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About AllisonW

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  1. Our last Daily Dose! No, I don’t want to leave Noir Country! Before this course, I always associated Miklos Rózsa with his scores for biblical epics. His scores for films noir have been amazing, though, setting the dark, foreboding mood and complementing the action. Criss Cross is a perfect film to end the course on. It has all the elements we’ve come to associate with film noir: night, an urban setting, forbidden lovers, secrets, a troubled past, a plot, a controlling boyfriend. Yvonne De Carlo as Anna is fascinating in this clip, tender and soft with Steve and firm and resentful to Slim. She holds her ground when Slim aggressively questions her. She knows that he suspects something, but she will not yield to him. Of course, in true noir fashion, there will be several twists and turns along the way, and the title suggests the characters will double-cross each other before the film is over. I have learned so much from this course, and it’s been a treat reading the thoughts of other people on this board. The Daily Doses were wonder teasers that got me excited for the films on Friday. These nine weeks have definitely deepened my understanding and appreciation for film noir, and the time period these films were made in. So often in history, the post-war period and the 50s are ignored or derided as “boring”, but so much was happening, and these films reflect the attitudes and atmosphere of those times. Thank you, Professor Edwards, for your insightful lectures and commentary, thank you TCM for putting Summer of Darkness together, and thank you to my fellow classmates for your great posts!
  2. The classical music in this scene provides a stark contrast to the harsh violence in this clip. The choice of Wagner is particularly telling. Who was the one who specified that the music should be Wagner? Was it Dassin or Brooks? They could have chosen any number of classical composers like Mozart or Bach, but Wagner has long been associated with the Nazi regime (though ironically, not all Nazi leaders liked Wagner). By choosing Wagner’s music, the filmmakers made a parallel between Munsey’s interrogation methods and Nazi brutality. Munsey runs the prison like a fascist state. This is further emphasized by the other prison guards playing cards during the beating. Even though they can hear the sound of the rubber pipe, they do nothing, probably out of fear that if they try to intervene, the same thing will happen to them. Even the one who leaves the table does nothing to stop Munsey. This scene in Brute Force shows that even though the U.S. defeated the Nazis, even the “good guys” have the capability of committing acts of cruelty. Interestingly, this is another film that was inspired by some real-world events. Brute Force was inspired by a prison riot at Alcatraz in 1946 called the “Battle of Alcatraz” where five people were killed and twelve were wounded.
  3. Oh hey, young Raymond Burr. It’s often said how entertaining it is to play bad guys, and Burr is certainly a chilling one in this clip. Looming over Steve, he is an extremely threatening presence. He is smart too. Steve naively thinks that Walt can’t frame him. Without a word, Walt calls the police and gives them the Steve’s truck license number. Even though we see a few punches, the majority of the violence takes place off camera, leaving the full extent of the beating to our imaginations. Sometimes, what our imaginations produces is more horrifying than anything the camera can produce. Like the others have said, the lighting really does add a lot to the scene. It is like a Caravaggio painting, almost completely shrouded in darkness with only one illuminating source of light. The darkness also creates a sense of claustrophobia in this small room as the men crowd together around the hanging lamp. The swinging motion of the lamp during the beating adds a lot to the terror of the beating. It is a little disorienting with the way the screen goes almost completely black and back again filled with bright light. The choker close-up on Walt is especially memorable as we see the sheen of sweat on his face and his slight grin just before he stops Steve’s beating.
  4. “Jungle” calls to mind a dangerous place, full of wild, untamable creatures. “Asphalt” is hard, mundane, and gritty. Putting the two together creates a mental picture of a dark place, where concrete has replaced the trees and vines, and humans are the most dangerous predators. It is not a place where the young and innocent can live safely. These few minutes in the clip match the title perfectly. Dix is being hunted by the police, who patrol the area much like one of the big cats would seek out its next meal. He hides, but they eventually find him. I find the alliance between Dix and Gus the dinner owner intriguing. The police clearly know him, but Gus aides Dix. Maybe because, as we see during the line-up, Dix is more dangerous to have as an enemy than the police are. It might have been tempting to set this is New York or Los Angeles, but making it into a Midwestern town gives the setting a sense of everyplace that is further added to by the harsh realism of the cinematography. This is, as Rockmetteller Todd would say, a “city without pity”.
  5. Back to France! We’ve talked so much about the influences foreign films and filmmakers had on film noir that I haven’t really thought about the influence film noir had on other countries’ cinema. The fact that Elevator to the Gallows’s score was improvised amazes me. Like the others have said, the score helps create a sense of isolation, as Florence and Julien are separated from each other, and they want to be separated from the world. It compliments the quiet desperation and erotic passion they feel for each other. These two are so wrapped up in each other, so desperately in love that it seems like nothing else exists for them, and all they want is to be together. There is something about the moody coolness and somberness of jazz that compliments a film style where there are no happy endings, and the happy endings that do come about are not guaranteed to last. When I hear jazz, it makes me think of walking alone, late at night. Some of that might come from TCM’s late night intro, which was very film noir with the darkness and dinners and that reference to Night Hawks.
