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Doc755

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  1. We are definitely smack in the middle of noir territory. From the opening shot, we establish our setting, Los Angeles, (or is it the Daily Planet in Metropolis?), as the camera hovers and glides over the city. We get a sense of the sprawling metropolis beneath us, filled with people and stories, and we move forward towards the one that will occupy our time for the next 90 minutes. This opening reminded me of the opening to Psycho, which ends with us passing through a window, one story picked out of many. A great score gives that provides a sense of foreboding, that as we zero in on the people that take center stage, we're walking into dangerous territory. Once we locate Steve and Anna, we get a quick sense of their relationship. Steve is pleading with Anna to be careful, to stop taking risks, and she is very much her own woman. We've located our femme fatale and our weak-willed man who may be a pawn. There is passion there, but perhaps the woman is using it to her own advantage, pushing the man into doing something he does not want to. We then meet Slim, who is quickly, and not subtly, introduced as Anna's husband, and without knowing the details of the plan Steve and Anna were discussing, we immediately get an idea of what is to happen. Two lovers, with an unlikable obstacle, in their path. Slim could have been introduced first: pushy, paranoid, and our sympathies might have gone straight to Anna, but now we know she is two-timing him, that he has a right to be curious about what she was doing. We're only a few minutes into the film and we already are unsure who to place our sympathies with, but that's great noir. You take your lesser of two evils and you still come out feeling as if you've been complicit and tarnished like the characters in the film. I have to say these Daily Doses were a great addition to the course. While I've seen a good number of the films that were chosen, by picking the doses out of the films that eventually aired on TCM, it was a great way to sample and to whet the appetites about seeing the entire film. My DVR and Netflix queue are already bursting with a lot of the films that TCM aired this summer and I can't wait to see a few of them just based on the small piece we got in the Daily Dose. It would be interesting if TCM made this a daily feature. It would be a great way to involve the community in the message boards in an ongoing discussion and also be nice teasers for films that will be airing on the network later that week. It was fun!
  2. One of the first things that struck about this scene was when Captain Munsey increases the sound on the record player. Up until that point I had thought the music was non-diegetic, or coming from the soundtrack, and not a record that was playing in the room. I had thought that the music gave the entire scene an operatic quality. We get the sense that this is a routine for Captain Munsey, he has done this with other prisoners and would continue to do so. The drawing of the curtains to shut out the light, to black out the rays of sunshine coming from the outside, to the placement of the rubber hose (believe it or not, I had not realized this was an actually thing) on the desk, is all to put Louis into a frightened mindset, to see if the fear of violence will work rather than actual violence. As Captain Munsey gets angrier and starts to savagely beat Louis, the music rises in pitch, and I got the feeling that perhaps the anger was not just because Louis refused to talk, but that the little ceremony prior to the beating was not enough to get him to. Louis is the one forcing this beating, by simply not giving up the answers that Captain Munsey already knows. It's inconsequential whether or not Louis gives up the information, but his refusal cannot be tolerated. Much like the beating in Desperate, the worst of it occurs off camera, but rather than being dragged off-screen, the camera takes on the viewpoint of the audience, by averting our gaze and looking at anything else around the room. This is an everyday office, filled with objects you would expect to find in anyone's office, even your own. Right now, it's the place of awful violence, that sense of the dark forces of noir invading supposed safe havens. Just outside the door, we see other prison employees who are just as uneasy with what is happening as we are. They should be protecting prisoners from other prisoners, and not inflicting pain and suffering on them even if it is to get information regarding the security of the prison. They appear frustrated, as if this type of thing is all too common, and they have seen it, or heard it, one too many times. Even while paying your debt to society, you are not free from those dark forces, and the people in charge, and responsible for maintaining order, can be just as vicious and violent as those they are supposed to be guarding.
