Few other cinematic styles are as respected and revered as the smoky, sultry, shadowy world of film noir that blossomed in the 1940s. Film versions of crime- and detective novels penned by the likes of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett beautifully captured the books' atmosphere of danger and dark corners, where cool sophisticated dames and hot-tempered guys with guns speak in a snappy street chatter that feels like silk rolling across rough, splintery wood; where femme fatales in jeopardy hire private dicks in trench coats to save them; where slick, smooth, and understated is the order of the day.
What noir is not, however, is comedy. Whether it's on the page, the screen, or the stage, the fashion of noir remains an extremely specific, uncompromising style that requires a willingness to live deeply in the truth of it for it to work. Step outside of noir's explicit boundaries and play it for laughs, as director Dan O'Connor does here, and you end up with a stylistic mishmash that reduces the style to near caricature.
O'Connor also penned this stage adaptation of Chandler's well-known murder mystery. Helen (Martha Hackett), the boozy, floozy wife of a Navy pilot, is found shot to death in her ritzy Wilshire Boulevard bungalow, and her World War II-hero husband, Johnny (Robb Derringer), becomes the prime suspect. While trying to skip town, he meets a beautiful stranger, Joyce (Katy Selverstone), who tries to help him, but who has her own secrets. With her slinky dresses (kudos to Audrey Eisner for her impeccable costuming), cool demeanor, and slight sexy smile, Selverstone emerges as the most unscathed by O'Connor's misguided direction and stands as the touchstone for what could have been. Her unassuming elegance is perfectly suited to the smoldering feeling of noir. The rest of the cast is certainly capable of doing the same, but O'Connor needs to ground the actors more in the reality of that world. Why he didn't is another mystery to be solved.