Dr. Rich Edwards

June 5 TCM Film Noir Discussions for #NoirSummer for All 13 Films

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Johnny Eager:

The scene in which Taylor's character Eager engages in a gunfight with Halligan uses interesting angles and cinematography. I enjoyed how the camera moved as Halligan kept on backing away and firing at Eager.

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The thought that Al was an unreliable narrator didn't occur to me, for some reason, but that could be another valid interpretation. That's the fun of films of this sort: Everyone who watches them can come away with something different. And you may even see it a different way the second time you see it than you did the first.

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Watching The Letter this morning, I'm reminded of seeing part of a William Wyler roast on TV many years ago.  Bette then told Wyler that she still hated the ending.  Does anyone know what she meant by that?

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Spoilers for Detour and Journey Into Fear

The thought that Al was an unreliable narrator didn't occur to me, for some reason, but that could be another valid interpretation. That's the fun of films of this sort: Everyone who watches them can come away with something different. And you may even see it a different way the second time you see it than you did the first.

Al as an unreliable narrator is an old idea for Detour.  Roger Ebert mentioned it in his Great Movies review of Detour and he was quoting the critic Andrew Britton argues a more intriguing theory in Ian Cameron's Book of Film Noir.  Detour is such a strange movie and I think the theories are why it has staying power.  It's seriously worth everyone's time when it comes on TCM.  Weirdly, I thought the same thing might be going on Journey Into Fear when I was watching it this weekend.  Joseph Cotton seemed to be trying to hard to convince his wife that nothing that had happened was his fault.  He just had to get that drink.  He had no choice to get on that boat.  Of course he wasn't having an affair with that beautiful woman.  It only looked like he was in league with the bad guys.  I was hoping it was all a sham or a cover up.  Perhaps if it had been it would have been a movie that was better remembered.  Even so, I enjoyed it.  

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Watching The Letter this morning, I'm reminded of seeing part of a William Wyler roast on TV many years ago.  Bette then told Wyler that she still hated the ending.  Does anyone know what she meant by that?

 

The book The Letter is based as well as the 1929 movie version didn't have Leslie being punished for her crimes (as in killed).   The ending in the Davis version was imposed by the censors due to the Production Code.     What is ironic is that the Davis version ending is more in line with noir.   i.e. In the noir universe one can't buy their way out of trouble. 

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If you live in or near Austin, Texas, here are the movies Austin Public Library owns that are on the watch list for the course (we own a lot of them, but not all):

 

https://austin.bibliocommons.com/list/share/128108121_austinpladultlibrarians/432136051_summer_of_darkness_part_1

 

https://austin.bibliocommons.com/list/share/128108121_austinpladultlibrarians/432157717_summer_of_darkness_part_2

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If you live in or near Austin, Texas, here are the movies Austin Public Library owns that are on the watch list for the course (we own a lot of them, but not all):

https://austin.bibliocommons.com/list/share/128108121_austinpladultlibrarians/432136051_summer_of_darkness_part_1

https://austin.bibliocommons.com/list/share/128108121_austinpladultlibrarians/432157717_summer_of_darkness_part_2

P.S. If you're a card holder, you can put these movies on hold right from these lists.

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June 5 TCM film Noir Discussions for all 13 films.

 

1. M-It looks like film noir because it’s genesis is German expressionism.  What it is is a political morality play/crime procedural which is exceptionally timely and painstakingly well done. How the killer is apprehended using modern forensic and deductive practice is fascinating.  Peter Lorre is fearless in his defense monlogue.  It looked like he actually hurt himself falling on a piece of wood fleeing from the mob in the kangaroo court, and he just kept going!  Golden.

The film is state of the art for its time, and holds up today.  Beautifully photographed, with innovation, vision and passion.  A true groundbreaker, trailblazer. 

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June 5 TCM film Noir Discussions for all 13 films

 

2. La Bête Humane- Desperate, unhappy people.  Explores the dark side of nature. Where can you get a protagonist/antagonist all rolled into one.  One-stop-shopping!  Sort of a lose-lose ending.  I am curious to see how they wrapped up the American version (“Human Desire.”) I know Simone Simon’s American work before her “Cat People” days as a bubbly blonde 20th Century Fox ingénue  in films like 1938’s “Josette.”  So Miss Simon as a brunette presented quite a different energy.  I still don’t think she deserved what she got.  

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June 5 TCM film Noir Discussions for all 13 films

 

3. The Letter-A suspenseful, beautifully done “A” picture with lots of noir elements: a true femme fatale, some brilliant touches with light and dark, and the scene where Davis brings Sondergard the letter… Talk about a macabre mise en scène!  When Sondergard appears behind the beaded curtain I was like a child in a movie theatre hiding behind a seat!  Scary! -the whole set, the lighting, the tinkling of the windchimes, so dark, so fabulous. Great Movie.

