Dr. Rich Edwards

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

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This is the official topic thread for your thoughts on Daily Dose #10 from the film, The Killers. Let the discussion begin! The Daily Dose clip will be delivered Tuesday morning, June 16. 

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I haven't watched the excerpt yet. But The Killers! So good! The rare movie where I enjoy it and its remake to a nearly equal degree (I give a slight edge to the 50s version).

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I haven't watched the excerpt yet. But The Killers! So good! The rare movie where I enjoy it and its remake to a nearly equal degree (I give a slight edge to the 50s version).

 

Yes, both version are good.  Even Reagan does well in the remake.    But I still feel Ava has an IT factor in this film that can't be matched,  with the exception of Rita in Gilda.

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I haven't seen all of The Killers, just the excerpt, so my knowledge of the film's contents are pretty bare.  However, I have a question about the significance of Lancaster's physical absence during the scene.  Sure, we see Nick standing over a body lying down on a mattress, and we hear what should be the Swede's voice.  However, we never see Lancaster's face.  I bring this up in reference to one of the suggested topics of discussion for this clip.  Is this the first time we see this technique of the "protagonist" (not entirely sure if he is the protagonist, or just the main subject of the film, I think that's an important distinction) being introduced right off the bat as "faceless".  Usually in film, we see character introduction done such that we hear a name, and soon after we see a face that we can put to that name.  Here, we have only feelings about the Swede.  There are those of worry and sympathy that we get from Nick and George, as well as feelings of uncertainty as to the morality of the Swede that we can deduce from the fact that somebody wants him dead.  However, we are not given a human visage that can ground those feelings in reality and for the time being, we are left with no other option than to let our imagination run wild.  The director could have just as easily had Lancaster stand up during his chat with Nick, but he doesn't.  I feel that in some way, this must mean something.  Unfortunately, I'm not so learned in film that I actually know what it is, so I turn to you, the esteemed community, to help answer my query.

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I haven't seen all of The Killers, just the excerpt, so my knowledge of the film's contents are pretty bare.  However, I have a question about the significance of Lancaster's physical absence during the scene.  Sure, we see Nick standing over a body lying down on a mattress, and we hear what should be the Swede's voice.  However, we never see Lancaster's face.  I bring this up in reference to one of the suggested topics of discussion for this clip.  Is this the first time we see this technique of the "protagonist" (not entirely sure if he is the protagonist, or just the main subject of the film, I think that's an important distinction) being introduced right off the bat as "faceless".  Usually in film, we see character introduction done such that we hear a name, and soon after we see a face that we can put to that name.  Here, we have only feelings about the Swede.  There are those of worry and sympathy that we get from Nick and George, as well as feelings of uncertainty as to the morality of the Swede that we can deduce from the fact that somebody wants him dead.  However, we are not given a human visage that can ground those feelings in reality and for the time being, we are left with no other option than to let our imagination run wild.  The director could have just as easily had Lancaster stand up during his chat with Nick, but he doesn't.  I feel that in some way, this must mean something.  Unfortunately, I'm not so learned in film that I actually know what it is, so I turn to you, the esteemed community, to help answer my query.

What a great inquiry. For me, the Swede's facelessness signifies both his feeling of  helplessness and the mystery of what he did…once.

The Swede is overshadowed by the weight of his past. He has no say in his fate now that these men have caught up with him. And, we literally can't see him. Just as we can't see what has happened, what led to this. The Swede is cloaked in a dark mystery. 

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For me, the visual shift from realism to formalism happens as soon as The Swede's friend hits his property. We shift from an average neighbourhood, jumping over white picket fences viewed at eye level, to a high angle shot of almost gothic archways of ivy and architecture. This gives the sense of a large, looming threat. And then the round curves give way to the angular shadows and darkness in The Swede's room.

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-- What are some of the influences you see in this sequence from other cinemas (such as German expressionism) or other art forms? For example, consider this scene in relation to the work of Fritz Lang (who also worked at UFA).

 

What a nocturne. The lighting of course, the dark shadows, the flood of light from the lunch counter, as if it is an oasis from the night.

 

 

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In the diner we see realism, nicely shot along the counter, we see the people in the diner, it looks like any diner we have been in over the years.  The lighting is for the utilitarian aspect of being able to see what you are eating, and moving you through quickly, this is not a romantic spot to take a date.  When the “killers” leave the counterman unties the cook and Nick Adams then sends Nick to warm the Swede.

