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Daily Dose of Darkness #3: Under a Full Moon (The opening scene of The Letter)


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I wasn't as much shocked as intrigued by this opening scene. As far as important contributions to the genre, there are many. This is an excellent intro because it means the audience already knows the end result of the conflict. The writers and director are tasked with telling the story and keeping the audience's attention even when they know the outcome. This could be the end of a long drawn out event that we've yet to see or this could be the middle of the story where the writers must explain why this happened as well as show the audience what happens after. Several other things seem to be important contributions as well. This scene introduces so many elements that could be explored in the film and seem different than the two other intros we've seen, namely: race, class differences, and most strikingly, gender. The significance of the moon and changing shadows was also typical of the manipulation of light in the film noir genre/style-one of the only commonalities in all three of the films this week.

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It looks like a hot sunny  lazy summer night. The moon is bright and it’s quiet, when all of a sudden gunshot. I have seen this  movie several times so i was not surprised  but  if you  had not seen the movie, i can understanding seeing the  Bette Davis character  shooting a man to death would make someone jump out of their seat!  

Once again the surroundings are not what they  seem. The night is peaceful but suddenly it become violent. You see where it begin quietly , then the violence is thrushed upon you.  
Light to  dark . 
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The opening of the film lulled you into a false sense of security.  It was a nice night, people and creatures were going about doing their own thing - when suddenly - the shot rings out and then we see the "incident".  What better way to wake a person up who is wondering if this is a film noir film or did someone goof up?  I think it is perfect because the setting isn't your typical for film noir, yet there are the shadows, the hint of darkness both real and imagined and the shock of what has occured and then Davis - draws me in right away.

 

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After a double crescendo of tympani heard over a shot of clouds riding a full moon, the soundtrack diminishes to match a close shot of the calm drip of sap from a rubber tree into a catch bucket on the Diamond L Singapore rubber plantation.  The eye level camera pans stealthily through the lush nighttime, voyeuristically peering into the native workers' sleeping huts, as soft flutes and gentle bells tinkle among their overheard voices.  Through the deep shadows, the camera slowly rises above the thatched roof to an obscured view of the plantation's manor house, placing the viewer as a menace lurking in the woods.

 

As the camera continues to pan, a gunshot startles a macaw from its perch on a stick fence.  A lighted porch is seen through a clearing in the brush.  A man comes from the brightly lit interior, followed by a woman and a second gunshot.  Here the director makes his first cut.  The serenity is shattered.  

 

The tension mounts as the cuts now come quickly.  Dogs start. The resting workers rouse themselves. The camera cuts closer and closer.  Dogs bark.  The workers shout.  The woman fires the gun over and over from the light of the porch, emptying it into the man fleeing, and falling, into the dark.

 

The camera tightens in to a head and shoulders shot of the woman on the bottom porch step.  Behind her is the lighted house. She drops the gun.  Her enigmatic face is now in shadow, staring at her handiwork.  She has taken herself closer to the darkness, but remains a step above, still a part of the privileged world of light and ease.

 

This opening can be seen as ground-breakng film noir in the suddenness of the audiences' thwarted expectations.  The film begins at what, in traditional storytelling, would be the denouement; a violent murder.  If anyone had noted the brief opening shot of the full moon under an ominous soundtrack, they may have been led to expect something nefarious, but most likely from the workers huts. The next shot, a long, fluid pan through the deep, languid shadows obscuring the workers, relaxed and sleeping, as soft music plays, lulls the viewer into expecting languid scenes to follow. Gunshots and murder between the Brits, especially with a woman wielding the weapon, would have been startling. 

 

The reaction shots of the workers is equally unexpected.  They have seen what has happened.  They know who did it.  Dark clouds cover the moon sending black shadows over the witnesses and the murderess, who all now co-exist in a more complicated and dangerous world. 

 

The woman, seen from a high angle shot looking down at her victim, is startled by the light of the moon again revealed.  As the workers gather around the dead man, the woman retreats up to the porch, then into the home's comfortable living room.  She is now back in her white world, her accustomed position of power restored.  The only difference is that the workers and the viewers know she is a murderer.

 

Film noir plays with expectations of character and storyline, overturning both to reveal the tangled, dark depths of human relations.  This opening clip teases the audience by giving a hint of what is to come, then negating it, then contradicting itself, then turning the world "upright" again.  It is an undeniable harbinger of the genre that would soon blossom (or fester) in the American cinema.

 

 

 

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A foreign exotic tropical island at night with a full moon usually conveys a romantic and intimate atmosphere. In William Wyler's The Letter (1941), the sound of gunshots throw us and this otherwise tranquil scene into alarm, confusion and mayhem.  Here, the shadows, darkness and sounds of nature hold secrets; whereas, moonlight reveals them - the murdered, and murderess (i.e. Bette Davis).  As the clouds pass-by the moon and moonlight is bright and strong, Bette Davis suddenly turns to glance at it as if she were being caught in the act - her eyes show fear and guilt but as she looks back into the darkness at the still and lifeless body, her eyes (semi-closed) and emotions are hidden.

