Dr. Rich Edwards

JULY 3 TCM FILM NOIR DISCUSSIONS FOR #NOIRSUMMER FOR ALL 14 FILMS

135 posts in this topic

The Lady From Shanghai

 

I have to admit something: I do not understand the love for Orson Welles.

 

I watched this last night (giving myself a bit of space to think about it) and wished I hadn't, hard on the heels of watching The Stranger. The latter film I didn't have much of a problem with, apart from the premise, that is: surely even in the 1940s the government would have been able to carry out basic background checks that would've quickly blown Orson Welles' Nazi's cover! Instead, the Fed. Mr Wilson, hangs around, attends parties, plays checquers and basically waits for Welles to make a mistake and murder again. In any event, I did like the film to a degree: I enjoyed some of the cinematography (the long shot of the ladder leading up to Welles in the belfry) and the performances of Edward G Robinson and Loretta Young...but Welles...no. All swivel eyes (has anyone else noticed he seems incapable of looking at anyone in the eye in movies?), and odd jerky movements and monologues (btw, really...it took hours for Robinson to twig to Welles's comment about "Jewish, not German?), I just found him so unconvincing. And his utter indifference to his wife made you wonder what it was that she was supposed to have seen in him in the first place! 

 

Anyway, that was the film I quite liked! 

 

But where to start on The Lady From Shanghai? (Lets get Welles' awful mock-Irish brogue out of the way first and say no more about it!) I understand that Welles' stated aim was that he wanted to get unique acting performances out of the cast in this film and he certainly did that! Uniquely awful. I get that we're asked to suspend belief for a while when we enter a noir...but would anyone - ever - believe that Bannister and Grisby were the top attorneys they were supposed to be, and not some escapees from the asylum? Glen Anders' (Grisby) hysterical over-acting alone made me cringe and want to tune into something else. And there we go with Welles' swiveling eyes again. Deliberately, maybe but Rita Hayworth looked perhaps the only relatively normal person in the movie but even she seemed to glide lagubriously through the whole thing; I got the idea she wouldn't have even had the energy to scheme the way she was supposed to have! 

 

Cinematography wise it was just fine, but for me no amount of visual flair could make up for the mess of the script and the dreadful acting performances. I understand that the reaction of press and public at the time of release was distinctly lukewarm and I'm not surprised. 

 

I've never watched The Third Man and after these two films, I'm not sure I want to.

I guess I am not the only one who is outted with regard to Orson, most especially with regard to his acting ability.  I had seen "The Stranger" once before I started taking this course.  I tried to watch it again last week.  I got one-third of the way through it and could not continue.  I have already posted my feelings about "The Lady from Shanghai," which, aside from the cinematography, I found to be quite unenjoyable.  Putting aside "Citizen Kane," which is a whole other discussion, the only movie I have ever seen starring Orson that I have truly loved was "Jane Eyre."  His interpretation of Mr. Rochester is hands down the BEST I have ever seen, and there have been numerous movie and television productions of that classic novel over the years (actually if the truth be known, probably far too many productions).  Somehow as Mr. Rochester Orson was just handsome enough and intriguing enough and dark enough to embody that enigmatic creature.  But I think the real beauty of his performance in "Jane Eyre" was that it seemed effortless.  Often when I watch Orson, the actor, it looks as though he's trying much too hard for something he can't quite capture.  

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The Lady From Shanghai

 

I have to admit something: I do not understand the love for Orson Welles.

 

But where to start on The Lady From Shanghai? (Lets get Welles' awful mock-Irish brogue out of the way first and say no more about it!) I understand that Welles' stated aim was that he wanted to get unique acting performances out of the cast in this film and he certainly did that! Uniquely awful. I get that we're asked to suspend belief for a while when we enter a noir...but would anyone - ever - believe that Bannister and Grisby were the top attorneys they were supposed to be, and not some escapees from the asylum? Glen Anders' (Grisby) hysterical over-acting alone made me cringe and want to tune into something else. And there we go with Welles' swiveling eyes again. Deliberately, maybe but Rita Hayworth looked perhaps the only relatively normal person in the movie but even she seemed to glide lagubriously through the whole thing; I got the idea she wouldn't have even had the energy to scheme the way she was supposed to have! 

 

Cinematography wise it was just fine, but for me no amount of visual flair could make up for the mess of the script and the dreadful acting performances. I understand that the reaction of press and public at the time of release was distinctly lukewarm and I'm not surprised. 

 

I've never watched The Third Man and after these two films, I'm not sure I want to.

 

First of all, DO see The Third Man!  It's not an Orson Welles movie.  He's hardly even in it and I don't really see his hand in the direction either. It is a great film, that I happen to be seeing in 4k restoration on the big screen tomorrow. It's one of my favorite films.

