Dr. Rich Edwards

June 12 TCM Film Noir Discussions for #NoirSummer for all 14 Films

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I did my work for "The Heist" module this morning; then I spent the next six hours dissecting films.  It was delicious. Tomorrow I'm going to re-read The Maltese Falcon  (it's been a few years since I last read it) and then watch the film with my newly educated eye. Now, back to the television.   

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Currently watching Johnny Angel.

 

Initial thoughts:

 

Hoagy Carmichael's appearance and his jazzy voice always makes a film so much better.

I like the use of shadows in motion.

The zooming in on Paulette lounging in her sitting room.

The crane shots

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Yeah I was more interested in last week's films than this weeks. I have Ministry of Fear and Gun Crazy coming from the library. May end up watching Maltese Falcon anyway.

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Yeah I was more interested in last week's films than this weeks. I have Ministry of Fear and Gun Crazy coming from the library. May end up watching Maltese Falcon anyway.

 

I say the same thing each time the Maltese Falcon is on TCM.   Most of the time I end up watching it anyway.   

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Saw Detour just now. Wow, talk about inexorable doom! Very tragic story.

Was able to watch Detour, The Hitchhiker, and 3/4 of Kansas City Confidential.  Really like seeing these movies after reading all the comments!

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Is George Raft trying to do a Bogey impersonation in Johnny Angel?  Was amused to see Hoagy Carmichael playing a cab driver

 

During the 30s Raft was a major star at Warner Brothers while Bogey was a supporting player who from time to time was the lead actor.  

 

That was until Raft passed up roles Bogey took like High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon.    Our gain and his loss.    Raft didn't have half the charisma as Bogey.      The two did star in one film,  Invisible Stripes.   They didn't get along because Raft didn't like the fact Bogey was always trying to look taller than him.    There is a scene were the two get out of a shower.   Of course we see them only from the midsection up.   Bogey wore lifts for that scene!     

 

I doubt that Raft was tying to do a Bogey impersonation.   I wish he tried.  Maybe he would have been less wooden.  

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Anybody know where the link is to Eddie Muller's Low Company High Style?

Go to summerofdarkness.tcm.com at the top of the screen tap Learn About Noir and scroll down. You'll see the article.

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This was my first time to see Gun Crazy. A few years ago I read Pictures at a Revolution (2009) by Mark Harris. It was about the new Hollywood and discussed how the five films nominated for academy awards in 1967 represented this shift. One of those revolutionary films was Bonnie and Clyde. As I was watching GC tonight, there were many elements that reminded me of B and C, and it struck me how ahead of its time it was in 1950. I didn't read today's viewing guide until after watching the movies today, and so just saw that Dr. Edwards discussed this comparison in his preview of GC. As Muller discusses about so many of these films, we sympathize with these characters, in spite of their being so depraved. I was terrified when they woke up in that swamp, terrified for them. A very powerful film.

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There are some wonderful and insightful analyses so far in these forums.  I come to this topic of film noir as "green".  I have on the other hand been an aficionado of film since early adulthood.  I had dreams of leaving the South where there are no major schools for filmmaking in pursuit for a career in film.  I did go into film through photography but remained in the South.  I am not a huge fan of "who-done-it" storytelling in film but I love it in literature.  It is not surprising that some of these films are taken from the pages of mystery/crime novels rich with quick witted dialogue, red-herrings and suspects galore.  I come to this genre, style or movement of film noir through the eyes of a photographer and these films do not disappoint visually.  The German expressionistic style is such a wonderful creative vehicle to deliver these films as a cultural mirror displaying in all its grittiness the moral ambiguities and personal demons with which we all must struggle.

I see these films entertaining a distressed and paranoid generation of movie-goers in the aftermath of a vicious war where realities were often distorted through film.  These ground breaking directors were steering a course through regulations and codes that determined what ideas could be directed at the viewer, they knew exactly where the line was and how to cross it gingerly.  Films were a powerful tool in mass media and remain so even today.  I look forward to delving deeper into these films from a cultural aspect especially as we inch closer to the turn of the decade and into the notorious Hollywood black listing and covert screenwriting!  This brings me to my discussion question.  Why do you think it took French critics with outsider eyes to notice that the cultural disposition of America was changing and towards a darker version of herself and was America in fact changing?  Also, do you believe that this entertainment code breaking led to the eventual blacklisting of writers and directors because it was such a powerful tool of suggestion especially when you are reaching millions of viewers (compare with the media today)?

Cheers!

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A splendid week of reading and viewing! A couple of thoughts:

 

The first comes from our video lecture, filmed in that beautiful theatre. Dr. Edwards discussed how the viewing of these films was meant to be a shared experience. For several years, Robert Osborne held a classic film festival at the University of Georgia in Athens. (His TCM intros at that time were filmed at Turner in Atlanta.) He spoke again and again of the idea of a shared viewing experience. Being at that festival allowed me to take part in that, and it is truly a completely different experience from watching these movies alone. You can hear and feel people’s reactions. The laughter and gasps add so much to the films. I will never forget the audience breaking into applause when Bette told her guests to fasten their seat belts. It was glorious. Having this wonderful course and these discussion boards is the next best thing to being in the theatre with each other. While I am watching, I love knowing that thousands of others are watching them with me, many at the same time. It is exhilarating. I also love being able to then go to this message board and read so many interesting reactions and ideas.

