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Why Do You Like Film Noir?


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Dear MissG: Flattery will get you an (long winded) answer, whether you want it or not. And, as is my wont, please allow me to respond to a question that I can almost answer before responding to your question that I probably can't answer.

 

What are the attributes a film, of any era, genre, or type, that will most likely result in me liking the film?

 

1. Visual Interest: Regardless of whether a film relies heavily on long takes or rapid cuts, a moving camera or a stationary camera, a detailed frame or a stark frame, it has to interest my eyes, which will then likely engage my brain.

 

2. Simple Narrative: A plot that is complex will likely distract me from the other elements of the film, thereby being an obstacle to overall enjoyment. For me, generally, less is more.

 

3. Conflicted Characters: Regardless of the stylistic elements of the film, if the characters (or, at least, the major characters) are conflicted, which results in a depth of personality and humanity, then the film has a realism and resonance that engages me.

 

4. Ambiguity: In the simplest terms, I want to be able to see the availability of multiple interpretations rather than the filmmaker telling me the film?s meaning. Similar to #3, the film needs to respect the characters as real human beings with depth and layers of meaning _and_ it has to respect me as a viewer.

 

5. Independence of Vision: Perhaps this is just the accumulation or result of #1-4, but a film by a director who is at odds with The System (whatever that may be) and fights to get a specific vision onto the screen seems to reflect that struggle and, as a result, is more reflective of reality, even if it is shot on a soundstage.

 

Not that a film must have each of the above for me to like it, but these are the characteristics that I generally prefer in films.

 

Film noir captures more of those characteristics more often than other styles because, by being more of a mood than a genre, it has fewer limitations (such as physical setting or era) placed on it. Film noir, therefore, has the advantage of being able to cross genres. By liking film noir, more genre opportunities are available to me. I?m not limited to Horror or Gangster or Westerns or even Musicals because a film within each of these genres can be a film noir as well. Film noir has that flexibility and versatility because it captures a mood ? resignation to Doom that is inevitable once a particular step, whether intentional (controllable) or accidental (uncontrollable), has been taken.

 

But why is that mood and, therefore, film noir personally appealing? As I wrote before, the couch may not be big enough, but from the age of 7 or 8, the stories I gravitated to revolved around The Odyssey and Greek mythology?I simply couldn?t get enough. If one looks at those stories, the key elements of film noir are there.

 

Jean Cocteau said he preferred mythology to history because: history begins in truth and ends in lies, whereas mythology originates in a lie and progresses toward truth.

 

Let?s hear an Amen, Sisters and Brothers.

 

Message was edited by: ChiO

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*Film noir captures more of those characteristics more often than other styles because, by being more of a mood than a genre, it has fewer limitations (such as physical setting or era) placed on it. Film noir, therefore, has the advantage of being able to cross genres. By liking film noir, more genre opportunities are available to me. I?m not limited to Horror or Gangster or Westerns or even Musicals because a film within each of these genres can be a film noir as well. Film noir has that flexibility and versatility because it captures a mood ? resignation to Doom that is inevitable once a particular step, whether intentional (controllable) or accidental (uncontrollable), has been taken.*

 

I actually thought something along those lines while watching *Forty Guns*, which is a Western but also has a very noirish feel to it. Having said that, I like recent movies that capture the noir spirit, but it seems sometimes that it's very difficult to capture for a contemporary movie, because so much of what I personally associate with noir brings to mind the world of the 40's and 50's.

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Howdy Frank,

 

*FrankGrimes: What's interesting about the men of film noir is that there are both weak and strong*

*alike who are looking for the big "score." The weak ones are often found chasing women while the* *strong ones are usually after money and power. The weak ones are usually uncertain while the* *strong ones are dead certain.*

 

Exactly. That really sums it all up in a nutshell. I was having a hard time trying to describe the differences. You did it perfectly.

