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Pierce S

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About Pierce S

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  1. I see that many fellow students are exchanging ideas about additional films noir to explore after the Summer of Darkness is over. I'd like to recommend this list of "Ten Overlooked Noirs" from the noted film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum. He discusses a lot more than ten films here and offers some interesting ideas for future viewing. Rosenbaum wrote the article for the DVD Beaver site in April 2006, so many of the films he described then as "should be available" (SBA) are now available in good editions on DVD or Blu-ray. Hope you all enjoy the suggestions found here. http://www.jonathanrosenbaum.net/2015/07/ten-overlooked-noirs/ http://www.dvdbeaver.com/film/articles/noir.htm http://www.imdb.com/list/ls073995945/
  2. Diane – You might be interested in the title my new hero John Alton (Raw Deal, Mystery Street, Border Incident, Hollow Triumph, The People Against O'Hara) chose for his 1949 treatise on cinematography: Painting With Light. It's still in print and available from Amazon http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0520275845?colid=2Q2KSQYD3QMJ0&coliid=I14HEW77M1QG03&ref_=wl_it_dp_o_pC_nS_ttl
  3. – Discuss how the opening of this film exemplifies the noir style and substance. • Criss Cross begins with long aerial take (1 min. 15 sec.) of downtown Los Angeles at night, slowly closing in on the parking lot where the first scene takes place. The grim Miklós Rózsa score seems to tell us that fate is reaching down to touch the life of someone in that parking lot. • At this point, I feel that almost any black and white film that was made between 1941 and 1958 and begins with an image of Los Angeles City Hall can be considered film noir. Think of D.O.A. for example. The building became a virtual icon of film noir. • The close-up of Anna Dundee (Yvonne De Carlo) that begins at 2:24 brings us face to face with a classic femme fatale gazing wide-eyed out of the darkness and luring Steve Thompson (Burt Lancaster) to a sorry end. • Anna’s descent into the nightclub exhibits typical film noir cinematography employing deep focus, low-key lighting, low-angle shots, stairs, shadows from chairs and railings, and diagonal lines from the roof beams. • The smart-mouth repartee between Anna and husband Slim (Dan Duryea )is also typical of the film noir style of dialogue. • As for substance, we can discern from this opening scene that Anna and Steve have a history together (“everything that went before”), that Anna is currently cheating on Slim with Steve and is trying to hide the relationship from Slim, and that a complicated caper is to take place in the next 24 hours that is supposed to lead eventually to Anna’s and Steve’s happiness together. At least that’s what Steve thinks. I think that hits the bull’s-eye for film noir substance. • Right after Anna tells Steve, “After it’s done, after it’s all over and we’re safe, it’ll be just and me. You and me. The way it should have been all along from the start,” and strokes Steve’s temple (at 2:39), we begin hearing the Latin stylings of Esy Morales and his orchestra coming from the nightclub, and that continues through the rest of the clip. In so many films noir, Latin America seems to serve as an idealized place where lovers and crooks imagine they can escape and fulfill their frustrated love and/or enjoy their ill-gotten gains in tropical freedom beyond the long arm of the law. Could that be the implication of the Latin music here? – Now that you have seen all 32 Daily Doses, what did you take away from the Daily Doses assignment? Did it contribute to your learning about film noir? The Daily Doses contributed in a major way to my learning about film noir. They forced me to concentrate on a few minutes of a film with an analytic eye that usually gets lost when I get caught up in watching and enjoying a movie and am unable to keep a critical and analytic eye trained on how the filmmakers created the magic. And of course, there is the value that comes through being forced to put my thoughts down in writing, which made me grapple with my ideas and way of expressing them. Thank you to Prof. Edwards for his insights and direction of the course and to all of my fellow students. It has been a great Summer of Darkness!
  4. – What role does music (especially the record playing Wagner) play in the intensity of this scene? First, let’s try to identify exactly which music is being used here on the soundtrack to represent the recording Captain Munsey is playing on his phonograph in this scene. The selection begins with an excerpt from the overture to Richard Wagner’s opera Tannhäuser. After approximately 56 seconds, there is a splice into an excerpt from the “Bacchanale” in the first act of the opera. That continues until Munsey turns off the phonograph. The subject matter of this part of the opera could be relevant to the situation in Brute Force. The opera combines material from medieval German legends with motifs from classical mythology. In Act I, a 14th century minnesinger named Tannhäuser finds himself a prisoner (albeit a willing one) in the goddess Venus’s subterranean grotto called the Venusberg. When the opera premiered at the Paris Opera in 1861, house tradition called for the inclusion of a ballet, so Wagner inserted a ballet in the first act in the form of a bacchanale in the Venusberg. A bacchanale is an ********* musical composition, often depicting a drunken revel. For the most part, that is what we hear as the diegetic music in this clip from Brute Force. “*********” may be an apt description for what we witness in this scene. The music amplifies and heightens the violence Munsey visits on Louis. Both the music and Munsey’s punishing interrogation come to a climax before Munsey finally relents and decides there really is nothing he can learn from Louis. At one point Munsey turns up the volume of the music in an apparent attempt to mask the sounds of the beating from the guards in the next room, just as the shades on the windows were lowered earlier to hide these proceedings from the rest of the world. As the music continues, we see the room appointments of a narcissistic little dictator: a picture of a classical statue of a man’s head and muscular torso, perhaps bound; a photo of Munsey himself in uniform, striking an arrogant pose not unlike the Führer; a planter box with flowers under the window and next to that a case of guns and rifles. At the end of the interrogation Munsey seems physically spent to some degree as he wipes his brow before walking over to turn off the music. The **** of violence is over, and Munsey can wash up. The classical music, artwork, and plants seem to represent a perversion of culture at the hands of a homegrown, arrogant tyrant reminiscent of the fascists just defeated in World War II. Are there any connections we can draw between this scene and the bacchanale in the Venusberg grotto in Tannhäuser? A few perhaps, but I would not want to push it too far. Munsey’s darkened office and the low-key lighting used during the interrogation might remind one of a grotto. Although Tannhäuser was a prisoner of love, he did eventually want to leave and return to freedom and the natural world. Louis is just another prisoner at Westgate Penitentiary, from where it can be assumed that everyone wants to get out. And as just noted, there is a certain ********* quality to Munsey’s power trip. Finally, as unfortunate as it is for the beautiful music that Wagner created, there is no denying that the Third Reich left a taint on his music that lives on for many people as an association with fascism. – Based on what you've learned in this class, how does this scene fit in with your understanding of early postwar film noir (films released in 1946 and 1947) and the development of the noir style and substance? Brute Force falls into a film noir category that Raymond Durgnat calls “corrupt penology.” It forms part of the interest in realism that characterized much of the early postwar film noir dealing with crime in the streets, political corruption, and police procedures. It fits that leftist director Jules Dassin would take on topics such as corruption and unjust treatment in the country’s overcrowded prisons. Dassin had left the Communist Party in 1939 because he was disillusioned when the USSR signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler. Dassin’s anti-fascist views apparently could not brook compromise with the devil. Here, just two years after the war, I think he may have been trying to point out that defeating Germany and Italy in the war had not put an end to fascism in the world. No, men like Captain Munsey could exist right in our midst in this country. And, as Prof. Edwards points out in his curator’s note, the prison was an apt metaphor for the existentialist experience, another theme that influenced film noir in the postwar years. P.S. Apparently the message board does not allow the adjective and noun I used that begin with the letter "O." Hint: it's what happens at a bacchanale.
