Dr. Rich Edwards

JULY 10 TCM FILM DISCUSSION FOR #NOIRSUMMER FOR ALL 15 FILMS

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This week's lineup is from FOLLOW ME QUIETLY (1949) to RAW DEAL (1948).

 

Week 6 of the course feature The Motives: Film Noir Themes and Characters. As you watch these 15 films consider the themes of this week, especially existential motifs and psychological elements, as well as the leading male and female characters (without forgetting the excellent character actors we will encounter in today's lineup). 

 

Let the discussions begin!

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Currently watching Side Street. As I was watching the early moments of the film, I kept thinking about how light the film is; a contrast on traditional noir filming. As the film progressed and the plot moved forward, the darker the scenes got. Nice play on light to dark. The worse it got for Joe Norson, the darker the scene. Another example of an average Joe in an extraordinary circumstance going from bad to worse.

 

I loved seeing Jean Hagen in this film; although I kept hearing her "Lena" voice come out. Amusing.

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I agree with paintedlady on Side Street that it demonstrates a great play of light and dark by showing scenes getting darker as things became worse. I also like the way the storyline progressed. It started out with what Joe thought was a small transgression but then kept getting worse with every choice he made. It reminded me of another film noir movie Quicksand with Mickey Rooney. Like the character Joe, Rooney's character kept making choices he thought would help but ended up only making things worse. Both great movies exploring the existential concept of choice but Farley Granger played a more sympathetic character. Both movies also strike me as a cautionary tale on choice as well.

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 Side Street ...reminded me of another film noir movie Quicksand with Mickey Rooney. Like the character Joe, Rooney's character kept making choices he thought would help but ended up only making things worse. Both great movies exploring the existential concept of choice but Farley Granger played a more sympathetic character. Both movies also strike me as a cautionary tale on choice as well.

 

I'm surprised Quicksand didn't make the cut on Summer of Darkness. That's a pretty decent film noir. Quicksand was supposed to be Rooney's first role outside his Andy Hardy image. Also the femme fatale is played by Jeanne Cagney; sister of legendary tough guy James Cagney. Every time she came on scene, I kept seeing James Cagney with a wig; nearly identical in appearance. She's a good actress, too.

 

Detour also follows this same theme. Poor choices making events go from bad to worse. 

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I'm surprised Quicksand didn't make the cut on Summer of Darkness. That's a pretty decent film noir. Quicksand was supposed to be Rooney's first role outside his Andy Hardy image. Also the femme fatale is played by Jeanne Cagney; sister of legendary tough guy James Cagney. Every time she came on scene, I kept seeing James Cagney with a wig; nearly identical in appearance. She's a good actress, too.

 

Detour also follows this same theme. Poor choices making events go from bad to worse. 

 

 

Making poor choices goes to the heart of noir.   What we are is a result of the choices we make (or don't make).   Trouble is, choices are almost never made in a vacuum or on a level playing field.   They're almost always weighed down and burdened by the accumulated baggage of the past.  

 

Which broaches the question: is any choice truly 'free'?   Not in noir, it isn't.   The choices characters make are invariably compelled by their nature or by the forward momentum of the past, the cruel necessity of the present or the lure of a better, 'free' tomorrow, influencing, if not dictating, the decisions they make.  

 

"One who follows their nature finds their true nature in the end," said Elsa Bannister in The Lady From Shanghai.    Jeff in Out of the Past is trapped by the past and revisits it in false hope of breaking free.   Ole Anderson embraces death as the only outcome and atonement for 'having done something wrong, once' in The Killers..    Roy and Gil pick up Emmett Myers on a desolate road in The Hitch-hiker.   Mike Hammer stops for Christina Bailey on the highway, shields her when learning she's escaped from an asylum and then proceeds to make a long series of bad decisions that only make things progressively worse in Kiss Me Deadly, and how many bad decisions do both Jake Gittes and Evelyn Mullwray make to seal her fate in Chinatown?   The list goes on and on. 

 

But are these decisions truly 'bad' or flawed?   Can these characters, in these situations, have made any other choice but the one they made?   Would different decisions have truly changed the narrative?   If you grant that their hands may indeed have been forced by the past and by circumstances and their own true nature, could any outcome other than the one achieved have been possible?

