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Everything posted by kek5772

  1. Louis Malle's visual design for ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS, at least in this opening sequence, stresses isolation for both characters. Maurice Ronet's Julien is seen in the window of the office building on the phone with Jeanne Moreau. But note how the camera backs away from the building's frontage and makes him that much more alone. Hinting at a forbidden relationship between the man and woman, the viewer's perception of two tormented souls is underlined by the improvisational score, starting with a high note (indicating the joy they find in one another) and the lows, stressing the seeming hopelessness of their situation. Both actors express much with their faces and Davis' music goes a long way to understanding why their professions of devotion are so tinged with sadness. The clip confirms for me how French films of that period are long on mood, putting the audience in a receptive frame of mind for what is a movie but also a thought-provoking experience, such as HIROSHIMA, MON AMOUR (1959). Jazz was making its way into the national consciousness with scores like those composed for THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM (1955). They served to suggest that since jazz, especially of the bluesy variety, carried with it connotations of darkly lit, smoky nightclubs, after-hours joints and coffeehouses, we were in for a noir experience.
  2. I never considered BEWARE, MY LOVELY to be noir, but a suspense film and proto-female in danger flick (Ida Lupino had starred in WOMAN IN HIDING, 1949, with future husband Howard Duff, and made something of a specialty of playing endangered characters), but I'm happy to see it included in the Summer of Darkness line-up and our discussion. So, seeing this clip, BEWARE, MY LOVELY opens on a tranquil note (except for the Salvation Army band blaring away) and plunges headlong into noir when Robert Ryan's character Howard finds the body, presumably that of Mrs. Warren, in the closet. The look of shock and fear that convulses Howard's face indicates more than fright over the discovery. He knows, or thinks he knows, something about her death. His flight from the scene confirms this belief, and is confirmed when he hops a freight train out of town. His face registers the same emotions of guilt, fear and confusion. This is something that's occurred before with Howard. Unless I'm missing something -- and I probably am -- the shot of the camera pushing past the Salvation Army band to the Warren house after the title sets the year as 1918 serves to tell us the Christmas season is approaching, although as pointed out elsewhere, the weather's awful temperate for that location at that time of year. I like the observation that salvation of some kind is in order for one of the characters we are to meet. The noir atmosphere takes hold when we dissolve to the interior of the Warren kitchen, more shadowy and brooding. The shot in which the camera closes in on Mrs. Warren's death grimace as the bucket in the sink overflows with water in the foreground is an impressive mood-setter. It could be that BEWARE, MY LOVELY was not so much intended as noir, but borrowed elements such as lighting, alienated characters like Howard and the concept of fate (Howard and Ida Lupino's landlady being thrown together when he answers her help wanted ad) to create a suspenseful situation. You could argue that such borrowings indicated cannibalization of the noir style and the decline to which it was subjected, but the film as a whole holds together. Again a product of Lupino's company, The Filmakers, and released by RKO, BEWARE, MY LOVELY has the look of that studio's product we came to associate with postwar noir. (It was directed not by Ida, but Harry Horner). The pace drags as scenarist Mel Dinelli (THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE, 1946) tried spinning out a radio play of his entitled "The Man" to feature film length, but like any good story, it keeps you hanging on for the outcome. "The Man" was performed twice on SUSPENSE, the second time in 1949 with Ethel Barrymore and Gene Kelly in the lead roles. If you view the entire film on Friday, see if you can recognize whom Ida's deceased soldier husband is in the photograph in her parlor. Hint: He's in THE HITCH-HIKER.
  3. Heartily agree with Professor Edwards' estimation of THE NARROW MARGIN (originally titled TARGET) and disagree with Foster Hirsch's assessment that the film is a parody of noir themes. It's a tremendous story, played out in confined space that extends beyond the train to the apartment house where Mrs. Neill (the terrific Marie Windsor) is holed up, and even the one sequence in open daylight at the depot still leaves you feeling entrapped. There is a definite air of lurking danger that Brown (Charles McGraw) is trying to flee and hopefully with the less-than-cooperative gangster's widow in tow. Not one of its 70 minutes are wasted. I admit the dialogue is at times self-consciously pulp, but it gets the point across with a minimum of fuss, just like the film itself. My favorite line is Brown's elaboration on his judgment of Mrs. Neill as a "dish": "The 60-cent blue plate special. Cheap, flashy, strictly poison under the gravy." I just heard Richard Fleischer's comments about THE NARROW MARGIN in a TCM promo for Friday's showing. He said he told McGraw to sound like a man under pressure, and Brown's terse answers to about everything he faces fulfill the director's instructions beautifully. He talks tough in the noir style to reassure himself that this lousy escort assignment will turn all right. (Interestingly, a co- credit for the original story of this film goes to Martin Goldsmith, author of the novel on which DETOUR is based). THE NARROW MARGIN is also a fine example of the realistic approach in noir filmmaking. The credits roll without music, the train whistle supplying the only background noise. (B movie economy rules our first sight of an approaching train rounding a bend in the tracks. It's from RKO's CRACK-UP of 1946, and I believe it was also used in another McGraw noir for RKO, 1951's ROADBLOCK). As the director's credit fades, Brown and his partner (Don Beddoe) leave the train, get into a cab and head for their rendezvous with Mrs. Neill. Noir's love of the night is evidenced not at the train station, the interior of the taxi but also in the gloomy apartment house where Mrs. Neill has been secreted. The train interiors are realistic. The lack of music is almost unnoticeable due to the headlong rush of the story, and the closing of the film with Brown and the real Mrs. Frankie Neill walking through L.A.'s Union Station, with train schedules read aloud on the public announcement system again our only audio impression, is another convincing touch of everyday life, circa 1952. (The film had been shot earlier but was reportedly held up for release due to one of Howard Hughes' quirks when he ran RKO). Simply great.
