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Daily Dose of Darkness #3: Under a Full Moon (The opening scene of The Letter)

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Well, this was hard to watch because I have never been a fan of Bette Davis. The peaceful night of the workers going to sleep is disturbed by a murder. Its interesting to see the reaction of them as they hear the gunshots go off.

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It is shocking becasue we have no frame of reference.  Everything looks nice and peaceful in a beautiful tropical setting and then we are shocked into witnessing the murder.  It's an important contribution in that it forces the narrative to give us the backstory later probably in flashback (I don't really know since I have not seen the film yet.) which became one of the hallmarks of Noir style.  We are introduced to the main character and we already know that she is not going to be a paragon of morality.  She has just killed a man and then directs one of the men to tell someone that "there's been an accident."  This statement draws me in because I want to find out how that is an "accident" and how she plans on justifying it.  It is a very effieicent way of luring the viewer into this morally ambiguous situation.

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The long crane shot that starts everything off gives us good information on the location and cultural setting of the film.

I wonder about the role of the moon, besides giving us amazing black and white cinematography.

 

The calm of Bette Davis' character is compelling when compared to the action that takes place, also we are cut off from the beginning of the argument and we can only guess with the little we're given here.

 

Enjoyable intro, really pulls you right in.

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The opening scene is not only a surprise it is a shocker.

 

I see a lot of American Realism Literature influence in this opening and the character of Leslie. At the turn of the century, Stephen Crane (THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE) portrays woman in a stark manner in Maggie: Girl of the Streets. Maggie is bold, bleek and bleeding. Cinema mainstream at the inception of Noir paints woman lightly, frilly and faint. Here we have Leslie, shooting out of the calm of snoring workers, melodic music; in cold blood. We are pulled into her story, by the collar and this is Noir's genius.

 

I want to know who and why she shot the master of the plantation. I am transfixed immediately.

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The Letter is an important contribution to noir canon because it shows how a lush and steamy tropical setting can be just as oppressive and tension producing as any gritty, urban setting.  Through lighting and camera angles we know we are in for a interesting and twist filled ride.  At the end of the scene, though  outwardly calm, Bette Davis' right hand is held stiff and a little bit out from her body like it is in shock or she is trying to distance it (the hand) from her self.  

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I love Bette Davis and the look she has after she drops the gun and looks at the body of Mr. Hammond, is perfect. The us of shadows here is briliant. I love how her shadow falls over the body, how the clouds envelope people in darkness and then in light as they pass over the moon. This certainly wasn't the actions I was expecting in this scene. It begins quite tranquil and easy and then is disturbed by violence.

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What stuck out to me the most in viewing the opening of The Letter was its use of irony. Here, we have a peaceful night in Singapore which is cut off by a woman shooting her husband in front of her house. What is also ironic is the woman's calm and collected attitude throughout, in spite of not only murdering her husband but also everyone nearby witnessing this murder. None of this deters her from directing the men to inform someone that there has been an accident.

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The thing about the opening scenes of the Letter and M is that immediately have you hooked as a viewer.  In just four minutes, both filmmakers create suspense and tension that builds a desire among viewers to see what happens next.

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       Quite stunned that we are able to see the killer so early on in the film. The way the moon goes behind the clouds just a few seconds after Hammond was killed gives off a presence of a gloomy doom, yet when the moon comes out of the shadow of the clouds and shines so brightly on Davis it gives a since of 'we know it was you don't be surprised.'

        I feel that The Letter is an important  contribution to film noir because it appears to be one of the first to show you who the killer is in the first five minutes of the film. 

 

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In the foreground we have the workers at the plantation getting on with life: sleeping, playing music, resting, etc.  In the background we have the big house just as quiet until several shots ring out.  A body stumbles out the front door.  All serenity is shattered.  There is darkness.  then the full moons starts ot real ligt on the situation.  And we go on.

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There are certain characteristics that contribute to the noir genre.  Instead of the gritty rain-soaked streets of the big city, you see the grittiness of a rubber plantation.  The moonlight replaces the streetlights that cast shadows across Davis and her victim.

