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JamesSpencer

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Posts posted by JamesSpencer

  1. The voiceover commentary becomes a great tool of film noir to pull us into the story..  Noir pulls from stark realism as I think of other commentary noir voiceovers such as:  the voiceover/flashback narration in Double Indemnity, as well in Mildred Pierce and Scarlet Street. Voice over is used in documentary type format in several noirs especially those dealing with the FBI, and one that comes to mind dealing with the formation of AA called "Voice in the Mirror" starring Julie London. 


     


    Ciro Barbaro wrote some observations I also see: 


    -- What mood or atmosphere—through the visual design and the voiceover narration—is being established in this realistic documentary sequence?  At first it is innocuous, like a documentary that would be shown in schools about migrant farm workers.  The aerial shots are in daylight.  No threat is presented.  When they show the workers behind the fence waiting for approval, it’s still factual, but then it switches to night and we hear of “Illegal” immigrants and the dangers they face. This is where we realize that there is more to this story.  Noir sort of slipped in unnoticed, literally and figuratively, like the illegal immigrants to which the voiceover refers.  The voiceover sounds like a real narrator in one of those PS documentaries, obviously not a recognizable actor’s voice with beautiful, resonant tones.  This keeps you in the real mode.  The voice is not trying to wow you with its resonance and perfect diction; it is just delivering the facts.


     


    I agree that Noir slips in sort of unnoticed in Border Incident, I might note too that this was an MGM movie. MGM was noted mostly for their musicals.  Border starts out with a much toned down tone compared to the stark German Expressionist style noir of director's like Fritz Lang, or those noirs from Warner Bros.  However even in the day scene shots of Imperial Valley, one gets the feeling of man as a machine.. the need for workers to keep the metropolis going..  Man is reduced to labor, the braceros at the border feel sort of like an endless number..  there is a coldness to the story.  Danger lurks around the corner.  The narration sets this up.  It should also be noted that Andre Previn did the musical score, and though it is not as prominent as in other noirs  it still helps to set up mood.


     


    -- What do you think documentary realism adds to the evolution and increased range of the film noir style? Film noir is generally about the down-and-dirty, street-level side of life.  Starting it in the reality of a documentary style helps support this realistic true-to-life atmosphere, and helps you to continue to believe it as the story unfolds.


     


    Documentary style realism indeed brings us down the "street level' realism.  It pulls us into a realization that life is indeed dangerous and hard for the average man.  No one is safe.  As a Californian who sees both legal and illegal Mexican immigrants on a daily basis ..  it pulls us into the story that this kind of danger is happening not far from us.. That our food supply, agriculture economy is dependent on Mex/US relations and immigrant labor. 


     


    -- In what ways can the opening of Border Incident be considered an important contribution to the film noir style?  It helps “prime” the viewer for a smoother transition into the “willing suspension of disbelief,” necessary for a film viewing experience.  It helps you “buy” it more.  Especially if the story is a little fantastic (as in unbelievable, far-fetched), this grounding in a documentary style helps set up the idea that this could be real and should be believed (for 90 minutes, at least.)  It paves the way for the evolution of more “ripped from the headlines” type stories, or at least to get you to believe they were ripped from the headlines.


     


    The opening sequence allows us to move into new realms of filming. It allows us to see cinematography during the day.. and adds contrast.. I think too of opening commentary narration in Night of the Hunter.. and other movies...Commentary helps us to buy into the "realism" of the story.  It is no difference then the apocalypse type movies of today that focus on Tsunamis, Earthquakes, germ and nuclear warfare etc.  And many later noirs would indeed use narrative commentary to pulls us in the stories about possible nuclear attack, germ warfare etc.  I think of Panic On the Streets , Night and the City etc. 


     


    Also one should notice camera angles in the opening shots of Border Incident...such as use of overhead shot...  Overhead always gives us the feeling of people trapped in a web.  Think of the overhead shots of the kids at play in "M"    Also shooting through bars or mesh gates ... like the braceros at the border through the mesh gate gives the feeling that characters are trapped...in their predictaments .. there is no getting out.  Border Incident also gives us new ethnicity for noir..  That Mexico can be shady, dark and dangerous..  we will see this again in Touch Of Evil....the Orsen Welles masterpiece set at the Mexican border. 

