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


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The following quote is from

Part Three: Further Investigations into "The Set-Up" 

 

Raymond Chandler, "The Simple Art of Murder"(1950)

 

"The realistic style is easy to abuse: from haste, from lack of awareness, from inability to bridge the chasm that lies between what a writer would like to be able to say and what he actually knows how to say. It is easy to fake; brutality is not strength, flipness is not wit, edge-of-the-chair writing can be as boring as flat writing; dalliance with promiscuous blondes can be very dull stuff when described by goaty young men with no other purpose in mind than to describe dalliance with promiscuous blondes. There has been so much of this sort of thing that if a character in a detective story says, "Yeah," the author is automatically a Hammett imitator."

 

I can not shake the thought of hearing Bogart, as Philip Marlowe reading this passage. it reads like "film noir" dialect.

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What is the age range for us film noir followers. I can't imagine there are many in the 18 to 35 crowd. For me the start was when I was 5, 6. or 7 in the mid 1940s. The couple across the hall took me to some of these film noir masterpieces. I'm sure my mother never knew what films we saw. I still have images imprinted in my mind of films I want to see again. Maybe by the end of July I may see them.

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What is the age range for us film noir followers. I can't imagine there are many in the 18 to 35 crowd. For me the start was when I was 5, 6. or 7 in the mid 1940s. The couple across the hall took me to some of these film noir masterpieces. I'm sure my mother never knew what films we saw. I still have images imprinted in my mind of films I want to see again. Maybe by the end of July I may see them.

 

Great question. Currently, we have 18,000 students in #NoirSummer. Based on my correspondence so far, the age ranges are going from early 20s all the way up to the 80s. And we also have students from around the world (Australia, many countries in Europe, England, South Africa, countries in South America, and countries across Asia) - so we are a diverse and knowledgeable crowd brought together by our love of film noir!

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Professor Edwards, I have a question that many of your grateful students may be thinking: Might we anticipate an additional course being offered on another genre (50's sci-if?) next summer? Is there anything we can do to now to help ensure this? Thank you for your knowledge and enthusiasm. I am honored to be your student.

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I too was put off by all that smokingGood grief can we crack a window. I didn't like it that much either. I like Paul heinred better when he stars with Bette Davis in movies. I watched it twice and it was a no for me.

 

"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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June 12 TCM Film Noir Discussions for all 14 films.

 

1.     The Glass Key-This film has some key noir elements: dramatic lighting, one interesting lighting moment is later in the film when an overhead lighting fixture is swinging back and forth, creating shadows as it swings, reminiscent of a similar lighting moment at the climax of “Psycho, exploration of the darker side of human nature, odd camera angles, rapid-fire pessimistic monologues delivered from the protagonist (Alan Ladd), but since it’s on the early side of noir’s development (1942), on first glance it’s sort of an omnibus of styles: drama, love story, gangster story, murder mystery, comedy.  What it really has going for it is terrific chemistry between Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake.  I’ve read that the main reason they were paired was because she was short enough to make him appear taller.  Although he packed a wallop screen-presence wise, he was not tall by leading men standards.  That said, the pairing  was much more than that.  She, as is the case with many “noir” women, was clear in expressing what she wanted. Sidebar: check out the brazen performance by Margaret Hayes as the wife of the corrupt newspaperman.  She literally seduces Alan Ladd right in front of her husband! But I digress… From the moment they meet, Lake is giving him the green light with her expressions, the peak of this in this exchange: Ladd is leaving, Lake has been baiting him with seductive looks and sexual innuendo.  His exit line:  “I get along with Paul (his blowhard boss, played by Brian Donlevy) because he’s on the dead up-and-up.  Why don’t you try it sometime?” He leaves, and the camera stays on her for a good few seconds, where, by the look on her face, it’s clear that she’s ruminating on what he’s just said. A sly smile, and fade.   William Bendix is great as a thug who seems to get his jollies from beating Alan Ladd to a pulp.  

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June 12 TCM Film Noir Discussions for all 14 films.