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Beautiful opening of the plantation on a peaceful night. The first gun shot is a mild surprise but when we see Bette Davis and there are five more shots it becomes alarming.  Her coolness over the man's death is disconcerting.  Makes me want to know more about the back story leading up to the killing right away!

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I do like the calm beginning, the camera panning slowing past the sleeping plantation worker and then by the light of the moon, we see the woman kill the man and she calls it an accident.  I wonder where we are headed.  Knowing who the killer is but not why reminds me of Columbo where we, the audience, always knew who done it but it was up to Columbo to figure out why by himself without our help.  I have never seen the movie before so I have no clue what the authorities will have to say or in what manner the truth will be revealed and if the truth will only be known by the audience because the woman outwits the authorities or will we be kept guessing until the ig reveal. 

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Idylic, seemingly peaceful Tropical setting.  Could be the usual Jon Hall/Dorothy Lamour studio romp.  But, suddenly the calm is shattered by a gunshot.  And several more, from Bette "When One Shot Just Isn't Enough" Davis.  Perhaps, this isn't going to be your Father's typical Studio film, afte rall.  Perhaps more upleasantness will follow.  With the queen of unpleasantness already on the scene and stirring things up, a frothy little romp doesn't seem to be on the director's agenda.  No doubt, an even more shockikng opening to audiences of the day.  Going out for popcorn or sticking around?

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I was struck immediately by the tree (rubber tree?) that had been intricately carved out to function as its own sort of pitcher, pouring its treasure into the man-made vessel at its base (drip, drip, drip)--a stark instance of man's attempt to modify the natural to his own benefit.  The camera pans around to the men in hammocks, the plantation's answer to civilization in a sense.  What comes next--the shots, Davis's detachment from her action, then the tumult of the men leaving their beds and vocalizing their interpretations of the events is incredibly effective, not to mention the use of the moon and shadows. The peaceful scene, the jungle tamed, is instantly moved into chaos with the murder. 

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My first thought on watching this clip, after seeing the first two this week, was: music.  "M" grabbed you right from the start, with the lack of music being one of the most notable things, and then this started off with that wonderful, languorous music. Then the gun sounds, and the music is cut off suddenly, and, as a pilot friend says, "the poop hits the prop."

 

The contrast between the opening moments - the sleeping workers, the oppressiveness of the heat that you can almost feel, even the one worker swatting at a mosquito - and the gunshot (and what follows) is huge, and it really pulls you in from the start.  The total contrast between Bette Davis - cool, not a hint of sweat, wearing a beautiful dress that must be sweltering in that heat - and everyone else is also emphasized. She's like a totally different species among them, and she knows it, and seems oblivious to the fact that everyone just saw her kill her husband. Stunning.

 

Well, this was hard to watch because I have never been a fan of Bette Davis.

This could be the one that grabs you and convinces you just how great she is.  And I think even if you don't like Bette Davis - or maybe because you don't like her! - you'll think this is the perfect movie for her. 

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This is a great hook intro to a film! It draws you in, setting up that it is night time, a party or some people are just enjoying them selves with music, talking and trying to get to sleep after a long day. The Camera just pans around everyone until we get to the house.  Shots are fired. A man stumbles out while a women walks out with a gun using all 6 bullets killing this man. Why? No one knows but her. The music was low and a sense of dread fills the air. I thought before she shot the man she had a white dress on but as the moon covered the sky and went into darkness and the light of the moon filled the sky with light her dress was now black.  The workers just looking in shock of what just happened. The women asking one of them to come in to start the cover up.  Good way to start a film!

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I have always loved this noir and this opening. Unlike most noirs, at 90 seconds in we have the murder, complete with all the usual accoutrements that come later . . . we have the body, know the identity of the victim, see the murder committed, see the murder weapon, and have a fabulous femme fatale with the smoking gun in her hand . . . and witnesses! 

