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Everything posted by riffraf

  1. Starting off with John Garfield's entrance in The Postman Always Rings Twice, it's bright and sunny, broad daylight, his character Frank as a happy go lucky guy hitchhiking down the coast and not really sure where he's going ("San Diego, I guess." he says in voice over). A self professed nomad looking for new places, people and ideas with little concern about his future. Right away the audience learns a great deal about Garfield's free spirited character Frank. Lana Turner's entrance is staged by the camera following a tube of lipstick rolling across the floor and slowly tracking back from whence it came (a floor shot containing standard noir shadows of venetian blinds) stopping at Cora's white heels and panning up to her shapely legs. Cut to a close up of Garfield, and he is quite mesmerized by Turner in her blazing white hot shorts and halter top clinging to her curvy figure. They lock eyes for a brief moment (which could have been an eternity), Garfield catches himself from a sexual freefall and retrieves the lipstick and speaks, "You drop this?" Turner barely acknowledging his existence continues to admire herself in her compact mirror, extending her open hand towards Garfield. We know this is a drop dead gorgeous woman who knows it and is used to having men grovel at her feet. He likes what he sees but he's been around the block a few times and is nobody's fool (yet). She can come to him! Understanding his resolve and her "challenge", she takes the lipstick with a half-felt courteous thanks, and makes a slow turn around and exit only to pause in the doorway, turn profile and finish applying her makeup just to make sure he got the picture head to toe and top to bottom of all her assets (her sexual power base). Then there's that smell in the air. There is a lot more than hamburger smoking in this scene!
  2. The opening scene we viewed on The Mask of Dimitrios has the camera on Peter Lorre exiting from the elevator of a well lit classy hotel and then follows him (along with the audience) to his hotel room which has been violated. Sydney Greenstreet emerges from a shadow in the bathroom, gun in hand to confront Lorre. The camera remains over Lorre's shoulder but pulls back to a medium shot framing both characters. Once they exchange a few words the camera switches to an over the shoulder shot from Greenstreet's side of the room which gives their characters equal values of importance. A few more dialog exchanges and shared camera angles and each character gets an individual close up and medium shot. Again I'm thinking the director is purposely balancing out these shots so that we, the audience will maintain a neutral attitude or remain confused as to who is good or bad and who we should trust in unraveling this story. Very much like The Maltese Falcon there is a lot of detail in story and plot points being dropped or explained by the characters amongst themselves, most likely for our benefit, to move the story along and/or confuse other characters, or us, of true intentions. Hold on to your fedoras, it's going to be another one of those..."You're trying to find out what your father hired me to find out and I'm trying to find out why you're tying to find out..."
  3. Excellent comparison! *Spoiler Alert if you have not watched the entire movie Out of the Past* For me Matty & Kathie two of a kind in mode and method. Wow, very hot. I always felt that Ned was doomed from the start of Body Heat and we were just watching to see how it would play out. With Jeff, I was convinced he would somehow see it through,(Robert Mitchum) being the forward thinking tough guy he was up into the end, but never underestimate a femme fatale like Jane Greer.
  4. Not really off topic, it's all about film! Isn't is possible what you were reading in Kirk Douglas's role was more of an actor's interpretation of a gangster king-pin, over confident, and powerful rather than a big-time star feeling his ego? I can't see Robert Mitchum as small. Even when he's out gunned and overpowered by the bad guys, he's still holding his own. Illustrated later on in the film when Mitchum is forcibly taken to John Kellogg's office and punched. "OK that makes us even, don't try again..." something to that effect. Subdued, manipulated but never small. And if it was a bit of Douglas's "star power" motivating Whit, well I guess it worked well! We agree, excellent movie!
  5. The opening scene from Out of the Past starts off in true noir style with voice over narration by Jeff (Robert Mitchum) explaining his modus operandi while trailing Kathie (Jane Greer) to Acapulco. In spite of the brightly lit buildings and streets outside our narrator's location, Nicholas Musuraca's camera is positioned to capitalize on the stark contrast from inside the cantina, still moving characters from hot light, to silhouettes, to heavy shadows then to flat/even lighting. Kathie's entrance from the sun lit street, dressed in all white and topped with a large hat catching the light as if a spotlight were on her. Beautiful! And now we too know why Whit didn't care about the missing money. The moment Jeff lays eyes on Kathie he's hooked and starts to fall fast. He plays it cool and devises a lonely "tourist" cover story. Kathie is posed, cautious and yet still intrigued. Eventually the camera moves to Kathie's table as we are seated opposite the couple in a medium shot and again in true noir style, the audience is made part of the action. A major contribution Out of the Past has contributed to the development of film noir was to liberate location and time of day considerations. No longer would a noir film be confined to the claustrophobic big city streets and alleys. Likewise noir characters were not restricted to be filmed in the darkened shadows of night. Femme fatales and hardened gum shoes could be just as threatening or doomed in daylight as well.