 

2.     Laura-This film has so much going on in it, chock full of characters with hidden agendas that have other hidden agendas.  What’s unusual about this one is for a good portion of the film we think the title character is dead.  Frankly, when she did show up, I would’ve shot her a second time for that ridiculous hat she was wearing.  I know she was supposed to be on the cutting edge of style, but this edge had me bleeding a lot, took me right out of the scene.  And, they had the nerve to repeat the dog-ears for hat-brim style in another hat of a different color!  Anyway, The gumshoe is about to go down the femme fatale drain for this “dead” woman, even to the point of putting in a bid to her estate to buy her portrait.  After he meets her, his fascination with her amplifies.  Everyone’s fascinated with her, men and women alike.  It’s a good thing Gene Tierney lives up to it.  She’s so spectacular just standing there that it makes the thing work.  There are so many noir elements here: the use of the flashback, and flashback within the flashback, montages to show passage of time, voiceover, stylistic lighting with lots of shadows, unusual camera angles, the use of the an element as a leitmotif, (here the not-quite twin clocks).  This film is one of those that stands on its own.  It may have been singled out by the French as an impetus for the “christening” of the genre, but it’s much more than that.  The only label I would feel completely correct in putting on this is “classic.” 

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June 12 TCM Film Noir Discussions for all 14 films.

 

3.     Ministry of Fear-It has some terrific elements, and a master at the helm.  Fritz Lang’s films generally have a very clear “vision:” “Metropolis”, the fabulous “Dr. Mabuse” series, “M”, but this one flip-flops, and I suspect it was at the “suggestion” of the Studio.  I’ll say what it does have:  It has the elements to make it a noir political thriller, and for the most part, it is.  The opening is strong, the ticking clock, the suggestion of the oppression at the asylum, exploiting the Nazi paranoia of the time.  The “cake” is the “MacGuffin” around which the thing revolves.  My question is, why would Ray Milland risk his life to find out why a man stole a cake from him that he “won” at a fete?  I just had to accept this to keep watching.  The device of the “mothers” charity works well with noir.  The idea of something terrible going on (a spy ring) underneath a seemingly innocent enterprise (a women’s charity organization) melds very nicely with noir. I wonder, since Hitchcock admired Lang, if his fete in “Stage Fright,” found its genesis in the one portrayed here.  The danger lurking underneath is also exampled in the seemingly “traditional” bookstore that’s actually a front for Nazi operations.  Some very high design goes along with the "avant garde" nature of noir: There's such a modern style doorbell at the home of Martha Pentell, very picasso-esque lettering and imagery, with an eye as the centerpiece that serves also as a doorbell.  What is the metaphor there?  Cover the eye and gain access?  Other elements of noir include Hillary Brooke’s entrance, which, although less exotic, is not unlike Gale Sondergard’s appearance through the beaded curtains in “The Letter.”  Miss Brooke was so on the money here.  The classic femme fatale who knows what she wants, and is very upfront in what she wants from Milland.  Consider this exchange:  She says, “Won’t you sit down?  You’re most attractive when you’re lying,” and later, “Did it ever occur to you that some women like affection better than conversation.”  Toward the end of the scene there’s an example of how they got “around” the code in noir: when she’s given up-he’s not taking the sexual bait:  He says, referring to the fact that she has given him no usable intel, “I’ve gotten exactly nowhere,” to which she replies, as she seductively touches his arm, “Neither have I.”  There are some great Lang-ish touches visually: the séance is lit to maximize the creepy effect, with Miss Brooke lit from below in her close-ups.   The climactic scene on the rooftop has some great touches:  as they’re ascending the stairs we see them from above through the skylight, the window panes almost like jail cell bars.  The bad guys are shooting at them from inside an open, completely darkened doorway.  All we see are the bullets flashing.  Perhaps a metaphor for the danger lurking about; we don’t see it until it’s too late.  The good guys ascend the stairway and turn on the lights, Something as basic as bad=darkness, blindness, good=light, vision.  I can’t imagine Lang was in full control here of his film.  Especially in what appears to be a tacked-on ending.  The couple is driving a convertible against a filmed backdrop of what looks Carmel and a reference to “cake” is made.  If humor were an integral part of this film-the times when it was used it seemed uncomfortable, extraneous, then this humorous ending would’ve had a fighting chance.  For example, the similar funny “tag” ending of “Strangers on a Train” (when they get up and run away when a minister asks them a question) works because there was a segue to it, and humor was used effectively throughout the film as comic relief.  Not so in “Ministry of Fear.”

