Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose of Darkness #24: The Square Circle (Opening Scene from 99 River Street)

146 posts in this topic

We conclude this week's Daily Doses on "Film Noir in the Postwar Period," with the opening to 99 River Street. 

 

This Daily Dose will be delivered by email from TCM on Thursday morning, July 16.

 

If you want to read and watch the Daily Dose at Canvas, click here: https://learn.canvas.net/courses/748/pages/daily-dose-of-darkness-number-24-july-16-2015

 

Let the discussions begin! 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The trouble applies to Daily Dose #24 only. I was able to access the others.

 

 

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There was an incorrect setting in today's Daily Dose. I just adjusted it, and now everyone is authorized to view it. It is up at Canvas now, and the TCM email will be sent out shortly. Thanks for letting me know there was a problem.

 

Best, Prof. Edwards

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There was an incorrect setting in today's Daily Dose. I just adjusted it, and now everyone is authorized to view it. It is up at Canvas now, and the TCM email will be sent out shortly. Thanks for letting me know there was a problem.

 

Best, Prof. Edwards

Professor Edwards: thank you so much.... just logged in with no problem.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Post war, trying to finding a job and a nagging wife. It's enough to make a man commit robbery or even murder. Money is tight so I'm sure more people were watching TV than going out to the movies. Films will have to give folks something they aren't getting on TV like wider screens and color. I see the beginning of the end for film noir as we know it. We'll have to splash a bit of color around and call it neo-noir but I'm getting ahead of myself in class. Lol

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Curator's note states that "In an almost humorous contrast, director Phil Karlson seems to be slyly commenting on the limitations of television in the 1950s. In comparison to the vigorous action we have just witnessed, our first glimpse of television is in slow motion, as if TV literally can't keep up with cinema's dynamism."

My reaction was the opposite of yours. I think the television version was superior to the cinematic version precisely because it mixes slow motion with dynamic action. The television version acknowledges "we'll go back and give you that knockdown again in slow motion." The implication here is that the knockdown had just been shown in dynamic motion, and now the television version is giving the viewer something that cannot be seen without the aid of technology - a slow motion review of what has occurred, so that the viewer can better understand what has just happened. Then, the tv version goes back to dynamic motion.

 

In my opinion, this makes the tv version superior to the filmed version. I understand that movie producers felt that television was a competitor, but I don't think this clip shows tv in a bad light versus cinema. Just the opposite, actually. 

It was fun to see the diminishing horizontal white bar when the tv was turned off. I had forgotten about that.

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Boy, this one is packed with post-War disillusionment and tension! Here we have a not-so-young couple, both of whom have given up on their youthful dreams of success (Ernie, a boxer, *this* close to a championship; Pauline, a showgirl dreaming of stardom). He's still holding onto hope of a better life, but his new dream doesn't interest his wife. The bauble on her wrist hints at her new dream, and it isn't as wholesome as owning a small business.

 

Prof. Edwards makes a keen point about the contrast of movies and television in this scene. At the time of this movie (1953), TV was still in its infancy, with most original programming being broadcast live, and then rebroadcast in earlier time zones as kinescopes. If you watch dramatized content from that time, it's like watching a barely ready stage play shot with an old VHS camcorder. Awkward, poorly paced, and with a terrible picture quality. As Prof. Edwards points out in his notes, the cinematic version of the fight is dynamic, in-your-face, brutal and painful. On TV, it's little, removed, slowed down. No impact. The only thing the process shot used to show the TV picture lacked is the poor resolution and almost ubiquitous "snow" that TV signals had back then. One other thing I'd point out about TV versus movies, which perhaps the director was subtly signaling: when you can bring entertainment into your home, you're going to set up conflict about what gets watched. Though it's not the main point of the conflict here, you can see it in this scene. The wife is disgusted at having to watch what the husband cannot tear himself away from.

 

If you can get the image of Payne's sensitive, nice guy lawyer from "Miracle on 34th Street" out of your head, you see an actor whose face was built for noir. I watched this movie last week (not knowing it was going to be a focus of a Daily Dose; it's one of a handful of noirs available through Netflix streaming), and Payne's performance is stellar. The desperation, the barely contained anger, the disgust with the artifice and deception of the world around him ... it's all there, and it feels real. Many a middle aged man whose dreams have been buried beneath the weight of real life can identify with the roiling turmoil just beneath Ernie's skin.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hemingway. A.J. Liebling. Joyce Carol Oates.

