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Dr. Rich Edwards

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

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This scene from The Killers is such a great example of film noir and its use of strange camera angles and lighting - the contrast between dark and light/good and evil, like in Fritz Lang's M. The killers have come to the diner and their shadows are cast upon the ceiling causing an immediate feeling of fear and dread. The camera angle making the viewer feel unbalanced and out of control. The customer who leaves angry and slams the door behind him contrasted with the feeling of danger that comes from the coolness of the killers and their sarcasm and the fear in the voice of the counterman. The front room has strange shadows casting all around the actors. The sign on the window says "Grilled Ham Cutlet" which makes you feel like whoever they are looking for is one for the slaughter or that the counterman is being "grilled" about the Swede's whereabouts as we watch.

The lighting changes after the killers leave and we are taken via camera to the backroom. All is light there. No shadows. Very realistic, everything illuminated. No secrets here. These are the innocents that have had their quiet diner invaded by the killers who have tied them up.

When the young man runs to warn the Swede, he runs through the back yards and alleyways, jumping many fences, starting out with white picket fences that get less whitewashed as he goes. They are obstacles he must cross as he gets closer to the Swede and his desperate secret. 

When he gets to the Swede, there is no light in the room, only the light coming from the hallway outside as the door stands ajar. The boy's shadow looms over the Swede as they speak, like in M but the boy is offering to help. He is not the fearful character like Peter Lorre played, but he is the harbinger of doom for the Swede. The Swede remains in darkness and makes no move. He lies in the dark with no light, no hope of illumination. Even the light from the hallway does not light up the Swede. He is in darkness as he speaks. He is not going to shed any light about what happened or why the killers are here except for the dim explanation, "I did something wrong...once."

He is the ultimate doomed man.

The sound in the clip is austere - no background music at all. It is very quiet. Not a sound except the voices of the speakers until the killers leave, then the music starts with very deep bass and suspenseful music that gets higher and more sinister and loud as the diner employees decide what to do. The music speeds up as the boy runs to the Swede, almost frantic as he reaches the room and it stops abruptly as the boy bursts through the door. Once again, the starkness of having no background noise of any kind is a shock and unnerving, and it magnifies the quiet statements of the Swede that culminate in the his line, "I did something wrong...once. Thanks for coming."  When the boy leaves, quiet music begins again with strings - sad, melodramatic and lonely.

It all works together for a fantastic scene that if it had been shot straight would have had no real weight or drama. The lighting, camera work, music are all characters themselves pointing us to the inner drama of the characters, the action behind the lack of action onscreen.

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It's not often that the bits of film included in the Dose of Darkness capture my attention in quite the way that this bit of The Killers has. It probably has to do with being partially set in a diner - I love a glimpse into a diner in it's heyday… though of course I'm wondering if that was a real diner or one created for the film (realistic or formalistic!?). Having also read the Edward Hopper connection, I definitely approached this brief viewing with great enthusiasm. 

 

I have to mention that I was heartened to see the kindly old diner man untie the man of color first, and even give him a drink of water, before untying the other guy in the kitchen, who was white. I found this super surprising given the time period, and given the demeaning and small roles relegated to people of color in films of the time (heck, arguably even today). It immediately put me on the side of the diner man, and his crew, pitted against the bad guys who tied them up, even if they are looking for their friend and colleague, the Swede. 

 

As for the shift in visual design, I think starting in a diner, and moving to a person's bedroom, is a visual representation of going from public to private life. The coworkers of the Swede are starting to learn new things about him… perhaps not so pleasant things. Imagine how much we don't know about a person, even someone we work with daily? For this reason I am sure the diner is well lit and the bedroom is so dark that we cannot even discern the Swede's face. His body language - barely stirring to the young man's entrance and announcement, matches the lifelessness in his words. He's a man who's given up and given in, just waiting on his inevitable punishment for a mysterious crime. 

 

 

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I love the sequence of Nick running to The Swede's apartment. The view from The Swede's window of Nick approaching, then panning the apartment to cover Nick's entry was genius. It really built suspense and was fantastic from a technical standpoint!

