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Posts posted by DCRinAZ

  1. Didn't 'everybody' have a little black book? Seems like that was the thing to do, so I imagine Preble might have had one.

    The little black book is another icon in film that has been eliminated by modern technology: all you need need is your little black cell phone.  And not only can you get phone numbers, but add apps for hook-ups with complete strangers!  At least with the little black book, a person knew the other person they were going to call!   Hmmm...maybe there's a place in neo-noir for the little black cell phone!



    • Like 1
  2. Note, there are some spoilers herein.  But a spoiler should not ruin a good story, if you really like a good story!
         If The Third Man (1949) is my favorite all-time film noir, this one runs a close second.  Really, it’s almost an equal.  I have to take off some points because of some instances of overacting (which I accept in film noir, to a point), and the whoo-hoo kazoo sound when Frank Bigelow was checking into his room at the St. Francis Hotel, a real hotel that is still standing on Union Square in San Francisco.  I understood that this was supposed to represent what Frank Bigelow was thinking as he saw all the single dames in The City (the proper nickname for San Francisco) as he was in town to party with the girls away from his fiancée back in Banning, California, which, to put things in context, is a small town just west of Palm Springs.  Saying he was from Banning was like saying “I am from the smallest, most insignificant town in my state, the one stuck out in the middle of the desert.”  No wonder he wanted to get a way to The City, where it was cool, sophisticated and there were plenty of single women with whom to have fun.
         Of course, a man seeking such pleasures was transgressing the moral (Production) code of that time, especially when such a man had a loyal and undoubtedly virginal fiancée who was waiting for marriage back home in Banning.  This is probably the real reason he had to die, from a film production code standpoint.  Characters who transgressed the moral code had to be killed off or punished according to the Production Code.  He should have stayed in Banning with his fiancée and married her if he wanted to have sex with a woman.  In any case, he was from a miserably hot, small town at the edge of the Mojave Desert, so he had to get away.  This helps us understand why he needed to get out of town for a vacation.  
         But back to some relevant comments: I do love this film for all its little flaws because it really does discuss those kind of things about the human condition–as all good films noirs do–that tended to be swept under the rug as being unpleasant, uncomfortable or distasteful, yet are really what life is all about.  In a film age such as today that glorifies violence, particularly in its forms of revenge, adultery, betrayal, murder, dishonesty and the like, while trying to pass it off as justified, films noirs stand apart from today’s films because they look at these subjects, but never try to justify them as being the right way of doing things, on the contrary.  There is a moral code in film noir, which I will argue comes from the production code, and that from the value system that most Americans held at that time.  Crime and other offenses are wrong, they are never justified, but films noirs also showed us circumstances to help us understand why these things take place.
         The essential shots in D.O.A. that illustrate what I am talking about are those that take place after Frank Bigelow understands that he has been poisoned and will die.  In essence, why should we care?  People die all the time.  The U.S. had just gone through a war in which millions of innocents were murdered.  What of it?  That’s life.  That’s just they way things are.  Who is Frank Bigelow and why should anyone care?  That is all answered when a little girl’s ball comes bouncing into his hands, after his long panicked run, and the little girl appears.  He looks at her with a sorrow–good acting, good that they caught it–in his eyes.  Then a young woman comes into frame, waving at her lover.  He looks at her again with a sad realization that he will never have a life, his is ended.  All that he could be has been done in.  And why?  We find out later.  Because he did his job and notarized a bill of sale.  
         Death is a reality, it’s part of life.  But to murder someone is a transgression, an offense that takes what belongs to a person–his or her life–and destroys it.  A murder victim does not even have the right to his or her death from old age, after living all he or she could.  Someone else decides their life is more important.  In any case, in that moment in the film, one understands why murder is a crime and why we should care about it.  That murdered man, Frank Bigelow, could be us.
         Of course, we could look at the existential elements of this film: why do we live, why do we die.  What purpose does our life have.  This film is an allegory for how we enter the world and have no purpose or meaning because death awaits us, etc., etc., etc.  But this is what makes this a good film, like any good story, it is multifaceted and makes you think of many things, and about our own human condition both on a personal level and on a collective level.  What has always struck me about this film is how it shows evil: it’s suave, beautiful, selfish, and brutal.  It lives only for itself–egotism is the substance of evil.  And it destroys innocents.  Evil is a threat to people like Frank Bigelow.  And if it is a threat to people like him, it is a threat to all who are like him: people who just want to live their lives, enjoy their lives and live it out fully.  Evil is a threat to us all.
         This is a common theme in film noir: decent people who try to be moral in an immoral world.  This is an essential quality of Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe.  Perhaps a particular film noir does not focus on them, but the character is always there.  For instance, in Double Indemnity, the film focuses on MacMurray’s and Stanwyck’s characters, but there is Edward G. Robinson’s character who cares about the right thing and pursues them in his own way.  Even Holly Martins is a moral character, as weak as he is as a human being.
         So what impresses me about this film is how it shows so clearly why murder is evil and what it is to experience it.  And through it, all humans should still try to maintain their moral center.  We are good people living in a corrupt world.  Films noirs try to tell us how to deal with this corruption without losing ourselves in it.

