if we say the words, monochrome visions of felt hats, satin dresses and boundless clouds of cigar smoke inevitably come to mind. This makes it a difficult genre to tackle today, even if its themes and social corners are not period-specific. If you insist too much on the style of the time, it will seem like an empty cosplay; if it is updated too much, the dark mystery will be dispelled.
Guillermo del Toro’s sinuous and seductive remake of the alley of lost souls (now available on all major VOD platforms) strikes just the right balance, even if its early 1940s costume and production design is sumptuous in a way that Edmund Goulding’s original 1947 film, which remains one of the darkest and rawest of all film noir classicsnever thought it would be. Expensively dilapidated and morbidly lit, del Toro’s film indulges in a degree of genre fetishism, not least when Cate Blanchett is on screen, holstered and hairsprayed, whipping up a storm as an evil fatal psychoanalyst. Yet the film retains a genuine dose of human corruption and moral curiosity, all in Bradley Cooper’s standout lead performance as an ambitious, cold-blooded carnival worker willing to break into high society at any cost.
Cooper wears a fedora and high-waisted suit quite aptly, but his character’s tortured inner life never seems to be written in quotes.
The Alley of Lost Souls struts with a conviction akin to that of Curtis Hanson’s perfect LA Confidential (Amazon), now 25 years old, but so convincingly steeped in its time and aesthetic that it seems both older and fresher than lettuce. This ruthless and biting adaptation of James Ellroy’s labyrinthine police saga was not a remake of any classic– It just feels like it was always meant to be, given the rich, seedy textures of its world-building in mid-century Hollywood and the fluidity of its star-studded cast in jazz and film noir ingenuity. Hanson’s film was released a year after Lee Tamahori’s film Mulholland Falls (Amazon), similar in style, with a similar and little-remembered plot, and which is a suitably moody and pleasant distraction in which all the actors seem to be posing nonetheless.