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athing305

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  1. Wagner's music has been associated with Hitler and his murderous Third Reich. Using this music under the warden's eager, illegal beating of the prisoner adds an extra dose of depravity to the scene. In addition, the guards can hear the beating inside the warden's office over the sounds of the record player but, though angered by the injustice, like much of the German populace, do not interfere. This scene from "Brute Force" is a good example of early postwar noir; blending formalism and realism to counterpunch, heightening the tension and suspense. In addition, the hopelessness of the prisoner's plight is an example of the influence of Existentialist ideas in the postwar period. The prisoners are helpless and hopeless in the face of their captivity.
  2. The lighting is brilliant! It gives us the brutality of the beating without really showing much actual violence. The deep black shadows punctuated by the sound of the blows landing, as well as the swinging light give a tension-filled randomness to the act. The cross cutting and lighting not only show us the characters in their pecking order and different perspectives, but lends tension to the scene by cutting the film to produce speed and driving rhythmn. The appearing and disappearing shots of the beaters and their bosses, reveal a callous acceptance of their lifestyle and complete unconcern with this means to their desired ends. True film noir stalwarts.
  3. Power lines clump at tilted poles then run and clump again. They striate the sky of the rundown crumbling end of a small Midwestern city serves as the Asphalt Jungle, a place where the characters are both predator and prey. The lead character, Dix, walks in shadow through the horizontals of the town. We don't know what he's walking away from nor what he's walking toward; he must stay in motion. The radio dispatcher and the heavy ominous score tells us he is now prey. The counterman at the diner is casually complicit in whatever crime the man has commited. The music here is brighter. Dix gives the worker his gun; a very short time ago he was the predator. This opening is shot in noir-esque deep shadow as well as deep focus. The man is dwarfed by the city, almost disappearing into it as the scene progresses. He becomes just another item in the landscape. From this short clip, DIx is a loner which, in a tightly timed heist, can mean disastrous for his compatriots should he decided to veer from the plotted itinerary.
  4. The Miles Davis score exacerbates the yearning and isolation the characters feel in the large, impersonal city. It also points up the single mindedness of lovers; these two are literally the only two people in the scene, the only people in anotherwise empty world, all one another thinks about. The music is muted, almost purring at times, like the lovers' phone call. The improvisationalism of jazz, and its night city, not-quite-legal feel, echoes the film noir ambience perfectly, evoking night in broad city daylight.
  5. This opening feels a lot like Alfred Hitchcock. The bright unshadowed daylight and the low angle shots of the 1918 Salvation Army opening magnifies the stereotypical small town narrow mindedness and charity with strings attached; a happy life through conformity. The poor man outside the happy downtown circle cleans the last bit of goo off a window; a menial job for a man of his age. He proceeds inside to finish his job and tidy up. These shots are taken in close up and medium close up in a small crowded kitchen. The discovery of the body is shown first in the man's reaction, then briefly as a startingly upside down face with dead eyes. We don't yet know what in his past makes the man runs after his discovery, but he goes from a job, however mindless, to hopping a freight train, rootless and out of the mainstream. The 1950s has been shown to be an age of conformity not unlike the timeframe shown in this opening clip. In both eras the cost of stepping out of line is exile and ostracism, themes explored over and over in films noir.
  6. "The Narrow Margin" uses many noir elements we've seen before, but the film seems not to be committed to its ambience. The scenes are shot and played with all the right ingredients; big city, deep shadowy photography, night trains in enormous stations, workers casual enough with each other to brush ashes off one another's lapel, but there is a feeling of reflexivity to the piece, as if it says, "We know this is what's expected of us, but we don't take it all that seriously." The brash train whistle over the studio logo gives way to opening credits in tough blunt typeface and more realistic train sounds. The characters are travelling with tickets and train compartments from LA to NY and back again, firmly in the middle class, twitting the noir tradition of desperate souls fleeing trouble, catch-as-catch-can. The commonsensical, kindhearted friend, in the noir tradition of Tom D'Andrea in "Dark Passage" and "Tension," is also on board seemingly taking some of the noir edge off film, perhaps making it more palatable to the 1950s zeitgeist. The men's dialogue in the cab is written hard-boiled, but the almost gratingly hard voice of Charles McGraw is just this side of parody, and his companion takes his tough talk lightly with a chuckle. After the "Sweeney Todd" whistle blast over the credits, this opening has none of the suspense of earlier noirs such as "Kiss Me Deadly" and "Le Bete Humaine." But it does generate enough interest to make us want to watch more.
