Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose of Darkness #30: Into the Darkness (Scene from Desperate)

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Cinematographer George Diskant’s swinging light during the beating in Anthony Mann’s Desperate is particularly effective at heightening the violence and chaos being handed out to Steve Randall (Steve Brodie).

 

What makes it effective is the swinging light randomly illuminates parts of the character’s faces for a moment and then the subject returns briefly to shadow during which time you focus to see what’s going on.  Dimly lit or in shadow subjects creates viewer participation to “complete” what is missing.  Deep shadows can eliminate the edge of the subject, which creates a fragmented subject or subject that blends in with the shadows in the background.  Like swimming at night, what you can’t see works on your imagination and in this case is scarier than an evenly lit scene.

 

The point of view is equally on Steve Randall and Walt Radak (Raymond Burr) because the scene is a battle of arguments.  Randall initially simply denies Radak’s accusations and conclusions about his involvement.  Radak ups the ante through violence.  Randall survives the punishment.  He’s willing to take a beating or even die before he falsely confesses to the police.  Radak’s trump card, thus ending the battle, is the threat to Randall’s wife with the jagged edge of the broken bottle.  The shifting point of view underscores the shifting power struggle between Randall and Radak.  This is good direction and use of camera placement and coverage, with action/reaction set-ups mirroring the writing.

 

-Mark

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I absolutely LOVE this scene. The timing of the punch before the lamp starts to frantically swing is just PERFECT. It brings the scene from The Set-Up to my mind, but it's more violent and beautifully chaotic. There is something remarkably mesmerising in watching the light changing, partially revealing the sadistic face of the "big boss" and his "slightly concerned" associate; it almost feels as if the scene lasts forever... The threat is not concealed; it's in "your face", which gets a whole new meaning as we watch the fist and broken bottle menacingly going towards us.

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Also by withholding information (not being able to see the beating) the imagination can take over and it is human nature to imagine the worst. By forcing the viewer's imagination into it, the beating is more personal and impactful. The swinging light and camera angles add to the feeling of menace.

After hearing Steve Randall being beaten to a bloody pulp, I did, for a couple of seconds, think the worst; that he would die. It is certainly true that our imagination can become exaggerated in the blinded moments. Your observation regarding the swinging lamp as a source of menace is right on the money; and, yes, it was so well enhanced by the camera angles which caught Burr portraying a moment of sadistic glee.

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I've never seen this movie.  This clip has me eagerly anticipating Friday night.

 

Describe how this scene uses cinematography to accentuate the brutal beating of Steve Randall (Steve Brodie).

-- How do Mann and Diskant utilize different points of view to heighten the tension in this scene?

As the scene opens Steve is foreground left and Walt is in hidden in darkness in the center.  When one of the stooges tells Walt they got Steve for him Walt strides into the center of the frame growing in size and threat.  He dominates the center of the frame, his bulk squeezing his henchmen on the left and right and looming over Steve.  It's like a religious triptych of evil.

Walt's right hand would get it's own credit if this was the only scene in the film. First we have a surprising violent right hook to Steve's face as Walt makes his first attempt at persuasion.  Next that right hand dominates the scene when Walt walks to the phone to drop a dime on Steve's license number.

The right hand gets a rest as the henchman work Steve over.  The music and sound of the beating allow us imagine the pounding Steve's receiving while the swinging light gives movement to Walt and his third henchman as they stand by.  Their participation is voyeuristic.

Steve still won't crack so the right hand has to take over again.  It holds a broken bottle, shown in close up while Walt threatens to disfigure Steve's bride.  The right hand, connected to Walt's malevolent brain finally get the job done.

 

 

 

 

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Now, now, just remember Alfred Hitchcock's quote, "It's only a movie."  Seriously though, I also had my moments during this clip, especially when Raymond Burr came towards the guy with that broken bottle!  Talk about menace and cruelty!!  But I'm going to hang in there and watch the film.  I couldn't help thinking of Burr in Rear Window when he played the guy who murdered his wife and then cut up her body!!  Who would have thought he would have turned out to be an icon of justice on TV.  And William Talman, that terrifying killer in The Hitchhiker, going on to be Hamilton Burger!!

Wow, I did not recognize that William Talman was the killer in The Hitchhiker (directed by Ida Lupino) and also Hamilton Burger in Perry Mason! Last week, someone pointed out that his photograph was used to represent Ida Lupino's deceased husband in Beware, My Lovely. 

