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Monty

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Everything posted by Monty

  1. Based solely on the opening scene, Mike Hammer is a mystery. He's rude, even mean to the obviously distressed woman he picked up (in, incidentally, a ludicrously fancy car), He talks casually of tossing her off a cliff. But as soon as they get to the roadblock, he acts nice and friendly to get her out of trouble. Although we've only seen the character for a minute, we feel that the smile is phony and the scowl is real. But if the character were really as tough as he acts, would he have done anything to save her? In a couple of minutes of screen time, we've established the character as a tough guy with a remote soft spot.
  2. I only wish I could claim that The Third Man was responsible for zither music being played in film noir movies. However, I think that specific influence was limited to the radio series The Lives of Harry Lime, in which Orson Welles seems to be having an enormous amount of fun. He also seems to be enjoying himself here. He's amused at his own dramatic appearance. We don't get to see his face when he's running away, but I bet Harry Lime is smiling.
  3. When John Garfield enters The Postman Always Rings Twice, everything's going great for him. He's the one hitchhiker in the world who could be picked up by a District Attorney who not only doesn't have him arrested for vagrancy but actually seems interested in his theories about life. Then the owner of a diner runs up to him and practically insists that he accept a job and free hamburger. And then Lana Turner shows up. Immediately, everything on the screen is covered in shadows. The music turns ominous. And John Garfield's free hamburger burns up.
  4. I love how unruffled Peter Lorre is by Sydney Greenstreet's intrusion. He treats it as a mildly vexing inconvenience, and even tries to go to bed while a gun is being held on him. Once the conversation turns to Dimitrios, Lorre leans back into an almost offensively relaxed pose and has a cigarette. There's a huge contrast with the way Greenstreet is shot from below, allowing him to fill the frame menacingly.
  5. The weather is never nice in a film noir. It's not just sunny; it's hot. It's muggy. And when Jane Greer leaves the hot, bright street, she enters several stages of darkness until it's almost too dark to see her face. It doesn't stay that way, of course, because you're not casting someone that looks like Jane Greer unless you can show off her beauty. But even in the conversation with Robert Mitchum, she's frequently obscured by a glass or her hand holding a cigarette. Incidentally, it's unusual in a scene like this to have the woman be the one who's smoking. It helps show her as tough.
  6. Bogart's Philip Marlowe is much more open than his Sam Spade. Spade never tells anyone anything that he doesn't have to, starting with the police who question him about Miles Archer all the way to the end of the movie. The only two times he seems to enjoy himself are when he's punching Joel Cairo and when he's just yelled at Kaspar Gutman. I think Spade is a sadist who accidentally falls in love with Brigid. But Marlowe enjoys himself much more. There's more whimsy in the name "Doghouse Reilly" than Spade allows himself through all of The Maltese Falcon.
  7. If this were all a viewer knew about Border Incident, it would be almost impossible to tell whether the movie was fiction, a documentary, or some combination of both. The narration behaves in exactly the way it would if this were just a travelogue, although there's a hint of menace in the way the narrator says that "most" of the workers obey the laws of both countries. This is a good way to ease the viewer into noir themes. By 1949, everyone knew what to expect from a movie where men in fedoras cast black shadows against alleys. Realistic scenes of farmlands, however, set the movie in a completely different setting, which will presumably make the inevitable deaths and betrayals (I haven't seen the movie; I'm just guessing) that much more potent.
  8. What I like about this scene is the way everything stops as soon as we get to the Swede. When the two guys leave the diner, there's a lot of panic. The music is getting loud and tense, and the kid has to run across back yards to get to the Swede. Everything's heightened. And then, when we're in the Swede's room, all that goes away. The Swede isn't panicked. He isn't excited. He doesn't move. We don't even see his face. The kid is also immobile, and the scene might as well be between his shadow and the Swede. Even the Swede's tone of voice is calm and measured. Compare that to the tough guys at the beginning, talking about whether "bright boy" would keep his mouth shut. They contrast the Swede in every way.
  9. It's pretty common for movies of this era to stop dead for a musical number.Everyone just agrees to let the plot stop dead so they can hang out in a jazz club and watch some smoky singer slink around the stage. Gilda is different, because the performer is actually part of the movie, and there's acting going on as well as singing. It's a more integrated approach to the inevitable jazz number.
