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Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose of Darkness #14: Warner Bros. Noir (Scene from The Mask of Dimitrios)

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My first thought upon seeing this clip is that Lorre and Greenstreet are so comfortable in each other’s presence, it is almost as if they are friends!  Indeed, they may have been so in real life (I don’t know), but does it make sense as far as the plot of the movie is concerned?  All I do know is that Greenstreet has rifled though Lorre’s rooms and he has a gun on him.  But, nevertheless, they are chatting almost like buddies.  Lorre even takes out a cigarette and leans back to smoke it.  The camera shoots Greenstreet from below, perhaps to make him look more grotesque.  They are both kind of grotesque characters, and I say that not in a disparaging way.  They are both wonderful actors, but part of both of their personas is their strangeness.  And yet, we like them.  They are more interesting than fearsome.  They are comfortable with each other; and we, in turn, are comfortable with them.  Again, I have NO IDEA what this movie is about; but this clip has persuaded me to give “The Mask of Dimitrios” a look Friday night at 8:00 p.m. :) 

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My apologies for posting a nonpermanent reply here but I could not find a forum for this week's Podcast on Detour.

 

I listened to the 38 min audio broadcast and it was both brilliant and informative filled with "eye-opening" observations and background info.

 

For all who have seen Detour, you will appreciate the film much more if you tune in to this Podcast on Detour.

 

https://learn.canvas.net/courses/748/pages/the-means-part-4-of-4-podcast-on-detour 

 

Or go to Canvas Modules - The Means - Part 4 of 4: Podcast on Detour

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The entrances made by Leyden (Peter Lorre) and Peters (Sydney Greenstreet) say a lot about their characters. Leyden casually exits the elevator and enters his hotel room, at ease with himself and preoccupied with his growing library of information about Dimitrios (if I remember correctly, it's Dimitrios he's muttering about as he reaches his hotel room door). Leyden is honest, open and respectable. Peters enters the hotel room from what is apparently the bath, is obviously the agent of all of Leyden's possessions being strewn about the room, is holding a gun on Leyden and is not only mysterious but quite shady. Ironically, it's Peters who demands frankness from Leyden about the latter's interest in Dimitrios; somehow we don't think Peters will be so forthcoming about his fascination with the supposedly deceased criminal. (That comes as Leyden, like the newsreel reporter Thompson in CITIZEN KANE, pursues his research into Dimitrios' sleazy past). Quite rightly, Leyden, as innocent as we are in the audience, wants the same honesty from Peters. What's his game? The use of noir cinematography comes into play when Leyden sits down, still holding the gun. Leyden is nearest the camera in the left foreground while Peters appears smaller in the background. Negulesco's camera then moves past Leyden and focuses in on Peters, stopping when he fills the frame in a scene reminiscent of Greenstreet's Kaspar Gutman having his first meeting with Sam Spade in THE MALTESE FALCON. It creates a give-and-take as each of the characters try to dominate the conversation, written and delivered in that swift Warners style. As the scene ends, both men have relaxed as Leyden, obviously unrattled by Peters' seemingly threatening presence, leans back on the bed and smokes. Peters maintains his calm exterior as he continues to probe Leyden. Even if you don't know anything about THE MASK OF DIMITRIOS or that Lorre and Greenstreet were Warners contract players, the film is readily identifiable as one of that studio's products with the mix of music and typically dark design of a European hotel room.

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As somebody commented earlier, maybe nothing "original' in this scene, but as a textbook example of a House Style, it works pretty well. The standard long shots, two-shots, and close-ups seem straightforward in enhancing the witty dialogue, showing how one and then the other seems in control. We are engaged by the motion in the scene without ever being too distracted to follow the dialogue.  Lorre gives the impression of always being in movement, coming in sideways through the door, closing it, reaching for the phone, lounging on the couch, lighting a cigarette: he is quick but agile, witty, overall comfortable with his smaller size and willing to use it to disarm his colleague. You're never quite sure what someone is up to when he is moving. In contrast, Greenstreet can be nothing but big, but owns it completely, especially with that shot from below when he takes up the frame. He is more archetypally noir, lit in more contrast, and giving us a dramatic silhouetted entrance. Although Lorre is initially surprised, he catches himself adroitly, and it ends up that Greenstreet is the one with less information and more questions. This shift in power dynamics is subtly reinforced with the camera set-up; the wide shots that show us the room and the bigger picture are always taken more from Lorre's point of view--sometimes we get Lorre's back--and by implication he has the bigger picture. Although we get close-ups of Lorre, they're never quite as wide, and never shot from behind Greenstreet. Lorre ends up being the protagonist and easier for us to relate to.

