Dr. Rich Edwards

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

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What are the influences from other cinemas:

As Nick enters Swede's room we see the dark room with Nick's shadow across the wall, this is much we saw the child killer's shadow against the reward poster in M.

 

How does the visual design change from realism to formalism as it moves from the diner to Swede's room:

The diner is brightly lit and then as Nick leaves through the front door we see realism with Nick jumping fences, but as he enters Swede's room, the design changes to formalism. We see a very dark room with Nick's dark and angled shadow on the wall and then Swede is told he is about to be killed, but does nothing, he is too depressed and dark in his mood.

 

In what way is The Killers an important contribution to film noir:

We see the dimly lit kitchen with the bright wall sconces and then there is the music sequences. The music adds to the suspense and tension the image shows.

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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 first frame(s) of the customer coming in and being sent away, had elements of German expressionism: darkly lit foreground, low lit background , low angle, point of view through the screen door (voyeurism), people in the diner in deep focus with no one singled out, seems late at night (although apparently it’s still dinner time), and the mood is serious and tense. The scene also echoes the influence of Hopper’s Nighthawks 1942 painting, also inspired by the short story.

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

The montage follows Nick from the diner, out the back door, over fences and through back yards to the Swede’s room. The music does most of the work as a few tense, ominous, downbeat notes repeat over and over. Then, the music starts playing faster and faster, higher and higher notes, building tension and suspense as Nick runs through the alleyways and back yards. Finally the scene quickly fades to black. Next we see the Swede lying on the bed, face hidden, half lit. Camera starts to move around the room, towards the door. Another fade to black but shorter, and then we move visually to the door, where it opens and Nick enters. (I just read on Wikipedia that the “dum-de-dum-dum” in this sequence later became the Dragnet theme – thought it was familiar!)

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

The Killers adapts and uses styles from German expressionism (Siodmak), music (Rozsa), art (Hoppers’ Nighthawks) and literature (Hemingway), and those influences combined to produce one of the best (and tightest story-wise) film noir movies of this era.

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I have never thought about the transition between formalism and realism in noir movies, even less in The Killers, so it is a new angle to explore. Thanks professor Edwards! And now, watching the scene, it is very clear the transition from the bar and Swede's room, from realism to formalism. 

 

And I didn't know about Edward Hopper and his influence over movies and noir in special. He even influenced Blade Runner, according to Wikipedia. So again, another path has been opened. The loneliness of people, even places in Hopper's works seems indeed to have a connection with noir movies.

 

I agree with some colleagues at this course that Swede seemed already dead in his room. And somehow, that scene and many others in noir make me think in the descent to hell or the underworld you see in many myths around the world.You can relate it to the Night Sea Journey as defined by Carl Jung. And doesn't the description of Underworld in the following paragraph fit the mood of Swede, his room and even noir in general? 

 

For most souls, life in the underworld was not particularly unpleasant. It was rather like being in a miserable dream, full of shadows, ill-lit and desolate, barren of hope; a joyless place where the dead slowly faded into nothingness.

 

http://www.greekmythology.com/Myths/Places/The_Underworld/the_underworld.html

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Just as the art of painting and sculpting were changing in the first half of the 20th century so was the art of film making. Evolution is a strong force to which the art forms are not immune. The US film makers needed to evolve in the 40’s as the world was changing and had changed. Hollywood needed a new formula to draw the audience closer into the story and at the same time allow the film makers a tool to circumvent the film code. Film noir was an evolutionary process developed as if a gene were spliced from European film industry and added to our US film making DNA. In this writer’s opinion, German film making style and techniques had a defining impact on the creation of what we call film noir. One can even argue that Fritz Lang was the genetic father of film noir and that his Metropolis and M are earlier film noirs. Q.E.D.

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I have never thought about the transition between formalism and realism in noir movies, even less in The Killers, so it is a new angle to explore. Thanks professor Edwards! And now, watching the scene, it is very clear the transition from the bar and Swede's room, from realism to formalism.

