Thanks for reading my post and your thoughtful reply. Your tabulation of the percentage of noir films with positive or negative endings got me thinking. Off the top of my head I would have guessed that the percentage would skew heavily towards negative endings, as that would seemingly fit into the noir sensibility. However, the more I consider your point, you’re right, a film can be very dark and still have a “happy ending” a la Kiss Me Deadly.
I also like your example of The Sweet Smell of Success to make the case for ambiguous endings. However, your bringing up His Kind of Woman really jumped out at me. I’ve seen the film a half dozen times or so and in all honesty I’ve come to enjoy it because I no longer expect to see film noir. I find it entertaining despite the fact that the film is so disjointed about it’s own identity genre-wise. Dan Milner’s (Robert Mitchum) dilemma is solidly noir, a guy set up to take a fall, and the scene with the card playing thugs at the six minute mark is very noirishly done. However, large sections of the film are either centered around Mitchum’s relationship with Lenore/Liz Brent (Jane Russell), or Mark Cardigan (Vincent Price), or various subplots involving the other hotel guests that, while revealing different shades of Mitchum’s character, really have very little to do with Milner taking action to solve the story problem.
The writing and direction of Mark Cardigan (Vincent Price) is where the film loses its identity. While Clute and Edwards on their podcast enjoy how well Price plays his character, and their point certainly has merit, the entire performance undercuts the film’s ability to be noir. Price’s farce/comedic performance of a narcissistic, aging matinee idol seeking something, anything, to change the course of his life is an interesting study but I can’t help but ask myself why is this character and this performance in this film?
The climactic last quarter of the film crosscuts the Shakespeare quoting Cardigan in zany, over the top scenarios (the sinking rescue boat in three feet of water) with the very real and violent torture of Milner (whipped with a belt buckle). These scenes are so impossibly different that it’s hard to reconcile what genre the film thinks it is. The viewer is put in the position of having to switch genre gears each time the film cuts back to Milner or Cardigan. In essence the film has two leading men to the detriment of Mitchum and the noir sensibility.
Clute and Edwards like the script. I agree that the dialogue is snappy and very quotable. Many of the scenes, when taken alone, are well constructed. However, I think the writing lost its way when viewed as an entire film. Perhaps the writing choice to make Milner (and the audience) wait at Morro’s Lodge to learn the details of why he was hired inadvertently created a second act vacuum that had to be filled with random subplots and more importantly, the larger than life Mark Cardigan. Mitchum waiting at Morro Lodge structurally reminds me of Casablanca, The Wages of Fear and Kansas City Confidential where the main character(s) wait for the decisive action to heat up and the audience learns about the other characters’ stories and subplots.
On the Warner Brothers DVD there’s commentary by UCLA professor Vivian Sobchack. She cites script rewrites showing that Raymond Burr’s character, Nick Ferraro, was added after principal photography was finished and they had to go back and shoot virtually all his scenes. Also, producer Howard Hughes loved Vincent Price’s Mark Cardigan character and wanted it increased, thus the rather lengthy (for film noir) 120 minute run time. I was curious about which parts of the film the two directors, Richard Fleischer and John Farrow each directed. In Sobchack’s commentary she states that Fleischer directed all the scenes on Farrow’s yacht as well as the reshoots with Burr. With His Kind of Woman it’s hard to know to what was originally intended versus how it ended up due to rewrites, a new director and actor, and the additional shooting.
I’m open to looking at the films that fall outside the textbook examples of film noir. Times change and it makes sense that artists want to explore, experiment, and push boundaries rather than just repeat what came earlier. If in fact the finished film follows the writer(s) original intent, experimenting with writing a noir and farce/comedy in the same script is a little unexpected, but okay, let’s see what happens. In the end, however, if it’s categorized as noir then it’s fair to look at it in terms of whether or not it successfully fits, or expands, or redefines, etc., that genre. Personally, I find the film an oddity, with its unusual mix of writing, character design, acting styles, and conflicting genres. While His Kind of Woman certainly has its charm and is entertaining, the use of ceiling shots and venetian blind lighting doesn’t necessarily turn it into a noir film. Consequently, if you’re watching a lot of noir films and are conscious of the various noir elements, His Kind of Woman is a great film to watch because it does raise the question about whether or not it should be considered an example of film noir.