 

As for the comment quoting Chekhov about "a gun in the first act needing to go off in the third..." it's not over until it's over, so we should wait and see, maybe. But I don't usually expect noir films to be well-constructed dramas a la Chekhov. For me, the gun is always a projection of masculinity (same with cigarettes-- both phallic symbols, if you will), so Greenstreet dropping the gun and Lorre lighting up presents a subtext all its own about who is in charge and how much they're enjoying themselves. 

 

 

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In the clip from Jean Negulesco’s The Mask Of Dimitrios (1944), Cornelius Leyden exits the elevator and mutters to himself as he walks across the hall to his room.  The camera tracks with Cornelius and picks him up again when he enters the room.  These two shots establish the scene from Cornelius’s point of view.  This is further confirmed by shooting Mr. Peters (Sydney Greenstreet) entrance from more or less where Cornelius is standing in a near point of view shot.

 

The effect is we initially feel Cornelius’s fear and concern when he discovers his room has been ransacked by Mr. Peters.  Negulesco smartly maintains Cornelius’s point of view by not cutting to a camera angle that places Mr. Peters in the foreground until after establishing his entrance.

 

What follows is a back and forth edit of not quite over the shoulder two shots on both Cornelius and Mr. Peters.  Note the waist high camera position, which will come into play after the near jump cut to a similar two shot when Mr. Peters says, “Since you have returned so unexpectedly.”  This shot will eventually become a single on Mr. Peters.  After Cornelius takes a seat, the camera dollies in and tilts up until Cornelius dominates and looms over the frame as he presses Cornelius for answers to his questions.

 

The dialogue is fast and stylish which helps the latter part of the scene overcome what is exposition about Demitrios.  My guess is fast paced dialogue was carried over from the similar dialogue pace of screwball comedies of the 1930’s and early 1940’s such as His Gal Friday.  I haven’t seen Nobody Lives Forever but I have seen The Maltese Falcon and there appears to be many similarities with the Peter Lorre/Sydney Greenstreet hunt for a missing object or person with ties to exotic locations type of storyline.

 

Cornelius’s dark room, the exaggerated angle on Mr. Peters and the exotic motifs and mystery of Dimitrios’s life are all film elements found in many film noir movies.

 

-Mark

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I might say that Leyden appears more realistic, Peters more formalized (especially in the shot from below that gives a perspective that is not Leyden's, which creates a dissonance that balances with the gentlemanly dialogue). The exchanges feels a little like a ballet. It is interesting to listen to the exchange and to think of what is not being said except on a different level (one assisted by the filming).

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In the clip from Jean Negulesco’s The Mask Of Dimitrios (1944), Peter Lorre's character walks off the elevator flipping his hat, and preoccupied thinking of something.  The music playing is not dark or ominous.  But as Peter Lorre opens the door, the music shifts to a "beware" forte.   The upturned room along with the music, leads the viewer that something bad is about to happen and then Sidney Greenstreet appears with his gun in hand walking through a dark shadow.  

 

The clip now engages in the characters conversation, no music and the focus shifts to each character as does the camera.  Each character is focused on separately as the viewer concentrates on the conversation. 

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Each character appears on scene rather calmly yet their demeanors are starkly different. Lorre enters as though he is weary, tired from the day's events. Greenstreet enters with a bit self-assurance and confidence. The camera seems to reflect that as well. The camera is angled upward as it zooms toward Greenstreet. He also takes up most of the visual space. This implies that he is a man of power and influence. This is contrasted by Lorre's appearance. The camera is angled downward and very central in the picture. He appears to be a small man with little confidence. If you notice during Greenstreet's closeup, he is looking down on Lorre.

