A shining star and early noir: this week’s viewing

Unlike so many CW series, STARGIRL wrapped up its first season without leaving us on a cliffhanger (though the finish planted a lot of seeds for S2, whenever that comes to pass). It’s based on DC’s Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. comic by Geoff Johns, who created Stargirl as a tribute to his sister, who died in the Lockerbee terrorist plane bombing. Overall, I like the TV show better than I did the comics.

Brec Bessinger plays Courtney Whitmore, less than thrilled that mom Barbara (Amy Smart) and new step-dad Pat Dugan (Luke Wilson) have dragged her to Barb’s hometown of Blue Valley to settle down. Things get more interesting when she learns the reason: Pat is secretly the former Stripesy, sidekick to the superhero Starman, who died along with the Justice Society in a battle with the Injustice Society of America. The ISA is hiding in Blue Valley, plotting something big, and Pat’s out to put a stop to it. When Courtney discovers Starman’s cosmic staff (which appears to be sentient) she takes action against the ISA herself, as Stargirl. Despite Pat’s objections, she also recruits a new Justice Society, turning her friends into the new Wildcat, Dr. Midnite and Hourman. But they’re fifteen-year-olds and they’re up against some of the deadliest villains on Earth …

I was pessimistic after the first episode that this would be way too heavy into teenage angst and outcast-ness, but it isn’t. Bessinger is an appealing protagonist, the action is good, and there are several details I liked such as how well her mother takes learning about this. There are also some things I didn’t like: If you’re going to use the Gambler as a villain, it doesn’t make much sense to turn him into a generic super-hacker (I’d figured they’d give him luck powers like the comic-book villain’s granddaughter, Hazard, but no). And while I like Icicle’s big plan, I honestly don’t see why the rest of the Society would be with him on this. Overall, though, thumbs up. “The staff didn’t choose you because you’re Starman’s daughter, it chose you because it believed in you.”

I WAKE UP SCREAMING (1942) is an early noir film in which promoter Victor Mature turns hash-slinger Carole Landis into a celebrity, only to lose her to Hollywood — but could that have been enough reason for him to kill her? Detective Laird Creegar, who had a stalkery obsession with the victim, thinks so, but Landis’ sister Betty Grable (her first non-musical role, though she did sing in one deleted scene) refuses to believe Mature’s a bad guy. Stylish and absorbing, with solid performances by the leads, plus Elisha Cook Jr. as a hotel clerk and Alan Mowbray as an actor. “Did you ever read The Sex Life of Butterflies by Faber?”

Seeing that prompted me to check out STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR (1940) which the book Film Noir identifies as the first noir film. A reporter’s  testimony puts Elisha Cook Jr. on death row, but when the reporter’s neighbor turns up dead the newshound discovers how easy it is for circumstantial evidence to jail an innocent man. And nobody believes he saw Peter Lorre sneaking around the boarding house, or that Lorre might also have committed the murder Cook was blamed for. Strongly influenced by German expressionist films (the stylized dream sequence has amazing visuals) this also has a lot in common with Hitchcock’s Innocent Man Accused stories.  “They’re not listening to me — your honor, please make them listen!”#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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