  3. The Third Man (1949) is one of my favorite, all-time films, and my favorite film noir.  Every aspect of the film is brilliantly conceived in every way a film should be from the cinematography to the acting.  
        What makes it the best of film noir for me is exactly how disorienting it is and in ways that go beyond the typical film noir techniques of askew angles, low-key lighting, men in fedoras, the femme fatale, and the like.
         For example, one person on the blog commented that he did not like the music.  I think that this is what Carol Reed wanted: to disturb the viewer not just visually, but aurally, which is what the music used in The Third Man does.  I doubt most Americans in the late 1940s would have ever have heard a zither or its music.  It is an instrument many western Europeans most likely would have known of, but not really been familiar with.  It is so eastern European.  Something from the fringe of Western Civilization, and not near the American fringe.  It would have sounded weird to most Americans and to many western Europeans (though probably as weird to them as to us).  The zither music, and the untranslated used of German, both are aural equivalents of visual effects of low-key lighting and canted angles, and darkness typical of film noir.
         Note how Carol Reed makes no attempt whatsoever to make his monolingual American audience, with its typical (American) English-only attitudes, feel comfortable with much of the language of the film.  There are no American or English actors playing eastern Europeans and badly imitating a German accent, just real eastern Europeans speaking English with a real German accent or, even more shockingly, speaking real German with no attempt to make it easy for the American audience to understand what was being said.  We just have to trust the translations of suspect individuals and rely on the body language and context to try to understand what is being said.
         Holly Martins, our pathetic protagonist embodies all this American discomfort with “foreignness”: he is hostile even to his English cousins (he might be anti-British!) and has to rely completely on strangers to understand what is going on.  The problem is that when they speak to him in English, a language he understands, some are lying to him, so they might as well be speaking gibberish.  English, comfortable old English to Holly Martins and the Euro-American audience is no longer a reliable source of information, just like light in a film noir does not always shine on the truth.
         This skewing of voices and sounds forces the viewer to rely on the visual medium, the visual language of the film, which itself is dark, foreboding, dangerous with its brilliant (used figuratively here, not literally), use of the camera, which transforms a real, bombed-out city into the best film noir set that could ever be imagined, language, then, adds to the disorientation, the skewing of the information in the story.  It also reminds us that a modern motion picture is not principally an aural medium: it's main language for the story is the visual language.  But the visual language in film noir is skewed and disorienting.  What Carol Reed does in The Third Man is make both the visual language and aural language are perfectly synchronized to disorient the audience.
         The zither music, strange to American ears, added to the German language and British accents, takes this American development in film style to another, international level.  At this point, film noir returns to its European roots and finds a home in a film directed by a European, Carol Reed, that takes place in a European capital, Vienna, with an international cast.
         And this is only part of what makes this film such a great motion picture.  I haven’t even talked about the editing, acting and overall story.  There is so much to this film.   Just like a great book, you can come back to this film a hundred times and still see something new and keep learning about whatever it has to teach us.

  4. Here are two very Noir-ish films that are usually not thought of as Noir but I think they are very Noir, In The Heat Of The Night (`1967) (sort of an Edward Hopperesque Noir) and Shaft (1971), (gritty NY Noir) watch them next go round with Noir tinted glasses ;)

    I was looking at one article (okay, I did not read it all the way throug, as I was looking for other data), but the gist I got from it was that African American films like In The Heat of the Night and Shaft, all in the sixties, were in the noir tradition.  Why would they be later than the rest?  Because of the discrimination in the Hollywood system, which undoubtedly suppressed the depiction of black protagonists or filmmakers in the 1940s or 1950s unless they were doing the so-called "race films" or making films independently.  But things were changing in the 1960s.  If this is so, that African American films or films with African American protagonists are in the noir tradition, albeit not during noir's heyday, then we could look at those films as being important not as social statements in that they help integrate American sensibilities towards who the protagonist is, but also as an important bridge between classic film noir and neo-noir.  In other words, films like In the Heat of the Night and Shaft keep the noir tradition alive and helped move it to a more modern expression in neo-noir.

         In any case, if anyone is interested in following up with this, I had referenced this text earlier:  “The Genre Don't Know Where It Came From: African American Neo-Noir Since the 1960s.”  By William Covey.  Journal of Film and Video, 55.2/3 (2003), 59-72.


    • Like 1
  5. Not Kevin Costner!  Argh!  I really appreciate your thoughtful analysis.  I do want to focus on your comments that I am reproducing below, because I agree with you.  What you state is worth reading again:

    I completely agree with you here--but take especial note that we (and the Production Code itself) refer to the dominant culture's morality. Dominant, in this case, refers more in my opinion to social stature and power than to sheer numbers.



    I guess that this is my sticking point in this argument. I would argue that when a piece of art is centered on the experiences and moral codes of one specific group of people, that group then becomes the art's intended audience. This is not to say that a black teenage girl or an elderly Korean man might not enjoy a film noir, or that they might not even get something personally meaningful out of it. But there are many ways in which the desires of the non-dominant population, their reality, and their way of living (including personal morals) would differ from what is being shown and explored on screen.


    I hear you when you say that the Production Code provided something of a moral "center" (and that the dominant values reflected by the code were the same values that were recognized by a lot of people). But I think that the moral center was a false one. Just like any idealized image of middle class Americana. Yes, maybe everyone aspired to the house with the picket fence and 2.5. But if you were a lesbian, if you were black and lived in a town where you couldn't legally own property, or if you were any variety of "visible" ethnic or religious minority, good luck.


