Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose of Darkness #27: A Handy Man (Opening Scene of Beware, My Lovely)

138 posts in this topic

  • Describe the noir elements, in terms of style and substance, in this opening sequence.

The noir elements are not as visible as they are sometimes. The 'noir' feeling about this opening sequence is more insidious: it comes with details, like the moment when we see Ryan through the window, looking inside the house and cleaning whatever there is on this window. It's also visible with the hammer he puts away very quickly (what's wrong with this hammer?). The fact he keeps calling the woman he works for although she doesn't answer is strange to say the least... and there's the filthy water inside the bucket. Is it something else than water?

  • What do you make of the film opening with the Salvation Army band playing and the prominent Salvation Army sign in that first shot?

The social context is important here; the action takes place shortly after WWI. Is Howard a veteran who has a hard time finding his place in post-war America? In any case, we can assume the main protagonist is not in a position to refuse the job Ida Lupino offered to him. The Salvation Army fights poverty. Maybe it's a personal interpretation but when I saw the Salvation Army band playing in the streets, I had the impression this small town was a very quiet place whatever would happen during the movie would disturb.

  • Even though it is set in 1918, how does this scene reveal some of the typical noir themes of the 1950s?

1918 and the early 1950s are both post-war periods; people and especially war veterans were trying to get back to 'normal life' after their discharge. Women had gained some independance during both wars (especially during WWII) and here we have a woman who hired a handyman and who asks him to clean and to take care of the rubbish (it's on the list of things Howard has to do at the beginning of the opening sequence): quite a role reversal...

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And yet another film noir with a train invariably leading to his escape from that corpse.  I especially enjoyed the way the music changes when he dicovers the dead body.  As a veteran I wonder just what he went through in the war?  The look of fear and the running away from the scene makes me wonder if he was psychologically scarred.  I do not think there was much assistance for returning veterans after this war.  Each individual had to make it on his own. 

 

A small  city with the Salvation Amry band playing makes that entire beginning scene quite serene. 

 

And the other thing that caught my attention was the huge railroad there.  So many tracks he had to run over in order to catch that train.  He went into darkness too just before he stole aboard. 

 

His paranoia is haivng him believe that it is he that they will come after for this crime. 

 

Interesting opening.

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Wk Beware My Lovely

 

-- Describe the noir elements, in terms of style and substance, in this opening sequence. There’s nothing really noir in the very opening.  On the surface, 1918 and a Salvation Army Band playing do not telegraph anything untoward.  Some noir elements:  The two cymbals crashing as if they were crunching the house in the distance.  Robert Ryan trying to remove the black blot that mars his image through the window perhaps telegraphs him having to “clear” himself later in the film.  He puts a hammer in the drawer.  The murder weapon?  His reflection in the mirror is an interesting touch.  Dumping filthy water for clean.  The movie completely changes when he opens the door.  It jumps to a closer shot.  It almost looks like it’s a jump cut, but it’s intentional.  A heavy-handed musical chord, and we’re off to the noir races.  The vibration of his slamming the exit door opens the other door a crack and we see what appears to be a dead body.  He is running.  We don’t know why.  What follows is an amalgam that’s everything but the “kitchen sink of noir.”  Wait, we started that with the bucket, so we have that, too.  Next,  he runs down a side street, and then of course to the go-to staging area of all noir, the trainyard.  Then there’s the overbearing music, the overacted closeups (Ryan is usually better than this), a lot of extremely wide shots of him running across tracks.  He looks like a speck.  The smoke, the train, the boxcar, and he jumps on. Cut to the train wheel, then cross-dissolve to his face in the middle of it, with the blades seemingly cutting him.  A double cross-dissolve now from his face to the train wheels in motion plus a locomotive coming right at him, going through his head in his mind. I’m surprised they didn’t throw in a voiceover.

-- What do you make of the film opening with the Salvation Army band playing and the prominent Salvation Army sign in that first shot? “Keep the pot boiling.” Is that a reference to the waning interest in noir?  Was it then dwindling down to just a “simmer?” Is the implication that noir must be “saved?” and should be "heated up" again?

-- Even though it is set in 1918, how does this scene reveal some of the typical noir themes of the 1950s? People did bad things since the beginning of time.  Someone in one of the posts mentioned Eve as the first femme fatale.  The scene with the serpent giving her the apple would’ve made good noir.  Lizzie Borden would’ve also made good noir, and she claimed her fame in the 1800s.  1950s noir suggested that "No one is safe.  This could happen to you!" The “good old days?” is a myth, and letting us know that it is a myth is also a staple of noir thinking!  It went a step further putting it in what we think of as a safe time.  So the message here is, "no era is safe!"