 

As for Lady from Shanghai, I so agree with everything you said.  Dr. Edwards seems to really like this movie and be a big fan of Orson Welles but I felt exactly as you did. The cinematography and production values in general were great, but anything having to do with the actors was off, from the dialogue to the affected speech patterns to the costumes. This film is like a beautifully done painting of an ugly subject.

 

The performances were so over the top. Welles' Irish accent was comical, the weirdly affected way all the other characters spoke was annoying, and how many shots of Rita Hayworth just looking luminously beautiful do we need to establish that she is, indeed, beautiful? (Don't get me started on her sailor suit.)  There were embarrassingly silly asides by bystanders in several scenes like the teachers and children at the aquarium and people at the trial. The basic story was ok, but the script was just not that good. Rita Hayworth almost seemed surprised at the ending herself! (Almost threw a spoiler in there :).

 

I've seen this movie before and always thought it was someone trying to imitate Alfred Hitchcock. But what Hitchcock does so brilliantly, this film just makes look silly and self-conscious.

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The Window (1949)

RKO Radio Pictures

 

-The inability to separate truth from lies

 

“The Window” is a suspenseful thriller, aided by the intensity of high contrast light and dark shadows, close-ups, slow panning shots, and quick cuts. It is an under-rated classic in multiple genres, I believe.

 

Tommy (Bobby Driscoll) witnesses a murder in a tenement and can not get anyone to believe him- not his parents, not the police. Too many stories from an active imagination has caught up with him. I guess a truth becomes a lie when its speaker loses credibility.

 

This is a stylish noir made so by the craftsmen behind the camera led by director Ted Tetzlaff. Looking back at the murder scene, the viewer does not see much. The suspense and fear we feel comes from watching Tommy’s reactions:

 

1. At first, only peeping eyes (close-up, light on eyes only as shade covers rest)

2. Eyes opening wider as a struggle ensues

3. He looks to his right, then to his left perhaps seeking help

4. His eyes fully open with fear as a wounded body falls

5. His eyes remain the same as if in shock as the weapon lands on the floor

6. He ducks as a woman approaches the window.

 

This scene is not enhanced by music. Its all visual. All noir.

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THE BRIBE

 

It has an MGM gloss all over it, as it does its best to make stars Robert Taylor and Ava Garder look beautiful. And let's acknowlegde that by saying Ava Gardner looks stupendous in that black dress. 

 

avathebribe.jpg

 

It's interesting to see how this production focuses on the romance between Taylor and Gardner and less on the criminal activities taking place. While some violence occurs it looks rather sanitized compared to the RKO and WB noirs. 

 

The final sequence, the shootout during the fireworks looks pretty spectacular and has some surreal qualities to it. Alledgedly this sequence was directed by Vincente Minelli..

 

Charles Laughton's charisma and talents are undeniable, even though he was clearly struggling with the accent his character was supposed to have.

 

Agree.  This is typical MGM at work.   Even when it made noir's it was determined to focus on the less-dark, less-sordid elements and aspects of the story and characters being depicted.   And there's almost always a happy ending.

 

Yes, too, to their fondness for pairing two beautiful stars, in The Bribe's case, Taylor and Gardner.   Worthy of note is the lack of a true 'edge' or dark side to either character.   MGM liked pretty, not ambiguous or complicated, which actually plays against the noirs of other studios like Warner and RKO.  .      

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I have to say that I was not too impressed with the featured films noir last night. Although they were entertaining, I have to question whether or not it fits the film noir mold.

 

While the films do have the technical elements of chiaroscuro and POV shots, I felt the mood of noir was not present. The films played out more as psychological thrillers. Perhaps the filmmakers at that time were trying to cash in on the film noir popularity and just created a collage of different noir elements. I think the directors may even have gotten too carried away on the plot devices. I have to say that I was particularly disturbed at the idea that a character could consider and even act on their attempt to murder a child. 

 

As we approach week 5 of the Investigating Film Noir course, I would have to say it's really serving its purpose in that I am constantly re-evaluating my definition of film noir. There are times where I am open to the possibility that it is a genre, other times a style, but most of the time it confirms my longstanding opinion that film noir is more about the mood in addition to the technical and literary aspects of a film noir.

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Could not disagree more.  I'm not sure it's possible to over-rate or over-emphasize how important and influential Welles was in virtually everything he attempted.    Yes, he was a larger-than-life personality and presence, with a very flawed personal life that suffered from some of the same traits that undermined his professional career; arrogant, over-bearing, prone to self-promotion, surely egotistical --- but whether in theater, radio or film he forever changed the medium in which he worked.    Not many artists can say that.      