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June 5 TCM film Noir Discussions for all 13 films

 

4. Stranger on the Third Floor-Probably my least favorite.  There were some good film noir elements, like the creepy dream sequences and some interesting camera and focus manipulations, but Ingster seemed to be afraid to go the distance, or maybe caved under studio pressure, so all of these hokey “comic relief” elements were added: juror falling asleep at a murder trial, judge distracted, silly romantic relief, turned it into something like “Spooks Run Wild” in spots.  Distracting.  If Peter Lorre weren’t in it, it could’ve been lost forever in the “programmer” heap.  Definitely looks like RKO’s B-Unit.  Good to see it from an historical evolutionary standpoint, though.

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SPOILERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

The funny thing about Detour, is I kinda don't believe his story in the beginning and my the end, I don't believe I word he says. As bad as Vera was, I think he strangled her

 

Spoilers for Detour and Journey Into Fear

Al as an unreliable narrator is an old idea for Detour.  Roger Ebert mentioned it in his Great Movies review of Detour and he was quoting the critic Andrew Britton argues a more intriguing theory in Ian Cameron's Book of Film Noir.  Detour is such a strange movie and I think the theories are why it has staying power.  It's seriously worth everyone's time when it comes on TCM.  Weirdly, I thought the same thing might be going on Journey Into Fear when I was watching it this weekend.  Joseph Cotton seemed to be trying to hard to convince his wife that nothing that had happened was his fault.  He just had to get that drink.  He had no choice to get on that boat.  Of course he wasn't having an affair with that beautiful woman.  It only looked like he was in league with the bad guys.  I was hoping it was all a sham or a cover up.  Perhaps if it had been it would have been a movie that was better remembered.  Even so, I enjoyed it.  

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5. The Maltese Falcon-considered the film noir “flagship.” This film is a perfect blend of all those things that make us love the movies: a great story, great actors, and the right combination of fun and fear to not make us once shift in our seats.

 

I do however, agree with zcamenker about the casting of the femme fatale.  If this were done a few years later, after the femme fatale dye was already cast, and the flashy way a femme fatale was cast and costumed was firmly established, I doubt very much if Mary Astor or Gladys George would’ve been cast.  Mary Astor was costumed in such a matronly way; she may have been femme, but not fatale!  More glamour please. Get me Joan Bennett!  Gladys George had nothing about her that would have drawn Sam so helplessly to her so that he would betray his partner for a roll in the hay with her.  Call Claire Trevor’s agent!

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6. High Sierra-This one has a  “chien fatale,” an adorable dog named Pard who is apparently bad luck. This pairs Bogart with Ida Lupino, then about 23 years old. Joan Leslie also plays a love interest who rejects him.  She was about 16 years old and Bogart’s character asked her to marry him.  The natural locale of the Sierras lent a nice backdrop.  The film was enjoyable, a shoot ‘em up at the end.  An “A” quality cops and robbers, nothing special to say about it.  Not much chemistry between Bogart and Lupino.  I can’t find too much standard noir in it: the lead is doomed, not because of a woman, or a dog, but because he had an incompetent robbery crew.  Those more noir-knowledgeable than I will be able to pull noir elements out of this one.

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June 5 TCM film Noir Discussions for all 13 films

 

7. Journey into Fear-This is a tight little thriller.  Norman Foster, an Orson Welles protégé, is listed as director, but I can’t imagine Welles himself didn’t have a large hand in it.  Welles has only a small part, beginning and end of the film, so I don’t doubt he had some time to throw some of his brilliance into the thing. It has those Welles “touches.” The titles have a very similar, if not the same font as “Citizen Kane.”  The opening, before the credits roll, sets a creepy tone: a seedy hotel room, dimly lit, inhabited by a creepy fellow definitely capable of murdering anyone by any means at his disposal.  The diegetic music comes from a wind-up victrola playing this warbly French tune sung by an other-worldly someone who is better left off camera.  The record begins to skip, making everything even creepier. The lighting is one of the many things that stands out in such a positive Wellesian way: Painstaking placement of key lights (to highlight the face) and rim lights (to give edge light to a person’s back or side so they don’t blend into the background), and even Rembrandt lighting (a little triangle of light on the cheek) in scenes that would’ve been adequate without it.  But why settle for adequate when you can have beautiful?  A lot of care went into these setups, and time -- shafts of light pouring from the slats atop the stateroom doors, and lots of super-noir lighting in the nooks and crannies of the ship. Plus, the ensemble cast led by Joseph Cotton, equally at home playing good or bad guys, (that’s why he’s so well-cast, you don’t know which way he’ll go), the elegant Ruth Warrick, Everett Sloane, Agnes Moorehead—everyone worked together so beautifully. The feel is as if Hitchcock filmed an Agatha Christie drawing room mystery on a boat.  And the dialogue: complicated, pithy and expertly handled by every member of the cast. The camera: interesting angles and of course the camera was most likely placed low in a ditch occasionally (as it was in Kane) shooting upward to make the characters seem larger than life.  Add to that a terrific end with a gunfight on a hotel ledge in the pouring rain.  These filmmakers were not afraid of a challenge.  Then, factor in the wartime paranoia, lots of things going on behind lots of stateroom doors, and throw in an exotic Turkish nightclub where Hans Conreid is a magician and Dolores Del Rio is dancing around in a pussycat leotard, and… Need I say more? A favorite.  My second favorite of this week’s “13”.