 

They and many other journalists and authors have made effective use of boxing as a framework for stories. The fight inside the ring (with its cheaters and brawlers and unfair judges) serves as a story-within-a-story to help readers understand the larger drama at play.

 

The same framework is effective for filmmakers, as is clear in this clip from "99 River Street."

 

The "pug" in the movie who lost in the ring is also losing in life, but is he down for the count?

 

 I can't wait to see.  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Curator's note states that "In an almost humorous contrast, director Phil Karlson seems to be slyly commenting on the limitations of television in the 1950s. In comparison to the vigorous action we have just witnessed, our first glimpse of television is in slow motion, as if TV literally can't keep up with cinema's dynamism."

My reaction was the opposite of yours. I think the television version was superior to the cinematic version precisely because it mixes slow motion with dynamic action. The television version acknowledges "we'll go back and give you that knockdown again in slow motion." The implication here is that the knockdown had just been shown in dynamic motion, and now the television version is giving the viewer something that cannot be seen without the aid of technology - a slow motion review of what has occurred, so that the viewer can better understand what has just happened. Then, the tv version goes back to dynamic motion.

 

In my opinion, this makes the tv version superior to the filmed version. I understand that movie producers felt that television was a competitor, but I don't think this clip shows tv in a bad light versus cinema. Just the opposite, actually. 

It was fun to see the diminishing horizontal white bar when the tv was turned off. I had forgotten about that.

That is a great observation! When first watched it I saw it as inferior too, but I wasn't looking at it from the sports fan point of view. Slow motion and instant replay from TV became a popular that now they show it on the big screen for life events. But I agree with Professor Edwards that they were trying to give a little jab at TV not realizing that that's what the sports fans wanted.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Curator's note states that "In an almost humorous contrast, director Phil Karlson seems to be slyly commenting on the limitations of television in the 1950s. In comparison to the vigorous action we have just witnessed, our first glimpse of television is in slow motion, as if TV literally can't keep up with cinema's dynamism."

My reaction was the opposite of yours. I think the television version was superior to the cinematic version precisely because it mixes slow motion with dynamic action. The television version acknowledges "we'll go back and give you that knockdown again in slow motion." The implication here is that the knockdown had just been shown in dynamic motion, and now the television version is giving the viewer something that cannot be seen without the aid of technology - a slow motion review of what has occurred, so that the viewer can better understand what has just happened. Then, the tv version goes back to dynamic motion.

 

In my opinion, this makes the tv version superior to the filmed version. I understand that movie producers felt that television was a competitor, but I don't think this clip shows tv in a bad light versus cinema. Just the opposite, actually. 

It was fun to see the diminishing horizontal white bar when the tv was turned off. I had forgotten about that.

 

Hi Tom: I love points that open up to interesting debates. I still feel that a greater sense of immediacy and power is in the cinematic version of the bout (such as in the POV punches that could only be in a cinema version in the 1950s). But in addition to the cinema/TV contrast, Karlson is a great storyteller, and putting aside a discussion of the two technologies, Karlson effectively uses TV's slow-motion aesthetic as a dramatic element in the scene, since the ex-boxer agonizingly has to re-watch and re-live his last bout, and the slow motion footage lingers on the screen like a bad memory that he can't shake. Thanks for your thoughts on this! It's a terrific film, certainly worth watching on Friday!

  • Like 4

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

That is a great observation! When first watched it I saw it as inferior too, but I wasn't looking at it from the sports fan point of view. Slow motion and instant replay from TV became a popular that now they show it on the big screen for life events. But I agree with Professor Edwards that they were trying to give a little jab at TV not realizing that that's what the sports fans wanted.