  5. – Describe how this scene uses cinematography to accentuate the brutal beating of Steve Randall (Steve Brodie). Walt’s only direct participation in Steve’s beating is the surprise punch he throws as he walks up to the seated Steve early in the scene. The extreme close-up of Walt’s fist as he follows through on the blow brings the brutality right into the face of the viewer. When Steve tries to leave after Walt’s phone call to the police, Shorty stops Steve with a punch that causes Steve’s arm to start the overhead light to swinging like a pendulum. We see two or three punches from Shorty on screen before the beating moves into the darkness off screen. We witness the beating aurally through the sound effects on the soundtrack and visually through the reaction shots of Walt and the thug in the pinstripe suit with the matchstick in his mouth. Meanwhile the swinging lamp causes light and shadow to play over their faces in a slow rhythmic pattern that accompanies the tempo of the beating we hear Shorty administering to Steve. Paul Sawtell’s musical score swells to a climax just as the light reveals the thug with the matchstick in his mouth glance over to Walt as if to see when Walt is going to call a halt to the beating. Shortly thereafter Walt says, “Hold it!” and the physical beating is over. After that the scene turns to psychological violence as Walt threatens to disfigure Steve’s wife if Steve does not agree to confess to a crime he did not commit. If one wants to consider this psychological threat as a part of beating Steve into submission, then we have to consider the extreme close-up of the broken bottle thrust into Steve’s face as another instance of using noir cinematography to accentuate the violence against Steve. As with the close-up of Walt’s fist at the beginning of the scene, the close-up of the broken bottle brings home the horror of the threat to the viewer, who has nothing else to focus on in the frame except the jagged glass reflecting little flashes of light in the darkness. The only thing missing here is 3-D! Wow! As Prof. Edwards has already pointed out in his curator’s note, this scene is one of the high points of Expressionism and formalism in American film noir. Over the course of the last two months, I have become a huge fan of John Alton and Nicholas Musuraca and the crucial role their brand of cinematography plays in creating a first-rate film noir. It looks as though I am going to have to start paying more attention now to George E. Diskant. He knocks it out of the park here. – How do Mann and Diskant utilize different points of view to heighten the tension in this scene? Most of the shots of Walt and his thugs are low-angle shots that approximate Steve’s point of view, even if his head is sometimes seen in the frame. Most of the shots of Steve are high-angle shots that approximate the point of view of Walt looking down on the person he is brutalizing physically and mentally into submission. In particular, the extreme close-ups of Walt’s fist and the broken bottle he holds up to Steve’s face can be considered shots from Steve’s point of view. These alternating points of view underline the power relationships in the scene and thus heighten the tension in the confrontation being represented.
  6. – Discuss how this film depicts and utilizes this “unnamed city.” Additionally, why do you think the film is entitled “The Asphalt Jungle”? According to IMDb, the opening scenes of The Asphalt Jungle were filmed in Cincinnati, Ohio, and that is precisely the sort of Midwestern noir city Greil Marcus had in mind in his comments about Iverstown. Cincinnati actually does have a Camden Square, which is mentioned in the police radio chatter in this opening scene. The clock in Gus’s café indicates that the time is about 5:30 in the morning, but I am still struck by how little activity there is on the streets. The film uses older, decaying parts of this “unnamed city” as the milieu for the seamy underside of society – the criminal element, which tends to work behind closed doors, out of sight of law enforcement. This is the opposite of a well-to-do residential area of the city; this is a mixture of commercial properties, railroad tracks, small manufacturing companies, and run-down residential buildings not far from the river. Dix is virtually alone on the city streets at this hour looking for a safe place to hole up and trying to avoid the police. When car 71 receives the description of the armed suspect who held up the Hotel de Paris, we know that the description fits Dix and the hunt is on. To me, the jungle is a wild area teaming with animals struggling to survive. It represents nature in all its cruel ambivalence: the survival of the fittest. The city, by contrast, is the rational creation of man and should embody the best of human civilization. The film’s title superimposes the metaphor of the jungle on the asphalt streets of an unnamed city, emphasizing that civilization of the city is a veneer covering what is actually a jungle of people struggling to survive and pursue their individual desires, more according to the laws of nature than the laws of man. – Describe the film noir characteristics, in both style and substance, of these opening scenes. There is little in the way of chiaroscuro lighting here. The exterior shots use day-for-day lighting with a gray sky, so the contrasts are not great. The street scenes have lots of diagonal lines from the rooflines and curb lines of the buildings and from overhead wires. The vertical buildings constructed on a sloping street create a sort of imbalance or lack of equilibrium. The three exterior shots of Dix walking all have deep focus and a strong sense of perspective. In the first one he appears in the distance as he rounds a corner and walks toward the camera as if he were emerging from the vanishing point of the frame. He pauses to stand behind a pillar while car 71 passes by, then he continues across the railroad tracks toward the camera. In the next two shots Dix proceeds away from the camera toward the vanishing point of the frame, first down a decaying row of buildings, then across an open area toward the door of Gus’s café. The effect is that the lines of the frame appear to be converging on Dix as the only moving figure. Throughout all three of these shots Miklós Rózsa’s score adds a mood of suspense. In terms of noir substance, this is a lone lawbreaker traversing the metaphorical “asphalt jungle” while being hunted by the police. In the scene in the café Dix and Gus exchange not a single word. Gus calmly hides Dix’s weapon in the cash register and then thwarts the police by avoiding their questions and refusing to allow a search without a warrant. Gus thus makes himself complicit and establishes himself as one of the morally ambiguous denizens of the “asphalt jungle.” The police lineup scene uses low-key lighting in the audience, deep focus, and close-ups. Here we see two other marginalized inhabitants of the “asphalt jungle” standing in the lineup alongside Dix. The scene serves (1) to show us how the eyewitness is too intimidated to identify Dix in person as the perpetrator of the hold-up, despite his own accurate oral description of the culprit and (2) to give the viewer back story information on Dix through the reading of his rap sheet. Significant there is the fact that Dix came from Kentucky. We know that Kentucky is a rural state famous for its bourbon and thoroughbred horses. Without going beyond the scope of this opening scene then, we may begin to suspect that Dix, a man with no known occupation, is at heart a country boy who does not really belong in the city, that he may be alienated by the “asphalt jungle.” – Why are these opening scenes an interesting choice for a “heist film”? What are we learning about one of its major characters (Dix) that might be important for later in the film (and I'm not asking for any spoilers, just character insight)? What is missing in these opening scenes is any visual identification or even verbal description of what is to be heisted. Nothing is dangled before the viewer as the potential object of a daring heist. Instead, what we get here is the aftermath of a low-level hold-up: the police find the perpetrator, but he will probably walk for the lack of a willing witness or evidence. What seems interesting here for a “heist film” is the focus on the urban milieu from which the plan and the perpetrators of the heist will emerge. The title might even imply a sort of sociological interest in the marginalized people involved. See previous response regarding Dix’s background.