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Making poor choices goes to the heart of noir.   What we are is a result of the choices we make (or don't make).   Trouble is, choices are almost never made in a vacuum or on a level playing field.   They're almost always weighed down and burdened by the accumulated baggage of the past.  

 

Which broaches the question: is any choice truly 'free'?   Not in noir, it isn't.   The choices characters make are invariably compelled by their nature or by the forward momentum of the past, the cruel necessity of the present or the lure of a better, 'free' tomorrow, influencing, if not dictating, the decisions they make.  

 

"One who follows their nature finds their true nature in the end," said Elsa Bannister in The Lady From Shanghai.    Jeff in Out of the Past is trapped by the past and revisits it in false hope of breaking free.   Ole Anderson embraces death as the only outcome and atonement for 'having done something wrong, once' in The Killers..    Roy and Gil pick up Emmett Myers on a desolate road in The Hitch-hiker.   Mike Hammer stops for Christina Bailey on the highway, shields her when learning she's escaped from an asylum and then proceeds to make a long series of bad decisions that only make things progressively worse in Kiss Me Deadly, and how many bad decisions do both Jake Gittes and Evelyn Mullwray make to seal her fate in Chinatown?   The list goes on and on. 

 

But are these decisions truly 'bad' or flawed?   Can these characters, in these situations, have made any other choice but the one they made?   Would different decisions have truly changed the narrative?   If you grant that their hands may indeed have been forced by the past and by circumstances and their own true nature, could any outcome other than the one achieved have been possible?

 

I'd say the decisions are free. That's not to say they aren't influenced, but they are free in the sense that the characters have moral ownership and responsibility for the choices they make. To go along with the existentialism from this lecture, when Noir characters act as though they have no choice and refuse to take accountability for their actions, they are typically dwelling on the negative sides of existentialism and ultimately looking at themselves as a being-in-itself, a thing, rather than a being-for-itself, i.e. that they are meaning making beings in a meaningless world.

 

For Out of the Past, I do think Jeff's decision is free. He could have gone on with being in the web of a completely murderous spiderwoman. He likely would've ended up dead at some point, but he embraces his fat and ultimately forces it at the end of the line, making sure that the femme fatale is unable to murder her way out of things once again.

 

I enjoyed Armored Car Robbery a lot, I'll be back for D.O.A. I've just noticed how many RKO pictures I've been watching recently. Oddly enough, in general, I'm not sure that the RKO visual style is my favorite cinema look. Just, on average, of the major studios I'm a bit more partial to the grit of Warner Bros. What's everyone else's personal preferred studio so far?

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i like the RKO noirs best, but the Warner Brothers gangster movies better. That being said Warner Brothers has good noirs

I'd say the decisions are free. That's not to say they aren't influenced, but they are free in the sense that the characters have moral ownership and responsibility for the choices they make. To go along with the existentialism from this lecture, when Noir characters act as though they have no choice and refuse to take accountability for their actions, they are typically dwelling on the negative sides of existentialism and ultimately looking at themselves as a being-in-itself, a thing, rather than a being-for-itself, i.e. that they are meaning making beings in a meaningless world.

 

For Out of the Past, I do think Jeff's decision is free. He could have gone on with being in the web of a completely murderous spiderwoman. He likely would've ended up dead at some point, but he embraces his fat and ultimately forces it at the end of the line, making sure that the femme fatale is unable to murder her way out of things once again.

 

I enjoyed Armored Car Robbery a lot, I'll be back for D.O.A. I've just noticed how many RKO pictures I've been watching recently. Oddly enough, in general, I'm not sure that the RKO visual style is my favorite cinema look. Just, on average, of the major studios I'm a bit more partial to the grit of Warner Bros. What's everyone else's personal preferred studio so far?

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Watching Caged now. It reminds me alot of Ladies They Talk about, but to its a bit better. I like that Jan Sterling was in it and other familar faces. Now if Barbara Stanwyck was in caged, she'd beat up all those female inmates

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Working from home again this Friday, and unfotuately, I am on call so not sure how much I will get to see today. Iam hoping things slow down so I can watch Red Light and The Hitch-Hiker later this evening!

