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Daily Dose of Darkness #10: Nighthawking (A Scene from The Killers)


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#41 Janeko

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Posted 18 June 2015 - 03:17 PM

The main influence that jumps out at me in the diner scene is that of Citizen Kane by Orson Welles.  The low angles used in much of the diner scene reveal that both rooms of the diner have ceilings.  There are even moving shadows cast upward against the ceiling in the eating area.  Welles is credited with introducing sets with ceilings as a step toward greater realism.  Citizen Kane cinematographer Gregg Toland wrote, “The sets have ceilings because we wanted reality, and we felt it would be easier to believe a room was a room if its ceiling could be seen in the picture.  Furthermore, lighting effects in unceilinged rooms are generally not realistic because the illumination comes from unnatural angles.”  Roger Ebert commented on this also: “In almost all movies before Citizen Kane, you couldn't see the ceilings in rooms because there weren't any. That's where you'd see the lights and microphones. Welles wanted to use a lot of low-angle shots that would look up toward ceilings, and so Toland devised a strategy of cloth ceilings that looked real but were not. The microphones were hidden immediately above the ceilings, which in many shots are noticeably low.”  I think this concept of realistic lighting with ceilings was still relatively new in 1946 and had not been widely adopted.  Director Robert Siodmak and cinematographer Elwood Bredell adapt this technique to good effect in creating a tight space for the interaction between the killers and the workers in the diner.

 

Another thing that contributes to the realistic feel of the diner scene is the use of diagetic sound.  It is not until the killers slam the door on their way out that Miklós Rózsa’s score kicks in with the ominous rhythmic theme that several years later would be transformed slightly into the theme for the police procedural television series Dragnet, a musical motif etched in the minds of the baby boomer generation.

 

The scene in the Swede’s bedroom is a world of deep shadows.  There is so much shadow on the Swede that his face cannot be seen and his words emerge like a disembodied voice from the darkness.  And as for Nick, I find my eye drawn more to his shadow than to his body.  While it may not involve hallucinations, dreams, or nightmares, this scene has a subjective quality in the unexpected calmness with which the Swede receives the ominous news of the killers’ arrival.  How much different would this scene be if it had been fully lit in conventional Hollywood fashion with intercutting between the faces of the two  characters.  By contrast, this scene seems to show careful planning to create a formalistic, subjective first impression of the Swede.

I am a very new student of film history and especially film noir.  I have already learned so much about film in general, and the point about ceilings being shown in films being such an innovative move will threw me!  I can't believe that all of these years I've been watching films without "seeing" so much.  A huge thank you to TCM and Dr. Edwards for this course and especially to all of you who are  so willingly sharing your knowledge.  You are definitely co-instructors in this course.  I look forward to continuing to participate in the class in the coming weeks!!  (PS  I'm newly retired and am so grateful that I have the luxury of watching as many of the films noir on Fridays as I want to.  I know that many people don't have this opportunity.)


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#42 Pierce S

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Posted 18 June 2015 - 03:00 PM

The main influence that jumps out at me in the diner scene is that of Citizen Kane by Orson Welles.  The low angles used in much of the diner scene reveal that both rooms of the diner have ceilings.  There are even moving shadows cast upward against the ceiling in the eating area.  Welles is credited with introducing sets with ceilings as a step toward greater realism.  Citizen Kane cinematographer Gregg Toland wrote, “The sets have ceilings because we wanted reality, and we felt it would be easier to believe a room was a room if its ceiling could be seen in the picture.  Furthermore, lighting effects in unceilinged rooms are generally not realistic because the illumination comes from unnatural angles.”  Roger Ebert commented on this also: “In almost all movies before Citizen Kane, you couldn't see the ceilings in rooms because there weren't any. That's where you'd see the lights and microphones. Welles wanted to use a lot of low-angle shots that would look up toward ceilings, and so Toland devised a strategy of cloth ceilings that looked real but were not. The microphones were hidden immediately above the ceilings, which in many shots are noticeably low.”  I think this concept of realistic lighting with ceilings was still relatively new in 1946 and had not been widely adopted.  Director Robert Siodmak and cinematographer Elwood Bredell adapt this technique to good effect in creating a tight space for the interaction between the killers and the workers in the diner.