    I think that the moral relativism that you describe has always existed. So even though there isn't one pillar of morality (like the Production Code), there are still two things that are true:


    1) There is a dominant culture (even if as a whole we are more fragmented) that is reflected in how movies are made and presented. The documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated shed a lot of light on the way that, for example, homosexuality is censored because the "cost" of that content in a movie (even a kiss) drives up the movie's rating which limits the audience.


    2) Filmmakers will always be interested in pushing back against what they perceive as "the forbidden"--especially if they regard that "forbidden" thing as being unfairly maligned.


    I think that you're right in saying that the lack of a singular moral code means that you will not get another "movement" of film, the way that noir as a movement was partly a result of filmmaker's reacting to the same code.


    But I do think that the very idea of pushing back against "common morality" (especially the kind of morality that is hypocritically preached and not practiced) is something that movies today continue to do. Roger Ebert once said that movies are engines of empathy--their power is in letting us feel what others feel and generating emotions. I think that noir-type plots (the pain of making one mistake--the deadly momentum of out of control love or lust) are grounded in universal themes and will never cease to be explored. The kind of friction that film noir achieved might not be capable of producing in bulk. And maybe in that sense noir won't "save" cinema.


  6. Takoma1, there us need to apologize. Besides noir women never say "I'm sorry!" And your style if talking is great, just like a real film noir protagonists or femme fatale! Besides, you started a great line of discussion. All is cool! Let's have a shot of bourbon and keep up the talk!

    This is why I hate making response on my phone, instead of using a real computer.  The keyboards are awful (I miss my BlackBerry!) and the letters are so darn small!  And my eyesight is not what it used to be.  Here is what I meant to say:


    Takoma1: there IS NO need to apologize, NOT "there us need to apologize".  What the heck does that mean?  I think your comments are well taken, intelligent, beautifully expressed.  The only concern I had was that you had attributed something to me that I did not say, or mean to say.  If it was taken in a certain way, perhaps it had to do with my being inarticulate.  Or responding via my darn phone.  But you clarified what you meant and, as I said, brought up an excellent topic that is important to discuss.  In any case, I enjoy what you have to say! 


    Discussion often involves misunderstanding, misinterpretation and the like.  We talk more to clarify, which is what we have done.  Thank you for being so open and honest and willing to talk!

  7. Yes--of course. I didn't mean to cause any offense. Sometimes I jumble together things I'm just thinking with things that are responses. My speaking and writing style is also kind of blunt, which I think can read as aggressive or angry in the context of a message board where we don't have a long history together.


    I actually want to respond with more thought to what you wrote in your response, but due to Father's Day I probably won't get to it until tomorrow. But I wanted to let you know that I appreciate you continuing this conversation and I want to give your post the measured (and hopefully less shouty) response that it deserves.

    Takoma1, there us need to apologize. Besides noir women never say "I'm sorry!" And your style if talking is great, just like a real film noir protagonists or femme fatale! Besides, you started a great line of discussion. All is cool! Let's have a shot of bourbon and keep up the talk!

  8. Looking at the studio system at the time, and how A and B pictures worked, also that a certain style developed in the 40s as well as the use of black and white photography, shadows, ect.. is how film noir was created. i dont think it could be replicated in our society. It's a different time.  So that is why i call the 40s 50s the noir period, but what i'm waiting for is someone to make  a noir in the same vein as the Artist. The makers of the Artists understood what silent films are about and maybe someone out there there is a film maker who is a film noir buff that can make a film noir similar to the artist, totally authentic from the 40s and make it beleivable like the Artist.

    How about Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid? :)

  9. Juano Hernandez was Puerto Rican and a proud one at that. Puerto Ricans tend to identify first with their culture before their race. (Yes, I am PR.)


    It seems those of Latin descent tend to be overlooked largely because there's too much focus on race (we come in all colors). It was quite nice watching Ricardo Montalbán in his noir films, particularly in Mystery Street. With exception for the murderer, everyone saw him more as a man of high regard regardless of his accent (which I loved). Many don't realize that Rita Hayworth was Hispanic (real name Margarita Cansino).

    I am glad you poinnted this out. I suspected that Juano Hernández was Hispano, and you are correct in stating that Puertorriqueños, as well as most other Hispano-Americanos see culture before color, because within one nuclear family, you can get the whole spectrum of colors. That is not to say that there are not racists in Hispanic culture, there are. But it's more of a social class thing and not considered anything to be proud of, on the contrary.

    But this does show us that while noir tackled some of the social and personal issues of our country, it did not touch on, for the most part, issues of race and ethnicity. Again, this may be because of the Production Code which tacitly, if not overtly, supported the racial/ethnic status quo. So this brings us back to the Production Code and it being an absolute moral pole against which film noir filmmakers were reacting, something that does not exist today. Considering this may help us answer the original question fvor this blog.

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  10. Oh yeah: never ever drink vodka, only gin, preferably from a bathtub and only if whiskey/whisky is not available and if you're a girl. But real noir women, the down and out ones, drink whiskey.The only other booze that you can have is champagne, IF you are the femme fatale or la femme de désir sexuel, who usually are broads running in the upper crust. If they have champagne, you drink champagne. But your booze if choice, your go-to is always cheap, blended whiskey/whisky. No fruity, creamy or sweet girly drinks for you! Not even for any real noir woman!

