Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose of Darkness #16: Postwar British Noir (Scene from The Third Man)

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-- What makes Harry Lime's (Orson Welles) "entrance" in this film so effective?


 


He's framed in a black doorway, the cat at his feet a great touch...curious smile on his face....because his is a friend of Joseph Cottons's character or supposed to be friends....then light and J.C. can really see who it is and then he disappears as suddenly as he appeared.  Knowing that Orson Welles was a master magician and personally uncovered fakes in the realm of Spiritualism countless times, tends to make one believe he did disappear with greatest  aplomb as if this was real and not a movie.  


 


-- Discuss how this scene is both deeply realistic (in its depiction of a war-torn Vienna) and highly formalistic (in its use of a variety of non-realistic camera, lighting and musical techniques).


The music is the main reason I have never liked this film. It grates on my nerves like nothing else can, except bag pipes and perhaps a few other things I could name.  I guess the music works for this film.  I would like to see this film with another choice of music to just see what would happen with the whole view of the film.  It was a dark doorway and then suddenly a spotlighted doorway...impossible except through formalistic and of course the real city streets of Vienna made it realistic perfectly authentic, of course.  The music wasn't realistic at all.  There is such a going back and forth between the realistic and the formalistic and that unreal music that one head reels at the thought of what in the world is this?  I hate this movie.  LOL.


-- In what ways can this scene from The Third Man be considered an important contribution to the film noir style?


Everything about it.  Postwar, foreign film with American Actors....2 of the best in the business....drives me up the wall, just can't stand it and yet I appreciate how good it really is!


 


#NOIRSUMMER


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Cotten is being watched, followed. He can feel it, and can now see it. Attracting Cotten's attention, a cat meows, and is shown to be standing in between two feet. We see two shoes polished, with the tips glistening in the light. Cotten's loud pleas to his follower to "step out in the light," awaken a resident in the area. The resident flips a light on, and Welles is revealed.

 

This entrance is a great attribute in itself to film noir. Welles merges with the style and the elemental effects. He lurks in the shadows, and is initially masked by complete darkness. Upon his involuntary reveal, Welles smirks. We only see him for a few seconds when the light goes out leaving only the outline of his figure. He flees and becomes a mere shadow of the night as he is chased by Cotten through Vienna.

 

War torn Vienna is dark, sullen, desolate. It's recent past of the Nazi regime is still close and haunts vividly. This scene's lighting is low key, which helps buildings cast towering shadows. It's a monstrous look accurately reflecting the feelings inhabited by millions during WWII. This gives a realistic approach, while creatively blending expressionism. The Dutch camera angles heighten the tension as shots cut to and from Cotten and the pitch black entry way to a building in which Welles lingers. Welles's entrance and the moment his pathway of escape is revealed are both accompanied by quickly paced zither music. This definitely gives the film a formalistic feel, as it's somewhat telling us "here he is" and "this is how he seemingly vanished into thin air."

 

The Third Man puts the audience in the middle of a war torn country. The sinister past of the war steadily lingers. It surrounds us, engulfs us, and we cannot turn away. Other films noir do reflect a feeling/attitude toward the war, but don't put us in a place in which it actually occurred. This aspect raises the film noir genre to another level. The direct implementation of a war torn area carries an ever lasting effect, and this is one of many reasons why The Third Man is simply unforgettable.

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Austria, post-war, was a hotbed of spy activity: the country was ran by the Allies (America, Britain and the Soviet Union) and all were vying for control and influence in the recently "liberated" country. It's in this mess of activity that the Third Man sets itself up. Who is the mysterious Harry Lime? Who does he work for? Why the smile...is this just a game for him or part of the far larger game? The viewer at this point has no idea (and neither do I, I've not seen the film!).

 

The set up is pure Noir: the deep shadows, the striking areas of light, the anti-traditional framing shots and the feeling that disaster could lurk around any corner. And then there's that harshly lit leering face: a face exaggerated by a light that most certainly didn't just come from the lady on the second floor's windows! It's deliberate, harsh and disconcerting, and a great entry for Welles. 