  3. There are a lot of shots in this scene that give us the point of view of Steve Randall, or rather not quite his point of view, but as someone who is sitting next to him. We're still spectating, but it gives an even greater feel that we are actually in the room, feeling the brutal, visceral beating taking place. We're not the object of the beating, but we're right there feeling every agonizing second of it. We're next to Steve as Walt comes in, bathed in shadow. After Steve takes the hit in the face, the fist swings around to our face, as if we were collateral damage. While Steve is on the floor, the camera is low and pointing up at the men towering over us as we are helpless and unable to escape their grasp. When the beating proper begins, we're taken out of the subjective view point as Steve is dragged off camera, and we hear the sickening hits and the escalating music mixed with the swinging light which gives a dizzying sense of loss of control. We're not locked in anymore, the scene has become utter chaos. After the beating, we're back next to Steve, regaining some sense of control, however the light continues to spin illustrating that the control we think we re-obtained is an illusion, much like Steve's resolve to defy these gangsters. Steve is prepared to die rather than bend to the whims of these people. Walt, however pulls out his ace in the hole, and when he smashes the bottle and sinisterly approaches Steve, we're no longer off to the side, we are Steve, as the jagged edges of the bottle come right up to our eyes. As Walt calmly threatens the life of Steve's young, innocent wife, we feel the same defeat that comes over him, the power is totally in the hands of Walt. The bottle is not intended to threaten Steve physically, but mentally. Having the bottle right in his face, as Walt casually threatens her looks, Steve, and we, cannot help but imagine the bottle being put to use on a defenseless woman, who we don't know, but who we still care what happens to after seeing how viciously Steve has been treated. We can breathe a sigh of relief when the scene ends, a mastery of cinematography, lighting and direction.
  4. The film opens up on a deserted city street, and around the corner comes a police car, with its radio prominent on the soundtrack. You get the sense that the police are on the prowl, and the loud radio with the dispatcher highlights an ever-present force on these streets. The car moves uphill, perhaps signifying the battle the police are fighting to keep these streets safe. Still, like Dix, the police radio puts us on edge and we wonder who this seemingly respectable man (why were criminals so well dressed in suits all the time?) is that is ducking around a column to avoid being seen. We see almost no one else wandering around, giving the sense that it's just the police and the criminals, the predators, out and about while everyone else seeks safe haven inside. We then hear a description of the man we have just seen hiding from the police over the radio, alerting us that he has just committed an armed robbery. Dix enters a diner and without speaking, he hands over his gun (confirming him as the criminal the police are searching for) and an automatic routine immediately begins. We get the sense that this had been done before. The police roust Dix and charge him on anything they can just to get him down to the police station. Dix remains cool and says nothing throughout the scene. He maintains a cool exterior and is not at all shaken by being arrested and placed in a clearly stacked line-up. He has no need for words. His glare tells all and the witness immediately becomes unreliable. Even though you would think the police would be more identifiable, from the very beginning they are almost a faceless menace, sending a man hiding as they pass by, charging him with the flimsiest offense and then clearly just going through the motions in order to score an arrest. They practically berate the witness into identifying the man they believe is guilty. This puts the audience's sympathy with Dix, the steely, cool criminal who is a clear professional that will be integral to the upcoming heist.
