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Everything posted by Marianne

  1. Wikipedia lists Nathanael West as co-writer on the screenplay for Stranger on the Third Floor, but my borrowed copy of the DVD doesn’t list him in the credits. Anyone have any information about the discrepancy?
  2. Detour The first time I started watching Detour, I had to cut it short (I had to take a detour; sorry, I couldn’t resist) because I couldn’t stand listening to Vera give Al a hard time in Haskell’s car. I felt like my ears were starting to bleed. She barely paused long enough to take a breath. All her lines were given rapid-fire. I have to admire her skill at delivering them, but I kept thinking that Al’s biggest mistake was not turning himself in just to get away from her. The second time I watched Detour, I made it all the way through and saw that Vera only got more shrill (though I didn’t think that it was possible) in the apartment that she rented with Al. I have to admit that I almost found it funny that Al accidently kills Vera by cutting off her air supply. I didn’t really like either one of them. I wasn’t exactly rooting for Al. His character isn’t the most sympathetic, but he was less unlikeable than Vera and I still wanted to see what the heck happened to him. I don’t think that Al was telling his story to anyone else in the Nevada Diner. I think he was imagining what it would be like to tell police detectives or even jury members what had happened to him because he was using the second-person plural: “I know what you’re gonna hand me even before you open your mouths . . .,” “. . . your smug faces . . . .” I heard that Ulmer added the very last scene, when the highway patrol stopped to pick up Al, only to satisfy the Hollywood Production Code, which maintained that murderers could not get away with their crimes. Too bad. The ending would have been even more effective if Al just wandered off on the desert road.
  3. I noticed that superstition and religion were themes in Nightmare Alley. Thank you for posting this background. One more thing: I think the "spook rackets" increased in popularity during the 1920s and 1930s for many reasons, but two of them were the desire for people to connect with their loved ones who died in World War I and the desperation many felt because of the Great Depression. Does anyone watch the Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries on PBS? One episode, "Death Comes Knocking," is about murder, the "spiritualist fad," and trying to contact World War I dead.
  4. Nightmare Alley Wasn’t Nightmare Alley produced by George Jessel? I couldn’t find anything online about Jessel working for King Brothers Productions. The sets, the lighting, the clothes: everything about this movie was dim and dingy. In fact, the only distraction was Tyrone Power. At first, I couldn’t stop thinking, “That’s Tyrone Power,” but he’s so believably slimy: using people for his own financial gain, duping them with his con game. But the most amazing thing about this movie for me was Tyrone Power’s physical transformation. His character, Stan, is out-conned by the psychologist, Lilith Ritter, and his downfall seems quick and complete. He looks like he’s hit bottom by the end of the movie. Molly and the movie viewer are the only ones who still recognize him. The movie starts off with tarot cards and fortune telling: a lot of talk about superstition. When Stan and Molly have their first argument, it’s about religion: Molly accuses him of acting like a minister and challenging God. But then it seems to be about fate. When the carnival boss asks Stan if he wants to play the geek, Stan tells him that he was born to it. Are superstition, religion, and fate supposed to be one and the same? I thought that Stan giving the wrong bottle to Pete was an accident, but it seems to have had a deep effect on Stan. After his con is discovered, and he’s in the scene where he drinks with the hobos waiting for the train, he repeats the same story that Pete told to him before he died. I found it chilling. Nightmare Alley is a perfect title for this story, and it’s going to stick with me for some time.