  4. After the intertitle informs us of a major crime, we understand that Tim Foster (Preston Foster) is the man with a plan. His meticulous observation of the activity around the bank when the armored car and florist's van arrive obviously play a huge role in what he intends to accomplish. If you've seen a heist movie before, time is always the critical factor so it can be done when the police aren't around and the least danger is involved. Foster's planning and watching of the vehicles' arrival and departure hint at a certain desperation on his part -- always a key element in a noir, if it's a crime story or not. That's why the caper movie is a great canvas for noir themes. The participants in the big job enter into the project believing the risk is worthwhile so they can escape whatever personal difficulties they are facing, something that money of the ill-gotten variety can solve. The characters involved in the crime have made a conscious choice, usually out of this desperation or desire to lead a better life. The obvious example is THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (1950), but I'm thinking of a British-made noir of 1954, THE GOOD DIE YOUNG, where a robbery involving two Americans (Richard Basehart and John Ireland) and two Brits (Laurence Harvey and Stanley Baker) goes awry, of course. The build-up to the execution of the crime spends a lot of time on their individual motivations, on how three of the men (except Harvey's character, an upper-class creep who enjoys violence) have honorable intentions -- Basehart to take his pregnant wife (Joan Collins) back to the U.S., airman Ireland to win back his actress spouse (Gloria Grahame) and Baker, an ex-boxer banned from the ring, to buy a small business. An oft-told story, but well-done and totally noir in approach. The noir themes explored in heist movies involve need, desire, self worth and self improvement, matched with an impulse to flee an unpleasant situation, as you will find Joe (John Payne) is pursuing in KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL, not o mention Foster's own motivations for the armored car job.
  5. Saw THE WOMAN ON PIER 13 (1949) many years ago on public television and was amazed at how it played like a gangster flick -- well, that was one view of minions of Moscow at that time. I could see how Howard Hughes pushed this one into production, both topical and a representation of his abhorrence of Communism. While watching a PBS documentary on RKO with my dad, he asked me if Orson Welles was responsible for the studio's collapse in the mid-'50s. I told him Hughes had more to do with it because on the two occasions he owned it, he ran it into the ground. (My father, no slouch at picking movies, was alternately fascinated and repulsed by Welles, due n part no doubt to his frequent appearances on THE MERV GRIFFIN SHOW, which dad caught before the 10 p.m. news in New York). Actually, RKO wasn't the first to enter the anti-Red bandwagon. In 1948, Fox issued THE IRON CURTAIN (Dana Andrews as a Soviet embassy clerk who defects while on assignment in Canada) and Republic released THE RED MENACE, the latter similar to WOMAN ON PIER 13 in dealing with a disillusioned veteran (Robert Rockwell) who joins a local CP cell, and is threatened with death when he and another member (Hanne Axman) want out. They flee Los Angeles, stopping long enough to unburden themselves on a friendly small-town sheriff everyone calls "Uncle Sam," who reassures the couple they are safe. Like Thomas Gomez's Red leader and William Talman's hit man in THE WOMAN ON PIER 13, the local Communists in THE RED MENACE are a brutal bunch. It just didn't have the noir touch, although Republic was capable of doing so, as one will witness in its MOONRISE of the same year. Anti-Communist movies may not have been successful as entertainment, but that didn't apply to television, where the trials and tribulations of undercover Red Richard Carlson in I LED THREE LIVES, dubbed one of the most overtly political programs on the tube, lasted for three seasons (1953-56).
  6. My apologies to the course members for the grievous error in my post about STRANGERS ON A TRAIN. How could I have forgotten that PSYCHO (1960), not THE WRONG MAN (1957), was Hitchcock's last movie in black and white? Probably because I was thinking solely noir and not horror, a rare occasion with me. Also, appreciated selection of the reading from Arthur Lyons' DEATH ON THE CHEAP because I have the book. My wife, who's more tech savvy than I (and that's saying a lot), was able to download the reading on post-World War II America to an e-reader, which made for easier reading. I found his interpretation refreshingly frank and informative.