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i like the RKO noirs best, but the Warner Brothers gangster movies better. That being said Warner Brothers has good noirs

 

Maybe I've just seen so many recently in such a short time (because RKO has so many top noirs) that the visual style is becoming a bit too familiar for me?

 

One thing you clearly notice with RKO is that there's a lot more comparative creative freedom than with the other studios. Armored Car Robbery really struck me as very ahead of it's time and edgy at some points--brutality of that final killing and the depiction of the police dragnet and police as more beatable to name two. Of course, there was lots of Hays Code and seemingly marks of clear studio interference (although that final scene which lightened the tone and made things happy almost seemed like it was intentionally shot as a mocking throwaway, drawing attention to it's own artifice.) RKO changed up it's management and ownership quite a bit, however, is my understanding, and thus the artistic freedom we associate with the studio could really ebb and flow just depending on the top brass at the time and some other factors.

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You hit the nail on the head with me. The Warner bros and MGM noirs seem predictable, but still good movies. The  RKO's didnt seem to have a formula and they seemed fresher compared to the other studios

Maybe I've just seen so many recently in such a short time (because RKO has so many top noirs) that the visual style is becoming a bit too familiar for me?

 

One thing you clearly notice with RKO is that there's a lot more comparative creative freedom than with the other studios. 

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Caged, Just finished watching it.. Now that was hard hitting warner brothers style,  Kinda shows how a femme fatale gets to be a femme fatale

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I was one of the people on this board that saw Caged as a child and found it disturbing. I have to say is a testament to Cromwell's talent that he was able to portray fear, violence,and feelings of hopelessness on such a visceral level that even a child could sense it and then carry those feelings into adulthood. A terrific example of the malaise cited by Borde and Chaumeton. Cromwell's portrayal of prison in Caged is as nightmarish as his movie Enchanted Cottage is dreamlike and ...well.. enchanted. As Professor Edwards noted "cinema is about giving the audience an emotion" and this one really hits it on the head. In fact I found it so disturbing as a child I considered not watch it again but I decided I wanted to see it through the eyes of this class.

 

The shots are by and large claustrophobic, some scenes or spine chilling, and the lighting makes menacing characters seem even more menacing. Kudos to Hope Emerson as Evelyn. She scared me as a child and she still scares me today. It's hard to believe she is the female weightlifter witness on Adam's Rib.

 

The movie starts with the audience learning she is there for making one bad choice - sitting in the car why her husband went into the gas station. If she had made a different choice her life would have gone another way. She took the leap into the absurd as mentioned by Porfirio and then found herself in an even more absurd world than the one left behind.

 

I agree with another poster, sorry I can't remember who you are, that the death of the kitten represents that nothing innocent can survive in that environment. I also think it represents the death of Marie's innocence.

 

After the hair cutting scene not only does her appearance change but her attitude changes as well. In Porfirio's essay he states in the section on the alienation and loneliness motif that the female protagonist are "unable or unwilling to avail themselves of the benefit of society". I think when Maria enters the prison she could be classified among the ones that were unable but with the loss of innocence she becomes the protagonist that is unwilling.

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I have a new appreciation for Caged, and although I've seen it several times before today, our discussion of film noir gives my viewing a new perspective.  Everyone is trapped in this film, including the non-inmates.  The shadows of bars are everywhere, even in the warden's office while the female warden talks with a male muckity muck wearing a suit and an attitude. From the dialogue to the set design to the lighting and direction, it's a great film from the noir vantage point.   

 

The fantastic Hope Emerson as the prison matron was an inspired casting choice.  I love what she does with the role, and she was nominated for an Oscar for her performance.  I really liked her in a film she made several years after this called Wayward the Women, a great western with a mostly female cast--not many of those were made.  But her performance in Caged elevates an already gripping film filled with elements that lift it above its bleak prison fare topic.  Hope you get a chance to see it if you missed it today.

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Just finished watching Caged. The first word I uttered after the closing credits...."Wow!"

 

What a major transformation for Marie; a poignant example of innocence lost. The hair shaving scene was the turning point for this character. I interpret this act as if this was her true deflowering. In the scenes following, she walks with more confidence, her baby doll voice is gone (and I really liked her husky voice much better) and that cold glare in her eyes! I really loved the way her exit is filmed especially as she is offered a cigarette by her new ushers. She is now a true femme fatale.