  10. Veda's just the worst person, isn't she? It takes a really strong character to make Joan Crawford seem vulnerable on screen. Before film noir, there were stories of ungrateful children. But they were rarely as outright malicious and mean as Veda. She treats people like a flim noir thug treats a possible witness. I think it's basically the feel of a gangster movie transplanted into the story of a mother and daughter. The stairs are a great way to even out the characters.When Mildred and Veda are standing next to each other on the floor, Mildred looms over her daughter. But once they're on the stairs, their positions are reversed and it's the daughter who's higher up than her mother.
  11. Normally, a ticking clock is a symbol of a countdown to something bad happening. The inexorable swinging pendulum, the minute hand moving ever forward, and the chimes when the clock reaches the hour are all things an audience expects to herald something bad. Is this man counting down the seconds to his execution? The expectation is so strong that even when it's revealed that the man is being released, it still feels like something bad is happening. When he promises to stay away from the police and live a quiet life, the audience knows that's not going to happen. (It may help that in this particular case, the audience was watching this as part of a course on film noir, which is not a genre in which people successfully lead quiet lives for long. As an aside, I think the line "I've always meant to have that thing speeded up" is funny.
  12. In traditional whodunnit mystery stories (Agatha Christie or Ellery Queen, say) the detective is mostly a passive gatherer of information, possibly with a few character quirks like Hercule Poirot's accent and waxed mustache. But in a movie like Murder, My Sweet, the detective is an active participant. It's not just that he's more aggressive (locking the door so his interlocutor can't get away, for example), but the way that the other characters approach him is a fundamental change in how detective stories work. In an Agatha Christie story, the detective is very rarely acted upon. The characters talk to each other, but Poirot is the one who initiates everything. In a story like Murder, My Sweet, the detective has something other characters want. Film Noir detectives are always getting confronted and threatened (and knocked out, which they describe in colorful metaphors if they're from Chandler stories).
  13. One advantage of starting a movie out with a first-person voice-over is that it allows a film to establish a character before they've actually done anything. The first character on screen in Laura is a detective who doesn't do much right away aside from look at a clock. But Waldo Lydecker is already drawing the audience's attention the through his narration, even though he doesn't appear for a few minutes. The frame of the camera is very important in the opening scene. The characters can see to where the audience can't; Waldo is offscreen, but talking to us. The detective can see Waldo's naked body, but we can't. Even when Waldo tells the detective to take a seat, we expect him to sit in the comfortable chair we can see, but he walks to a wooden chair we couldn't. The whole movie turns out to be about things the characters know but that the audience (at first) doesn't.
  14. The driver in Dark Passage sure asks a lot of questions! Although he doesn't, really. He asks a few. But by the time he's in the movie, the viewer's sympathies have been squarely planted on the side of the escaping convict. The sirens in the background keep the tension up and the viewer wants to get away. When the radio describes everything the convict is wearing (except for the shirt he got rid of) the important thing is the description. The fact that this man was arrested for killing his wife is almost an afterthought, because the thrust of the narrative leads inevitably to the convict (and therefore the audience) attacking the driver.
  15. I love the way everything is so sleepy and still in The Letter before the gunshot. The rubber is peacefully trickling out of the tree and the workers are sleeping. Even the animals are sleeping. Nothing could possibly disturb the tranquility of this scene. And that lasts for maybe two minutes before Bette Davis empties a revolver into somebody. NOW we've got a movie!
  16. The engineers in the opening of La Bete Humaine never feel like they're in charge of their destiny. They can't hear or speak to each other, and they usually can't even see where they're going. They perform actions which are presumably intended to affect the train in some way, although the audience doesn't learn how. They're effectively helpless passengers in a mad experience of noise and heat, hanging on as the train plunges into blackness or squeezes by trains going the other direction. When the braking process begins, there's no immediate feedback that it's working, so they have to just hold on and trust to fate. The sense of being tied to events that are out of your control is something that comes up in a lot of film noir, as people start schemes that they can't manage once they're going. As a side note, I like that one of the engineers takes time out to chain-smoke. Just like the train!
  17. In the first four minutes of M, there are three separate incidents combining innocence and danger. First, obviously, there's the children happily playing with their "song" about the man in black and the cleaver. Then when Elsie starts to cross the street but has to be saved at the last second by policeman. And finally when it's revealed that she's bouncing her ball against a poster offering a reward for the murderer. I suggest that there are two reasons for the combination of play and dread. The first reason is just to set up a general sense of ominous foreboding. But it's also relevant to the movie to tie the innocence in with the sense of doom. Not only do the innocent children get trapped by the events of the movie, but even the murderer himself feels helpless.
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