    • Like 1
  2. As a musicologist, and jazz pianist who has several "noir inspired" albums on the market: I can say I'm glad the topic today is about the importance of music in film noir.   All forms of jazz from cool to bop, and more "pop" burlesque type tunes like "Put the Blame on Mame" by Allan Roberts and Doris Fisher set a new tone.  Rita Hayworth's performance one of the most memorable in noir.  I'm surprised nobody noted that Rita is not the singer....her voice was dubbed over by Anita Kert Ellis, a Canadian (Montreal) born singer.

     

    Though Rita's performance would be considered "tame" by 21st century standards.  The performance was indeed quite provocative for it's day. 

     

    Miss Davis442 had some great observations: 

     

    Has anyone ever watched Cab Callaway sing “Minnie the Moocher”? He struts and he hunches over in his zoot suit, his knees are bent his shoulders are slouched. This is what Rita Hayworth was doing during the first part of the song. She does all of the Cab Calloway stuff AND a bit of hip protruding and arms spread open, insinuating sex. The most obvious sexual allusion is when she pulls her hair up and holds it in place with her arms. Now, any dancer who is on a stage in front of an audience would never pull such a move as that because it would look really odd to the audience in the club. It would not translate very well live. But, that move was not for the audience in the club, that move was for the close up shot that the camera was capturing. That was to make it look as though she might be in bed having sex. And that pose and her movements during that pose, in a close up frame, did resemble that. I imagine the people seeing this on a big screen for the first time in the movie theater must have been put in to a real dither after that performance. 

     

    The theme of the song "Put the Blame on Mame" is the anthem of the femme fatale.. the idea that a woman can be the "downfall" of a man.  That there is indeed a sexual role reversal at times in film noir.  The woman has the power to manipulate, use a man etc.  We often see the woman's sexuality as a dramatic contrast to the harsh stark world of noir.  Rita's satin gown, opera gloves, gyration and hands over the head (nice ladies did not do that in that era).. contrast as sensualism to the story and scene. Satin gowns are seen on many femme fatales almost as a coded costume..  Think of Ava Garner's burgundy satin gown in the Killers (by the way also worn by Julie London in the "Fat Man")  The whole iconic look of Jessica Rabbit in her slinky red gown and gloves owes a lot to Rita.  We also owe a lot to Jean Louis who designed Rita's iconic gown in Gilda. 

     

    Rita thus becomes the iconic most memorable femme fatale of noir..  Her look and hair style would be copied by so many other actresses.  I think of Veronica Lake with her down hairdoo over the eyes.  

     

    Back to the subject of music: Music be it a romantic sweeping soundtrack like "Laura", burlesque songs like "Put the Blame on Mame",   bluesy,  be bop frenzied, or La Cool jazz soundtracks or suspenseful soundtracks by such greats as Bernard Hermann, Mikos Rosza, Walter Schumann and others .... set the mood. They are just as important as the actual cinematography..   One can not watch the shower scene from "Psycho" without Bernard Hermann's screeching violins.  

    • Like 4
  3. Ministry of Fear indeed has all the stampings of a Fritz Lang film and one can easily see its connection to to "M".   First and foremost is the ticking clock and the large pendulum to it on the wall.  The close ups of the clock and constant ticking.  Similar the cukoo clock in M.  There is underlying commentary of the clock.

     

    • The clock is in an insane assylum, like almost to say it is the clock that drives the man insane. (it would me,  I hate constant ticking)
    • The ticking represents the imminent  dread.... foreshadowing what's to come
    • time is ticking away..  one must get out or all is lost.

    It should be noted Lang makes use again of Expressionist camera angles, and use of darkness, shadow and dramatic lighting.  The sitting in the dark clutching the arms of the chair in high anxiety with the clock pendulum swinging is creepy and creates suspense.

     

    Lang makes use of stark minimalist scenery almost Gothic in style.  Notice the large Gothic doors of the assylum .. almost reminiscent of Dracula's castle or a Gothic estate.  The overhead shots again like in M create the feeling that the characters are trapped.    

     

    The drama that the man in question was in trouble with the law, and insane..  compels us to want to know more.  We are pulled into wanting to learn more about him.

     

    FGE13 wroteThe clock sets atmosphere in that it has sort of a soothing, hypnotizing effect.  It gives them impression of a normal, everyday setting when in fact it's an insane asylum

     

    I have to disagree that the clock is not soothing in the least, with the shadows/ticking it is stress inducing, and relentless. There is nothing "normal" about being in an insane asylum.  Ray Milland is not "soothed" by the ticking of the clock in fact he is clutching his chair in clausterphobic frenzy counting the seconds to 6 pm when he can leave.  I also notice many have written "Ministry of Fears" similarity in style to the later Vincent Price horror film "Pit and the Pendulum" based on the short story by Edgar Allan Poe.  The huge pendulum of Ministry almost has that effect of slicing into you..  It plays on your sense of dread,  The large shadow of the pendulum on the wall in the close up shots magnifies the emphasis.   