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I love the formalistic framing of the doorway with the cat.  The audience is fooled by the lighting, the night for night effect brings the lighting of the window with the exposure of his closeup and the smirk at his friend all telling us he is very one that we are looking for and

maybe sorry we found him.  

 

Shot on location, this film realism is in your face and your heart.  You sense the war the vacant streets, the cobblestones sounds, the wide angle shots of no one outside.  I know the music was to give that effect as well, but for me i think it would have been better told, without the sound throughout the whole movie.  I thought overdone for sure, and give me a break with the score............

 

Prefer the stranger to this film as noir.  but the london films are very noir ish due to their low lighting anyway.  I love brighton rock, as

a great example of this.  

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This is one of my favourite films noir. A clever and relevant story with a heinous crime and memorable characters all excellently portrayed.

 

The reveal of Harry Lime is so smart and dramatic. Without the usual slow pan or tilt, his face (and only his face) is revealed in a sudden burst of light from an apartment window above the street. His expression tells us everything about him. He is confident and even cocky, more than mischievous, and even smug. He doesn't even flinch or show any remorse at what he's put his friend through, but acts as if it's all a game. Orson Wells is so talented that he can convey all this with his face and his powerful stillness.

 

It's wonderful to see a European setting put to noir use - the archways in the architecture, the narrow, cobbled streets, the deserted squares. They add a new flavour to the conventions of American noir.

 

And the music! Few films have such an iconic score. Developed on a haunting musical phrase repeated throughout the film, the score is unique in that it is not jazz or anything remotely American. It has distinctly cultural roots, but (as far as I can tell) not specific to one European country. (Though I'd love to hear from someone knowledgeable about music.) It's so unlike the sinister scores we're accustomed to, that in the beginning, it seems almost upbeat and playful. It serves to throw us off balance and, in this scene, is played with an almost frantic force.

 

Finally, the choreography of the 3 men in the square is masterful. The camera is still as they move around the frame, one in the foreground, 2 in the back, crisscrossing, switching places - but each in focus and within view. There must have been a lot of marks to hit!

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This scene makes dramatic use of lighting, shadows, Dutch angles, location shooting and zither music.  Tension is built up before the revealing of Lime and when he is finally revealed the look on his face is one of bemusement.  It's a "gottcha!" moment, but it's not Martins getting Lime, it's Lime getting Martins. 

 

A daughter of Orson Welles has a blurb on TCM where she talks about seeing "The Third Man" for the first time with her father.  She said it was the only time she could remember him wearing his real nose on screen instead of a fake one.

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Within a 21 seconds section of this clip we see both the entrance and exit of Orson Welles-and what an entrance!

It works because of the build up leading up to that grand entrance. 

 

Joseph Cotton is calling out for Harry Limes (Welles) to come out of the light. We see the legs of a man standing with a cat between his feet while the rest of his figure is hidden in shadow. A woman awakes from all the shouts of "Come on... What are you afraid of?....The cat has your tongue?" All the while, a tuneful melody plays. The woman opens her window to see what the fuss is all about and the light from her room shines on Harry's face. A series of cuts follows: from Harry to Holly (Cotton): Harry looking up to the source of the light, back to Harry with a semi-smile looking amused- back to Holly with a look of bewilderment. The camera zooms in and there's a slight moment where it appears that Harry will say something. The women then shuts the window and Harry's face is hidden again.

 

Harry runs away with Holly in pursuit. There are more angle shots, lots of long shadows, the melody plays again. All very effective.

 

The entire scene was "orchestrated" for this introduction aided by camera angles that seemed to intensify the gloom of the shadows upon the street and buildings and also gave one the sense of eeriness.   Masterfully done.

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-- What makes Harry Lime's (Orson Welles) "entrance" in this film so effective?

