Frederick Muller (Eduard Franz) recalls the youthful criminality of his brother John (Paul Henreid) and John’s now-dead crony Marcy:
“I remember Marcy, the way the two of you went running around. I remember his big cars, his fancy suits, his haberdashery.”“His haberdashery”: they don’t write them like that anymore. How could they? I find it telling that the first-page results of a Google search for haberdashery returns only one establishment selling men’s clothes, Heimie’s Haberdashery in Minneapolis. The rest is definitions. What’s a haberdashery? And where have all the haberdasheries gone, and the haberdashers with them?
The dialogue above comes from the film Hollow Triumph, aka The Scar (dir. Steve Sekely, 1948). The film’s noir premise, which I won’t reveal here, requires that one suspend disbelief — and leave it there, dangling from a frayed cable above a pit of famished crocodiles. But the effort is worth making. As in many B-ish films, the rewards are the bits of local color: John Quale as a goofy dentist (a cross between Barney Fife and Wally of My Dinner with André), George Chandler and Sid Tomack as Tweedledum and Tweedledee in a camera shop (are they supposed to be life partners? brothers?). There’s also a brief scene on the Angels Flight Railway and a poignant moment with an aspiring dancer. Joan Bennett’s Evelyn Hahn, a slightly used secretary, gets the best lines, in an exchange with Henreid’s Dr. Bartok:
“I'll tell you something: in all my life I think I’ve only had one beau I was really willing to trust.”They don’t write them like that anymore either.
“You should’ve held on to him, married him.”
“I wanted to, but I couldn’t. He was twelve years old, and I was nine.”
The real star of this film is John Alton’s cinematography, which makes for beauty and mystery and dramatic contrasts of light and dark in scene after scene. Film noir et blanc, really.
Hollow Triumph is unavailable from Netflix but is available at YouTube and as a cheap DVD transfer. I’ve already suggested the film to the Criterion Collection.
[If the name George Chandler rings a distant bell: he played Uncle Petrie on Lassie. The aspiring dancer, I suspect, owes something to Sam (Tom D’Andrea) in Dark Passage (dir. Delmar Daves, 1947), the cabbie who wants to buy a pair of goldfish for his room: “It adds class to the joint.” As for haberdasher: “Middle English: probably based on Anglo-Norman French hapertas, perhaps the name of a fabric, of unknown origin. In early use the term denoted a dealer in a variety of household goods, later also specifically a hatter. Current senses date from the early 17th cent” (New Oxford American Dictionary).]