     

    MINISTRY OF FEAR is one of the few film noirs I have not watched, so I will look forward to watching the entire film later this evening. 

    • Like 4
  4. There has been some great comments already on Murder My Sweet brought up for discussion.  I agree.  The quotes in red are from Glyndda's post earlier. Those in black are from assessments. 


     


    Murder My Sweet-one of the great Marlowes.  Although I agree with Effie P below that Dick Powell never really did it for me physically as a Philip Marlowe character, he can certainly act the part.  I read the assertion this morning taken from the Frank paper that Marlowe represents a new/different kind of detective and he becomes the major player in the drama.  Agreed, however he is the major player in the written series and so it is correct to put him in that same format on film. 


     


    I agree that Dick Powell in Murder My Sweet does indeed mark "a new kind of detective" though to me the characterization is still in the beginning stages of development.  Borrowed from the written series, I have to admit I have a bit of a problem with Dick as a cynical, untrusting detective bordering between what is right, what is bad and what is ethical.  Dick lacks for me the physical presence of detective, maybe this is because I'm a musical theatre vocal coach in profession and remember Dick from his musical days in 42nd Street, Goldiggers of 33 etc.  Dick to me lacks the edginess of the film noir hero. It also seems that others agree with me on this point though I have nothing against his acting in general. I just prefer to see actors like Dana Andrews, or Bogie in such roles. 


     


    I made some observations that I think are significant.  PI's are indeed considered being on the "fringes" of law, perhaps that has been instilled in our subconscious by the official police force who want to maintain their own public perception that they are the good guys and PI's are basically mercenaries out for their own gain....who can tell.....


     


    This is a good observation and I was going to write the exact same thing. Private Investigators are privately hired, and out for their own gain.  Thus there is that judgement that comes in about what is right for the client, caution with new clients, and what is ethical, good or evil in solving the case or getting the job done. Personal interest changes the playing field, and as we add in the post WWII malaise of distrust, cynicism (a film noir scene), we see how the PI can become sort of the 'anti-hero' of film noir. We see this kind of "hero" pop up in so many noirs.  The PI walks that shadowy world and becomes the perfect vehicle for film noir.


     


    However, we have a movie made in the post war era where American men were considered men of honor and heroes.  I do believe this was one of the reasons that movies began to change. America was changing and they wanted to see "heroes" depicted even in the case of guys like Marlowe who were once considered on the fringes of society.  Was he portrayed as a war veteran?  I can't remember, however it would fit quite nicely with this whole idea.  Could Marlowe and other detectives like him be the precursor to our modern superheroes?????  Something to consider.


     


    A good point to remember is keeping the "noir PI hero" in the context of the time.  The postwar period created a period of the "broken veteran" a period when many men did not trust women (men that went of to war and came home to find their women had moved on, cheated on them, or had become independent entering the work force).  Distrust becomes an underlying theme of noir.  PIs do not trust their clients, clients want to go undercover to investigate the character of the detectives they hire.   It is a lonely isolated world where "NO One is to be trusted".


     


    This is the first thing that struck me about this particular scene. I have seen it before as I have watched this movie on several occasions and noticed right away that Marlowe is quite determined to retain his "honor" by ensuring that his promises to his client are fulfilled.  The beautiful woman in this case is not going to get in the way of that. I like that ethical element, it appeals to me and was the point that made Powell a palatable Marlowe for me.  There is no doubt that he is interested in her, as she is sharp, beautiful and just his kind of edgy, but it is business first with Marlowe and this lady is not going to be treated with "kid gloves" because she is beautiful.


     


    I agree with Glyndda's comment:  It is obvious that Marlowe is determined to retain his "honor" do the right thing and we see his dilemma as he puts work before beauty. A theme of noir is often the "threat" that a woman might be the downfall ..  Marlowe refuses to let that happen, seeing through her devices quickly by locking the door and "getting it all out on the table" though as a detective blurring the ethical boundaries of what is appropriate.  His interest comes first. 