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The scene shifts from realism to formalism when we see Nick jump over the last fence between house. Before, even with music, the scene looked like what'd you see in real life; normal light/dark contrast, eye-level camera angles, and normal speaking voices. When Nick jumps over that last fence, the darkness and mist comes in like a dream, blurring borders and boundaries. The contrast between light and dark is much more pronounced, and the conversation between Nick and the Swede almost feels like a memory, quieted and blurred from time eroding it in the characters' minds.

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I have seen this movie and I didn't particularly enjoy it but the opening is the best. We start off in a diner just like the painting of the Nighthawks and yet something is wrong. There are no customers except one man and the manager. In fact, a walk-in customer is thrown out. Odd. The normal scene has undertones of something abnormal going on. The high contrast and use of shadows has Lang written all over it. What was especially interesting is that the character all this action is revolving around (The Swede) is never seen. Even when the boy enters his hotel room, the Swede is lying there completely in shadow (We know later that he is dead). I liked the use of the music. It seemed to follow the boy from the restaurant to the hotel room and it seemed to echo his every step. It heightens until he reaches the room and then stops. 

The scene started with realism. A real diner, shot on location it seems, with natural acting. But as the boy goes to warn the Swede, we see less realism and more formalism, there are more shadows and nighttime. Visible reality is challenged when the boy is talking to the Swede, in shadow, under the impression the man is still alive, yet in reality he is dead. 

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I have not seen this film, but I do want to comment on this opening. It's certainly engaging in both tone and visuals. What made an impression on me is that Burt Lancast's face is never seen. He lies there on his back in bed, but all you can see is his body from the neck down (roughly). Where a lot of "classic" Hollywood films would showcase their leading stars as soon as possible in order to hook the audiences, this one relies on substance and style instead in terms of how we are introduced to him. We are not meant to know, I assume, what he did wrong "once," and his completely invisible face symbolically conveys that air of mystery and uncertainty. It reminded me of a shot from Citizen Kane in which Orson Welles is saying that he wants to give his readers "the truth" - and his face is engulfed in blackness. 

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The opening shot of this scene bears the stamp of Lang--it's a low-level shot with a diagonal composition, the light and dark tones are sharply contrasted, and the camera follows the would-be diner through the door of the lunch counter.  In just a few sentences, the viewer is alerted to the fact that there is something wrong with the situation in keeping with the stylistic tension in the film.

 

The action in the diner unfolds fairly clearly under its bright flourescent and neon lighting: the threatening men interrogate the server, mentioning two others, then leave.  The server sets the two men in back free, then sends one to alert "the Swede", the target of the two killers.  

 

As soon as the man from the diner leaves the building, he is covered in shadow, both literally (as the absence of light) and more stylistically when the shrubbery and bushes in silhouette block our view of him as he rushes to aid his friend.  The Swede's room itself is cloaked in deepest shadow, and the Swede never even moves while his friend is warning him--not a normal reaction.  In fact, his entire set of rooms, with its unlocked door and pitch black interior, is as abnormal a situation as the diner would be a normality to the average viewer.  It brings the viewer (and the man from the diner) from the real, everyday world into the nightmare, pathos-laden life of the Swede.

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Is it as simple as looking for the beginning of the nightmare sequence?  The on/off of realism vs formalism seems to be here and in the other films as when the main character enters a nightmare realm. 

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1. 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).

 

Contrasts of light and dark; encroaching, unavoidable fatal fate; close-ups of despair, almost resigned terror fading to a concluding relief.

 

 

2. How does this sequence shift its visual design from realism to formalism, as it moves from the diner to the Swede's room?

 

The diner is lit; the Swede's room is not; we see the faces and reactions of the diner staff but only see cigarette smoke from the Swede. Yet, his voice says it all -- his fate of inevitable doom is upon him and he philosophically accepts that "he made a mistake ... once."

 

 

3. In what ways can this sequence from The Killers be considered an important contribution to the film noir style?

 

It concretizes the abstractions of random shadows, deadly consequences for incautious choices, visual shadows and ambiguous morality, the underplayed yet intense performances.

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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).


The compositions and lighting are somewhat reminiscent of Lang. The sense of an inescapable doom that leaves your actions meaningless is also there in a lot of Lang's work (but also a lot of other places of course)


The titling of the sequence as Nighthawking obviously brings to mind Hopper, biographies of Hopper have stated that the picture nighthawks was inspired by the original Hemingway short story The Killers is based on and it seems like Siodmak worked with this in the film adaption.  It being an adaption the hard boiled short story is obviously also an influence here, and the dialogue style comes in large part from Hemingway's original. 


