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A Walk on the Noir Side


rohanaka

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> {quote:title=FrankGrimes wrote:}{quote}That all depends. Do we associate with Max Cady (Robert Mitchum in Cape Fear)?

 

I've personally known men (and women) very much like him. While Cady is an extreme example, I think you can find him in today's newspapers if you look. However, he is not the protagonist of *Cape Fear* which was my point of reference. As you noted, the other characters are more typed and present themselves as doorways or blind alleys.

 

A good example can be found in the original film that kicked off this thread, *The Narrow Margin* where detective Brown chooses to judge a mobsters wife, claiming he knows what kind of woman would marry such a man. As a result, he endangers the actual woman he is seeking to protect and discovers that he has been fooled by one of his own, who sacrifices her life in the line of duty. He has to come to terms (like we all do) with the fact that people can't be simply evaluated on looks, or the situations they find themselves in. While I can't say that every noir follows this of line reasoning, most do, even *Cape Fear*.

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I've personally known men (and women) very much like him.

 

Really? Wow! Thank goodness I haven't. I'd struggle to be around a homicidal

rapist. Oh, my.

 

While Cady is an extreme example, I think you can find him in today's newspapers

if you look. However, he is not the protagonist of Cape Fear which was my point

of reference. As you noted, the other characters are more typed and present

themselves as doorways or blind alleys.

 

Oh, now I get it. I thought you meant all characters were for us to see ourselves

in. You mean protagonists. I agree with you. If we can't find ourselves pulling for our

"hero" in some shape or form during the story, we won't give a darn in the end. Film

noir challenges the viewer, though, by asking us to sympathize with those doing

wrong. It's easy to pull for the guy doing right, but the guy doing wrong... ? This is

the "grey" I speak of with film noir.

 

A character like "Max Cady" is drawn black. He's an easy one to hate. There's no

subtlety there. No blurring. No grey. You take a film like Act of Violence,

and you'll see a nice mix of blurring between the protagonist and antagonist.

 

A good example can be found in the original film that kicked of this thread, The

Narrow Margin where detective Brown chooses to judge a mobsters wife, claiming

he knows what kind of woman would marry such a man. As a result, he endangers

the actual woman he is seeking to protect and discovers that he has been fooled

by one of his own, who sacrifices her life in the line of duty. He has to come to

terms (like we all do) with the fact that people can't be simply evaluated on

looks, or the situations they find themselves in. While, I can't say that every

noir follows this of line reasoning, most do, even Cape Fear.

 

Excellent point, and wonderfully said. It's the "moral" of that story... film noir style.

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Just ask Quiet Gal

 

Hey don't ask me anything... for once in my life I am just content so sit back and read...

 

(I know.. almost impossible to believe...ha. Try to keep your cheering down to a dull roar of applause, ha)

 

You guys have got an interesting chat going on here... carry on.

 

Molo says:

Welcome to the dark side Kathy

 

Thanks!! And don't worry... I've brought my handy dandy flashlight..ha. (now if I can only remember where I put those batteries...)

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

> I've personally known men (and women) very much like him.

>

> Really? Wow! Thank goodness I haven't. I'd struggle to be around a homicidal

> rapist. Oh, my.

 

What's interesting about Cady is most men have either said or heard other men say very similar derogatory comments about women. Cady is simply the real-life embodiment of their locker room bravado and carries thought and spoken word to physical conclusion. As many might say, "they're only words", but words flow out of thought and many times result in action, sometimes tragically.

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What's interesting about Cady is most men have either said or heard other men say

very similar derogatory comments about women. Cady is simply the real-life

embodiment of their locker room bravado and carries thought and spoken word

to physical conclusion. As many might say, "they're only words", but words flow

out of thought and many times result in action, sometimes tragically.