  7. – In what ways does Miles Davis’s score (improvised while watching scenes from the movie) work with and contribute additional layers of meaning to Louis Malle’s visual design? The opening sequence of Elevator to the Gallows begins with alternating choker close-up shots of lovers Florence and Julien as they carry on a passionate telephone conversation in which they repeatedly declare their love for each other and their yearning to be free of the obstacle to their happiness. As the credits begin, the images of the lovers’ conversation continue but Miles Davis’s jazz score substitutes in the soundtrack for their voices. Thus the jazz bridges between the two sections of spoken dialogue and gives musical expression to the same feelings they have been voicing previously. As the credits end, the music runs out and the voices return. In addition to the declarations of love and support for each other, the discussion makes it clear that the event that will set the lovers free for each other will take place within the next half hour, thus raising expectation and creating suspense about what it is that Julien is about to undertake. I think the “meaning” of the music is subjective and depends on the lifelong associations a person makes with certain styles and types of music and the situations in which that music is experienced. To me this music says “music from an affair.” On the basis of recollection alone and without having watched it in a while, I think Lawrence Kasdan’s Body Heat with score by John Berry, made some 23 years after Elevator to the Gallows, offers a parallel musical association. But, according to IMDb trivia, Jeanne Moreau and Maurice Ronet never share a scene together in Elevator to the Gallows (just phone conversations and still photographs), whereas Kathleen Turner and William Hurt do get very up close and personal in the later film. – Going back to our original discussions of jazz on the film noir style, what is it about the "idioms of jazz" that resonate so well with the style and substance of film noir? Jazz evolved on the margins of mainstream American society and was well suited to express the moods and experiences of film noir characters who frequently find themselves operating in the dark fringes of conventional society and morality. Also, jazz flourished and developed in the very bars and clubs that figure so prominently as the locations for the action in films noir. In that sense jazz is integral to the milieu in which many films noir take place. Jazz continued to develop new faces and styles through the 1940s and 1950s and beyond, so filmmakers had no lack of styles from which to choose the right idiom for a particular film or scene. For example, there were percussive rhythms to accompany violence, disorientation, or mental anguish as well as cool jazz to magnify the evolution of a doomed or fatal love relationship. Finally, and this is very subjective, jazz seems better suited to the uncertainties and moral ambiguities of film noir than to conventional Hollywood films with happy endings.
  8. – Describe the noir elements, in terms of style and substance, in this opening sequence. • low-angle shots of Howard tidying up inside the house • Salvation Army band percussionist clashing cymbals directly over the image of Howard working on a screen in the background; deep focus • window shade pull and its echoing shadow first hanging then swinging like a symbolic noose in front of Howard’s head as he replaces a window screen after cleaning the windows and scrapes off some debris on the screen • use of mirror image to show Howard putting on his coat when direct view is obscured by closet door covering half the frame • use of non-diegetic musical soundtrack to signal alarm even before Howard backs out of the utility closet upon discovering Mrs. Warren’s body • first closet door filling the right side of the frame heightens the shock that occurs during the second; Howard mundanely removes his coat from the first closet, so we are expecting him to return the mop to the utility closet routinely, not to discover a dead body there • diagonal shadow pattern on wall as Howard leaves the house • low-angle shot of Howard fleeing down an alleyway • high-angle shots of Howard first fleeing diagonally down an embankment then running through the rail yard • formalistic superimposition of train wheels and locomotive approaching head-on over the choker close-up image of Howard’s frightened face as he escapes in a rolling boxcar – What do you make of the film opening with the Salvation Army band playing and the prominent Salvation Army sign in that first shot? From the calendar in Mrs. Warren’s window we know that the time is December 1919, just weeks after the armistice that ended World War I. I think the phrase “keep the pot boiling” in the sign may be an attempt to get people to continue donating to fund the work of the Salvation Army and not to stop just because peace has come and the sacrifices of the war years should no longer be as critical. The woman passing through the scene appears as if she may be going door to door and using a tambourine to collect donations. Will the spirit of Christmas cheer extend to Howard in his time of need? – Even though it is set in 1918, how does this scene reveal some of the typical noir themes of the 1950s? Beware, My Lovely depicts a postwar situation that may share similarities with the public mood and societal developments that influenced the development of film noir in the years following World War II. In this scene Howard gives the impression of being an honest, hard-working handyman who is surprised by the discovery that his employer is lying dead in the utility closet. His anguished facial reaction and his immediate flight from the scene suggest he thinks blame for her death will fall wrongly on him. Thus he chooses to flee and not to report her death to the authorities. We do not have additional evidence in this scene to tell us why he reacts that way. Could he have suffered shell shock during the war? Does he have a history of unjust treatment by the authorities? Does the image of Mrs. Warren lying dead in the closet trigger some sort of psychological association in Howard? In any case, he appears to be an innocent man who has been dealt an unpredictable blow by fate and now finds himself on the run. That is certainly a typical theme we are familiar with from film noir of the 1950s.
