NO WAY TO LIVE – 2017. 84 mins.
Directors: David Guglielmo & Nick Chakwin. Cinematography: Alex Chinnici. Editing: Derek Drouin. Production Design: Alexandra Branger, Nik Taylor.
With: Freya Tingley, Tom Williamson, Larry Fessenden, Justin Arnold, Timothy V. Murphy, Paul Rae.
We will start off with a disclaimer: I know people involved with this film. One of them is actually me!
But that shouldn’t (and won’t) stop me from reviewing the film. With far less than six degrees of separation, and usually less than two, I know countless people in the industry and review films all the time in which they, and I, were either somewhat or more than somewhat involved. The issue isn’t really whether I know anyone connected with the film, it’s whether I like the film or not. For instance, Joe Kane (editor of MovieScope magazine) has known me for several decades. When my film STREET TRASH came out, he didn’t warm up to it, so out of friendship (misguided, I might add – I can handle a little criticism, especially from a good writer like Joe) he avoided covering it. But he liked another one of my films, DOCUMENT OF THE DEAD, so he lavished praise on that one, despite the fact that he knows me and he’s in it.
I liked NO WAY TO LIVE, so stand back ‘cause I’m about to lavish some praise.
It’s a period piece, set in the 1950s South. A nicely attired black guy comes to a rural ramshackle house selling vacuum cleaners. The owner is a hair-trigger racist who would just love to blow the salesman away. The woman standing behind the owner is young and wants out. The vacuum salesman comes creeping back at night to get a better view of the young woman and promptly steps in a gator trap. And we’re off on a noir journey where the protagonists are not what they seem. Not even close. And every several minutes we’re in for some sort of jaw-dropping surprise. It’s all great fun.
FIR Editor-In-Chief Roy Frumkes plays Tingley's long-suffering lawyer in No Way To Live.
Freya (HEMLOCK GROVE) Tingley gives a performance that establishes her as one of cinema’s penultimate femme fatales, up there alongside Barbara Stanwyck (DOUBLE INDEMNITY), Lena Olin (ROMEO IS BLEEDING), Linda Fiorentino (THE LAST SEDUCTION) and Jane Greer (OUT OF THE PAST). She’s delicious in the surprising depths of her malevolence. Tom Williamson, as her wary fellow conspirator, has a few noirish surprises of his own. Justin Arnold plays a lovesick cop whose performance grew on me. And cult character actor Larry Fessenden delivers his best supporting role. The only actor I wasn’t taken with was Timothy V. Murphy, who seems to be straining to capture an impression of Ed Harris.
NO WAY TO LIVE is a debut feature from Nick Chakwin and David Guglielmo, both as co-writers and co-directors. It shows a sure directorial hand, and a mischievous one to boot: they don’t just acquit themselves professionally, they know how to tease us as well. DP Alex Chinnici gives the film a nice caste, warm neo-noir colors that keep us alert for trouble even when all seems well. There’s a driving scene where I wish he’d used a polarizing filter so that we could see the faces in the front seat more clearly, but outside of that one frustration, it’s quite satisfying visually.
If you listen to the spirited commentary track, one of the things you will learn is the extent of my involvement with the film.