 

Another thing that contributes to the realistic feel of the diner scene is the use of diagetic sound.  It is not until the killers slam the door on their way out that Miklós Rózsa’s score kicks in with the ominous rhythmic theme that several years later would be transformed slightly into the theme for the police procedural television series Dragnet, a musical motif etched in the minds of the baby boomer generation.

 

The scene in the Swede’s bedroom is a world of deep shadows.  There is so much shadow on the Swede that his face cannot be seen and his words emerge like a disembodied voice from the darkness.  And as for Nick, I find my eye drawn more to his shadow than to his body.  While it may not involve hallucinations, dreams, or nightmares, this scene has a subjective quality in the unexpected calmness with which the Swede receives the ominous news of the killers’ arrival.  How much different would this scene be if it had been fully lit in conventional Hollywood fashion with intercutting between the faces of the two  characters.  By contrast, this scene seems to show careful planning to create a formalistic, subjective first impression of the Swede.


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#43 Martha.wolfe

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Posted 18 June 2015 - 02:34 PM

I thought at first Bert was dead, so was surprised when he spoke. I haven't seen the film to know if that is a foreshadowing of whether he survives!

#44 ttlscn

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Posted 18 June 2015 - 02:13 PM

What an excellent synopsis of this film!  Your observations are right on the money, especially in terms of the breakdown of realistic and formal elements.  I agree that Swede is a classic noir protagonist, a man who followed his passion to the point of despair and resignation, but unlike some others, it appears that he is, or has been a "follower, " someone who was not necessarily in charge of his own destiny (like a Phillip Marlowe or Sam Spade, who were in business for themselves, had a keen sense of who they were, had the personal confidence to live with the decisions they made, right or wrong - but would be hard pressed to give up).  As you mentioned, he didn't think clearly and pushed his luck - similar to Sam Spade's partner, Miles Archer, who likely set himself up for murder by being so distracted by the attractiveness of Bridget O'Shaunessy/Miss Wonderly that he let his guard down.  The only thing he didn't do is pull the trigger, i.e., he didn't think clearly enough.

I feel that Conrad will always be remembered as Cannon (he could've just grabbed the Swede in a mighty bear hug and finished him off that way ;^)


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#45 ttlscn

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Posted 18 June 2015 - 02:10 PM

One of my favorite films, if for no other reason than Eva Gardner, who's from my adopted state of NC.

 

The diner scene is one of my favorites for many of the reasons which have already been addressed in this thread.  However, I love the sardonic dialogue as Conrad and McGraw discuss the availability of the diner menu items.  The actors deliver their lines threateningly and you expect a violent eruption from them at any moment.   At the same time, there is a dark comedy (excellent timing and delivery by both) to it's one of the many little details that makes this scene for me. 

methinks that's Ava... also: head down to Smithfield (jus' south o' Raleigh) for Much more on Ava.


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#46 Cinemapeg

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Posted 18 June 2015 - 02:00 PM

The term that follows this opening is one of "hope" - the diner we have all come to know, familiar, comfortable serves as a realistic refuge, begins with the customer hoping to get a meal, which doesn't happen. The angle of the camera from outside the diner, as the angered gentleman leaves, the slamming of the door countered by the calm exuded by the owner and Conrad's character, creates a sense of unease. Back inside the lighting, the snappy dialogue by the men looking for the Swede creates more tension.

As the young man leaves to warn the Swede, noir in spades, the repetition of the short fences, easily scaled one after the other as the music builds, all pointing to hope. Then the beautiful shot from the Swede's bedroom, as the young man arrives, breathless to an expressionistic room, only the light from the door illuminates the scene. The key for me is the Swede has absolutely no reaction to someone flinging his door open, and as the friend warns him, the play of his shadow on the wall is rather imitating what the bad men want to do--strangle the Swede.

As has been mentioned, the familiar expressionistic elements are reminiscent of M by Lang using the shadows in place of characters. I think this allows imaginations to run wild with speculation and questions, which is key also in Nosforatu. Shadows are scary to us, for their ability to skew reality, escalate and intensify fear. They have the uniques ability to shift, lengthen, shorten, or twist, yet we have no facial clues, to guide us in the understanding of motive by the shadowed. Yet, in this scene the young friend has care and suggestions, while his shadow dictates menace as it floats above the Swede, against the wall, like death hovering.