 


 


-- How does this sequence shift its visual design from realism to formalism, as it moves from the diner to the Swede's room?


The rush to the swede's room, vaulting the series of white fences that stand out in the blackness and then the turn of a corner up to the window and the room serve to seperate the two locations and add a dream like quality to the journey between them. The movie hinges on just why Lancaster's character is so accepting of his end, what is the one bad thing he did that he feels made his death inevitable, in the swedes room we are confronted with choices and actions that seem totally counter to normal human experience so it makes sense that we encounter them in a context that doesn't feel entirely real.  The shift from realism  allows things like the man and his shadow forming an audience for Lancaster and sets up the idea that we will venture into the past to 'solve' the unreality of lancaster's fatalism.


 


-- In what ways can this sequence from The Killers be considered an important contribution to the film noir style? 


The idea of one bad thing leading to inevitable death however far you run or try to hide. The idea of an untouchable evil intruding into everyday working life. The chaotic shadowed dream state alongside the rational structured world. 


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That whole opening sequence it's really good. The clip provided starts when the scene has already established, but seing from the beginning it's played as sort of long take with a few cuts. When the two men enter the counter, it starts providing all of these details, like how they enter from different doors, how one is always looking to the door while talking to the dinner's owner, or the slowly pan to reveal there's another customer at the bar. It's a really well thought out sequence.

 

And even if you just listen to the conversation in that scene, it inmediately hits you that there's something way wrong in the way they talk, like they just don't care if they offend everybody. I guess that could be a sort of heightened reality; from the beginning they are established as bad people that don't care anything at all so they go through the menu in a very despiseful way, they're enjoying being hitmen and feeling powerful towards the owner, making him shut up and not caring about anything except the 'job' they came to commit.

 

As for the conection between the Hemingway's short story and the famous Nighthawks painting, it should be noted the first scene when the two men arrive into town and are about to enter the diner room -you have another moody, noirish painting right there:

 

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The scene from "The Killers", shift the visual design from the diner to the swedes room by first showing a brightly lit diner and then shifting to a dark mysterious room were the character of the "Swede" lays in the shadows as he responds to a warning about a threat upon his life were he does seem to care. The scene leaves you the viewer wondering and asking yourself: What does the Swede look like? "The Killers" can be an important contribution to the film noir style by the visual technique of wondering what the central character looks like and why the men are pursuing him.

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I love how the camera lingers outside the diner after a patron enters.  Even if he's not speaking, I was immediately drawn to the man on the left.  The way this shot is set up, I'm reminded of both Edward Hopper and Weegee.  When the music kicks in, it really heightens the tension, signaling a deep sense of urgency.  There's an interesting contrast between that sense of urgency and the calm, slow, deliberate speech of the Swede.  We move from a sense of urgency to a man who seems resigned to his fate.  

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Watching The Killers clip, it must be a definitive work of shifting between cinematic realism and formalism.  I experienced a dissonance in what I was feeling versus what I was seeing or knowing.  

  

1.  The Diner -  shifting between styles 

 

The Diner scene – Realism:  Shot on-location, natural lighting, no music, stark, lonely feel.   The Killer’s acting style & dialogue – a mix of realism and formalism.   They move so matter of fact, so comfortable, relaxed and natural.  They deliver their lines in similar fashion.  Yet, the content of the dialogue froze me in a moment of formalistic danger:    

“You wouldn’t fool us, would you? No, he ain’t fooling.  He’d know better than to fool. Come on Al.  What about those two boys back there?  All right? Think so?  Sure. You got a lot of luck bright boy.  That’s the truth.  You ought to play the races.”   In short, realistic dialogue with formalistic style: A succinct, hard hitting statement:  The truth is, You are Lucky. We won't kill  you.  Perhaps, utilizing German expressionism, this is heightened realism utilizing the tool of the chosen “word.”

 

 

2. The Musical Stun!

The Diner scene commences in a void of silence.  The Killers exit the diner, the door slams, and the music “stuns!”    It immediately hits you with a visceral mood of impending doom and urgency.   