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  11. Here's a good drink for film noir fans and characters alike. You'll need the following ingredients:


    1 crumpled, brown paper bag

    1 bottle of rotgut, cheap, blended

    Scotch, Bourbon, or rye.

    If you're slightly high class, choose

    the scotch. If you're a loser in

    the dregs, get the rye.

    Insert the bottle in the bag.

    Open the bottle.

    Enjoy! And don't worry about that

    hangover in the morning.

    • Like 5
  12. I have not found a way to respond to individual posts through TCM, but loved the reference to NightHawks. Maybe we can agree NightHawks is a Noir painting? The loneliness and isolation, and sometimes making bad choices out of isolation seem to be noir themes. At least in some films.

    I think you have a great point, but I don't know if we have to see it as a noir painting.  There are some articles that note the influence of German Expressionism on Edward Hopper, and one I've seen that also looks at the surrealist aspect of Hopper's work, including  Nighthawks (see "Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks", Surrealism, and the War Gail Levin and Edward Hopper

    Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 22.2, Mary Reynolds and the Spirit of Surrealism (1996), pp. 180-195+200, which brings me to another idea: surrealism in film noir.
         The link between German Expressionism and film noir has been well developed.  How about surrealism, the attempt to portray the dream world in art, or portray art as a dream, in the Freudian interpretation of the dream?  I think that this is also a big influence in film noir.  It is represents the psychological underpinning of noir.  It explains why so much of noir has a dreamlike quality to it, or nightmarish quality.  What do you all think?  And the use of Expressionism does not negate Surrealism.  In a way, they complement each other.
  13. To be honest, as much as I like Bogart as Philip Marlowe, I prefer Dick Powell's interpretation better.  I wish I could say that Robert Montgomery's take is quite good in The Lady in the Lake (1947), but I can't, because he ends up being more of a voice-over narrator than an actor with that overused 1st person point-of-view camera.  At least he reads his lines really well.

  14. I understood that you were talking about moral code and not moral behavior. I definitely did not mean to mischaracterize what you said or "take you to task" for harkening back to the "good old days".

    Takoma1, thanks for responding and clarifying.  This is what good dialogue is all about.  And you do bring up very important issues for our society.  But remember that I had referred to the morality of the "dominant" culture, without personal value judgments as to whether or not they were good or bad.  We do hae to remember that part of what drove film noir, though, was the Production Code.  We can't forget how much it reflected the majority belief system of the dominant society in the United States at that time.  It set up a standard of human behavior for U.S-American society as the official morality.  It set up a onesidedness that had to be compensated for psychologically by its opposite.  It’s sort of Freudian, but better explained by Jung, that when one represses anything, it will come back as a “shadow” figure as per Jungian theory because regardless of what the individual (or society wants), that repressed idea is a truth that has to be dealt with honestly and not be ignoring it or repressing it.  

         So film noir may have been exactly how society as a whole dealt with its repressed feelings and beliefs, forced underground by a highly moralistic code, and why “truth,” oftentimes ugly truth is in the shadows and darkness of film noir and why what we want to be true is well let, but is really a deception or lie.  Film noir was an example of psychological compensation.  Jung has spoken of the relationship between art and the dream, but when studying his theories, we have to remember that for Jung, dreams are largely compensatory for our ego-consciousness’s attitudes, especially the false ones.  In dreams one finds the truth.  But you get to your dreams in the darkness of the night and in the darkness of sleep.

         The standard of moral behavior imposed by the Production Code was not reflective of all human experience, all human behavior, all human belief systems.  If Jung was right and art, if anything, is like a dream, and is a compensatory comment on society’s biases and beliefs, then it is logical that certain novels and film spoke to those hidden truths of being human that were not always pleasant or good to look at.  But it is real.  It is what humans experience.  It should not be hidden or denied.

         Besides all this, you bring up an excellent point, though: if film noir discussed human failings, criminality, distorted behavior, fate and all that, where is any discussion of hatred of humans because of whom they happen to be?  I think that film noir oftentimes does speak to sexism and the oppression of women, though not in an obvious or clear way.  But we don’t really see the same discussion about issues of racial or ethnic discrimination. 

         There are some exceptions, The Tall Target (1951), which I think we can include as a film noir, although it is set in the period prior to the U.S. Civil War.  That film touches on the issue of slavery and racism.  Then there is Mystery Street (1950), which was just on TCM, although more of a police investigation drama, there are definite noir elements in it.  In any case, the protagonist is played by Ricardo Montalbán, one of  the few times films of that period had a Mexican actor play a lead role as a Mexican, in a positive role, too.  A Touch of Evil (1958) really has a subtext about racism in that the “good” protagonist of the film’s character is Mexican (even if the actor was not) and married to an blonde Anglo-American (which was just as shocking to many viewing in white audiences of that time as if he had been African, Native American or Asian.  And the bad guy is a white Texan lawman.  Welles was at his subversive best in that film.  Crossfire (1947) deals with anti-Semitism.  But these films are the exception in their positive portrayals of racial and ethnic minorities as positive protagonists. 

         Why?  Because the morality of the dominant society during the film noir period saw no evil in racism.  I hate to say it, but it is true about American society then and still for some, now.  To most, it was the natural order of things, as wrong as that idea was and is.  And, obviously, still today, many see no evil in it despite the fact that it is an obvious though insidious evil.