 

I've never seen this film before, so I'm curious as to the lighting in this scene. There are two lamps in the room; one behind each character. Behind Lorre is a cheaplamp that emits a spotty pattern on the wall. Behind Greenstreet, there is a softer light and the lamp itself is elegant (much like how you'd find in a boudoir). I'm sure their placement is no accident and there's something far more significant.

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Peters (Greenstreet) is basically the same character as Gutman from The Maltese Falcon: he has the same delivery style and the same lyrical phrasing. Lorre's character though seems far more down to earth than the effete character he played in the Falcon, a little more world-weary perhaps, and less afraid too when he has a gun pointed at him! 

 

In this short clip we saw numerous framing techniques being used during the conversation: full shots, medium shots, close-ups, and also over the shoulder shots, high and low angles, and pov. The most noticable shot was the low angle shot as the camera moved towards Greenstreet and making him appear to loom massively...must've been highly effective on the big screen! 

 

It's interesting too to note that Colonel Haki is name-checked in this clip: the same Haki as was played by Orson Welles in Journey into Fear, another Noir being shown during this course. 

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The last time I saw these two, they were after the Falcon, but this time they initially appear to be opposites. I thought Sydney Greenstreet's entrance was much more dramatic as he walks out of the bathroom gun in hand. Peter Lorre's character seems more likable, primarily because he's the victim in this scene. I find it interesting how he just wants to go to sleep, even with Greenstreet still there and armed. As the scene continues, these two once again have a bond, this time it's the titular character Dimitrios that binds them. The camera has Lorre's back and Greenstreet from the front with gun in hand. In The Maltese Falcon there are some scenes with various characters, like the scene in Spade's living room which features shots of the entire cast, unlike this scene which features camera shots for each individual character. 

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Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet have one of the most perfect relationships between two actors on camera in history.  Because of this, I think that they are both equally dramatic in their entrance.  It seems that it was the directorial intention to have similar entrances, but also that the two men work so well together that it just naturally blends.

 

I think that they both make intriguing entrances, but Greenstreet's, for a man with such large presence (both literally and figuratively), it seems almost more curious.  Unlike the stereotype gunpointer, Greenstreet remains extremely subtle and does not even showcase his intentions beyond the request he makes to Lorre.  His dynamic barely changes as he continues to seek out who Dimitrios is and why Lorre's character is so invested in him.  Nothing suggests that he is particularly alarmed or angry, but just finds the whole event mysterious.

 

Lorre, on the other hand, is alarmed by Greenstreet.  His entrance and actions, though they number fewer than Greenstreet's, are much more dramatic and full of tension.  Despite this, I find him less interesting, perhaps because he seems to appear as the "villain" while Greenstreet, more of the PI, seeks out the answer.  Since we don't know anything about Lorre from this small clip, Greenstreet almost seems like the far-off stranger whose motivations you want to study for a greater understanding of what provokes him to remain so calm in the presence of a potential criminal.

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As Lorre steps out of the elevator into a fully-lit hallway, he seems wistful, making observations to himself about someone being without scruples or morals. He seems to have some minor difficulty putting the key into the keyhole, but then as he finally gets the door open his mood shifts to surprise as he notices that the contents of the room are in complete disarray. He is bewildered and then alarmed as a figure emerges from another room, backlit so that we see only the silhouette of Sidney Greenstreet. As Greenstreet continues to approach Lorre we see that he is holding a gun.Lorre seems not so much afraid as agitated. Their verbal exchange reveals that, as in the Maltese Falcon, they are both in search of something, but in this case it is a someone. And whereas in The Maltese Falcon they had worked together, in this story they are rivals. In both films their search has taken them on a global chase to parts exotic. The director uses several camera techniques to convey advantage/disadvantage between these characters, finally settling at a low, upward angle on Greenstreet, giving the impression that, as the clip closes, he has the "upper hand". 

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I absolutely LOVE Greenstreet's entrance here, the way the low, trembling strings create that utterly sinister tone. I often think how this actor must have been having tremendous fun in his portrayals. He was certainly the antithesis of the Hollywood glamour boy, and was loving every minute of it, apparently.