  6. A truly great essential, especially in my book of lists. Steve McQueen's Bullitt (1968) a screening I have made 50-100 times and I feel I know this film backwards and forewords with many footnote documented attributes in between. After the viewing the movie again last Saturday night (June 13th) and re-confirming my love and appreciation for a film 98% flawless, I was surprised at Sally Field's remarks about Jacqueline Bisset's part. True it was a very small part as was the majority of supporting players but just as vitally important to the overall picture. Over the last number of recent viewings I have made of Bullitt trying to break it apart (analytically) to try and figure out just what makes it such an awesome and entertaining film. My conclusion, like the film itself is multi-layered. First and foremost Steve McQueen fits his part like a tailor made suit. And as Sally pointed out, often Frank Bullitt did not have to speak. His eyes and expression spoke volumes. When he did speak it was direct and to the point. Jacqueline Bisset, of course she is very beautiful but much more than just eye candy in this film. She is a professional, working in her opening scene, on the water flow problem to an art sculpture fountain (which by the way is a real functioning fountain located at the Embarcadero in San Francisco). According to director Peter Yates in the documentary The Making of Bullitt, he mentions how careful he was to cast the woman in Steve McQueen's Frank Bullitt's life and she had to be of a sincere quality to be with this type of man. I believe it is also an important factor to show Frank Bullitt's love interest to round out and complete his character. He is much more than just a shoot'em cop. He's a thinking man's detective, he cares about Cathy and works hard to keep the violent aspects of his work out of their relationship. That private glance he makes of her, as she chats with friends in the jazz club, beaming of admiration and/or love is a priceless scene. Yet he doesn't say a word, it's all mimed and framed with the sound of cool jazz. Later they are in bed together but being the total professional he is, he still keeps tabs on his team of partners watching over Ross, the informant. With all due respect to Sally Field, I believe Jacqueline Bisset's part was well played and an important integral part of the film. I think it fair to say that all of these supporting parts, Jacqueline Bisset, Robert Duvall, Simon Oakland, Don Gordon and Norman Fell were "small parts" only in terms of "screen time", but we would all love to have seen bigger and juicer expanded parts for this super talented cast but that would be a much different movie. Sally pretty much said the same of Robert Duvall's part at the end of the show. I just felt that observation should apply all the way around to the rest of the cast. Great movie!
  7. Nice comparison! Of course every seasoned femme fatale had to start their character constitution building somewhere. Reading between the lines I would imagine Vivian Sternwood (Lauren Becall) when she was younger, was no better a role model than her younger sister Carmen is when we meet her in The Big Sleep. Likewise Veda probably didn't have much better influences to chose from either, so we end up with the spoiled, undisciplined young women lacking in the way of character and morals. Kids!
  8. From the opening scene of The Big Sleep Humphrey Bogart establishes himself as a self-assured character, knows his way around the social pecking order without being intimidated and a man on a mission. Within the first few moments of the film we learn Marlowe is professional, well mannered, observant, has a keen sense of humor and nobody's fool. He handles his meeting with the young, flirtatious and attractive Carmen (Martha Vickers) as a curiosity and yet when he is observed by the butler in what would normally be a very compromising position he makes no apologies, feels no guilt and instead offers his summation of who and what she is..."She ought to be weaned, she's old enough." Upon his meeting with General Sternwood (Charles Waldron) we learn he likes his brandy in a glass (as opposed to shaken, not stirred), he is college educated though he did not let that impair his professional work (meaning he has no airs about his accomplishments or value for titles). He at one time worked in the district attorneys office where he was fired for insubordination telling us he goes about things his own way sometimes breaking the rules and he does his homework, as he is well informed about his perspective client's personal family history. Compared to Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade is much more cynical, not as educated or subject to social protocols and more likely to punch someone out or call a spade a spade. Sorry... : )
  9. Good call! Likewise Broderick Crawford's Highway Patrol series (1955-59) successfully used a documentary styled opening identifying the organization and the service it provided. Accompanied by serious theme music, Art Gilmore provided an even more serious narration "Whenever the laws of any state are broken, a duly authorized organization swings into action...". You know you are in for some real action!