 

And I didn't know about Edward Hopper and his influence

 

Night Sea Journey as defined by Carl Jung. And doesn't the description of Underworld in the following paragraph fit the mood of Swede, his room and even noir in general?

 

For most souls, life in the underworld was not particularly unpleasant. It was rather like being in a miserable dream, full of shadows, ill-lit and desolate, barren of hope; a joyless place where the dead slowly faded into nothingness.

 

http://www.greekmythology.com/Myths/Places/The_Underworld/the_underworld.html

Really liked that reference. Also appreciate the comparison of the dead to the swede's appearance and demeanour

 

What I didn't see and only now am starting to appreciate is the realism aspects of lighting/staging versus formalist. I think the more natural no matter how unnatural the scene looks the more representative of realism. That I am grasping from folks observations. What we see rather than what is. I tend to delve into what I feel more than what is there sometimes. Films have a way of harping your emotional strings and warping your sense of understanding with the various means of manipulation. Film noir worked well at skewing realities. I think what I mean is that artificiality is palpable in these movies and keeps me at a distance even when emerged in the darkness. If light and dark are the separation between formalist and realist then I agree with most folks observations otherwise there's always more to consider than just what is seen. The same can be said about storytelling in cinema.

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I can hardly wait to see this movie.  I love Burt Lancaster :wub:  

Dum da dum dum….. Dum da dum dum…. Something’s gonna happen.

 

I love the angle work of the camera looking into the diner and the shadow so that we can’t see the Swede’s face.   

 

“I did something bad…once.” 

 

And I gather Ava Gardner is going to turn up somewhere....

 

Wow!!!  I hope this movie turns out as good as I want it to be.

 

Friday at 1:30 p.m. ~ I’ll be there.

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Right off the bat, the use of shadows, especially that of Swede's reminds me of Fritz Lang's M, of the the iconic German expressionist films. Even in Ministry Of Fear, which was on last Friday, we can see this. The diner is well-lit, at least by the film's early standards. Every face is clear, everything can be seen. As Nick runs through town to get to Swede's, however, the lighting darkens, reaching minimal lighting when we enter Swede's room. As he awaits death, Swede rests in his dark room, and we are not even able to see his face. I think the use of music to build up the tension of Nick's frantic run through the streets is classic noir, and although it wasn't the first film to do so, this may still count as a contribution. 

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When I first saw THE KILLERS in high school, I was struck by how faithful the opening was to the Hemingway short story, which was still fresh in my mind at the time, at how the story provided the launch pad for a bigger plot (and movie) that wove for me an incredible mood of danger, deception and loss against a starkly lit background. About the only comparison I can immediately make is in how the beginning of THE BIG SLEEP (1946) so closely mirrors and re-creates the atmosphere of the first few pages of the Raymond Chandler original. That Robert Siodmak may have been influenced by Lang goes without saying, and I think some of the comments already posted here about THE KILLERS nailed the shift from realism (the diner appearing as a beacon in the night and its brightly lit interior) to formalism (the contrasting darkness of the evening becoming even blacker as the camera shifts to Swede's room). There's even a touch of Germanic fatalism to Swede's seeming indifference to the peril that approaches, making him one of the first great Hollywood noir anti-heroes who's run out of options. I agree also with the response that the acting of Charles McGraw and William Conrad as the title assassins does much to make this early part of the film work; at the time I first saw this movie, Conrad was starring in the first season of the TV private eye show CANNON and I was amazed at how 26 years didn't seem to make any difference in his appearance or the timbre of his magnificent voice. And Burt Lancaster was fortunate that THE KILLERS was released prior to what would have been his screen debut in Paramount's DESERT FURY, which is an okay flick but not nearly as memorable or significant as THE KILLERS. DESERT FURY had been filmed first under Lancaster's contract with Paramount's Hal B. Wallis, who somehow had the presence of mind to hold it up until 1947. Of interest on some streaming old-time radio channels is a 1950 SCREEN DIRECTOR'S PLAYHOUSE version of THE KILLERS, directed by Siodmak and starring Lancaster, which uses flashbacks in a slightly different manner to tell the story.