 

As Nick deliberates how to proceed, the music lulls back to a hush - bringing us into the secret words and world of Nick.  At the moment he hears:  “Nick you better go tell the Swede first”, the music once again stuns with its volume, mood, and effects.  We are about to enter Nick’s dream world.

 

As Nick races to Swede’s apartment, the music picks up pace.  It conveys impending doom and nightmarish action along the way.  One imagines all the things racing through Nick’s mind.   As Nick swings open the door, another musical stun via the abrupt musical halt.   As Swede acquiesces to doom, Neal leaves the apartment against the backdrop of another “low stun” of soft, barely detectible, fatalistic music.  

 

 

3.   Lighting & “Silhouette Man” 

 

At the onset of the clip, the potential customer leaves the diner and the door swings closed.

I see what appears to be a black silhouette of a man’s head and shoulders, wearing a fedora.  His image is slanted suggesting the silhouette man is looking to the right. The image spans the wall and the front door.    Who or what is casting this shadow?    

 

At the end of the clip, we see Swede lying on his bed.  His head is completely cast in black silhouette. He is facing to the right.   Meaning or connection, I wonder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Watching The Killers clip, it must be a definitive work of shifting between cinematic realism and formalism.  I experienced a dissonance in what I was feeling versus what I was seeing or knowing.  

  

1.  The Diner -  shifting between styles 

 

The Diner scene – Realism:  Shot on-location, natural lighting, no music, stark, lonely feel.   The Killer’s acting style & dialogue – a mix of realism and formalism.   They move so matter of fact, so comfortable, relaxed and natural.  They deliver their lines in similar fashion.  Yet, the content of the dialogue froze me in a moment of formalistic danger:    

“You wouldn’t fool us, would you? No, he ain’t fooling.  He’d know better than to fool. Come on Al.  What about those two boys back there?  All right? Think so?  Sure. You got a lot of luck bright boy.  That’s the truth.  You ought to play the races.”   In short, realistic dialogue with formalistic style: A succinct, hard hitting statement:  The truth is, You are Lucky. We won't kill  you.  Perhaps, utilizing German expressionism, this is heightened realism utilizing the tool of the chosen “word.”

 

 

2. The Musical Stun!

The Diner scene commences in a void of silence.  The Killers exit the diner, the door slams, and the music “stuns!”    It immediately hits you with a visceral mood of impending doom and urgency.   

 

As Nick deliberates how to proceed, the music lulls back to a hush - bringing us into the secret words and world of Nick.  At the moment he hears:  “Nick you better go tell the Swede first”, the music once again stuns with its volume, mood, and effects.  We are about to enter Nick’s dream world.

 

As Nick races to Swede’s apartment, the music picks up pace.  It conveys impending doom and nightmarish action along the way.  One imagines all the things racing through Nick’s mind.   As Nick swings open the door, another musical stun via the abrupt musical halt.   As Swede acquiesces to doom, Neal leaves the apartment against the backdrop of another “low stun” of soft, barely detectible, fatalistic music.  

 

 

3.   Lighting & “Silhouette Man” 

 

At the onset of the clip, the potential customer leaves the diner and the door swings closed.

I see what appears to be a black silhouette of a man’s head and shoulders, wearing a fedora.  His image is slanted suggesting the silhouette man is looking to the right. The image spans the wall and the front door.    Who or what is casting this shadow?    

 

At the end of the clip, we see Swede lying on his bed.  His head is completely cast in black silhouette. He is facing to the right.   Meaning or connection, I wonder.

 

Posted Today, 08:58 AM

 

 

Watching The Killers clip, it must be a definitive work of shifting between cinematic realism and formalism.  I experienced a dissonance in what I was feeling versus what I was seeing or knowing.  

  

1.  The Diner -  shifting between styles 

 

The Diner scene – Realism:  Shot on-location, natural lighting, no music, stark, lonely feel.   The Killer’s acting style & dialogue – a mix of realism and formalism.   They move so matter of fact, so comfortable, relaxed and natural.  They deliver their lines in similar fashion.  Yet, the content of the dialogue froze me in a moment of formalistic danger:    

“You wouldn’t fool us, would you? No, he ain’t fooling.  He’d know better than to fool. Come on Al.  What about those two boys back there?  All right? Think so?  Sure. You got a lot of luck bright boy.  That’s the truth.  You ought to play the races.”   In short, realistic dialogue with formalistic style: A succinct, hard hitting statement:  The truth is, You are Lucky. We won't kill  you.  Perhaps, utilizing German expressionism, this is heightened realism utilizing the tool of the chosen “word.”