  5. The fact that Miles Davis improvised the score as he was watching scenes from the movie gives the music a more soulful edge. Davis was reacting to what he was seeing on the screen, how the scenes moved him personally, rather than just being given a generic description of the plot and told to craft something that could be played almost over anything. As soon as Julien says he would be lost "in a land of silence", the music begins and slowly starts to take attention away from the conversation. It continues over the opening credits and even though we can no longer hear what is being said, the haunting, melancholy theme gives the scene a sense of sensuality more so than any conversation might have. We still hear Florence's breathless voice and the pangs of desire as they both exclaim their love for one another. As the camera floats away and we are as far as we can possibly get from the extreme close-up which began the scene, we still feel the intensity of the emotion and love these two characters have and that is completely due to the excellent score. While this may not be a "film noir" per se just because it was taken out of the American setting, the lush jazz score still grounds the film in that style with a very American staple. A great film can be universal and language is just one of the many tools used to convey the universe that is being crafted for us. My pick for the best film ever made is Ladri di biciclette, or Bicycle Thieves, an Italian neorealist film where the expressive faces of the (non-)actors give a greater sense of emotional depth than dialogue. Here, they start be exclaiming their love for one another, and rather than listen to a bunch of platitudes which may sound hollow, we pull back and let the music tell us what is being said. It makes us want to get back to their conversation, rather than want to push through and just get to the plot. Once the credits end, the noir elements take over, as Florence is clearly pushing Julien to do something that he may not be sure of, but his love for this woman will see that he does as she wants. Because jazz is such an iconic American tradition, the fact that we are not in the United States, and that the language being spoken is not English, is almost dissuaded as we listen to Davis' score. The music transports us to those smoke-filled, dimly-lit jazz clubs in a sprawling metropolis we are used to seeing our films noir in. It transports our soul to the staple location of a film noir even if the characters are located physically elsewhere. Combine that sentiment with a plot that already contains greater noir elements just in this opening scene and you have a film worthy of being called film noir even if it doesn't meet one of the most basic criteria.
  6. As Beware, My Lovely begins, even though it is 1918, we get that slice of suburban Americana that most people tend to equate with the 1950s. Film noir at this time was moving out of those prominent cities of the 1940s and striking where a lot of people would call home giving it more a sense of urgency and anxiety. Opening with the Salvation Army contributes to that wholesome image, where every one knows the names of their neighbors, there is a sense of trust where most people probably don't lock their doors and that this is a safe and secure environment away from the urban decay of the big cities. The "keep the pot boiling" sign is most likely a reference to keeping those in poor financial straights with heat for the winter, but is also gives a sense of the tensions that are brewing in America during this time period. The escalating Cold War has gone from a simmer to almost a full boil and this mirrors the film noir elements which are creeping more and more into a person's everyday life. We first meet Howard outside the home, through a screen, perhaps intimating that he's not comfortable in such a domestic setting. The screen has a patch of dirt on it, a dark blotch that perhaps is or will soon be on his soul. Try as he might to remove the dirt, the grit is stuck inside the cracks of his very persona and no amount of scratching will ever wipe it completely clean. It is forever tarnished and will remain so until the bitter end. The too-short tie struck me almost immediately as well. I'm not sure if this was a particular style or just another contribution to the sense that Howard doesn't quite belong here no matter how hard he tries to look like everyone else. Like a lot of the film noir we have seen this summer, this scene of almost boring domesticity is quickly rocked by those dark elements which always find their way into such settings. Howard is immediately rocked by the discovery of a dead body and in a panic flees. Perhaps there is something in Howard's past that he does not want discovered, because rather than get help or the police, he immediately hops onto a train in order to escape. Maybe Howard has been running from something for a while and this death will only serve to hasten the fate he has been staving off for as long as he can remember. The anguish on his face as the train barrels out of what seemed like a safe haven seems almost over-exaggerated. As the running water is overflowing in the bucket he left in the sink, these elements of his life that he is so afraid of will no longer be contained and will continually spill over into any home he tries to make for himself.