 

Orson was as good as he wanted to be which, admittedly, wasn't always that good.   He took lots of hack acting roles to support his independent directorial efforts once he fell out of favor in Hollywood.   Several of his films were taken away from him and butchered by producers/studios for a variety of reasons.   Many of his productions were terribly underfunded because he found it hard to find backers.   That often forced him to be inventive in his productions, ala Val Lewton; shooting them piecemeal, as funds could be found, in between his acting roles, and the final results sometimes suffered because of it.   (That's certainly the case with his equally flawed but often brilliant Shakespearean efforts, Macbeth, Othello, Chimes at Midnight.)

 

At his best, Welles arguably made some of the finest, most innovative and visually stunning films ever made.   Knowingly or not, he was one of the forerunners of the noir style, not only because of his use of lighting and camera angles and visual imagery, but also because of the way he (and Herman Mankiewicz) told a story or the way he (and Bernard Hermann) used music.  No one ever did these things in film until Orson did them, just as he broke ground in theater and radio before it.   

 

Citizen Kane may indeed be the single greatest film ever made.   The Magnificent Ambersons is almost as good, but only suffers in comparison to Kane as well as an admittedly dated Booth Tarkenton story, Journey Into Fear, The Stranger, The Lady From Shanghai, and Touch of Evil followed; the latter two among the very best noirs.  

 

And by no means forget the staggeringly impressive coterie of actors, writers, musicians, editors and cinematographers, etc. whose careers were launched by and under Welles.  

 

For all that, of course, we continue to wonder what Welles might have accomplished if given a free hand and ample resources throughout his career, if he hadn't have alienated so many studios and producers, if he hadn't driven himself into exile and film-making purgatory...or if he had ultimately chosen to confine himself to just directing, or acting, etc. instead of literally juggling so many different callings.  

 

Then again, that wasn't Orson.   Welles never knew, or perhaps refused to recognize his own limitations.   Lucky for us he didn't.   

 

And you have the right to disagree. But I have to say every one of your reasons has pretty much confirmed my original premise. He is overrated.

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Often when I watch Orson, the actor, it looks as though he's trying much too hard for something he can't quite capture.  

 

EXACTLY!

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And you have the right to disagree. But I have to say every one of your reasons has pretty much confirmed my original premise. He is overrated.

 

Interesting discussion on Welles.   One POV I have is the term 'overrated' doesn't really communicate much or has a very different meaning to each of us.    I prefer one just tell me how they view Welles and the movies he directed.  This gives me more to ponder.  But if when one uses 'overrated'  they are saying 'he isn't the greatest,  ever',  well I can agree with that,  but as the other guy said there is a lot to admire about Welles and the films he made,  but of course,  like any artist there are legit criticism.     One is that he could be excessive.   Lady From Shanghai is a good example;  much to like about the film, but to me better editing would have made the film tighter and more cohesive,  as well as some of the characters being less 'out there' (but hey, I'm sure for others 'out there' characters is what makes the film for them).

 

As for the question; Would Welles studio-era Hollywood films have been better if the suits gave Welles total control;  While no one can really answer this question,  I think Welles needed to be restrained.    While a movie like The Trial is interesting I wouldn't have wanted every Welles movie to be like that one!

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 But when one uses 'overrated'  they are saying 'he isn't the greatest,  ever',  well I can agree with that.

 

And this is how I define overrated. 

There's no denying that Welles had a good contribution to the film industry, but for those to claim that he is the best and that Citizen Kane is the all time greatest film, I'd have to disagree. I think The Godfather if far superior (though I liked Part II better; only because I love Robert DeNiro [and yes I have a tattoo of his image]). There are plenty of movies that are better or on an equal standing. There just seems to be a bias among Welles aficionados that want to put his work up as the definition of fine film making. 

 

I've read claims that Welles is the forerunner of noir filmmaking. Preposterous! Have we forgotten about Lang? Preminger? If asked what I think is the first film noir, I'd say Mamoulian's City Streets (1931); others may list different films, but to say Welles is the forerunner? No way. I'll let my own bias answer this question: Welles can't even hold a candle to Alfred Hitchcock.

 

As an actor, he is a hit or miss. Terrible in The Lady of Shanghai. Mediocre in The Stranger. Good in The Third Man. Great in Citizen Kane. However, in the latter two, I think it was Joseph Cotton (an accomplished actor) that made Welles a better actor.

 

That's my clarification on "overrated".

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And this is how I define overrated. 

There's no denying that Welles had a good contribution to the film industry, but for those to claim that he is the best and that Citizen Kane is the all time greatest film, I'd have to disagree. I think The Godfather if far superior (though I liked Part II better; only because I love Robert DeNiro [and yes I have a tattoo of his image]). There are plenty of movies that are better or on an equal standing. There just seems to be a bias among Welles aficionados that want to put his work up as the definition of fine film making. 

 

I've read claims that Welles is the forerunner of noir filmmaking. Preposterous! Have we forgotten about Lang? Preminger? If asked what I think is the first film noir, I'd say Mamoulian's City Streets (1931); others may list different films, but to say Welles is the forerunner? No way. I'll let my own bias answer this question: Welles can't even hold a candle to Alfred Hitchcock.