     


    What do I see in Marlow that make him the new kind of detective......first as I mentioned above, that level of integrity, (we saw a very unsavory and underhanded detective figure in Born to Kill.....that movie was truly full of serious low lifes).  Also we see that Marlowe is a hard boiled guy alright, but he has a heart.  He is tough, ethical and consequently quite sexy.  I believe women, like men (I do emphasize here, men and women who are sexual adults) are drawn to men whom they can't "conquer" easily by their looks, or neediness, etc....I certainly am.


     


    Good point there there is indeed a sexual attraction or at least a connection to the self assured man that won't be brought down by looks, neediness etc.  But this is where Dick looses it for me a bit...  his physicality doesn't match his assertive confidence.  Why I prefer Bogie or Andrews.  But what makes Marlowe different is his determination to be honorable, do the right thing .. etc.  A far cry from "BORN TO KILL".


     


    In the scene we viewed we see him quietly lock the door behind the very attractive female, but his intentions are not sexual at all.  He picks up on her act in about 10 seconds and ensures that when he outs her facade, she will not be able to run away.  He acts as if her beauty and charm has indeed drawn him in (we saw this same action in Maltese Falcon from Bogie who plays Sam Spade)....  He walks around her sizing her up and she thinks she has the upper hand until he grabs her bag, dumps it unceremoniously onto his desk and finds her actual name all in about 30 seconds.  She is knocked backward emotionally and quickly gives up the information he wants.


     


    I love that Marlowe "plays the game" but only for a few seconds, locking the door, leaning in pretending sexual interests and then unceremoniously dumps her purse on the deck and gets to the point.  "No femme fatale" is going to make a monkey out of me..


     


    This particular behavior is the "unusual" that I see in this scene.  He is an excellent reader of character and the fact that she is a woman doesn't phase him one bit as far as finding out what he wants to know.  Marlowe's character in this scene fits the noir genre very well, because (in my opinion and observation) film noir has moved us out of the rough and tumble world of open and in-your-face crime with uncivilized street thugs etc.  We see a sophisticated "style" associated with the investigation of this crime.  Subtlety is screaming at us through the entire movie, the sexiness I associated with this character also seems to run thoughout the noir genre and not only with Marlowe's character.  The great film Laura is another study in this new style of detective behavior.  


     


    There is indeed a new kind of sexuality that runs through film noir..  a new kind of detective, sexy but aloof, write in the middle grey ground of good/evil, ethical/unethical, trusting/untrusting...this ambiguity in nearly all things makes for an interesting and sophisticated new type of character.  We all have our preference..  I feel Dana Andrews in Laura or Bogie in Maltese Falcon and Dick in Murder My Sweet all illuminate this new emerging "anti-hero". 


  5. The Glenster wrote: What do you think about how Preminger introduces the character of Waldo Lydecker in this scene?

     

    I believe this to be the most intriguing question about the opening of Laura. How does Preminger indicate that the character of Lydecker is a homosexual in the era of the Hays Code. The Hays Code refers to homosexuality under the umbrella term of, "Impure Love".

     

    So Preminger is clever enough to use Clifton Webb an openly gay actor in Hollywood, which most people are aware of. The viewer is given a tour of Lydecker's apartment which indicates through its furnishings a delicate and effeminate sensibility. Lydecker invites the detective McPherson into his bathroom where he discusses the details of the case while he is naked in the tub. Finally when Lydecker stands-up nude and asks Detective McPherson to hand him his robe McPherson (Dana Andrews) looks him up and down and clearly smirks. This indicates that McPherson has reached the conclusion that Lydecker is probably a homosexual, possibly impotent, and clearly incapable of satisfying a woman of Laura's caliber.

     

    It's a clever way of Preminger having discourse with the audience about homosexuality and what constitutes it without violating the dictates of the Hays Code

     

    Great observation!  Yes I find it great and ironic how Preminger gets all the gay subtext with an openly gay actor Clifton Webb..  pass the censors during the height of the Hays Code.  There are only a few other noirs that did this so brilliantly..  one that comes to mind is Cairo in Maltese Falcon..  and we get code words like "he is wearing gardenia" .. or more amazing is notice the camera angle of Cairo with his cane..  almost looking like ****. 

     

    The idea that Lydecker might be impotent is also indeed a good observation.  For those interested in more commentary on this..  definitely watch the extended commentary's on the movie The Celluloid Closet.. which discuss the history of Laura and hiring of Clifton and the gay subtext in more detail. 