  9. – Do you see evidence, even in the film's opening scenes, for Foster Hirsch's assessment that the dialogue in this film sounds like a "parody of the hard-boiled school" or that "noir conventions are being burlesqued"? The discussion in the taxi about what Mrs. Frankie Neal looks like does seem to support Hirsch’s assessment. Walt, the younger detective, is a buttoned-down kind of guy who is concerned about making the departure of the train back to Los Angeles on time and tells the cab driver to take any available short cuts. Walt has his trench coat belt buckled and tucked in neatly, not just tied around his waist the way world-weary private eyes like Robert Mitchum or Humphrey Bogart would do. Walt seems like a spit-and-polish police detective who has everything figured out before he even has all the facts. In that sense he does seem like a bit of a parody of the hard-boiled detective of early film noir. Gus, on the other hand, is getting on in years and has an easier approach and outlook on things. He’s not so worried about missing the train back to L.A. His dark overcoat has some sort of belt that is cinched at the waist. While Walt smokes cigarettes, Gus smokes a cigar that keeps going out on him. Walt has to brush away the ashes on Gus’s coat that Gus seems unaware of. So when Gus raises the question of what Mrs. Frankie Neal looks like, Walt’s preconceived notions about a woman neither detective has ever seen reflect what can be interpreted as a parody of a stereotype developed in the first decade of film noir. By 1952 the hard-boiled language Walt employs to describe her may have begun to sound a little passé to contemporary audiences. Gus’s generic term “dame” is not precise enough for Walt; no, to Walt she’s a “dish.” And Walt goes on in that vein describing Mrs. Neal with his stereotype for any woman who was married to a hoodlum. The good-natured, reflective Gus cannot see the world in such black and white terms: Walt asks, “What kind of a dame would marry a hood?” Gus replies almost wistfully, “All kinds.” Walt responds, “Oh, Gus, at heart you’re still a boy scout.” It’s as if Gus has encountered a femme fatale or two during the first decade of film noir and knows from experience that they are not all cheap “dishes.” Some have a little more class than that and can even cause a good man (or a boy scout) to lose his head. – What are some of the major noir elements in this film's opening, and do they seem to be variations on similar elements we have encountered in other noir films from the mid- to late 1940s? • Train whistle begins on the soundtrack during the RKO logo, replacing the usual beeps; helps to establish the movement and urgency in the opening scene, even before the train is seen • Night-for-night shooting • Low-key lighting • Formalistic use of the out-of-focus train windows flashing past behind the title frame • Strobe light effect on “Chicago Yard Limit” sign • Low-angle shot of Walt making baggage arrangements with the redcap To me, the techniques used here seem to be variations on elements we have seen before. A good example for comparison is the first minute and 22 seconds of RKO’s Crack-Up, a film noir directed by Irving Reis in 1946.
  10. – Discuss the role of time and timing in this scene. In the opening scene from Kansas City Confidential we see a man observing street activities surrounding the daily opening of the Southwest Bank. The key to understanding what we are watching comes at 2:22 when the observer records his observations on an annotated and detailed map of the immediate area. From this and from the angle of the shots looking down on the street scene we can tell that the observer has been looking out the window of a hotel across the street from the bank. Three activities are being correlated in the notes below the map: the times when squad car 11 passes, the times when the Western Florist delivery truck arrives and departs from the Yvonne Florist on the corner next to the bank, and length of time the armored car remains in front of the bank entrance after it arrives at 10:00 a.m. sharp. The number of check marks after each event being correlated on the map indicates that this is the fifth day (i.e., fifth time) the man in the hotel has observed this daily routine and its consistency. The man uses the stopwatch function on his Mido Multi-Centerchrono watch to determine how much time elapses between the time the armored car guards enter the bank and the time the florist delivery truck drives away from the curb and past the entrance to the bank. We see the starting and stopping of the stopwatch as it measures 60 seconds, but this takes only 11 seconds in the film, meaning that however “documentary” the film may appear, it does not take place in real time. The implication of the whole scene is that we are watching the casing that proceeds the “perfect crime” mentioned in the opening intertitles and that the heist being planned will probably hinge on the one-minute interval between the guards’ entry into the bank and the delivery truck’s daily departure from the florist shop. – What are the film noir elements (style or substance) that you notice in the opening of this film? The scene takes place at 10 a.m. on a sunny day, and there are no noirish chiaroscuro effects in the cinematography here. There are some high-angle shots looking down from the hotel window and some low-angle shots such as the bumper-level view of the guards entering the bank. I think the main film noir element in this opening is the contrast between the everyday innocent activities of normal people in Kansas City going about their business in broad daylight and the knowledge that an evil crime is being planned right in their midst. The people waiting on the sidewalk for the bank to open have no idea that a man in a hotel window looking down on them is plotting to steal their money. The score by Paul Sawtell gives an ominous feeling to the images of the morning routine with a Dragnet-like theme. And the score underlines the timing theme with a rhythmic, ticking motif during some shots of the bank clock and the stopwatch. – Why is a heist a good subject for a film noir to tackle? Put another way, how or why might a film that involves a heist affect or change what we think about criminals and/or criminal behavior on screen? A heist is a good topic for film noir because it can create a certain sympathy in the viewer for the intelligence and craft that go into the planning and execution of the heist. Even though we know that crime is bad and needs to be punished in the end, we become involved with the cleverness of the plan and enjoy seeing it be carried out successfully, or almost successfully. Through watching the film we can participate vicariously in the thrill and suspense of pulling off an ingenious crime that we would not actually commit in real life. The perpetrators of the heist thus become classic film noir antiheroes, people we can understand and relate to fictionally despite their flaws. I think this even comes out in the use of the word “amazing” in the prologue to our clip today: But it is the purpose of this picture to expose the amazing operations of a man who conceived and executed a “perfect crime,” the true solution of which is not entered in any case history and could well be entitled “Kansas City Confidential.”