         Are there any films noir in which an African American is a protagonist?  Or other minorities?  It is a valid question, I hope so, but I bet that there were not a lot.  But we also have to see any answer to this question in terms of its times.  And racism, in the form of legal segregation, was the law of the land until 1954 and really still legal in some ways until the Civil Rights Act of 1964, pushed through Congress by Lyndon Johnson.

         In any case, though, it would be interesting to see if African American filmmakers of the period were doing film-noir-type films, or if any films of the period made for an African-American audience produced by any studio during this period were noir films.

        I have found an interesting article on this topic at the filmnoir.net website: “Race and Film Noir: Black and Noir.”  (see  http://filmsnoir.net/film_noir/race-and-film-noir-black-and-noir.html/)

         Here is an article in JSTOR that looks interesting, too:  “The Genre Don't Know Where It Came From: African American Neo-Noir Since the 1960s.”  By William Covey.  Journal of Film and Video, 55.2/3 (2003), 59-72.  These texts might help us delve into this issue.

         In any case, you have brought up something very relevant and important in our discussion of noir: the issue of race and ethnicity.  And I would like to see a survey of African American film noir or neo-noir in any viewing list or class discussion.  Perhaps there is one already listed.  It would be great to see such a film or films and discuss them!

    • Like 1
  15. At the time that most film noirs were made, our country still had legal segregation. During the 1940s, 23 black men were lynched. Interracial marriage was illegal. Legally speaking, if a man forced his wife to have sex against her will it was not considered rape. Legal rape was actually defined as forced sexual intercourse with a female not his wife.


    The idea that the United States used to be a more moral country makes no sense to me. It may have been that people were more polite. It may have been that people used to espouse more strict moral values. But the violence, disenfranchisement, and general degradation of whole swaths of people based on their gender, skin color, religion, or sexual orientation was widespread. The moral code that noir explored (and possibly challenged) was a hypocritical one, and also somewhat narrow. I would almost argue that it's the other way around: movies showed us the morality that we wish were true.


    I think that there is a morality to our modern society, but it is more nuanced. There are still plenty of movies where people "do something wrong . . . once" and spiral downward from there (I'm thinking of something like A Simple Plan). They might get away with it (in the sense of not being killed or arrested), but they rarely escape unscathed. I think that the film noir approach (exploring wrongdoing and the consequences) can still be very effective, but it has to broaden its horizons. People will always struggle with morality, whether it is their own personal moral code, or the broader moral code espoused by society. There will always be taboos (like murder), and we will always be fascinated by those who break them and what comes of that violation. In the modern movies that I watch, sometimes crime does pay and sometimes crime doesn't. I think that it raises the question: how do we function in a society where sometimes people will do the wrong thing and get away with it?


    I get what you're saying about the way that noir kicked up sparks as it pushed against the moral rigidity of the 40s and 50s. I definitely agree that there isn't the same dominant, across the board moral code of 50 years ago. But I do think that there will always be a way for films to show us the chasm between who we are and who we wish we were.

    If you are going to attribute something to someone, make sure you get it right.  I did not say that the United States was a more moral country.  I said it had a moral code and belief system that was absolutist.  And much of the United States was hypocritical in its moral stance, racism being one of the most obvious, evil and grievous.  As a matter of fact, that evil is still with us in this country, as recent events have shown.  That moral code not only oppressed minorities, but women.  We certainly did not live the "all men are created equal" morality of our own Declaration of Independence.  But there was a definite moral code and what was wrong was wrong and right was right.  But there is a problem when you set up this kind of dualism, as nothing is ever just one thing.

         When a society has a definite code of behavior, it sets up its own opposite, too.  It creates a dichotomy, a polarity, what you wisely call "the chasm between who we are and who we wish we were."  That is what I was getting at.  I never said that our system is or was better than anyone else's.

         But since our society is more relativistic now, "what true for you is rrue for you, what's true for me is true for me" (however absurd and illogical that is), that polarity in which noir thrived can't exist, and noir cannot thrive.

    • Like 1
  16. The Big Sleep (1946) [CONTINUED]




    The Big Sleep is infamous for its complicated, twisted story which leaves a few thread untied, probably on purpose. This is what we're supposed to think happened:




    Parties Involved: Sternwoods (the General, daughters Vivian and Carmen, and driver Owen Taylor), Mars (Eddie, wife Mona, and hitman Canino), Geiger (Geiger, employees Lundgren and  Agnes, Agnes’s boyfriends Joe Brody and Harry Jones), AND the man connecting them all: Sean Regan, friend of General Sternwood, Mona Mars, and person of interest to Geiger’s blackmailing crew.


    First, keep in mind: Is Sean Regan dead or merely missing?


    Joe Brody, a low-level criminal, had blackmailed rich Carmen Sternwood before, and was an "adversary" of a racketeer named Geiger, as he was dating Geiger's secretary, Agnes. Carmen, followed by Joe, goes to the house of her new blackmailer, Geiger. Owen Taylor, the Sternwood driver who was in love with Carmen, follows her to Geiger's as well. Taylor shoots Geiger (Death #1) and steals the film with the incriminating photos of Carmen. A fleeing Taylor is followed by Joe who pulls him over with a ruse and knocks him out, stealing the film. Taylor is found dead (Death #2). In retaliation, Lundgren, one of Geiger's men, kills Joe who he thinks murdered Geiger (Death #3).  Marlowe turns in Lundgren, now both of Carmen's blackmailers are dead and the killers of Geiger, Taylor, and Joe are behind bars or also dead.


