This post is in conjunction with Film Forum’s Burt Lancaster tribute. Find out more and purchase tickets here.
Bogie and Bacall. Hepburn and Tracy. Scott and Lancaster. Though never as famous as the first two, Lizabeth Scott and Burt Lancaster made seven films together, infusing sexiness into the world of hard-bitten noirs. You could say they were the couple that proved you could find love in a hopeless place. I Walk Alone was the first of two movies they starred in in 1947 alone, and though it may lack the twists and turns of other, more established classics, it’s interesting in how realistic the whole affair is.
Frankie Madison (Lancaster) has been released from a 14-year prison bid. The plan is that his best friend, Dink (Kirk Douglas) will give Frankie the money’s he owed from their business, but upon reuniting Frankie discovers the man he knew as Dink is now suave nightclub owner Noll Turner. Noll has no intention of giving Frankie what he’s owed, leaving the ex-con to team up with Noll’s ex-mistress (Scott) to seek restitution that could end in murder.
I Walk Alone is the only film of 1947 director Byron Haskin worked on, marking his return after several years in silent films. This isn’t necessarily a cinematographer’s dream film and actually plays as highly claustrophobic. Frankie transitions from jail to predominately one interior for a majority of the 90-minute runtime, that being Noll’s swank nightclub. There are divergences to Kay’s apartment and Noll’s mansion, but mainly Frankie spends his life just as confined in the nightclub as he was in prison.
Lancaster doesn’t get the ability to go as wild as he does in films like Elmer Gantry (1960). Here, he’s more of a heavy with a romantic streak in him. He exits prison and just wants the world to be fair; his friend to give him the money he’s owed. He doesn’t have any illusions about his life, maybe just to have a business interest waiting for him and the chance to start life respectably. Instead, he comes to understand the world is harsh and has gone corporate!
A key part of the film involves Frankie demanding Dink pay out the money he owes, only to be told by fellow friend Dave (Wendell Corey) that Noll has put all the money into a complex series of corporate trusts. For the next several minutes Dave recounts that waiters’ pay is in one company, while the liquor is held in the other. The most egregious element of I Walk Alone isn’t outright criminal activities, but the white-collar crime that passes as legal.
Lizabeth Scott isn’t given nearly the meaty character she had in features like Pitfall (1948) or Too Late for Tears (1949). Instead, she’s the singer in a relationship with Noll that’s fairly one-sided. It’s almost comical that Noll’s other girlfriend, Alexis Richardson (Kristine Miller) throws out “there’s always a singer” that the boss is with because the role does seem generic. Scott and Lancaster are both blank slates who communicate much of their love through their looks, but it’s hard to find the heat.
Maybe that’s because the real love and emotion are reserved for the relationship between Noll and Frankie. There is a heavy homoerotic undercurrent that runs between these two characters and, in fact, nearly all of their lines could just as easily be spoken by a romantic couple in a melodrama. There’s an air of Gilda (1946) to the entire thing, with Kay standing in as the buffer for the real love between her boss and his friend. I can’t stand Kirk Douglas as a human, but there’s a reason he was so good in noirs. Again, this isn’t nearly as packed as his role in Out of the Past (1947) but it’s obvious he was cast to give a similar performance.
I Walk Alone won’t go down in history as the best of Lancaster’s work, but it’s certainly worth a watch for the relationship between his and Douglas’ characters. It’s a solid if perfunctory, noir.
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A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.