 

We see Nick running through the alley, jumping over white picket fences along the way.  The shot is angled down on him, much of the way, not unlike the shots in M as the crowd moves in on the killer.  As we get to the Swede’s room things are different.  You see the triangular shape of the lamp, then as Nick opens the door the triangular shadow of the lamp.  Nick talking upright holding the door open, telling the Swede killers are coming.  The Swede just lays there, his head in darkness, Nick talking excitedly, the Swede in a monotone.  No reaction, no concern that he is about to die, he’s tired of hiding and he had done something wrong once.

 

This is an important scene in that the victim is just going to accept what he feels he has coming.  The life is out of him, his position on the bed, his head in darkness, reminds one of a corpse.  He’s already dead, just forgotten to die, and that is about to be fixed. 

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Killing Burt Lancaster in the first ten minutes of a film may not be considered good form, but that is exactly what director Robert Siodmak does.

Siodmak knew good writing when he saw it, as did  John Huston with a writer like Dashiell Hammett in “The Maltese Falcon”. “The Killers” on screen is a beat for beat portrayal of Hemingway’s short story of the same name. Dialogue is spot on. The tension palpable. But where the literary version gives a sense of shifting sand and uncertainty, rather like a piece of music constantly changing key, the movie instills palpable, unambivalent fear. 

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I haven't seen all of The Killers, just the excerpt, so my knowledge of the film's contents are pretty bare.  However, I have a question about the significance of Lancaster's physical absence during the scene.  Sure, we see Nick standing over a body lying down on a mattress, and we hear what should be the Swede's voice.  However, we never see Lancaster's face.  I bring this up in reference to one of the suggested topics of discussion for this clip.  Is this the first time we see this technique of the "protagonist" (not entirely sure if he is the protagonist, or just the main subject of the film, I think that's an important distinction) being introduced right off the bat as "faceless".  Usually in film, we see character introduction done such that we hear a name, and soon after we see a face that we can put to that name.  Here, we have only feelings about the Swede.  There are those of worry and sympathy that we get from Nick and George, as well as feelings of uncertainty as to the morality of the Swede that we can deduce from the fact that somebody wants him dead.  However, we are not given a human visage that can ground those feelings in reality and for the time being, we are left with no other option than to let our imagination run wild.  The director could have just as easily had Lancaster stand up during his chat with Nick, but he doesn't.  I feel that in some way, this must mean something.  Unfortunately, I'm not so learned in film that I actually know what it is, so I turn to you, the esteemed community, to help answer my query.

I would think he is not the protagonist.  The insurance investigator is.  That's why he is faceless, he is already a corpse.

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The similarities to Fritz Lang's visual style are quite apparent in the light treatment and the suggestive audio "effects"; chiaroscuro which culminates in the Swede's room adding the veil of mystery, the unsettling music score which makes our hearts flutter in anticipation of something sinister to happen...

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Dark, dark, dark!  Very evocative of Nighthawks.  Tension from the very start.  The Swede only adds to it with his reaction.  Why is it so inevitable?  What did he do in the past?  Why not run and hide?  So many questions!

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In contrast to the brightly fluorescent-lit diner scene that Nick Adams rushes away from, we see Nick leaping frantically over the many back fences only to find the Swede just lying in the darkened room; shadows cover his face, his voice monochrome, almost emotionless. His movement is minimal. The Swede is a man waiting for the inevitable, a man waiting to die. All Nick could do is leave the room with his head held low. You can’t get any more Film Noir than that.

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YouTube also has a short film based on The Killers that was made in 1956 by Andrei Tarkovsky, Marika Beiku and Aleksandr Gordon while they were students at the State Institute of Cinematography in the Soviet Union. Includes the Nighthawiking scene and the scene in the Swede's room. Worth watching.

 

[...]

Edited by TCMModerator1
Removed link to full video
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I haven't seen The Killers yet, only film clips but so far what I'm taking away from this class is I'm over thinking every aspect. There's got to be a more relaxed way of watching film. I'm feeling more pressure than enjoyment on these Daily Doses fearful of not seeing what everybody else is seeing. So I've been watching/listening to the lectures over and over hoping to memorize every word I may be tested on in the quiz. This is the problem with old dogs learning new tricks. I'm still kicking myself for missing two questions on the quiz (insert cuss words) Lol.

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The influences are numerous in The Killers.The lighting  is very similar between Lang's work like M. The transition between the diner and the bedroom has been influenced from a few other films as well. The scene in the bedroom has formalism from the movements of the camera to the setting to even Swede's demeanor. In the beginning the camera moved with the characters on screen to give the audience a more natural and comfortable feel but with the transition of Swede's friend jumping over the fence the camera stop going along and panned up to Swede who was emoting such disdain, that it made you feel a bit wry.