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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).

 

If we think of German expressionism as the use of lighting and set designs which created unrealistic, geometrical angles, along with designs created on walls and floors by lights, shadows, and objects, then the influence of the expressionists is obvious in this early sequence from The Killers. The opening camera angle alone from this scene is jarring and bizarre. It is filmed through the windows of the diner, with the view broken by pillars, window sashes and doorjambs. The angle is also "up" such that the audience gets a distorted view of the scene rather than head on. This is suitable to the content which is that two gunzels have just invaded the little diner demanding dinner before the stated hour, and then herding the cook and sole customer into the kitchen . Things in this small business have gone awfully awry., and the camera viewpoint shows this. 

 

Comparing this scene to Lang's opening of M, despite the weird angles and low key lighting, the scene is far more realistic looking. In M, the opening was somewhat like an illustration or animation, rather than a scene peopled with live action characters. So while the German influence is apparent, noir is far more realistic in its approach to the soon-to-be crime scene.

 

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

 

As I understand it, formalism is the synthesis of multiple elements of film production, such as editing, shot composition and music to create a harmonious or accessible presentation to the viewer. Considering this, moving from the tension and excitement of the diner invasion to the man's run to let the Swede know he is in big trouble makes sense. Siodmak has to let the audience understand, without dialogue that the route taken to Swede's room is a back way, that he is going there with all dispatch, and that he is not sure if the Swede is still alive. The lighting, camera angles (head on, above, etc) and music all build to the suspense of his arrival at the Swede's. Once the audience sees that the Swede is still alive, inert, speaking in unemotional monotones, resigned to his fate we are taken back to the expressionist influences of shadows creating geometric patterns as well as moving silhouettes at the Swede's room all supporting his mood of resignation and doom. 

 

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

 

Since the Library of Congress considers the film to be "culturally , historically or aesthetically significant," it is an important contribution to noir. The importance is that the opening sequence is filled with tension, snappy dialogue, and gallows humor, along with the lighting and camera angles which sustain the mood of the story. Because one of the film's stars is killed within the first half hour, the audience is ready for his tale to be told in flashback, another noir construct. Although I never read Hemingway's short story, notes on the film state the 20 minute opening it is taken faithfully from the piece. Apparently the rest of the film is an invention by the screen writers. 

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I was stricken by the dark, looming shadows and figures throughout, which reminded me of Lang's M. Yes, we see Nick's shadow over the Swede towards the end, but we also see one of the killers at the beginning crossing frame as a large, black figure. Talk about a bold move!

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The concepts of realism vs formalism are foreign to me as used in film.  The opening of this clip is realisticin it's portrayal of the two

bad guys, the diner lighting and the no nonsense threat of the conversation going on.  As Nick and Sam are untied, in the kitchen, there is no mistaking the realism of the situation, no fancy camera angles, and no extra conversation. As Nick burst into the Swede's room, the formalism begins.  Emotions of the viewer are confused.  Up to this moment, the viewer is tied up in the question, "Can the Swede be saved?"  But the scene shifts that thought by showing a protagonist that accepts his doom.  The low light, not seeing the Swede's face or physically react to this news brought by Hank, evokes an unexpected emotion is the viewer. This unexpected turn,  hooks us further into why is this happening and what is going on???

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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).

 

Shadows, high angled shots, and not to drag out the notion of shadows but the young fellow who rushes in to the Swede`s room to warn him casts a shadow of a hung man against Pete Lund`s wall.

 

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

 

The lit-up diner offers grilled ham cutlets; you can`t get more real than that, even if you are a vegetarian, which I am but I still wouldn`t mind digging in to some of them cutlets. The Swedes room is dark, like a mortuary after hours, all shapes and shapeless.