The fact that this young man continues to offer his friend hope and the Swede implacably responds without passion is the ultimate loss, as the friend realizes as he gives a last look over his shoulder, before closing the door on the dream of a future.

#47 gonewiththetwins_dot_com

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Posted 18 June 2015 - 01:05 PM

There really is nothing more noirish than obscuring a main character's face with shadow during an entire conversation. That introduction raises so many questions as to who the Swede is - what unspeakable things must he have done to deserve not only the claustrophobic isolation of his dwelling but also the fatalistic resignment to gun-toting gangster reprisal? Perhaps his face is hideously disfigured - or perhaps his crimes are so despicable, light can never again shine on his visage. What a compelling way to introduce and foreshadow such a mysterious persona.


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#48 Isaac Wright-Lichter

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Posted 18 June 2015 - 01:04 PM

The dark shadows certainly suggest German Expressionism. The scene where he's telling "The Swede" that there are two men looking for him to kill him, the room is dark, and the Swede's face is completely surrounded in shadow. The only sign of life from him is the sound of his voice. Another nice touch to the scene was the shadow of the lamp, and the other guy in the scene on the wall. It reminded me of the opening scene in "Ministry of Fear", where Ray Milland is sitting in the shadows watching the clock ticking away until he can be released from the asylum. This film was also made by a German emigre filmmaker and veteran of the German film industry, the one and only Fritz Lang. As for the transition from realism to formalism, both of the sets--the diner and the apartment--look very realistic. My thought was that the diner was a real diner and the apartment was a pre-made set. Or if it was a real apartment then it was least specifically stylized for the purpose of being The Swede's residence.



#49 QueenOfNoirs

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Posted 18 June 2015 - 12:02 PM

The Swede is already dead. He is lying in his bed-coffin. Only the vague form of his body is visible: you cant see his face or eyes or any other indication of his soul flickering alive within it's mortal casing. The boy is standing over him, like a viewing. The boy's shadow on the wall represents the Swede's soul: it has already arisen out of his body. The door closing at the end is the door closing on the Swede's existence.

 

LOVE that scene. 

 

This whole movie is awash with German Expressionism (as I detailed above in the scene with the Swede). I like how that style was less stilted in these movies but was clearly evident. 

The switch from realism (in the diner) to formalism (in the bedroom scene) is self evident.



#50 Borisuz

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Posted 18 June 2015 - 10:56 AM

Three stong scenes in just over three minutes. The menace oozes from the two gangsters just by the implying dialogue. A "realistic scene".

The run shot changes from a side angle to a high perspective angle and that last part is beautiful. The urge is built up, both emotionally and by the showed physical haste. The contrast from the the two former scenes to the "formalistic" room scene is appaling. The urge and haste hits the wall. Everything in the mise en scene of the room shot tells a story but the strongest image is the extremely fatalistic view of "The Swede", shadow cloaked in a symbolic hood of death. The absence of will is so bottomless in that scene so it kind of inverts the feeling to the spectator (me), feeling energized by the sheer power of such a scene. That is "formalistic" at its best. The shadow play transfers the noir feeling all the way.


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#51 dmojohnson92

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Posted 18 June 2015 - 09:16 AM

I've never seen The Killers, though I am aware of the film due to the upcoming Criterion Collection release of it and Don Siegel's adaptation. I'm not a fan of Hemingway, though, but that shouldn't deter me from seeing the film.

 

As many people have posted, the shadows are pretty effective, especially the ones we see outside of the diner and in the Swede's room. I reallly, really liked the scene in the Swede's room because his face is in shadow, and then we have his white shirt, and then his dark pants. It's as if he's struggling between being good or evil; is he trying to live, or think, in the shadows, or is his heart to the light? Again, I haven't seen the film so I may be making all of this up, but it would be interesting to see if this is actually a thing.

 

I love the beginning of the clip as we're looking into the diner. We get a slight Dutch angle shot, so we know that something is severely wrong within the diner. And it turns out that that's true. The shadows on the outside door/wall are dappled too, which gives an even eerier, uneasy feeling. Moving into the diner, we don't get any sharp angles, though we do get contrast between the dinerman's white coat and the men wearing black. Once we get back outside, though, we delve right back in to the dreary noir world. We get two long takes as the former hostage runs to the Swede, something that's reminiscent of Lang's M. I especially love the alleyway shot in which we go through the window and into the Swede's room.