  5. Laura: Humor in Film Noir What struck me the most about Laura was the snappy dialogue and some laugh-out-loud lines. Here are just a few examples: Laura Hunt first approaches Waldo Lydecker to ask him to endorse an advertisement for Wallace pens. She’s oblivious to his insults and asks him for a pen, and he throws her another barb: “I don’t write with a pen. I write with a goose quill dipped in venom.” (For a man who told Detective McPherson that he doesn’t pay attention to details, Lydecker talks using a lot of them.) Lydecker: “. . . I’d like to endorse that pen.” Laura: “Mr. Lydecker. Thank you. . . . You’re a very strange man. You’re really sorry for the way you acted, aren’t you?” Lydecker: “Let’s not be psychiatric, Miss Hunt.” Laura’s domestic servant, Bessie Clary: “I ain’t afraid of cops. I was brought up to spit whenever I saw one.” Detective McPherson: “Okay. Go ahead and spit if it will make you feel any better.” Lydecker to Laura, about Detective McPherson: “I hope you will never regret what promises to be a disgustingly earthy relationship.” Lydecker has the first and last word in this film: He begins with the voiceover and it seems he ends with a voiceover, saying goodbye to Laura when the camera closes in on the now broken clock (that Lydecker gave to Laura). It made me wonder: Are we hearing this story from a ghost, someone who is already dead? Someone who would thus be an unreliable narrator? I’d have to see the movie again. Right now, I’m not so sure because there are plenty of scenes where Lydecker isn’t even present. If he’s already dead, however, his presence might not matter!
  6. It's 4:32 p.m. on Friday, June 12, and I just heard a piece on All Things Considered (NPR) about TCM's Summer of Darkness and this class! Dr. Richard Edwards gave some insights about watching film noir. Great to know that we're getting some attention from other media.
  7. Confesses is an interesting word choice. I hadn't thought of this before, but I don't think that Veda is actually confessing because she seems amoral, like she doesn't even believe that she did anything wrong. So now I'm wondering why Veda would even admit this out loud to her mother. If she had kept her mouth shut, she wouldn't have precipitated this fight. But then we wouldn't have a plot, a film noir, and a great movie to watch. Something for me to think about while I watch the movie again. It's been so long, it just might feel like I'm seeing it for the first time.
  8. You got me wondering about this now, too. Here are my thoughts, but I hope others will weigh in. I think the word crackin' is the equivalent of very. Today, when it's used alone, I think it means "happening," something that's a success. I think the meaning of the word foxy has changed from one generation to the next, but in Bogie's film noir world, I think it meant "clever," "getting the upper hand." Any thoughts?
  9. Nora Prentiss Goodness, I’m not sure what to make of Nora Prentiss. Some of the plot was downright preposterous. Lucky for Dr. Talbot no one knew anything about DNA in 1947! Most of the story seemed to be driven by his reluctance to tell his wife and children that he had fallen in love with someone else, and this reluctance was the weakest link for me. He would rather die than admit that he had fallen in love with someone who loves him? Doesn’t make any sense to me. Here’s an excerpt from a movie review in the New York Times by Bosley Crowther that I found online: “. . . It seems that this poor Dr. Richard is doing all right, in a dull, professional way, taking care of his family and his practice, until Miss Sheridan happens along with a cut on her knee . . . . Pretty soon he is arranging his own "murder," with the body of another man, in order to effect a disappearance with Miss Sheridan and—why go on? You get the idea. And just to save you from any further waste of time, we might add that the playing of this story is every bit as ridiculous as it sounds. Miss Sheridan is practically a cipher and Kent Smith, who plays the poor doc, gives a walking representation of a love-smitten telegraph pole. . . .” Ouch! I agree that Kent Smith gives an uninspired (pun alert!) wooden performance, but Ann Sheridan did what she could with the story. Nora Prentiss as a character was a surprise. Her wisecracking self didn’t give any clue that she really had a heart of gold. But what was she doing with Doctor Talbot? I kept rooting for her and Phil Dinardo (played by Robert Alda), and at least that seemed to work out when Dinardo follows her off screen into the dark.
  10. Joan Crawford has never been one of my favorite actresses, but I agree: Her acting is phenomenal. Her inability to create empathy for her character in Mildred Pierce works so well for film noir. Perhaps we love to hate her! Some of her movies are great, others not so much. I once saw her on an episode of the television show Route 66. So she could act and she had staying power.