  7. Timing is of the essence for the planner of the heist. He goes so far as to make up an actual blueprint of the operation, including a careful note each day to ensure the armored car delivery time does not vary. But, the heist mastermind is not the only one concerned with time. From his shaded window he sees the bank customers, eager to transact their financial business, awaiting the bank clock to signal the bank’s 10:00 opening. The florist deliveryman seems tied to time, too, making a notation on a clipboard as he makes his delivery. This film uses the more documentary style seen in other noirs of the 1950s; the preamble, the establishing shot of Kansas City’s business district, the dusty dirty delivery truck, all help to give it a more authentic feel. Letting the visuals carry the action, (no voices, not even street chatter, are heard throughout the short clip), also puts this film in the noir tradition. The use of shadowing amidst bright sunshine also helps the overall tone of suspicion. The heist would seem a very good candidate for the film noir treatment, as it certainly relies on a gang of ne’er-do-wells, and usually turns on anxiety, paranoia and double-cross. Heists also exemplify the Existential philosophy of humans trying to order their lives while trapped in an uncaring world.
  8. The opening shot of the "99 River Street" clip is vivid, imaginative and could be a forerunner to Martin Scorcese's "Raging Bull" fight scenes. As the film widens the focus to show the television set in the small and, noting the slanting upper wall, attic apartment of the once heavyweight contender, Ernie, and his once promising chanteuse wife, Pauline, the same footage seems to diminish in scope and importance. The couple's dialogue is bitter and resentful on her side, pleading and placating on his. The two fairly reek with broken dreams and unfulfilled potential. The director changes the crisp, cinematic rendering of the pivital bout to a small, slightly faded, agonizingly slow motion version; as if Ernie's title dreams are in a never-ending quagmire of failure and pain. The couple's eager hopes have shrunk to the size of a 15 inch black and white television that keeps re-running past defeats. These two trying to bring, albeit separate, order to a random world, embody the Existentialist philosophy gaining adherents in the post war period. In a fair world, those who fought in the war, those who saved the world, should be able to fulfill their ambitions and live happily ever after. Those who took up the slack for the men fighting, should also be permitted to pursue and fulfill their dreams. Ernie, a good guy whose sad eyes show constant surprise that the universe treats him so poorly, and Pauline, bitterly disappointed in the husband she married on the way up and who has now landed in a heap at her opportunistic feet, in earlier noirs might have been the second string characters. Not as flashy nor as wanton as the leads, but Ernie particularly would have been right at home as the best friend of Robert Mitchum or Dennis O'Keefe. Probing into these identifiable characters and situations through the bleak, pessimistic, anxiety ridden, double-crossing, prism of 1950s film noir adds another dimension to the folio.
  9. From this short clip, Sam, Walter and Martha seem to have grown up together. From the interplay, Martha and Sam were first a couple, with Walter the outsider in their three handed clique. Sam left their small town and made his way lightly through the world as a gambler. Walter remained in town, worked diligently, and somehow corralled Martha. As evidenced by their little chat before Martha arrives, Walter is a big man in town and disapproves of Sam's lifestyle. Placing Sam in a low chair with Walter almost looming over him as they speak, Walter seems to be asserting his superiority over his old friend; marking his territory so to speak, and gloating a bit over Sam. Sam seems perfectly happy with his lot, and when Martha arrives she is as glad to see him as scowling Walter is now resentful of his presence. The interaction between Walter and Martha is frosty, their dialogue becoming icier by the moment. By the time Sam jovially takes his leave, Martha is replying to Walter's prompts about his election chances like an angry parrot. Lost dreams, jealousy, male possessiveness, anxiety, insecurity, and whatever shadiness Sam has asked Walter to fix may certainly lead to double-cross and revenge, and are all in the noir realm of possiblity for these characters. Iverstown can line right up with the small towns of "Out of the Past," "The Killers," "The Postman Always Rings Twice," and perhaps "Mildred Pierce."