  6. Although it’s fairly standard for a film noir to have flashbacks, for them to be set so far back in the past is fairly unusual (discounting, for a moment, the film noir westerns Dr. Edwards discussed a few weeks ago). This is set even before Chandler and Hammett began writing those hard-boiled detective stories that led to the development of film noir. Although they went to a little effort of creating a sense of the time with the costumes (though 1950s B films did not have the emphasis on accuracy we’ve come to expect from Masterpiece Theatre), this scene feels like it could take place in any rural town in the 1950s. Until Howard discovers Mrs. Warren’s body, it feels very much like a slice of life clip from a television show. I think that timelessness works in Beware, My Lovely’s favor. While the U.S. did not suffer nearly as much as Europe during WWI, American soldiers returned with deep physical and psychological wounds. By setting the story in 1918, just after the war ended, Beware, My Lovely is setting up a parallel between the veterans of WWI and WWII. This is a film noir about post-WWII America disguised as a period piece.
  7. There’s nothing in this clip that I see as a parody or even a deconstruction of film noir. Granted, I’ve only seen the first three minutes, but those three minutes seem to be playing the genre straight. The snappy dialogue may seem a little forced, but I feel like it’s more like the screenwriters were trying to emulate the writing style of Chandler and Hammett. The opening has a lot of the film noir elements we’re used to: trains, banter, a dangerous femme fatale (or at least discussion of her), and a hard-boiled detective with his less attractive partner. I will have to see the film to determine whether or not the film evolves into something more self-aware later on, but even if it doesn’t, The Narrow Margin still has an interesting opening that sets up the premise well.
  8. Heist films are a perfect subject for film noir for a variety of reasons. Even though they revolve around theft, most of us can identify with a desire to be wealthy and live comfortable, leisurely lives, so we can empathize with the characters’ motives. This is as true today as it was back in 1952 when Kansas City Confidential was made, with the rising consumer culture in the U.S. and the emphasis on comfort and security, as well as the elegance of Madison Avenue. A heist film relies on timing and organization, and so heightens our anticipation as we wait and watch, wanting the protagonists to get away with their crime and wondering if anything is going to go wrong. Kansas City Confidential did this perfectly with its many shots of clocks and the timetable. Of course something will go wrong, and this heightens the tension even greater because we want to see how things turn out for the protagonists. Even if the protagonists stole for a justifiable reason, the moral rules of the day would not let them get away with it. The protagonists will have to pay for their crimes, whether through jail or their lives, emphasizing how capricious fate can be in an unforgiving world.
  9. The words that stick out to me in this clip are “could have”. Ernie could have been the champion. Pauline could have been a star. Whether either of these things actually would have happened is impossible to say, but Pauline and Ernie believe they would. As a result, neither can get go of the past, and their lives are filled with disillusionment and disappointment. In the beginning of the clip, we are in the ring with the boxers, living the moment. The slow motion and the camera pulling back into the television give the sense of a memory, distant but still painful to remember. Watching the fight on his television, Ernie is reliving his memories. His wife, understandably, has little patience for Ernie being stuck in the past, but her concern does not stem from love. She resents Ernie for putting her in this situation where she is both caregiver and breadwinner. She is straining against the constrictions in her life, and the clip implies that she has begun to look elsewhere for satisfaction.
  10. Ah Barbara Stanwyck. She’s a favorite of both my mother and mine. This clip starts out pretty simply, and there is nothing overtly noir about the cinematography or the way the characters are interacting. They seem like two ordinary old friends catching up on old times. When Sam brings up Martha, the first little hints of jealousy and a love triangle creep in. Walter’s face when Sam mentions his professional gambling indicates that he doesn’t approve of Sam’s work, but also that he might envy the freedom and fun in Sam’s life. Walter’s unhappiness in life is further emphasized by his early morning drinking and his comment that Sam doesn’t need help with girls. I really enjoy that dark look on his face when Martha embraces Sam. It calls to mind the old cliché “if looks could kill”. The look on Martha’s face when Walter brings up that she is his wife confirms that they don’t have a happy marriage. When the music starts up with an ominous tone as Martha closes the door, we know the plot is going to take a darker turn. The closing door works a good symbol of the Midwestern setting of a film noir. On the surface everything seems fine: ordinary friendly people with their ordinary lives. But what they keep hidden behind closed doors is dangerous and full of dark secrets.