 

Now that's some serious stuff there. Very heavy. There are definitely worst men in

this world than "Max Cady," sadly. But, thankfully, I've never run across a guy who

even joked about **** a 13-year-old girl. If one would, they truly are headed for

trouble, in some shape or form. That mindset is frightening.

 

But your point is an excellent one. I agree with you. Men may not fantasize of robbing

a bank, but they fantasize of power and money. With power and money comes women

and all the other fantasies of man. Film noir.

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

> They are, for the most part, more fantastic than realistic in their situations and characters. Many seem to be a form of visual slumming, where the comfortable audience gets a peek at the "dark side" of life, at least as imagined by Hollywood. Now you can sit in your cozy chair, have a drink, and sit back and watch some sucker scratch around in a series of big city dives. Of course this in no way compromises their entertainment value. It likely adds to it. I do take away one moral lesson from these films: Never leave a loaded gun around the premises. You're apt to be shot in the back.

> By the most unlikeliest of people.

 

I think you just hit the bull's eye with that, sineast. That is a big part of their appeal, for me. I know I'll never hang out with hard-boiled private detectives, hoodlums, gangsters, all those kinds of characters. I also would have never associated with them if I'd been a regular gal in the 40s or 50s. So, yes, it definitely served as a vehicle to look at the "dark side" of life from a safe distance.

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*I'm not in a war, I'm not a mad scientist, I'm not dancing and singing, I'm not riding*

*horses with a holster, I'm not living in a lighthouse, I don't have a butler and throw*

*cocktail parties with the rich. But what goes in film noir can be me. I can be with a*

*femme fatale at an urban club.*

 

But are you having any fun?

 

You are right. That is part of the appeal of noir. We can easily see ourselves in that situation and most likely unfortunately in that situation. The other situations, being less likely, have their own appeal but don't carry the potential dread that comes with being caught in a "noir" world.

 

If I could find a nice fedora...

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> {quote:title=movieman1957 wrote:}{quote}

> *I'm not in a war, I'm not a mad scientist, I'm not dancing and singing, I'm not riding*

> *horses with a holster, I'm not living in a lighthouse, I don't have a butler and throw*

> *cocktail parties with the rich. But what goes in film noir can be me. I can be with a*

> *femme fatale at an urban club.*

>

> But are you having any fun?

>

> You are right. That is part of the appeal of noir. We can easily see ourselves in that situation and most likely unfortunately in that situation. The other situations, being less likely, have their own appeal but don't carry the potential dread that comes with being caught in a "noir" world.

>

> If I could find a nice fedora...

 

Well, I don't have much experience hanging out with private detectives, gangsters, and other dangerous criminal types of the sort you'd expect to find in most noirs. But maybe someday I'll get lucky! ;)

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That's the charm of the cinema. Hanging out with real bad guys is very dangerous.

Not all noirs are portraits of the old witticism about life as a sewer seen through a

glass-bottom boat. Laura is noirish, though maybe it's more of a murder mystery.

It takes place in an upscale world where there aren't many shabby places or charac-

ters, where the poorest guy is probably the cop, played by Dana Andrews. Waldo

gets quite a charge by reminding Andrews of his low status and, from Lydecker's

pov, his lack of intelligence. So you don't always have to live in a dingy hotel or

apartment to live the noir life, though that can't hurt.

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_Ark_ wrote a while back: *Fate is a word often associated with Noir and bandied about by characters (and writers), but I would argue that this is an intentional misdirection. We all have the potential for good or evil, and conflict in the genre is defined by personal choice. Rationalization is never effective in Noir. It might fool the protagonist for awhile, but in the end, there is usually a point of revelation where he or she must come to grips with who they are and the choices they have made.*

 

There you go again, trying to make me think. Might we summarize your position as Free Will?

