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Dr. Rich Edwards

June 12 TCM Film Noir Discussions for #NoirSummer for all 14 Films

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We watched Detour the other night. Very low budget, I think, and pretty hard to swallow in places. Lots of noir elements, mostly impending doom, bad choices, and a truly crazy dame. My favorite part was her makeover from grimy hitchhiker to cocktail party girl. She barely looked like the same person.

 

I'd never seen this movie before, so when she accepts the ride and takes that looooong walk over to the car, I didn't know what to make of that. I should go back and watch that again. Not the whole movie. I'd rather spend the time on a better movie, but that walk, now that I think back on it, had a lot more to it than I got out of it the first time around. 

 

We watched Detour the other night. Very low budget, I think, and pretty hard to swallow in places. Lots of noir elements, mostly impending doom, bad choices, and a truly crazy dame. My favorite part was her makeover from grimy hitchhiker to cocktail party girl. She barely looked like the same person.

 

I'd never seen this movie before, so when she accepts the ride and takes that looooong walk over to the car, I didn't know what to make of that. I should go back and watch that again. Not the whole movie. I'd rather spend the time on a better movie, but that walk, now that I think back on it, had a lot more to it than I got out of it the first time around. 

It was a low budget B movie by one of the good directors Edgar Ulmer.  What really struck me is I saw no beauty or "natural beauty" in Vera.  She reminded me of a cross between two of my most hated women in films Agnes Moorehead in Dark Passge and Mercedes McCambridge as the female gang leader in Touch of Evil.

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Danger Signal is on now.   A good precurser to Mildred Pierce... Classic weasel Zachrey Scott

Danger Signal had all the elements of noir.  Zachary Scott out to better himself at the expense of others, women, but the ending...his bad leg from the beginning when he jumps out the window, getting caught by a root, as his first victim's husband chases him and falling into the ocean, seemed extremely weak to me.

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I'm currently watching Detour and just noticed during the hitchhiking montage (at the14 minute mark) that the first 3 trucks Al rides with (before climbing in with Haskell) are all right-side-drive.   Was that a common feature of trucks in the 40's?  I always think of it as a UK thing...

No it wasn't.  Not sure why they did that other than to keep him the center of the shot.  I almost wonder if they had the negative backwards or something.  It is almost like Night Moves with Hackman riding around shot out the car without the rear view mirror, shot into car with rear view mirror, over and over again.

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I enjoyed all the films tonight, but my favorite was Nightmare Alley. During his career, he was a very underrated actor. Tyrone acted in a wide variety of films musicals, dramas, comedies, westerns, and swashbucklers. Nightmare Alley was a complete change of pace. In a sleazy small time carnival setting, he crookedly worked his way up to the big time. As Stan Carlisle, he didn`t care who he used or hurt. Now that Stan was working in nightclubs, he met someone who was as devious as himself. Lilith Ritter was a psychologist who entered into a get rich scheme with Stan.Stan spurned Litith`s love interest, and when the scam went bad she took most of the money. Stan was left with the only decent thing that he had done in his life. Molly,the young woman he first met in the carnival, became his wife. Molly worked with Stan in his nightclub act. When everything fell apart, he sent her back to the carnival with the majority of his money. Stan became homeless, and he finally ended back at the carnival working as a geek. Molly heard Stan`s screaming after performing one night as the geek. She recognizes him, and they are reunited. I liked Tyrone`s performance in the film. He went against type by playing a cad who uses and hurts people,uses devious methods to get the goods on someone, and is determined to get rich by whatever crooked way he can.

It was a truly enjoyable movie, that went the full length of noir.  Wanting to better his life, and wondering how someone can fall so far to become the Geek, then he does, and they say, for reaching too high.  Exactly what he does.

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THE GANGSTER

 

'Let him pay for his sins. You don't know him, the way he lives. the things he did. He's rotten, no good' 

 

Talk about a pitch black film. Imagine going out in 1947 and deciding to catch a movie for entertainment, and then see this.  It's bleak, dark, depressing and ultimately sends you home without a glimmer of hope. Even Harry (Henry) Morgan's character who seems to be there for comic relief turns out to be a delusional and disillusioned loser.  The film just oozes fatalism, and nobody comes out unscarred.