  11. The aspect that fascinates me the most about this clip for Too Late for Tears is the transformation of Lizabeth Scott’s character. In the beginning, Jane and Alex appear to be an ordinary married couple with ordinary problems. Jane has insecurity issues, and the way she struggles with Alan to turn the car around indicates that she is struggling for power in their marriage. When the bag of money drops into the car, it is like she comes to life. When the other car approaches, Jane immediately takes control and drives away. Alan is stuck in the backseat, and Jane completely ignores his comments. There is a look on her face that suggests this is an opportunity she has been waiting for. It illustrates what we read last week about femme fatales straining against the gender roles men have forced on them. Jane did not want to go to the party and hates being patronized by Alex’s friend’s wife, but it’s obvious Alan has little regard for her opinion too. Getting the bag of money and being chased give Jane a chance to rebel from her confining life.
  12. Unlike the films we saw last week, there is not an immediate sense of dread when the opening credits roll. Although the cinematography makes good use of shadows and contrast, the music is upbeat, almost peppy. Only the name Hitchcock gives us a clue that we’re in for a twisted tale. As with other films noir, Hitchcock waits to show us our leads’ faces, letting us draw our own conclusions from their clothing (clothes make a man). The intercutting of the two characters getting on the train establishes the idea that their meeting was meant to be. Coincidence and fate are all themes that we’ve seen in film noir. Bruno and Guy’s feet bumping reminds me of another scene on a train in a Hitchcock movie. When Cary Grant comes into Joan Fontaine’s compartment in Suspicion, he bumps against her and says, “Oh, I beg your pardon, was that your leg?” Here the feet bumping is more obviously accidental, but it still has some erotic overtones (feet brushing against each other under the table). Bruno’s interest in Guy is clearly more than just the friendly admiration of a fan. They are opposites: one athletic, one idle, one modest, one flamboyant, one straight (although Farley Granger was gay in real life), one coded gay, and they are pulled together by chance. I agree Hitchcock is a special case. His films tend to have more optimistic endings that feel more natural than the tacked-on happy endings in some films noir. A friend, who is also taking the course, and I were discussing this a while back, particularly regarding Vertigo and Psycho. Although Vertigo has a lot of film noir elements, and Scotty is pushed to his absolute moral breaking point, it ultimately feels more gothic than noir. Psycho begins much like a film noir, but Hitchcock turned the genre on its head not once but twice with Marion Crane and Arbogast’s deaths.
  13. The films we’ve seen this week have really emphasized movement and desperation, and D.O.A. is no different. Like the others have said, there is a purposefulness to Edmund O’Brien stride through the police station. Those thick walls surround him on either side, making it look like he’s walking through a mausoleum. Then, we find out that he is a dead man walking. The shot of him during the credits stresses his isolation. There are no other people in the hallway, no one passes him, or makes eye contact with him. Even when he talks to another person, they direct him to where he needs to go with just a few curt words. We are curious when Edmund O’Brien says he wants to report a murder, but when he says that he is the victim, the film immediately grabs our attention.
  14. Warner Brothers’ films noir always seem darker and grittier than films noir from other studios. Even though I talked about the realism in the Hitch-Hiker yesterday, it definitely had formalistic qualities in the deep, dark shadows. Caged uses darkness to its advantage too, but it is more naturalistic. We are inside the transport van like the other prisoners, almost completely surrounded by darkness, and we can barely see the outside world through that screen hidden behind the credits. When the door opens and the light floods in, we know that we’ve come into a brutal, unforgiving world, one where innocence cannot survive. It was an interesting choice by the costume department to put her in bobby socks and saddle shoes. The other women are wearing heels or flats, showing that they are mature women who have been around in the world. Eleanor Parker’s shoes emphasize her youth and naiveté. How she’ll manage in this harsh environment remains to be seen. (I’m not sure if I’ll be able to watch this one. My mom saw a preview for a release when she was a kid, and they showed the scene when the kitten is killed. Even if I wasn’t a cat person, I don’t think I could watch that.)
  15. After I watched the clip, I went to look up the dates of the Starkweather/Fugate spree kills because I was wondering if the Hitch-Hiker, like M, was inspired by a real crime. Turns out that the film predates that case by five years, but The Hitch-Hiker was based on the crimes of Billy Cook in 1950-51. I think that is why the film feels so much more realistic than some of the others we’ve seen. Even though crimes were not blasted across every newspaper like they are now, this was a crime people on the West Coast would have been familiar with and recognized in the film. One thing that reminds me a lot of M is how Myers (it took me a minute to recognize Hamilton Burger from Perry Mason) is shown in shadow, especially once he’s in the car. He is just this dark, menacing shape behind the two travelers. We know as soon as he gets in the car that something is not right. We have an intense feeling of helplessness as Myers takes control of the car. The Hitch-Hiker creates a picture of a dangerous world where ordinary people can find themselves in terrible, frightening situations.
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