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June 5 TCM film Noir Discussions for all 13 films

 

8. Johnny Eager—This has dark elements in it, and it’s coming up on the outside of noir, but definitely solidly in the race.  Not a front-runner for noir but has a respectable finish.  It’s basically a gangster story with a big budget.  Full-tilt MGM treatment: Lavish sets, big name stars (Robert Taylor, Lana Turner, Van Heflin).  The darkness is in Robert Taylor’s character.  He has disregard for everyone, especially women.  The first time we see Miss Turner, we know she will contribute greatly to our bad guy’s demise.  That’s the noir.  Plus, I may be reaching here, but in the usual noir scenario, the gumshoe has questionable scruples but is a basically good guy, and the femme fatale goes for the gusto to get what she needs from the poor sap.  She may have some remorse when all is said and done. Maybe.  In “Johnny Eager,” both leads have only one half of these respective personalities.  Johnny is all-bad, so we have the Van Heflin character to represent his good side and try to keep him on the right path.  Lana Turner is the other way around.  She is basically good, so she needs her friend to push her to take a walk on the wild side. Once the connection is made, and Lana gets a taste, she’s hooked, and the friend is no longer needed.  We don’t see the friend again.  Robert Taylor needs more help, however, so Van Heflin sticks around for the entire movie.  There’s one true noir visual moment I recall.  It takes place on a street near an unseen elevated subway train.  We hear the train pass, and a quick flash of light is seen on the wall behind Taylor.  It’s quick, but a nice touch.  

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So far i have viewed M, The Letter, Born to Kill, Stranger on the Third Floor.  I have 4 more films left (i am not going to view the films i have already viewed before this which were only like 3 of them) 

 

I gave my review of M on an early post. 

 

The Letter was a good movie, kind of slow. it was interesting but around midway of the film I kind of guessed the plot and what would happen to Davis.

 

Born to Kill it started out kind of good, i just did not really enjoy it. I fast forward the last 20 min and I was right of what was going on plot wise.

 

Stranger on the Third floor I thought was a really good film because most of the plot takes place in the main character's mind. We all do this as people from time to time. The lighting was really inventive during the story. The running time was fast. Peter Lorrie played a good part as a killer who had a lot of mystery to him.

 

I have 4 more films left.

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So refreshing to see that Irene's apartment building in DARK PASSAGE has been preserved in all its architectural glory. Thanks for sharing! Here in LA so many locations are gone forever but a few are still around - the Alto Nido apartment where Joe Gillis resided at the start of SUNSET BLVD, and of course the much-seen Bradbury Building downtown (I THE JURY, Losey's M, DOA, CHINATOWN, BLADE RUNNER.) Cheers for historical preservation!

Add Marlowe (1969) to the Bradbury list. ;-)

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SPOILER ALERT, I ASSUME YOU HAVE SEEN THE MOVIE BY NOW

 

So I like where you guys are going here, and on one level Detour works as the ultimate string of bad luck.  There is definitely a Twilight Zone vibe going on.

 

But on another level, I watch Detour with Al as an unreliable narrator.  Remember the whole thing is told as a flashback while he sits in the diner.  So imagine you are sitting in the diner hearing this story.  What is your reaction?  For me it is, "yeah, right."  The guy just happened to hit his head on a rock when you opened the car door.  And the phone cord just happened to be wrapped around her neck when you pulled on it from behind a closed door.

 

I think the whole tale is Al trying to concoct a story for the cops.  So he is trying it out on us, and we ain't buying it.  And Al knows it, because he can't make himself believe it either.

That's true, it may all be a concoction and Anne Savage could have been a sweetie. ;-)

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JOHNNY EAGER

 

(SPOILERS!)

 

One of my first Film Noir experiences a few years back, and upon re-watching it I still loved it. 

 

- The ambiguous morality of nearly all characters involved

Johnny's parole officer being 'caught' at the dog races. The look of guilt on his face is priceless.

Lisbeth's (Lana Turner) dad;  the inscrutable judge at first, but with a vicious streak ('pick up the money') and ultimately ready to be compromised in order to protect his daughter.

Lisbeth's boyfriend, willing to pay Johnny a heap load of money to get Lana out of the country: Johnny's reaction 'What's his angle, what's his angle?' is priceless.