  10. Like other recent Daily Doses, "No Time for Tears" starts in motion. As the night city sparkles below them, a husband and his wife their wind way along a lonely mountain road to a party at the home of better-off friends. This late noir's themes of inablity to "keep up with the Jones's," and the relative powerlessness of women, culminate in the unhappy wife urging her husband to drive back home. Failing this, she tries to take the wheel, flashing the lights and nearly causing an accident. As they resume their drive a car approaches from the opposite direction and tosses a suitcase in their back seat. The husband examines the bag, which is filled with cash. A car approaches, the wife orders the husband back into the car. She is now at the wheel. Her eyes lit up when she saw the money, and now she smiles with subtle satisfaction as they abscond with it. She's in charge; literally in the driver's seat. "Too Late for Tears" presents the main characters not as the expected thug and femme fatale, but a middle class, law-abiding wife and husband. The film also differs from the previous clips in that, at least for the moment, the random event that happened to the couple seems to be in their favor. The hard economic times of the period, similar to the zeitgeist of the early 1930s (though not as deperate), bred wish fulfillment fantasies. In the 1930s screwball comedy embodied the daydream of wealth and ease. The postwar period linked the fantasy of luck falling in one's lap with a hard-edged realism that said any golden apple is bound to have a nasty, disgusting worm. Following the noir playbook, the clip uses underlit night scenes, deep shadows and location shooting. The director calls for close-ups to quickly establish the two main characters. These law-abiding citizens care for each other, but a tension, an anxiety lies beneath. This quick clip sets up a noir ambiance and then adds plot and character twists that surprise and intrigue, even after all the films we've been saturated with during the last six weeks. Afterthought: Seems like a precursor to "A Simple Plan."
  11. While still opening with a travel motif, Hitchcock’s “Strangers on a Train” does not convey the sense of danger and urgency shown in “Kiss Me, Deadly” and “The Hitch-hiker.” The rhythm is more buoyant, the music introduces two different male characters with similar, but noticeably different, light-hearted themes. The comically bumptious third musical theme could be called the “Cabbie’s Theme” as it puts musical distance between the working class taxi drivers and the two more socially upscale main characters. It’s Hitchcock so we know menace and suspense are waiting, but this opening reveals very little about what lies ahead. The villain and the protagonist are indecipherable at this point. The usual noir touches are in evidence. Under the titles is a shot of a dark, cavernous train station interior looking out into bright sunshine, similar to “Out of the Past” shot from inside of the cantina into the brightly lit town square which introduces Kathie. Faces are hidden here, too; feet, legs, and luggage are used to introduce the two characters. The vertical lines made by the legs and shadows of the men as they walk to the trains, cross cut with one another from opposing directions, presage if not a human train wreck, at least a momentous encounter. The barred conductor’s gate to the trains, followed by the tracking shot of quickly converging and diverging rail lines being overshadowed by the enormous unseen train engine also subtly warn of the conflict to come. As the legs wind themselves through the jungle of table legs, chair legs and human legs, the men sit opposite one another and we finally see their faces. Behind each man is a window with a blind with its slats open. This echoes the ominous, constricting lines used often in film noir, but with Hitchcock’s lighter touch. Hitchcock could rightly be considered unique in the film noir firmament in my opinion because of the consistent tongue-in-cheek manner in which he presents tension filled, sometimes horribly gruesome stories. He also seemed to set his characters firmly in at least the middle-, if not upper class echelons of society, a break from the gutter wallowers of the “normal,” expected noir mise-en-scene.