    Meanwhile, gambler and gangster Eddie Mars is covering up the disappearance of a Sternwood family friend, Sean Regan, who unofficially ran off with Eddie's wife. The late Joe's girl and the late Geiger's secretary, Agnes, reaches out to Marlowe through Harry Jones to exchange information on the whereabouts of Mrs. Mars. One of Eddie Mars's thugs named Canino kills Jones to get to Agnes (Death #4). Marlowe, using Agnes's intel finds Mrs. Mars but no Regan, and kills Canino (Death #5). He confronts Mars at Geiger's house, and finds out that Mars had been blackmailing Vivian with the knowledge that in a jealous rage, Carmen killed Sean Regan. Eddie is killed by his own men through Marlowe's cunning (Death #6). Though Regan's is the 7th confirmed death, he is also Death #0, since he'd been dead a while and his death created this mess. It's like the three alternate endings to Clue all over again.


    THIS STORY ..... WHOOOAAA. As a viewer, we witnessed "Deaths" #3 through #6, but one must wonder, did Taylor really kill Geiger or did Carmen? IF TAYLOR KILLED GEIGER TO PROTECT CARMEN, WHO HE WAS IN LOVE WITH, WHY DID HE TAKE THE FILM BUT LEAVE CARMEN AT THE HOUSE? Did Joe kill Taylor when he stole the film, or was it somebody else? Joe was a blackmailer and he stole the film, but he didn't come off as a killer. And did Carmen really kill Regan or in her stupor of intoxication, was made to believe she did (did Eddie kill him)?


    By reviewing this plot, I am reminded of Daily Dose #6 and Chandler’s own words: “The essential question is no longer 'who-done-it?' but how does this protagonist act?” As complicated as this plot is and no matter how much I question it, the film is not really about that, it is merely the framework for conflict. The Maltese Falcon is not about the falcon the same way Indiana Jones is about the Holy Grail or the Ark, but about what people are willing to do to get it. It’s about our protagonist navigating this mess, this world of deception and extreme thirsts. Who killed Sean Regan and why? Yes, we wonder, but the presentation is what matters, how Marlowe talks and moves, the lines he crosses and the lines he won’t, who’s kissing who and who’s shooting, how there would be no shadows if light and dark didn’t meet every once in a while.

    It is fun to discuss all this.  But is knowing who murdered whom really the most important thing about watching this film?  Isn't it really about seeing if Marlowe (Bogart) and Vivian (Bacall) end up together?  :)

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  17. I first saw these films when I was a kid.  My mother was an old movie buff–her grandfather and his family owned some independent theatres in southern Arizona, so she grew up with films from the Golden Age–and there wasn’t much to do in Phoenix Arizona in the 1960s and 70s.  So film on TV was big entertainment in our house.  My problem was that as a kid I got Bogart as Sam Spade mixed up with Bogart as Philip Marlowe.  It took me a while to sort them out.  But I did eventually.  
         Interestingly enough, although there has to be similarities in the two interpretations of the two different characters just because it’s the same actor, Bogart really does subtly and beautifully differentiate the two characters.  Of course, this is also helped by the fact that the stories are largely different, and the fact that the cinematography is different (I find Huston’s is darker, more baroque in its use of chiaroscuro than Hawks, and Huston does like those Expressionistic camera angles more), but that said, it is also in the acting, the delivery of lines, etc.
         I have always thought that Bogart’s lines were more stilted, his motions less refined in The Maltese Falcon.  His characterization of Spade also makes him seem older, more burned out, more cynical than his interpretation of Marlowe.  His Spade seems less secure, more angry, less sure.  There seems to be more fluidity, more activity, more confidence in Marlowe.  I don’t know if it is because Bogart “designed” the role that way, or if it was because in the Maltese Falcon, he was in his first big role, while in The Big Sleep, he was an established star, and it was five years later than The Maltese Falcon.
         There is also the issue of how Bogart’s Spade relates to Bogart’s Marlowe.  Sexuality seems to be an inconvenience or a bother to Sam Spade, even if he wants it (which also contrast’s with Ricardo Cortez’s Sam Spade who was all about the ladies).  For some reason, Bogart’s Marlowe is attractive to women and likes being attractive to them.  He knows how to talk to them.  But, then again, the women are younger and much more attractive than the women in his Maltese Falcon (again, compared to the 1931 Maltese Falcon, whose women were much better looking than those in 1941 version, in my opinion).  Of course, the chemistry between Bacall and Bogart are tangible, so that helps.  But he is convincing as a man women like in other scenes with other women.  We see this in the opening scene with Carmen Sternwood and then with her sister Vivian Rutledge (Bacall).

         In any case, I guess it is inevitable that one would compare Bogart as Spade with Bogart as Marlowe.  But they really are not the same.

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  18. Just a heads up, catch Steve Martin's Pennies From Heaven it re-creates New York Movie and Nighthawks, and a few others during the course of the film.


    Also for those interested in more art angles there was the whole Ash Can School that included John Sloan, Edward Hopper and others:



    Wow, what an excellent suggestion!  Pennies from Heaven does have many elements of Noir.  I have to see it again now and look at it in the noir context.  Thanks for the idea!