 

Yes, I think this is a great point, started by Tom's observation. I think another way to look at it through the lens of sports fandom is that the cinema version of the bout literally puts us in the ring as if we are experiencing the bout ourselves, and the TV version puts us more in the role of the spectator. I think that is also part of the strong contrast in this opening. In the cinematic version, the outcome hasn't been decided yet, it is the "live" version by way of analogy--the boxer is still boxing, the outcome uncertain. The TV version ("great fights of yesterday") has already been concluded and we watch, like the ex-boxer himself, a fight that can't be re-fought, it is over. And the ex-boxer is reduced, like all of the TV audience, to just a spectator--his ability to actively control the outcome of the fight ended in the cinematic version. He moves from active participant (cinema) to passive spectator (television). 

  • Like 4

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In the cinema shots of the fight scene, I found all the noir elements, the low angle shots of the fighters and all the closeups, when they showed the television shots I noticed the camera pull away.

 

This is a couple clearly dissatisfied with the path their lives have taken.  The flower shop clerk who wanted to be a star and the cab driver who never realized his dream of being a prizefighter. The introduction of the television in the 50's now interrupting the family dinner and the art of conversation. I really don't think she wants to be with this loser, in her eyes, anymore.   Again as in many of the later noirs, the theme being the lack of money and the want of it.  What's to come in the rest of the narrative to achieve that goal?

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I haven't seen this movie but this clip has pulled me in and I am looking forward to watching it. As mentioned in other posts this shows post-war cynicism and apprehension about the future. Just like many people of that period they had gone through life altering changes that changed the paths they were pursuing, a path they thought would lead them to happiness and success.

 

Now it is a daily fight to find a new life. (His past boxing life could be a metaphor for fighting to get a gas station. But maybe I'm reading too much into it). Ernie seems willing to continue that struggle but Pauline wants out. I can see this as an existentialist film noir theme. The existential philosopher Camus wrote in his essay "The Myth of Sisyphus " the struggle itself is enough to fill a man's heart." The struggle for the gas station is something Ernie wants to pursue. Pauline seems ready to take a shortcuts to achieve the American dream as outlined in the reading.

  • Like 5

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Compare and contrast how director Karlson shoots and stages the boxing scene as a contrast of styles between cinema and television.


The boxing shots are close up and seem a little slower as to allow is to pay close attention..


Discuss the scene's social commentary in the interactions between Ernie (John Payne) and Pauline (Peggie Castle).


I think around that time for a woman to be working it meant that they weren't doing to well financially.  It is clean that Pauline wants the perfect life and maybe that was what they had before when Ernie was on top.


What are some of the noir elements in this scene, either in terms of style or substance?


The down on his luck, desperation.  Will he do anything to be successful again?


Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The clip opens by showing the boxing match from a film perspective.  There are low angles and close ups, especially of Ernie.  Then we see Ernie in front of a TV set, as close as he can sit, not just seeing but also hearing the commentary about the moment that changed his life.  For Pauline, that moment represents his ultimate failure.  The ensuing discourse between the two reveals that not only have they lost the "American Dream" but they no longer share the same dream.  This marriage is not just headed for the rocks but on the rocks. 

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

That is a great observation! When first watched it I saw it as inferior too, but I wasn't looking at it from the sports fan point of view. Slow motion and instant replay from TV became a popular that now they show it on the big screen for life events. But I agree with Professor Edwards that they were trying to give a little jab at TV not realizing that that's what the sports fans wanted.

Excellent point about not realizing that that's what the sports fans wanted! I think the first reactions of the cinemasts to television reflect their lack of understanding of how to compete with television's strengths (and weaknesses). They were just lashing out at the threat they perceived from television. Remember when movie stars wouldn't make television commercials because they felt it would tarnish their images? Now, we even see "made for tv" movies! Now, of course, movies and tv are threatened by another technological threat - the internet (think Netflix, Hulu, etc.). 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Karlson opens this scene with us, the audience, alongside the boxers fighting. We're right there up close and personal. We're engaged, and quickly become involved as Karlson takes us even further and stages the scene in a manner by putting us in Ernie's role. As Ernie's opponent throws the punches, we are the ones that take those powerful, blunt blows. The opponent's gloves come fast, one right after the other at the camera. Audiences during this time might have even felt the impulse to dodge the quickness of the opponent's fists. Continuing on with the fight, Karlson shows the brutality of boxing as a sport by filling the frame with Ernie's battered and bloodied face.

 

Around the thirty-five second mark, Karlson slows the scene, and pulls the camera back. We now are watching the fight on a television. We see Ernie sitting closely, watching intently.