 

There is wonderful cinematography in the portrayal of the moon early on. Even though we don't know motive at this stage we see the clouds hiding the moon much like Davis's face hides deep emotion as to why. Wyer cleverly uses the moon almost as if it is a character player that adds another level of suspense and intrigue to this film. It creates light and shadow in the same way as the street lights and alley shadows of urban noir. 

 

A terrific film and it has always remained in the top 10 of my favourite noir of all time. 

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This was not hard for me to watch at all.   Gun shots go off in my neighborhood, too.  I don't like it, but in the movies... I'm safe.

 

I actually smiled (uh oh) seeing Bette Davis empty her gun... must have been into the dirt because the body was so un marked.  I liked it when the movies weren't so graphic (bloody shredded bodies like now).  I know it's the movies so I'm okay with it.

So Who was it? Her husband?  Why did he deserve to be shot? or did he?  Is Bette just nuts or is it because of owning a plantation that old white supremacy thing lets her get away with murder?  I look forward to seeing this movie.

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This was not hard for me to watch at all.   Gun shots go off in my neighborhood, too.  I don't like it, but in the movies... I'm safe.

 

I actually smiled (uh oh) seeing Bette Davis empty her gun... must have been into the dirt because the body was so un marked.  I liked it when the movies weren't so graphic (bloody shredded bodies like now).  I know it's the movies so I'm okay with it.

So Who was it? Her husband?  Why did he deserve to be shot? or did he?  Is Bette just nuts or is it because of owning a plantation that old white supremacy thing lets her get away with murder?  I look forward to seeing this movie.

Very interesting commentary on violence. 

That is precisely one of the effects of Film Noir (and any sort of representation of violence on Hollywood, for that matter): as spectators we become numb to representations of violence, and we feel safe, just as LeslieArtist feels in their post. Film Noir and Hollywood make us watch these movies and clips and enjoy them, because we are safe, that cannot happen to us. 

 

And then again, representations of violence in Film Noir don't even need to be graphic. We see the gun shooting, Bette Davis shooting, but we don't see any blood, we just see an image of the body on the floor, from above. 

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Bette Davis! This movie jumps right into the story, there are only a few moments to set the scene, that of a rubber plantation under a full moon.  The quietness as men (who will soon become witnesses) try to fall asleep is quickly shattered by surprising repetitive gun shots.  Is it an accident as Davis's character claims or murder?  She did shoot the dead man two or three more times after he had fallen down the stairs to make sure.

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The beginning of this film seems like an amazing pre-cursor to the traditional film noir film. The bleak mood, the quiet calm that seems too good to be true, the shattered silence- and of course, the beautiful femme fatale.One of the big things that stood out though was that there is a backstory the audience will be privy to later in the film- we've entered, as is often the case with noir, somewhere in the middle - or even near the end of the narrative and will discover what led to this murder later, when it will have the biggest emotional impact. The chronological style of traditional films is out of fashion when it comes to noir film, and it seems like this example (though I have not seen the film in its entirety) may have been an early representation of this. 

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Time is languid as seen by the dripping sap and workers relaxing in their quarters but this calm is broken by the sound of an unsuspected shot! A Great opening before the shot we suspect nothing and the shot itself is not a loud one and could be thunder until we see the victim stager out and fall then the shooter firing almost unthinkingly She is weirdly calm as she gives instructions to her servants that there has been an “accident”. We are left with many questions, How is this an accident? What happened before she shot him? Who is he and who is she? What do the servants think is going on and how much do they really know??

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One of my favorite Bette Davis films. The opening scene shows all is right with the world-full moon, cup over flowing with rubber-symbol of wealth?, men playing music and games or sleeping lazily in hammocks after a hard day's work-what could be better. All this is shattered by the gunshots-all six of them. Bette's calm exterior then the cloud over the moon shadows her face-what is she hiding? At the end of the scene as she instructs the workers to call the police and her husband notice that the hand that held the gun is still open from when she dropped it-all is not calm within.

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