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June 12 TCM Film Noir Discussions for all 14 films.

 

4.     Murder, My Sweet-This one is a perfect storm of noir.  My thoughts, in no particular order:  Every element is integrated, drama, mystery, humor, acting, lighting—there’s not a misstep in the thing.  The ingénue says to Marlowe, “You don’t know who’s side you’re on,” to which Marlowe replies “I don’t know which side anyone’s on.” That about sums up the general protagonist of noir.  At the opening, neon signs blink through Marlowe’s office window.  When the lights blink out, we see Mike Mazurky’s reflection, lit from below in a sinister fashion, “appear” in the darkness—what a great way to introduce the character: did we imagine him, or is he really there?   Since the “world” of noir is often depicted as through the mind of the protagonist, when Marlowe has a drug-induced experience, we’re on it with him, and I think this works better here than Hitchcock’s Salvador Dali dream sequence in “Spellbound.”  That became an artistic piece unto itself and drew too much attention to itself outside the film. In “M,MS”, the dream sequence completely serves the film and not itself.  Even when he begins to come out of it, and says he sees “smoke.”  We see smoke too, courtesy of a filter put over the lens.  And as he comes in and out of it the screen clears then fogs.  This is so much fun.  There’s a non-diegetic fluttering organ chord used as an occasional tension-inducing device, similar to the diegetic organ chord used by Max’s playing in “Sunset Boulevard.”  Works every time.  In this one, the MacGuffin is a Jade Necklace.  There’s an effective use of a round flashlight beam as it pans around the beach house.  We don’t know if we’re about to see a dead body, or what?  This creates suspense.  Also this really cool thing going along with the concept of if you’re in the dark you’re bad, and if you’re in the light, you’re good.  Claire Trevor is on the upper level of the beach house set, she’s in the full light of the room, pleasant, normal, soft lamplight, not much shadow.  She talking about how her husband loved her, how she didn’t really want to hurt him, etc.  Then she says, “I’ve gone out with other men.” There’s a beat.  Then the room lights get turned off and she’s now lit from the side with deep shadows.  What a metaphor!  Great movie.

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June 12 TCM Film Noir Discussions for all 14 films.

 

5.     Danger Signal-A classic noir opening is: a dead body revealed, as a live someone escapes through the window of the seedy hotel room where the murder has taken place.  There is usually an implication of impropriety as the prim landlady is banging on the door.  All these tic-boxes are fully checked on the opening of “Danger Signal”.  The next scene has a psychiatrist (played by Rosemary DeCamp, doing a much better job at her Viennese accent than Marjorie Reynolds did in “Ministry of Fear”), saying, “My specialty is morbid psychology.”  We know right off the bat that someone in this movie’s going to crazy town.  Our interest is piqued.  In direct contrast to modern set decorations, especially Modern Art, as in “The Gangster” and “High Sierra,” The trappings of the main house in this are very traditional, innocuous, “cutesy” art hanging on the walls, no hard lines in the architecture, just a traditional “American Dream” house a la the 1940s. Even the wallpaper has subtle stripes, maybe even tiny flowers. So when the drama happens and the “noir” lights are turned on, the effect is not quite as angular, but even more disturbing.  Dark doings in a cold, modern setting seem almost congruous, but in this normal setting it becomes all the more menacing. Here’s Zachary Scott, no doubt under contract to the WB, playing a serial killer gigolo, who sets his attentions on an annuity-ready teenaged girl. He was also Monty, the gigolo who went after Veda in ”Mildred Pierce.” Does anyone know which film was released first?  Also featured is another WB player, Bruce Bennett, playing the good guy who gets the girl at the end.  He also was in “Mildred Pierce,” playing the good guy who gets the girl at the end, her husband Ben.  This"Danger Signal" is pretty much straight-ahead stuff.  A solid “B” movie.  (Correct me if it’s an “A,” there are no major stars here.} A device used frequently here is the cross fade.  What’s unnerving about how it’s done is that the scene seems barely finished and it just sort of plops out quickly, there’s a beat and then a new scene plops up just as quickly.  The effect is almost as if a series of vignettes are being presented.  I don’t know why it seems eerie to me, but I think that’s a good thing in a film of this sort.  The music in this is more subtle, to go with the all-American surroundings.  It still generates suspense as in a noir, but a little less heavy-handed.  There’s a sense of hopelessness surrounding the Zachary Scott character and those with whom he interacts, so that when the comic relief of Mona Freeman’s young boyfriend “Bunky” or the bumbling Doctor who just can’t seem to muster the courage to ask Faye Emerson out on a date, comes onto the screen, you heave a little sigh of relief.  There’s a glimmer of hope in the world of this noir.