  11. Daily Dose #8: Seeing You for the First Time (Scene from Mildred Pierce) —How do you feel the noir influence operates in this scene from Mildred Pierce, and in what ways can this scene from Mildred Pierce be considered an important contribution to the film noir style? The threats that these two women make to one another: Is this the first time we have two strong women in leading roles? Ann Blyth can certainly compete with Joan Crawford, barb for barb. I’ve read that some critics feel a film noir can’t be about domestic squabbles between two women, but what is more “noir” than having your own mother threaten to kill you? Or to live with such tension day in and day out? I very much disagree that such subject matter is off limits in film noir. —How does Curtiz arrange these two actresses to heighten the tension of the scene? Pay attention to how they move and how they are framed in the scene, especially the use of close-ups. We see Veda first on the couch, and Mildred crosses behind her and the couch, then Veda crosses in front of her to the table where her purse sits. They cross and cross one another like caged animals. As their discussion gets more and more heated, the actresses retreat a bit into the set, but then they’re up on the staircase and everything boils over. What a performance by Joan Crawford: when she falls to the stairs after Veda slaps her, the pieces of the check go flying and she grabs the railing with both hands and her arms stretched out from side to side. Ann Blyth may have just slapped her, but Joan’s at the center of the scene.
  12. I just found Laura, by Vera Caspary, it in my local library. I'm inspired to read it, too. I don't know if I'll be able to get to it before this class wraps up, but it's on my list!
  13. I was surprised by Laura's appearance, too. So much so that I really believed it was Detective McPherson's drunken dream. He had just fallen asleep after having a few, and I didn't believe he was someone I could trust. I needed proof, and I got it when the police officer listening in on the wiretap tells the detective that he saw Laura!
  14. Gone Girl is an interesting choice. Except for black and white film, it's a film noir, although I wouldn't have thought of it that way before you mentioned it. I read the book and didn't like it too much, but I saw the movie anyway and thought it was so much better! In the book, Amy Dunne was almost laughable, I thought. In the movie, she was frightening. Hats off to Rosamund Pike for a fantastic portrayal.
  15. I am intrigued that you use the word "Gothic" because, in both M and Ministry of Fear, Lang uses the Gothic typeface. In M, he uses it for the notice about the murderer; in Ministry of Fear, he uses it for the opening credits. It's a typeface that is so closely associated with gothic stories that it's almost an obvious choice, but it works so well, I think, in both movies. I thought that both opening scenes were equally strong, although Ministry of Fear is even darker and gloomier. Perhaps Ministry of Fear gives viewers more to interpret right away, which does give it an advantage. You may be right after all!
  16. I've been wondering about Milland and his state of mind, too. Is he cured or is he having a dream or even hallucinating? Is he the one who is insane, or is a world at war insane? Is he leaving the asylum only to enter a world where everyone has gone insane because of war, and that's why we see the sign for the asylum when we do? I wondered about the window that we see too. Is that a way to tell us that Milland is only locked in because of his own mind? Is he no different than a world at war and there was nothing to distinguish him from everyone else fighting? I want to see the movie, and I wonder if I'll have any answers.
  17. Daily Dose of Darkness #7: The Swinging Pendulum (The Opening Scene of Ministry of Fear) —How would you compare the opening of M to the opening of Ministry of Fear? Lang pans his camera to good effect in the opening of both movies, but in Ministry of Fear, almost the entire clip is confined to Ray Milland’s room, which gave me a claustrophobic sensation. We can see the clock and hear its ticking; music swells and the credits roll over a still shot of the clock; then we hear the ticking again as it fades and the camera pans to the right and then dollies back—all in Milland’s room. —Describe in your own words how Fritz Lang uses the clock in this scene as a major element to set mood and atmosphere. We see and hear the clock in this clip, and Milland and his doctor discuss the passing of time, the slowness of the clock, its need to be fixed. Milland tells the doctor, “Now is a good time to think of it.” He also tells the doctor he wants to go to London. The doctor tries to dissuade him with the best argument I have ever heard: The Nazis are bombing the city. But Milland insists on going there. He wants to see faces and feel crowds of people passing him on the street. But I wondered why a doctor working in an insane asylum would agree so readily to Milland’s plan. I suspect that Milland is not cured, that the movie is one of his hallucinations. —In what ways can this opening scene from Ministry of Fear be considered as an important contribution to the film noir style? Lang has all the elements of noir in one short sequence: great use of light and shadow, angst, foreboding, danger, war, insanity. Even the clock was a bit off. And what were those black statues on either side of it? I couldn’t tell whether they were people or eagles, but they cast dark shadows on the wall and seemed to watch Milland with malice the whole time. Anything is possible in this film world. I also thought of Doctor Caligari’s Cabinet, a silent movie that I haven’t seen in a really long time but would love to see again to compare the two films.