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  19. I think Dick Powell is believe as Philip Marlow.

    When I first started gettting into films noirs, I would see a film with Dick Powell in the starring role, and skip it.  Really?  The 1930s song and dance man?  He's a film noir protagonist?  Yeah, right.  My disbelief was incredible, and incredibly unfair.  Then I started going to the TCM classic film festival and saw him in Cry Danger (1951).  My bad.  And I should have known better.  I know not to judge anyone, but did anyway.  My bad.  He is wonderful in films noirs.  Really, one of the best.  And you are right.  His interpretation of Philip Marlowe is classic. 

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  20. Could film noir save cinema again?  Okay, here's my short, to-the-point answer: probably not and I don't think so, not at this time.  So if you just want my opinion nice and easy, there it is.  However, if you'd like to read why I believe this, please continue!  I hope my comments give you food for thought.  And at least spark an interesting discussion!  So here are my reasons for not believing film noir can save cinema today:

    Before we can answer that, we need to consider some aspects of films noirs.  And the interesting tthing about noir was this: while it showed the darkness of life, the downside of life.  It's pessimistic, depressing.  But it it discussed life as it is, real life.  Films noirs compensated for the overly optimistic, overly bright and shiny, polyanna world of so many contemporaneous Hollywood movies.  After suffering through the Great Depression, Gangsterism and the rise of Organized Crime, the rise of the Dictatorships and World War II, everyone knew that life wasn't all sunshine, prosperity, peace and fun.  People struggled.  People suffered.  So film noir told the whole story of human life and modern living, particularly life in the city (and The City, as so many noirs are in San Francisco). 