And Lisbeth herself: Obviously her attraction to criminal Johnny ('Of course I don't want you to take me home') but probably the best moment is just after she shoots Johnny's assailant. The camera stays on her face. Is it shock and horror only? Or is there a hint of exhilaration as well? 

 

I also really liked how the change from Johnny the cab driver to Johnny the crime boss was visualized. It's always by ways of going through doors. Johnny starts by taking off his cab driver hat in the one room, then moving into the next room to change his tie, and then the next room to put on his expensive jacket. He's literally moving from one milieu to the other. 

 

And the eroticism.

When Johnny meets Lisbeth in the night club. She looks absolutely spectacular and makes clear from the first moment that she wants him, and wants him now, not just because he's attractive but also because of the danger that surrounds him. So much so, that it momentarily even unsettles the ever cool Johnny. 

 

But most of all I loved the ambiguity of Jeff, Johnny's inebriated confident. I'm pretty sure Jeff is in love with Johnny. There are plenty hints in the dialogue ('come to the lake and mountains with me Johnny'), but also notice the regular moments where Jeff reaches out to touch Johnny, to tug at this suit, or to nearly put an arm around him when they are together in the car. Also his confession to Johnny that he was this close to handing him over to the authorities, after which for him there'd be nothing left 'but blow his brains out'.

And as far as I can tell in all scenes where Johnny and Jeff are together, Jeff's face is lit in a high-key way and Johnny in low-key; the traditional way to light a romantic couple. Jeff is also the very last person to hold Johnny.....

Whatever you make of it, Van Heflin's Oscar winning performance was phenomenal.

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I just finished watching "Detour". What a hideous movie. First of all, it looks like it was made with a really low budget. It caught my attention when he basically let Sue walk all over him, I mean he's talking about them marrying very shortly and she turns around and informs him that, oh by the way, I'm going out to California to try to make it in show business and we'll get together in a couple of years or so. What?

 

As if this wasn't bad enough, he lets this other woman, Vera, proceed to wipe the floor with him. Is he serious? I had no respect for him. He was taking whatever he was being given and not doing anything.

 

It seemed quite a switch to me that a man was being abused in this manner rather than a woman, usually always the victim. I know that Jane Greer "abused" Robert Mitchum but she never seemed to emasculate him.

 

The tune, "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows" made it even more pathetic to me.

 

He was like a little puppy dog just following along and doing what he was told.

 

I don't think I've missed a thing never having seen this movie until now.

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SPOILERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

I felt similar when I watched Detour, but I watched it again months later. I also did not like Laura and Double Indemnity on first viewing. I usually watch the classics I dont like a second time. Of course Mr. Arkaddian is one no matter how hard I try I can't stand that movie. it may remain that way for you.

But for Detour now I see it as one of the best film noir classics and one of my favorites.

When I first watched it the print was horrible, I thought Al was the dumbest guy on film and he was making up the whole story. Now after several viewings I question if Al was as dumb as he is telling us to be. Maybe he is, Maybe he's not but that is the appeal of the movie. But even after repeated viewings, I still say Al strangled Vera on purpose.

On a side note

Also since TCM restored Woman on the Run, maybe they will restore Detour since its regarded as a noir classic??

I just finished watching "Detour". What a hideous movie. First of all, it looks like it was made with a really low budget. It caught my attention when he basically let Sue walk all over him, I mean he's talking about them marrying very shortly and she turns around and informs him that, oh by the way, I'm going out to California to try to make it in show business and we'll get together in a couple of years or so. What?

As if this wasn't bad enough, he lets this other woman, Vera, proceed to wipe the floor with him. Is he serious? I had no respect for him. He was taking whatever he was being given and not doing anything.

It seemed quite a switch to me that a man was being abused in this manner rather than a woman, usually always the victim. I know that Jane Greer "abused" Robert Mitchum but she never seemed to emasculate him.

The tune, "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows" made it even more pathetic to me.

He was like a little puppy dog just following along and doing what he was told.

I don't think I've missed a thing never having seen this movie until now.

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I find a lot of noir hard to follow. Of course I'm not focusing as much on stories. I'm so consumed with the look,the detectives,heavies and dames,with all the witty banter going back and forth more than the plot itself. My mind tends to wander on the production aspects like...

"That was a nice stunt there,I bet he got an extra $10 for that hard roll down the stairs"...or,"Wow,she really gave Mitchum a hard slap...wonder how many takes that was set up in?" ect ...Then afterwards,I go back through the film again,to pay attention to the whole point of the movie. Goldwynism #13.."I read part of it,all the way through."

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Ah, one of the fine pleasures of watching noir over and over  is that the convolutions eventually go away and nothing is ever crystal clear again. No seriously, I love the Falcon and part of that love is enjoying each and every moment and not caring a whole lot about the plot.

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