 

As an actor, he is a hit or miss. Terrible in The Lady of Shanghai. Mediocre in The Stranger. Good in The Third Man. Great in Citizen Kane. However, in the latter two, I think it was Joseph Cotton (an accomplished actor) that made Welles a better actor.

 

That's my clarification on "overrated".

 

In a discussion related to any art form I would disagree with anyone that used the word 'is' as in 'is the forerunner,,,'.  

 

Note that the other guy said;  Knowingly or not, he was one of the forerunners of the noir style,,,,   (a statement I agree with)

 

Sadly it is common for those selling product to use  'is' instead of 'one of' to over emphasize their point.   This is called puffing.  

 

I hope you can see the humor in your comment about Hitchcock.   To me I see some puffing going on there.   :D

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I have to say that I was not too impressed with the featured films noir last night. Although they were entertaining, I have to question whether or not it fits the film noir mold.

 

While the films do have the technical elements of chiaroscuro and POV shots, I felt the mood of noir was not present. The films played out more as psychological thrillers. Perhaps the filmmakers at that time were trying to cash in on the film noir popularity and just created a collage of different noir elements. I think the directors may even have gotten too carried away on the plot devices. I have to say that I was particularly disturbed at the idea that a character could consider and even act on their attempt to murder a child. 

 

As we approach week 5 of the Investigating Film Noir course, I would have to say it's really serving its purpose in that I am constantly re-evaluating my definition of film noir. There are times where I am open to the possibility that it is a genre, other times a style, but most of the time it confirms my longstanding opinion that film noir is more about the mood in addition to the technical and literary aspects of a film noir.

I'm having the same experience, The definition of film noir is a topic that I initially dismissed as a not very interesting one, but I agree with you that the course is panning out to make that question one of real interest and value in analyzing the films.  I listened to the full Clute and Edwards podcast on The Third Man in which they have an extended discussion on whether or not the film can be considered a noir at all.  Clute basically says its not and Edwards maintains it is, although he did come around a bit to Clute's side as the discussion went on.  Their positions turned on style vs. genre.  From the genre perspective, most of the traditional noir elements are missing: no femme fatale, no conflicted protagonist, no moral gray areas, etc.  Style wise, it is heavily noir with the camera angles, deep focus, and lighting contrast.  I think Clute makes a strong case for the genre argument, but I'll be keeping an open mind on this as the course continues.  Just adds a really neat angle to consider while watching this extravaganza of great films. 

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In a discussion related to any art form I would disagree with anyone that used the word 'is' as in 'is the forerunner,,,'.  

 

Note that the other guy said;  Knowingly or not, he was one of the forerunners of the noir style,,,,   (a statement I agree with)

 

Sadly it is common for those selling product to use  'is' instead of 'one of' to over emphasize their point.   This is called puffing.  

 

I hope you can see the humor in your comment about Hitchcock.   To me I see some puffing going on there.   :D

 

My use of "is" was more of a mistake in my paraphrasing' not a puff.

However, agreed that I was intentionally puffing about Hitchcock.

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My use of "is" was more of a mistake in my paraphrasing' not a puff.

However, agreed that I am puffing about Hitchcock.

 

I admit it would be unfair of me to use my inside knowledge of your tattoo anytime Hitchcock is involved in a discussion.     ;)

 

But seriously there are some Hitchcock threads at this forum and your input would add interest to them.   I'm a huge fan of Hitchcock but I have been known to say Vertigo is overrated ever since the AFI rated it the #1 film instead of Kane.   But hey,  I would say any film on the AFI picks as #1 is overrated,  but of course in any ranking there has to be a #1.

 

(I have a bone to pick with the AFI since they didn't place Olivia de Havilland in their top 25 list of actresses).

 

 I don't wish to hijack this thread with Hitchcock so check out those other threads.                  

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Last evening I saw The Window and The Shadow on the Wall for the first time and enjoyed them both very much.  Children being the key figures in the films, children in great danger despite all of the caring adults around them, was quite a twist.  The use of lighting and shadows was wonderful in both films.  I really felt for Bobby Driscoll's character as he desparately tried to get help and was never taken seriously until it was almost too late!!

 

I didn't know about the tragic end to Bobby Driscoll's life until I listened to Eddie Muller's narrative.  How sad....

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Some interesting discussions going on in this thread this week. I am glad that many of you are keeping an open mind in your investigations of film noir. The issue of how to define, or even classify, film noir has been a debate raging for six decades and I doubt we are any closer to a conclusive answer to that elusive issue today.

