DON’T CALL ME FRANKIE
Just as one begins to despair of the American cinema’s ever more rapid descent into emotional, intellectual, and creative senility, along comes Thomas Fucci with a fresh eye (and ear), an insouciant thumbing of his nose at what’s expected in tone and style, and a sense of the humorously absurd which almost hides his sensitivity to pain.
He obviously knows his film noir, but instead of trying to prop up something from the past, he lets rip at it so that we get a double pleasure: watching the vital organs of an old favorite tumbling from its split belly and seeing them reformed into something new. All the elements are there. We start with a dark, wet night where the only light is a cheap neon sign for a sleazy hotel (seen at an oblique angle, of course). In the hotel: a desperate man about to put a revolver to use on himself; an old, demented couple obsessed with and literally endangered by newspapers; a clerk who doesn’t care who does what with whom as long as you take the body out with you.
Fucci takes these stereotypes (with the help of a universally perfect cast) and skillfully makes us care about understanding each of them as he slowly allows them to reveal their humanity and the ridiculousness of their situations, their assumption, and even of their despair; Fucci has an elegance of style so that while the eye records and admires the composition and the lighting one is never yanked out of the ever more binding emotions of his tale by the empty glitz of a “look at me, Ma. I’m directing” that seems to possess more and more directors.
Then there is Fucci’s ear. The sound track is sophisticated, subtle and always surprising. Music from country Cline to classic Callas—is as important as the images. Fucci uses it as emotional counterpoint, as a way of connecting states of mind in his characters, and as a means of emotional reversal. There is a wonderfully comic scene in which an old lady after an earthquake is in real danger of being smothered under what looks like a ton of old newspapers. So her rescuer can locate her, she croaks out “Tiptoe Through the Tulips”, making the comedy turn to warm humor in a delicious continuation of the song in another tone.
As his main character says “It’s all connected if you listen close.” All of that pain turned upside down might in less intelligent hands turn to optimistic mush. Here Fucci (in an audacious refusal to cut or move his camera); lets us have it both ways—and then lets it stay that with a necessary ambiguity. This is an American film you don’t have to be ashamed of liking. This is a new American director who promises to keep our eyes and ears fresh.