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Describe how this scene uses cinematography to accentuate the brutal beating of Steve Randall (Steve Brodie).

- The first few hits are in the shadows, followed by a disorienting close up.  The beating continues as the overhead light circles with some slight randomness to the cycle and speed.

 

How do Mann and Diskant utilize different points of view to heighten the tension in this scene?

- With Brodie out of focus, we, the audience, are positioned as Brodie’s partner and very close to the initial fist to the face.  When Brodie tries to leave, we see the next 4 to 5hits.  The rest of the beating is off screen and coupled with the audio (including very agonizing grunts) makes the beating all the worse.  The look from Raymond Burr’s assistant at the minute 2:08 makes the beating seem at its limits, but the beating continues for seven very long seconds.

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You are so right about the incredible talent of Raymond Burr and agreed that most of us were more familiar with his iconic television image running for nine  years as a very brilliant and civilized Perry Mason.  Seeing Burr in the role of not just a bad guy but a sadistic, heavy who never flinches when seeing pain inflicted on his victims.  Especially our favorite good, tough guy, Robert Mitchum, you can't get any more bad than that.  In A Cry in the Night (1956) he plays a deranged character who kidnaps a teenage Natalie Wood for all the wrong reasons.  The list is long and he was so good at it, it's amazing that he didn't get typecast.  I also wonder if his court room DA role in A Place In the Sun (1951) planted the idea of moving into Perry Mason.  And notice in that role as the DA he was handicapped, using a cane, foreshadowing his wheelchair role of Ironside.  Anyway he was an amazing actor!

He was also in Japan's Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956).  I have seen this a couple of times...all dubbed from Japanese to English. Burr plays a reporter who is sent there to get a story regarding some mysterious land and ocean disturbances. He seems so out of place. For obvious (and devastating reasons), nuclear testing  was still fresh for Japan and it is the main subject of the movie. Of course, a current topic in the postwar 1950's films.

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The lighting in this scene is so surreal. I love the way it intermittently reveals and hides the bad guys' faces. You don't have to see the guy being beaten up. Just the sound and swinging light do the trick. The swinging light gives the scene a precarious feel, as if the whole world in the movie has become unsteady. Almost as if the viewer is experiencing the beat-down.

 

And I thought that was a young Raymond Burr! Oh, man. He could play a heavy like no one's business.

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He was also in Japan's Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956).  I have seen this a couple of times...all dubbed from Japanese to English. Burr plays a reporter who is sent there to get a story regarding some mysterious land and ocean disturbances. He seems so out of place. For obvious (and devistating reasons), nuclear testing  was still fresh for Japan and it is the main subject of the movie. Of course, a current topic in the postwar 1950's films.

The original Godzilla didn't have the character of Steve Martin in it.  All of Burr's scenes were spliced in later on for the US showing of the film.  That's why some of the scenes seem so stilted.....   This was a big favorite of mine when I first saw it on TV as a young kid.  Of course, I was too young to understand the real significance of the film...

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Agreed with all of the observations about the effectiveness of the lighting and the off-screen violence.

 

I think it's striking how claustrophobic the scene feels, both because of the way that the overhead light creates a smaller space and through the two uses of extreme close-ups with the fist and the broken bottle. It really gives you that sense of someone being and feeling trapped.

 

Often when someone is in a bad situation in a movie, you think "Oh, you can solve this by XYZ". But the way this scene is shot, you totally understand how helpless and hopeless the main character must feel and how totally overwhelmed he is.

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You are so right about the incredible talent of Raymond Burr and agreed that most of us were more familiar with his iconic television image running for nine  years as a very brilliant and civilized Perry Mason.  Seeing Burr in the role of not just a bad guy but a sadistic, heavy who never flinches when seeing pain inflicted on his victims.  Especially our favorite good, tough guy, Robert Mitchum, you can't get any more bad than that.  In A Cry in the Night (1956) he plays a deranged character who kidnaps a teenage Natalie Wood for all the wrong reasons.  The list is long and he was so good at it, it's amazing that he didn't get typecast.  I also wonder if his court room DA role in A Place In the Sun (1951) planted the idea of moving into Perry Mason.  And notice in that role as the DA he was handicapped, using a cane, foreshadowing his wheelchair role of Ironside.  Anyway he was an amazing actor!