  7. "You could have been a star. I could have been a champion." Eddie Driscoll's observation to wife Pauline speaks volumes about the status of their current life together, both working subsistence jobs and living in a small apartment. 99 RIVER STREET addresses itself in this clip to the bind that a lot of aspiring middle class couples of the time were struggling to escape. (And, unfortunately, still true today). Fertile ground for a noir situation in a movie as Eddie and Pauline's mutual dissatisfaction means one or the other will step over the line or betray their partner. The clip reminds us of how youthful success is derailed by things like war, injury or inability to fit into a new way of life. Eddie has a plan to regain some of his former standing and provide a better life for her as a small businessman, but you suspect from this clip alone Pauline won't have anything of it. The contrast between the fight on TV is interesting. High contrast lighting distinguishes the boxing sequence. The interior of the Driscoll apartment is dimmer. As Professor Edwards points out, it's also a contrast of TV and cinema, the latter still able to do things visually that the haste of production that marked video programming at the time could not achieve -- until better-budgeted, hour-long (and beyond) shows became the norm. The fact that GREAT FIGHTS OF YESTERDAY is dependent on film is also true of non-fictional programs of the time. NBC's impressive VICTORY AT SEA of 1952 is a prime example of a series made up entirely of stock footage, narration and a rousing original musical score. Thus, in its early days, TV relied on existing film to fill gaps in the schedule. The rest of the 99 RIVER STREET builds on the humble domestic situation into a tight example of noir and the city at night. It is one of John Payne's best performances in his second noir flick for producer Edward Small, who had made Dennis O'Keefe an icon of the form in the late '40s with T-MEN and RAW DEAL. I'm spoiling things here for those who haven't yet seen 99 RIVER STREET, but if you catch it, please note the depth of Payne's ability as an actor in the scene where he finds Pauline's body stuffed into the back seat of his cab. Eddie's a tough guy but is allowed a moment of shock and grief at the discovery; both are mirrored in his face along with pity, a brief scene representing how things in noir movies can be easily and insanely lost. Just wanted to mention it because the scene replaced the perpetually (and appropriately) angry look Eddie has right from the beginning.
  8. Walking into THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS with only this clip in mind, you get the impression there is an underlying tension to the relationships between Sam, Martha and Walter. To start, Walter and Sam appear jovial, but even at this stage of his career (actually, his film debut), Kirk Douglas convincingly projects an uneasiness despite his authority status. Revealing himself as a gambler, Sam is pretty breezy about it all, probably because he's had his share of encounters with cops and prosecutors. When Martha enters the room and realizes Walter's visitor is long-lost Sam, the dynamic changes. Walter's insecurity (and his drinking) increases as Martha, unsurprisingly, takes command of the situation. But her look after Sam departs and she closes the door to Walter's office indicates trouble is in store for all three characters, and that a noir storyline is to follow with the aid of fate and human conflict. Although brilliantly lit, befitting the fact it's morning, Walter's office carries some noir shadings, especially the slatted sunshine coming through the Venetian blinds. Come to think of it, Iverstown is a perfect realization of the small but burgeoning towns and cities found in hardboiled literature. We don't get that feeling from this clip, but what precedes and follows it is memorably dank, such as Dempsey's Garage, and the nightspots crowded with many uniforms, a clue to its postwar setting. Got ahead of myself there, but thought it worth mentioning.
  9. Just another thought on TOO LATE FOR TEARS. Ostensibly an A production, or close to it in budget range, producer Hunt Stromberg utilized the facilities of Republic Pictures in making the film, according to Michael H. Price and John Wooley in their excellent FORGOTTEN HORRORS surveys. Considered the top in Hollywood's B movies and serials, especially when it came to westerns, Republic was moving toward better-grade product, and like other studios, rented space to independently-made films. TOO LATE FOR TEARS was distributed by United Artists, as it had his earlier efforts such as LADY OF BURLESQUE (1943) and THE STRANGE WOMAN (1946).
