Apenas un delincuente (Hardly a Criminal). 1949. Argentina. Directed by Hugo Fregonese. Screenplay by Raimundo Calcagno, Israel Chas de Cruz, Tulio Demincheli, Fregonese, Jose Ramon Luna. With Jorge Salcedo, Sebastian Chiola, Tito Alonso. In Spanish; English subtitles. 35mm print courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive. 88 min.
Argentina’s official entry in the 1949 Venice Film Festival, Hardly a Criminal was one of four features made by Fregonese in his native country that reportedly attracted the attention of Louis B. Mayer, who invited the young filmmaker to Hollywood. This highly evolved film noir, his last film in Argentina, features the Argentine star Jorge Salcedo as a classic noir figure, a low-level clerk who succumbs to temptation when the opportunity arises to steal a cash deposit. Knowing he’ll be caught, he hides the money, betting that he’ll be well compensated for his time in prison when he’s released and recovers the cash (a concept that recurs throughout Fregonese’s work). But this is reckoning without the ironies of fate, this time embodied by a cruel prison mate who wants the stash for himself. Fregonese’s distinctive compositional sense is already fully present in this early effort, and every frame seems to bear his signature.