  7. I can see how Foster might claim that the dialogue in The Narrow Margin seems like a parody of something out of an earlier film noir. For all intents and purposes the actors are playing it straight, but given the overly stylistic dialogue in discussing this dame that is about be picked up and Charles McGraw's deep, hard delivery, it feels slightly out of place from a movie in the early 1950s. In this era, in the rise of the consumer culture, I'd imagine people would be more interesting in the new and flashy, like science fiction which hit a high water mark the previous year with The Day the Earth Stood Still. Taking this into account, The Narrow Margin, at least based on this initial scene, feels like a throwback, a period piece almost, showing how much the country is changing is such a short amount of time. The opening plays with its noir conventions well, having been exposed to many of them we know what can be expected from this introduction. The roar of the train is heard even before the film begins, over the RKO Studio logo, rather than the familiar beeps. I had read that usually a film will need special permission to change the studio logo, in either visual terms or to omit the musical theme. If that is the case nowadays, I imagine it must have been a lot harder in 1952. But it's effective because it tells us how ever-present the train will be, the growing tension and claustrophobia is such a small space with little room to maneuver or hide. The title comes screeching at the screen and the credits play across the moving train, reinforcing the idea of the train as a major element to this film. The detectives discuss the woman on their way to pick her up, and we already know what we can expect a woman in the traditional film noir mold, perhaps one that will corrupt these detectives in the close confines of travel. These men act as if they are making a simple delivery, but we know that it is never simple and plans are usually never as well-made as the characters would like them to be. I think we can expect the molls' gangster to make a move in re-obtaining the woman of his desires, perhaps even discover than she is more than simple eye-candy and may be as complicit in the illegal dealings as her man. Walter is already disgusted with the idea of this woman, calling her "poison" but I'm sure a spark of desire and eventual romance will enter the picture once he lays eyes on this cheap dish. Knowing the film noir conventions does give an idea of how the story will play out and it all depends how much you love those conventions to determine if you think they are tired or just as good as in the previous decade.
  8. The sub-genre of the heist film has always been a popular one, particularly with me. From these early films which grew naturally out of film noir, to more recent fare. Reservoir Dogs, a personal favorite, was the heist film, which shows the planning and aftermath, but not the heist itself. In that structure it showed that the heist itself was almost immaterial, it's the lead-up that usually holds the most interest, the careful planning, the rehearsal and then the aftermath where despite all the preparation, something always goes wrong. These films, like some of the best film noir we have discussed, puts you in on the action. The lead-up to the heist has the audience as an accomplice, eager for the payoff, and disappointed when something inevitably goes wrong. Timing is crucial to a well-planned heist, and therefore is a key theme in this opening sequence. The pieces on the chessboard are moving like clockwork, when it's almost as if you can predict what will happen before it does. The heist in Groundhog Day is a good example. You watch something long enough, and you see the patterns emerge. In that particular case, the sequence of events was always the same, but even in everyday life, a routine is generally followed. One thing I did notice was that Foster did not actually witness the departure of the armored car personnel but marked it off anyway. I wonder if this a subtle foreshadowing to the one thing that unusually goes wrong, the unplanned contingency which throws the whole heist into chaos. He smiles as if he is very pleased with himself at all his preparations, and that he doesn't need to witness that final piece of the puzzle, which does happen as expected, but in the world of film noir, that cockiness could lead to his inevitable downfall. The semi-documentary style gives the film a sense of realism, as if all this has already happened and the conclusion of the heist is a foregone conclusion. This brings back the idea of fate that all of these events have been pre-ordained and it could not have gone any other way but this does not diminish the thrill of being in on the action and the tension and anxiety of wanting to see the success of all these efforts. Film noir guarantees that the random twist of fate will almost certainly work against the success of the heist, usually some small random event which will have huge ramifications for all those involved. We know it's coming and we want Foster and his accomplices to see it and prepare for it, but all this is just a bit of history repeating.