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I'm going to give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt and call the blink an unintentional oversight. A careless slipup, perhaps, but I won't let it mar the scene for me.

Others have said in this discussion thread, and I'm inclined to agree, that the blink might have been left in on purpose to show that the woman (Mrs. Warren?) was still alive when Robert Ryan found her. I don't know, but it makes me want to see the film and find out!

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Describe the noir elements, in terms of style and substance, in this opening sequence.


The slow opening of a normal day and that fact that the handy man was just going on with his work then slowly it is reviled that someone is dead (although maybe not as the dead man blinks). Fear deffently plays are role as the man who finds the body first instinct is to run.


What do you make of the film opening with the Salvation Army band playing and the prominent Salvation Army sign in that first shot?


My first thought was it was after wartime but with the details it is much eariler.


Even though it is set in 1918, how does this scene reveal some of the typical noir themes of the 1950s?


Murder, innocent man possibly framed, running away making on look guilty. The who done it aspect.


 


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The film noir style and substance are really obvious in this opening sequence. The Salvation Army band plays so prominently with the cymbal shot reminding us to pay attention to symbols in the film. The social commentary of the Salvation Army and the "Keep the Pot Boiling", possibly a request to keep film noir going or is it just a warning in the film that someone is "in hot water" and isn't aware yet!

The fabulous screen shot through the window as Robert Ryan tries to get unsuccessfully, the spot off the glass and the To do list, as well as the Salvation Army focus earlier, introduces us to who he is and what he is doing there. He is the "handy man" who is working for someone (we find out that it is a Mrs. Warren) in the house. He is cleaning, but not necessarily that skilled at it - this is not his chosen profession. He doesn't get the glass clean and he puts on his coat before emptying the bucket and putting away the mop. He is down on his luck, probably a returning soldier who needs work in 1918. He finishes his task and puts things away, including a hammer that lies on the counter next to $5 payment with his name on it. Who left it there?

As he puts his coat on, we see his reflection in a mirror. There is another side - another dimension to this man. 

The apartment is orderly, with almost all horizontal lines showing until he goes into the next room to empty the bucket. The window above his head is all vertical lines as he opens the door to the closet and his life changes. He escapes out the door with diagonal shadows on the wall behind him. Things have changed.

He runs out the door and as it shuts behind him, we see the bucket in the sink left with water running over it and the door to the closet opens, revealing a woman, lying upside down and we presume, dead. He runs away, desperate as if he is guilty of something, crossing many vertical train tracks, going to the "other side of the tracks" to hop on a moving one. The train sounds and movement make you feel disoriented, and have the feeling of being out of control, and of being chased. Something has taken over - something big!

The camera shots of the wheels of the train and its front show pieces and parts of the train and its shrill whistle - all disconnected parts of a whole, magnified to make you feel the isolation, fear and powerful emotions going on inside of Ryan's character.

He is a desperate man, running from trouble because he has already been in it? The Salvation Army was founded to help such people. People in financial trouble, who found themselves many times in desperate circumstances.

Even though it is set in 1918, the formalistic coupled with realistic camera work, the social commentary, the societal realism that characters are multi-dimensional - not good or bad - were all themes of the 1950s film noir and made a story from the past more relevant to its audience.

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Oops, I forgot to mention that I was struck by the reversal of roles. Here was a man cleaning, mopping, etc. and doing work for a woman in her own home!

Also, the irony that he is the "handy man" and with the murder of Mrs. Warren is possibly going to be the "handy patsy" that is going to be blamed. That is why her runs. He knows he's been set-up. The hammer that he puts in the drawer will probably be the weapon that killed her and the money, ($5 and the note with his name on it), at the time was probably more than he was due. These is a clue that someone other than Mrs. Warren had a hand in it and that he is going to be blamed.

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A man who probably, apparently, is taking any job he can get and does not have anything that binds him to the city is trapped by the most unfortunate situation. His temporary employers' dramatic death. No witnesses and therefore he is very much the possible killer in the eyes of others. A victim of circumstances. The Salvation Army appearance introduces the harsh reality of the times.

You are on your own in hard times and this is underliined by the angles, the running over the train tracks and of course by the panic the man expresses.

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I actually felt like the way the opening scene is shot isn't very noir-like. There's plenty of light in this scene, and I could've been easily fooled that this was a regular film. But then of course, the dead body is found and we're right back in the world of noir. I'm still not sure if I understand the Salvation Army's significance in the film, but it's obviously too early to tell. As previously mentioned, murder and the man-on-the-run aspects of noir are alive and well in 1918. The possible framing of an innocent man appears to be here as well. 