 

 

2. The Musical Stun!

The Diner scene commences in a void of silence.  The Killers exit the diner, the door slams, and the music “stuns!”    It immediately hits you with a visceral mood of impending doom and urgency.   

 

As Nick deliberates how to proceed, the music lulls back to a hush - bringing us into the secret words and world of Nick.  At the moment he hears:  “Nick you better go tell the Swede first”, the music once again stuns with its volume, mood, and effects.  We are about to enter Nick’s dream world.

 

As Nick races to Swede’s apartment, the music picks up pace.  It conveys impending doom and nightmarish action along the way.  One imagines all the things racing through Nick’s mind.   As Nick swings open the door, another musical stun via the abrupt musical halt.   As Swede acquiesces to doom, Neal leaves the apartment against the backdrop of another “low stun” of soft, barely detectible, fatalistic music.  

 

 

3.   Lighting & “Silhouette Man” 

 

At the onset of the clip, the potential customer leaves the diner and the door swings closed.

I see what appears to be a black silhouette of a man’s head and shoulders, wearing a fedora.  His image is slanted suggesting the silhouette man is looking to the right. The image spans the wall and the front door.    Who or what is casting this shadow?    

 

At the end of the clip, we see Swede lying on his bed.  His head is completely cast in black silhouette. He is facing to the right.   Meaning or connection, I wonder.

celmaib

 

Posted a photo of the the Diner EXT. NIGHT  I think you'll see that this is not shot on location, but in a sound stage where everything could be fully designed and controlled.  It's realism but not real.  

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DDD #10  The Killers

 

First section, in diner, plays subtle games with perspective.  Angles keep one slightly off balance. High contrast. Deep blacks. Verticals sometimes aligned with frame, sometimes not. This is Expressionism gone subtle and noir.

Front section of diner -  Coffered ceiling included in shot and curved counter make the composition dynamic, unsettling.   Hot down lights part of set design. Two eyelines against one -threatening.  Only after baddies leave and door shuts is there music: a short, percussive phrase repeated progressively louder and faster.

 

Backroom/kitchen of diner.  Up-from-floor shot.  Ceiling in the shot, shelves angle back toward unseen vanishing point. Harsh down light from ceiling.  Low contrast lighting.

 

Nick goes to tell the Swede that men are after him.  The score becomes faster and increasingly louder with more complex melodies and rhythm. There is a long parallel traveling shot as Nick races through the  wooded shadows and over uniformly picket fences towards the Swede’s place.  Cut to high crane shot looking back and down at Nick coming towards us out of the mist and jumping more fences. We see him running down a concrete path below us and then the camera pans up the building Nick is approaching, into the Swede’s room and stops with the full back of the door in the frame. .  Nick enters. leaving the door open. Great sequence! The Swede is lying on his back on the bed, his head made invisible by a table lamp and deep shadow.  A headless man, doomed.  Nick stands over him, his back to the light streaming in from the hall.  He casts a high, deep black, clear-cut silhouette on the wall beside the Swede. As Nick weakly gestures, begging the Swede to let him help, his shadow looks like a black ministering angel preparing the Swede for death.  The Swede refuses help, Nick sadly turns away and leaves closing the door. The Swede has never moved, hardly seems to be breathing. From the beginning of the crane shot until Nick’s exit there have been no edits. 

 

Is the latter section, after Nick exits the kitchen, formalistic because entirely cinematic techniques are used to advance the narrative and convey meaning?  

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There is another great example of a long single take (a la Preminger) in this scene.

The camera first looks down from the Swede's 2nd floor window as Nick jumps the last fence, then pulls back, into the room, to show the Swede lying on his bed, the lamp casting a shadow on the wall, rather than light. It stops and lingers on the scene for a few seconds, then suddenly moves right as Nick comes through the door. Then it follows Nick left as he moves to the foot of the Swede's bed to give him the warning. It's to no avail, and Nick leaves the Swede to his fate. End of shot. Brilliant.