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I have never seen the Killers and I'm looking forward to it. You can definitely see German Expressionism in this clip with its odd angles and use of shadows. Like Lang, Siodmak utilized brief periods of almost complete darkness. I particularly liked the way Siodmak used light in the diner when they talked about looking for the Swede. But when the man was telling the Swede people were coming to find him it was dark and completely hid the Swede's face. This reinforced the idea that we didn't know why these men were looking for the Swede or what the Swede had done. (or at least I don't know because I haven't seen the movie).

 

I can see how it inspired the painting Night Hawks. The diner is a beam of light in the grim darkness all around. They want to warn the Swede (light) about the men who want to do him harm (darkness).

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I have seen this film, and my favorite part is the diner scene. I wish that I lived back in that time period. Burt Lancaster is a man facing the inevitable. The music was thrilling as the man jumps over fences, to warn "The Swede".

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Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Colombian novelist and Nobel Prize winner, said that everyone has a public life, a private life, and a secret life. 

 

Hemingway, who came before Gabriel Garcia Marquez, was a master at exploring secret lives. This movie clip from "The Killers" has inherent drama in the killers' hunt for the Swede, but it is the Swede's secret life -- that he did something wrong, once -- that gives the scene a dark nuance, making it irresistible.

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Not only did we move from the brightly lit diner to the shadowy back yards of town, but at one point the path led through a narrow alley, a canyon with tenement walls on both sides, seen at a dramatic angle that suggested to me a funnel that shunts us down into some sort of confinement. Indeed, the Swede's room was closed off -- no exit, the end of the line.  the Swede's personality is already erased (he's a generic nationality), now the shadows obscure his face, and the bed is a kind of coffin. The path to that dark room leads from a public, welcoming community space, through the margins, to a place of utter resignation and no escape (trapped, like rats). The journey of the doomed hero of film noir always seems to be one-way, and unavoidable. It's a great line: "I did something wrong, once" that encapsulates that fatality. There's no atonement, only retribution.

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Definitely see the German expressionist influence here with shadows, shadows everywhere.  Most prominent in Swede's room when the man's shadow looms on the wall and Swede's face can't be seen.

 

Also, please please please tell me we'll be watching Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid at the end of all this.

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I haven't seen The Killers yet, only film clips but so far what I'm taking away from this class is I'm over thinking every aspect. There's got to be a more relaxed way of watching film. I'm feeling more pressure than enjoyment on these Daily Doses fearful of not seeing what everybody else is seeing. So I've been watching/listening to the lectures over and over hoping to memorize every word I may be tested on in the quiz. This is the problem with old dogs learning new tricks. I'm still kicking myself for missing two questions on the quiz (insert cuss words) Lol.

if you missed two then that means you got a 90 which last time I checked is an A! it sounds like you're doing great so don't be so hard on yourself.

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I've always considered film noir to have a very realistic, down-to-earth style, as it normally depicts the real world and nothing else. But now I have second thoughts: film noir world is the real world, but from the characters' point of view. And their view of the world is a fatalistic, determistic, gloomy and calamitous one.

 

This view allows film noir directors (not only those emigrated from Nazi Germany, but mainly them) to use a style of cinematography and scenery clearly influenced by German Expressionism, a style that stretches the boundaries of realism to a world with both realistic and formalistic elements.

 

Noir music also moves in that direction, and we must not forget that the most famous film noir composer, Miklos Rosza (who composed the music in this Daily Dose) was trained in Germany during the Expressionism movement. His music also helps the scene deviate from strict reality and enter a unique noir universe, especially when the camera moves to the Swede's apartment.

 

This scene is one of the most typical and iconic scenes in film noir. A diner, some orchestral music, two tough guys preparing a murder with total confidence but no clear motive, and a guy who seems to have accepted his fate because "he did something wrong, once". How many times have we seen a character's past catch up with him in a fim noir? This is one of the most famous of them, and it has the unique distinction that the character knows he is doomed and does nothing to avoid his fate. Cinematography and design are also typical noir, and most characteristic of German directors such as Lang, Preminger, Wilder and, in this occasion, Siodmak.

 

German Expressionism had a huge impact in film noir style. Combined with the fast-talking and overly confident American characters starring in noirs (often influenced by literaly precursors), film noir universe is not strictly realistic (although in films like The Maltese Falcon realism dominates) but any deviations have their limits and aren't exaggerated. No genre or style has accomplished such a combination, and that's what makes film noir "suffering with style".

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The realism is the lighted diner that comes under attack, very real and viable in all diners.

The formalism is the shadow talking to a shadow in the room, shadow of a warning and of a man(the swede).

 

the UFA influence must be the lighting, to create a narrative, so wonderfully powerful.

like hopper's work artful...........and haunting.

 

This classic noir adds to the movement by the fine development of the femme fatale role.

The scene where he leaves his date for Ava, is the best noir as his date tells the story.....only in films noir.

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