 

I don't blame this transformation on Marie's exposure to other criminal elements; rather, this is a direct result of the abuse she suffered at the hands of corrupt authority and politicians.

 

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post-47042-0-07631600-1436556466_thumb.jpg

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I'd say the decisions are free. That's not to say they aren't influenced, but they are free in the sense that the characters have moral ownership and responsibility for the choices they make. To go along with the existentialism from this lecture, when Noir characters act as though they have no choice and refuse to take accountability for their actions, they are typically dwelling on the negative sides of existentialism and ultimately looking at themselves as a being-in-itself, a thing, rather than a being-for-itself, i.e. that they are meaning making beings in a meaningless world.

 

For Out of the Past, I do think Jeff's decision is free. He could have gone on with being in the web of a completely murderous spiderwoman. He likely would've ended up dead at some point, but he embraces his fat and ultimately forces it at the end of the line, making sure that the femme fatale is unable to murder her way out of things once again.

 

I enjoyed Armored Car Robbery a lot, I'll be back for D.O.A. I've just noticed how many RKO pictures I've been watching recently. Oddly enough, in general, I'm not sure that the RKO visual style is my favorite cinema look. Just, on average, of the major studios I'm a bit more partial to the grit of Warner Bros. What's everyone else's personal preferred studio so far?

 

 

Think I actually like the RKO 'style' a little more than Warner's, and a lot more than say MGM.   For me, Warner's real trump card was it's stable of character actors that it had under contract...less Bogart, Cagney, Robinson, and more the Peter Lorre's, Sydney Greenstreet's, Ward Bond's, Elisha Cook, Jr's., Barton McLane's, Regis Toomey's, etc., etc.   These character's often drive the action, set the mood and move the narrative as much as the lead's, and are, in some ways, the backbone of noir at their studio.

 

RKO also had a very deep pool of actors to drawn on...but perhaps their real advantage was on the other side of the camera...with top-notch noir producers, directors, writers and technicians, and it's focus on 'B' vehicles, that allowed them to field a steady and impressive flow of noir vehicles during the Forties and Fifties.      

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i see things the same way as you. it was like one of the inmates told her, she has to get tough or be killed. her transformation was a matter of survival. i too think it was the harsh treatment in prison that instead of rehabiltating her it hardened her. 

Just finished watching Caged. The first word I uttered after the closing credits...."Wow!"

 

What a major transformation for Marie; a poignant example of innocence lost. The hair shaving scene was the turning point for this character. I interpret this act as if this was her true deflowering. In the scenes following, she walks with more confidence, her baby doll voice is gone (and I really liked her husky voice much better) and that cold glare in her eyes! I really loved the way her exit is filmed especially as she is offered a cigarette by her new ushers. She is now a true femme fatale.

 

I don't blame this transformation on Marie's exposure to other criminal elements; rather, this is a direct result of the abuse she suffered at the hands of corrupt authority and politicians.

 

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I'm surprised Quicksand Every time she came on scene, I kept seeing James Cagney with a wig; nearly identical in appearance. She's a good actress, too.

Sounds like a nightmare or some neo-noir idea ????

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I prefer the "traditional" films noir of the 40s and 50s. By traditional, I mean the crisp black & white photography with shadows, light & dark. There's usually a detective or hero, a girl and a dame. The detective or hero is morally ambiguous--has his own code of ethics. The girl is trying to hang on to the hero. The dame has her own code of ethics which are devoid of any morals. This combo makes for a great story with interesting characters and is beautiful to watch.

I don't care for the "noirs" that are more modern. The ones that deal with atomic bombs, drug dealing swingers or are in color. To me, these films aren't noirs. They belong in s different category--those that evolved out of noir, but into something else.

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All the three previous movies in today's lineup seem to center on choices. But D.O.A seems to focus more on the absurd.

 

" All I did was notarize a bill of sale" sums it up. Certainly he had choices. He could have not gone to San Francisco, he could have not gone to the bar etc. But these are inconsequential choices unlike the life-changing choices ( like stealing money) in the other movies.