 

This is a stark contrast in between television and cinema. The director seems to convey the vastness of film and how it easily and effectively engulfs an audience. Cinema commands our attention. Every aspect from the actors, to the writing and direction, to the larger than life screen consumes a spectator in a way television could not. And Karlson succeeded with his attempt in showing how cinema has no worthy challenger.

 

I found the conversation amongst the supposed "happy couple" very interesting. Both Pauline and Ernie want a great life. Ernie seems genuine. He longs to work hard for his money, and wants to make Pauline happy. Pauline, on the other hand, is all about glitz and glamour. She wants money. Instead of standing by her husband, especially after his boxing career has just ended, she's ready to flee. Suddenly Ernie is no longer the companion she desires. And apparently she's already found another suitor, who has recently presented her with a rhinestone bracelet. Marriage: In good times and bad indeed.

 

The substance of this scene reflects on the struggles in life. In particular, the financial struggles in life, which oftentimes weigh heavily on a relationship. (Although, I stand firmly in my belief that Pauline has probably never really cared anything about Ernie.)

 

The times of the 50's had people trying to adjust to life after the war. Soldiers, especially were integrating back into society. The young draftees having been sent to war at such a young age possibly left them without a particular trade in which they could earn money. This could easily bring about a sense of uncertainty, as is shown in this scene through Ernie having just had his career end. Life in general is difficult enough, but life after a war is something nearly impossible to fathom.

  • Like 5

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Ernie is getting slugged from both sides...from his wife and his boxing career.

 

The smaller dimension of the TV resembles Ernie's life becoming more confined, smaller. His career has diminished. As has the big screen  He has to face another fight on the home front...his wife. What's he going to do make her happy?

 

They live in a small apartment and Pauline buys imitation jewelry that looks real in order to elevate herself and their situation. Ernie has to remind her that she's an ex-showgirl..putting her down even more. She feels the pinch of constraint in their relationship.

 

Ernie has a plan. A sensible plan when you think about it. He wants a gas station. Owning gas stations upon retirement seems to be a thread throughout a lot of films noir. Americana. Making something for yourself. Living the American dream. Such as in Out of the Past.  Postwar opportunities popping up.

 

Pauline is needling Ernie from behind and over his right shoulder. His right eye was damaged. Seems to me this is symbolic of Ernie receiving even more insults to his vulnerable side. Pauline pulls no punches when she tells Ernie that she is unhappy (to put it mildly).

 

The slow motion replay is painful to  watch on different levels. The slow motion accentuates the mistakes Ernie made in his last fight. He can't take those mistakes back or redo the fight.

Boxing, in my opinion, is brutal and so personal.  One on one. This scene emphasizes how damaging the sport can be physically as well as mentally. Particularly if boxing is the only thing one has relied on as I suspect Ernie has.

 

We shall be waiting to see what Ernie will do. The last shot of his face tells the audience he is already thinking ahead.

  • Like 7

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Compare and contrast how director Karlson shoots and stages the boxing scene as a contrast of styles between cinema and television.

 

The biggest difference is the speed within the box of the television plays in slo-mo for the better part and the shots with cinematic depiction play much more fast paced and dynamic. If it's a criticism on the television I wouldn't have picked it up in today's language it would be added tools to progress the story versus intent to suggest TV is a lesser art form to convey ideas. TV was invented to communicate originally, and was not meant to be the selling machine with ads that it evolved into.

 

Discuss the scene's social commentary in the interactions between Ernie (John Payne) and Pauline (Peggie Castle).

 

The interactions are pretty bleak, loveless, critical, gloomy and unhappy in nature. I do not sense anything positive in this depiction of married life.

 

What are some of the noir elements in this scene, either in terms of style or substance?

 

Stylistically the staging could reflect film noir however I'd suggest the mood is most reflective of film noir. Nothing warm or happy about it. Dark is not necessarily the standout style however intensity in John Payne's eyes suggests more menace to come. He has desperation which can weigh heavy on a protagonist at wits end. I'd say the substance here is intentions lost on circumstance. They wanted a better life but we're dealt a bum hand. They're intention was to be rich and famous but it went the other way and we see their struggle. My impression is this will only become worse and darker even with the addition of crime as a solution. What seedy action will he take to compensate?