 

The chemistry with Lorre is perfect, which explains the long collaboration they shared in 8 films (I believe.)  A winning formula, to say the least.

 

One gets the sense that this director knew what special and superb talents he had to work with and made the best of it, as in having the camera roll slowly up to right under Greenstreet's chin, having Lorre lounging casually with a smoke even right after his possessions have been violated and he has a firearm pointed at him!

 

Beneath the intrigue and tension there's that undercurrent of true masters delivering a fantastic entertainment and, as I mentioned, a real sense of fun in the offing.

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This scene gets the most out of the duo's contrasting physical presence and style. Their interplay is so rich.

 

At the beginning of the scene we see Leyden approaching his hotel room, distractedly playing with his hat, his thoughts all wrapped up in something intriguing about which he muses aloud to an unseen conversation partner  - "...completely unmoral -- and fascinating". I detect curiosity and a sharp mind hiding behind a deceptively sleepy exterior. The music hints at trouble ahead. And it comes as Leyden unlocks his room and sees that it's been ransacked. Unsettling harp notes reinforce the sense of disorder. An intruder was, or is, here! So to sum up, Leyden is introduced into the scene from the foreground, he dominates it and our POV is his.

 

And through his POV we see Peters enter the scene from the background, small at first but growing ever larger as he moves forward, accompanied by ominous low notes. Midrange he pulls the gun. At this point both characters appear equal in the frame as they engage in verbal sparring, in the midst of which the POV reverses. No more music now, the focus is entirely on the two adversaries' back-and-forth. They are in a standoff at this point. Neither knows "where the other stands". We, and Leyden, can't quite gauge how dangerous Peters is and how real the threat of the gun, as Leyden lowers, then raises again, his arms, and probes Peters with cautious defiance and a bit of righteous indignation - "I'm tired, I go to bed", "waving this silly pistol in my face", "Are you drunk, Sir?" Peters, for his part, remains silent, forcing Leyden to keep guessing. When Leyden asks, "Are you mad?", Peters' look suggests for a moment that it may be just so. The actors play the scene with a delicate balance of humor and menace that keeps us uncertain.

 

The last part of the scene is visually dominated by Peters who grows ever larger in the camera's eye as he questions Leyden to find out what he knows. Leyden's challenge to Peters as to what he hoped to find "in the bindings of my books and my tube of toothpaste" brings Peters back down to (normal) size somewhat. Around this point I get the impression that the ice is breaking. The two men are going to be frank with one another and pool their resources in the search for Dimitrios.

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Seems Greenstreet and Lorre are always after something or someone. They are both masters of the trade, yet often when sharing a scene together, I find their presence to be somewhat patterned and predictable. Almost comical, as we 'feel' we know so well what to expect. In roles outside of noir, they seem a bit more flexible. And I confess, I was fixated more on the actors than the surroundings, which is intended as a high compliment. I have a great deal of respect for these actors and always enjoy watching them. I look foward to finally seeing this film Friday evening.

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If I ever saw "The Mask of Dimitrios," it's been decades, but the scene is instantly familiar. Lorre and Greenstreet are after the valuable object with the mysterious past. That object could just as easily be The Maltese Falcon. Watching this clip also triggers memories of Lorre and Bogart's collaboration on "Beat the Devil," which wasn't exactly noir, but screwball comedy chicanery. Robert Morley served as "the fat man" in that picture. 

 

Sidney Greenstreet first appears as a shadow. "Would you be so good as to shut the door behind you?" A polite way of speaking when you're holding a gun on someone.

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- Peter Lorre walks almost lightheartedly and the camera is on him in a medium to close shot.  Sydney Greenstreet walks in quite directly but is framed in a long shot.

- The lighting is darker in the apartment than the hallway and the music changes and heightens when we enter the apartment.  Greenstreet simultaneously passes through a shadow and throws one as he emerges from the other room.   At first Greenstreet speaks in an almost conciliatory tone, but as he becomes more direct and the faster he speaks, the camera closes in on him at a slightly low angle.

- Sydney Greenstreet is a polite and philosophical bad guy in search of something in both The Mask of Dimitrios and The Maltese FalconIn both of those films, Peter Lorre plays a character who is certainly not pure, yet is not a heavy.