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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.

I agree completely.  Veda seemed to be fending for herself singing in the dive club.  Mildred should've just wished her well and left her alone.  But no.  She had to beg Veda to come home.  Mildred made her bed.  Time and time again Mildred tolerated and forgave Veda's abhorrent behavior. You can protect and/or indulge your child to the point where it becomes dangerous to them, and to you.  That's what Mildred did.

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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 listened to that podcast also; Edwards/Clute have very good dicussions. Powell actually had a pretty good voice. He also did a radio series in the 40's, Richard Diamond, private detective where in virtually every episode at the end he sings a song and plays piano. You can find it at www.archive.org if you're interested. There are several detective shows that aired on radio including Gerald Mohr playing Phillip Marlowe. These are all short 30min episodes that were aired weekly, complete with a lot of the original commercials of that era.

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Once you have seen all the Summer of Darkness films and are in the mood for some light fun, if you have not yet see Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid starring Steve Martin, do yourself a favor and check it out. The have injected a new comedy story line and through some brilliant editing, incorporated the new characters directly into the scenes from all these films Noir. The picture would be entertaining anyway but when you know all the films that went into it and can appreciate the way they were seamlessly blended together, it is a blast to watch.

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I feel like I'm violating a rule here; discussing a movie I've just found, not on our Noir Schedule.  "Dark Corner" - 1946, Mark Stevens and Lucille Ball.  Wow, is this a noir movie.

 

I just knew that William Bendix was allowing Mark to shove him around, hit him, wipe ink on his white suit...yikes.  I kept saying, "don't do that Mark, you'll be sorry".  "Everything you're doing to him he's going to give back in spades."

 

I know every movie can't be included and I've noticed that there have been some comments about movies not included, but, for my two cents, I think this should be included.

 

Watching Clifton Webb play his character, so closely related to that of Waldo in "Laura". 

 

What a great movie.

 

 

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I feel like I'm violating a rule here; discussing a movie I've just found, not on our Noir Schedule.  "Dark Corner" - 1946, Mark Stevens and Lucille Ball.  Wow, is this a noir movie.

 

I just knew that William Bendix was allowing Mark to shove him around, hit him, wipe ink on his white suit...yikes.  I kept saying, "don't do that Mark, you'll be sorry".  "Everything you're doing to him he's going to give back in spades."

 

I know every movie can't be included and I've noticed that there have been some comments about movies not included, but, for my two cents, I think this should be included.

 

Watching Clifton Webb play his character, so closely related to that of Waldo in "Laura". 

 

What a great movie.

 

The Dark Corner is a solid Fox 20th Century Noir.   Since it is a Fox film,  and TCM doesn't lease many Fox films,   it maybe a long time before TCM shows the films.    MOVIE-TV shows the films often on their Saturday Night Noir films series.  