  10. The opening score for Border Incident creates an atmosphere or musical impression of a powerful drama, signaling the audience of an upcoming tense action story only to be given over to voice-over narration. This is a very calm and matter-of-fact narrative in a documentary style much like the educational films used to enlighten the public in schools and for civic organizations at the time, on topics such as driver safety and public health issues. Audiences in this time period were well exposed to documentary films. 1936 Reefer Madness or Tell Your Children comes to mind, or the Why We Fight series (1942-45) during World War II which also gave John Huston and Frank Capra first hand experience documenting American's involvement in the war while expanding their craft with film and editing techniques. By adding the documentary style approach to introduce his film, Anthony Mann taps into a more realistic film experience for his audience as well as making a statement that this is more than just an entertainment venue, this affects us all. This was an important contribution to the film noir style by guiding (or strong-arming) the audience to follow a certain point of view and ramping up the importance/reality of the story. What better technique to open a story in a film than having it play in theaters like true life, current events. Added to that a voice-over narrative telling you what to think or where to focus in this story on the screen. These were just new tools added to the evolution of the film noir style.
  11. Our opening view in the clip from The Killers starts outside the diner and I feel the visual design was to disorient the audience and by having the camera angle askew, we are made to see/feel something is not right. This feeling is further emphasized by the frustrated customer being turned away from a meal as hit man William Conrad observes and intimidates the owner from the other end of the counter. Once the camera moves inside the diner we shift to a straight (level angle) medium shot from the opposite side of the counter from the owner ("bright boy") as if we were customers witnessing the whole ordeal in a more realistic almost documentary style. When Nick runs out of the diner to warn the Swede the camera follows along at a similar pace maintaining the urgency of the scene. Only moving to a more formalistic view of the runner when the camera switches to a long shot which is actually through the Swede's window and then the camera casually pans over to the where Burt Lancaster is motionless in the dark shadows of his room. This is a pretty smooth transition Siodmak's camera makes considering we were watching Nick running the neighborhood obstacles in what seemed like "real time" and all of a sudden we are in the Swede's darkened room and in a brief amount of time joined by Nick, catching his breath as he gives his dire warning. I believe the camera work and set design were all made to maintain the tension and reality of the scene/action by being so fluid, as to not draw attention to the technique but keep the focus on the drama which it does so well.
  12. What I noticed about Rita Hayworth's performance during the Put the Blame on Mame number was one of power and dominance. The power being her sexuality as she takes to the stage discarding her cape and diving right into a classy and sophisticated song and dance which is a pretense for a bawdy (almost striptease) bump and grind rendition of a song giving her total control of the room, the club, the audience, everyone with the exception of Glenn Ford's Johnny Farrell. The night club band music reinforces her visual stimulating power with the sounds of brass rhythm and bass drum beats accenting her every move. Likewise the camerawork with medium shots showing off her exaggerated sensual moves while moving in for close ups to emphasize her gorgeous figure, low cut satin gown, flowing locks of hair and a raised eyebrow or two with a come hither look. Even the orchestra was applauding at the end of her song. Her whole performance was a high octane charged effort to push Glenn Ford's buttons which she did very effectively.
  13. Michael Curtiz has arranged his two actresses, both in long dark/black dresses and framed them in a gray muted background complete with shadows formed from venetian blinds, keeping it all in a soft focus save for Joan Crawford and Ann Blyth. They on the other hand appear as towering pillars spewing accusations/insults and sparing for dominance interrupted only by face to face angry close-ups. As they move, the camera moves with them. We the audience are trapped in the tension of the moment much the way we were forced into the scene through the eyes of Humphrey Bogart in Dark Passage. With this type of tight framing and editing, the audience experiences Ann Blyth's slap down on Joan Crawford almost as much as they did. In your face. Before now I never thought of Mildred Pierce in the context of a Noir, but now clearly see Film Noir's fingerprints are all over it!
  14. An interesting point about "American Noir", and isn't that part of our quest in this class, to work on a definition on exactly what noir is or rather what are the boundaries are used in classifying a film noir. Considering World War II caused a mass migration of talented film-makers in Europe to find a less threatening environment in Hollywood and thus becoming American citizens, it's certainly understandable we start seeing more films made in the US with a European influence. Likewise a British filmmaker like Carol Reed using an American actor, Orson Welles playing a most noir-ish shady character like Harry Lime (The Third Man 1949), I don't see how we can not fit these European films under "the usual suspects" of a mostly American genre.