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The opening scene we viewed on The Mask of Dimitrios has the camera on Peter Lorre exiting from the elevator of a well lit classy hotel and then follows him (along with the audience) to his hotel room which has been violated.  Sydney Greenstreet  emerges from a shadow in the bathroom, gun in hand to confront Lorre.  The camera remains over Lorre's shoulder but pulls back to a medium shot framing both characters.  Once they exchange a few words the camera switches to an over the shoulder shot from Greenstreet's side of the room which gives their characters equal values of importance.  A few more dialog exchanges and shared camera angles and each character gets an individual close up and medium shot.  Again I'm thinking the director is purposely balancing out these shots so that we, the audience will maintain a neutral attitude or remain confused as to who is good or bad and who we should trust in unraveling this story. 

Very much like The Maltese Falcon there is a lot of detail in story and plot points being dropped or explained by the characters amongst themselves,  most likely for our benefit, to move the story along and/or confuse other characters, or us, of true intentions.  Hold on to your fedoras, it's going to be another one of those..."You're trying to find out what your father hired me to find out and I'm trying to find out why you're tying to find out..."

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I like at the beginning where Lorre moves from light as he steps out of the elevator to near darkness as he opens the door of his room. Greenstreet is seem to emerge from the shadows of the bathroom door. One noir technique that I see here is not only the use of light and shadow but that you see characters frequently casting shadows as Lorre does as he approaches the door to his room. Characters not only move in and out of shadow but they also create shadows.

 

The other thing that happens is the use of camera angle and close-ups to show the shifting dominance of the Lorre and Greenstreet as the scene progress. This is especially true in the low angle shot that dollies in and makes the large Greenstreet loom even larger. But note that a bit earlier when he sits down, the relatively short Lorre is standing and this seems to indicate a shift in power is either real or possible. As Lorre becomes more and more confident of his position he is seen to visibly relax and almost become limp even though a gun is pointed at him.

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Peter Lorre was always one of my most favorite actors, even as a child whenever he was on, I watched.  In this particular scene, I find the camera close up of Greenstreet from the lower angle a fascinating take. As the camera rolls in his persona grows. As Lorre lights his cigarette and relaxes compliments the scen,. perfectly. I didn't notice the lighting in this scene as much as previous scenes in the daily doses, but the camera angle in this piece was very noticeable. Also the music as Greenstreet comes out from the back was very well done.

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How the characters enter the room from opposite ends sets the tone for probably conflict.  Of course, the gun is a major indicator of conflict (please note heavy sarcasm in that sentence).  I am struck by the light from the lamp – and the lamp itself as it isn’t overturned, much like the rest of the room, but also remains off-center, favoring Sydney Greenstreet.  Its shade is sedate and calm, much like Sydney’s character. When the camera angle changes so the audience can see Peter Lorre, the other lamp that isn’t overturned does have the shade removed, casting a wide and spectacular patter of light in the corner near the bed.  It matches his delivery of his lines. When Sydney’s character begins speaking of Dimitrios, the camera comes in closer as the tension in his words build.  It’s as if we are viewing him as Peter’s character would – but the angle is very noir. 

 

Both actors from Mask of Dimitrios and Maltese Falcon have distinctive speaking patterns that carry from movie to movie.  However, Peter’s character is much more sedate, less nervous, while Sydney’s character isn’t as gregarious.  However, I love watching both actors very much – probably because they are from the “un-pretty urban tough guy” corral. 

 

And I could swear my mother wrote that note.  It looks just like her handwriting!

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Sydney Greenstreet, the famed "fat man", and Peter Lorre, the sniveling weasel, both made epic appearances in The Maltese Falcon.  Using these actors in other films gives the audience a frame of reference.  "He's the guy from ...."  "Wonder if this character is like ...."  "Oh, it's that kind of film."  