 

In the dark sparingly lit post war ruined city of Vienna,Harry Lime is hidden in the doorway his presence given away to Joseph Cotton, by a cat but he is still shrouded in darkness until the light from the window the de facto "Key Light" illuminates his face in a stunning entrance to both the audience and Joseph Cotton, who <spoilers> have thought him dead.

 

-- Discuss how this scene is both deeply realistic (in its depiction of a war-torn Vienna) and highly formalistic (in its use of a variety of non-realistic camera, lighting and musical techniques).

 

Realistic in the location shots of Vienna, its foreign sounding zither music used for its score, formalistic in its camera angles, tilted compositions, lighting that throws huge shadows upon the walls.

 

-- In what ways can this scene from The Third Man be considered an important contribution to the film noir style?

 

It ups the anti a bit in that it's using a combination of on location shots with a juxtaposed realistic formalistic approach rather than just formalistic just in the studio approach perhaps.

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In this scene from the Third Man we see Holly Martins coming up a dark street, moving as if a little drunk, kicking a can, when he sees something in a Blackened doorway.  Anna’s cat is there, and you can just see the toes of a pair of shoes.

 

As Holly begins to yell and accuse the person in the doorway of following him and being the Sergeant, with the cat rubbing against his legs.  Suddenly a woman upset with Holly’s yelling, puts on her light and opens window to yell down at him.

 

The key light hits directly on Harry Lime, giving us a 2/3 profile, with his smile at Holly.  Holly stares at Harry, unbelieving, the shadows of the street, highlight diagonal shots of rails and the bridge.  Then back to Harry with his smile widening some. 

 

Then suddenly Harry is gone, all you can hear is the reverberation of running footsteps as Holly yells out his name.  We then follow Holly as he chases the sound, with distorted angles of the street and buildings, diagonal medium close-up of  Holly, to the square where everything straightens out. 

 

Throughout this scene the zither music, gives an unreal quality to everything, it reinforces the strange darkness, shadows and angle shots, building a sense of suspense in us.  It’s Chromatic Scale is disturbing to our ears. As the film editing is to our eyes.

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I loved the first part of this scene.  Joseph Cotton's character is mostly standing straight in the frame but when it shows the surroundings they are slightly askew.  The cat in the doorway and the woman in the window are tilted.  When she turns on the light, we get this great shot of Orson Welles's face.  Unlike the dark surroundings his face is perfectly lit.  It is also "straight" in the frame.  His smile reveals a lot about his character.  I have to say it's one of my favorite "entrances" of any movie.  I have a copy of this movie but it's not a very good one.  The darks all blend together.  I'm hoping this Friday's TCM version will be a lot clearer.

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What makes Harry Lime's (Orson Welles) "entrance" in this film so effective?

- He says nothing.  We see him when the woman turns on her light and he vanishes when the light goes off.  Despite not saying one word, he acknowledges Joseph Cotten’s character with his eyes and eventually a smile.  He seems to let the Austrian woman speak for him.

 

Discuss how this scene is both deeply realistic (in its depiction of a war-torn Vienna) and highly formalistic (in its use of a variety of non-realistic camera, lighting and musical techniques).

- Realism is evident in the street setting—however, the location itself naturally provides provocative angles, so even “normal” shots have a formalistic feel.  Obvious tilted camera on closer shots.  The lighting, although very effective, is unrealistic—in reality, more than just Harry Lime’s face would be lit up by the woman’s light in real life.  The music is almost lighthearted and I associate it with Italy or Greece rather than Austria for some reason.  The footsteps re louder and more prominent than in real life (but they add tension to the scene).


 

In what ways can this scene from The Third Man be considered an important contribution to the film noir style?

- This clip shows how one man can cause another person go from confident to alarmed without saying a word.  The lack of dialogue (forgive the cliché) speaks volumes.