  9. There is definitely a strong contrast between the styles of film and television in this clip from 99 River Street. And while the director may think he is providing a humorous contrast in favor of film, I'm reminded of what I always thought the first rule of advertising was: "Don't give free publicity to your competitors". Case in point: I generally don't watch commercials and usually mute the TV and either read something or surf the web. One time I glanced up and saw David Beckham taking to someone at a T-Mobile counter. I thought to myself "Beckham is promoting T-Mobile, huh." It wasn't until later when I saw the actual whole commercial, I realized it was for Sprint. Taken out of context, it looked like a commercial for a competitor. Here, perhaps Phil Karlson believes he is showing the vast superiority to film: it feels like real life, you can get in close and at angles not capable for television at this stage. You are IN the ring with the boxers who are pulverizing each other. Perhaps it's more real than if you had been at the fight off in the cheap seats. Once the camera pulls back and we see the fight on television, we should feel that we are removed from that inclusion. We are not just out of the ring, but out the stadium. But here is where the Karlson is actually giving some good publicity to television: you can watch it from the comfort of your own home, the intimacy of experiencing something away from the crowd, and the ability to relive past events as if they're happening right now. Ernie sitting so close to the TV is supposed to maybe convey that unlike the ginormous figures on the screen that are larger than life, we have to sit up real close to see these smaller images and pick up on the details that are lost. But I think it's also demonstrative of that intimacy, that one-on-one relationship you can have with a television program where you feel it's being presented just for you. As we watch the knockdown in slow motion, we can go back and examine with greater detail something that may have happened so quickly originally, we might have missed it due to a distraction. Before the era of repeats, streaming video and DVR, the opportunity to watch something a second time must have been highly desirable. While the style of film is superior, it shows that both methods of entertainment had impressive advantages in their favor, and television would only continue to grow and make up for that gap in style. The discussion between Ernie and Pauline is probably one that many couples have had both then and now. The idea of wanting more, the American dream where hard work and dedication pays off with wealth and the means to pursue your desires. Both Ernie and Pauline are seeing that their dreams are not coming to fruition. Ernie is no longer a prizefighter and has accumulated no wealth or power and Pauline is an ex-showgirl whose dreams of becoming a Hollywood star fade with each passing year. They've been sticking it out for four years, and now Ernie has a new dream of his own business, a gas station. Clearly Ernie has a desire to re-live his glory days, from his practical embrace of the television during his last fight to his belief that his old fans will flock to his gas station just for a chance to see him. Pauline, on the other hand, is quick to pull him down from the clouds, reminding him that he would be little more than a service boy for people who wouldn't give him a second glance. She has a desire for real jewelry, not the cheap costume stuff she is forced to wear. Dashed hopes and dreams, a growing sense of greed and avarice and a woman pushing her man into giving her what she desires are but a few of the noir pieces in this scene. Also, just FYI, if you missed 99 River Street on Friday, it's currently available for streaming on Netflix.
  10. There is a lot of posturing in this scene, particularly between Sam and Walter who are supposed to be two old childhood friends who have not seen each other for many years. There is a twinge of awkwardness to their conversation which can be expected, however Walter also gives a sense of higher anxiety and tension. He may not be as happy to see this old friend as we are lead to believe. Douglas' glare and the way he speaks sternly provide a subtle sense of menace. Rather than sit next to Sam on an equal footing, he sits on the table so he hovers above Sam, giving a sense of dominance in their relationship. Later when they are discussing Sam's friend who is in need of Walter's help, the dominance is reversed. Walter, perhaps feeling more at ease after a drink, is more comfortably composed. When he says helping Sam's girl out won't be easy, Sam is quick to become forceful and "You can do it . . . and you will." This visibly shakes Walter and Sam quickly covers by saying it's "for old times sake." I get the sense that maybe these were not best friends, but that Walter would always defer to Sam, that he was the dominant one in their friendship. We later discover that Sam was always big for his age and perhaps he would push Walter around. Now that Sam has returned, perhaps Walter's uneasiness and tension arises out of those feelings on inadequacy. He has made something of himself, married a beautiful woman and attained the position of district attorney, while Sam lives a more carefree life, free to gamble and travel. Perhaps he has developed an inferiority complex that Sam's return has sent into overdrive. He's hesitant to re-introduce his wife Martha to Sam. Perhaps Martha had a thing for him when they were younger and he is worried those feelings may still be there. Once Martha does arrive and warmly embraces Sam, Walter moves to take another drink and glares at them from the background. Walter is practically seething with anger and jealousy which is not helped by how close Sam and Martha appear to be. I think the sexual tension between Sam and Martha will develop driving Walter to higher depths of jealousy and perhaps push him into something dangerous. The first film I actually thought off in regards to the question of what other films reinforce the assertion that "the most emblematic noir location is a small, vaguely Midwestern city" was actually one not covered at all and perhaps might not even be classified as film noir. I was thinking of Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt. As we discussed, the master of suspense can be considered a special case on film noir and in this film a man returns to a small town to a family that is overjoyed to see him until we discover he is harboring a dark and dangerous secret. Sam's return is similar in that perhaps he is not bringing the darkness with him but his presence is unleashing it in the people who are there. These towns/cities are not the urban jungles of New York or Los Angeles, but are relatable to where a lot of Americans were living at this time. This invasion into these comfortable and safe environments filled with nuclear families and clean, everyday living, continues to show that the random darkness of film noir can affect anybody, anywhere.