  10. TOO LATE FOR TEARS ... wow. First saw it 10 years ago in one of those PD copies in a DVD collection. Struck me as quality right from the start. And about that start: we find some of the post-World War II issues come to light in the striking highway sequence. One, the availability of cars and travel opening up social possibilities for the middle-class couple of Alan (Arthur Kennedy) and Jane (Lizabeth Scott). But those opportunities only anger Jane, who yearns for better things. Had she hung in with Alan and the satchel full of money not been mistakenly tossed into their car, they would have made the transition from the city to the suburbs. Or would they? Alan hangs on to the man of the house attitude, which persisted after the war despite the rise of such strong-willed women as Jane, and never mind the Kinsey report on U.S. males and females. Clearly dissatisfied with married life and its restrictions, Jane is a perfect example of the noir woman who chooses to drive off with the bag and elevate her status to at least that of the couple she doesn't want to visit and Alan does. The restrictions of what her role is perceived to be have taken her to this desperate act, and as we later see, triggers Alan's sad fate. Visually, the opening of TOO LATE FOR TEARS tells us that a dangerous time is ahead. We have a treacherous, lonely stretch of road, a car awaiting some kind of suspect rendezvous and a rash act (Jane's trying to shut off the motor of their car) delivering our lead characters into the hands of fate. Well-conceived and suspenseful, this road opening points us to the rest of the film. I will try to check out the restored version of TOO LATE FOR TEARS this week. The copy I have and which can be found on streaming is okay but used, so a clearer print, which the clip indicates, is more than welcome. With noir icons Scott, Kennedy and Dan Duryea on board, it can't miss and it doesn't. Interesting, too, for providing light supporting player Don DeFore with a good strong role as the stranger who knew Alan in the war, and for fans of THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW and DUKES OF HAZZARD, check out Denver Pyle as the guy on the make in the train station that Jane entices into her scheme to keep the money.
  11. Clothing and shoes make a dramatic contrast between Guy and Bruno, telling us a bit about their characters and place in the unfolding noir scenario. The shoes give it away at first. Bruno's two-tone pair indicate a certain flamboyance we soon see when he is seated, suggesting wealth (or a pretense) and a dissolute nature. Guy's Oxfords point to a busy, purposeful yet modest demeanor, a carryover from his own less-than-plush roots. The noir elements come following the credits as cabs enter from bright daylight into the cooler, dimmer light of Union Station. The inexorable movement of Guy and Bruno toward each other -- the "criss cross" -- lends an intriguing visual set-up to the narrative that soon follows, climaxing with their feet accidentally touching one in the club car. That sequence itself suggests a confinement that Guy later finds he cannot escape as the clearly off-the-wall Bruno presses his one murder for another scheme. Is Hitchcock a special case when it comes to noir? I think so. One doesn't equate SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943) with say, Robert Siodmak's PHANTOM LADY (1944), both done for Universal, but SHADOW has more than its share of what became noir visuals, from the opening shot of Joseph Cotten lying on the bed in his boarding house to the scene in which he and Teresa Wright share an uncomfortable moment in the cafe, punctuated by the entrance of the waitress (Janet Shaw, the cabby in THE BIG SLEEP, I believe) and her longing over the ring, which points to a certain hopelessness for that character. Hitchcock did not fully embrace noir but found it useful, as he does with STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, which has a pretty neat scene when later in the film, Guy and Bruno meet at night on opposite sides of a grilled fence. When he returned for the last time to black and white with THE WRONG MAN (1957), his trademark cameo comes prior to the credits as he stands at the rear of a long shot, his shadow commanding attention as he briefs us on the nature of the film. He employed the semi-documentary approach for THE WRONG MAN. Scenes of Henry Fonda's imprisonment are nightmarish, with the rest of the film reflecting a muted winter light. Most effective and quite noir.
  12. I wanted to say that our readings for this week came in handy on JEOPARDY! On the July 7 show, the question was to complete Camus' statement that the only philosophical question is (blank). We now know from our reading of the material that the answer is suicide.
  13. Similarities between the opening of D.O.A. and other daily doses this week exist as the lead characters all come out of darkness into light, although the illuminated world they enter is hardly reassuring. Rather, the characters are caught up in a world full of peril. But in D.O.A., although we don't immediately know it, Frank's ordeal is over. Trying to make sense of it all is his last task and thus he goes to the police. In a noirish, chaotic world that has brought Frank to this state, he would have left his story untold, and all of what transpired up to then would have been classically meaningless, which is kind of how the 1988 remake closes. However, Frank flies against such tradition in the Camus and Sartre sense. An accountant, he ties up the loose ends by telling his tale to the homicide detectives, providing a reason for the arrests of the villains and to his fiancee Paula. Thus, his death has a meaning and about the only satisfaction we can take from the Russell Rouse-Clarence Greene screenplay in place of a happy ending. It's also why Frank, whom we first see as the opening credits roll, stop and forlornly gaze at L.A. City Hall, summons his final final show of determination to bring some order to an insane universe. The police do come across as efficient, un emotional civil servants ("Wire a response to this San Francisco APB") fighting against a crazy postwar atmosphere as they listen to Frank's tale, but not completely: the gruff captain (Roy Engel) advises Frank to tell his story "any way you like" rather than rush through it. And the setting of the homicide bureau reflects a noir world on the brink of another day. D.O.A. plays like a nightmare, even in its daytime scenes, and the half-asleep nature of the opening sets its tone beautifully.