  11. – Compare and contrast how director Karlson shoots and stages the boxing scene as a contrast of styles between cinema and television. In his film version of the final minutes of the bout, Karlson uses low-angle and high-angle shots, high contrast of the fighters against a black background, POV shots showing the viewer what the attack from the Champ looks like through Ernie Driscoll’s eyes, and extreme close-up shots. The soundtrack has a lot of crowd noise over the fight announcer’s voice, giving the impression of being present at the fight. At 0:40 into the clip, the crowd noise drops out and the picture goes to slow motion. The announcer now becomes a television commentator for “Great Fights of Yesterday,” and the camera zooms out slowly to reveal the images on a television screen Ernie is watching. The television version uses mainly medium shots and some longer low-angle shots that give the impression they were taken from a camera on the floor of the arena looking up at the ring. The film version in the first 40 seconds has an immediacy that is missing in the television version. The TV sequence has greater distance from the subjects. It is a historical record of the fight and serves in the story as exposition of how close Ernie came to becoming the champion. Even though only parts of the first 40 seconds are shot in POV, we might think of that whole sequence as a vivid recollection of the fight playing in Ernie’s mind as he watches “Great Fights of Yesterday” and relives his defeat. – Discuss the scene's social commentary in the interactions between Ernie (John Payne) and Pauline (Peggie Castle). Pauline and Ernie are two could-have-beens living in New York and working at mundane jobs. She makes corsages at the Broadway Florist Shop, and he’s driving a taxi while trying to save money to buy a gas station. Each had dreams of making it big but has had to settle for mediocrity. She blames her marriage to a fighter (“pug”) for holding her back from success in show business, and he is struggling to claw his way up the ladder of success after having come oh so close to being a boxing champion. Ernie wants Pauline to give him and their four-year marriage a little more time for him to save money for the gas station, but she has run out of patience and makes fun of the low prestige of someone who runs a gas station. I think this exchange between Ernie and Pauline sums up their situation: Pauline: I’d have been a star if I hadn’t married you. Ernie: You were a showgirl. And I could have been the champion. This situation reminds me of a more famous movie about a boxer who almost made it big. In 1954, just one year after 99 River Street appeared, Elia Kazan made On the Waterfront, in which Terry (Marlon Brando) famously tells Charlie (Rod Steiger), “You don't understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let's face it.” – What are some of the noir elements in this scene, either in terms of style or substance? The fight scenes at the beginning are fairly typical for a number of films noir that deal with prize fighting. The bright lights and dark shadows of the arena offer opportunities for high contrast lighting; the ropes of the ring provide diagonals across the frame that emphasize how the fighter is trapped in a cruel business that lures little guys from the fringe of society with the chance to make it big; the defeated fighter becomes emblematic for disoriented, disillusioned, alienated characters who people films noir. And it is almost expected that crime and corruption are associated with boxing, as for example in The Set-Up. In the second part of the opening sequence, the lighting and camerawork seem fairly routine and not especially noir-ish, but the little apartment Ernie and Pauline live in seems close and constricting. This reflects the way they, and especially Pauline, feel that fate or bad choices have kept them from making it big. While Ernie is still trying to deal with his loss in the ring, he seems serious about trying to work his way up through acquiring a gas station. Pauline, on the other hand, clearly resents her lot and says she has run out of patience. I am expecting her actions to take us into noir territory in one way or another. In this regard, I am interested in the significance of her costume jewelry watch with the rhinestones that look almost “real” to Ernie. Is it really costume jewelry? Could Ernie be on to something? If it’s expensive, then someone else must have given it to her. We first see the watch when she leans over to turn off the television with her left hand at 1:57 in the clip. A minute later there is a close-up of the watch at 2:58 that leads to Pauline’s resentful comment, “They might be real if I hadn’t married a pug.“ Even if it is only costume jewelry, I feel this discussion is signaling that she is ripe for seeking her fortune elsewhere.