  12. Like the other three Daily Doses this week, this movie starts with movement. "Kiss Me, Deadly" began with a running woman through the night, "The Hitchhiker" clip began with men driving through the night, "Caged" began with a darkened police van lumbering to a prison, and "D.O.A." begins with a man taking a long, deliberate night walk into and through what could be a literal "last mile" of a police station. The movement in all these clips reinforce the existential notion that we are all dealing with a world that makes no sense, and the best we can do is try to move ourselves in a position where we may get some semblance of control or at least order. The man plods relentlessly on through the silent, shadowed, top lit hallway; a small dark figure in an imposing official building. We can't tell what his demeanor is; throughout his long trek his gait is heavy and he is shot exclusively from the back. All these visual elements reinforce a sense of bleak despair. As Bigelow arrives at the Detective division, he enters a lit room. As he sits to speak with the detective, his face at last shown, he is slack jawed and exhausted. Hopelessness is written in the way he struggles to keep his body from collapsing, and in the wounded eyes of the actor Edmond O'Brien - a tough guy with a layer of insecurity in his makeup. Again existentially, the character is shown to be a fragile, puzzled soul dealing with a senseless death sentence he, standing in for all of us, has been handed.
  13. Warner Brothers' studio was home to hard-edged urban dramas about societal problems, including gangster and prison films. Thus, "Caged" follows a long line of WB investigative movies revealing life's more sordid side. The opening very effectively evokes an imprisoned feeling through the black screen, where only the small caged window from the back of the police van to the driver's cab, and it's dim reflection on the interior roof of the van, are visible under the credits. The only visuals we have place us in the van with the outcasts headed for the hoosegow. As the women arrive at their "new home," they are prodded and pulled out of the van, past the main character's seat at the back of the van. She looks very young and absolutely terrified. As she is pulled roughly into the parking lot before the entrance we notice she is wearing bobby socks and saddle shoes, the impression of a lamb going to the slaughter is reinforced. The film noir atmosphere perfectly fits the despair and hopelessness of the woman's situation; the punishment for women transgressing in a "man's world." No matter what the crime, the women are all guilty of the audacity of assuming they have the power to disobey. This is certainly appropriate fodder for the progressive representation of women in the noir ethos.
  14. This clip from "The Hitchhiker" shows clearly that In the noir world no good deed goes unpunished. It also hammers home the late 40s - early 50s anxiety-producing sense that the pre-WWII ethos of trusting and helping out our fellow human beings, is no longer in play. It must be one of the first films to show a serial killer in a normalized way, echoing the normal-seeming Germans' monstrous depravity. "Kiss Me, Deadly" opens with a traumatized woman running for rescue toward cars in the night. Her saviour shelters her from the brutality to which she has been subjected. The opening is showy in a stark way; the director seems to have taken a page from the German Expressionists. Nothing much is visible but the woman, and the man in the car. The rest is inky black night. Not much gray area here. The credits and the music add layers of nervous energy to the scene. "The Hitchhiker" clip opens calmly and conventionally, in a noir sort of way. Two regular Joes are driving and deciding if they should go to their planned fishing spot or to a Mexican hot spot to pick up women. These scenes are in many gradients of rich black, white, and gray. Their detour introduces them to a hitchhiker they stop to help. The mise-en-scene narrows to the more strictly black/white interior of the car. The suspense builds as the hitchhiker joins the duo. He speaks cryptically from the total blackness of the back seat; the two men in the front are visible, though heavily shadowed. The passenger is revealed not by his face, but through the close up of his gun. Both these "more than night" situations land the goodhearted drivers/protagonists in mortal danger. Casual generosity does not prevent bad karma. This is a new world.
  15. It's been copied many times, but no power has been lost in this opening. So many noir elements fight for attention. Low key, low angle photography, the heavy breathing of love and death, a woman with no context running down a blackened highway, a grumpy white knight to her rescue, insinuations of her insanity, and hints of his, if not chivalry, at least a willingness to harbor someone in trouble with the authorities, the jazz flavored song on the radio, and the backward running credits which fairly scream "film noir flashback," are swirling fascinators, pulling us in. The randomness of the universe in all its pain and salvation is contained in this short clip.
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