  11. In many ways this opening is similar to other films noir we have viewed. A seemingly ordinary situation between an everyday couple is immediately thrown into the dark depths of noir territory over a random encounter outside of their control. Here though, Jane, and by default her husband, immediately dive headfirst into those murky depths. Her greed and avarice is leading them on a path which will most likely not end well. In this sense, Jane is the femme fatale in this story, although she starts off as the traditional woman discussed in last week's assigned reading, the dutiful wife who is supposed to stand by her husband's side at a party, even if she does not want to go. In this film however, it is her assertion of her own dominance that leads directly into that random encounter which puts their lives into danger. By recklessly trying to take control of the car, she puts herself on a path to a dark destiny, and wholeheartedly embraces the opportunity that has presented itself regardless of the danger it puts them in. She then takes full control of the car, and the destinies of both her and her husband as they flee from the rightful owners of the bag of cash they have "lucked" into. At the end, the husband states "Slow down. I'll take the wheel." But there is a lack of conviction in his voice and it's unlikely he will be able to re-assert her dominance in this relationship. Jane is now in the driver's seat. This type of plot, where the seemingly innocent are thrust into dark and deadly situations and as a result, the seedy undercurrents of their personality take the chance to release themselves after having been pent up for so long carries as appeal of wish fulfillment. Who wouldn't want to be driving down the road and have a bag of cash thrown into their backseat? The 1950s are viewed by some to be a static period, known for conformity, malaise and the start of the consumer culture. Jane from the very beginning is complaining about another woman of considerable wealth who looks down at her more humble qualities. There is a sense of jealousy in her disdain for this other woman and once a financial windfall presents itself, she doesn't think twice before leaping at the opportunity. Speeding away from possible death, she is almost ecstatic and is more than willing to risk her life, and her husband's, for a chance to break out of the normality of their lives, another party with the same people, the same tired jokes and stories, trudging endlessly forward to more of the same for the foreseeable future. Too Late for Tears feels like a classic noir tale, and was certainly unknown to me before this course. I'm interested to see how the film plays out. The plot of happening into something valuable that doesn't belong to you and being on the run from those who would kill to get it back is another story that will see countless variations over the years. I think people are drawn to stories such as these because while watching we can't help but wonder how we would react in a similar situation. That couple could be anyone, thrown into that situation following a random encounter. Is the danger worth the reward? That's up to each person to figure out for themselves and is why films like these continue to strike a chord with audiences, decades after their release.