 

Since the term film noir wasn't even coined until at least five years after the first film noir, how could filmmakers as different from each other as Huston, Wilder, Lang, Preminger, and Ulmer even know they were making film noir pictures in the first place? They were, first and foremost, talented filmmakers attempting to make mass entertainment films, and they happened to share a desire, or an artistic impulse, to innovate and find fresh ways to spin tales and experiment with the technical and aesthetic possibilities (in the case of the five directors I mention above) of the crime picture.

 

Ultimately, we have the advantage of hindsight. I love that film noir is a slippery term - not even 20/20 hindsight is going to pin down these films--and I feel like film noir likes it that way. That is why I use the metaphors of the "heist" and "investigation." Using the great production system of its time (the Hollywood Studio System) a cadre of artists took that apparatus to make their films "noirish" (else there would be no Summer of Darkness) and we are attempting to pin down, to the best of our current abilities, how and why they did that. For example, Fritz Lang wasn't interested in innovating in the musical, he wanted to make a new kind of crime picture. And the more rigorous we are in our investigations, I believe leads to an even deeper appreciation of the divine spells cast by these films--for that is what they are: glorious entertainment spectacles that we can watch again and again. Even when I struggle to define film noir, I'm almost never unhappy watching hundreds of classic films that may or may not be film noir and I am seldom disappointed in my viewing pleasure. 

 

Regarding trying to determine if an artist is overrated or not is another popular topic in this thread. Personally, I don't worry too much about how I rate an artist. Who is the better painter? Rembrandt or Vermeer? Picasso or Cezanne? I don't know, and I don't worry about that too much. But I do know, in the periods in which these artists worked, the story of the development and evolution of painting would be incomplete without referencing their key works. I feel the same about film noir. Anyone can have a strong personal taste (one way or the other) about an artist like Orson Welles. But let's, for argument sake, assume he never made any films in his life. Would the trajectory of film noir, as we know it today, be different? Again, from a critical standpoint, I would strongly argue that the answer is yes. Whether any one today likes or dislikes his films is a secondary matter to me. In the 1940s, Welles was highly influential as a director and his techniques were studied and shared by other artists in the classical period. A filmmaker like Robert Wise (of The Set-Up) edited many of Welles' efforts before turning into a director himself. The troupe of actors Welles assembled in his Mercury Theater group, such as Joseph Cotten, acted in many non-Welles films as yet another contribution to film noir. Welles elaborate use of deep focus photography became almost a norm by the 1950s and much emulated by other directors. And when Welles did sequences like the Hall of Mirrors ending to The Lady from Shanghai, he raised the bar and other directors took notice and rose to the challenge in their own pictures to have elaborate sequences that expanded the possibilities of cinema. So, for me, if I am investigating film noir, my notebook would be incomplete if I failed to pay attention to Orson Welles and his contributions to film noir.

 

Thanks everyone for making these topic threads such a pleasure to read! It is so exciting to read and participate in these posts and debates!

 

 

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As I was watching The Killers recently, it occured to me that physical artifacts worn or owned by a character  might be subtle (or not so subtle) clues to the character's nature or motivation, or symbolic of the character's relationship to another character.  In The Killers, the stolen brooch Kitty wore in the restaurant scene where the Swede punches the police lieutenant is a golden spider.  A few other examples came to mind:   Balin's phallic walking stick in Gilda and Phylis's ankle bracelet in Double Indemnity that caught Neff's attention and could be read as the initial  "chaining" of Neff to Phylis.   When the director moves in for a close-up of these objects, it seems that he is tipping us off to their symbolic import.  I will make it a point going forward in watching this series to keep an eye out for the use of artifacts in this way.  Any other examples out there?

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Regarding trying to determine if an artist is overrated or not is another popular topic in this thread. Personally, I don't worry too much about how I rate an artist. Who is the better painter? Rembrandt or Vermeer? Picasso or Cezanne? I don't know, and I don't worry about that too much. But I do know, in the periods in which these artists worked, the story of the development and evolution of painting would be incomplete without referencing their key works. I feel the same about film noir. Anyone can have a strong personal taste (one way or the other) about an artist like Orson Welles. But let's, for argument sake, assume he never made any films in his life. Would the trajectory of film noir, as we know it today, be different? Again, from a critical standpoint, I would strongly argue that the answer is yes. Whether any one today likes or dislikes his films is a secondary matter to me. In the 1940s, Welles was highly influential as a director and his techniques were studied and shared by other artists in the classical period. A filmmaker like Robert Wise (of The Set-Up) edited many of Welles' efforts before turning into a director himself. The troupe of actors Welles assembled in his Mercury Theater group, such as Joseph Cotten, acted in many non-Welles films as yet another contribution to film noir. Welles elaborate use of deep focus photography became almost a norm by the 1950s and much emulated by other directors. And when Welles did sequences like the Hall of Mirrors ending to The Lady from Shanghai, he raised the bar and other directors took notice and rose to the challenge in their own pictures to have elaborate sequences that expanded the possibilities of cinema. So, for me, if I am investigating film noir, my notebook would be incomplete if I failed to pay attention to Orson Welles and his contributions to film noir.