 

*FrankGrimes wrote: What I like is that the women are given strong roles in "masculine" films. I think it's much different than seeing a strong woman in a "woman's picture."*

 

*I've yet to watch Kansas City Confidential but Detour features one of the*

*most psychotic female performances ever. No spells for Vera (Ann Savage).*

 

That's a good point. In a film like *Baby Face* Stanwyck uses sex to achieve security. She's really the whole show. In *Public Enemy* Mae Clarke gets the grapefruit but it's Harlow that is more central to the story but she doesn't cross over to femme fatale status. In a film like *Hold Your Man* she is victim and the film becomes a "women in the big house" picture. I would have to watch it again to see if *Ladies They Talk About* comes a little closer but still it basically becomes another prison story with Stanwyck stuck in the usual pre-code ending.

 

My point is that the gangster/crime drama never meshed with the pre-code woman. Later in films like Lang's *Fury* and the film *Let Us Live* which I consider forerunners of noir to some degree the Silvia Sydney and Maureen O'Sullivan characters are completely noble, seeking vindication for their wronged men.

 

The changing tastes of the war and the post-war era along with other influences finally brought out the femme fatale. A character like Ann Savage's Vera could never have existed in the pre-code era. I may have erred by saying *Detour* was in the vein of the more straightforward crime thrillers. I was trying to basically restate the fact that noir is a varied genre. There are many different shades on noir.

 

*What I find so interesting about the search is that so many people believe what they*

*are searching for is exactly what they need when the truth is, they have no idea. What*

*you seek and what you find can be two different things, especially in film noir.*

 

That is a great attraction for me as well. You have expressed this very well in your write ups on various films. People become fixated or obsessed, if you will, on a goal or ideal or something. It's a very human thing. I love how noir explores the darker side of humanity and the psychological conflicts people face. The great gift of man to chose the wrong path. It's very compelling.

 

What you seek and what you find can be two different things, especially in film noir.

 

so true.

 

*Molo wrote: Frank, CineMaven and I have had some great discussions in the Gloria Grahame thread.*

 

 

;) *And it's far from dead.*

 

I'm glad to hear that. :)

 

*Ahhh, more proof of us being on the same wavelength. Jean Hagen's "Harriet" is my*

*favorite character in Side Street. Your description of her is exactly as I see and*

*feel her. "Ceased to matter a long time ago to anyone" and "disposable" are painfully*

*true words. She's to be used and abused and..*

 

It's a great minor role for Hagen. It stays with you. Love the screen caps and that song.

 

*You are very correct about that. We are both drawn to the vulnerabilities of*

*women. We wish to protect them and to make them feel appreciated. Gloria*

*Grahame was one of the best at playing a vulnerable woman and in a very sexy*

*way. Yeah, you're right, Molo, you AND I wouldn't last a New York minute in film noir.*

 

This is a big problem for sensitive, caring guys like us. We're too big hearted. They'll trap us and put us through hell every time. It's like on this board. If you let your guard down and show a hint of vulnerability or true feeling certain female posters will come along and throw a sucker punch. It's all a big set up. ;)

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*This is a big problem for sensitive, caring guys like us. We're too big hearted. They'll trap us and put us through hell every time. It's like on this board. If you let your guard down and show a hint of vulnerability or true feeling certain female posters will come along and throw a sucker punch. It's all a big set up. ;)*

 

Hey, don't look at me! I would never do that! ;)

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What's the score, Chi-TOwen? -- I enjoyed reading the ChiO checklist. I'm sure

it comes as no surprise that many of your ingredients appeal to me, as well. Ambiguity

and conflicted characters are two components that I find very appealing. And, obviously,

creative visuals will always pull me in. It's why I so enjoy German silents and film noir,

and why I sometimes struggle with Hollywood flicks from the 30s.

 

I like the Cocteau quote. That one is new to me.

 

Where's the score, Grahame's Guy? -- In a film like Baby Face Stanwyck

uses sex to achieve security. She's really the whole show. In Public Enemy Mae

Clarke gets the grapefruit but it's Harlow that is more central to the story but she

doesn't cross over to femme fatale status. In a film like Hold Your Man she is victim

and the film becomes a "women in the big house" picture. I would have to watch it

again to see if Ladies They Talk About comes a little closer but still it basically

becomes another prison story with Stanwyck stuck in the usual pre-code ending.