  14. Speaking of remakes, Warners did another version of CAGED in 1962 entitled HOUSE OF WOMEN, with Shirley Knight in the Eleanor Parker role. Haven't seen it, but (no offense) the presence of Ms. Knight is worth the price of admission for me.
  15. Prison pictures lend themselves to noir due to the confinement of men (and women), their clashing emotions, longing for freedom and the collision with fate that has brought them to this stage of their lives. CAGED ups the ante of previous Warners jail epics like 20,000 YEARS IN SIGN SING and LADIES THEY TALK ABOUT (both 1933, remade by the studio, respectively, as CASTLE ON THE HUDSON, 1940, and LADY GANGSTER, 1942) with a post-World War II sensibility. Instead of prisoners being escorted to the big house by train and joking about it (as Spencer Tracy does in 20,000 YEARS... and John Garfield in CASTLE ON THE HUDSON), expressing a more brash attitude of the characters of the '30s, the trip in CAGED is in a confined van, as dark as a tomb, silent except for the gears and brakes on the van being engaged, and our only appreciation of an outside world being the view through the small window into the front of the van, itself crossed by small bars. When the women exit the van, they're seen in what seems to be a kind of pre-dawn light. It's in that kind of daylight Ellen Corby (if I'm correct -- it sure looked like her) advises the "tramps" to take one long, last look at freedom, and even that sight of the prison gates and a clear if wintry sky isn't all that memorable or reassuring. For the veterans of the system in the group, it's a return to the familiar; abject terror for the newcomers like Marie (Eleanor Parker) whose face mirrors the fright and uncertainty that awaits her inside the prison's walls. In the scenes that follow this opening, we learn of the unfortunate circumstances caused by pitiable Marie's innocent behavior that has landed her in the jug. As pointed out by Professor Edwards, the Production Code prevented an all-out examination of prison life on the women but hints at a lot of the issues inherent in such a situation. In other words, you can make what you will of the rivalry between the impressively built and grim characters portrayed by Hope Emerson and Betty Garde; in that day, it just wasn't going to be discussed out loud, at least not in a Hollywood production. But issues spoken and unspoken here lend a new dimension to noir and how, as some scholars believe, it eventually fractured and settled into all kinds of '50s films, from westerns to musicals to social problem movies, of which CAGED is considered an example. It is interesting to note that the screenplay was co-written by Virginia Kellogg, who had a hand in the script of WHITE HEAT (1949) that partly involved a prison setting.
  16. Goingtopluto's thoughts about THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL reminded me of a review of THE HITCH-HIKER I read some years ago (it might have been in Filmfax magazine) that found the musical score, so typical of Roy Webb and RKO's cues of impending doom (and that's not a bad thing) could have served a science fiction movie of the period so well. Indeed, scenes involving the Mexican police traveling through the bleak countryside in search of Myers struck me as a proto-THEM! and TARANTULA kind of imagery surrounding mutated monsters hiding in the desert, the music providing a perfectly creepy accompaniment.
  17. Although THE HITCH-HIKER was made by Ida Lupino's company The Filmakers, it was released by RKO and aside from sharing cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca, it plays very much like an RKO noir of this classic period. The darkness in this "Keep Driving" clip is absolute, making the lighting so important in emphasizing the danger faced by Roy and Gil and the randomness of evil entering their lives while enroute on a simple hunting trip. Like Mike Hammer's pickup of Christina Bailey in KISS ME DEADLY, our typical middle-class American males in THE HITCH-HIKER have had the finger put on them by fate (to borrow Al Roberts' final observation in DETOUR) by unknowingly giving a ride to killer Emmett Myers. The lighting again comes into play as, pointed out in other posts, Myers enters the car and sits in the blackened back seat, uttering terse answers to the vacationers' good-natured questions. When Myers lunges forward to show us his face, the dashboard illumination captures his all-around detestable nature and contemptuous attitude toward his captives. Lighting from the sports car (was it a Jaguar?) dash in KISS ME DEADLY make Christina's and Mike's faces the focus of our attention and we learn things about their characters, Christina's remarkable self-possession despite her terror, and Mike's flip, what's-in-it-for-me demeanor. In THE HITCH-HIKER, we've been introduced to Roy and Gil early on traveling in the front seat of the Plymouth sedan, and by watching their faces we get some insight into the malaise they are seeking to escape on the hunting trip. After Myers enters the picture, their faces reflect the fear that has so suddenly entered their lives, THE HITCH-HIKER is also of its time when the unexpected and vicious nature of crime came into the fore. Serial killings were not unknown and made sensational newspaper copy, but were not part of normal everyday discussion in the early '50s. However, radio shows like GANGBUSTERS and TALES OF THE TEXAS RANGERS (starring Joel McCrea) were remarkably frank about the brutal nature of the criminal mind, the audience learning the grisly details as the investigators discuss them in trying to solve the crime. As part of our discussion of the motives of film noir, if THE HITCH-HIKER was designed to showcase the aberrant nature of Myers and the peril he posed to public safety, it succeeds admirably. Myers, brilliantly portrayed by William Talman, is an outsider to beat them all, and what's worse, he doesn't seem to care. He's boiling over with rage at the world, and at the end (sorry, spoiler alert), stripped of his all-empowering gun and in custody, he uses the only thing he's got left to strike back -- by pathetically spitting at his former hostages. THE HITCH-HIKER pointed to a new kind of madman at large by giving us Emmett Myers.
