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ShadowingUncleCharlie

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  1. Shadowy figure at the Sternwood's front door. Disembodied finger ringing the doorbell. A voice announcing his identity and reason for his visit. Humphrey Bogart's Philip Marlowe is given a graduated entrance in The Big Sleep, slowly moving into the viewer's consciousness through strategic visual and auditory cues. The detective's hat casting a shadow across the Sternwood nameplate on the door--perhaps in a homage to an opening frame in Fritz Lang's M where Beckert's shadow moves across his "Wanted" poster--establishes Marlowe as a mysterious figure. It is a coincidence that hat's shadow perfectly highlights the "Stern" in "Sternwood" as the man moves into frame? Definitely not -- it is all mise-en-scene artistry. The man about to enter the Sternwood mansion is indeed a stern character. When the camera pans down, the viewer is introduced to a disembodied fist, from which a thumb extends to ring the doorbell. Next, we hear the visitor's gravelly voice explaining who he is and why he is there. Hawks then has Marlowe enter the foyer; we observe him as the low-angle camera captures him moving towards us/the private areas of the mansion. He stops in his tracks as Carmen descends the staircase. This is when we see the character in his first full-frontal shot. While Marlowe is every inch (pun intended) the well-dressed detective described by Chandler, Bogart's deportment shows that he may be out of his depth playing the sophisticated P.I. "calling on four million dollars." The outfit is impeccable, but Marlowe shouldn't be leaving his jacket unbuttoned as he enters the mansion. His left hand remains hidden in his pocket; meanwhile, he hooks his right thumb--the one he rang the doorbell with--underneath his belt. He holds his hat across his groin (further proof that he is immune to her charms), which comes between him and Carmen when she falls into his arms. Noticeably, his thumb remains hooked under his belt during this entire interaction; Marlowe is onto her games and easily catches her with one arm. Overall, his body language and kinetics strip away part of the image he is attempting to project. Once he enters the General's hothouse, he accepts the offer to strip off his jacket after which sweat can been seen soaking through his shirt. "Everything the well dressed detective ought to be" is no more.
  2. Gilda and the jazzy strains of "Put the Blame on Mame" are perfectly in synch and out of synch at the same time. While the score's tone and lyrics seem to offer Gilda up as a femme fatale with nothing to hide, her seductive dance moves aren't in time with the music. This could signify that, along with being intoxicated, she isn't your standard-issue femme fatale. Noticeably, the music swells during her close-ups -- especially when she plays with her hair. The diegetic sound allows the viewer to be completely immersed in the nightclub world and be seduced by Gilda with everyone else.
  3. While Veda exhibits the prerequisite beauty, duplicity, and deadly force expected of her archetype, who knew that a femme fatale could have mother issues (or even a mother, for that matter)? Having Veda on screen alongside her mother signals a new direction for the femme fatale. Giving her a backstory and a horrified parent who sees firsthand who she is becoming renders her less mysterious in some respects; however, it also adds dimension by showing what--and whom--has shaped her into the young woman she is. In the film noir clips we have screened so far, scenes between female characters are in short supply. The male characters tend to orbit around the femme fatale, and the dialogue is typically between them. Ostensibly, this mother-daughter dynamic seems more suited to another genre -- perhaps the family melodrama. If we regard film noir more as a style, then expanding the definition of the femme fatale makes perfect sense. With Veda, Curtiz pushes the boundaries of what a femme fatale can be: underaged, physically aggressive, and money-defined.
  4. Don't even try to play a player, "Miss Alice from the Post" . . . or is it Miss Grayle? Philip Marlowe embodies Nino Frank's "new kind of detective" in film noir, insofar as he is portrayed as a morally ambiguous, unorthodox, and dialogue-driven protagonist with anti-heroic tendancies. He has no compunction about locking the pseudo-journalist in his office and roughing her up -- both physically and verbally. Unlike some of his hard boiled detective counterparts, Marlowe (at least in this scene) is onto the femme fatale from their first meeting. Neither her words nor her disguise (don't all journalists wear glasses?) carry any credibility to the savvy detective, who has laser focus when it comes to exposing her duplicity and motivation. Even though "business is getting . . . prettier" for Marlowe, he is immune to Ann Grayle's manipulations. With speed and accuracy, he forces her to show her hand. Dymytrk's "new kind of detective" will not suffer femme fatales gladly. Seemingly without a blind spot, Marlowe will get the job done.