 

Very solid film with, as you noted,  Webb playing a character similar to Waldo in Laura,  and Bendix, known for the Paramount noir films with Alan Ladd.       Of course Lucy isn't known for noir films or dramas but she does well in this film as the detective's girl Friday.

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I'm glad you said that - does any one have a list of the 20th century fox noirs

The Dark Corner is a solid Fox 20th Century Noir.   Since it is a Fox film,  and TCM doesn't lease many Fox films,   it maybe a long time before TCM shows the films.    MOVIE-TV shows the films often on their Saturday Night Noir films series.  

 

Very solid film with, as you noted,  Webb playing a character similar to Waldo in Laura,  and Bendix, known for the Paramount noir films with Alan Ladd.       Of course Lucy isn't known for noir films or dramas but she does well in this film as the detective's girl Friday.

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I'm glad you said that - does any one have a list of the 20th century fox noirs

 

The book Film Noir - An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style has a list and I'm sure other books do as well.

 

The main Fox stars of their noirs are Victor Mature,  Richard Widmark,  Dana Andrews,  Peter Conte, Gene Tierney and Jean Peters.

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thanks!

The book Film Noir - An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style has a list and I'm sure other books do as well.

 

The main Fox stars of their noirs are Victor Mature,  Richard Widmark,  Dana Andrews,  Peter Conte, Gene Tierney and Jean Peters.

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james your post got me digging for fox titles, i found this list on wikepedia if anyone interested

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/20th_Century_Fox_Film_Noir

 

Film title Original release year 

Black Widow 1954

 Boomerang 1947

 Call Northside 777 1948

 Daisy Kenyon 1947

 Dangerous Crossing 1953

The Dark Corner 1946

 Fallen Angel 1945 1

Fourteen Hours 1951

 House of Bamboo 1955

 House of Strangers 1949

The House on 92nd Street 1945

The House on Telegraph Hill 1951

 I Wake Up Screaming 1941

Kiss of Death 1947

 Laura 1944

 Moontide 1942  

Nightmare Alley 1947

 No Way Out 1950

 Panic in the Streets 1950

Road House 1948  

Shock 1946

 Somewhere in the Night 1946

 The Street with No Name 1948

 Vicki 1953

 Where the Sidewalk Ends 1950

 Whirlpool 1949 09

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June 12 TCM Film Noir Discussions for all 14 films.

 

6.  Detour-What is tragic about this movie is that there seems to be nowhere a decent quality print of it.  If TCM, one of the epicenters of restoration and preservation is showing this print, then one can be pretty certain that this is the best available.  I think if people could see a great print of this with a clear soundtrack that doesn’t drop out at every splice, they would think even more of it.  I tried to do a restoration of this in my brain as I watched it.  There are artful lighting and shot setups here. This is a great premise.  Simply and creatively done. Acted with a fierceness that belittled name actors who might’ve given a more careful performance for fear of jeopardizing their careers.  It’s tragic that there’s not even a fine grain positive somewhere, with a soundtrack devoid of splice and muddiness.   Some of the other low budget films, like those of the king brothers, have gorgeous reproduction of picture and sound.  Does anybody know of the technical history of this film?  Was there a fire somewhere that destroyed the original elements? I am so curious if on first release it looked great and degenerated over much duplication drawn from deteriorating elements.  Even after it did fall into the Public Domain, wouldn’t somebody still have had decent source material for it?

 

Some thoughts about this one:  When Neal first sees Savage hitching, you hear his off-screen voice shout: “Hey you! Come on if you want a ride!”  How badly are women treated in noir again?  How could she resist after such a thoughtful invitation.  This demonstrates just how desperate these people are.  There’s a great light shift in the diner to indicate the flashback thoughts.  Esther Howard as the waitress gives a pretty natural performance here, as opposed to the more robust turns she has in “Murder, My Sweet” and “Born to Kill.”  Adding to the hopelessness of the piece is the leitmotif from Chopin better known as “I’m always chasing rainbows,” and as the lyric goes “I’m always chasing rainbows, waiting to find a little bluebird in vain.”  Poor guy was just trying to get cross-country to his ladylove.  From the times she answered her phone she appeared to have moved on.  Better he got arrested than suffer another mind-bending disappointment. The soundtrack was the hardest thing to focus on because of the muddiness of it.  The dialogue is so good it deserves better quality reproduction:

 

“Life’s like a ballgame; ya’ gotta’ take a swing at whatever comes along before you wake up and find it’s the ninth inning!”