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In addition to the noir elements in this clip (urban landscape at night, characters in shadow, diagonal framing), the revelations that gradually unfold also make the scene work -- the character at first unseen in the doorway, the passageway in the town square probably used as an escape route. This is a true cat-and-mouse game (pun intended). Don't you want to follow them on the chase? I do. 

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There's a "weirdness" to film noir that makes the viewer uneasy. We're presented with inexplicable behavior, unexplainable situations that strain credibility, questions that we can't possibly guess the answers to. We're being taunted and toyed with, hooked and then reeled in, as it were. This scene from "The Third Man" is a perfect example.

 

Here we are on location, at night, and the street is utterly deserted. The shiny cobblestones, the tall buildings, the lone figure walking in the darkness all produce a sense of eerie disquiet in us, the viewers. We know there are other people all around, in their homes, and since the hour is obviously very late, all of them are sound asleep, their windows dark. This increases the sense of isolation being felt by the main character. He's surrounded by people, but he's all alone. We feel his vulnerability.

 

Another strange thing is that the Welles character is so well-dressed, his pants so crisply creased, his shoes so shiny and unscuffed, even his complexion is so utterly smooth, that you can't quite believe it is this same person who tears down the street so wildly a few moments later. He's already been seen clearly, so why should he need to make such a quick and reckless getaway? That's one of those questions that nag at us.

 

We are always trying to figure out why people act the way they do, but Noir takes this a step- or several steps- further, by extending the weirdness factor, often to a degree that makes the audience distinctly uncomfortable.

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You wouldn't think that zither music would fit into a film noir but here it really works. The zither became a popular folk instruments in Austria in the 19th century so it fits the real 20th century world where the story takes place, but seems strange and haunting in the film noir world. This incongruity helped emphasize the displacement that Martins (Cotton) seems to fills. He's in a foreign land where no one believes what he's saying. The lighting effect juxtaposing a dream like quality against a very real war-torn Austria also emphasizes the fact that things are out of place, things are not as they should be.

 

Lime's (Wells) appearance is sudden and jarring. But then as we examine his face it's not some ominous intruder, but instead a smirking man. I've seen this movie so I know that Lime is the last person Martin expects to see. Even in the context of this clip you can tell it is a shock to Martin. The light coming on and revealing Lime it's almost like an unexpected firecracker going off.

 

Great clip to see as I get ready to take the test today. Good luck everyone.

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Lime's entrance is effective in at least two ways:
 

  1. It is unexpected, at least to my mind. I haven't re-watched it yet, but as I recall the film, Cotten's character has been searching for days and has finally given up; we the viewers have given up along with him when suddenly he appears!
  2. The lighting of just the face, with the wry little smile and no dialogue. 

 

I also contrast this with the other entrances we've seen this week - those were primarily from the light, into the shadows. Even John Garfield's introductory sequence took him from bright sunlight into the less-well-lit diner. This entrance is exactly the opposite - from the shadows into the light, from the hopelessness of a fruiteless search to the hopefulness of seeing Lime, if only for a short while, to let it be known he's not dead.

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I saw "The Third Man" many years ago and that haunting zither music pops up in my head every now and then.  Hard to forget music like that. Plays so well with the shiny rain soaked streets and Dutch angle camera shots.  You can't tell sometimes if the camera if tilted or the streets are on an angle.  Incredible looking.

 

Orson Welles does steal that scene.  When that light from the window appears on his face... the look, the acknowledgement and then the smile.  So much expressed in such a short shot. 

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I think our professor makes a bit of an understatement about this film. It isn't just one of the best noirs of all time, it's one of the best movies of all time. This movie is so wildly entertaining, and there's so much going on along the sidelines, that everytime you watch it a new detail pops out.

 

I love the look on Orson's face as the light catches him. First surprise at being found out, and then a little ironic smile, like 'alright, you caught me. Here I am.' After hearing Lime's name throughout the movie, and thinking he might actually be dead after all, he just shows up suddenly and accidentally, sold out by a cat. 

