Check out the image above, from Where Danger Lives. A fatal femme,
a trusting hunk, an inconvenient husband “accidentally”
dispatched. What's next? Mexico, of course — if they can
just make it across the line in time.
There are certain settings that appear over and over again in film noir
— nightclubs, dive bars, industrial plants, train yards, cheap hotels,
mostly in cities and mostly at night. But there are also
settings that offer sunlit relief from these oppressive locales, most notably
rustic mountain or lakeside cabins . . . and Mexico. Even more often, Mexico
is simply an impossible dream — a place to escape to, to hide out from
fate, but always just out of reach.
There's a rustic cabin in They Live By Night,
a temporary refuge, but the protagonists dream about making it to
Mexico, where they can leave their criminal past behind, start
over. It's the same dream entertained by the outlaw couple in Gun Crazy, by Mitchum and femme fatale Faith Domergue in Where Danger Lives — and just as hopeless. Only the couple in Where Danger Lives even gets close, but they get very close indeed — fate tracks them down just inches from Mexican soil.
Greer and Mitchum in Out Of the Past
have their romantic idyll in Mexico but can't bring the magic of it
back with them to the States. This fits in with the notion of
Mexico as a lost or unattainable paradise. But sometimes the idea
of Mexico went to filmmakers' heads — they got giddy with the
possibilities of it. Films that started out noir would, once they crossed south of border, turn into larks, lighthearted and feckless.
Re-teamed in The Big Steal, Greer and Mitchum venture into Mexico to try to extricate themselves from typical noir predicaments
involving betrayal and unjust accusation, but the dark clouds vanish
almost immediately — they find love and high-spirited adventure
instead of noir's dark, impenetrable maze, and all ends well. Film noir expert Elizabeth Ward amusingly suggests that The Big Steal ought to be labeled fiesta noir — a designation that would fit His Kind Of Woman equally well.
His Kind Of Woman
also stars Mitchum, this time paired with Jane Russell. The
malevolent fate that dogs his character at the beginning of the story
more or less evaporates in Mexico, and the film turns into something
approaching a screwball comedy.
In general, though, the rustic cabin and Mexico are tantalizing chimera in film noir — poignant, even tragic images of an unrecoverable innocence and freedom.
Read more about Mexico and film noir here.