 

Of the films you reference, I have only seen Baby Face. "Lily Powers" is

definitely a femme fatale to me. She puts the screws to every man of value to

her. And knowing her background is important to knowing her.

 

My point is that the gangster/crime drama never meshed with the pre-code woman.

 

I haven't seen many gangster films from the 30s, but my impression was that the molls

were to be slapped around. They were weak. In film noir, femmes fatale are usually

strong. Molls take it while femmes fatale give it. If my impression of molls is correct,

then I'd certainly agree with you about the other pre-code women being stronger than

they.

 

Later in films like Lang's Fury and the film Let Us Live which I consider forerunners

of noir to some degree the Silvia Sydney and Maureen O'Sullivan characters are

completely noble, seeking vindication for their wronged men.

 

I haven't seen Let Us Live, but I've seen Fury. I do believe Fury to be

a precursor to film noir because of its social commentary. Fritz Lang's You Only Live

Once is another film that is very noirish. I just love the paranoia of the film.

 

The changing tastes of the war and the post-war era along with other influences

finally brought out the femme fatale. A character like Ann Savage's Vera could never

have existed in the pre-code era.

 

I'm new to classic film, so I'm still trying to figure out if my assumptions match reality.

One of the assumptions I've been working under is that Hollywood's films of the 30s

were geared more to women and that post-WWII, Hollywood started to make more films

that were aimed at men. Gangster films seem to be the most "masculine" of films from

the 30s with some horror and westerns thrown in.

 

It also seems to me as if many of the films from the 30s were escapist fare that featured

high society and that post-WWII featured more films of "everyday" people. You have seen

many more films than me, so please set me straight.

 

I may have erred by saying Detour was in the vein of the more straightforward

crime thrillers. I was trying to basically restate the fact that noir is a varied

genre. There are many different shades on noir.

 

That is very true. And as ChiO stated, film noir can be found in other genres.

 

People become fixated or obsessed, if you will, on a goal or ideal or something. It's

a very human thing. I love how noir explores the darker side of humanity and the

psychological conflicts people face. The great gift of man to chose the wrong path. It's

very compelling.

 

Precisely. Most of us experience this in our life. We think to ourselves, if only I had

this, I would be happy. We all want. Film noir is the "genre" that I believe shows the

wanting of man the best.

 

It's a great minor role for Hagen. It stays with you.

 

I just love how her character is seemingly insignificant yet she's quite significant. Many

films feature wonderful "throwaway" characters, but what I like about film noir's "throwaways"

is that they are society's "throwaways." They are down-and-outs, has-beens,

been-around-the-blocks, once-like-yous.

 

You are very correct about that. We are both drawn to the vulnerabilities of

women. We wish to protect them and to make them feel appreciated. Gloria

Grahame was one of the best at playing a vulnerable woman and in a very sexy

way. Yeah, you're right, Molo, you AND I wouldn't last a New York minute in film noir.

 

This is a big problem for sensitive, caring guys like us. We're too big hearted. They'll trap

us and put us through hell every time. It's like on this board. If you let your guard down

and show a hint of vulnerability or true feeling certain female posters will come along

and throw a sucker punch. It's all a big set up.

 

:) We're born suckers. ;) And that means, we actually are the perfect kind of chump

for film noir. A femme fatale is only as good as the fool she fools.

 

Film Noir Fool

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*It's why I so enjoy German silents and film noir,*

*and why I sometimes struggle with Hollywood flicks from the 30s.*

 

I'll bet you'd have enjoyed *Vampyr* and *Pandora's Box*. B-)

 

*It also seems to me as if many of the films from the 30s were escapist fare that featured*

*high society and that post-WWII featured more films of "everyday" people.*

 

I'd also be interested in ChiO's opinion about this. From what I've read, the reason that many movies of the 30's were such escapist fare had a lot to do with people wanting to get away from the everyday reality of the Great Depression. Postwar movies probably allowed for a reexamination of American life in the wake of WW2, and a return to some sort of normality.

 

*:) We're born suckers. ;) And that means, we actually are the perfect kind of chump*

*for film noir. A femme fatale is only as good as the fool she fools.*

 

This film fatale ain't foolin' ;)

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Merci, mon General, pour votre reponse!