    • Like 8
  6. Glyndaa wrote:  "LOL, I'm interested in your opinion of whether Lydecker might have been gay.  I thought about it for a second and it immediately occurred to me that he was too self absorbed to be gay or straight for that matter......who was Lydecker really in love with? Quite obviously himself.....I believe he "groomed" Laura's character in an attempt to create someone who was actually worthy of his attentions.  This person would have to worship him no doubt....but we digress.....an interesting statement.  This viewpoint has never occurrred to me.....also, I have to say that it was certainly not obvious to me that Lydecker could have been the killer when the movie began although he was certainly under suspicion.  Why?  to me, he seemed very removed from the situation as he was narrative voice, perhaps this is film trickery by Preminger.  He certainly did have a flair for the dramatic!!!  any thoughts???"

     

    Facts: 

     

    1. The original script clearly stated that Lydecker was a gay male.

    2. Lydecker was played by openly gay actor Clifton Webb. 

    3.  Laura is not a "sexual" object for Lydecker, she represents  a "trophy' of his creation..  an arm piece like his other "precious things".  

    4.  Other film historians such as Vito Risso of the documentary "Celluloid Closet" and others also back up this.  

    5. Yes of course Lydecker is self absorbed (his sexuality esp in that day in age would have had to been repressed to some end).  

     

    As for the all the clues I mentioned in my previous posts that Lydecker is the killer.  The obvious clues:

     

    1. Lydecker is the narrator and we are pulled into his perspective from the beginning. Through the movie we see time and time his obsessive nature ..  "I showed Laura, how to act, I made her what she, I told her how to dress etc" 

    2. The pan and lingering of the clock in Lydecker's as well as Laura Hunt's apt.  From the beginning we know that the clock will have an impact on the store.. also the metaphor that time is ticking away and we need to figure it out.

    3. Lydecker's constant threat and put down of the other two main male characters. .  Lydecker feels threatened sexually by McPhearson and Vincent Price's character..  he uses banter like "Laura could never fall for a pretty boy in distress." 

    4. The obvious freedom and sexual manipulation..  Lydecker seeing McPhearson in his bathroom..  and McPhearson's smirk when he throws Lydecker the robe.  These are a few . 

     

    And yes..  the narration by Lydecker is suppose to confuse the audience that he is the suspect.  Obviously directors want to create suspense by audience members not being sure of the killer.   This is what makes Laura so great.    

     

    Ironically McPhearson is just as sexually oppressed as Lydecker..  He is obsessed with the "idea of Laura" but has trouble opening up to her.  

     

    All 3 male characters struggle with their personal vulnerabilities. 

     

    Lydecker:  struggles with his repressed homosexuality, and uses his intellectual knowledge, his financial success and his banter to "one up" the other characters.  However ironically he is not as elegant as he claims..  his taste becomes over done... theatrical gaudy.. almost reminiscent of Liberace's home decorating..  

     

    McPhearson, has been injured (we learn of his shooting injury)..  he is therefore not the perfect male virile..  he has been hurt in love as well which we learn..  He represses in carnal desire urges, he becomes shadowed by Lydecker and even pulled into his world..  manipulated

     

    Shelby Carpenter:  vulnerable playboy .. immature gigolo that uses women for their money, prestige

     

    An important theme, is that of all the main male characters are weak, broken...   disillusioned, cynical..  a typical theme of film noir.. 

     

    The movie Laura is one of the most brilliant noirs of all time.. because it is indeed ambiguous, speculative, and highly psychological.  

    The best art is subjective..  and therefore each viewer will find something different to focus on depending on background, and understanding.  

     

    Thanks. 

    • Like 10
  7. I found this interesting article at "The Great Villain Blogathon" that enhances my antidote concerning the underlining "gay" subtext about Waldo Lydecker's characterization played by openly gay actor Clifton Webb: 


    "It’s impossible to discuss the character of Lydecker without speculating about his sexuality. Producer/director Otto Preminger pushed for the casting of Webb. Studio head Daryl Zanuck objected. The fact that Webb was known to be gay within the industry (though not the general public) was likely one reason. (Another may have been that Webb, who was already well into his 50s, had not done a film since the silent era.) Zanuck pushed for Laird Cregar as Lydecker. Preminger feared he was so well known as a baddie, the audience would suspect him as the villain right away.


    (I unearthed a sad bit a trivia in my research for this article. Cregar died of a heart attack, possibly brought on by a crash diet he was on while preparing to play the Lydecker role.)