 

Personally, my opinions about Lady from Shanghai apply only to that movie. I like some of Orson Welles' other work very much and don't feel knowledgeable enough to say that he is or isn't a genius. I'm looking forward to seeing Touch of Evil again, which I remember liking, now that I can apply what I've learned in this class.

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The Lady From Shanghai (1948)

Columbia Pictures.

 

A visual feast

What strikes me most about Orson Welles directing is his composition in film.

There are many stylistic images of characters in the story as well natural pictorials of bridges. waterways, mountains, parks, clouds, cliffs, rivers and slew of people in and around most scenes.

 

He tends to like recreational activities. We see Michael O'Hara (Orson Welles) and Elsa (Rita Hayworth) enjoy a horse cab ride in Central Park. He later secretly meets Elsa at an Aquarium. Lastly, the finale takes place inside a Funhouse at an amusement park. I truly believe Welles was enjoying making this movie with these choices.

 

Discuss the role of character actors in these films? What are some of your favorite character actors in these films?

Arthur Banister (Everett Stone) was my favorite character. His disability, looks, dress and voice all made him whole and perfect as the distrusting husband who enjoyed toying with his wife’s “friend”. As charismatic as Welles was, and as beautifully photographed Hayworth looked, it was Mr. Bannister who I carefully paid attention to. From the moment we meet him trying to recruit Michael O’Hara, he seemed the character that would be at the center of the plot.

 

This film has an abundance of noir qualities and I enjoyed every minute of it. There were moments of extremes that reminded me of “The Third Man”.

 

Orson Welles was a big name in Hollywood, made big films for the studios, and in terms of noir, he left us this masterpiece.

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THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI.

 

"When I start out to make a fool of myself, there's very little can stop me"

 

These are the opening lines of the film, spoken in voice-over by Orson Welles. Just let them sink in for a moment. Who is saying this? Is it the character Welles is playing, is it Welles himself? Is it a metaphysical introduction to what is about to unfold?

 

In the lectures Prof. Edwards discussed formalism, and he also added - and I paraphrase -  'every element in a movie is a deliberate choice'. It is there for a reason. 

 

So I'm going out on a limb here and state that this movie is a complete exercise in formalism, testing and challenging the limits and constraints, but above all the possibilities of cinema as an art form,

 

So far fin this course formalism has mostly been addressed concerning the visuals in film, and then even limited to the static elements - mise-en-scene, lighting, camera work. But what if we extend this formalism and apply it to all elements in a film, and include sound (music, sound effects and yes, voice), narrative, story and plot, acting, and in this case even genre?

 

THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI uses all these elements to try and create a surreal and absurdist piece of cinematic art - with the artist present. 

 

One example.

Why is Hayworth's hair dyed platina blonde? It plays both with the vamp-like Noir persona of the femme fatale, but I believe it also plays with the audience's perception of a movie star, in this case Rita Hayworth. Her hairstyle deliberately gives Hayworth an unrealistic, surreal appearance, and is used as a formal means to actively involve the audience and notice, and even question what is shown on screen.

 

I'm pretty sure the same can be said for Welles' voice acting. Like mentioned earlier, Welles was an acting powerhouse. There is no way he'd use this weird accent as a 'realistic' element in a 'realistic' story. The accent is comparable to a skewed camera angle, or low-key lighting; it's a theatrical/cinematic element to - in this case - enhance the absurdity of the story.

 

This articficiality also applies to the other characters, the settings (Café Walhalla), the procedures (the entire court sequence is farcical with absurd questioning by Barrister (which means 'lawyer' in UK english)), and the dialogue. 

 

"Suicide is against the law. This is gonna be murder. And it's going to be legal"

 

"- Are you ill.

- I got some lead in me where it hurts"

 

"Either me, or the rest of the world is absolutely insane"

 

And my favorite, when Elsa says to O'Hara: "My beloved, .... my beloved fool".

The moment and way she says it make it 'work'.

 

Also mentioned earlier this film is a visual feast, Early in the movie there's an amazing shot of Elsa reflected in the glass of binoculars held by Grisby, and of course the 'crazy park' mirror house scene. 

 

There's so much more, but I'll leave it at this for now....

 

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THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI.

 

"When I start out to make a fool of myself, there's very little can stop me"

 

These are the opening lines of the film, spoken in voice-over by Orson Welles. Just let them sink in for a moment. Who is saying this? Is it the character Welles is playing, is it Welles himself? Is it a metaphysical introduction to what is about to unfold?

 

In the lectures Prof. Edwards discussed formalism, and he also added - and I paraphrase -  'every element in a movie is a deliberate choice'. It is there for a reason. 