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Compare and contrast how director Karlson shoots and stages the boxing scene as a contrast of styles between cinema and television.

- The cinema shots are close up. We hear the sounds of the gloves contacting, the roar of the crowd, even Ernie snorting through his nose.  The cinema announcer is excited and engaged.  The television shot has no realistic noise at first.  Karlson uses a different announcer who sounds antiseptic and gives condensed analyses, instead of blow-by-blow reporting.  When the new announcer shifts into real time commentary, the crowd noise, etc. returns to the television audio.

 

Discuss the scene's social commentary in the interactions between Ernie (John Payne) and Pauline (Peggie Castle).

- Pauline and Ernie are both downtrodden working middle class with high(er) aspirations.  She looks concerned (like a “good wife” of the period) but freshly coiffed and well dressed.  Ernie wears a shirt that is too big; his face looks haggard and worn (indicating he never got “up” metaphorically or in the ring after being knocked down).  She looks ready for an evening out, but is angry she did not choose well in her marriage. In the televised fight, Ernie didn’t hit back, he just took it; is he just “taking it” in his post-fight day job? He is in an up-hill battle with both his wife and the working world.  Now and the bright future is represented by the television, but the couple isn’t able to partake—they both peaked earlier.

 

What are some of the noir elements in this scene, either in terms of style or substance?

Style: During the cinema fight we see low camera angles and disorienting action close-ups.  Ernie’s head is at an angle to the middle rope when he stops his fall.  When we pull back into the room, the television is almost a substitute for a mirror.  The television view of the knockdown shows the middle rope at an angle across the screen.  When Pauline first appears, she is in the background, but also in focus.  The lamps are fairly high contrast lighting an illuminate a slanted wall/ceiling.  Ernie throws a shadow on the wall when he sits at the table.
   Substance:  Ernie is trying to survive in a futile world.  Pauline was not adapting to the “traditional” role for women before she married Ernie (ex-showgirl) and seem disgusted with the traditional role now.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The director showed us a lot of contrast between cinema and television with the boxing scene. With the cinema, we could see the blood clearly and see the sweat beading on Ernie's brow. With the television, when the commentator was saying there was something wrong with Ernie's eye, we couldn't see the eye very well on the tv screen, but the cinema screen was able to show us the real-time view of Ernie's eye. The director shows us how much we can see with cinema by displaying the tv screen and Ernie watching it all in the same frame.

 

Also, the director showed us that there are a lot of distractions with watching television, such as Ernie's wife telling him to finish his dinner. The director also showed us that our escape from reality is over so much sooner with television than with cinema. Ernie's wife shuts the tv off and then starts nagging at him, bringing him back to a harsh reality.

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi Tom: I love points that open up to interesting debates. I still feel that a greater sense of immediacy and power is in the cinematic version of the bout (such as in the POV punches that could only be in a cinema version in the 1950s). But in addition to the cinema/TV contrast, Karlson is a great storyteller, and putting aside a discussion of the two technologies, Karlson effectively uses TV's slow-motion aesthetic as a dramatic element in the scene, since the ex-boxer agonizingly has to re-watch and re-live his last bout, and the slow motion footage lingers on the screen like a bad memory that he can't shake. Thanks for your thoughts on this! It's a terrific film, certainly worth watching on Friday!

Perceptive comment about Karlson's use of TV's slow motion aesthetic, Richard! I have an additional comment to add to yours regarding "the POV punches that could only be in a cinema version in the 1950's." When I watched the clip, I was thinking that the POV of the fighter's face as he slumped against the rope was something that would not have been shown on TV in the 1950's, as TV did not have cameras positioned there in the 1950's. Only cinema would have provided a POV shot like that (advantage cinema).

 

Actually, back then, most sports fans used the newspapers to follow sports, not television or cinema's weekly newsreels. If you look at newspaper photos of baseball games from back then, you will sometimes see that cameras (and their operators) are positioned on the field, so that the newspapers could have close up shots of the action (zoom lenses weren't that good yet, so the cameras needed to be close by - you can see them not far behind the first- and third-base coaches, in foul territory). 

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


New Members:

Register Here

Learn more about the new message boards:

FAQ

Having problems?

Contact Us