    Preminger ultimately prevailed. He also prevailed in taking over as director, which Zanuck did not want.


    According to Vito Russo in his book The Celluloid Closet, the original script made Lydecker explicitly gay. These references were eventually removed. It was not at all unusual for gay characters to appear in pulp fiction and film noir of the era. Because of the Hayes Code, references to sexuality in movies had to be circumspect. In The Maltese Falcon, there’s no doubt that Cairo and Wilmer are gay. In noir gay men (and sometimes women) were almost always cast as villains. Gay men were usually portrayed as women-haters, which is not quite the case with Lydecker. (He’s more misanthrope than misogynist.) They were also rarely the main villain–more likely they were minions of the main antagonist. Lydecker as a gay main character may have been a first for a Hollywood movie.


    Reading the character as gay is plausible. It’s important to remember, however, that we read him that way because he fits certain stereotypes about gay men. Roger Ebert declared that the triangle of Laura, McPherson and Waldo only makes sense if Laura is a boy. I disagree. The love Waldo has for Laura is obsessive, and sometimes obsessive love doesn’t have a rhyme or a reason. While his sexuality is ambiguous, his obsession with her is not. Even if they had been explicit about his sexuality, Waldo is explicit about his love/obsession for Laura. He tells her that not having her has made him bitter and calls her “my love” as he is dying.


    laurawaldo1.png?w=720“In my case, self-absorption is completely justified.”

    Both the subtext and text make it clear that he is not interested in her sexually. So it’s plausible to read the character as asexual. He could be a latent homosexual (perhaps his anger at Laura’s interest in other men is that he feared losing her as a beard). Or even a heterosexual older man who is impotent or fearful he cannot match up to the masculinity of the younger men in her life. Or, as my mother commented while she watched the movie with me just before I started writing this article: “He’s a prig! A prude!”


    I think the ambiguity is one of the reasons Lydecker remains to this day such a beguiling character. The obsession with Laura doesn’t fit with the other stereotypical gay aspects to his character. Which makes him a far more layered and complex character than he might have been if everything had been spelled out for the audience.


    As McPherson’s shadow, he represents repressed aspects of his personality. Does that mean the story is saying McPherson has repressed homosexual tendencies? Perhaps. It’s not unusual in stories for there to be an intentional homoerotic vibe between men who are in love with the same woman. Nor is it unheard of for male characters in pulp fiction to fight against homosexual desires (i.e. James M. Cain’s novel Serenade). Some reviewers make much of the first scene where McPherson interviews Lydecker while he sits in the bathtub with his typewriter. Then he stands up and asks him to hand him a robe. McPherson coolly hands him the robe and smirks slightly.


    waldo21.png?w=720“Sentiment comes easily at 50 cents a word.”

    (It’s interesting to note that in a television remake of the movie, the scene is shot quite differently. Robert Stack, who plays McPherson, tosses the robe without looking at Lydecker and almost bolts out of the room. George Saunders–who was once in the running for the movie role–plays Lydecker.)


    Later, Waldo recounts his history with Laura at their favorite restaurant. It’s almost like he’s taking McPherson on a date. What emerges from his tale is how he shaped Laura from an ambitious rube to an elegant and successful career woman. Waldo’s most telling line: “She became as well-known as Waldo Lydecker’s walking stick and his white carnation.” To Waldo, Laura was an accessory, an essential part of his persona. She was not an individual, living, sexual person.


    This is a clue to both Lydecker’s and McPherson’s personalities. McPherson is a man who is just as afraid of dealing with women as human beings as Lydecker. He comments to Lydecker that “a dame got a fox fur” out of him once. He also claims he only knew one woman who wasn’t a dame, but ended it with her because she kept taking him to look at furniture. The implication, of course, is that he fears marriage.


    markpainting.png?w=720“You’d better watch out, McPherson, or you’ll finish up in a psychiatric ward.”

    The fact that he falls in love with Laura when he thinks she’s dead–well, there’s just no way around it. It’s creepy. Like Waldo, he seems to want to love only an idealized, untouchable, unattainable woman.


    One of the most beautiful things about Lydecker is how he has McPherson’s number almost from the get-go. He catches on to McPherson’s growing obsession with Laura. He relishes tormenting him with the knowledge. A typical aspect of a shadow character is how they can pick up on truths about the hero that others can’t. Lydecker understands McPherson’s captivation with this woman even though he doesn’t know her. Though he declares in the opening monologue that he was the only one who knew her, neither man bothers to know her at all.