 

The way you broke it down first helps me understand the main draws to film noir and its

subtexts. You seem to like the fatalistic element, especially.

 

Jean Cocteau said he preferred mythology to history because: history begins in truth and ends in lies, whereas mythology originates in a lie and progresses toward truth.

 

Hmmmm....that sounds dangerously high above me head, but let me guess this much:

Is the "lie" spoken of the fact that we are starting with a work of "ficton", of make-believe?

Or is something false the character believes? What else might it be? I'm still curious...

 

That quote reminds me of another, by Alfred Hitchcock I think, but I'm not 100% sure. He

said, roughly, that while many people believe film is the truth told 24 frames per second, he

believed it is a lie told 24 frames per second.

 

See! There's still plenty of room on your couch. :)

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Bonjour, MM!

 

It's like on this board. If you let your guard down and show a hint of vulnerability or true feeling certain female posters will come along and throw a sucker punch. It's all a big set up.

 

For goodness sake! Tell me who she is, the witch, and I'll scratch her eyes out! Who is

the wench that made our Molo think that way. :)

 

DBTN013.jpg

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*That quote reminds me of another, by Alfred Hitchcock I think, but I'm not 100% sure. He*

*said, roughly, that while many people believe film is the truth told 24 frames per second, he believed it is a lie told 24 frames per second.*

 

Actually, the quote is attributed to Jean-Luc Godard:

 

?Life is truth at 24 frames per second. And every cut is a lie.?

-Jean-Luc Godard*

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_MissG_ said: *That quote reminds me of another, by Alfred Hitchcock I think....*

 

Actually, that quote reminded me of a different quote -- and I'm shocked, shocked, I say that you didn't throw it in my face (you're too gracious) -- from a movie by a director that some greatly admire: When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

 

And speaking of Godard, instead of the Windy City list of things I look for in a movie and, therefore, film noir, I should have just quoted (bow heads) Samuel Fuller from Pierrot le fou: Film is like a battleground. Love. Hate. Action. Violence. In one word, emotion.

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I agree with Sammy! :) Except I'd add a few other emotions to the mix, too and can

we please have that most human of arts thrown in, just a small dosage: poetry?

 

So it was Godard who said my quote? Merci for the clarification.

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_FG_ said: It also seems to me as if many of the films from the 30s were escapist fare that featured high society and that post-WWII featured more films of "everyday" people.

 

And _FF_ replied: *I'd also be interested in ChiO's opinion about this. From what I've read, the reason that many movies of the 30's were such escapist fare had a lot to do with people wanting to get away from the everyday reality of the Great Depression. Postwar movies probably allowed for a reexamination of American life in the wake of WW2, and a return to some sort of normality.*

 

I tend to question sociological explanations when it comes to movies. My movie watching experience is skewed (both intentionally and unintentionally) and I certainly haven't made a study of the topic. Such views, e.g., '30s = escapist and post-WWII = realism (or something like that), are generally accepted, are attractive, make a facially valid point, and can help in casual discussion, but I have doubts as to whether they really hold up.

 

Some issues (and never any answers):

 

Aren't movies, as a general proposition, "escapist" regardless of form and content? Despite high-falutin' analysis and treatment as works of art (discourses that I love), aren't movies for most people, including we (too) deep-thinkers, a form of entertainment. Art, after all, can be entertaining and it takes us somewhere else, i.e. helps us escape. What we're each escaping may vary, but that's another topic(s).

 

What is the universe being analyzed? All films of a period? All feature films of a period? All with a significant national distribution? Does one take into account gross income generated? Number of paying viewers? U.S. productions only?

 

When is one looking at the universe? Looking at how the viewers (or critics) at the time saw the movies vs. how we now look at those movies? Doesn't the latter become, at least in part, a function of what movies of that period both survive and are available to be seen? And maybe most significantly, the analysis of a prior period's movies may tell us more about the period in which the analysis occurs than it does of the period being analyzed.