 

This film's dynamic opening certainly commands one's absolute attention and focus.  Afterwards we are riddled with questions and the film continues to hold our morbid curiosity until all is revealed.

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The camera displays a full moon, swelling silver in the tropical summer heat of night, as the workers on the rubber plantation toss in discomfort, and a series of shots ring out.  We’re aware it’s a noir film, so expectation is low - after all, The Letter is looking to be just another well-made thriller.


 


Until we see a woman relentlessly pulling the trigger - and that woman happens to be Ms. Bette Davis - cinema’s grand dame.  No, The Letter is not your standard gritty film noir, but a classy mystery wrapped up in secrets that director William Wyler will uncover, all in good time. 


 


This is one of the most famous film openings in all of filmdom, and not just because a woman is pulling the trigger in the moonlight.  Wyler choose to introduce his genteel lead character in a murderous act, action that was usually reserved for gangster gun molls and other shady ladies of the night.  The opening scene shakes our film - and moral - sensibilities, demanding that we see her with new eyes.  I can only imagine what the 1940 audience was thinking, but when I first saw The Letter in as a callous youth, over fifty years ago, I knew I was seeing something transformational.


 

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Opening shot establishes a bright full moon as a source of illumination, then the camera reveals that we're in a Rubber plantation, We float along past the trees, dripping (like blood?) overflowing into the buckets. The pace is deceptively sedate as the workers find their way to their bunks. There's also a deceptive placidity to the music underscoring the scene. Then the main house is revealed and we hear the first gunshot but do not see the source, then the victim bursts through the door followed very deliberately by his executioner. Bette Davis' face is impassive as she empties the revolver into her target, and mostly in shadow until the full moon emerges from behind a cloud to reveal her.

I've yet to see this movie, and I'm not a great fan of Miss Davis, but the opening scene has me intrigued.

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Such a lovely evening.  Perfect.  Nonetheless, the drip, drip, drip of the sap from the rubber tree presages the bang, bang, bang of the shots from the gun.  You wonder why so many shots?  Bette Davis’ right hand stays open throughout the scene just as when she let the gun drop.   The moon is out, goes behind the clouds, and comes out again.  I don’t know that I have ever seen a moon react like that.  The sun, perhaps.  But the moon?  But then again I have never shot a man on a beautiful evening on a rubber plantation….

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With this opening, I am back to fully engaged. I was thrilled to see Bette Davis blast that man and can't wait to find out why! I wasn't at all surprised by this opening sequence - an action-packed opening that invites curiosity is what I expect from film noir. I'm eager to watch the rest of this film and find out where that opening will take us.

 

Also, how awesome is Bette?!?

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When I first saw this film, I was definitely shocked when I saw Bette shoot the man. Looking at the opening again I noticed how the music gives the audeience a false sense of security and showing the workers resting puts you in a calm state of mind but the gun shot snaps you right out of it. Also what this film does that has become a staple to a film noir is to show the audience an event then backtrack for the rest of the movie which keeps the audience constantly guessing about what will happen next.

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Nothing shatters a quiet night like a gunshot -- and a killing that literally plunges the scene into shadowy darkness. The introspective look on the shooter's face speaks volumes about what is to come. This is an opening that makes the movie impossible to turn away from. 

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The third Daily Dose in a row which begins with normal people doing normal things. Yesterday's opening scene rushed us headlong into danger, today's lulls us in and then bang, well actually six bangs lol. At least one person mentioned how Betty Davis keeps her gun hand extended, as if it isn't really her hand at all. That's just great acting/direction that in the viewers mind may foreshadow a psychological problem. A common noir theme. We also have a woman doing the killing, I'm not certain thats something that was common in pre-noir cinema.

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I loved how the music lulls us into the camp.  It's a sly, minor tune that leads the viewer to stay on their toes.

I love how the moon illuminates the misdeed committed by Davis.  She is startled to have her crime exposed in such a fashion.

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I think what stands out to me the most is the calm of the night and the blasts from the gun, the way Bette looks as she shoots, removed and unfeeling, and then the moon, hidden, appearing and then hiding again. The mystery laid out before us, giving us the answer before the question, the ending before the beginning. It's twisted. Dark. And draws us in. Noir at its best. 

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This was a fascinating opening to me. The hum drum beginning makes me consider how this night could have been like a 1000 other nights before this one. What makes this different? What could of happened that would cause a woman to shoot a man six times? I don't know why but I automatically assumed the man was her husband for whatever reason and I have never heard of or read about this movie before. So the question that hit me was why would a woman do this to her husband? What could he have done? I will have to watch and see what truly is the case.

 

If my understanding of film noir is remotely on course I feel that this opening really uses the contrasts of light and dark to show different emotions and to help move scenes along rather than strictly using dialogue. Also with the tranquil beginning that is abruptly torn asunder by the sound of gunshots shows once again how noir uses some kind of tension to pull the viewer in immediately.. We don't know what's going on. We get no explanation and that's ok because as badly as we want an answer to the why we have to wait for it.