 

It also seems to me that while this movie may have been exploring the absurd aspect of existentialism the character Frank is not an existentialist. He seemed desperate to find order and meaning so he can have closure. He not only spent the last hours of his life searching for his murders he goes counter to the existentialist philosophy alienation and loneliness by declaring in his love and no longer has a desire to "stand alone".

 

I will admit I have a very meager understanding of existentialism so I may be completely off base here but that's how I read it.

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totally agree with you, these are the noirs i like too- anything noir in the 60s is neo noir to me.. i like my noirs old school

I prefer the "traditional" films noir of the 40s and 50s. By traditional, I mean the crisp black & white photography with shadows, light & dark. There's usually a detective or hero, a girl and a dame. The detective or hero is morally ambiguous--has his own code of ethics. The girl is trying to hang on to the hero. The dame has her own code of ethics which are devoid of any morals. This combo makes for a great story with interesting characters and is beautiful to watch.
I don't care for the "noirs" that are more modern. The ones that deal with atomic bombs, drug dealing swingers or are in color. To me, these films aren't noirs. They belong in s different category--those that evolved out of noir, but into something else.

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Destination Murder: I'm really enjoying this one, the whole landscape is noir and I love the dialogue

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I'll copy what I just posted in another thread about DOA, since it just aired and is for this week.

 

Wow! I enjoyed DOA, and I think it's a near perfect filmfor this week's lecture topics and themes. So many existential themes in this movie!

 

Alienation, doom, desperation, chance/bad luck le, searching for meaning in a cruel meaningless world, authentic values/self vs. inauthenic (this is where I think the whole ladykilling and love part of the movie comes in, and parse how the movie almost seems like two movies), making an existential choice about which to value and recognizing one's role in creating those values, a decidely un-heroic hero, a man under the sentence of death, etc.

 

One major caveat, however, Edmund O'Brien! I still enjoyed this movie, but wow...he was really miscast in my opinion and lacked the range and subtlety needed for many of the emotional parts of this role. There was lots of really pushing/forces emotions to numerous acting scenes. He wasn't very believable at all as a guy that all these ladies would swoon over even though the script really positions him as that. And he's not that great at portraying possessed, the force of nature whirlwind nature to this part--the Death Wish, , tough guy part of the role--where he's a guy driven by vengeance. And that you will believe isn't afraid of death, because he's already doomed, but he wants to make sure he doesn't die too soon/before he is satisfied he's figured out who killed him and gone after that person. I understand why some of you criticized the sequence showing Frank Bigelow's life that he will miss "flash before his eyes" at the newsstand, but I think the director had to make that choice as the lesser of evils. It was a way to "show not tell" the audience that insight which was a better alternative than relying on O'Brien to emotionally convey that to the audience or to have him directly say it with voiceover dialogue.

 

Because this is a B Noir, I doubt they could have gotten any of these actors, but just to throw some names out there I think either Kirk Douglas or Robert Mitchum would've been better fits for this demands of part as well as Bogart and Welles. (edit: forgot this name, but another option: William Holden).  Am I being too demanding? Did Edmond O'Brien convincingly portray the role to you all?

 

To add some extras: the second half of this movie is very much a noir of the 50s and like some of the ones last week. Noir on the move! There's tons of city chase scenes. The visual style is very noir. Numerous uses of deep focus, unbalanced compositions, low key lighting, high contrasts, use of shadows to suggest danger and alter egos, high key lighting early on to convey the normalcy of the everyday world of the movie between the flashback starting and the movie going to the fisherman's beat jazz club.

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I'll copy what I just posted in another thread about DOA, since it just aired and is for this week.

 

Wow! I enjoyed DOA, and I think it's a near perfect filmfor this week's lecture topics and themes. So many existential themes in this movie!

 

Alienation, doom, desperation, chance/bad luck le, searching for meaning in a cruel meaningless world, authentic values/self vs. inauthenic (this is where I think the whole ladykilling and love part of the movie comes in, and parse how the movie almost seems like two movies), making an existential choice about which to value and recognizing one's role in creating those values, a decidely un-heroic hero, a man under the sentence of death, etc.