  18. Video Lecture #1: Style, Genre, Movement? In the lecture, you (Rich Edwards) mention that you don’t like categories, and I feel the same way. Categorizing something seems to rob it of its individuality, distinctiveness, and singular contributions. But that’s what makes film noir so much fun to discuss. I’m not sure I know how to define film noir exactly, but I do think that angst is a crucial element. Without it, it would be difficult to categorize a film as noir. I wonder, too, if the attitudes that developed in response to twentieth-century events, especially economic collapse and two world wars, were crucial. All this leads me to believe—for now—that film noir is a style more than a genre or a movement. I hope to have a better idea about how to define film noir by the time that I finish this course!
  19. Good point. I bet any working detective has many reporters among his or her sources. I bet a detective also has some (or at least a few) friends at City Hall (Ann tells Marlowe that she has connections at City Hall). I bet he's thinking to himself, "Yeah, then how come I don't recognize you?"
  20. From an earlier post (today, June 9, 2015, 11:54 a.m.) by Noirnado: Marlowe describing himself from the novel The Long Goodbye. (highley recommend you add it to your summer reading list.) “I'm a licensed private investigator and have been for quite a while. I'm a lone wolf, unmarried, getting middle-aged, and not rich. I've been in jail more than once and I don't do divorce business. I like liquor and women and chess and a few other things. The cops don't like me too well, but I know a couple I get along with. I'm a native son, born in Santa Rosa, both parents dead, no brothers or sisters, and when I get knocked off in a dark alley sometime, if it happens, as it could to anyone in my business, nobody will feel that the bottom has dropped out of his or her life.” The Pinkertons and the private detective business in general would make a great research subject. You raise some good points about the Pinkertons. I don't know much more about this subject, but I'm still not convinced that there was never any friction between Pinkerton operatives and other detectives, or between law enforcement and private detectives.
  21. After reading many of these posts, I did a bit of research on the private detective, specifically the Pinkerton detective. For anyone who is interested, type in "Pinkerton" at the Wikipedia site, which gives a nice history of this agency. I didn't know that the agency is still in operation now as a Swiss subsidiary. But I knew that Dashiell Hammett was a Pinkerton operative. A lot of his writing is based on his experiences as a private eye. But what does this have to do with Marlow? The Pinkertons have a somewhat shady history. Many operatives infiltrated unions and were hired by big corporations to fight strikers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, so many workers would look with disdain on detectives in general. Perhaps that's why the elevator operator in Murder, My Sweet seems so sarcastic in his exchange with Marlowe: Marlowe is usually hired to do someone else's "dirty work." I bet it would have taken a freelance detective a long time to set up a business in direct competition with the Pinkertons and with local law enforcement. I wonder about turf wars, for example. A private detective was probably considered a shady occupation from the start, which is perfect for film noir. But did it take Hammett's fiction to bring it to the attention of the public as a form of entertainment? I would think so, considering that most detective work is done in secret.