 

She: “Am I tight?”

He: “Tight as a prima donna’s corset.”

 

We need a better print so we can truly enjoy the art of this film, not just the overall effect.

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June 12 TCM Film Noir Discussions for all 14 films.

 

7.  Mildred Pierce-This melodrama, in the expert hands of Michael Curtiz, turned out to be the quintessential noir.  It’s a masterpiece of light and dark, visually and emotionally.  There are multiple “fatales” to go around to assure this film’s verifiable noir-ability:  Veda is without question Mildred’s femme fatale, leading her down to the pits of wrack and ruin.  Monty is Veda’s homme fatale, inciting her to murder, and Jack Carson is sort of a demi-fatale: He pulls Mildred’s business right out from under her!  There’s a minimal amount of voiceover, and basically, the bulk of the movie is told in flashback.  The lighting is spectacular, with no viable gobo, flag and barn door left unused!  A very ambitious lighting plot raises this film to a much higher artistic level than it would’ve been without it. The opening scene alone, between the pier and the beach house there are so many “specials” they are uncountable.   And the dynamic: Veda rendered Mildred invalid by knowing that she was Mildred’s raison d’être.  She abused Mildred verbally and physically.  Joan underplayed wisely, allowing the venom of Ann Blyth’s spectacular vitriolic performance to come through.  She did it so well, and Joan reacted with such commitment, it earned her an Oscar.  

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June 12 TCM Film Noir Discussions for all 14 films.

 

8. Deadline at Dawn-This is a most entertaining, well-rounded film.  It has a refreshing lightness to it, and intelligence of script (Clifford Odets), but doesn’t shy away from getting down and dark when it needs to, as in the first shots. We see a staircase from a high angle, a strong side light throwing the shadow of the banister against the wall.  Next, we see the silhouette of a man in a fedora hat and overcoat, slowly, almost methodically ascending.  We hear the clomping of a cane.  The man reaches the first landing. The camera cuts to show him walking down the hall.  We now see that he is blind and is using the cane to navigate the hallway. He enters a far door on the right. The next shot reveals an extreme close up of a heavily made up woman, in bed, seemingly asleep, dead, or drunk.  We don’t know which.  A fly lands on her cheek and walks around.  It takes off.  It returns, lands and walks on her face again.  This image is disturbing and humorous at the same time.  She wakes up and sees him and says, “Sleepy?  Aren’t you dead yet?”  Marvin Miller plays Sleepy, her blind, patsy ex-husband.  He tells her “You’re bad.  I loved you very much, but you’re bad.”  Yet another sum-up of the femme fatale.  We see Mr. Miller also in “Johnny Angel,” there too playing a patsy, but a patsy with an edgy twist.  See film #9 for details on that one.  Back to D at D: We meet a sailor, engagingly played by Bill Williams, who handles the complex Odets’ dialogue with great proficiency and to delightful effect.  We see a bit of a montage of dance halls, with lots of blinking neon.  He enters one.  These always seem to be on the second floor in noir-land.  He meets dance hostess Susan Hayward, who’s fighting off an overly tactile dance partner.  The lighting accents the ceiling fans in motion, throwing shadows as they revolve.  The sailor dances with her.  The orchestra is playing an instrumental version of the Johnny Mercer/Harold Arlen song, “My Shining Hour.”  Perhaps they used it only because RKO owned the rights, but I may not be giving such a thoughtful production too much credit to suggest that use of this title was intentional.  As the relationship develops through the crazy course of the film, we discover that meeting each other was indeed “a shining hour” for both of them.    Paul Lukas plays a cabbie that figures into it, a sort of vehicular philosopher.  He refers to the feisty Miss Hayward as a “Blitzkrieg with hair on its head,” and later advises “Remember, speech was given to man to hide his thoughts.”   There are a lot of modern concepts in this: the “good cop-bad cop” interrogation routine, and the “put yourself in the killer’s shoes” concept, similar to what Rainn Wilson did with his “I’m you” crime-solving technique in TV’s “Backstrom.”  I know there were noir-ish lighting touches here and there, but this one’s about the story and the language.  Hayward and Williams have great chemistry, and Lukas is great as a “Greek Chorus” of sorts.  I enjoyed this one the most out of this week’s crop.