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10. KILLERS Swede Reaped

Death are the wages of sin (originally and by Hayes Code) and there's no point running out when your time does.

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I enjoyed this scene a lot. Great camera work, as well as use of light and shadows. The music score is also very effective in heightening the tension of the scene, particularly as the guy runs through the houses. The long take at the end was pretty cool as well as the way the shadow never leaves the Swede's face.

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I think what stands out to me is the crisp appearance of each of the first characters we see in the scene. Clean, tight colors. Stark whites and deep blacks. The colors pull your eyes from person to person, to the bright lights on the walls and then to the long black curved countertop set in the diner of sharp angles. Then there's perspective. Watching the thugs leave the diner and continuing to peer through the window at them as they run to the gas station. Then peering through the window of the Swede's room. Watching the kid make his way to the Swede. Long shots of small running movements I would say lend depth, layers of removal from the action to the viewer. 

 

The technique that I think also stands out is the use of shadows again. My favorite shadow is, of course, the one that hides the Swede's face. You can't read his face. Everything leads us to believe that he is in danger and needs to leave. That danger is coming his way. He's a good guy and needs to hightail it out of there. We want to save him. And upon warning, his face remain unreadable. A shadow cast by a lamp, no less, hides his facial response. We can make out the outline of his arm casually placed behind his head and his still body in quiet, relaxed repose. His action contrary to the actions that preceded it. Stillness. His verbal response, one of shocking abandon...he did something bad once. Very gothic. 

 

All of this lends itself to the expressionism that we've learned about. The scene is unsettling because it does not adhere to what we would expect from a guy who finds out some gunmen are looking to kill him. It is intellectual as we question what we see as opposed to what we feel. The reality of the diner and the chase and the formality of the room that is set to bring about quiet dread.

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There is another great example of a long single take (a la Preminger) in this scene.

The camera first looks down from the Swede's 2nd floor window as Nick jumps the last fence, then pulls back, into the room, to show the Swede lying on his bed, the lamp casting a shadow on the wall, rather than light. It stops and lingers on the scene for a few seconds, then suddenly moves right as Nick comes through the door. Then it follows Nick left as he moves to the foot of the Swede's bed to give him the warning. It's to no avail, and Nick leaves the Swede to his fate. End of shot. Brilliant.

This shot seems to move from realism to formalism--the overhead shot, in deep focus, could almost be a pov shot, except (as we discover) the Swede isn't bothering to look out his window. But the entire conversation in the Swede's room is so formalist, so expressionist. Really cool!

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What I like about this scene is the way everything stops as soon as we get to the Swede. When the two guys leave the diner, there's a lot of panic. The music is getting loud and tense, and the kid has to run across back yards to get to the Swede. Everything's heightened.

 

And then, when we're in the Swede's room, all that goes away. The Swede isn't panicked. He isn't excited. He doesn't move. We don't even see his face. The kid is also immobile, and the scene might as well be between his shadow and the Swede.

 

Even the Swede's tone of voice is calm and measured. Compare that to the tough guys at the beginning, talking about whether "bright boy" would keep his mouth shut. They contrast the Swede in every way.

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In the opening scene of the clip, I noticed a couple of things that were really stunning.  One of the things I didn't see much was Hopper's "Nighthawks"--maybe in the first ten seconds of the clip, but instead I did see that the perspective in the next shot was identical to Da Vinci's "The Last Supper".

 

The lines in the ceiling and the lines of the counter point toward a vanishing point in the center of the shot.  In fact, the design of the ceiling is reminiscent of the ceiling in the room in the painting. The center of the shot is the napkin dispenser on the counter, not the diner owner or the killer. The diamond shape inside a rectangle on its side is the main focus-when we look behind it, we see the rest of the items on the counter lined up behind in perfect perspective.  It is the star of the shot and not the men, which reminds me of El Greco's "The Conversion of St. Paul" in which the horse of St. Paul is featured in the center of the painting with the light of the holy spirit shining upon it and not Paul.

 

In the foreground the circular objects are out of focus but notice the repetition of the rectangle all over the shot, they're everywhere.  And again, the curvy or round objects in the room are not very noticeable, however the round buttons on the killer's coat are.