  12. A lot of the films noir we have seen in the daily doses up to this point have launched right into the darker material, especially considering Kiss Me Deadly and The Hitch-Hiker. Christina is running for her life, half-naked down the highway, so desperate for a way out, she throws herself in front of a car that easily could have killed her. Roy and Gilbert immediately find that it would have been better not to be good Samaritans and pick up a man who's had car trouble in the middle of the night. Hitchcock's films tend to open on the ordinary and slowly ratchet up the tension. What else to expect from the master of suspense? But even though you are not hit right away with the impending sense of doom, like many films noir, there is plenty of symbolism in that opening sequence that can be a sign of things to come, usually for worse. The theme of criss-cross is present right from the beginning following the opening credits. Two train passengers arrive at the station, once in fancy dress and shoes and the other in more business casual attire. They both are heading towards one another from opposite ends of the frame. The music is almost whimsical, but also provides a sense of marching to one's destiny, a random encounter that will change the lives of both these two men, a common staple in film noir. Even when they head to the back of the frame to board the train, Guy and Bruno approach from different direction. The two ships passing in the night are about to collide. The enter the train car from opposite ends, still using the same directions: right to left for Bruno and left to right for Guy. Then a casual bump of the shoes we have been following since the start of the film and our characters have criss-crossed into each other's lives. Bruno moves from his side of the train over to Guy's, giving us a sense of how the man will invade Guy's life from here on out while Guy tolerates him with mild annoyance. In this regard, Bruno is practically the femme fatale of the film, in his attempt to lead Guy away from the straight (no pun intended) and narrow and into the darker realms of human behavior. Hitchcock is a special case because while his films aren't exactly like the others we have discussed so far during this course, there are plenty of similarities with the styles of film noir that have been covered. You have a femme fatale leading the protagonist into dark and lurid behavior. Guy is trapped by his circumstances and is bonded to Bruno through a murder pact. There is a creeping sense of paranoia as Bruno stalks Guy later in the film. Hitchcock using great and memorable visuals of everyday occurrences to unsettle the audience, such as Bruno as a lone dark figure on the steps on the Jefferson Memorial, similar to a blot on the pure soul, or during a tennis match where all the spectators shift their glance back and forth as they follow the play while Bruno looks straight ahead. The Hitchcock style is not pure film noir, but there are strong elements woven into the fabric which help to elevate his films among the rest.
  13. Both Kiss Me Deadly and The Hitch-Hiker daily doses took place on the open road, usually a symbol for unlimited possibilities or freedom, although taking place at night, giving that sense of film noir slowly creeping in to highlight that darkness that will soon come crashing into our protagonists. Caged also started on the road, but in a city, and enclosed in a darkened prison van. Freedom is at our fingertips but just out of reach. With D.O.A., Frank is inside, walking along a seemingly endless hallway. There is no sense of freedom here, as he heads further and further into the cavernous, bland building that seems almost bereft of people. He is single minded of purpose, walking steadily, as if marching to the gas chamber. Once we discover his reason for being there, and the fact that he has so little time left, it's curious he does hurry along faster, to be able to tell his tale before it is too late. But the adage of "saying it aloud makes it real" would seem to apply here and Frank is in no hurry to make his situation more real. The long walk symbolizes almost an acceptance of his fate as he keeps pushing forward, past people who barely give him a second glance. To Frank, this is everything, to them it's just another day at the office. Funnily enough I kind of thought of the afterlife in terms of Frank's journey here. He's heading through this dark tunnel towards a white light. Right before he turns into the homicide division, there is a glass window, perhaps even doors, that take up the entire wall and behind that glass was a white light. Before he could go through the pearly gates however, he had to give an account of himself. The detective knows who he is once his name is given, almost expecting him, and asking him to give his last words as it were. If you believe in an afterlife, and that Frank has almost made it to the light, this would contradict the sense of pessimism or hopelessness the scene should be instilling in you. Or perhaps I'm just using a "glass half-full" type of reasoning. D.O.A. is a perfect fit for film noir, as what better dark fate awaits a man than knowing the clock is running out, that he has been murdered and there is nothing that can save him? It's a great story, which has been used countlessly over the years. Just off the top of my head I know episodes of Law & Order: Criminal Intent and Person of Interest which used this situation as a plot. The flashback structure found often in film noir, is given an even darker twist as we know that Frank is dying and that nothing he says will change it, but we still need to know how this came to pass. The opening, like Caged and others we have seen, places us in Frank's shoes as we follow behind him on his journey. We don't even see his face until he answers who was murdered: "I was". Once he has spoken those words, the steely façade crumbles a bit as he becomes a bit panicked when the police don't seem interested in hearing the details right away. Once he starts his story however, a look of resignation falls across his face, a final acceptance of his fate. Ending the clip with the water going down the drain gives the impression that even as Frank is finally able to tell his story, the life continues to slip from him and will soon be gone.