  22. Daily Dose of Darkness #6: Business Is Getting Better (The Opening Scene of Murder My Sweet) —Describe some of the things Marlowe says or does that make him a new kind of private detective, and why do you think this kind of private detective fits so well within the film noir context? Philip Marlowe tells us why a private detective like himself fits so well in a film noir: “I’m just a small business man in a very messy business, but I like to follow through on a sale.” In a messy business, he cannot trust anyone, including the woman sitting in his office posing as a news reporter and asking questions. He acts on his suspicions immediately by locking his door behind so he can put himself in the lead and ask his questions. —In what ways can this scene from Murder, My Sweet be considered as an important contribution to the film noir style? It’s hard to say from this short clip, except maybe that the private detective is the lead. Is this a new innovation for films in the 1940s? Philip Marlowe is in control from the start: He doesn’t answer the elevator attendant and he asks Ann Grayle (played by Ann Shirley) all the questions. Additional thoughts: What struck me the most about this clip was the litter and the shoulder pads! Was this a set built for the movie or an actual office? Either way, no one bothered to clean up the hallway outside Marlowe’s office. The hallway floor is dirty, and lots of crumpled paper sits up against the wall right outside his door. And Anne Shirley is wearing a pair of mighty pointy shoulder pads in that clip.
  23. Bob Nutter 9:56am "Preminger seems to be trying to tell us that Webb is not only rich, vain and elitist, he is also gay. The apartment is richly furnished in a not so very masculine style (eg. Leopard print chairs next to the marble tub) he meets Andrews essentially naked though submerged. Then he rises from the tub as Andrews watches. "Hand me that robe" is often used in films where a woman in a tub attempts to seduce a man. Webb seems to be trying to seduce Andrews even though his language is somewhat is confrontational and condescending. He seems to be trying to confuse and dazzle Andrews at the same time." I quoted this from "Bob Nutter," from the thread on the Daily Dose of Darkness #5 page. Here's what I replied on that page: These comments are interesting. I wonder if Preminger is adding another element to the film noir list of characteristics: "dangerous" sexuality. I put dangerous in quotation marks because homosexuality and bisexuality could be used against a person. Someone could use blackmail as a way to keep secrets, which is very "noir"! I also wonder how sophisticated audiences were in the 1940s--maybe they were very sophisticated. Maybe I'm making this connection because I just saw L.A. Confidential for the second time, and that movie is all about blackmail and secrets about sex. Simon Baker's character in that movie, the aspiring actor, gets himself killed because of those secrets, as do many others.
  24. I wonder now, after reading this, if Preminger was injecting some humor into this scene. Lydecker claims he is "the most misquoted man in America," but he also tells Detective McPherson that he doesn't bother with details! And yet he is surrounded by "details" in the form of all those expensive objects behind glass and those masks on the wall. More confusion that sets up the story ahead.
  25. Daily Dose of Darkness #5: Soaking in Noir (The Opening Scene of Laura) —What examples do you see that fit with Nino Frank's contention that Laura is a “charming character study of furnishings and faces,” and what do you think about how Preminger introduces the character of Waldo Lydecker in this scene? It’s hard to tell much about faces in this short clip, unless Nino Frank is talking about the masks on the walls. Could everyone in the movie be wearing a mask? The viewer certainly gets a wonderful slow pan of Lydecker’s opulent apartment and thus his lifestyle. The furnishings, including the masks, tell us a lot about Lydecker: He’s pampered, and he’s used to getting his own way. He’s a bit imperious with Detective McPherson. This particular clip is all about Lydecker. The movie may be named after Laura, but the clip gives me the impression that Lydecker is the star of the story. (By the way, I think the statue of the horse on the shelf under the masks is a prop that is used in a couple of Jack Lemmon movies!) —In what ways can the opening of Laura be considered as an important contribution to the film noir style? One of the first things Lydecker says in this clip is “A silver sun burned through the sky like a huge magnifying glass.” My guess is that someone is going to get burned, but who? Not only is the opening clip a character study, it’s a study in confusion from the moment it starts. The movie is named after Laura, but it’s Lydecker who is narrating through voiceover. He’s the one who introduces us to Detective McPherson, and his apartment and lavish lifestyle are showcased from the beginning. He seems to know a lot about Laura, but is that because he is a friend, as he claims? Lydecker is a writer, but he tells the detective that he never bothers with details. Right away I don't like him and I am wondering how much he can be trusted. And isn’t that why Detective McPherson is there, too? Preminger packs an awful lot in just a few minutes.
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