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This one is tricky, but looks fantastic! We have a man doing household work for a womam; nice originality. He crosses things off his list. He is honest. He is familiar with the house but doesn't need to snoop. He takes his money and puts sonething else away.

 

As soon as I saw the mirror, I was on more familiar ground. The music takes a dark and ominous turn. Howard's facial expressions show shock/horrot/revulsion. We don't immediately need to see what is beyond the door;it's obvious. But the reveal as the door opens is classic. Then Howard becomes a man on the run. Why doesn't he just call the police? He has a legitimate reason for being in the house and I am sure that could be easily verified. Is he an ex-con afraid of being blamed? That could make sense. But he seems scared out of his wits.

 

Or perhaps that's one of those "if that didn't happen there wouldn't be a movie" questions.

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This is a typical noir film, when the handy man finds the dead body and runs thinking that it would make it not happen but it did.

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The inclusion of The Salvation Army was interesting, to say the least. At first, I didn't think anything of it. However, as the sequence went on and got progressively more darker, I took it as a very deliberate choice. We all associate The Salvation Army with goodness and purity. The charitable organization does great things for people. We don't ever associate it with anything negative. In this sequence, I feel like showing The Salvation Army is a way to juxtapose good with evil. We cut from something good like charity to something awful and inhumane like a murder scene. The juxtaposition of the two images provides a powerful effect.

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1.)  The film's opening shot of the Salvation Army band shows us the happiness of Christmas time. We associate the Salvation Army with goodness and generosity.  This scene establishes a mood of happiness which eventually becomes progressively darker. It tells us, in essence, that drifting just under the happy moods of the holidays,  there is death and murder.

 

2.)  Film uses many postwar films noir themes present in 1950's era films noir.  The man working as a handyman brings to mind the postwar noir theme of men's disillusionment with their postwar roles.  There are also several extreme close-ups of items such as the calendar showing December 1918 and the "to do" list with several chores checked off.  Also,  the use of the mirror on the wall  -we see the handyman's reflection in the round wall mirror just before he discovers the dead woman's body in the broom closet.  The mirror's reflection serves as a forebearer of the horror to come; an inverse flip-side of the this man is shown first in the mirror's reflection and then that id-like reflection become real. Did he kill the woman ?  We can't tell from the scene, but the mirror's reflection and the handyman's mental state after he discovers the body show a descent into an existentialistic madness.

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The inclusion of The Salvation Army was interesting, to say the least. At first, I didn't think anything of it. However, as the sequence went on and got progressively more darker, I took it as a very deliberate choice. We all associate The Salvation Army with goodness and purity. The charitable organization does great things for people. We don't ever associate it with anything negative. In this sequence, I feel like showing The Salvation Army is a way to juxtapose good with evil. We cut from something good like charity to something awful and inhumane like a murder scene. The juxtaposition of the two images provides a powerful effect.

Maybe I'm odd, but I don't associate the Salvation Army just with goodness and purity. First, their work takes them to some nasty places to work with some seedy people. Second, they have quasi-militaristic fashion to their religious approach. Yes, they do good work, but seeing them in the first shot of the film makes me expect to see some nasty things.

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The opening to the Daily Dose from Harry Horner’s 1952 Beware, My Lovely follows a woman dressed in dark, sober clothing similar to the Salvation Army band members.  It looks like she’s holding a tambourine and I thought she might be joining the band, but she walks past them and the music fades away.  Across the street Robert Ryan cleans a screen window, which will appear in the next shot.

 

The Salvation Army sign reads, “Keep the Pot Boiling” and I assume times are tough and charitable contributions are appreciated as the December 1918 Christmas season approaches.  Who or what the woman is doing is not clear to me.  I haven’t seen this film so perhaps she shows up later.

 

There are some nice noir stylistic choices once we’re inside the house.  We see Ryan through the screen window and reflected in a mirror when he opens the closet to get his coat.  The set up on the dead woman is effective.  It’s the third door Ryan has opened.  On a jump cut to his hand Leif Stevens score also jumps out at us in full force, highlighting the panic, fear and terror that overcomes Ryan.

 

Once on the run, Ryan becomes progressively smaller from the shot on the street, to him sliding down the hill, to him crossing the railroad yard.  At this point the direction evolves from realism to formalism.  There is a dissolve from the spinning train wheel to Ryan’s anguished face, which shares the frame with a triple exposure of the engine’s wheels and nighttime shot of the train coming straight at the viewer.  The formalistic direction and editing serves to visually tell us the confusion Ryan feels.