 

Most of the 'action' - although the action is mostly limited to heated conversations - takes place in an ice cream parlor. An odd setting for a gangster movie, but somehow it works. What could be more innocent than an ice cream parlor, and thus contrasting the deprived events being discussed there? 

 

One shot that really struck me is the one attached to this post. It's not only a great composition but also captures four plotlines at the same time. You have Shorty (Harry Morgan) in the back thinking about the woman he's after, Frank Karty (John Ireland) on the left worrying about his gambling debt, Mary Karty (Virginia Christine) in the center, in despair about her marriage, and Shubunka (Barry Sullivan) and Jammey (Akim Tamiroff) on the right contemplating their predicament regarding a competing gangster outfit. 

 

Not in the image but definitely worth mentioning: Nancy Starr as the proverbial Femme Fatale.

The opening scene with the paintings in his room Grotesque like the masks in Orson Welles Mr. Farakan.  Then the scene where Sullivan is talking to Joan Loring (Dorothy the cashier) and it is an upshot of Shubunka and the ceiling in the black and white squares, was visually stimulating as he discusses his view on life.

 

What was with John Ireland and his hands, Duke Mantee?  

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i agree with you, i saw no natural beauty in vera, the fact that al did further proves how dumb he was. :-)

It was a low budget B movie by one of the good directors Edgar Ulmer.  What really struck me is I saw no beauty or "natural beauty" in Vera.  She reminded me of a cross between two of my most hated women in films Agnes Moorehead in Dark Passge and Mercedes McCambridge as the female gang leader in Touch of Evil.

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It was a low budget B movie by one of the good directors Edgar Ulmer.  What really struck me is I saw no beauty or "natural beauty" in Vera.  She reminded me of a cross between two of my most hated women in films Agnes Moorehead in Dark Passge and Mercedes McCambridge as the female gang leader in Touch of Evil.

 

McCambridge in Johnny Guitar gives herself a run for the money to her character in TOE.   Moorehead in Dark Passage;  Yea, she wins the award.  Anyone that can get Bruce Bennett riled up,  has to be near or at the top.

 

Based on the comments at this forum,  a lot of folks would also list Veda from Mildred Pierce. 

 

Oh,  and don't forget Raymond's mother in Everyone Loves Raymond!  (ok,  from a very different angle).

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Very much enjoyed Detour, surely about as indisputably Noir as you can get: voiceover, flashback, femme (very much) fatale, innocent man led ever further astray, unreliable narrator, lighting...and it goes on. 

 

Ann Savage as Vera was wonderful: she was completely and irredeemably horrible throughout and I loved her for that!! Al Roberts though...what a sap! Am I alone in thinking he got exactly what he had coming to him? He was a weak man, bitter but with an odd sense that the world somehow owed him  (the scene where he was justifying his actions in robbing the dead Haskill and stealing his clothes was particularly telling) and also easily led and pushed around, especially by women (note that he really didn't do much but sulk when Susan left him for California at the start). 

 

The other thing that struck me: could we trust his narrative? He told us no-one would believe him that the deaths were accidental and in fact you have to think that could be true, we do only have his word for his innocence after all! 

Isn't that what noir is.  Roberts thinking the world owes him something, looking for the way to get it, the easy way, like Tyrone Power in Nightmare Alley.  They both want something for nothing.

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Laura is classic noir because of the voice over narration of Waldo Lydeker.  He is doing classic narration, from his grave.  I also think that Dana Andrews suspects Waldo by the time they are eating dinner, if not before.

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"The Scar"...the smoking, it's driving me crazy.  He's such a chain smoker, they all are but especially Paul Henreid...holy cow, he lights one off the other before it's even spent.  He's always holding what looks like a butt, are his hands that large?  The smoking is killing me, no pun intended.

