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Larry Henry

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About Larry Henry

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  • Birthday August 21

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    Arkansas
  1. As has been discussed in this course, many films noir are set in Los Angeles and New York City, arguably the crime capitals of the world, hotbeds of corruption, misfortune, and scandal. But other settings come with their own dark allure. Like other mobbed-up Midwestern cities (Chicago, Milwaukee, Cleveland), just the mere mention of the city's name -- "Kansas City" -- can convey criminality. Mafia families for decades ruled Kansas City, snagging headlines with extortions, assassinations, and bombings. As depicted in the movie "Casino," those families also directed the illegal skim at several Las Vegas casinos. That's not all. Some of best tough-guy writers in American literature (Hemingway, James Ellroy) made their home in Kansas City at one time or another, and its scrappy newspaper, The Kansas City Star, was one of the most aggressive muckraking papers in the country at its height decades ago. So, yeah, with the name "Kansas City" in the title, and all that it and "Confidential" imply, I'm eager to watch this movie. The opening clip, showing the meticulous planning of a bank robbery, has done its job in pulling me in even more. How? Well, we've all heard the truism about the best-laid plans going awry.
  2. Hemingway. A.J. Liebling. Joyce Carol Oates. They and many other journalists and authors have made effective use of boxing as a framework for stories. The fight inside the ring (with its cheaters and brawlers and unfair judges) serves as a story-within-a-story to help readers understand the larger drama at play. The same framework is effective for filmmakers, as is clear in this clip from "99 River Street." The "pug" in the movie who lost in the ring is also losing in life, but is he down for the count? I can't wait to see.
  3. A district attorney who's up for re-election shares an early morning drink in his office with a professional gambler who wants a favor in getting a woman out of a legal jam and then openly flirts with the D.A.'s wife? I'm in.
  4. A bag of money falls from one car into another, or is tossed. A contrivance? Yes, but it's a mild annoyance, not a roadblock, because when you see a car headed your way moments later, its headlights blinking, your pulse quickens, and you know a great ride has just begun -- with the woman behind the wheel taking charge, skillfully eluding danger. Without question, more twists and frightening turns are yet to come.
  5. Some of the narrative and visual devices that movie directors once used to set the scene and to place characters on a collision course aren't that familiar with today's viewers -- passenger trains, hitchhiking, phone booths. Many younger viewers have never been on a passenger train, picked up a hitchhiker or used a phone booth. Yet those devices aren't problematic even today if the thematic thread works, as it does in "Strangers on a Train." A parallel example from literature might be Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises." Have most readers who encounter the novel been to a bullfight? Maybe not. But the book, published in the 1920s, remains timeless and seems contemporary in large part because of the narrative flow and character development. Hitchcock had that same touch.
  6. You want to get my attention? Show a solitary figure walking down a dark hallway at the police station to the Homicide Division. Even the word "homicide" on the door at Room 44 is unnerving. If that weren't enough, the man who made the long walk is rumpled and says he was murdered the night before in San Francisco. I'm along for the ride on this one. With an opening like that, how could I not be?
  7. If I'm not hooked by the first sentence or two of a book or the opening sequence of a movie, I'm not going to stay with it. All the opening scenes in this week's Daily Doses so far -- the out-of-breath hitchhiker fleeing an asylum, the hitchhiker with a pistol, the women inmates -- grab you by the jugular and don't let go. With openings like those, I'll watch all three of these movies through until the end.
  8. Hitchhiking has always been a useful story-telling device in that it is an effective way to create an immediate atmosphere of fear and foreboding. In movies and books it seems that nothing good ever comes from picking up a hitchhiker. Every time a thumb goes up and a car pulls over, you know trouble is going to start - and that's why you keep watching.
  9. Novelist Elmore Leonard's advice to writers to leave out the boring parts that readers tend to skip is good advice for filmmakers, too. That is evident in the opening to "Kiss Me Deadly." There is nothing at all boring about an opening scene that shows an out-of-breath woman sprinting down a highway in an escape from an asylum wearing nothing but a trench coat -- and wanting to be dropped off at the first bus station in Los Angeles. Something tells me they won't get there. I'll keep watching to find out what happens next, though. I'm intrigued, and definitely not bored.
  10. In addition to the noir elements in this clip (urban landscape at night, characters in shadow, diagonal framing), the revelations that gradually unfold also make the scene work -- the character at first unseen in the doorway, the passageway in the town square probably used as an escape route. This is a true cat-and-mouse game (pun intended). Don't you want to follow them on the chase? I do.
  11. Sometimes in 1940s Hollywood movies the action can seem painfully contrived. That is true in this scene. For instance, it is a bit too convenient that a motorcycle cop rolls up on the district attorney right as Frank is standing there watching -- and then the cop admits to some hitchhiker with a suitcase that he let the D.A. go because of who he is. Would that really happen? It's doubtful. Still, the compelling elements in the scene, capped by the entrance of Cora Smith, overcome these credibility issues and keep viewers hooked.
  12. The theory advanced by Anton Chekhov that if a gun is introduced early in a drama it ultimately must go off seems somewhat turned on its head in this scene. Given that the assailant lazily hold the gun while seated and the victim casually lights a cigarette and leans back in a relaxed posture apparently on the edge of a bed, the gun's presence is less than ominous. Yet a threat exists, made clear by the foreboding tight shot of the assailant's face, the accusatory statements, the existence of a "hidden" document. All these things, including the gun, point to one thing: Something bad is going to happen. And like most viewers, I'll keep watching to see what that is.
  13. When two characters who seem out of place in an interesting setting cross paths -- with one literally walking out of the light and into darkness -- the intrigue rises to a heightened level. It is obvious that there is more to come from these two (romance? misdeed? betrayal?) than just witty dialogue and cheap earrings. For viewers, following them down their now-shared path is an irresistible journey.
  14. In novels and in movies, the most effective way to reveal character is through good dialogue like that in the opening scene of "The Big Sleep." In the span of only a few minutes, viewers learn a lot about Marlowe and the other characters by how they speak to each other and interact. Many fans of crime fiction count writers who are excellent with dialogue - George V. Higgins, Elmore Leonard, James Ellroy, Richard Lange - among their favorite novelists. Good dialogue always makes a story memorable.
  15. When you watch the early noir movies and compare them to the neo-noir films that came later you get a sense of how the advent of realism in movies, like the journalistic approach in the opening of "Border Incident," helped usher in a style of movie-making in general that seems less contrived, more urgent.
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