 

While we don’t know how the woman died, Ryan’s running away from the house suggests he believes there is no good reason to inform someone else of what happened.  He may be troubled and or fear some earlier traumatic experience.  However, his running creates a sense of dread for what the future will bring.

 

-Mark

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"Keep the pot boiling", I guess we are in for it in "Beware, My Lovely".

 

I agree -- the symbolism continues with the water pouring into the pail in the sink and (steam?) rising. I see trouble brewing and am anxious to see the rest of the movie.

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I read somewhere that the producer of Beware My Lovely, Collier Young, used a Hitchcock technique of appearing in a scene in all of his movies. Supposedly, as Santa Claus manning the "kettle" in one of the scenes from Beware My Lovely.

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I didn't really think anything was up until that door was opened and we see his face...then the music changes and it's like "oh so it's a noir picture...okay then" lololol I think I don't really get the noir vibe until that moment. I was confused as to why he ran...I get that finding a corpse is scary but scary enough to make you wanna leave town? not so sure about that. Clearly there is a piece of this puzzle we don't know yet...is he on the run? 

I was thinking very similarly to you with this clip. What made him feel like the most reasonable response to finding this body was running away from town as fast as possible? Finding a dead body is terrifying and shocking, but why was it enough for him to leave without telling anyone what happened? What's his backstory? I have more questions than answers with this scene. 

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There are echoes of Detour in this film as an accidental death occurs but the person nearest to it does the unthinkable, they run away perhaps thinking or assuming their guilt. The movie doesn't really feel like noir, not even when things get juicy. The setting, the build up and even the music start to feel more like traditional dramas. Some elements, of course, resonate such as the trains and the murder-mystery. Yet, I would have to watch it all to really get a full sense of its noirness. Even the lighting is off: it's so clear and fresh and bright. How is this noir?

 

Also, did anyone notice she blinked? At first I thought that was part of the movie and was very upset he ran when she was still alive! After a second viewing, I decided it was probably accidental. What a miss from the director!

 

Some typical noir themes: that discontent and upset that's underneath a rosy facade, danger in suburbia, strangers that infiltrate a home and disrupt it, the corruption of the homely characters.

 

The salvation army: even in its name, it's supposed to evoke goodness (that the organization does or does not do good is outside of the question. we're not trying to critique reality, we're trying to critique the film and its elements within its world). The boiling obvious to signify the change of fate. the christmas and wholesome streets and joy and carols as means to show how good things are but to foreshadow falls from grace.

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Describe the noir elements, in terms of style and substance, in this opening sequence.

 

To me, I noticed several noir elements in terms of style and substance in this opening sequence: The small Midwestern town setting, the suspense of the man looking for the woman only to find her dead, the overflowing of the bucket in the sink, how the camera was used as the man runs away and through the train yard, and the use of expressionism to highlight the man’s mental state once he is escaping on the train.

 

What do you make of the film opening with the Salvation Army band playing and the prominent Salvation Army sign in that first shot?

 

To me, I feel that the Salvation Army band playing and the prominent Salvation Army sign being used in this opening scene creates the atmosphere of a small Midwestern town.

In addition to this, I also felt that it could be used to foreshadow the man possibly joining the army after he escapes on the train.

 

Even though it is set in 1918, how does this scene reveal some of the typical noir themes of the 1950s?

 

Although this scene is set in 1918, I believe that this scene reveals some of the typical noir themes of the 1950s through the elements I have listed above.

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Interesting scene. Maybe it was my evil mind, or Edward's preamble on the DD, or maybe it was the scene itself... But I knew something was up from the beginning. The silence around the house as the man prepares everything, the band in the background, everything felt set for the reveal.

 

As for noir elements, the unsuspecting man being somehow singled out by fate, the mystery behind why he runs instead of going to the authorities, the paranoia, is it guilt, or a lack of trust in the police?... I also think the direction felt very noir-ish in how it sets up the reveal with the man running away before we get to see why. Also the shot of the man running across the trainyard had a certain noir aesthetic, don't know why.

 

Also, although I haven't seen the whole film, there is something about the man's attitude and behavior that rubs me the wrong way. From the way he cleans that window in the beginning to the way he moves around the house, the sort of excessively meticulous, OCD-ish behavior that we tend to see in some psychopaths.

 

I'm not sure what to make of the Salvation Army thing though. I'm still stumped by that one.