 

Walter _chooses_ to go to a specific house. Phyllis _chooses_ to come down the stairs with that ankle bracelet. Did they both choose to be at that house at that time together? One could call it God, Coincidence, Film Contrivance, or the Invisible Hand of Adam Smith. The usual noir shorthand (for me anyway) is Fate. It approaches the mystical. Free Will certainly plays a role -- sometimes a major role -- but somewhere along the line, Fate just trips you (to mix my movies). Walter may see himself more clearly now and question the choices he made, but there was something bigger out there over which he had no control (a tyrannical director, perhaps?).

 

Yes, these are morality plays that go back to at least *Oedipus* (did Sophocles have final cut?). Deus ex machina forever. And bring on the Greek Chorus.

 

Realism, schmealism. Just give me some shadows, a wet street at night, and a dark stairway.

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

> Walter may see himself more clearly now and question the choices he made, but there was something bigger out there over which he had no control (a tyrannical director, perhaps?).

>

 

If we overlook the fact that Walter is in fact a fictional creation, written by a screenwriter, we can still choose to believe that Walter could have decided right there and then that maybe he shouldn't have gone near Ms. Dietrichson with a 10-foot pole. ;)

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*we can still choose to believe that Walter could have decided right there and then that maybe he shouldn't have gone near Ms. Dietrichson with a 10-foot pole.*

 

Of course. That's your Free Will to choose to believe that. But it was Fate that brought those two together at that precise time (and, maybe, a screenwriter and director).

 

I'm just a fluffy ol' Mystic at heart.

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Well, I was just trying to illustrate how there is an element of Free Will, but I didn't mean to cast doubt in the element of Fate. Yes, fate created the situation. Like many characters in noir, Walter Neff is faced with a situation that is tempting, that just happens along, and that presents the potential of something very rewarding - *if* he gets away with it, of course. Robinson's character should be acting as his conscience all along, telling him not to go along with the plan presented to him by Ms. Dietrichson.

 

So, it was maybe a matter of fate that presented him with that "opportunity" (or maybe more of a temptation). And there was an element of free will, but what is tricky here is that it is the element of Fate that brings along the "opportunity" that will present the right temptation at just the right time, to make it all but irresistible to Neff. A lesser temptation, and he might not have lost his moral bearings.

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There you go again, trying to make me think. Might we summarize your position as Free Will?

 

That's one aspect that I see, but I would not say that it covers the entire genre or even how characters see themselves.

 

Walter _chooses_ to go to a specific house. Phyllis _chooses_ to come down the stairs with that ankle bracelet. Did they both choose to be at that house at that time together? One could call it God, Coincidence, Film Contrivance, or the Invisible Hand of Adam Smith. The usual noir shorthand (for me anyway) is Fate. It approaches the mystical. Free Will certainly plays a role -- sometimes a major role -- but somewhere along the line, Fate just trips you (to mix my movies). Walter may see himself more clearly now and question the choices he made, but there was something bigger out there over which he had no control (a tyrannical director, perhaps?).

 

The idea of fate often has links to Relativism, where characters believe there are no absolutes and rationalize truth as they see it. In this sense, they surrender to feelings and desires rather than principals.

 

In *Double Indemnity*, we see MacMurray and Stanwyck, two very good actors, playing roles in an extremely typed and mechanized fashion, while Edward G. Robinson's character is warm and played from a more humanistic perspective. This is not a coincidence. Phyllis and Walter are heartless, not governed by right or wrong, but passion and greed. Keys lives by a moral code, which is what grounds him (the film actually pivots on Robinson's role). Thus, as opportunity presents itself, Phyllis and Walter are blown by the wind, working together when it is convenient, and opposing one another when not. Walter's struggle to regain his humanity at the end of the story, causes MacMurray to play his role in a less clipped fashion. His conscience returns and he realizes his true friendship in Robinson, which is what makes the close so touching.

 

Realism, schmealism. Just give me some shadows, a wet street at night, and a dark stairway.

 

Nothing wrong with that! If these films were not entertaining we would not be drawn to them, but if they were only entertainment, I doubt we would be discussing them over sixty years later.

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