The row of backyard fences, hurdled in a heroic but pointless attempt to warn the Swede, like a nightmare of obstacles`, an ultimately meaningless marathon.

 

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

 

This sequence has some punchy dialogue, life and death language, both from the hard-assed killers and the resigned and painfully fatalistic Swede. The real world, where the diner owner thoughtfully offers the cook a glass of water offers a sense of hope for those not intimately caught up in the angst of noir; the Swede offers only resignation. The contrast between these two world views is the dream, the ultimately failed dream of many noir protagonists (normalcy, remembered or idealized) best exemplified perhaps by Dix Handley in The Asphalt Jungle. For most of the doomed noir protagonists, normalcy is death, High Sierra like. Many run, some seek, others, like the Swede, just wait.

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Wow!  Another great clip from what appears to be an intriguing piece of film noir.

 

I think that, if anything, this scene evolves more and more into noir as it unfolds.  Not only does the rising music shift the scene to becoming more focused on tension, but it also creates an intense focus on the villain, even though we don't quite know WHO the villain is.

 

This question of who the villain is can directly correlate to the realism v. formalism idea.  Considering that the scene begins in a realistic approach, it seems that the villains are the men who go into the restaurant looking for the Swede.  On the other hand, however, as one of the cooks runs to talk to the Swede, the scene shifts to formalism and it appears more ambiguous as to who the villain is.  Is it the men hunting down the Swede, or might it be the Swede himself.  Considering the ominous words that the Swede leaves us with, it becomes challenging to interpret.

 

I think the musical build-up and dramatic tension are what make this scene so much more engaging and challenging.  If it weren't for these extra pieces, interpreting the real "killer" may be easier, or not as interesting.

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The opening of the scene in the dinner is full of light but the scene changes to dark and shadows when Nick goes to warn the Swede. When Nick starts off to warn the Swede, he encounters a series of barriers of white picket fences, he has to leap over them going further into the dark night.   When he arrives Nick is still in the light but the Swede is in shadows so that you cannot see his face.  He lies in bed looking as if he had no head. A perfect homage to the German expressionism films of the Teens and 20’s.  In this example of film noir everything is reversed we know who is killed, who killed him but we don’t know why which leads to the use of flashbacks to  get to the why.

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I just recently blogged about this very topic: Nighthawks influence on film noir; dining and dashing. Just to summarize...

 

Nighthawks has some influence of what we know as Film Noir. The light/dark contrasts, use of shadows, internal conflict. Consider how many films noir incorporate the diner scene.The use of such imagery gives the viewer a sense of clarity. It is in the diner where we see the planning. It is the diner where we see characters reflect. It is in the diner when time pauses for all to gather their thoughts.

 

The first scene in The Killers has the Nighthawks vibe where we first observe the diner encounter from the outside just as in Hopper's painting. We then move inside to witness the interaction between service staff and customers.

 

As we watch Nick run through the backlots to the Swede's apartment, we can see Lang's influence on some technical aspects of the shot. For example, the crane shot looking from an angle over Nick as he approaches the apartment. This mirrors the chase seen in M. At the Swede's apartment, the scene is nearly identical to Ministry of Fear. The only source of light comes from the hallway. The Swede's face remains covered much as Stephen's is before his release from the asylum. Both rooms are overtly dark to create the chiaroscuro and shadows.

 

Nick escapes a chaotic event in the diner to a more quiet and reflective setting at the apartment.The overall mood seems to be one of serenity and/or acceptance of the Swede's fate as he is very ho-hum about his impending doom.

 

Many films noir have the gangster narrative especially when a heist is pending. We see similar structures in films such as Asphalt Jungle, Du Rififi Chez le Hommes, Kansas City Confidential, Reservoir Dogs, Heat that utilize the same visual appeal as in this film particularly with a diner.