  18. One of my absolute favorite movie openings, KISS ME DEADLY begins by plunging the viewer into an immediate and gripping mystery: why is this woman running down a benighted highway, barefoot and clad only in a raincoat? The noir elements are there in ready evidence as director Robert Aldrich uses the harsh illumination of the car headlights to highlight the woman's terror as she desperately tries to flag down a ride. Never have been able to get away from the thought that Christina (Cloris Leachman) was so frightened and exhausted from her flight from whatever had her on the run that I never considered any psychological elements, but it makes for an interesting discussion. It plays to the sexual tension of the original novel's beginning (lampooned by the friends of Ernest Borgnine's MARTY, 1955, when talking about "that Mickey Spillane -- he sure can write") but screenwriter A.I. Bezzerides' and Aldrich's offbeat approach make the movie more than just the simple action thriller Aldrich always claimed it to be. Despite her ordeal, Christina, in the space of KISS ME DEADLY's first four minutes, proves to be no escaped lunatic, taking one last flip of the coin by stopping Mike Hammer's car. Hey, is that that ol' noir devil fate or what? A minute or so later, Christina's ingenuity comes to fore again at the roadblock when she gives Mike a meaningful look to play along with her. For those who have seen the rest of the flick, Christina is quite sympathetic and something of a match for Ralph Meeker's masterful portrayal of Mike as a self-absorbed sleaze (making her her horrible death that much more shocking and tragic). Mike is irritated that she almost wrecked his sports car and only after a momentary reluctance does he do the right thing and tell her to hop in. He only gradually becomes concerned with her plight, coming over to her side when he passes himself and Christina off as man and wife at the roadblock. But Mike, as we later learn, is always looking for what's in it for him. And that's what makes him the distrustful loner he is, whose relentless pursuit of "the big whatsit" triggered by his encounter with Christina leads to the wildly unexpected (and quite different from the source novel) conclusion.
  19. One other item I wanted to mention is the use of tilted camera angles to create disorientation or heighten the mystery. Roy William Neill was fond of them in the Sherlock Holmes series at Universal from 1942 to 1946. His directorial preference for the angle is more pronounced in THE HOUSE OF FEAR (1945).
  20. THE THIRD MAN is a perfect illustration of noir's realistic and formalistic approaches. Realistic for the stark depiction of post-World War II Vienna and the outpost of the European situation at the time, especially where the Four Powers are concerned in overseeing the city. Formalistic for the harsh lighting (suggesting a fragile infrastructure and its impact on residents' lives), the exaggerated shadows (e.g., Harry's flight after being discovered by Holly) and the bizarre angles that hint at the danger lying around the corner (the street people who watch Holly as he negins his probe into Harry's "death"). I've used the line before, but I like Popescu's offhand advice to Holly, "One must be careful in a city like Vienna," which, of course, Holly pointedly ignores (along with Calloway's sage guidance: "Leave death to the professionals"). These are verbal cues to the noirish world Holly has entered. Harry's introduction is startling even if we are beginning to believe, up that point, that despite all evidence to the contrary, he might actually still be alive. When confronted with the fact he's no ghost, much of what we've learned about Harry, his roguish behavior and flippant attitude is summed up in that impish smile he offers to Holly before taking a powder. Significantly, Harry has stepped out of the shadows of our consciousness and become real for the audience. The light from the second-story apartment that illuminates the doorway and Harry's face is is a terrific use of the key light effect, one of a number of outstanding shots in THE THIRD MAN. These were clearly influenced by Hollywood noir films (and, perhaps, by Welles) but the British had their own take on light and shadow for maximum effect in their postwar flicks; check ODD MAN OUT (1947) and OLIVER TWIST (1948) for fascinatingly dark visual compositions, not to mention the spooky opening of GREAT EXPECTATIONS (1946).