One of the wonderful things about this course has been the opportunity to watch actors like Raymond Burr, William Talman, William Conrad, etc., in their pre-TV days, in so many of these wonderful films noir.  Raymond Burr has always been so menacing in his films, and William Talman really gave me the creeps as the killer in The Hitchhiker!!  With Perry Mason, I once read that William Hopper (who wound up playing Paul Drake) was being considered for the role and Burr was being considered for the role of Hamilton Burger.  But then Erle Stanley Gardner stepped in and insisted on Burr playing Mason.  The rest, as they say, is history....  I have also read that, ironically, in "real life" Raymond Burr was a kindhearted, generous man....

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Expressionistic lighting? You betcha.

 

As the lamp swings back and forth and the beating moves off-screen, we watch the still faces of the heavies, who in turn watch the off-screen beating. We hear the blows and grunts, but all we see are the faces of the mobsters in the variable lighting of the swinging light. And in a strange sort of way, we actually see much more than we would have if the camera had framed the actual beating. The faces of the mobsters are immobile, but the swinging of the lamp sets in motion a play of shadows and highlights across these two faces, as if they are changing -- morphing into something inhuman. Its as if the dark spirits incarnated in these two villains were emerging through their skin and causing the flesh to warp and buckle before our eyes.

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Daily Dose of Darkness #30:

Into the Darkness (Scene from Desperate)

 

• Describe how this scene uses cinematography to accentuate the brutal beating of Steve Randall (Steve Brodie).

The swinging light makes the sequence seem unreal, but we know from the sounds that Steve is being beaten. Sometimes the screen goes almost completely black, but we can still hear the fight going on offscreen. Sometimes the light swings so that we see the faces of Walt Radak and one of his accomplices. In fact, most of the time, it’s clear that Walt is in charge. The lighting focuses mostly on him, and he’s in the center of almost every shot in this scene.

• How do Mann and Diskant utilize different points of view to heighten the tension in this scene?

The point of view switches between Steve’s and Walt’s perspective. It also includes what would be called an omniscient point of view in literature. At one point, we see the broken bottle coming toward the camera, toward Steve, while Walt threatens to harm Steve’s wife. The glass also blurs Walt’s hand behind it. As the bottle comes closer and closer to Steve (and to the viewer), Steve’s resolve fades. He realizes that he’s not the only one who will be hurt if he doesn’t do what he is told and clear Walt’s brother of a murder rap. This technique, of bringing the jagged broken bottle close to the camera, must have been even more effective on a big screen. Imagine sitting in a movie theater and seeing a jagged edge of glass coming closer and closer so that it fills your field of vision. That’s exactly what Steve would have seen.

• Additional point: I was very impressed with Steve Brodie’s acting. His acting, in combination with the lighting and the offscreen action, made me feel like he was in great pain with each punch. Ouch!

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Well, we are certainly going out with a bang on the last week of Summer of Darkness as some of the most violent films noir are saved for last.

 

Doesn't take long for the beating to start, and Raymond Burr's fist practically in our faces after the first hit.

Most of the violence takes place off camera so we are spared some gruesome details.

 

The swinging overhead light adds all the expressionist touches, lightening and darkening the villain's faces simultaneously.

 

Finally, the broken glass bottle is thrust in our face, adding to the claustrophobia film noir throws at us. It's as if Burr is beating us up too!

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 It´s great the movement of the ceiling lamp that flickers and alternating light and darkness on the faces of offenders. I believe that the effect of the play between light and shadow has been one of the most important contributions to the and film noir.  This scene is also a masterpiece (foreground of fist hitting, for example) and the faces of the protagonists are very eloquent, denote the terror of one and the cruel coldness of others.

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It starts off showing the first punch, up close and personal, so the audience can almost feel it when Steve gets punched.  After that, the rest of his beating is seen through the swinging light.  The audience gets the idea that this poor guy is being turned black and blue all over.  You can hear each punch being given and hear what the end result is, when Steve makes the sounds of someone getting their butt kicked. You don't get to see all of it.  I mean you can hear it going on, but you only see that it's two against one with the other two men watching, waiting for Steve to give the right answer.  At first you can see the blows happen.  The swinging light gives the audience the knowledge that Steve is about to get hurt badly.  The cinematography shows the first blows, but the whaling on Steve is still kept for the privacy of shadow.  It's not as if no one knows who is doing what to Steve and why.  And the end result is a badly beaten man being threatened along with his new wife.  It's a now you see it, now you don't kind of thing.  Someone watching this film may want to see the action.  After all, in similar pictures, the audience is shown some of this action and it works to get the audience involved in the outcome for the characters.  You want to see the good guy (s) win and the bad buy (s) get what's coming to them. 