 

How is it that NO ONE sees the scar on the other cheek, NO ONE realizes it...really?  He's intimately involved with these women and they don't see it.  I know every inch of my husband's face, my childrens' faces, are they kidding?  This is so hard to believe.

 

Interesting movie, not too crazy about it.

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I saw a few comments regarding Detour and what appear to be cars and/or trucks with right hand drive.  The explanation is that when the movie was shot, the vehicles were going across the frame from left to right.  Then, in editing, they realized they wanted the vehicles to go from right to left across the screen.  This was conventional when depicting travel to the west.  So they simply turned the negative around, rather than spend the money to reshoot.

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Kind of a few days late to this post but I have viewed 4 films so far

 

-The glass Key, i found to start off rather well but it kind of lost my interest during the film. the ending was kind of for the times.

 

-Laura, Great film all the way! first time viewing it. it had some good twists. i thought when we saw Laura after the guy woke up that was a dream of his but it was true she was alive!  Good mystery.

 

-Ministry of fear, well the film clip got me hooked and i wanted all those questions to be answered. this was almost like a hitchcock type film. the semi twist ending was a shocker i never thought of that person!

 

-Murder, my sweet - as i pointed out i like the radio shows of Marlo, its weird for me to view a film, as i am use to radio shows. good film.

 

-Detour, in the public domain? i don't get it! really good film! this plot was almost like some old radio show plot lines i have heard before. but the deeper you go the worse it gets! 

 

that is all i have viewed so far! 

 

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Very much enjoyed Detour, surely about as indisputably Noir as you can get: voiceover, flashback, femme (very much) fatale, innocent man led ever further astray, unreliable narrator, lighting...and it goes on. 

 

 

The other thing that struck me: could we trust his narrative? He told us no-one would believe him that the deaths were accidental and in fact you have to think that could be true, we do only have his word for his innocence after all! 

 

I have long thought that Al was an unreliable narrator.  I don't believe him.  This is a good point to keep in mind with other noirs, just because we see it, does that mean it really happened that way?  This is before Rashomon, but the concept had been around for a long time before that.  These characters are lying to each other, why wouldn't they lie to us?

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THE GLASS KEY

 

This is the second movie from 1942 pairing Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake. The first one was THIS GUN FOR HIRE (see it if you can) directed by Frank Tuttle, who was also the director of 1935's THE GLASS KEY, starring George Raft and Claire Dodd, of which this 1942 version is a remake, directed by Stuart Heisler. 

 

Confusing? That's ok, because so is the plot for THE GLASS KEY, with protagonists and antagonists seemingly changing sides and allegiances, but then maybe not. And are all the good guys really good, and are all the bad girls really bad? 

 

It doesn't really matter, as long as you keep your eye on Alan Ladd, who basically carries this movie with a cool, suave attitude, not taking crap from anyone, not even Veronica Lake  - 'You think I'm too good for you? Well, so do I'. 

 

This is just one of the many snappy bits of dialogue thrown around, mostly courtesy of Dashiell Hammett, on whose novel the film is based. 

 

Ladd is the lead for sure, but also keep an eye on William Bendix as a brutal henchman, although one with a possible twist. His fascination for Ladd's character is quite... intense. 

Bendix thuggish charisma is used to perfection by cinematographer Theodor Sparkul in a scene later in the film where Ladd and Bendix have a final confrontation. The scene takes place in a seedy bar, and it the most obvious noirish scene in terms of staging, lighting and camera angles. 

 

Besides a few other scenes - notice the shadows of the window framing on Madvig (Brian Donlevy)'s body when he is in custody the first time - the film is shot pretty standard and doesn't really differ much from 30s crime films. 

 

I also wonder about the ending, which seems to be tacked on and sort of contradicts Ladd's established character. But there's probably the Production Code for you. 

 

Just for perspective: Veronica Lake was 19 years old when this film was released. 

this gun 4 hire quite diff from remake with robert wagner (even though it was still good as sometimes he felt torn apres the hit and realized the victim owned a cat !)