 

Once we're inside the room, I actually thought the Swede was dead because I couldn't see him breathing. It wasn't until I heard Burt's distinctive voice that I knew he wasn't, and that he's practically given up.

 

Aesthetically, the film toys along the lines of being traditional (the scene within the diner) and being noir (the rest of the scene). I'm guessing, though, the rest of the film leans more toward being a noir.

 

I enjoy the performances of Burt Lancaster that I've seen (especially Sweet Smell of Success), so I'm interested in seeing The Killers. I may have to get the Criterion set and compare this film to Don Siegel's and Andrei Tarkovsky.


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#52 booksandbosox

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Posted 18 June 2015 - 08:52 AM

My favorite thing about this clip is the way the scenes are shot. I loved the entire sequence from when the boy from the diner runs through yards, hopping fences (the framing of that shot is excellent), to when he enters the Swede's room, enshrined in darkness. The Swede is so still that I wondered at first if he was actually dead, if the two men had somehow managed to find him before he could be warned. It's very chilling - what kind of man lies in the darkness like that, remaining completely still, even when someone bursts into his room unannounced? Probably not a man you want to mess with.


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#53 SallyRenne

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Posted 18 June 2015 - 08:36 AM

Ernest Hemingway’s 1927 short story “The Killers” influenced Edward Hopper’s 1942 painting, Nighthawks.    Richard Brooks, Anthony Veiller, and John Huston adapted Hemingway’s short story for the 1946 film The Killers.   An American short story adapted for the big screen.  An American author influencing an American painter – both striving to make their works uniquely American.  

 

Robert Siodmak’s very American street-front diner and Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks frame and isolate their characters through the diner’s windows.  Light inside, dark outside.  There are certainly ominous shadows inside the diner.  William Conrad even crosses in front of the camera, his silhouette huge and menacing.  Iconic material.  

 

The visual design shifts from the realism of the diner’s mise en scène to formalism as soon as Nick Adams goes out the diner’s door.  Miklós Rózsa's dark, driving score emphasizes Nick’s race through deep shadows as he hurdles quintessentially American, white picket fences to warn Swede.   Siodmak further reveals his UFA and German Expressionism roots through the high angle perspective of Nick’s sprint which segues so smoothly into the door’s opening onto Swede’s room where every shadow is choreographed. 

 

Charles Caleb Colton said, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”  Mark Hellinger masterfully brought together a production crew and cast that that borrowed from and contributed to the growing elements of the film noir style.  A preview of coming attractions.        



#54 CarolinaNoir

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Posted 18 June 2015 - 08:15 AM

One of my favorite films, if for no other reason than Eva Gardner, who's from my adopted state of NC.

 

The diner scene is one of my favorites for many of the reasons which have already been addressed in this thread.  However, I love the sardonic dialogue as Conrad and McGraw discuss the availability of the diner menu items.  The actors deliver their lines threateningly and you expect a violent eruption from them at any moment.   At the same time, there is a dark comedy (excellent timing and delivery by both) to it's one of the many little details that makes this scene for me. 

 

 


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#55 Kai-Ting Chan

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Posted 18 June 2015 - 05:05 AM

Yes! The shadows are notable parts in this clip from "The Killers". Last week, I watched "Ministry of Fear", and I found some similarities between the two movies. One of them is the usage of moving shadows. The movements of the clock in the beginning of 'Ministry of Fear" and the shadow of Swede's friend running to warn him, all give me feelings of loneliness and doom. And I think that is exactly what these filmmakers want to give us.  



#56 Puddy

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Posted 18 June 2015 - 12:54 AM

The music in this scene really adds to the suspense.  It reminds me of the old theme from Dragnet.  Very heavy and deliberate.  That helps tell us that this is a serious situation for Old Swede and "those guys" are not messing around.

 

The diner scene compared to the apartment scene is very different.  The apartment scene is dark and still and Swede's face is completely hidden and he is motionless.  He makes no attempt to leave or even ask questions.  He is resigned to his fate.