    Noir often deals with male anxiety over female power and sexuality. Laura Hunt may be the nicest femme fatale to appear in a noir, but she’s still a femme fatale. She seems to know it. She blames herself for the suspicions the police have about her fiancé Shelby and for the death of Diane Redfern. (The true murder victim.) She is not a man-eater, though by her own admission she used Waldo to help advance her career.


    She’s also amazingly stupid when it comes to men. (One of the best non-Waldo lines in the movie is when McPherson comments that she has surrounded herself with a remarkable collection of dopes.) Anyone with an ounce of sense would have seen Shelby as a lazy user and horn dog from a mile away. (It’s amusing that Laura’s aunt’s maid sees it when Laura doesn’t.) In spite of his success with women, Shelby is a foil both for Lydecker and McPherson. He represents another less-than-ideal portrait of masculinity. He is weak and willing to let women take care of him.


    laurawaldoshelby.png?w=720“If you don’t come with me this instant, I shall run amok.”

    While Laura may not be a man-eater, she is strong-willed. She ignores McPherson’s instructions to not talk to or see anybody after her “resurrection.” Her explanation: “You forced me to give you my word. I never have been and I never will be bound by anything I don’t do of my own free will.” The idea of a woman with a free will is terrifying to both McPherson and Lydecker.


    There’s a lot of complaining in reviews about some of the plot holes in the movie (yadda-yadda-yadda–I’ve yet to see a film noir with a plot that holds up to scrutiny). One of the big objections is how McPherson, after finding the murder weapon in the clock, puts it back and leaves Laura alone before Waldo has been arrested. Might there be a subconscious reason for it? In spite of the assumption that McPherson and Laura are heading for a happy ending, the brevity of their relationship and McPherson’s issues with women make it seem unlikely.


    It’s also telling, I think, that it’s not McPherson who kills Waldo, but another cop. In most stories, the hero vanquishing their shadow is symbolic of the hero overcoming the dark and negative aspects of their personality that they shared with their shadow figure.


    laurawaldo2.png?w=720“Love is stronger than life. It reaches beyond the dark shadow of death.”

    Waldo himself might disagree with that analysis, and declare: “Let’s not be psychiatric.” But I think there’s something to that. This is still a noir. Endings in noir always have some disturbing elements.


    Zanuck did not care for the ending and insisted on a new one with the reveal that Lydecker had imagined the whole thing.


    How’s this for irony? Columnist Walter Winchell, who was one of the people invited to screen that cut of the film (AND quite likely one of the inspirations for the Lydecker character) insisted to Zanuck that he had to change the ending.


    Zanuck complied. Laura went on to great success. Lydecker became one of noir’s iconic villains, cementing Webb’s place in Hollywood history as one of the great character actors of his time.


    • Like 6
  8. Laura is by far one of my favorite noirs of all time.  Everything about this movie is pure perfection from the amazingly diverse cast: Gene Tierney, Clifton Webb, Dana Andrews, Judith Anderson and Vincent Price, to the most sweeping musical score by David Raksin-which of course "Laura" the tune with lyrics by Johnny Mercer becoming one of the greatest jazz standards of all time, and one I perform regularly as a pianist.

     

    What I find so great about this movie is all the "psychological" subtext that got past the censors and the complete opposite extremes in emotions, sexuality, manners and out look of Waldo and Detective McPhearson.    

     

    I am surprised however that so many on the board could not see from the start that Waldo was the murderer (really?).   To me it was obvious.  Waldo is self -absorbed in his pretentious and precious museum of antiques and things..  his banter and "one upsmanship"  makes for hysterical wit.  To me it is obvious his dilemma is that he is homosexual yet trying to maintain the cover of perfection and elegance>he is not in love with Laura Hunt ..   Laura represents the ideal "project" for Waldo..  He talks a great deal..  about how HE taught her what to wear, how to dress, how to behave.   LAURA is the gay man's great project.    Waldo has great contempt for Dana's character McPhearson..  the sexy "man's man" ..  same with his comment about Vincent's character... who falls for Laura..  and Waldo makes the comment later in the film..  "Laura could never fall for a "pretty boy" in distress..  to me there is always an underling homosexual repression with Waldo.    The stepping over boundaries is odd and disturbing esp for a movie of the 40s..  Afterall  WALDO is actually in the bath when he first meets McPhearson.  The nudity not shown but McPhearson handing Waldo his robe etc.  to me set ups the whole dilemma.  