 

THE GLASS KEY

 

This is the second movie from 1942 pairing Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake. The first one was THIS GUN FOR HIRE (see it if you can) directed by Frank Tuttle, who was also the director of 1935's THE GLASS KEY, starring George Raft and Claire Dodd, of which this 1942 version is a remake, directed by Stuart Heisler. 

 

Confusing? That's ok, because so is the plot for THE GLASS KEY, with protagonists and antagonists seemingly changing sides and allegiances, but then maybe not. And are all the good guys really good, and are all the bad girls really bad? 

 

It doesn't really matter, as long as you keep your eye on Alan Ladd, who basically carries this movie with a cool, suave attitude, not taking crap from anyone, not even Veronica Lake  - 'You think I'm too good for you? Well, so do I'. 

 

This is just one of the many snappy bits of dialogue thrown around, mostly courtesy of Dashiell Hammett, on whose novel the film is based. 

 

Ladd is the lead for sure, but also keep an eye on William Bendix as a brutal henchman, although one with a possible twist. His fascination for Ladd's character is quite... intense. 

Bendix thuggish charisma is used to perfection by cinematographer Theodor Sparkul in a scene later in the film where Ladd and Bendix have a final confrontation. The scene takes place in a seedy bar, and it the most obvious noirish scene in terms of staging, lighting and camera angles. 

 

Besides a few other scenes - notice the shadows of the window framing on Madvig (Brian Donlevy)'s body when he is in custody the first time - the film is shot pretty standard and doesn't really differ much from 30s crime films. 

 

I also wonder about the ending, which seems to be tacked on and sort of contradicts Ladd's established character. But there's probably the Production Code for you. 

 

Just for perspective: Veronica Lake was 19 years old when this film was released. 

bendix 'obsession' w/Ladd... intense and a tad creepy !?

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The Gangster 

The film "The Gangster" was truly a gritty film and I believe it had characteristics that set it apart from other gangster genre films such as those of the '30s which were a hit among film goers. The dialogue such as that in the intro and in many other scenes, the setting of the film and even the way the characters dealt with each other really made this a pitch black, lonely, immoral, urban tale very worthy of the film noir label and if you don't agree then you can at least say it had a deep noir feel and influence. I think the character of Shubunka played by Barry Sullivan was quite fitting for this film as his loneliness, grit, and cynical views could really be felt by the viewer in a sense. His appearance added to his character as he was a tall, muscular, rough looking man with a considerably noticeable scar which shows that this man means business but also can add mystery as well. Shubunka's end was truly noir in nature as he was double crossed, betrayed and abandoned by every person he ever associated with in the city and died while being gunned down in the rainy night showing that the main protagonist is not immune to a cruel end such as is in many noir films 

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I found the podcast discussion between Professors Edwards and Clute about Dick Powell's change of image from light leading man and singer to tough guy private eye and noir icon in MURDER, MY SWEET very interesting. I personally liked Powell's approach to Marlowe as a smart guy who at times is bewildered by all of the intrigue surrounding the jade, Jules Amthor and especially poor ol' Moose Malloy ("You're in not so good shape. You need some help," Moose says in the understatement of the year as he re-encounters Marlowe after the latter's unwanted, drug-laden stay in the private hospital. "Then get me a cab, you dopey ape!" responds our understandably irked hero). While the Marlowe of the novel is a shade more serious, I don't think Powell was off the mark with his flip attitude. In FAREWELL, MY LOVELY, Marlowe meets with the somber official detective Randall in his apartment. Randall registers amusement at some of Marlowe's comments, apparently a rare event for the cop, and when he smiles a third time, Marlowe (in one of my favorite lines from the book) observes, "He was using up a whole week's supply." Professor Clute made some good points about what he believes is Powell's inappropriateness for the role, and that RKO was so hesitant about Powell playing in a "tough melodrama" that the title was changed from FAREWELL, MY LOVELY to MURDER, MY SWEET so people wouldn't think the star was fronting another musical comedy. It could have been that the novel's title didn't suit the material or wasn't commercial enough; Fox filmed Chandler's THE HIGH WINDOW (1942) as THE BRASHER DOUBLOON (1947) presumably because it looked better on a marquee, with George Montgomery as a worthy Marlowe. In any event, Powell's transition to tough guy became pretty permanent and for several years he focused almost solely on such roles both on screen and radio. His work in MURDER, MY SWEET paved the way for his darker-shaded hero, Lawrence Gerard, in  CORNERED (1945).

