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Everything posted by Marianne

  1. 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.
  2. 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!
  3. 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!
  4. 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.
  5. 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!
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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!
  9. 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?"
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. Many thanks for posting this website. I checked it out, then and now. It's a beautiful building -- then and now, in black and white and in color.
  17. Dark Passage Vincent Parry (aka Allan Linnell) says to his friend, George Fellsinger the jazz musician, about Madge (played by Agnes Moorehead): “Maybe someday she’ll get run over or something.” My favorite line in the movie. One of the other characters described Madge as someone who was only happy when she was making other people unhappy. It was very satisfying to know that Vincent (and we) learned that Madge killed his wife and his friend, even if he couldn’t prove it in court. I found myself hoping that Vincent and Irene would make it somehow, and I enjoyed that part of the movie. Dark Passage was filmed in 1947, and the filming seemed a little more sophisticated than previous film noir. One thing was filming from the first-person POV. I personally didn’t like it as a storytelling device, but I could see that it was an attempt to try something that was pretty new. But what I really noticed were the scenes of San Francisco and of the prison behind the opening credits. They set up the location and the mood very clearly for the viewer from the very beginning, which is a bit different from earlier films, where the viewer often sees the list of the cast of characters against a painted background and music playing. The movie was filmed in great locations, in general. By the way, was Irene’s apartment building with the lighted elevator shaft a real one or a set built for the movie? I noticed both the exterior and interior shots, and wondered about her financial situation before the blackmailer pointed it out to Vincent. My borrowed DVD of Dark Passage came with a Bugs Bunny cartoon short called “Slick Hare.” Very funny. I remembered parts of it from seeing it on television when I was a child. The DVD also included a special feature called “Hold Your Breath and Cross Your Fingers: The Story of Dark Passage.” Informative commentary about bringing the story to the screen and about the political climate in the United States at the time. Worth checking out.
  18. Playing around with perspective: I especially like the scenes where Eleanor Johnson (played by Ann Sheridan) is walking around San Francisco with the gangster/reporter looking for her husband. The only lines of their conversations we hear are Eleanor's, told in voiceover. Very effective. Underscores the point that Ann Sheridan is the star playing the vital lead.
  19. The more I think about Woman on the Run, the more I appreciate it -- I really have to see it again. The ending, with the ride on the roller coaster, is fun to watch and really adds to the tension. I did have some questions about this film (Why didn't anyone recognize a famous gangster posing as a journalist? Didn't Frank wonder, even for a moment, that his wife was in on the gangster's plot?), but like I said, I'll have to see it again and follow the plot more closely. I think it's a great movie.
  20. I've been thinking about the last scene of M and the warning to parents (mostly mothers, by the way!) about watching out for their children. It's a compelling ending, although it does sound like the director is blaming the parents and children. But what if he and the mother are really making a plea? Maybe the only ones who can really protect children are the ones who love them. Another thing about this film that really struck me was the unofficial trial by all the underground criminals. They were the ones who found the killer, but they are prevented from killing him by the rule of law, which steps in at the last minute. This scene was handled brilliantly, I thought, by having the criminals stopped by something that appears on the scene but off-screen. During the "trial," Peter Lorre's character accuses all of them of committing crimes, but especially the leader behind the desk of committing murder. Lorre asks if he is just as guilty because he cannot help what he does. The dialogue in that scene makes the case for both sides, and it's a fascinating exchange. Peter Lorre was superb in M; his anguish and terror at being who he is is just amazing.
  21. Woman on the Run and The Letter: Strong Female Leads Eleanor Johnson (played by Ann Sheridan) is a strong female lead in Woman on the Run. She is in almost every scene and has most of the snappy lines of dialogue, too. It was great to see her against the backdrop of San Francisco. But The Letter has the monopoly on strong female leads. Bette Davis gave a fantastic performance. It's hard to believe, but I think even she is upstaged anytime Mrs Hammond is onscreen. When Mrs. Hammond sells the letter to Bette Davis and her lawyer, she throws it on the floor and forces Bette Davis to pick it up. Davis does pick it up. And says thank you, too! And, of course, the entire sequence at the end with the knife (which Davis had admired in the shop just before buying the letter) was fantastic. Davis willingly follows the moonlight out into the night to meet her fate with Mrs. Hammond. Great ending that took me by surprise. Some additional thoughts on Woman on the Run: I wondered why did Frank thought he could outwit the gangster better than he could outwit the SFPD, and why didn’t anyone else recognize a gangster working in San Francisco. But I didn’t care. I was willing to suspend my disbelief because I was rooting for Frank and Eleanor Johnson. I knew almost from the beginning that the gangster was impersonating a journalist, but somehow I believed that Eleanor didn’t know. Additional thoughts on Victor Sen Young: Did anyone else notice Victor Sen Young in both movies? In Woman on the Run, he played Sammy Chung the owner of the dance hall in Chinatown whose wife was murdered. He also played Ong Chi Seng, the legal assistant in The Letter who we think is helping Bette Davis’s lawyer win her case but is really in on the plot for revenge. He gives such a different performance in both movies. Great to see in a supporting role.
  22. Good questions. I took the first-person POV (point of view) to mean that we, the viewers, are seeing the story unfold the way the character, played by Humphrey Bogart, is seeing and experiencing it. But I suppose, in film, we have to assume that a clip shot the way this one from Dark Passage is shot would have to be from the character's, the viewers', and the director's because, without a director, there would be no film. This was the least satisfying clip for me out of all four in the Daily Doses of Darkness assigned this week. But I am still looking forward to seeing the whole movie. It has inspired some great insights on this discussion thread, that's for sure!
  23. Thank you for posting this clip from the silent film La roue. Very effective use of images to show the train speeding up. The clip makes me want to see the entire movie.
  24. I noticed the three-dimensional quality to the film, too. But it did have its limits. I was drawn in at the beginning because we see the plantation workers in their hammocks and there's a dog (I think it was dog!) in the background sniffing for something on the ground. When I looked farther back, I have to admit the far background looked like painted screens to me. But there's still no denying that the composition of this sequence is fluid and wonderful to watch. At the end, the director used the long shot successfully when he uses the camera to show us Bette Davis's dead body and then pans up to show the partyers dancing in the background. Really good camerawork.
  25. Just saw the full movie (The Letter) and what a powerful performance by Bette Davis. I was really struck by the colonial way of life, but all that gets turned on its head before the movie is done. The moon, in particular, was a very interesting motif woven throughout the story. It was lovely, of course, but it seemed to represent so many things. In the opening clip, it almost seems to remind Bette Davis of her guilt at what she has just done in shooting Hammond. Later in the movie, it reminds her of her love and what she has done to him. At the end, she walks right out into the moonlight to meet her fate. The ending really took me by surprise; I love it when a story can take me somewhere unexpected.
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