 

Another thought today (a very lovely one) was how much this course has enriched the films I’ve already seen. While I am thoroughly enjoying watching many of these films for the first time, I find it even more rewarding to rewatch some of my old favorites after reading and discussing them throughout the week. I did not think it was possible to see new things in Mildred Pierce, as I have seen it so many times, but today it felt almost as if I had never seen it before. I noticed so many things – the shadows, the camera angles, the diagonals, the narration and flashback technique, the feeling of despair and disillusionment – that I had not fully appreciated before. Thanks to this course, I will never watch Noir in the same way again, and I can look forward to watching and rewatching these films and seeing new things every time. That is a great gift!

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I don't know how I didn't watched more King Brothers films apart from Dillinger. Each of these films are very well done. I really liked Tomorrow is Another Day even though the ending is not your typical film noir; although I kind of liked the happy ending. Now in Gun Crazy, that was one FEMME FATALE. Peggy Cummins's character was the embodiment of pure evil. I had no sympathy for her at all. Her husband yes, but this chick can instill fear in the devil himself.

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[sorry this is long.]

Case #1: The Glass Key (1942)

 

IntroductionThe Glass Key (an adaptation of a Dashiell Hammett's novel) would be the second feature film for famous on-screen early noir pair Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd. Personal Note: I prefer their first, This Gun for Hire, made in 1941 but this is not in the viewing schedule I’m afraid. Back to “Glass.” The film features the casual mingling between the criminal underworld, the wealthy, the political arena, and the media, which more often than not work in tandem.

 

The basic rundown would sound something like this: two street criminals rise through the ranks, one becoming a boss and the other his second-in-command – Paul Madvig and Ed Beaumont, respectively. However, a wedge is driven between the two childhood friends, caused by the arrival of Janet Henry, a politician’s daughter, and the murder of Janet’s brother, Taylor, a gambling addict who had also been seeing Paul’s sister against her brother’s approval. While Ed and Janet unwittingly fall for one another, backroom dealings between the criminal underbelly, state legal officials, and local newspapers occur as each group vies for control over the city and mental and physical domination over one another.

 

First, I would love to mention my favorite parts of the film: The reveal of Ladd as the slow turn-around close-up, the initial incident with the spit and the shoe, the meeting of eyes between Ed and Janet, and the following sizing up as they both pretend not to be looking. I really liked the scenes conveying the weaknesses of the District Attorney (that just one look from Ed can provoke) and the escalation of the bar fight (i.e. verbal fighting to slugging to deadly threatening with makeshift stabbing mechanism, a broken bottle). Furthermore, I love the luminescent lighting of Janet and her father as they leave Taylor’s funeral, black clothes on a rainy day with shining white faces. Next, the torture scene was brutal and brilliantly done as they knock Ed until he’s unconscious and awaken him with a bathtub of dirty water in one of the dingiest apartment I’ve ever seen.

 

Note: This film’s character actors . . . whoa. Brian Donlevy is well-known supporting character actor as well as early use of Dane Clark. Joseph Calleia as the slimy Nick Varna (whose main pleasure seemed to be in outsmarting people rather than beating them) and Donald MacBride as the painfully weak District Attorney were great. Lastly, William Bendix just stole the show sometimes. He’s this visceral character, a sweaty ball of fury whose hair seems to dictate his state of mind, working as the sadistic enforcer for Varna. He achieves almost sexual gratification out of beating a man to death, and Ed is his prime target, the one who made it through and got away. He calls him baby and constantly touches him, it’s an unusual tension that adds to his character.

 

More on the performances, Lake wasn’t in the film that much (at least it felt that way) but she draws you in with her cool detachment and assured smirk. However, Ladd as Ed, the definite protagonist, acts mostly with his eyes. (Note: Ladd and Lake were perfect sized for one another, her 4’11” meeting his 5’6”).They burn with an icy fire (if that makes sense) and his cool demeanor, appearing fearless in most scenes, makes for a great contrast as Madvig’s second-in-command versus Varna’s, that being Bendix’s Jeff. Like Bogart, Ladd’s height was of no consequence, his toughness and expressive eyes gave him a “taller” personality than their taller co-stars.

 

Clear noir aspects: a murder, criminal elements, amoral protagonist, distrust of women (i.e. Janet Henry, Opal Madvig, Eloise Matthews in particular), high contrast lighting, pairing of actors multiple times (i.e. Ladd and Lake, Bogart and Bacall, Stanwyck and MacMurray), and scenes of violence mostly occurring at night.

 

The main theme I would take from this is the conflict between action with fists versus the mind. On one side, boss Paul and enforcer Jeff both punch first and ask questions later while Varna, the D.A., and even Ralph Henry prefer to outsmart people and will do almost anything in their self-interest that seems smart. Ed is in the middle, using his brains against Jeff but his fists (or feet or his whole body, that skylight crash . . . wow) when necessary. Daily Dosage #6 has more on this, detailing how the story is more than a who-done-it but how the amoral protagonist acts in response, using his wits and will (and physical means when needed), giving him a greater depth than a cut-out cop or detective or a typical heavy.