  5. Waldo Lydecker is one slippery character. "Another of those detectives came to see me" highlights not only his disdain for the investigators working on Laura's case, but also that Lydecker has suffered through their tedious line of questioning before. For a writer/wordsmith/Laura-expert/dandy such as himself, sparring with some predictable gumshoe is sport -- something of an intellectual exercise. The viewer senses that Lydecker derives a perverse enjoyment from manipulating (yet another) detective type arriving to question him. Telling McPherson to enter the bathroom while he is having a bath is his way of asserting his authority over the law. His only cover up is his typewriter and writing portfolio. Of course he already has a statement prepared for the detective, who is sizing him up in equal measure. Lydecker and McPherson are multidimensional characters whom Preminger establishes as worthy adversaries/character foils in this opening sequence. Who is playing along and getting played remains to be seen, although Preminger's characterizations seem to have established the antagonist and the protagonist.
  6. Daves' first person POV opening sequence is a master class in characterization, insofar as the viewer not only empathizes with the fugitive without having seen his face, but also roots for him to "start taking chances" and to get away. Daves ensures that viewers are at one with this questionable protagonist when he puts us inside his head. Knowing that there is only 10, no 15 minutes before the police close in, we quickly identify with the man on the run as our protagonist. That he sounds like Bogie doesn't hurt, either. Our emotional investment/manipulation becomes even more apparent when we find the inquisitive driver annoying: why can't he just be cool and drive? Why does punching him not seem to be the wrong course of action? The build-up to coming face to face with our fugitive protagonist is successfully established by this first person POV opening.
  7. They don't call them Bette Davis Eyes for nothing. William Wyler leaves the viewer wide-eyed after this shocking opening sequence. The dominance of the plantation owner's wife (Davis) is foreshadowed by the full moon, a classic symbol of womanhood. However, in the film noir universe, the dark side of womanhood is embodied by the femme fatale, for which Davis' character--and Davis herself--is the prototype (it's all in the look -- see Kim Carnes' "Bette Davis Eyes"). Focused, unblinking (literally), stoic, and seemingly sociopathic, Wyler's femme fatale takes out her victim by shooting him in the back multiple times. Glamourizing this dystopic vision is her stylish presence: coiffed, elegant, and perfectly made up. She only loses her cool for a moment when the moon threatens to betray her, but then nature cooperates and the cloud cover returns. One striking images that recurs throughout the final frames of "Under a Full Moon" is the murderer's open hand -- first with fingers spread wide and then with thumb stretched out once she moves inside. She's let go of the gun and what it represents, which is represented by the awkward way she holds her hand. However, the viewer knows that she is guilty.
  8. Jean Renoir's locomotive is no gentleman. La Bete Humaine's opening sequence serves as fair warning: while this industrialized beast may be a modern wonder, there is nothing civilized about him. The director's mise-en-scene and sound design characterize the locomotive as fiery, insatiably hungry (needs constant feedings), loud (always cries out his presence), sexually aggressive (plunges in and out of those tunnels), and fast (hurtles towards his stops). Here we find the grittier precursor to Alfred Hitchcock's train-through-tunnel motif in the closing sequence of North by Northwest. Foreshadowing? Yes, indeed: this beastly locomotive is sure to be an accomplice to whatever happens next.
  9. Right from the fade in, Lang ensures that the viewer is unsettled by the neighborhood depicted in M. The vulnerability of the children is captured by the bird's-eye-view shot. Singing innocently about a child killer, they form a circle that roughly resembles a clock. Only time will tell which of them is the next one taken out of the game. Lang continues this symbolism with the cuckoo clock chiming 12 noon in Mrs. Brennerman's apartment. Just like the children's song, it is a jarring announcement. The medium close-ups on her domestic activities and her kind face suggest that she is a loving parent. Now that we empathize with her, Lang cuts between her preparing lunch (with a smile across her face) and daughter Elsie making her way home from school. What is coming next is a foregone conclusion. Not even the other man in black, the kindly police officer, can protect her from what lies ahead. The shadow of the Man in Black cast across the reward poster is a fascinating film noir study. Note how the Man moves into the frame from the right of the frame, kinetics that emphasize his villainy (a contrast to Elsie and the housewife neighbor who move from left to right across the frame). The shadowy figure pauses so that he and his fedora are seemingly captioned by the word "Morder." Little Elsie's presence is implied by the visual/auditory repetition of her ball hitting the poster -- yet another rythmic timing device that is full of foreboding. By the end of this sequence, viewers know that a serial killer is on the rampage in Fritz Lang's M.
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