 

So I'm going out on a limb here and state that this movie is a complete exercise in formalism, testing and challenging the limits and constraints, but above all the possibilities of cinema as an art form,

 

So far fin this course formalism has mostly been addressed concerning the visuals in film, and then even limited to the static elements - mise-en-scene, lighting, camera work. But what if we extend this formalism and apply it to all elements in a film, and include sound (music, sound effects and yes, voice), narrative, story and plot, acting, and in this case even genre?

 

THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI uses all these elements to try and create a surreal and absurdist piece of cinematic art - with the artist present. 

 

One example.

Why is Hayworth's hair dyed platina blonde? It plays both with the vamp-like Noir persona of the femme fatale, but I believe it also plays with the audience's perception of a movie star, in this case Rita Hayworth. Her hairstyle deliberately gives Hayworth an unrealistic, surreal appearance, and is used as a formal means to actively involve the audience and notice, and even question what is shown on screen.

 

I'm pretty sure the same can be said for Welles' voice acting. Like mentioned earlier, Welles was an acting powerhouse. There is no way he'd use this weird accent as a 'realistic' element in a 'realistic' story. The accent is comparable to a skewed camera angle, or low-key lighting; it's a theatrical/cinematic element to - in this case - enhance the absurdity of the story.

 

This articficiality also applies to the other characters, the settings (Café Walhalla), the procedures (the entire court sequence is farcical with absurd questioning by Barrister (which means 'lawyer' in UK english)), and the dialogue. 

 

"Suicide is against the law. This is gonna be murder. And it's going to be legal"

 

"- Are you ill.

- I got some lead in me where it hurts"

 

"Either me, or the rest of the world is absolutely insane"

 

And my favorite, when Elsa says to O'Hara: "My beloved, .... my beloved fool".

The moment and way she says it make it 'work'.

 

Also mentioned earlier this film is a visual feast, Early in the movie there's an amazing shot of Elsa reflected in the glass of binoculars held by Grisby, and of course the 'crazy park' mirror house scene. 

 

There's so much more, but I'll leave it at this for now....

 

Thanks for this post! I love it. I think you make wonderful points here, placing the film itself in a context of formalist experimentation.

 

Such a reading of the film fits its production backstory. Welles needed money for another project and he agreed to do this film for Columbia in exchange for a $50,000 advance for that other project. This was at the height of Welles' fame and power in Hollywood, and he convinced Harry Cohn to allow him to make his kind of film. Consider on The Lady from Shanghai that Welles was the director, producer and leading actor - that was extremely unusual in the classical period (common enough nowadays) and he used all those roles to innovate in ways that interested him as an artist. And Welles knew it. As Welles says in his conversations with Peter Bogdanovich about Harry Cohn (head of Columbia at the time) after the approval of the script, he quotes Cohn as saying "It's just because nobody should be the director and producer and also the leading actor in any picture. There's no way that he can be fired. Somebody has a deal like that--what's the use of me owning my own studio? I might as well be janitor." Of course, Welles the artist knew, and Welles even inserted a Chinese proverb into the film that I think explains his own motivations on this film: "One who follows his nature, follows his original nature in the end." It was in the nature of Orson to make this kind of film when he had the power to do so. 

 

Finally, I know that Welles' accent is always a source of contention in this film, but he was one of the highest paid voice actor in radio in the 1930s and 1940s. Before and during the time he is making these films in Hollywood he is also working (at the same time--sometimes flying overnight between LA and NY--I honestly have no idea when he slept except on airplanes between 1940 and 1946) consistently the featured voice in popular radio dramas such as the voice of The Shadow and as in demand radio voice for other hour long radio dramas. He may have been the most recognizable voice in America at the time, coming into America's living rooms via the radio (and don't forget, he was famous still for the War of the World broadcast he did that first propelled him to fame).

 

Given that many in the film audience would readily know his voice from radio, it never surprises me that he plays with it so much as a musical instrument--I would, if I was born with those god-given pipes! So I always see his accent as bringing in some of the techniques from radio (the use of an accent to convey character) as yet another influence on film noir--the influence of radio technique--which for Welles was another medium in which he demonstrated his mastery in this time period. So you might not like the accent, that's fair. But I fully give Welles credit for the accent being consistent and relevant to the story of "Black Irish" which is the working title of the film. Welles used his voice as characterization. 

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Stepping away from the debate about Welles and The Lady From Shanghai for a moment (though I personally think Welles' accent is unforgivable...the highest paid voice-artist in the world should have known better!).

 

Anyhow, I just watched The Threat, a nasty - in a good way - little B movie, which I thought was interesting mainly for it's decentralized cast: seemed to me that there was no real star, that the story didn't stop for too long on any one character. Also (and I admit to having absolutely no idea) but was this one of the first films where marks actually showed on people's bodies when they got shot? I can't think of any earlier film where this was shown, and I was mildly surprised to see that here!