  21. The prolonged entrance of Frank (John Garfield) tells us a lot about him, a breezy, no-ties kind of guy who probably appealed to a lot of young men in those immediate postwar days whose feet were probably were a bit itchy to go places, as Frank confesses to Cora's husband Nick. Frank in the original novel is, I suspect, kind of dark in outlook when we first meet him (getting thrown off a vegetable truck, as I recall), but this being an M-G-M product, our hero can't be too far removed from the regular, all-American image the studio liked to project under Louis B. Mayer's reign. Before Frank can get used to the idea of working for Nick, we are introduced to Nick's wife Cora, and yes, it is a stunning introduction. Dressed in white, not uttering a word and expressing that cool, uncaring demeanor -- not even thanking Frank for picking up her lipstick which she may have deliberately allowed to roll across the floor -- Cora is as much a vision of beauty as Jane Greer's Kathie Moffatt is in her famous introduction in the later OUT OF THE PAST. Cora, as Kathie in her opening scene, has chosen the innocence of white to mask her more venal self. Frank doesn't know it yet, but he's hooked and the future in which he finds himself entrapped does indeed start at Nick's roadside eatery/fill-up joint. The noir influence is visualized in the shadows of the exterior lattice work inside the diner and in the tracking shot to Cora's entry at the doorway; once Frank has come inside from the bright California coastal setting, the world gets a bit dimmer and shadowy. But this being an M-G-M flick and a top-of-the-line vehicle, Nick's place is spotless; one expects Andy Hardy and the gang from Carvel High to stop in for Cokes. As in the novel, Frank and Cora are neither wholly good or wholly evil and that worked to the film's advantage because the studio didn't want the characters to be so bad and consumed with each other that they became unlikable, giving POSTMAN a salacious ring Mayer & Co. didn't desire either. It wasn't good for Turner to be a total femme fatale and thus we empathize with Cora as we do with Frank. Both are the victims of their own emotional needs and longings that somehow makes murder seem like a reasonable solution. Despite some stabs in that dark direction with such early '40s entries as JOHNNY EAGER with Robert Taylor, and Tracy and Hepburn's KEEPER OF THE FLAME, noir was still a new concept to M-G-M and as far as Mayer was concerned, an alien one. But changing audience tastes demanded that the studio attempt such films. Thus, POSTMAN created that meld of black doings in plush surroundings that soon expressed itself in such Metro entries of 1946-48 as Robert Montgomery's LADY IN THE LAKE, HIGH WALL with Robert Taylor and the gripping ACT OF VIOLENCE, co-starring such noir heavyweights as Van Heflin and Robert Ryan.
  22. The entrances made by Leyden (Peter Lorre) and Peters (Sydney Greenstreet) say a lot about their characters. Leyden casually exits the elevator and enters his hotel room, at ease with himself and preoccupied with his growing library of information about Dimitrios (if I remember correctly, it's Dimitrios he's muttering about as he reaches his hotel room door). Leyden is honest, open and respectable. Peters enters the hotel room from what is apparently the bath, is obviously the agent of all of Leyden's possessions being strewn about the room, is holding a gun on Leyden and is not only mysterious but quite shady. Ironically, it's Peters who demands frankness from Leyden about the latter's interest in Dimitrios; somehow we don't think Peters will be so forthcoming about his fascination with the supposedly deceased criminal. (That comes as Leyden, like the newsreel reporter Thompson in CITIZEN KANE, pursues his research into Dimitrios' sleazy past). Quite rightly, Leyden, as innocent as we are in the audience, wants the same honesty from Peters. What's his game? The use of noir cinematography comes into play when Leyden sits down, still holding the gun. Leyden is nearest the camera in the left foreground while Peters appears smaller in the background. Negulesco's camera then moves past Leyden and focuses in on Peters, stopping when he fills the frame in a scene reminiscent of Greenstreet's Kaspar Gutman having his first meeting with Sam Spade in THE MALTESE FALCON. It creates a give-and-take as each of the characters try to dominate the conversation, written and delivered in that swift Warners style. As the scene ends, both men have relaxed as Leyden, obviously unrattled by Peters' seemingly threatening presence, leans back on the bed and smokes. Peters maintains his calm exterior as he continues to probe Leyden. Even if you don't know anything about THE MASK OF DIMITRIOS or that Lorre and Greenstreet were Warners contract players, the film is readily identifiable as one of that studio's products with the mix of music and typically dark design of a European hotel room.
  23. Framing this scene, director Jacques Tourneur and cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca took the contrast of light and dark afforded by black-and-white to establish a scene and mood. I know I use the term mood a great deal, but that's what noir films and especially those produced by RKO do for me. The sense of being in a hot climate is not only created by Jeff Markham's narration but the brightness of the relentless sun as seen from the interior of the more dimly-seen cantina. Kathy Moffatt, wearing white, enters the place as if a cool breeze suddenly wafted through the city, although ultimately she proves to be an ill wind. But for Jeff, her entry means more than simply finding the woman he's been hired to locate and return to the loathsome Whit. She and the image she deceptively projects suggest something finer for the jaded private detective, the first step in his decision to protect Kathy, hide her existence from Whit and trigger the tidal wave of murder and double-cross to come. The lighting in the cantina is darker but not greatly so, just enough to create an oasis from the tropical weather. It becomes more noirish when Jeff stands up from his seat and his face is illuminated by the low-hanging ceiling lamp, which stresses his reaction to Kathy's entrance. The sleepy nature of his face in the long shot (abetted by his voiceover noting that staying awake in such a tranquil setting was tough) disappears and is replaced by an alertness that underlines his opening lines with Kathy. She, in turn, sets up an air of boredom and isolation that is probably more self-defensive than anything else; at that point, knowing as little as we do about her except from Whit, our sympathies, as well as Jeff's, are with her until we all know better.