         However, despite it's darkness and pessimism, despite the immorality or amorality shown in film noir very moralistic.
         We can argue that classic films noirs were moral stories which are meant to teach a lesson and that they had a moral to the story, which lesson was learned by observing the consequences of taking immoral or amoral decisions.  They were meant to show us why it is important to act morally, even if not all of life is moral.  Perhaps this is why the Hayes Office gave them their seal of approval, because they could be justified as morality tales.  They can be seen as adult fairy tales (in which children or common folk often make bad decisions but learn a lesson).  So many situations in film noir are about a protagonist making a decision, usually a bad one, and the consequences of having done so, thus leading to a moral conclusion, if not made by the principal character, at least by the audience.
         But morality is oftentimes a thing of its time, of its era.  Much of what was considered amoral or immoral, as depicted in film noir, is based on the moral beliefs of of the dominant society of that era.  This is perhaps one reason we have to see film noir as an artistic movement: something that comes about as part of its time, as part of the spirit of its time, the so-called zeitgeist.  But the zeitgeist can change, and probably will change from generation to generation, and so is tied to a particular period of time (which does not mean that it is not also a genre or movement).
         Stating the above, now I can address the question, can film noir save cinema again?  It could, if we had any sense of morality in our modern society.  I don’t believe we do, not at least as they did in the 1940s and 1950s.  So even if film noir, as a genre or style, could save contemporary cinema, or revitalize it, we don’t have the moral code in today’s society that made film noir so provocative.
         What was so interesting about noir was its honesty.  It uncovered the hypocrisy of American society at that time that pretended to value certain morals: marriage, integrity, duty, justice, but really was not valued by many in society.  However, film noir did not undermine marriage, integrity, duty or justice.  It just honestly showed that fact that not all of society honored these, and other moral beliefs, upheld by the dominant society.  Many just pretended to.  Film noir strips off the pretense and shows the hypocrisy.  There was a dualism in film noir that made it so interesting and dynamic: it really was about the struggle of good versus evil, and that in that struggle the protagonist does not come out of the fight unscathed (like the protagonist so many non-noir Hollywood films who, after a fist fight, who has no scars.  In a film noir, the protagonist is damaged, physically or psychologically, after a fight).  
         Film noir was realistic in that aspect.  It gave film noir its power, its honesty and dynamism.  Its dualism and and honesty provided for an honest discussion of what was good and bad in American (or other) society.  As I am writing this, I am watching Crossfire (1947), which discusses anti-Semitism and, essentially, racism (though it does not go quite far enough to discuss white-on-black racism, though any intelligent person could extrapolate that the topics discussed in this film noir applied there, too).  Film noir allowed its society to consider, to ponder what morality is and what to be moral really meant in a way that could only be discussed in this art form.
         So while film noir depicted or at least implied that adultery, murder, hatred, racism, bullying, might-makes-right, and other forms of sin, depravity, perversion and just all-around badness exist, noir never tried to say that these were good things or justify them.  Quite the contrary.  Because Frank Bigelow, the protagonist of D.O.A. (1950), instead of staying home or taking his fiancée with him on vacation to San Francisco, goes alone to play the field and is murdered as a consequence (if he had done the moral thing, stay home with his girl, or at least take her along and not be looking to fool around, he would not have been able to be targeted for death).  If Holly Martins (The Third Man, 1949) had been able to discern that his “best friend” Harry Lime was a rotten human being from the very beginning of their relationship (as Martins was aware of, as his dialogue with others reveals), he would not have been placed in a situation that eventually leads to his being even more of a loser than he already was, and terribly humiliated, to boot.  
         Of course, we could say that the characters Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe are not moral, but they really are.  They have a level of ethics that make them do justice in the end.  But they are hurt or damaged in having to deal with those who are not.  And they turn the criminals in, even though it hurts them personally.  Sam Spade is probably in love with Brigid O’Shaugnessy (The Maltese Falcon, 1931 and 1941), but he turns her in for murder anyway.  Phillip Marlowe (Murder, My Sweet, 1944) could run off with the jade necklace and the “bad” girl, the minute he has both in his hands, but he holds out for justice and the “good” girl.   There are so many films noir that discuss evil, portray immorality or amorality, and the good people are tainted by it, but that end up with the morally correct, if sometimes the film shows that life is driven by fate and can be terribly (e.g., Night in the City, 1950, in which the protagonist, a petty criminal, has a chance to go straight, but life just won’t let him; and Cry Danger, 1951).
         But things in film noir, though seeming black and white, are really gradients of black and white.  We really ought to study the grey in film noir as well as the black and white.  Are Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade, Holly Martins evil or good people in an difficult, evil world that forces them to be more grey than black or white, who are trying to be more “blanc” than “noir”, but never quite able to get the “noir” off of them?   Even characters with real personality flaws and a real dark streak, such as Helen Brent (Born to Kill, 1947), Barton Tare (Gun Grazy, 1950), Hank Quinlan (A Touch of Evil, 1958) are not completely evil.  Helen eventually calls the police on her murderous lover-pretender.  Barton Tare tries to straighten himself out, despite his criminal tendencies, until he falls in love with Annie, who leads him astray (is love supposed to destroy you?).
         In any case, film noir is ultimately moral and upholds the moral code of its time.  And this is exactly why it would be very difficult for film noir to save, rescue or revitalize contemporary cinema: Whereas the society in which film noir flourished had a definite and clearly defined moral code (regardless of whether people lived up to it, which is the story that film noir told), today’s society does not.  As a whole, American society of the 1940s and 1950s were moral absolutists; society today is generally morally relativistic.  There is no good or evil today; just the ends justifies the means.  Today, evil is celebrated, getting what one wants by any means is acceptable.  Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), which can be seen as the perfect anti-film-noir, depicts exactly this modern attitude of absolute immorality and amorality (which is what you get morality is relative).  So whereas film noir discusses adultery, murder, drug use, etc., it only tells us that these things exist, but does not justify them or legitimize them.  Modern film tells us that all these things are okay.  Crime does pay.  And thus we lose the dualism, the dynamism and the dialectic between good and evil that makes film noir so powerful.
         So it’s not that modern cinema can’t make a film in the noir genre or the noir style, it’s just that many of us do not have the moral outlook to understand it, or for it to have meaning for us.
         There are exceptions: those filmmakers who have a moral code (I will argue, for instance, that Quentin Tarantino, David Lean and others who have done neo-noir are closet moralists) who understand that film noir is essentially about the protagonists struggle between good and evil.  And they make good and great films.  But I feel that this dualism is lost on most people today.  So fear that film noir done today would have to be constructed in a way to get people to consider that there is good and there is evil, to see the difference between them.  And then encourage them to choose the good.  I just don’t know if society today wants this in their films.
         And certainly, Hollywood, with its complete lack of originality, it’s complete inability to recreate anything new (I say recreate anything new, which seems to be an oxymoron, but is not, Because while all stories have probably already been told, referencing Jung and his idea of the poet and poetry, all artists reinterpret the universal human stories, values and ideas for each new generation.  That is, artists, whether painters, poets, filmmakers or whoever, speak of the universal human experience anew in the language that their generation will understand).  Hollywood just seems to be able to copy and does not seem to value and thus has not been able to develop or support a new generation of writers and filmmakers who seem to be able to recreate new stories.  They just copy what has been done before.  At least for the most part.
         And a new recreation is not a mere copy.  For example. in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which uses the method of the modern, printed novel to tell of the drama of God and man, Creator and created, was made relevant for the people of the early 1800s.  And in 1931, the essence of this story was reinterpreted in a modern retelling, in the modern text of film, thus making the story relevant for a new generation.  It’s a great recreation of a great story.  
         On the other end of the spectrum, however, the remake of Psycho (1998) was nothing but that: a crass, meaningless copy with no relevance for our modern world.  There are too many remakes, too many poorly done formula films being done today.  The modern way of making films does not lead to the development of great artists like John Huston, Dalton Trumbo, Robert Wise, John Alton, and so many, many more.  Just competent journeymen and women, just like the craftspeople who adequate copies of Greek statues and cast them in plaster for someone’s front yard.
         Of course, this is not meant to put down all modern filmmakers.  There are some who have undoubtedly been able to make their own films.  I am sure many more would be able to make great films and write great scripts, if there was a concern for the art of film and not in just making money.  And if the public were willing to actually engage in thinking about and bettering their world, not just in being entertained, as the people of the postwar period were willing to do.

  21. Since there's a topic for this: Was anyone else confused by the last paragraph where Muller compares cynicism and pessimism- I always thought the words were interchangeable. Does anyone get what he's driving at?

    From Merriam-Webster.com:

    cynical beliefs : beliefs that people are generally selfish and dishonest

    pessimism: a feeling or belief that bad things will happen in the future : a feeling or belief that what you hope for will not happen.

         So they are not interchangeable.

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