  15. The mood I'm picking up on from Lang's opening in Ministry of Fear is desolation overcoming despair. The ornate clock, its weights and pendulum bob accented with heavy shadows as the time ticks away and sets up a slow, dreary atmosphere for the audience and as the camera moves back for a medium shot of the room, we learn this is the environment for our protagonist (Ray Milland). I mention overcoming despair because sure he is being released from the asylum but he plans on going to London "to become part of the crowd, see faces and hear laughter..", so there is still hope for this character. Both Ministry of Fear and M open with dark images and heavy shadows suggesting an omnipresent fear reinforced by the music score in Ministry and by the children singing in M. The big difference being that Neale (Ray Milland) is getting out of a stagnant, dreadful existence or so we think. In M we are led through the dark city streets, victim to victim, not knowing for the longest time if we will escape this nightmare.
  16. What's new is old and what's old is new! I couldn't help but compare how the new kind of detective, Marlowe was in dealing with the conniving ways of Ann Grayle by unmasking her cover and confronting her for "the facts". Not that much unlike the way the earlier detective Sam Spade confronted Brigid O'Shaughnessy by name dropping Joel Cairo and the Black Bird just to watch her reaction to his being in "the know" and getting the story straight. The world of Noir is so dark and twisted that all of its inhabitants struggle to recognize truth when they see it...even then?
  17. It's true Nick Charles seems to be more sophisticated and debonair than most, but when push came to shove, he had no problem punching out his wife who just happened to be in the line of fire. What a guy!
  18. What Dick Powell brings to the table making him a new kind of private detective is one who is, unlike most noir gum shoes, he is very smart/knowledgeable over and above being street-wise. He knew right away that Ann Grayle was not a trustworthy character after she barely spoke two sentences. Smart because he locked the door right behind her and saw through her guise. Maybe he's over cautious because his last client was killed right under his nose yet he has a keen sense of loyalty or honor to make it right and solve the case. This kind of detective fits well within the film noir context because he's living in the shady environment of criminals and low-life's putting his expertise up for hire. So he's a little smarter, better bred than the average dick, there's plenty of room for all types in Noir City.
  19. The introduction of Waldo Lydecker in the opening scene of Laura is brilliant. What better way to use a noir style narrative (voice over) than to have one of your characters, who just happens to be a professional writer, lead us into the story. By beginning with Lydecker's stylish prose we learn the story of Laura, a murder victim who was only "truly known" by the narrator. Once the VO ends and we see an established shot of Lydecker and the detective exchanging words we quickly understand that Clifton Webb's character is not only an exaggerated, snooty type but despises inferior people which in his case is anyone and everyone except him. Though he did express some regard to McPherson for being a hero in an earlier homicide/gangster case and likened him to "the detective with the silver shin bone" but most likely only because the incident provided Lydecker with material for his radio show and column. Supported by the fact he continued his bath in front of the detective, because he had nothing to hide! I believe Nino Frank recognized the way Otto Preminger handled this opening scene using traditional techniques (narrative) yet put in the hands or rather the voice of one of the suspects, giving the audience enough character profile and plot before switching back to standard dialog exchanges. We have just enough information from this one scene to know basically what's going on but still enough questions and plot holes we don't know, so we are glued to the screen to follow the story's outcome.
  20. Forbidding seems to best convey the mood for Fritz Lang's opening scene. With the innocent children singing about the murderer while playing their games and the hard working adults toiling at their jobs while dreading the thought of a serial killer on the loose. We are within just a few minutes of time thrust into a world of fear and dread only to be confronted with or at least the shadow of the murderer stalking his next victim. M's contribution to film noir style would be establishing an environment full of dark shadows, low key lighting and characters dealing with fear and loathing.
  21. The first person POV works very well. By narrowing the focus for the audience Delmer Daves not only controls or limits the wandering eye from what we are seeing but combined with voice-over narration we are being told exactly what the Bogart character is thinking. Even with all this controlled direction the tension factor is very high with the background sounds of police sirens and the close ups of the driver becoming more suspicious in each frame. This is a roller coaster ride and even though you know it will start at a certain point, do a lap then end where it began, it's the ride that gives you all the thrills and that's what I feel Daves was orchestrating in this film.
  22. The 1st time I saw "The Letter" the opening completely caught me off guard. I'm sure the director purposely orchestrated the calm lazy tropical scene to put the audience in an equally laid back mode to contrast the upcoming, shattering sound of gunfire. With the film audience now fully alerted along with the rest of the plantation, we see a figure obviously mortally wounded staggering out the front door. So this is not the peaceful tropical paradise we thought. But wait, there's another shot, and another...until the cylinder is empty. The Betty Davis character is stoned faced after a vicious killing yet I think most of us thought there must be a reason this victim had it coming to him! And for most of the rest of the movie we are trying to piece together how and why this happened. That opening scene is the hook that forces us to figure out the plot and the players. Like most of the characters in the film we try to make sense of it all but in true Noir form, it's not so easy.
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