 

I have not seen this film either, but I imagine that the rest of the film has Steve trying to save his wife and himself inspite of what has happened to him already.  I doubt that when he goes into the police station they will believe that he came there to confess of his own accord.  I mean the police will get a good look at Steve and know that there is something going on.  He should not have been beaten into a part in the robbery.  There will be regret coming soon I think.

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One of my favorite British TV series, "The Avengers," has an episode ("The Forget-Me-Knot") which begins (after the opening credits) with a hanging lamp that has been set swinging as a result of a fight. Wonder if director James Hill and teleplay writer Brian Clemens got the idea from this movie!

 

[...]

 

Judge for yourself: (opening credits end at 1:15).

 

Edited by TCMModerator1, Today, 04:12 PM.

Video removed due to copyright concerns

 

Stupid to remove the link to a clip from a 1967 TV show on YouTube for "copyright concerns." You think the BBC might sue over a clip from a 48-year-old TV episode?!

Edited by TCMModerator1
Video removed due to copyright concerns
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Under the watchful eye of Anthony Mann and cinematographer George E. Diskant (KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL), this scene is an all time moment of mood and murkiness. Raymond Burr's large frame and tan hat are hazily highlighted by the lamp above the table, and a single strike to Randall sends the driver’s head smacking against the lamp on his way down to the floor; engulfing the rest of the exchange in swinging glimpses of the hoodlum’s piercing gaze. And it's absolutely amazing.

 

This scene would be amazing on the grounds of Burr's grim glee, let alone the stunning visual aesthetic. A rollicking single source lamp in a dark room has become the noir standby, by in 1947 this was still a fresh and brilliant new idea. As a whole, DESPERATE is just okay, but this sequence alone warrants the price of admission. Mann was finally beginning to make use of his tremendous natural talent for imagery, a talent that would shoot through the roof when he teamed up with John Alton. But that's not to slight Diskant here, this scene is an eternal knockout - everything German Expressionism could've hopped to be.

 

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The original Godzilla didn't have the character of Steve Martin in it.  All of Burr's scenes were spliced in later on for the US showing of the film.  That's why some of the scenes seem so stilted.....   This was a big favorite of mine when I first saw it on TV as a young kid.  Of course, I was too young to understand the real significance of the film...

I love this bit of trivia. I didn't know that Burr was spliced in. Very interesting. Godzilla has been such a cult classic of the sci-fi genre and think of all the entertainment and retail value Godzilla has provided. Amazing.

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The light swings keeping time to the beating, almost like a metronome. I thought that the closeups of Raymond Burr's fist and the brokern bottle were effective in highlighting brutality. The way they jumped out at you reminded me of 3-D. It seems like either Raymond Burr, William Talman (Perry & Hamilton, what happened?) & Harry Morgan were in most of the films noir that I have watched on TCM.

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What a masterful scene!  From the moment the door in the dark room opens in the background, and Walt (Raymond Burr) walks towards us, into view, the sense of danger and menace is palpable.   Burr walks slowly, confidently, from shadow into light more than once as he stalks not only Steve (Steve Brodie) but the screen itself.  

 

The camera is low, behind Steve, seen only from behind, and Burr gets increasingly larger and more menacing as he gets nearer.   When Burr punches Steve it's as if he punching the camera lens and...by extension...us.   We not only see and hear the impact, we feel it in a very visceral way as Steve recoils and we focus on a blurred fist consuming the screen.

 

That's just for starters.   As Christopher Walken told Dennis Hopper in True Romance, in a scene not unlike this one and, knowing Tarentino, quite possibly inspired by it, we realize Burr's punch was "as good as it gets, and it won't get that good again."  

 

Burr looms ominously over Steve, and is still shot from low angle that only increases his size and his menace; a technique used often by Welles and also to great effect with Sidney Greenstreet's characters, as in Mask of Dimitrios; henchmen lurking on either side.   Making the disparity in size and power still greater is that we never see Steve upright; he's invariably bent over, crumpled or leaning back.

 

When Steve refuses to play ball Burr tries to coerce him by implicating him in the crime by literally dropping a dime on him to the police.  When that doesn't work and Steve finally gets up and tries to leave he's immediately greeted by another fist crashing into his jaw.  He flies backward, slamming into the harsh overhead light that would feel at home in any police precinct interrogation room.   That starts the light to swinging as Steve is beaten to a pulp as Burr and another henchman look on.  