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I didn't like The Gangster as well as everyone else seems to. The only scene I really liked was near the end, when he was ranting about how bad life was to that young girl and her father. That was when it really felt like noir to me.

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SPOILERS! IF YOU'VE NOT SEEN "MILDRED PIERCE" DO NOT READ!!!!

 

I watched "Mildred Pierce" today for the first time in a couple of years. The first time I saw it, I was blinded by Veda's treachery, greed and selfishness. Watching it again, I was surprised to not feel very much sympathy for Mildred. She meant well, but she really wasn't a very good parent. She spoiled her children, particularly Veda, to the point where all she did was take from other people because that's all she knew how to do. Mildred never inspired her children to go out into the world and make something of themselves. She never instilled any kind of integrity or self reliance in them. Instead, she gave them everything they wanted because she "wanted them to have what she never had." Veda never has to work for one thing. Her mother buys her clothes, piano lessons, and a car for crying out loud! She proudly says her daughter was "becoming a lady of expensive tastes." 

 

It's not that I don't understand Mildred's love for her daughter, especially after Kay's sudden and untimely death, in spite of their complicated relationship, or her desire to give her everything she wants. Many parents feel this way about their children. But Mildred never offers Veda any kind of guidance, and so Veda begins to conduct herself horribly, and still Mildred does nothing. Even when Veda begins to behave truly abominably, borrowing money from other waitresses and swindling $10,000 under the pretense of being pregnant, Mildred always seems to forgive her. True, she threw her out of the house at one point, but once Mildred found Veda singing at that restaurant, she begs her to come home. She never changes, and returns home deceptive and selfish as ever, and finally murders her own stepfather after he refuses to marry her. And Mildred is preparing to take the fall for her? Even the most loving and devoted parents have to draw the line somewhere...

 

Perhaps this was how we are supposed to feel about these characters, and I missed the point the first time I saw it. But I just didn't feel much for either of these characters. Veda is the primary villain of the piece, but I think Mildred is also partly to blame for the way she raised her and let so much of Veda's poor behavior slide. It does make it even more compelling as a Film Noir though, with the unbelievably morally inept and incompetent mindset of the two lead characters. And in the end, ultimately because of her blindness Mildred loses all she worked for--both her restaurant and her daughter. Yet the film implies that she has another chance with her first husband, though why he'd touch her with a fifty foot pole after he knows about her lapses in judgment, even calling her on it early in the film to the point where they separated, is beyond me.

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Laura: Humor in Film Noir

 

What struck me the most about Laura was the snappy dialogue and some laugh-out-loud lines. Here are just a few examples:

 

Laura Hunt first approaches Waldo Lydecker to ask him to endorse an advertisement for Wallace pens. She’s oblivious to his insults and asks him for a pen, and he throws her another barb: “I don’t write with a pen. I write with a goose quill dipped in venom.” (For a man who told Detective McPherson that he doesn’t pay attention to details, Lydecker talks using a lot of them.)

 

Lydecker: “. . . I’d like to endorse that pen.”

Laura: “Mr. Lydecker. Thank you.  . . . You’re a very strange man. You’re really sorry for the way you acted, aren’t you?”

Lydecker: “Let’s not be psychiatric, Miss Hunt.”

 

Laura’s domestic servant, Bessie Clary: “I ain’t afraid of cops. I was brought up to spit whenever I saw one.”

Detective McPherson: “Okay. Go ahead and spit if it will make you feel any better.”