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[sorry this is long.]

Case #1: The Glass Key (1942)

 

..... that skylight crash . . . wow....) 

Excellent analysis! And yes, that skylight crash was spectacularly shot.

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I'm currently watching Detour and just noticed during the hitchhiking montage (at the14 minute mark) that the first 3 trucks Al rides with (before climbing in with Haskell) are all right-side-drive.   Was that a common feature of trucks in the 40's?  I always think of it as a UK thing...

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Busy day today so I've got to go back and see The Gangster and Tommorow Is Another Day (really excited for that), but from the fun that I did get to watch I'd say it was another great day of noir. That opening run that included Ministry of Fear and Murder My Sweet was flawless, and I'm continuing the fun currently with the supremely evil Tyrone Power in Nightmare Alley.

Nightmare Alley has got to be one of the most emotionally degrading and powerful noir statements to come out of the big budget studios, and props to Power for pulling out a perfect performance (I couldn't resist the alliteration). Super excited to round out the evening with Night Moves, a movie that I enjoy but am curious to revisit under a more focused lens.

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LAURA

 

'I'm not kind. I'm vicious, it's part of my charm'.

 

Just a couple of observations for this phenomenal film.

 

Joseph LaShelle's cinematography is beautiful. There are a couple of scenes which are exceptionally lit, most striking in the scene where Laura is interrogated. McPherson switches the hard light on her face, causing her face to reflect and light up the screen. 

What I also loved was the constant movement of the camera, gently following the action and the characters, positioning them in meaningful ways vs. each other or relevant objects (the painting, the clock, etc.) The ballet-like camera movement was a perfect companion to ....

 

The music. Amazing and effective score, with the strikingly beautiful Laura's theme used to perfection as a narrative device by ways of different arrangements at poignant moments in the film. I'm not sure how many films before this succeeded so well in using a theme in both diegetic and non-diegetic fashion.

 

Fabulous cast and characterization.

 

- You can't avoid mentioning Clifton Webb first as the narcissistic and eccentric Waldo Lydecker. His obsession with Laura is beyond creepy, but there's also something tragic in his character, noticed by himself too: "When a man has everything in the world that he wants, except what he wants most, he loses his self-respect". 

Also nice to consider is how the film opens with him as the, probably unreliable, narrator. 

 

- Dana Andrews as detective McPherson, also excellent. Andrews plays the hard-boiled detective pretty darn well, somewhat losing sight of his objective by his unprofessional developing obsession with Laura. I like how Preminger used the baseball puzzle to ground him as a regular common guy, counterpointing him with the snobbish Lydecker. 

 

- Gene Tierney as Laura. She is the object of desire for all the men, the object of admiration for her maid Bessie (who's obsession for her might also be considered as extremely intense), and the object of jealousy for Ann (an excellent Judith Anderson). What I found really interesting is how Preminger plays with the audience's perception of Laura. By immediately positioning her as the victim of murder, the audience is lured into feeling sympathy for her. But maybe she's not much better than Lydecker. I mean who puts a portrait of themselves at the center of their apartment? Also notice the large number of mirrors and reflective surfaces in her apartment. Laura was extremely interested in how she looked, also exemplified by her wearing a different - and obviously expensive - set of clothes every time she makes an appearance. 

 

 

 

Final thought (SPOILER)

 

We see McPherson falling asleep in Laura's apartment, only to be woken up seconds later by Laura making her shock comeback. What if that wasn't true, he doesn't wake up, and the second half of the film is basically McPherson's Freudian dream of his desire for Laura becoming reality?

 

Impossible? Think back of Lydecker's earlier comment:

 

'You better watch out McPherson, or you'll end up in a psychiatric ward. I don't think they ever had a patient who fell in love with a corpse'.

 

 

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I enjoyed all the films tonight, but my favorite was Nightmare Alley. During his career, he was a very underrated actor. Tyrone acted in a wide variety of films musicals, dramas, comedies, westerns, and swashbucklers. Nightmare Alley was a complete change of pace. In a sleazy small time carnival setting, he crookedly worked his way up to the big time. As Stan Carlisle, he didn`t care who he used or hurt. Now that Stan was working in nightclubs, he met someone who was as devious as himself. Lilith Ritter was a psychologist who entered into a get rich scheme with Stan.Stan spurned Litith`s love interest, and when the scam went bad she took most of the money. Stan was left with the only decent thing that he had done in his life. Molly,the young woman he first met in the carnival, became his wife. Molly worked with Stan in his nightclub act. When everything fell apart, he sent her back to the carnival with the majority of his money. Stan became homeless, and he finally ended back at the carnival working as a geek. Molly heard Stan`s screaming after performing one night as the geek. She recognizes him, and they are reunited. I liked Tyrone`s performance in the film. He went against type by playing a cad who uses and hurts people,uses devious methods to get the goods on someone, and is determined to get rich by whatever crooked way he can.

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