 

The diner scene is bright and full of action and interaction, almost giving the viewer a sense of hope that Swede can be saved by Nick's well-intentioned warning. 

 

Realism is about showing the truth without any manipulation.  That describes the diner scene and Nick running to warn Swede.  Formalism is the opposite and that is the apartment scene with the dark room and unbelievably still figure on the bed and it is a much more artistic and symbolic style.

 

 

 



#57 jyfwan

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Posted 18 June 2015 - 12:46 AM

In The Killers (1946), one sees the influences of Edward Hopper's painting, Nighthawks, in the scene's opening outside the isolated diner; German Expressionism in the moodiness and danger in the diner and the two killers' threatening to kill all present since their intended target is not coming; more German Expressionism establishing an urgent and fearful atmosphere via the instrumental music (playing in the background) as the Swede's friend and co-worker, Nick is running across and scaling fences in the empty, dark and foggy town to locate and warn him of the killers looking for him; and, surrealism in the towering wall, window and door of the house that the Swede is sleeping or hiding in that seem to keep him safe for now from the killers.  The atmosphere of danger and urgency versus the complacency of the Swede in action and word strongly suggests a Fritz Lang exercise in tension and anxiety.

 

The diner and the journey across town to the Swede's room is grounded in realism; everything seems to be as-is and not exaggerated.  When we get to the Swede's room, it becomes formalistic.  Firstly, the building's exterior is surrealistic (as I mentioned earlier) because the door/window/wall seem to tower vertically via the narrow perspective cinematic shot.  Next, the interior shot is mostly in shadows except for a 'Tiffany' like (or expensive) lamp in the foreground next to the bed in which the Swede is sleeping on.  This expensive lamp adds to the surrealistic or formalistic feel of the (one assumes) cheaply rented room in that it should not be there.  Also, the Swede's quiet and resigned responses to his friend and co-worker, Nick's urgent and dramatic statements or inquiries, add to the surrealism or formalism.

 

The many influences seen in this film sequence establish this movie as part of the Film Noir genre.  Another way in which this film sequence is an important contribution to the film noir style is how the music is used to heighten the action and drama from realism to formalism.



#58 mrish88

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Posted 18 June 2015 - 12:46 AM

This scene from the Killers starts with a realistically shot scene at a dinner, but then transitions into a formalist scene in The Swede's apartment. When we first see Ole "Swede" Anderson, his face is hidden by shadow. In contrast, Nick (the young man who runs to warn the Swede) is brightly lit. The darkness around Anderson symbolizes whatever crime he once committed. Since he is tired of running from his past, the shadow also represents his fate at the hands of the Killers.

 

However, the shadow could represent knowledge. Nick's shadow is cast over the Swede signifying the one piece of information the Swede lacks, the Killers' appearances. However, the Swede is bathed in darkness because he already knows enough about the Killers, and whatever crime that brought them to town. The Swede has enough knowledge and turns down the offer of more. To put it in a more symbolic way, Nick brings the Swede more shadow, but the Swede refuses it. He has plenty.



#59 brooke.fenton

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Posted 18 June 2015 - 12:42 AM

The sense of urgency that is felt as Nick runs to warn "the Swede" of his life being in danger is in stark contrast to the total lack of urgency on "the Swede's" part. The lighting of this scene is brilliant. "The Swede's" head is engulfed in shadows as the rest of his body lays motionlessly in bed. The lack of movement or expression almost makes the viewer think that he is already dead. He's a dead man walking... or in this case, laying.



#60 cragoholica

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Posted 17 June 2015 - 11:26 PM

Fritz lang's influence is felt when the music stops while dialogue is happening. Also the shot from above where we see the messenger walking the dark desolate streets seems to be a shot Lang used (the one comes to mind from M). It seems as though the diner scene is shot in a realism style without symbolism whereas the apartment scene is concerned with showing style. The shadow looming over lancasters character is shmbolic of the "bad news" looming over him. We also do not see burt but in shadow as though he is deffinitely hiding something. This scene contributes the idea of free floating style of cinemetography and ambience because it seems to switch from a gangster style realism to a mystery style noir all in the same scene. Noir is about not being tied down to conventional methods but to be free and wild much like its characters.



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