 

Lydecker to Laura, about Detective McPherson: “I hope you will never regret what promises to be a disgustingly earthy relationship.”

 

Lydecker has the first and last word in this film: He begins with the voiceover and it seems he ends with a voiceover, saying goodbye to Laura when the camera closes in on the now broken clock (that Lydecker gave to Laura). It made me wonder: Are we hearing this story from a ghost, someone who is already dead? Someone who would thus be an unreliable narrator? I’d have to see the movie again. Right now, I’m not so sure because there are plenty of scenes where Lydecker isn’t even present. If he’s already dead, however, his presence might not matter!

 

Waldo has so many amazing lines.

 

"Would you kindly continue this character analysis elsewhere? You begin to bore me."

 

"Laura, I can't stand these morons any longer. If you don't come with me right now I'll run amok."

 

Shelby: I haven't slept a wink since it happened.

Waldo: Is that a sign of guilt or innocence, McPherson?

 

Shelby: I didn't hear a note of the concert. I fell asleep.

Waldo: Next he'll produce photographic evidence of his dreams.

 

Basically every word that comes out of his mouth is gold...

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Waldo has so many amazing lines.

 

"Would you kindly continue this character analysis elsewhere? You begin to bore me."

 

"Laura, I can't stand these morons any longer. If you don't come with me right now I'll run amok."

 

Shelby: I haven't slept a wink since it happened.

Waldo: Is that a sign of guilt or innocence, McPherson?

 

Shelby: I didn't hear a note of the concert. I fell asleep.

Waldo: Next he'll produce photographic evidence of his dreams.

 

Basically every word that comes out of his mouth is gold...

So true. I read on this discussion thread that the book by Vera Caspary is just as wonderful. So I have to read that, see this movie again . . . so many wonderful tips from this course, so little time!

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http://moviemorlocks.com/2013/06/09/looking-back-at-and-in-detour/    Shannon Clute here gives an insight into why the first three cars Al gets into in Detour he does from the left, not like he would in reality from the right.  This way he is not looking back, he is not looking in the rear view mirror, as he does once he is in Haskell's car.  At this point is he partially looking forward?  Where in the rest he is looking backwards?

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http://moviemorlocks.com/2013/06/09/looking-back-at-and-in-detour/    Shannon Clute here gives an insight into why the first three cars Al gets into in Detour he does from the left, not like he would in reality from the right.  This way he is not looking back, he is not looking in the rear view mirror, as he does once he is in Haskell's car.  At this point is he partially looking forward?  Where in the rest he is looking backwards?

Thanks for posting this link. Great insight into Detour and the use of flashback. Vera is an unforgettable character, and Ann Savage gives it all in her performance. In fact, I couldn't sit through the movie the first time and it was because of her rapid-fire delivery of the dialogue. Too much venom for me the first time!

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Since this week's theme is influences on Film Noir, we can extend that to movies that Film Noir has influenced. For example, Night Moves. In my opinion this film is in no way a Film Noir--from the lack of BW photography, to no flashbacks, to no voiceover to no interestIng camera movements or shadows. . The plot and characters are influenced by Film Noir--the PI who just steps over the line. The Girl in this case is the wife; the Dame could be any of the 3 other females. The PI takes a beating; lives are lost and he is literally adrift at sea at the end

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I recorded Nightmare Alley and watched it for the first time yesterday. What an incredible discovery. I would never have imagined Tyrone Power in this role, but he was excellent. I guess playing against type worked out in this case. The imagery was wonderful--night shots behind the scenes at a carnival with a fortune teller and her alcoholic husband. Who needs American Horror Story?

 

I think perhaps the most noir aspect of the film though was the fact that the psychiatrist was as corrupt and crooked as the carnival mystic. I didn't see that coming. I thought the film was setting up a contrast between the underworld of the carnival where everyone is just out to make a buck no matter the cost to other people vs. the rational, humane world outside the carnival. How perfect that the doctor, who is supposed to be helping the sick is in fact helping to dupe them. Great twist!

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