     

    Ok-so since nobody brought it up yet.. I think this is the main interest of LAURA the gay subtext of Waldo.  This was new and interesting not really shown like this before in any movie previous.  It sets up a theme in noir too of the "femme fatale"  The beautiful photo of Laura hanging over her fireplace.. represents the "ideal" girl of a man's dream for McPhearson.. as Waldo says "interesting that a detective would fall in love with a corpse"  and Waldo's obsession as an object like "his precious things" to worship.  The theme of obsession, unrequited love etc runs through many noirs.  

     

    "Laura is the face in the misty night...  footsteps that you hear down the hall"..   Johnny Mercer did such a beautiful job of creating this sense of mystery. allusiveness and mystery.    The movie and the characters hold ones attention.  Absolutely brilliant movie.  

    • Like 4
  9. I have seen The Letter, many times.. and after seeing "M" for the first time, it seems in sharp contrast.  "M" creates tension and suspense right from the beginning.  In contrast the peaceful and sensual contrast in the opening scene of the Letter pulls the viewing in a more relaxed direction until the the Gun Shots..

     

    What is brilliant and most disturbing and probably for the the very first viewers of the "The Letter" in 41 was Bette Davis' absolutely cool behavior after the murder. Noir often has cool, guiltless cold-blooded murder.  Bette Davis's cool behavior is indeed disturbing

     

    The subtle lighting of the clouds rolling over the moon and blocking the murder represents the evil committed. The subservience of the workers is also rather predictable but disturbing to me.  The workers are programmed to just follow orders.  A murder is committed and they all just act to Miss Davis' wishes.  No one detains her, no one questions her.  The murder is so cool, efficient.   

     

    This commentary of "we all blindly follow the one in power.. or that murder and mayhem can happen.. and there is no use. it's fate becomes a prevalent theme in noir..  I'm reminding of the children in Night of the Hunter that run to the old man for help.. and he KNOWS of their mother's murder.. and does nothing.   

     

    The opening exotic calmness makes the murder that more intriguing.   It should be noted that exoticism often shows up in noir..  Lady from Shanghai, and other noirs set in exotic locations.  Exoticism can serve as a sharp and intriguing contrast to the stark reality of noir plots.  I have the dvd of The Letter and will rewatch later today.  

     

    Also disturbing is the many shots into the victim.. I believe this is one of the first movies where the viewer see the cold blooded shots..  Though there are many earlier movies with murder.. I believe this is one of the first where a murder has center screen with that many shots into the victim.   Again either way it  is "cold-blooded" with no conscious. 

    • Like 1
  10. As  a film noir historian who has taught film noir to specifically senior citizen classes in Orange County California I have to admit I was new to seeing La Bete Humaine.    The fast pace moving train scene is indeed a style of filming used in film noir movies I have seen.  The fast pace urgency of the train moving forward on a desolate and eerie landscape creates the feeling "moving into the abyss, traveling into nothingness." When the train finally arrives at the station there is a feeling of cold isolation.  There are no people except the engineers.  

     

    We know lighting is essential to film noir.  This film clip makes use of suspenseful lighting.  The cigarettes and swaying lantern being the only light during the tunnel scene.  The dizzy array of light textures as the train races on.  This rollercoaster urgency in cinematic filming will be used again in other noirs.  My favorite being the rollercoaster attempted murder scene in Woman On The Run.  There are many noirs with fast paced camera angles of car chases, police cars, trains.  This movie sets this device up brilliantly.

     

    There is an underlining commentary in my opinion La Bete Humaine translating The Human Beast.. that technological efficiency will be the "downfall" of man.   We see this theme again in again.  Think about the cold war noirs dealing with germ and nuclear warfare. 

     

    The aimless "machine' feeling of the engineers was seen yesterday as well in M  with the women working tiredlessly.  This feeling humans can't escape the trap of work, technology etc. 

     

    The train scene in this movie was actually disturbingly long.  The whistles, dark tunnels, chugging wheels, bridge, oncoming train felt endless..  like many of the characters in noir, that feel trapped in an endless nightmare.  Challenges and horrors no one seems to escape.  

     

    To me the constant camera clips to the train tracks foreshadow 'predestination'.. we are traveling to a doomed place and we can't get off. 

     

    [...]

     

    Looking forward to more clips.  I have learned new observations in noir with this clip. 

    • Like 5
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