 

The white coat of the diner owner contrasts heavily with the black coat of the killer-we know the owner is a good man and the killer is a bad one.  The diner owner rescues his helpers in the kitchen and the first thing he does is get a glass and fill it with water for Sam, the cook and offers one to Nick, the kid.  He mentions that nothing like that had ever happened around there before, so we know the town is pretty quiet and tame.  He pats Sam on the shoulder to reassure him--he's a good man and a good citizen.

 

When Nick runs out the back of the diner we see the realism of him jumping the fences and running across yards but when he turns toward the Swede's rooming house we see the formalism in the high shot from what turns out to be the Swede's window and again that vanishing point.  This time Nick is the center of the shot and it is about him.  The music swells and is intense-Nick is alarmed and he runs at top speed to warn the Swede.  It's a heckuva buildup.  The scene shifts from outside to inside the room seamlessly.

 

The Swede is lying on a bed in semi-darkness.  We can't see his face so we don't know what his expression is but we don't really need to see his face because the tone of his voice and body language says it all.  It's over for him, they know where he is and it is just a matter of time now.  He is resigned to the fact that he's run out of time and that's all there is to it.  Nick is stunned at first, then leaves the room, defeated and perhaps a little bewildered.  This scene is all shadow and it's used to great effect.

 

The references to the Great Masters are hard to miss but so are the elements of German Expressionism and noir--the fatalism of the Swede, the camera angles, the high, medium and low shots, the shadows, the contrast in the characters and also character exposition; the music also plays a huge role in the exposition of the characters' emotional states. 

 

This clip is an excellent example of film noir because it contains all of its elements and then some.

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-- How does this sequence shift its visual design from realism to formalism, as it moves from the diner to the Swede's room?

The diner is your everyday level of sound, lighting with just a bit of a threat from some hoods; everyone in the diner has a name and we can see their faces clearly, the dialogue is 'everyday'.  Our boy jumps A LOT  of picket fences when he moves from this world to the room of 'the Swede'. When he reaches 'the Swedes' room there is a distinct change in the lighting to big shadows and we never see the face of 'the Swede'. He is a mystery man who speaks and acts differently to the guys from the diner; he is prepared to accept his fate which is contradictory to what his friend would do, and indeed wants him to do.

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This short excerpt have a lot of noir on it! Is clear that the director's influence by German expressionism made hum create a misc-en-scène really interesting visually, specially in the running sequence from the bar to the other building. We can see here the shadows, the sillouetes and all that singular composition already seen in 'M', for example. The first seconds of it already are an introduction to that, with a more formalistic view from the director. And speaking about formalism, we switch from the man's running to a moving camera that only reveals the tension and some shadows. That's the realism speaking from itself in a really clear way.


And music is just essential to this entire sequence tension. Once the two men are free, we can hear the dramatic score play out loud and clear for the audience, with strenght and much cinematic value.


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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).

 

As well as Hopper's Nighthawks I see a bit of Norman Rockwell in the everyday Americana of a diner, gas station, pinned back curtains and picket fences. In the shot in the diner I really noticed the ceiling shadows. In the Swede's room the chiaroscuro lighting from German expressionism - definately some UFA influences. And in the Swede's room the feeling of being trapped reminded me of Lang's composition.

 

-How does this sequence shift its visual design from realism to formalism, as it moves from the diner to the Swede's room?

 

In the diner I feel I'm in the regular world, clearly lit, the mise en scene is in focus with cuts and pans following the clear distinct faces, we see plates and cups, napkin holders and a coffee maker. The Swede's room is in all in one shot, chiaroscuro lighting just from the window and then from the hall, the objects in the room all hidden in shadows. Nick's face is only briefly fully lit and Lancaster's is never revealed from the shadow and he barely moves, befitting his despondancy.

 

-In what ways can this sequence from The Killers be considered an important contribution to the film noir style?

 

Another great Noir with so many of the classic noir elements and themes. Great lighting, camera angles and score heightening the tension and anxiety as we watch the killers through the diner door and the tracking shot of the run - will he make it in time. With the use of formalism we feel Swede's mood yet don't get to see him or understand why he feels resigned to his fate. Who is he, what did he do wrong, does it really warrant death? And why doesn't he run? It sparks interest and questions, makes us eager for more.

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