  12. – Discuss the scene in terms of its acting and staging. In this brief scene, what do you see as the interpersonal relationships between Sam (Heflin), Walter (Douglas), and Martha (Stanwyck)? If you have seen the entire film, avoid larger points about the plot and focus simply on what you are seeing just in this scene. This scene provides a lot of exposition about the past relationships of Sam, Walter, and Martha. Sam has been away for 17-18 years, but the three grew up together in Iverstown. Walter is now the District Attorney and married to Martha. Walter describes Martha as beautiful, but when Sam comments that Walter has done all right, Walter replies, “Well, I guess so.” This lukewarm response would seem to imply that there may be some problem in their marriage. Sam describes his business to Walter as gambling, but it is unclear to me whether this is to be taken literally or metaphorically. When Walter says “all life is a gamble,” Sam comes back with “some win, some don’t.” Although Walter appears to be a winner in that he has an important job and a big office and clearly married the girl they both seem to have been interested in, he retorts to Sam, “You needn’t have made that point.” Here again Walter seems to be sensitive to something about winning and losing. Does he see himself in some way as a loser? Walter changes the conversation and persuades Sam to share a drink “for old time’s sake” even though Sam hasn’t even stopped for breakfast yet. Is this a sign that Walter has a drinking problem? As the conversation gets down to why Sam came to see Walter, it turns out that Sam is asking for Walter’s help in getting a female acquaintance (Toni Marachek) released from jail, where she has landed due to a probation violation. Although Walter is reluctant to agree to help, Sam states flatly, “You can do it. And you will.” He’s looking to his old friend for a favor, and the wording and tone seem to imply that Sam may actually have some unspoken leverage that he expects will sway the D.A. to bend the rules in Toni’s case. Now the secretary announces via intercom that Martha has come to see Walter. Considering that these three are childhood friends, it seems strange that Walter asks the secretary to have Martha wait. It would seem that he is trying to avoid a three-way reunion, but Sam’s comment “Well, I’d like to see her” causes Walter to have her sent in. Strangely, Martha does not recognize Sam, even when he provides his name, but when gives a peculiar whistle that surely recalls their childhood, Martha rushes over to give “Sammy” a hug. At this point Walter is looking askance at this reunion that he apparently was hoping to avoid. Significantly, Walter is standing on the left side of the frame with Martha on the right side and Sam symbolically right in between them. As Sam and Martha exchange pleasantries, Walter steps out of the frame and reappears at the liquor cabinet to pour himself another drink, which he uses as a sort of toast to Sam when Sam compliments Martha on growing up to be so beautiful. Walter gets testy when Sam comments that it still sounds funny to hear Walter refer to Martha as his wife. Sam tells Walter not to get sore, but clearly the successful D.A. is jealous of Sam, the childhood friend who has reappeared in Iverstown after so many years. As Martha walks Sam to the door of the office, Sam asks Martha, “Aren’t you glad now you missed that circus train?” This would seem to refer to some youthful plan of Sam and Martha to leave Iverstown together, an indication that two may have been in love in their youth and a reason to fuel Walter’s jealousy. Martha replies, “I don’t know,” which also seems to be a lukewarm comment on her relationship with Walter. As he leaves, Sam reminds Walter of the favor he has asked, and Walter gives only an equivocal answer, “I’ll try my best.” Sam’s good luck wish for Walter’s coming election leads to a discussion of Walter’s confidence that winning the election will be a “sure thing.” Martha declares that “a sure thing is never a gamble.” Sam is skeptical: “What odds will you give that that’s a fact?” – From this early scene, what are some of the noir themes that you expect will play out in this film? Despite all the trappings of success, Walter and Martha do not appear to have an entirely happy marriage. Since the town bears the name of Martha’s family, it seems logical that she comes from the top echelon of society in the town. Perhaps Walter’s success is due to his having married into a powerful and influential family. So I expect that one theme will be corruption or crime found in the lives of Iverstown’s power couple. The reference to Walter’s election being a “sure thing” is a pretty clear indication that something about the election will not be kosher. Another theme I expect from this film involves Toni Marachek. All we know from this scene is that she is on probation for some crime and has now violated the terms of her probation. Since Sam is sticking up for her, I expect she may be a case of an innocent person wrongly convicted, but I suppose it is possible she could also be a bad girl type or even a femme fatale who is dragging Sam down with her. – What other films or settings in the Summer of Darkness lineup remind you of Griel Marcus‘s observation that “the most emblematic noir location is a small, vaguely Midwestern city”? • Santa Lisa in Act of Violence • Paradise City in The Set-Up • Reno in Born to Kill • Harper in The Stranger • Santa Rosa in Shadow of a Doubt (outside our list)
  13. – Compare the opening of this film with other Daily Doses that began with a similar set-up on a deserted highway at night. How does this film's fateful twist differ from other film scenes we have investigated? In both Kiss Me Deadly and The Hitch-Hiker the driver of the car made a conscious decision to stop and invite someone in trouble into his car. In Too Late for Tears Alan and Jane Palmer are moving down the road when the fateful satchel of cash is thrown into the back seat of their convertible from a passing car like manna from heaven. Or is it another Pandora’s box? Depending on how you look at it, they were either in the right place at the right time or in the wrong place at the wrong time. It becomes clear to them quickly when they realize another convertible automobile is chasing them that the money was not intended for them. The look of satisfaction on Jane’s face as she takes the wheel and succeeds in evading the car chasing them suggests that she is thinking the money represents a serendipitous windfall that will put her in a position where she will no longer be patronized by her wealthy acquaintance Alice. The car that chased them appeared right after Jane had urged Alan to open the satchel. We suspect that the trouble that began after the satchel was opened will not stop here, even though Jane has succeeded in losing their pursuer for now. It is not entirely clear what Jane is doing inside the car when she is trying to force Alan to turn around and return home, but she appears to be trying to grab the car key and perhaps turn off the engine. The next shot shows the Palmers’ car weaving a bit on the road as Alan and Jane struggle and then passing through a dark shadow cast over their lane of the highway. (An advantage of day-for-night shooting seems to be that one can have shadows even at night! Is that supposed to be a moon shadow?) Although it does not seem logical, when the car passes through the shadow, the headlights disappear briefly. The next shot cuts to the man waiting at mile 3.5. He reaches down to release his parking brake and start his engine, apparently interpreting the momentary dimming of the Palmers’ headlights as a signal he has been waiting for. It is after this that the two vehicles pass and the unidentified driver tosses the satchel into the back seat of the Palmers’ car. As Alan and Jane are examining the satchel of money in their back seat and notice the second car approaching, we see the second car cut off and turn on its headlights three times as it passes the same stretch of road where their car’s headlights disappeared briefly when passing through the shadow. This confirms for the viewer that a signal was originally intended and the driver who tossed the satchel had misinterpreted a chance outage of the Palmers’ headlights as the awaited signal. – Why do you think unexpected incidents involving innocent people (such as today's couple) was such a popular postwar theme? What was changing in society and history that made this a popular film story for audiences at the time? Let me say at the outset that this response involves a fair amount of sociological speculation on my part. The war years had meant sacrifice and privation for most Americans on the home front. They had lived with constant uncertainty about whether their loved ones would return from the war, and if they did return, whether they would be changed either physically or psychically. After the victory, the U.S. had to deal with serious dislocations in business and the labor force in readjusting to a peacetime economy. There were problems with unemployment and a rise in crime. There were resentments against some who had profited from the war while