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  1. I agree johnranta with everything you said (I never imagined that the drippings of a rubber tree could be such an eerie and effective builder of tension), and I was also struck by how calculated Bette Davis' character's murder seemed to be. She never flinched, never revealed any kind of emotion (not shock or sadness or grief or even delight). I too have never seen The Letter but suspect this may serve as a framing device and that much of the film may be told in flashback in order to establish why she killed Mr. Hammond. My thought is that she must have had a very good reason. Regarding the moon, I almost felt like it was a meta-commentary on the changing of the Hollywood landscape and the coming of film noir. The uncovered full moon is the very first shot we see, and then we are treated to fairly textbook establishing shots of the rubber plant and the workers reposing in the evening. The gunshot disrupts the traditional Hollywood opening and is immediately succeeded by clouds covering the moon and throwing the set into darkness. The summer darkness has arrived and film noir is showing how it will change Hollywood cinema. I have not yet reconciled why the moon is then quickly uncovered once again, shedding light on Bette Davis. Any thoughts?
  2. It is amazing how closely we watch these brief clips and see all the tone and meaning that they set when we focus only on the opening in these Daily Doses. Some viewers who sit down to watch the entire film may view these opening much more passively, waiting for the "story" as you say to really begin. So yes, I agree. Isn't it amazing how much is buried in the scenes we may not always properly process?
  3. I have not seen La Bete Humaine but I found the opening sequence highly symbolic and potentially foreshadowing. The opening image of the raging furnace immediately brought connotations of hell and destruction to mind, but as the camera pulls back, we realize that we are relatively safe and aboard a train. But then the darkness of the tunnel ahead and the warning whistle suggest movement into darkness and into the unknown, suggesting something dark and unexpected may befall our characters (once we meet them). The curve of the track and angle of the camera when the two trains pass also creates a bit of false anxiety as the illusion is briefly created that the two trains may collide. These opening images seem to tease the audience with false dread and danger only to whisk them back into safety but I wonder how the protagonist(s)'s experiences with danger in the film may differ. I also found it interesting that the first two films curated for the Summer of Darkness were Fritz Lang's M and Jean Renoir's La Bete Humaine. Some of you may not know but Fritz Lang later remade Renoir's La Bete Humaine as an American film noir called Human Desire immediately following and using the same cast and crew as The Big Heat. This was not Lang's first attempt at reworking Renoir's work into film noir as the public domain film noir selection for this week (for those participating in the class) is Lang's Scarlet Street, a remake of Renoir's La Chienne (oddly also shot by Lang back to back with another of his films using the same cast and crew: The Woman in the Window).
  4. I have seen M multiple times and am actually working on a book on the films of Fritz Lang (one of my primary reasons for taking this class). The opening uses image brilliantly to further the story. The intercutting between the mother and young Elsie Beckmann beginning with the mother's smile at the chiming cuckoo clock to the dismissal bell at school, the mother setting the table and Elsie heading home. Words are not necessary to build a relationship between the mother and Elsie and dramatic irony gives the scene a more tragic sense as the mother smiles and happily prepares for her daughter to come home, but we the audience are aware of her current peril as Peter Lorre's shadow descends ominously over her. I won't spoil how the rest of the scene plays out for those who haven't seen it but it is superb and riveting. Lang was often referred to as the Master of Darkness or the Master of Shadows and you can see even in these few shots that he is not afraid to douse his sets liberally in shadow which certainly adds to the foreboding tone. This is also a great example of a stylistic technique that bridges the gap between German Expressionism and American Film Noir.
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