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June 12 TCM Film Noir Discussions for all 14 films.

 

9.  Johnny Angel-Although this film has a good amount of noir elements, e.g., fog, flashbacks, voiceovers, shadowy lighting through venetian blind slats, and RKO “A-ish” production values, the mediocre cast doesn’t allow it to rise above programmer/melodrama status.  Edwin L. Marin was a prolific B director of films, and that's what this is. I’ll sum it up this way.  Hoagy Carmichael plays a singing cabbie.  He sits down at a piano.  We are in New Orleans.  Guess what he sings: “Memphis in June.”  He wrote many other songs that would've fit in with New Orleans--a thimbleful of thought here fellas.  There’s a general, grind it out quality about this film—it’s not artful, although it has artful elements.  I’m sorry if any of you out there are George Raft fans.  But…he really brings this one down with a wooden performance, and poor Signe Hasso is struggling to activate a performance here, saddled with a leading man who’s not giving her much to play off of, and a pasty wig that is better left not described in detail.  The fabulous Claire Trevor is the only one here who knows how to bake the cake, but she's acting in a vacuum.  The rest of the actors did not have the chops to pull off good noir, and the director didn't know how to make it happen.  They are competent for a decent “B” melodrama, but not for a compelling noir.  For example, a main character’s nurse, who has been with him since he was a child, is manipulative.  The actress, Margaret Wycherly, is emotionally on the fence.  Someone with the mysterious “heft” of a Madame Constantin, who played Claude Rains’ barracuda of a mother in Hitchcock’s “Notorious” would’ve knocked this film on its ear.  The story elements are all there.  There’s even a surprise ending that you might not see coming.   I am beginning to discover that there’s an extra “push” in the acting necessary to lift a film beyond just a normal drama-melodrama-mystery, etc., to a truly effective noir, and the actors have to understand what that is, or the director needs to understand how to make the actors understand.  This is a heightened reality.  Sometimes, it’s even imagined.  Every scene must be played life or death.  Nothing “casual” about noir.  All the lighting, story, costuming, camera angles and snappy dialog in the world won’t make it fly truly dark if the actors don’t commit to it fully.

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The scariest film on this list for me was Nightmare Alley because it was most believable as a true story. I watched it twice. First, by myself. Next with someone else. The first time I was freaked out and the second time I was severely disturbed. I was more embarrassed and ashamed for Tyrone Power's character when I experienced the film with another person. Downright painful. Then, to hear that William Lindsay Gresham who wrote the novel Nightmare Alley killed himself in the same room that he wrote Nightmare Alley years later solidified it's horror. Time to scrub my eyes out with some light-hearted neo-noir like The Big Lebowskie.????

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Watched Detour last night.  (no major spoilers, but definite plot reveals)

 

I liked it much more than I expected to.  Many people said it was so low-budget and poorly shot that it was unlikeable.  I found the story compelling enough to overcome all that.  Down on his luck, talented guy in love heads out across country without two nickels to call his own, intending to reunite with his special girl.  He gets sidetracked, literally detoured, by fate and a scheming wicked little siren.  You want him to have a happy ending, even though you know he isn't going to get one.  

 

Jazzy music, check.  Ill-fated but likeable everyman done in by love and misfortune, check.  Voice-overs and flashbacks, check. Femme fatale, check. Grim and moralistic undertones, check and check.

 

I'll watch this one again.

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