others had to sacrifice and were now having difficulty assimilating back into society. Planning for the future could be difficult and unpredictable. There were long waiting lists for people who wanted to buy a new car, and there was resentment against cheaters who either paid or took bribes to get a better place on the list. Dealing with the unexpected was an aspect of many people’s lives. HUAC was turning up Communists in all walks of life. People might wonder whether they were living next door to a Communist. And in Orson Welles’s The Stranger (1946), sweet Mary Longstreet (Loretta Young) had to discover she was married to a Nazi war criminal! It makes sense to me that moviegoers in the late 1940s would have a natural interest in seeing depictions of how characters representing average people on the big screen dealt with the unexpected, whether it meant opportunity or calamity. I think Arthur Miller may have captured the malaise and moral issues of the time in his 1947 play All My Sons, which filmed by Universal in 1948. The story involves the family of self-made American businessman Joe Keller, who knowingly sold damaged parts to the Air Force during the war and kept the profits for the good of his family. The damaged parts resulted in the deaths of U.S. servicemen, and Joe’s partner was convicted and sent to prison, but Joe successfully laid the blame on his partner and was exonerated. After the war the truth comes out and Joe finally commits suicide rather than turn himself in and confess his guilt. Miller was called before the HUAC in the 1950s, in part due to his unmasking of the American Dream in All My Sons. Turning now to today’s clip from Too Late for Tears, I think it is clear that the unconventional way in which the money-laden satchel is exchanged between cars is an indication that it represents the gains from some illegal enterprise. Hence it represents danger to the Palmers if the criminals try to retrieve it and moral/legal issues for the Palmers if they keep the money for their own use. Yet the look on Jane’s face tells me that is exactly what she plans to do with the money so she will never have to be patronized by Ralph’s “diamond-studded wife” again. So here we have crime flying unexpectedly right out of the dark night and into the back seat of an innocent couple on their way (or not) to a dinner party. At this point it looks as if Lizabeth Scott will again play the femme fatale as a modern-day Pandora who will unleash trouble for herself and her husband by opening that satchel filled with “paper.” I’m looking forward to seeing the full restored version of Too Late for Tears on Friday. – Discuss this scene in terms of the style and substance of film noir. What do you see in this opening scene that confirms Eddie Muller's observation that this film is "'the best unknown American film noir of the classic era." See above.
  14. – How does Hitchcock's rhythm and purpose differ in this opening sequence from other films noir such as Kiss Me Deadly or The Hitch-Hiker? All three of these films begin with fateful chance encounters. Both Kiss Me Deadly and The Hitch-Hiker begin on dark highways at night and involve a person being picked up by a passing car. This plot device immediately puts the characters in a closed situation where they have to interact with each other. In both Kiss Me Deadly and The Hitch-Hiker the situation quickly turns to fear and menace. Christina Bailey is running in fear of the people who tried to lock her away in an asylum and s afraid of being picked up by the police and returned. The clip we analyzed in The Hitch-Hiker was not actually the opening scene of the film. In the context of the whole film, by the time we see the legs and feet of Emmett Meyers standing by the side of the road before Roy and Gil pick him up, we already know he is an escaped convict who has a gun and has already killed three other people who gave him a ride. Hence, it is only a question of time before the menace he represents emerges. There is a strong element of chance involved. Roy and Gil are two normal guys off on a fishing trip when they happen to pick up a homicidal convict on the run. Mike Hammer may not be such a normal guy, but he usually makes his living by investigating marital infidelity – a far cry from chasing “the great whatsit” in the mysterious box that kills so many and almost kills Hammer in the end. The title of Strangers on a Train already tells us what to expect. This will involve train travel, not a pick-up on a dark highway. Like the other two films, this will involve an encounter between strangers. But Hitchcock builds the tension slowly from innocent strands of everyday life instead of plunging us right away into the realm of fear and menace. The opening scene takes place in broad daylight, beginning at Union Station in Washington, D.C. Hitchcock uses visuals and the supporting musical score set up the story; no words are spoken until at 2:22 Guy Haines says, “Excuse me.” We see the shoes, trousers, and luggage of two men emerge from their taxis at the station and begin walking purposefully through the station to board their train. The two different styles of shoes, clothing, and luggage help us to identify and begin forming an impression of the two characters even before we finally see their faces and hear their voices. Man A has a pinstripe suit and two-tone wingtip shoes. He appears to be a bit of a dandy. Man B is wearing slacks and a sport coat with more conservative dark shoes. He appears to be a tennis player from the two rackets he is bringing with him. After the two leave their taxis, there are three pairs of shots of the two going through the station, crosscut A B A B A B. At times the musical score almost sounds as if it could have been written to accompany two trains gathering steam and beginning on a collision course. This is followed by a shot of the intertwining railroad tracks outside the station, shot from a moving train as it winds through the various tracks and switches on its way out of town. To me this is a metaphor for the complex intertwining of the paths that bring ordinary people into contact with each other. Inside the train the camera again begins following the legs and shoes of the two men, first A as he passes through a salon car and takes a seat on one side, then B as he happens to take a seat opposite A. In doing so, B’s right shoe brushes the right shoe of A, and B excuses himself, thus initiating the chance encounter. In Kiss Me Deadly and The Hitch-Hiker fear and evil come crashing in out of the darkness to change the lives of people going about their innocent business. In Strangers on a Train Hitchcock is very slowly weaving a web that will ensnare his characters in nefarious activity, but the plot will evolve much more slowly and subtly, thus underlining to the viewer that fearful things can develop right under our noses in everyday circumstances. – What are the noir elements that you notice in the opening of this film? Either in terms of style or substance? I’m not completely sure, but I guess that the opening shots of the main characters’ legs and shoes can be considered low-angle shots, something that could qualify as a stylistic element of noir. If I had to find something in this opening sequence that stands out as belonging to a film noir and not, for example, to the beginning of a comedy, it would be the shot of the railroad tracks, which to me seems symbolic for the fateful intertwining of two random people. Dimitri Tiomkin’s score, while it adds to the visual storytelling on screen, does not signal to me in this opening sequence that this is going to be a film noir. – Do you agree or disagree that Alfred Hitchcock should be considered a "special case" in discussion of film noir? Why or why not? I do not think that Hitchcock should be considered a “special case” in the discussion of film noir any more than Billy Wilder, Fred Zinnemann, Robert Wise, Raoul Walsh, or John Huston should be considered special cases. They all made some great films noir during the 1940s and 1950s, but they all made other great films both during and after that period. While Hitchcock may be considered the “master of suspense,” that does not mean that he was not also a master of the noir style or did not use some of the same themes, in particular that of the ordinary innocent person being ensnared in a web of fate beyond his control. If anything, perhaps his endings were not dark enough to be compared with the best of film noir. P.S. on 14 July 2015 After thinking about the clip again overnight, it occurred to me that the opening sequence emphasizes the convergence of the two strangers visually after they exit from their respective taxis. Man A (Bruno Antony) moves always from the right side of the frame toward the left side, and man B (Guy Haines) moves from the left side to the right side of the frame. They go more or less straight when they pass the gate to the platform, but once on the train, A comes from the right and B from the left until they take their seats. The first time we see both men in the frame together, A is on the right and B on the left. This is the case until Bruno hops across the aisle to introduce himself and sit beside Guy.