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I loved the Salvation Army Band in the opening scene. It can symbolize many Noir motifs. This religious organization is in the business of saving souls, saving people who have been captured by evil. So we know immediately that crime will be present or moral/ehical  failures will be seen. The SA Band suggests the eternal battle between good and evil which is what Noir films are all about.  The sign "keep the pot boiling" can be seen as  a double entendre. Keep the pot boiling (with donations) to do good works, or it can evoke thoughts of a witches brew-- an evil potion to be used to corrupt innocent people. 1918 was the year that WW I ended, and like WW II it was a period when our inosense was lost. So the stage is set for a kind of existential reality to shock viewers. The fact that the first scene was shot in broad daylight was unsusal, but shows that too much of a good thing can be bad, so producers and directors were moving, as always, into new ways of film making.

 

The style of the film, except for the bright light, is all Noir. Just think if the scene was shot at night it would have a completely diferent look and even more classical Noir feel. It is great as it is, however.  That fact that a handy man is a character suggests a person with out roots. Not a nine to five man.  Maybe a drifter with a past. Turns out he must have a past, or he thinks he has,  when he complusively runs and runs.

 

The high angle camera shots, first from the bridge--high enough to jump from if one wants to act on their paranoia--then an airel  shot of the huge railroad yard with crossing tracks--the whole mixed-up world for a fugitive to get lost in--shows Noir innovations used over and over again to good effect. You don't think of a handy man as some one dressed in a tie, so an extra element of mystery is added. Was he a successful business man who cracked under pressure? The close up Robert's face shows complete terror and fear. This guy is completely irrational and takes no time to even think about his options. He just bolts. If he did not already have his coat on, he would have left it in his panic just as he failed to turn the water off. This emphasizes the underlying psychological element that plays so large a part of Noir characters. We also notice that the place is not an urban setting, but rather a rather pleasant town. However, we don't know where Robert will land--five dollars in his pocket-- to face a harsh reality again. I find myself pulling for these loosers, only to see them victomized by fate again and again. Almost makes one believe in the doctrine of predestination. To heck with free will--there ain't none in a Noir film. Great opening scene.  

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A pretty average day in a pretty average small town promises to be anything but average by the time Robert Ryan arrives on the scene.  Ryan, working as a handyman, discovers his employer’s body and suddenly we’re on the lamb with him, frantically rushing through a busy railroad yard.  As he hops a freight car, staring out into the distance in anguish, we realize this is an all-too familiar pattern for him.  


 


Ryan’s edgy moodiness is a perfect foil in this scene, as his secure world becomes unraveled during the opening.  Yet, his sudden flight - leaving a dead body with the water running, hints that all hell is about to break loose, probably for his next victim, - who’s probably in another pretty average town.


 


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As Beware, My Lovely begins, even though it is 1918, we get that slice of suburban Americana that most people tend to equate with the 1950s. Film noir at this time was moving out of those prominent cities of the 1940s and striking where a lot of people would call home giving it more a sense of urgency and anxiety. Opening with the Salvation Army contributes to that wholesome image, where every one knows the names of their neighbors, there is a sense of trust where most people probably don't lock their doors and that this is a safe and secure environment away from the urban decay of the big cities. The "keep the pot boiling" sign is most likely a reference to keeping those in poor financial straights with heat for the winter, but is also gives a sense of the tensions that are brewing in America during this time period. The escalating Cold War has gone from a simmer to almost a full boil and this mirrors the film noir elements which are creeping more and more into a person's everyday life.

 

We first meet Howard outside the home, through a screen, perhaps intimating that he's not comfortable in such a domestic setting. The screen has a patch of dirt on it, a dark blotch that perhaps is or will soon be on his soul. Try as he might to remove the dirt, the grit is stuck inside the cracks of his very persona and no amount of scratching will ever wipe it completely clean. It is forever tarnished and will remain so until the bitter end. The too-short tie struck me almost immediately as well. I'm not sure if this was a particular style or just another contribution to the sense that Howard doesn't quite belong here no matter how hard he tries to look like everyone else. Like a lot of the film noir we have seen this summer, this scene of almost boring domesticity is quickly rocked by those dark elements which always find their way into such settings. Howard is immediately rocked by the discovery of a dead body and in a panic flees.

 

Perhaps there is something in Howard's past that he does not want discovered, because rather than get help or the police, he immediately hops onto a train in order to escape. Maybe Howard has been running from something for a while and this death will only serve to hasten the fate he has been staving off for as long as he can remember. The anguish on his face as the train barrels out of what seemed like a safe haven seems almost over-exaggerated. As the running water is overflowing in the bucket he left in the sink, these elements of his life that he is so afraid of will no longer be contained and will continually spill over into any home he tries to make for himself.

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