 

How does one account for these '30s gems: All Quiet on the the Western Front, Freaks, Scarface (and the rise the Gangster genre), Our Daily Bread, The Bride of Frankenstein, Fury, You Only Live Once, Only Angels Have Wings -- these are arguably closer to film noir (which, most would argue, did not yet exist -- yeah, right) than the usual conception of "escapist". Or these "normal" and "realistic" movies of the '40s: The Palm Beach Story, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, The Paleface, On the Town, The Pirate, Samson and Delilah.

 

Get me the grant funds and I'll do the study.

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*Get me the grant funds and I'll do the study.*

 

Please submit a grant proposal in triplicate and attach proposed budget. ;)

 

Seriously, you raise some valid points, and I'll be the first to confess that there may be some degree of generalization in the examples that were given. But at least some of the 30's movies were incredibly escapist fare, notably some of the musicals, imho. For purposes of a friendly discussion (as opposed to a rigorous, scientific study) I think we could talk about what our impressions are of certain time periods, I guess. B-)

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*But at least some of the 30's movies were incredibly escapist fare, notably some of the musicals, imho. For purposes of a friendly discussion (as opposed to a rigorous, scientific study) I think we could talk about what our impressions are of certain time periods, I guess.*

 

I agree and tried to acknowledge that point. And, in order to have friendly discussions, one has to assume some common basic generalizations. My stick-in-the-mud point was that, upon reflection, one should (or, at least, I do) take the basic generalizations with a huge grain of salt. Reducing the '30s, for example, to Musicals and Screwball Comedies does a disservice to the scope of the films of that period, and there's always that possibility that the basic generalizations are false. But what's a little falsity among friends?

 

And, of course, if I were asked what type of movies predominated in the '30s, I'd say Musicals and Screwball Comedies. Did they? I don't know. But that's what I read, and I sure seems that alot of the movies that are watched now from then fall into those categories.

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*My stick-in-the-mud point was that, upon reflection, one should (or, at least, I do) take the basic generalizations with a huge grain of salt.*

 

I agree completely, and I usually do, even if I do not explicitly say so. ;)

 

*Reducing the '30s, for example, to Musicals and Screwball Comedies does a disservice to the scope of the films of that period,*

 

It wasn't my intention to "reduce" the 30's to carefree musicals and screwball comedies, although I'd certainly argue that they may have reached an artistic high point during the decade, and possibly accounted for a greater share of the studios' output than in any other decade that followed. Yes, there were monster movies, and dramas, and biopics, and gangster movies, too. And some of them are memorable. But personally, the most fun of all 30's movies are the musicals and screwball comedies. Those are the two genres that, in my opinion, reflected in a greater degree the public's need for super-escapist fare. This heightened need for escapism may have even continued through the war years, but in my opinion began to fade after 1945.

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*FrankGrimes wrote:I'm new to classic film, so I'm still trying to figure out if my assumptions match reality. One of the assumptions I've been working under is that Hollywood's films of the 30s*

*were geared more to women and that post-WWII, Hollywood started to make more films*

*that were aimed at men. Gangster films seem to be the most "masculine" of films from*

*the 30s with some horror and westerns thrown in.*

 

*It also seems to me as if many of the films from the 30s were escapist fare that featured*

*high society and that post-WWII featured more films of "everyday" people. You have seen*

*many more films than me, so please set me straight.*

 

Well ChiO gave the smart answer. I will merely babble as I'm prone to do. I wrote all this last night and now with ChiO's post it looks silly but I wrote it so dagnabbit I'm posting it. :P I basically agree with ChiO's points. There are always numerous examples of exceptions to a generalization about a particular period in film. I also wanted to touch on what you said about having a harder time getting into those lighter thirties films.

 

 

In the depths of the depression and before enforcement of the code, films were grittier with more social commentary. Films like *Gabriel Over the White House,* *Man's Castle,* and *Wild Boys of the Road* pack more of a punch than films made after the enforcement of the code. Warner's was perceived as the more masculine studio but they had to eventually change their heroes from the gangsters to the G-Men. Compare a pre-code film like *Mayor of Hell* to it's tamer remake *Crime School.* Look at the career of sad eyed, suffering Sylvia Sidney who after the code, was snatched up by Lang, who insisted that she be cast in his first two American films which we've already mentioned as precursors to noir. She also appeared in films like *Dead End* and *Sabotage* but she was never suited to lighter fare.