  14. Like most of the great film noir openings we have seen thus far, Caged has both an interesting and engaging introduction to its narrative. It doesn't get any more film noir than being bathed in almost complete darkness at the beginning of the film. A small window of light at the end of what seems like a dark, cavernous enclosure, we immediately are anxious to find out where we are and why. Right from the outset we are placed into the shoes of our protagonist by sharing their experience in as realistic a way as possible. Like The Hitch-Hiker, this shared experience heightens the tension as we slowly become uneasy with our surroundings, and then almost desperate for an escape, for some kind of sensory input other than this black expanse. And perfectly, our first such input is the horrified and frightened expression of Marie as she shies away from the light that suddenly explodes into what we now know to be the back of a prison van. The harsh light, and the even harsher shout of one of the guards, makes us wary of the new environment that we had started to crave for after having been sitting in the dark thus far. With minimal dialogue, we get our location from the prison's sign, the personalities of the characters/prisoners who have arrived, it seems almost old-hat to everyone but Marie who is visibly shaken and scared. We take that last look at freedom with her, a bustling city through the iron gates of the prison, desperate to escape into the wide open expanse of a metropolis after having been shut up since the opening of the film. Warner at this point was known for its urban dramas filled with grit and darkness, such as their gangster films, and it seems appropriate for them to take on the story about a women's prison as it fits well into the noir mold. Based on Marie's opposite reaction to the others she is being transported with, she has to be pulled from the van and is unsure and wary of her surroundings, we get the sense that she is someone that doesn't belong there. The other prisoners seemed resigned to their fate, accepted their imprisonment, but perhaps Marie is wrongfully imprisoned. We'll need to watch more to find out, but this opening more than whets the appetite for more of this story.
  15. Both Kiss Me Deadly and The Hitch-Hiker begin on the open road with lone figures seeking escape and finding their wish in passing motorists who take pity on them. Unlike Kiss Me Deadly, where Hammer was forced to stop and eventually acquiesced to giving Christina a ride, the motorists in The Hitch-Hiker are being good Samaritans, helping out their fellow man in need. Whereas Christina was a seemingly defenseless, half-naked woman who posed almost no threat, Roy and Gilbert pick up a man in the middle of the night who they know nothing about, and which would ultimately be to their detriment. The open road often symbolizes freedom, endless possibilities, both good and bad. Both of these films utilize that sense to open their narratives, although with film noir, you know it will usually end badly for those involved. The staging and lighting are absolutely essential to establishing the mood of the film: claustrophobic, fraught with tension and a slowing sense of dread. From the first shot of Myers on the road, he is bathed in darkness. We can't even see his face. He is just a black hole on the open road, waiting to suck in these courteous motorists, whose sympathy for their fellow man may well lead to their doom. Unlike other film noir, where people are generally seduced to the dark side, these men have done nothing, that we know of, to warrant their fate at the hands of this killer. Once Myers is in the car, he is still hidden in darkness, unlike Roy and Gilbert who are clearly seen in the light. The gun is the first aspect of Myers that is clearly seen, highlighting the danger of this hitch-hiker, and he finally pushes his face into the light and into the fates of these two men. The rest of the scene is played out from inside the car, with tight group shots with the occasional close-up. We feel as if we're in the car, sharing the danger with this threat against our lives, looking for an angle to play to help with our survival. We stay with the car as we're told to pull off the road and get out. What else can be expected but an execution in the middle of nowhere with no way to save ourselves? Even outside the car, Myers remains in the shadows, with the light focused on Roy and Gilbert, so we can see the fear on their faces as they contemplate what is to come. The scene shows great staging and direction from Ida Lupino, the femme fatale who has introduced these men to their fates.
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