Look, I know postwar Vienna was not exactly a hot vacation spot, but this movie imbues it with such a sense of tragic romance. The way shadows loom several stories tall against the rubble of bombed out buildings(this film uses shadows better than any other film that comes to mind), that unforgettable music score, the very existence of a noir mystery. The film is imbued with such an astonishing mix of tragedy and comedy. Like the moment the Major Calloway realizes where Lime has gone. It's silent while he rants on, and then the score bursts into excited life as the realization of how he escaped hits him. 

 

Side note: Carol Reed and Graham Greene worked on three movies together, and they are all stellar. The Fallen Idol, The Third Man, and Our Man In Havana. All three worth seeking out.

 

Another side note: On the topic of British Noir, I'd highly recommend Time Without Pity, which stars Michael Redgrave as an alcoholic just released from an asylum, who learns that his son has been convicted of murder. He has 24 hours to try and prove his son innocent before the boy is executed. Another stunner.

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Daily Dose of Darkness #16: Postwar British Noir

(Scene from The Third Man)

 

—What makes Harry Lime's (Orson Welles) entrance in this film so effective?

The way the doorway is shown in several shots, and the way the cat is framed in the doorway and then framed between Harry Lime’s feet. Joseph Cotten still doesn’t know it’s Harry. He starts shouting, thinking that someone else is following him. A woman comes to her window, turns on her light, which falls directly on Harry’s face. Harry smiles, and the music swells playfully. It’s all a cat-and-mouse game!

—Discuss how this scene is both deeply realistic (in its depiction of a war-torn Vienna) and highly formalistic (in its use of a variety of nonrealistic camera, lighting, and musical techniques).

We see several shots of cobblestone streets at night. Sometimes they are simply realistic cobblestone streets, and at times they are tilted at odd angles. When they tilt, Joseph Cotten and the audience begins to wonder: Is he seeing things, or did he really glimpse someone following him? The doorway with the cat is shot so that it seems like any doorway at night, but then it’s shot so that it tilts to one side, which seems to add to Cotten’s confusion. Then the woman turns on her light and there’s no doubt: It’s Harry. Then Harry disappears into thin air. Cotten literally runs after Harry’s shadow, and that’s all we see of Harry too: a shadow running down a cobblestone street before he disappears again, adding to Joseph Cotten’s confusion.

—In what ways can this scene from The Third Man be considered an important contribution to the film noir style?

The music is certainly unique. I understand it’s only a zither playing. The playfulness of the whole sequence is also unique, at least to me.

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-- What makes Harry Lime's (Orson Welles) "entrance" in this film so effective?

 

One thing that makes Harry Lime’s entrance so effective is that we are not expecting him.  Of course we and Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton) are aware that someone is lurking in the shadow of the doorway where the cat is stirring, but we have been led to believe earlier in the film that Harry Lime is dead.  So of course it is a big surprise when the light from an opened window suddenly reveals the face of a dead man (and nothing else) floating in the inky blackness of the doorway.  It may not be very realistic lighting, but it is surely effective.  That in itself could be considered a subjective, formalist touch in that the image of Harry’s face against the black background may well approximate the perception in Holly’s mind.  He recognizes his friend Harry by his face alone, not by voice or clothing or anything else.

 

Although there doesn’t seem much similarity between the entrances of Harry Lime in black and Cora Smith (Lana Turner) in white, they do share a reliance on the visual impact each creates on the viewer in the scene.  Dialogue plays little or no role; the entrance is a visual shock that can be read in the reaction shots of Holly Martins and Frank Chambers respectively.  This is cinema giving us something that a book cannot.  Harry Lime’s entrance also has a similarity with that of Kathie Moffat in Out of the Past and Mr. Peters in The Mask of Dimitrios in that they all come out of deep shadow at one point.  Yes, Kathie (Jane Greer) comes out of the sun, but she does pass through a deep shadow under the archway before entering into the world of the Café La Mar Azul.  And Mr. Peters (Sidney Greenstreet) is a completely black figure as he emerges from the bathroom and before the light of the hotel room lamp illuminates his face.