  15. -- Compare the opening of this film with the other three Daily Doses this week? Do you see parallels in the opening scenes of these films? In Kiss Me Deadly we are dropped into the middle of Christina Bailey’s flight from an asylum as she wanders barefoot down a highway trying to get someone to stop and help her flee from something that has left her very afraid. Even though we learn of the asylum only indirectly through the policeman’s comments to another driver and see nothing of the asylum itself, it represents something that most normal people would fear and want to avoid. It is a place where other people (doctors and staff) are in complete charge of a patient’s life. The freedom to make one’s own decisions and control one’s life is taken away. In the opening scene, it is the self-confident, risk-taking private detective Mike Hammer who picks up Christina and gets her through the first hurdle of the police roadblock. In The Hitch-Hiker we meet two regular guys driving off on a fishing trip and traveling down a dark, deserted highway. When Roy Collins and Gilbert Bowen stop to help a stranded motorist who has run out of gas, their lives take an unforeseeable turn when he turns out to be the escaped convict Emmett Meyers, who uses his gun to hijack Roy and Gil and their car to flee into Mexico. Emmett has come from a prison, where his life was also ruled by others, but now he is the man in charge, depriving Roy and Gil of their freedom and dictating in great detail everything they must do. In the opening scene of Caged we meet a group of women being transported in a dark police van with only a minimal view of the outside world to a women’s prison to begin their sentences. The visuals of their arrival at the prison contrast the harsh, restricted world they are about to enter with a last view of the sunny world of freedom beyond the prison gate. Their lives will be ruled by the prison staff for the duration of their sentences. In the opening scene of D.O.A. a desperate Frank Bigelow enters the Lost Angeles Police Department at night seeking help. The images of the LAPD are not encouraging: the halls are long, dimly lit, and almost empty of people. All the doors are closed. It does not seem a hospitable place. When Frank does encounter a clutch of people standing near what appears to be a file room, his request for directions is met with a quick thumb gesture to point him toward the Homicide Division. Then come more long, empty halls. Dimitri Tiomkin’s score accompanying Frank’s march down the corridors conveys grim urgency. When Frank tells “the man in charge” that he (Frank) is a murder victim, it seems that the police already know his name and that the San Francisco police have issued an APB for him. Aside from Frank’s unusual claim to have been murdered, the information about his being sought by the San Francisco police raises the question as to whether “the man in charge” is actually going to help Frank or pose a further threat. If “the man in charge” can be thought to stand for a person or institution that controls the lives of others and takes away their freedom, we can see that Christina Bailey is out on the highway fleeing desperately from the asylum that controlled her, Roy and Gil are out on the highway when Emmett Meyers becomes literally “the man in charge” and turns their Plymouth Cranbrook into a rolling prison, the new female inmates are on the road in a sort of temporary mobile prison when they come to “the end of the line” and are about to enter a prison where their lives will be controlled by “the man in charge.” And finally, Frank Bigelow walks off the street and into the forbidding, bureaucratic institution of the LAPD, wanting to speak to “the man in charge.” Will the LAPD actually help Frank, or will he be enveloped in bureaucratic delays or even criminal charges as his last hours run out? -- What are some of the noir themes and motifs that are being explored in this film's opening scene? This is also a good film through which to discuss Robert Porfirio's article on Existential motifs, since he references the film D.O.A. several times in his essay. The information we have to go on in this opening scene of D.O.A. is considerably less than Robert Profirio brings to bear from the whole film in explicating motifs of existential choice, the narration of a character facing death, and the absurd randomness of life-altering events that come out of nowhere. We can, however, find the seeds of these motifs in two things Frank Bigelow tells the police. Through two-and-a-half minutes of this opening sequence we have seen Frank only from behind. When he finally meets “the man in charge,” Frank tells him he wants to report a murder. Only after the policeman asks “Who was murdered?” do we finally see Frank’s face. There is a pregnant pause as Frank considers how his answer will be received. We see his suit is dirty and his shirt and tie disheveled. He looks troubled and bewildered. After a couple of breaths, Frank replies, “I was.” Tiomkin’s score underlines this startling response with a couple of mysterious chords as the reaction shot moves to Frank’s police interlocutor. As the policeman shuffles through some papers on his desk, Frank adds, “Well, do you want to hear me out or don’t you, Captain? I don’t have very much time.” Since Frank is clearly not a dead man when he makes these two statements, we may assume that he must be a dying man, and this is underlined by “I don’t have very much time.” This clearly places Frank’s forthcoming narrative under the existentialist situation of a man facing his own death. -- How does the style and substance of this film's opening reinforce a feeling of pessimism or hopelessness in the character of Frank Bigelow? The look on Frank’s face before he tells the police he is the murder victim and his question about whether the police want to hear him out show his pessimism about being taken seriously. If he is dying and running out of time, the situation could well turn out hopeless. The march that accompanies Frank as we walks down the corridors of the LAPD certainly sounds anything but optimistic to me; fatalistic and pessimistic seem to describe the music better.
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