 

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The Killers makes use of German expressionistic style. The opening of this scene has the camera titled slightly, giving the implication of tension. This conveys uneasiness within the diner before words are ever spoken. Another shining example of the expressionistic style is Nick standing over Swede, who is lying in bed. Nick's shadow starkly graces the wall, as it looms greatly over Ole Swede. Although Nick, himself, is not a threat to Swede, the news he delivers to him is.

 

Realism is apparent in the diner, as we get a sense of fear the actors embody. Everything from the actors to the set both look and feel real. As the film shifts (as Nick runs through the town to warn Swede), it appears staged, therefore taking a formalistic approach. Nick looks to be running across a set. We are taken out of the moment here, and reminded we're definitely watching a film.

 

Film noir is evident in this film by way of music and shadows. The music rears its head in the diner swaying us in the direction of impending doom. Also, Siodmak's use of lighting to cast Nick's threatening shadow upon his reveal of terrible news to Swede also is classic film noir. The Killers seems as though it will definitely be a thrilling ride within this stylistic genre.

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I was in my late teens, early 20s when I first read Hemingway's “The Killers.” The one thing that struck me about the story was that it was written in almost mono-syllabic prose. It was this that first got me interested in Hemingway. I couldn't believe anyone could take the simplest of words and form them into such a powerful story (this was more than a simple, “see spot run”). That being said, I have owned the DVD for this movie for many years and surprisingly, I have never watched it. I've started it but for some reason have never been able to watch it all the way through.

 

Watching this short clip from the movie, the first thing that sticks out is how well Siodmak captured the feel of the story. Because of this I find it hard to see the relationship with this film and say German expressionism. I understand the correlation, but because the translation from print to screen is so loyal to the source material, I find it difficult to say Siodmak was influenced by other sources. However, like other movies in the expressionist movement, The Killers depicts characters through an emotional reality all their own. The film's focus is on how each character endures the situation or lives within it. We see this through the reactions of the three gentlemen who are held hostage in the diner, and again through the submissive attitude of the Swede. Their situations are exaggerated to emphasize their own emotional state. It puts me in mind of Fritz Lang's use of magnified facial expressions and overstated delivery of dialogue to enhance the sentiments of individual characters.

 

The diner scene uses realism to set the mood. We view this scene like a third party participant watching as events unfold. After Nick Adams runs to warn the Swede of the impending danger, does Siodmak switch over to formalism. Here, we know that we are watching a film. The director uses shadows and lighting to emphasize the scene and the mood of the characters, their situations, and emotions. The two actors both perform as if they are on a stage projecting their situations, unlike the diner scene that is filmed like the situation might have actually occurred. These are traditional (formal) elements of cinema and how it is presented on the screen.

 

This scene has such raw energy; it is dripping in intensity Though, not the earliest of noir films, it certainly contributed to the genre by showing a different method of building tension using various aspects of film making. Here we see a true joint effort in producing the final product: the lens angles, the lighting and shadows, the acting, the dialogue, and the placement of characters all make major contributions in progressing the scene forward.

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The camera angles are interesting with regard to formalism vs. realism. The first frames we see are shot up through the door of the diner, suggesting the angles of German Expressionism. But the scene changes to an objective view of the three people conversing, even though the subject is threatening. The scene in which the two men are being untied is also objective with no weird angles to disturb the viewer.

 

The clip changes from realism to formalism during Nick's sprint to warn the Swede. Before he reaches the Swede, we appear to be looking down at the runner through the window of the Swede's bedroom - a very subjective viewpoint. The bedroom is all shadows and darkness, a pictorial representation of the Swede's sense of futility and pessimism.

 

The Swede's attitude of futility and dismal acceptance of his fate are fitting contributions to film noir. In previous films, such as The Letter, the protagonist fights her circumstances until the fatal end, but in this clip, we see the pessimism of film noir in full bloom.

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I love this clip because it's a classic example of how the films noir in that the vision design shifts from a realism setting in the diner to a more formalism setting in Swede's room. I think that the use of shadows is a clever use of German expressionism. An interesting use of camera angles was also a unique way to use the photographic art form. This film I think is a great example  of films noir.