 

One major caveat, however, Edmund O'Brien! I still enjoyed this movie, but wow...he was really miscast in my opinion and lacked the range and subtlety needed for many of the emotional parts of this role. There was lots of really pushing/forces emotions to numerous acting scenes. He wasn't very believable at all as a guy that all these ladies would swoon over even though the script really positions him as that. And he's not that great at portraying possessed, the force of nature whirlwind nature to this part--the Death Wish, , tough guy part of the role--where he's a guy driven by vengeance. And that you will believe isn't afraid of death, because he's already doomed, but he wants to make sure he doesn't die too soon/before he is satisfied he's figured out who killed him and gone after that person. I understand why some of you criticized the sequence showing Frank Bigelow's life that he will miss "flash before his eyes" at the newsstand, but I think the director had to make that choice as the lesser of evils. It was a way to "show not tell" the audience that insight which was a better alternative than relying on O'Brien to emotionally convey that to the audience or to have him directly say it with voiceover dialogue.

 

Because this is a B Noir, I doubt they could have gotten any of these actors, but just to throw some names out there I think either Kirk Douglas or Robert Mitchum would've been better fits for this demands of part as well as Bogart and Welles. (edit: forgot this name, but another option: William Holden).  Am I being too demanding? Did Edmond O'Brien convincingly portray the role to you all?

 

To add some extras: the second half of this movie is very much a noir of the 50s and like some of the ones last week. Noir on the move! There's tons of city chase scenes. The visual style is very noir. Numerous uses of deep focus, unbalanced compositions, low key lighting, high contrasts, use of shadows to suggest danger and alter egos, high key lighting early on to convey the normalcy of the everyday world of the movie between the flashback starting and the movie going to the fisherman's beat jazz club.

I enjoyed Edmond O'Brien portrayal in this movie. I think he often seemed befuddled and out of place which i think is appropriate considering all that was happening to him. After all he was just told that had been poisoned and now had to deal with the type of people he probably never associated with before. He even had to act tough and try to rough some people up. That probably didn't happen in his day-to-day accounting world. I agree he doesn't fit the role of the stereotypical ladies man but that's just film noir. I agree with all of your other insights, they were great. I also agree this is a fantastic movie it's one of my favorites.
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Think I actually like the RKO 'style' a little more than Warner's, and a lot more than say MGM.   For me, Warner's real trump card was it's stable of character actors that it had under contract...less Bogart, Cagney, Robinson, and more the Peter Lorre's, Sydney Greenstreet's, Ward Bond's, Elisha Cook, Jr's., Barton McLane's, Regis Toomey's, etc., etc.   These character's often drive the action, set the mood and move the narrative as much as the lead's, and are, in some ways, the backbone of noir at their studio.

 

RKO also had a very deep pool of actors to drawn on...but perhaps their real advantage was on the other side of the camera...with top-notch noir producers, directors, writers and technicians, and it's focus on 'B' vehicles, that allowed them to field a steady and impressive flow of noir vehicles during the Forties and Fifties.      

 

As TCM watchers we get alot of exposure to WB, MGM, and RKO films (Turner owns their libraries) but of course some great noirs came from the other studios too. Paramount, one of the 5 majors (as laid out in the studio overview that was one of our class reading pieces a few weeks ago), had Billy Wilder with his trio of Double Indemnity, Sunset Blvd, and Ace in the Hole, which reflected some of that European wit and black humor Paramount was known for from the early era, having had expats like Ernst Lubitsch and Marlene Dietrich under contract. The other major, Fox, had Otto Preminger, John Brahm, and others. Many of their noirs tend to be complex and psychologically intriguing - Laura, Nightmare Alley.

 

We get less chance to see Columbia and Universal noirs on TV (here in the US); those studios have also lagged behind in putting their library out on DVD, though Columbia has issued some fine noir collections in the last 10 or so years. As smaller studios their output didn't reach the same numbers as the majors but there are some great ones - Columbia did Gilda and The Lady from Shanghai, and in the 50s, lower-budgeted gems like Fritz Lang's The Big Heat and Human Desire (remake of La Bete Humaine from the first week). Universal had the great Robert Siodmak working for them (The Killers, Criss Cross, Phantom Lady) and there was a lot of crossover from their horror series so they had a way with setting up eerie, creepy scenes.

 

Finally, so many noirs from the small independent studios are coming to screens large and small for us to enjoy. Movies like Detour and D.O.A. prove that the stuff of great noir can't necessarily be bought with big production budgets!

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