  24. CORNERED has always been a favorite of mine, and in recent years more so because it was the vanguard of a trend in films from the U.S. and overseas dealing with the post-World War II situation and related intrigue. Lawrence Gerard's (Dick Powell) manhunt for an escaped French collaborator (Luther Adler) in CORNERED takes him to a shattered rural France still suffering from the effects of the recently-ended conflict and then to glitzy Buenos Aires, a sign the filmmakers were aware of concerns about Nazis and other war criminals finding a new haven in the Americas. This concern is exemplified in the case of the undercover hotel bellhop played by Jack LaRue, who fought fascism in Europe, returns to find it flourishing on his own doorstep and loses his life in a new and less-obvious war. The noir elements are there, showing director Edward Dmytryk had learned his lessons from MURDER, MY SWEET well as he positions his camerawork, lighting and character issues (Gerard's mental distress) to maximum effect. I like to think of CORNERED and THE STRANGER (1946) as postwar world noir, which became more pronounced with BERLIN EXPRESS (1948), filmed in Germany the year before its release and presenting the same war-blasted terrain we encountered (albeit on a Hollywood set) in CORNERED. The locations of BERLIN EXPRESS add a note of underlying despair to the thrilling story, as the international party of aid workers encounter a number of desperate and criminal types in their search for a peace advocate (Paul Lukas) kidnapped by unregenerate Nazis, hiding and plotting in the shadows and darkness of a city in ruins from Allied bombing. Carol Reed's THE THIRD MAN (1949) was probably the ultimate of these postwar norish pictures with a story played out against a Vienna that like the rest of the Continent was trying to re-establish itself. The shadows, nighttime events and overall sense of danger ("One must go careful in a city like Vienna," says one of the underworld types encountered by hero Joseph Cotten) place this outstanding drama solidly in the noir corner. These movies no doubt influenced American writer-producer Sheldon Reynolds with his early 1950s TV success, FOREIGN INTRIGUE, shot on location and dealing with all of the then-current issues such as escaped Nazis, creation of the Iron Curtain and a new kind of criminal element. Reynolds' 1956 color film version of the series is an interesting variation on the show, but doesn't stack up against the gritty, on-the-spot black-and-white realism of one of the program's typical episodes, which offer proof, if any was needed, that Reynolds adopted the noir sensibilities of films like THE THIRD MAN and BERLIN EXPRESS.
  25. From the clip, Marlowe has the self-assurance and roguishness of Spade, but in a muted form. Bogart makes Marlowe more honest, direct and less greedy than the conception of Spade; you're rooting for him all the way. I like the interplay between Marlowe and General Sternwood, showing two men of the world who seem to understand one another. Marlowe is impressed with the general's candor about his life and relationship with his daughters; the old man digs Marlowe's viewpoint on the world. When Marlowe admits he was fired from his job with the district attorney's office for insubordination, Sternwood sympathizes because he'd been accused of the same in his career. Add to that Marlowe's understanding about the general and Sean Regan, and there's a link between two men who can be open with each other, as opposed to Spade and Gutman's cagey conversations in THE MALTESE FALCON. I think Spade would be that much more cynical in keeping with the Hammett original, but since Marlowe in the Chandler novels is more observant of the people he encounters (providing justification for his watching everyone with a subjective camera in LADY IN THE LAKE, 1946) he's a bit more emphatic than the Spade of Bogart's THE MALTESE FALCON. The opening of THE BIG SLEEP is important to the establishment of film noir for that hothouse scene alone; as I said earlier this week with the opening of THE KILLERS, THE BIG SLEEP is remarkably faithful to the first several pages of the novel, which impressed me greatly at an early age (11 after my mom bought me a copy of the second volume of A TREASURY OF GREAT MYSTERIES, which opened with THE BIG SLEEP, at a school rummage sale. On the ride home, Marlowe's arrival and interview with Sternwood came vividly to life for me. Hawks beautifully re-creates the scene and the atmosphere). An aside: I prefer the first version of THE BIG SLEEP seen by the military in 1945 over the revamp that appeared the following year with the Bogart-Bacall romance getting punched up. The first version sticks closer to the original story, even if Chandler was of no help figuring out some of the character motivations.
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