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The Big Clock (1948)

Paramount Pictures

 

The Big Clock plays like is a classic whodunit with a twist- we know who the murderer is. They mystery then is how does the murderer find the man out who saw him enter his victim’s home right before the crime was committed. It is a fun cat and mouse noir thriller with great performances by Ray Milland and Charles Laughton and an excellent screenplay filled with surprises and twists.

 

The film opens with a three minutes long single take with no cuts. The director (John Farrow) shows us the city skyline in silhouette then pans around to capture the façade of a high-rise then slowly zooms in until we are inside the building and continuing follows a man exiting the elevator who then sneaks inside the belly of the building’s clock. Once there the camera tracks back and we see the time and day has moved back thirty-six hours and a flashback sequence begins to tell this story. Very noir-like.

 

The production value here is of high standards with elaborate sets, filled with details and decor.

 

In any genre, all around this is an excellent film with little to criticize and plenty to enjoy.

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i too like the big clock, the story, the cast, everything was great. elsa lanchester was great as usual. i like when she plays eccentric people. scene of the crime with van johnson was very good and of course white heat-cagney at his crazy best

The Big Clock (1948)

Paramount Pictures

 

The Big Clock plays like is a classic whodunit with a twist- we know who the murderer is. They mystery then is how does the murderer find the man out who saw him enter his victim’s home right before the crime was committed. It is a fun cat and mouse noir thriller with great performances by Ray Milland and Charles Laughton and an excellent screenplay filled with surprises and twists.

 

The film opens with a three minutes long single take with no cuts. The director (John Farrow) shows us the city skyline in silhouette then pans around to capture the façade of a high-rise then slowly zooms in until we are inside the building and continuing follows a man exiting the elevator who then sneaks inside the belly of the building’s clock. Once there the camera tracks back and we see the time and day has moved back thirty-six hours and a flashback sequence begins to tell this story. Very noir-like.

 

The production value here is of high standards with elaborate sets, filled with details and decor.

 

In any genre, all around this is an excellent film with little to criticize and plenty to enjoy.

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i too like the big clock, the story, the cast, everything was great. elsa lanchester was great as usual. i like when she plays eccentric people. scene of the crime with van johnson was very good and of course white heat-cagney at his crazy best

You are right about Elsa Lanchester being great. She always brings a certain charming spunk to her roles. I was happy to learn that she was married to Charles Laughton for over thirty years. 

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Thanks for this post! I love it. I think you make wonderful points here, placing the film itself in a context of formalist experimentation.

 

Such a reading of the film fits its production backstory. Welles needed money for another project and he agreed to do this film for Columbia in exchange for a $50,000 advance for that other project. This was at the height of Welles' fame and power in Hollywood, and he convinced Harry Cohn to allow him to make his kind of film. Consider on The Lady from Shanghai that Welles was the director, producer and leading actor - that was extremely unusual in the classical period (common enough nowadays) and he used all those roles to innovate in ways that interested him as an artist. And Welles knew it. As Welles says in his conversations with Peter Bogdanovich about Harry Cohn (head of Columbia at the time) after the approval of the script, he quotes Cohn as saying "It's just because nobody should be the director and producer and also the leading actor in any picture. There's no way that he can be fired. Somebody has a deal like that--what's the use of me owning my own studio? I might as well be janitor." Of course, Welles the artist knew, and Welles even inserted a Chinese proverb into the film that I think explains his own motivations on this film: "One who follows his nature, follows his original nature in the end." It was in the nature of Orson to make this kind of film when he had the power to do so. 

 

Finally, I know that Welles' accent is always a source of contention in this film, but he was one of the highest paid voice actor in radio in the 1930s and 1940s. Before and during the time he is making these films in Hollywood he is also working (at the same time--sometimes flying overnight between LA and NY--I honestly have no idea when he slept except on airplanes between 1940 and 1946) consistently the featured voice in popular radio dramas such as the voice of The Shadow and as in demand radio voice for other hour long radio dramas. He may have been the most recognizable voice in America at the time, coming into America's living rooms via the radio (and don't forget, he was famous still for the War of the World broadcast he did that first propelled him to fame).

 

Given that many in the film audience would readily know his voice from radio, it never surprises me that he plays with it so much as a musical instrument--I would, if I was born with those god-given pipes! So I always see his accent as bringing in some of the techniques from radio (the use of an accent to convey character) as yet another influence on film noir--the influence of radio technique--which for Welles was another medium in which he demonstrated his mastery in this time period. So you might not like the accent, that's fair. But I fully give Welles credit for the accent being consistent and relevant to the story of "Black Irish" which is the working title of the film. Welles used his voice as characterization. 

:)

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