 

It makes the beating worse that much of it happens in shadow.  We hear the sounds, and we can see the delight on Burr's face and the grim expression of 'matchstick' man who slowly steps beside him, into the rhythmic harsh glare of the swinging light.   It's as if matchstick man knew of Burr's sadism and was curious how far it would go.   

 

And when that still doesn't work, the ever-resourceful Burr smashes a bottle on the edge of a nearby table and slowly walks toward Steve with its sharp shards coming into view, like a pair of jaws about to bite down on a victim....and the scene is shot in such a way as to make that victim us.   We cringe in anticipation what will come next...

 

But we're not the victim.   Neither is Steve.   The victim will be Steve's beautiful wife unless he cooperates.   That imagined threat --- in Steve's mind and in ours --- is enough to coerce us all into cooperating.   

 

Threat is what lies at the core of this wonderful scene.   Mann and Diskant repeatedly impose Steve's POV upon us, and virtually everything else in the shot seems bent against him.   So it's not just him who's trapped in a dark, claustrophobic space, outnumbered by shadows and worse than shadows, held at gunpoint, at the mercy of a man who likes inflicting pain and who'll stop at nothing to get what he wants ...it's also us.  

 

In noir, as in the scene from True Romance above, that's as good as it gets, and it may not get that good again.         

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Swinging with the punches of life, but don't touch my wife

George Diskant's cinematography accentuates the brutal beating of Steve Randall through the low camera angles, the close-ups of Walt Radak (Raymond Burr), and the swinging lamp that alternates light and shadow across the faces of Radak and his henchmen.  The viewer sees the first few punches to Steve, but then he hears Steve's groans and gasps as he views the sadistic pleasure on Radak's face.  When Steve his thrown on the bed in a crumbled heap one can feel his pain.  Then the viewer gets a close focus on the broken bottle just as he got a close range look at Radak's fist in the beginning of the scene.  Steve can see that the threat of brutality is real and immediate, and Steve knows without a doubt that Radak's goons will carry out his orders without batting an eye of remorse.  Not only is the threat of pain directed toward Steve but also his beautiful bride.  That threat is the clincher; Steve will protect his wife even if it means he will go to jail.  Interesting note:  the swinging lamp effect of swaying through dark and light is used in both this movie and The PIcture of Dorian Gray to highlight the dualistic nature of a human containing both good and evil by emphasizing how at a moment's notice a person can "swing" from calmness to rage.

 

Mann and Diskant utilize different point of view through the light and dark in the scene, at moments shining like on the tortured Steve or the sadistic Radak to reveal their emotional states, and at other moments hiding their thoughts in the shadows of that small room.  Radak's calm, business-like voice on the phone as he gives the police the number of the truck in the robbery reveal much about Radak's command of the situation.  He is in charge even when confronting the law.

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The light swings keeping time to the beating, almost like a metronome. I thought that the closeups of Raymond Burr's fist and the brokern bottle were effective in highlighting brutality. The way they jumped out at you reminded me of 3-D. It seems like either Raymond Burr, William Talman (Perry & Hamilton, what happened?) & Harry Morgan were in most of the films noir that I have watched on TCM.

 

You're so right about how this scene highlight's Burr's brutality. How fantastic is he in this scene? The way he stands motionless while watching Steve get beaten to a pulp, all the while with that light swinging above, is absolutely terrifying. I'm not sure which is scarier -- the swinging light or Burr's motionlessness. And we believe him when he uses the broken bottle as a threat to Steve's wife. We see no hint or trace of Perry Mason here. 

 

Also, what a great point about the light being like a metronome! I thought something similar.

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 When Brodie tries to leave, we see the next 4 to 5hits.  The rest of the beating is off screen and coupled with the audio (including very agonizing grunts) makes the beating all the worse.  The look from Raymond Burr’s assistant at the minute 2:08 makes the beating seem at its limits, but the beating continues for seven very long seconds.

 

The horror...the horror.   :o 

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You're so right about how this scene highlight's Burr's brutality. How fantastic is he in this scene? The way he stands motionless while watching Steve get beaten to a pulp, all the while with that light swinging above, is absolutely terrifying. I'm not sure which is scarier -- the swinging light or Burr's motionlessness. And we believe him when he uses the broken bottle as a threat to Steve's wife. We see no hint or trace of Perry Mason here. 

 

Nor a sign of Chief Ironside!  

So before getting a juicy role and a normal work schedule (& paycheck) on a syndicated television series, you have to earn your dues working the dark side!

 

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