 

-- Discuss how this scene is both deeply realistic (in its depiction of a war-torn Vienna) and highly formalistic (in its use of a variety of non-realistic camera, lighting and musical techniques).

 

For those who may have forgotten that Vienna was, like Berlin, a divided city under four-power administration in the early postwar years, The Third Man serves an almost documentary function to bring that historical period back to life.  The film preserves both images of unreconstructed Vienna after the wartime bombing as well as an appreciation for the political and military situation that existed at that time.  [Although it is a different type of film, Billy Wilder’s A Foreign Affair (1948) serves a similar function for Berlin.]  So, as Prof. Edwards notes, this scene from The Third Man cannot help but be highly realistic since it was shot on the actual streets of Vienna’s First District at night in 1949, not some set at Shepperton Studios.   Shreyvogelgasse 8, where Harry Lime makes his entrance, is still standing today and is visited by pilgrims on the Third Man Tour of Vienna.  So the setting is as realistic as can be, but the question is how director Carol Reed and and cinematographer Robert Krasker use formalistic techniques to turn this story into a cinematic work of art and not a postwar documentary.

 

The lighting and dutch angles used in this scene transform Vienna’s real streetscapes into something reminiscent of the painted sets of Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), that icon of German Expressionism.  To me this scene is a tour de force of film noir lighting and camera techniques.  The real buildings of the old city, now ravaged by war, offered the textures and already irregular forms that are further turned by camera angles and lighting into a cold, unwelcoming, off-balance world.  Contrasted against this dark world is the nostalgic zither score of Alex Karas.  What a loss it would have been if this soundtrack had been scored by even a great Hollywood composer like Max Steiner, Franz Waxman, or Victor Young!  To me Karas’s famous theme is music that reminds me of belle époque Vienna in the waning days of the Hapsburgs before World War I.  The pace is easy-going and gemütlich.  In The Third Man it serves as a constant, sad reminder of a lifestyle that has been lost through the ravages of war.  The dark streets of 1949 Vienna are definitely not gemütlich — they are the streets of film noir.  [it might be useful to compare the Reed /Kasker treatment of Vienna with how director Jules Dassin and cinematographer Mutz Greenbaum filmed London one year later in Night and the City (1950).]

 

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YES, I love The Third Man and absolutely adore Orson Welles! Whenever I hear the word Formalism, I think specifically of this scene with Harry Lime's (Orson Welles) entrance and the slanted shadows, the black cat at his feet, and the overall mystery of the scene. However, there are also realist elements with the cobblestone streets and scenes showing wartime ruin throughout the film.

 

The Third Man is not only one of the best film noirs of all time, but also one of the greatest movies of all time as The Working Dead pointed out. I really need to get the Criterion DVD for this.

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As I am joining the party late on this one, others have stated my opinions. I agree with The Working Dead that this is one of the best films not just noir. only other thing I can say is four words Orson Welles - Joseph Cotton.

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Okay, I know I'm setting myself up for a beheading, however, I've never been a "fan" of Orson Welles.  I think he's pompous, very overrated, talented, yes, however, so full of himself.  Perhaps everyone or most in Hollywood were/are but some didn't shove it in your face.

 

His appearance into this movie was not surprising with that "little boy misbehaving face".  He's saying, yes, here I am again, I'm wonderful and now I'll dazzle you more in this movie.  Sorry, but this movie never did anything for me.

 

I know he and Joseph Cotton had a long friendship and working relationship over the years as both being The Mercury Players; sometimes I think The Mercury Players were overrated...hmmm!

 

That being said, this is probably the ultimate film noir with it's darkness, dampness, shadows, angled shots, uninviting, desolate, deserted, mysterious, and confusing plot, locale, etc.

 

Welles gives the "entrance" as the culmination of this week's entrances.

 

I'm looking forward to another film noir movie.

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