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The peaceful lull of the plantation had a really calming affect with the a full moon and plantation workers lounging about and resting, then all of a sudden a shot was fired and it completely disrupted the mood. I, for one was quite surprised by this and by how quickly Leslie was in emptying her gun into Hammond. I just loved how the full bright moon quickly gets covered by clouds, signifying the death of Hammond and how the moon's light poured onto the scene of the crime, almost like a spotlight for all to see.

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I think the opening scene of "The Letter" is fantastic. The earliest part of the scene depicts nothing too thrilling -- all is calm. Then suddenly, the quietness and serenity of the night are disrupted by shotguns. I loved the use of the lighting coming from the moon. There was an instant where the moonlight peaks through the clouds and shines on Bette Davis. Something about her face almost appears to portray that her actions or judgment were (literally) clouded. I was surprised to see this Noir with a setting in Singapore, a location that is typically not related to films of this type. 

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With this opening, I am back to fully engaged. I was thrilled to see Bette Davis blast that man and can't wait to find out why! I wasn't at all surprised by this opening sequence - an action-packed opening that invites curiosity is what I expect from film noir. I'm eager to watch the rest of this film and find out where that opening will take us.

 

Also, how awesome is Bette?!?

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We are given a brief opening shot of a full moon, omnisciently contrasted against the night sky like an all-seeing eye from above.  An insistent dripping foreshadows dripping blood and also calls to mind the ticking of a clock or bomb; the score almost seems to build from this, keeping time as its own complexity, and insistence, increases as it segues into a lilting, Asian-inflected melody.  We see a dog pawing around aimlessly, and then we see many people sleeping or moving in that direction, as if lulled to sleep by the ordinariness and quietness of the night, just as the audience is to be lulled into a false sense of quietude and stillness by the characters' own stillness and inactivity.  Then a gunshot, followed by several more, disturbs this peace, and the editing, characterized mainly to this point by extended, gliding tracking shots and dissolves, gives way to a series of quick cuts, showing us a bird startled into activity, then two dogs, and then the men in their hammocks.   The camera focuses first not on the victim but only on the woman who has fired the gun, moving into a close-up of her face, not remorseful but perhaps a bit disbelieving.  The effects of noir chiaroscuro lighting are explicitly called to attention as we are given another shot of the moon, the clouds now filmed pointedly obscuring it, before we cut back to the Singaporean workers now with darkened faces, and then back to the woman again, before the moon accusatorially emerges again and startles her.  We close on her calmly dispensing orders, setting into action the resolution of this killing one way or another, and note that her right hand is still unnaturally open, as if paralyzed into the form after dropping her weapon.

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I hadn't even heard of The Letter until this Daily Dose, but I can definitely see why the intro is such a famous scene. I can't say that I was shocked by what happened (after all, I'd think the majority of films noir have at least one death in them), but my interest certainly piqued when Bette Davis came crashing in with those murderous gunshots. Those sounds rip apart of the serene calm of Singapore, which makes me wonder what devastating thing happened within the house that compelled Bette to shoot her victim. I find that houses, like in Poe's stories, can come to symbolize many things, like the deterioration of a family or the imprisonment of certain thoughts or desires (something terrible is always hiding in the basement of our minds). Not having seen The Letter, though, I can't comment on whether or not the particulars of the house actually symbolize anything, but I thought that I'd still mention it.

 

Since film noir took shape in the American hard-boiled detective novels of the 30s and 40s, I'm interested to see whether or not the police gets involved in all of this (which, I would think they would). I mean, after all, it is a killing; however, there are usually some pretty shady things happening in these films, so who knows for sure. I guess I'll just have to watch it.

 

I'm probably treading on old territory, but I do quite like how the moon shines on what Bette's done and her reaction to this light (those eyes!). It's as if she comes to realize precisely what's she's done. What occurs in the shadows is never meant to be seen in the light (even moonlight), so this brief instance in which she literally sees what she's done is a shock to her, which is very intriguing to us. I love the play between lights and shadows (I even discussed that in two of my blog posts; I looked at both Bergman's The Magician and Laughton's The Night of the Hunter, both of which makes meaning out of light/shadows).

 

Of the three films so far, this is definitely most representative of film noir, and I'm happy and intrigued to see how the genre evolves from here.

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I have seen this opening before but have never seen the whole movie. I love how the gun shots pierce the calm, hot night. Betty Davis empties her gun into him and then keeps as calm as a cucumber and states to tell " there has been an accident" The opening pulls you right into asking questions about what lead up to this? 

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I have seen this movie before but this is the first time I concentrated on the opening scene. The gunshots shock the serenity of this beautiful night. Bette Davis's expression gives nothing away. Instead, the viewer is instantly drawn into the movie with a desire to learn the reason/reasons behind the killing of this man.

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I was at first struck by the calmness of the night, and the poorer workers of a different class clustered together. They were not in the main house. Next the lady of the house fires six shots as a man stumbles out of the doorway way in the dark. When the full moon appears again, the lady`s face is drained of emotion. Now she calls to a worker to summon her husband to tell him that an accident has taken place.She will not let herself consider that a murder may have taken place.

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