Umney’s Last Case, by Rodney Altman. A.K.A ” A Noir Dollar Baby”

AAAAAND another Dollar Baby that you can watch it on-line.

I don’t know how it is for you guys, but I am crazy about Noir movies. Not only the old and classic ones in Black and White, but the “new” ones too such as “Nocturnal animals“, “Nightmare Alley”, “Taxi Driver” , “Memento“, “Gone baby gone“, “Widows” and (of course, the best one “in black and white”) “Sin City“. I have always loved this kind of movie, especially the detective ones with moody detectives and their gorgeous girlfriends that sometimes are their true enemies. Those that have fancy clothes, the suits, the hats, the woman with their long cigarettes, the guys allowed to smoke everywhere! And also the classic cars, man! Car chases, some shootings in the middle of the night at the docks. The protagonist’s thoughts make him the narrator, it is so good! 

Even my favourite Batman has Noir elements: Batman, the animated series.

And not only the movies, but also the books are really cool too: Dennis Lehane, James M. Cain, James Elroy, Horace McCoy…For those who love short tales I recommend you to pick some books from the series USA NOIR. This beautiful selection of short tales helped me to know new authors. Also from this series there is a Brazilian version called Rio Noir ,in case you are curious about Brazilian writers.

And of course, our favourite author from Maine also wrote a Noir short tale called “Umney’s Last Case” and Rodney Altman did us a favour when he adapted it into a beautiful Dollar Baby.

Stephen King wrote a noir short tale (a good one) where he not only plays with the genre clichés but also reminds us that it still is a Stephen King’s story when he gives us the sci-fi plot twist that only he could write.

And by adapting this short tale into a short movie, if there is one thing we can say about Rodney Altman and Emma Heald’s screenplay is that they truly knew what they were doing. I had never seen a screenplay that synthesized in such a perfect way King’s original tale. Altman and Heald took only the extremely necessary from the original tale to write a concise and agile screenplay. They did not lose their time adapting the forgettable passages and characters from King’s version. (you know what I mean: the other guy in the elevator, the painters, Umney’s neighbors. Oh, you do know the short tale but don’t know what I am talking about? That is exactly the point ).

But all the important things and characters that really matter and we like in this story are in there : The blind kid selling newspapers, the old guy operating the elevator, and most important of all, we can truly feel Umney in there, in the narrator and in Joel Nagle’s acting. Even the secretary, Candy, is in there, but not in the way that King wrote (the letter that she left) but herself still at the office when Umney arrives. And, last but not least: Samuel Landry. They (the ones that matter) are in there.

Even the one that did not interact with Umney at King’s version (the secretary), the screenwriters did this change in a way that took King’s message (what she meant with that letter) and they showed us a new character with such a fluidity in a way that still was King’s original idea while they also added new layers to the character and her interaction with Umney.And when I think about it, the way they brought this new character, it shows what they did at the whole screenplay : they took what really matter at King’s version and they wrote a short movie that goes straight to the point. I love when filmmakers do that! Rodney Altman and Emma Heald, thank you so much for this.

I could keep talking about a lot of things in this short movie, such as the beautiful production design, the cinematography and Altman’s direction, but this time I preferer to let the movie speaks for itself since you can all watch it on-line.But there is one thing that I want to talk about this Dollar Baby before I finish this review: the amazing cast!

Rodney Altman was 24 when he directed this movie and it amazes me how good he was at this age, especially choosing and directing his cast. A cast that used to be directed by great directors.

Let’s start with the main actor, Joel Nagle: he plays Clyde Umney and the first time I watched this Dollar Baby it gave me the impression I knew that guy. So for this review I went searching at the IMDB (a cool thing to do sometimes, I even want to watch another short movie that Joel did based upon a short from Kurt Vonnegut Jr.) and I was right about Joel, he had roles at some great movies that I know: “Do the right thing“, “The post” and my favourite one among his works “We are what we are“. Judging by his role as Umney at this Dollar Baby I wish he had more roles as a protagonist, he is really good at the movie, perfect for the role of a womanizer detective that now faces not only one of the worst days of his life but also the last day of his life as he knows it. His acting gives us that kind of detective that has a mix of cynicism with a good heart, the kind of character that sometimes we hate and judge, but sometimes we wish we could be him. Do you know what I mean? And if King played with the clichés of the genre, Joel Nagle gave us great acting by immersing himself in the character and embracinging the clichés. We can even laugh during his dialogue with his secretary, when he doesn’t question when she accuses him of grabbing her. but he does question her when she says he does bad jokes with her name. The timing at this scene is so fun, Nagel nailed it.

Nagel had good scenes and also great partners acting with him in this short movie. The secretary was good, the kid selling newspapers too, and of course Samuel Landry, played by Jim Doerr. But the actor that I really wanna talk about is the old guy at the elevator, Vernon, played by the late actor Mark Margolis. You might know him from two of his most famous works: he was that old guy in a wheelchair in Breaking Bad. Do you know? The one who killed Gus with the bomb that Walt put in the wheelchair. Yeah, that guy! He played the same role (Hector Salamanca) at “Better Call Saul” too. I love this actor, I was really sad last year when he died.

My favourite role of his is not Hector, but one from another TV series, from HBO: Oz! I love this series, there are so many great actors in it. Mark played an old Italian mobster guy and he was so good at it. In this Dollar Baby called “Umney’s Last Case” he plays Vernon, an old elevator operator who is about to retire. And when he tells Umney about that it ruins Umney’s day a little more. I dare to say that Mark Margolis steals the spotlight with his performance because we can truly believe that he is an old guy dying with cancer and we can see under that wicked smile of his that he knows he is “going down”. And he does not give a damn! It is such a King character! It makes me happy to see such a great actor playing it, but at the same time it makes me sad that we can’t see him playing other characters written by Stephen King. For instance, he would be a perfect Leland Gaunt if one day Hollywood would shoot a remake for “Needful Things“. But, at least, we do have him playing the “elevator operator” at “Umney’s Last Case”, a small scene and a small character that Mark Margolis made it bigger. Thank you, Mark, wherever you are. We miss you!

Are you curious about Mark, Joel and all the great things in this short movie? I know I am damned curious about your thoughts for this dollar baby, so let’s make a deal: you watch the movie and if you wanna share your own opinions about it, please come back and share with us in here. Or leave your comment at the movie link, the director will love to read it.

You can watch it on our website. Here is the link. Enjoy!

The Dollar Baby’s grade? Well, we from SKSM would love to give 4 fingers from the dead guy’s hand, but I don’t know what happened : the damned hand is gone! I am thinking about hiring a detective,  do you guys know one? A good one?

That is it for today.  Hope you guys like the Dollar Baby. See you next time, Constant Readers.

Leonardo Granado.

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