 

In general Hollywood did move to more escapist fare. Shirley Temple cheered people up. Fred and Ginger transported people to a dream world. Screwball comedies both envied and skewered the rich. Nick Charles gladly lived off Nora's money and Errol Flynn had one hand on his sword and the other around Olivia de Havilland. Edward G. Robinson played the gangster for laughs in *A Slight Case of Murder.* You also had films like *Mutiny on the Bounty* one of my all time favorites and also more of a guy picture. My mom tells me that in the mid thirties all the guys she knew in her working class (poor) Richmond neighborhood went to the local theater to watch the westerns. They seemed to have made a hundred B westerns a year back then. If you wanted to catch a film like *Stella Dallas* or *The Good Earth* you went downtown. Personally I love the light stuff, I usually go wherever a film wants to take me. I still look to these films as an escape from my day to day anxieties but I can escape inside a film like *Flying Down to Rio* as easily as a film like *Out of the Past,* it just depends on my mood at the time. I do, however, find the latter types of films more provocative.

 

As the world moved to war and people got more anxious films got a little darker. Films like *Let Us Live,* *The Letter* and *The Maltese Falcon*. The remarkably daring *To Be or Not to Be.* Heck, even Fred and Ginger edged a little toward the dark side in the Castle biopic, the last of their thirties run. You had those homefront films, *Mrs Minver* and such and those crazy Fox musicals with Carmen Miranda. Preston Sturges had his great run. The two genres that really stick out for me in the post-war era are the grittier noirs and the big musicals. I also see the focus on the "everyday person" and a lot of films dealing with returning soldiers, not just in noir type films but in dramas like *From This Day Forward* and also one showing up tomorrow on TCM that I would recommend, *Until the End of Time*. These films can contain elements of noir, as ChiO said the genre is very fluid. I really love noir films but sometimes I need a little Carmen Miranda to balance things out. :)

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Thank you for that great write-up, Molo! You said a lot of things that I was trying to get across, and you probably wrote it more clearly than I would have. ;)

 

*and also one showing up tomorrow on TCM that I would recommend, Until the End of Time.*

 

I've never seen it and was already looking forward to it - all the more so after your recommendation! B-)

 

*These films can contain elements of noir, as ChiO said the genre is very fluid. I really love noir films but sometimes I need a little Carmen Miranda to balance things out. :)*

 

Same here, sometimes I'm in a "lady in a tutti-frutti hat" mood and Carmen Miranda really hits the spot! ;)

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*MissGoddess wrote:For goodness sake! Tell me who she is, the witch, and I'll scratch her eyes out! Who is the wench that made our Molo think that way.*

 

Did I say that? :) Well it wasn't you or Marilyn that's for sure.

 

Hmmm...I just keep digging but can't seem to get out of this hole. ;)

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> {quote:title=molo14 wrote:}{quote}

> *MissGoddess wrote:For goodness sake! Tell me who she is, the witch, and I'll scratch her eyes out! Who is the wench that made our Molo think that way.*

>

> Did I say that? :) Well it wasn't you or Marilyn that's for sure.

>

> Hmmm...I just keep digging but can't seem to get out of this hole. ;)

 

Well, Mr Grimes is there to keep you company. :) ChiO, on the other hand, looks down

upon us all from a loftier vantage point---and prays this discussion does not devolve,

once again, into drivel and nonsense. :P (To better prevent that, I shall now slip

back into the shadows---where it's very cozy with Mr. Doniphon ;) )

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The unwarrantedly self-deprecating _MissG_ said: *ChiO, on the other hand, looks down upon us all from a loftier vantage point---and prays this discussion does not devolve, once again, into drivel and nonsense.*

 

Is that an insult or a compliment? You are a cagey one, you are. I should have credited you with helping me (almost) formulate what makes a film (most likely noir) one that I like...you and that Ford vs. Mann Western-thing.

 

Anyways, drivel and nonsense are my forte. Unfortunately, they are too often unintentional.

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