 

Lorre enters, relaxed, carefree - playing with his hat, talking to himself, smiling.  He enters his room, sees a disaster, and says, "This is funny."  But his tone doesn't equate funny with odd, but more funny with humorous.  Most of us probably would've said something much stronger, like "What the heck -- ?!"  With the entrance of Greenstreet and the gun, Lorre's character doesn't seem to become more worried or agitated.  He continues in his same relaxed mode, chatting, saying, "I'm tired.  I'm going to bed."  He's not worried or afraid.  Lorre eventually sits, lights a cigarette, and even as Greenstreet is reading from the "secret, hidden" paper,  Lorre leans back on the bed and smiles.  Wait -- Is he as innocent as he seems?

 

Greenstreet enters with his gun-- not what we expect a burglar to be.  He doesn't bark out orders; he doesn't scramble around, tying up his victim; he doesn't mind Lorre's relaxed, chatty attitude.  He's obviously well-educated, with a speech pattern not common with burglars.  He does have a goal in mind, and he isn't going to be distracted from it.  He pulls out the hidden paper, reading through the secret information.  He enjoys the verbal sparring that Lorre begins when asked about Colonel Haki.  This victim is going to be a mental challenge; so much the better (and more enjoyable) for Greenstreet's character.

 

The camera angles are especially interesting when the characters are seated.  In a closeup of Greenstreet, the camera moves in from slightly below his face, looking up, creating a character who is larger than life.  Lorre is usually filmed straight on, until he leans back on the bed.  However, instead of becoming a smaller, weaker figure, he seems to mysteriously gain some slight edge of power and control.  In the camera view, we see his body relaxing, his face smiling.  So -- Who really has the upper hand in this scene?

My thoughts exactly. It is a very intriguing interaction between the characters as Lorre shows no fear that his room has been ransacked or that Greenstreet enters with a gun. He displays more of a mild annoyance and attempts at dismissal. The lighting, camera angles and music are working hard to give it the Noir vibe and of course the use of these actors means automatically you know what kind of a ride you will be on but with Lorre's attitude, who is really in control here? He asks Greenstreet if he is a burglar or drunk? But his nonchalance in his reactions (right up to lying down) suggest either he is so confident he is unfazed or perhaps he is not all there. In comparing this to Falcon, Greenstreet displays his usual streetwise, tough but aristocratic attitude where with Lorre, in Falcon he was always nervous and unsure. In The Mask of Dimitrios he is almost too casual about the whole thing. I am going to guess that if the average person walked into this scene in their own home we would no be so relaxed.

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Okay, perhaps I’m flaunting my ignorance but I’m not sure I truly see the “house style” thing. Yes, I see similarities in “Mask of Dimitrios,” “The Maltese Falcon,” “To Have and Have Not,” “They Made Me a Criminal,” “White Heat,” and so on. But the same year that Warner Brothers made “Mask of Dimitrios,” they made “Shine on Harvest Moon,” “Arsenic and Old Lace,”  “The Adventures of Mark Twain,” “The Desert Song,” and “Hollywood Canteen.” So perhaps we’re only seeing a studio style in retrospect.

On the other hand, I have to admit that Warner Brothers made a LOT of noir crime dramas. But I still think it is a leap to say that the Brother’s or their minions were necessarily controlling the style of the films. Instead, I think this gives more credence to the idea of noir as a movement.

Movie making on this scale is more business than art. When something works – is profitable - you stick with it. That’s why the movies are similar. Put an enormous elegant guy in a scene with a little weasel with big eyes, and the audience will lap it up. Of course they’re going to us the same actors and directors and writers and designers again and again.

So fine, call it a “house style” if you want; I know what you mean. On the other hand, I think this is more about commerce than art.

I suspect I will be in the minority with this opinion.

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the entrance of Lorre is relaxed and informal, rather shambling;  however Greenstreet strides onto the scene with purpose and (holding a gun) malice.  As the scene develops, we see that the two really are kind of friends and both seeking the same answers.  As to the lighting, it seems chiaroscuro to me, with the dark surrounding the highlighted faces.  Very stylish!

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The Mask Of Dimitrios (1944) Peter Lorre & Sydney Greenstreet, their conversational, threatening banter in the scene is perfect and villainous at the same time. What intrigues me is the way both speak. They voices don't really change from film to film. They sound the same as they did in Casablance yet I look forward to seeing them in these films. There is something about these two onscreen that just pulls you in.

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