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I think the use of music in this scene is perfect. When the 2 men walk from the diner to the gas station, the music gives me a feeling of danger and impending doom. Then, when the man runs to tell "the Swede" that they're coming for him, the music heightens the suspense. The lighting in this scene is also great. There's a lot of light at the diner, but once we get to the Swede's bedroom, it's so dark and gives me a feeling that this character is so alone and in so much trouble.

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

 

—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 composition of the interior shots at the Swede’s boarding house reminded me of the tight, claustrophobic shots of Fritz Lang’s M. The interior shots of the mother’s apartment in M were also cramped. I felt like both scenes were filmed on location in real rooms. The lighting was very different, though. Everything about The Killers was done to make the Swede almost anonymous: I couldn’t make out his face, and I could barely hear his lines of dialogue.

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

The killers enter a diner where business is going on as usual. A customer is eating dinner; the employees (and the killers!) are doing their jobs. But in Swede’s room, we get a sense of his fate simply because we don’t see his face and barely hear what he says. He’s resigned to his fate, and we know that simply by the way he’s represented in his room: lying down, barely audible.

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

For me, The Killers give us American realism. Siodmak may be borrowing from other influences, but all the locations seem American: Swede works at a gas station, he eats his meals in a diner, he comes from somewhere else. Everyone in the United States is always on the move, it seems to me, even in the 1940s.

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               I thought it surprising that the two killers did not kill the people in the diner.  I wondered why they allowed people who could testify, live.  Max’s partner comments that the diner owner is lucky which leads to another baffler of mine: William Conrad’s character, Max, comments that the diner owner, “outta’ play the races.”  What that means would probably explain why it was said.  This does not pay off later in the story – it’s just out there by itself, so I can’t place its story purpose.

               The reason I pick this is because I assume the “play the races” comment has something to do with a faddish notion of that era and played well when the film released.  I have not found out why this expression was used within the context of the 1940s.

I think William Conrad's character is only commenting on the diner owner's luck. "You oughtta play the races" is the equivalent of saying "This is your lucky day." I think it's ominous and meant as a threat: Today the killers have decided not to kill the diner owner. If he talks, they will likely change their minds. In fact, they might change their minds anyway. So he better watch his step either way. That's how I took it. I don't think that the expression is unique to the 1940s, or even to this movie.

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I felt the diner had a very low, oppressive ceiling which reflects the threat implied by the two thugs. It opens up somewhat when the men are being untied. The route Nick takes to the Swede's is very dark, tunnel-like. At the Swede's we shift to a central focus with little light in the room so we don't see much of the Swede.

 

The music effectively increases the pace and we feel Nick's sense of urgency in his effort to warn the Swede. We drop back to a much slower pace as the Swede seems almost remote and unemotional.

 

Lang's influence is most evident, at least to me. I'm not that well versed in other directors' styles of the period....yet.

 

Once again we have the central character caught in conflict while trying to have an ordinary life.

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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?

As the scene begins with a realist approach, one can notice the minimal use of artifice to set the mood. However, the low camera angle sets a somewhat "crooked,"  and "sketchy" feeling with the two gentleman that talk with the old diner keeper.  The use of shadow and lighting really sets an eerie atmosphere, too. I haven't seen "The Killers," so I was wondering "why the two guys wanted to kill the Swede?" Why was Nick instructed to go warn the Swede first, instead of going to (what would seem to be the "correct approach" during this time period) the police?  But, I guess that's an aspect of film noir:  characters taking the law & other matters into their own hands.

The shadows and lighting in the Swede's apartment room gave a nightmare-ish, dream-like feeling. The audience can't clearly distinguish his face, and the "nightmare-ish" vibe I got from that point in the scene is the shocking disbelief that he doesn't care the people are looking for him to shoot him.  He's in a state of disillusionment...I can't wait to watch the entire film to see how everything pans out!

 

 

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