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Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose of Darkness #15: MGM Noir (Scene From The Postman Always Rings Twice)

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Turner and Garfield get into a stare down.  Garfield "wins" the battle, but Turner mesmerizes and you know she'll win the war.  Wheels are already turning.  The hook is being set.  Great clip!  When you have two fine character actors as Cecil Kellaway and Leon Ames, you know the movie is a good one.  

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The entrance of Garfield's character reveals him to be a wisecracking wanderer who seems to have been hitchhiking when we first see him. Why he has such "itchy feet" is anyone's guess at this point.

 

Turner's entrance, on the other hand, reveals her sex appeal and doesn't have her saying much. In this scene at least, you could make the feminist argument that she is portrayed as a sex object--at least, in the eyes of Garfield's character (hello, Formalism). In other words, a study of the male gaze.

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Cain had a way of writing evil woman that is second to none, and it is hard not to compare this scene to Stanwyck's in Double Indemnity since the stories are pretty much the same.

As stated this was an A picture and you get that with the production value. Going by this scene alone you would have a hard time telling it is a Noir, except when you get that pan up of Lana's legs and you just know that Garfield is in trouble.

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Notice the shadows and diagonals as we pan the floor to Turner's legs.  If we were in the theater when this was new, and we had seen any noir films prior to this one, we'd immediately think "trouble".  Her face being in light shadow, in addition to what she's wearing, let us know that this is no happy homemaker.

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You know that John is a pretty wise guy to find out who gave him a ride, even if he is extremely polite.  But his holding on to the dropped lipstick is the seal that this guy is our sam spade without a PI badge.  But the best is Lana's entrance.  WOW, from the camera angle of his POV you see the shoe/legs/body/face of why this film will never die or become dated.  Her closeup is filtered, giving us that softness that leeds to trouble often.

 

I really just like the shadows on the floor from the dropped lipstick for the interior filming as the best noir but the wide angle lens outside, let's us see the Twin Oaks and soak in the noir ish feel of man wanted sign, a little telling..........

 

For the MGM studio that promotes Glamorous stars, safe middle-class appeal, high budgets and production values    

i think  had a sexiness that most noirs fail to rise to.  High budgets must mean better sets, for

i love their set designs in all of their noir's.   I would change the promotes to sex appeal with money to back it.........lol.

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The opening of the film sets the entire story in motion by establishing the characters, not just as the star players (although Garfield and especially Turner are given star entrances), but exactly as they will move through the film. 

 

The opening sets up almost an erotic dream for Garfiled (the farmer's daughter story) that merely intimates the nightmare (certainly the all-white, sensual entrance of Turner makes her seem like some kind of angel of light rather than the femme fatale, she won’t let her hair down, literally or figuratively until later, by which time we know from the entrance not to trust her). 

 

Similarly Garfield’s moral universe is established both in his anticipation of the cop as crooked, but in his demurring on the job because of his wandering feet – Cecil Kellaway is all foolish trusting optimism and energy as he not only brings the fox into the henhouse but hands it the keys.  Even the burnt burger anticipates Garfields willingness to act on instinct. 

 

Is the cop crooked or not?  The environment is clearly established – the cliffs, the sea, the remoteness and small-town feel (a half hour from San Francisco and on a coast – seemingly the edge of the world).  

 

The last 90 seconds are silent except for two exchanges: Garfield: you dropped this? Turner: Thanks.  The dialogue is meaningless filler to a scene which is completely about a seduction completed –a trap being set and walked into by both of the men (Is it possible Turner pointed out the stranger on the sidewalk to her husband?).  Garfield’s hips give into Turner, she watches him, she moves in.  The last thing we expect in this sequence is that Turner is somehow married to Kellaway.  It’s impossible.  Their styles, physiognomy, mannerisms are polar opposites – Kellaway is spontaneous, energetic, trusting; Turner is controlled, mannered and manipulative.  We know her lipstick didn’t fall, but she would never, ever be seen baiting the trap.  People walk into it.

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-- How are the "entrances" of John Garfield and Lana Turner staged in this sequence? What do their "entrances" reveal about their character?

 

John Garfield seems to be a free spirit that seems to be a vagabond. Nothing will ever keep him in one place too long. Lana Turner, on the other hand, signifies danger. Based on how she enters the scene, she is used to getting what she wants by manipulating men. That is demonstrated by how's she stands there and expect him to come to her but he doesn't budge and she comes to him. At this moment, the game is on and I have never seen this film and I am quite interested in who wins this battle.

 

-- What are some of the noir elements in this sequence?

 

Of course, the ever present "Black & White" film, the narration by John Garfield's presenting how it all started. Even with the scene being filmed in the daylight, the lighting in the diner gives off that type of mood that only film noir can do. Look at how objects and the characters shadow project on the walls. Look at the angles of the shooting, particularly how the camera follows the lipstick as it rolls across the floor then as it pans up Turner's legs to reveal who she is. This is a true "Femme Fatale".

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The outdoor scene reveals Garfield as a "streetsmart" man, accusing the cop and dropping a petty life philosophy remark on itching feet (won´t stay). The lipstick/shadow play (noir then) reveals the femme fatale. She gives in to the first battle, knowing that her looks and her gaze paved way for the, if wanted, final "win". Somewhat surprising that Garfield plays the macho directly, no manners :-). The lost hamburger adds some relief to the tension of the scene. This to create dynamics of the experience of the film, to get a dedicated public, if successful. We do not yet know the relations between the gas station man and the woman so that is for now open.

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Frank is a rover.  He sees a "man" wanted sign.  Not "help" wanted.  This of course has a dual meaning.  Nick wants him to take the job but Frank is not willing to commit.  Not until that lipstick rolls across the floor.  What an entrance Lana Turner has!  As Cora, she stands there in her all white ensemble of shorts, midriff top, white open toe pumps, and last, but certainly not least, that turban.  She looks at herself in the mirror and holds out her hand expecting Frank to return the lipstick.  He makes her come to him.  Her movements are minimal and nonchalant.  She walks back, applies her lipstick, then closes the door shutting him out.  He may have won the battle this time but one senses he has lost the war.

 

Watching classic films growing up I never understood Turner's appeal.  Unfortunately, I saw the remake of  "The Postman Always Rings Twice"  first and was so unimpressed it was years later before seeing this film.  As I viewed Turner's entrance for the first time I thought "so THAT's Lana Turner".  Needless to say, this film I find far superior to the remake.

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The entrances of Frank and Cora are very different.  Frank comes in with the over narration, being dropped off after hitching.  The driver continues the conversation of why Frank is always off to new place, and new people and ideas.  We quickly discover that the driver of the car is the District Attorney. 

 

Frank then tells the owner of the diner he has a problem about working, itchy feet, but is offered a hamburger and then the owner has to go pump gas.  Then suddenly there is a soft thud of something falling and rolling, a tube of lipstick, then we see Cora’s feet and legs in high heels, and then suddenly her whole body, in shorts and halter top, and the quick intake of breath that Frank gives. 

 

Frank makes Cora come to him to get her lipstick, then when she is back in the doorway she moves to side view to give him a good look before closing the door.  While this is going on Frank’s hamburger is sizzling away and burning on the grill.

 

From the discussion you know Frank is looking for something, but is in no hurry to find it, but he plans to move around.  Right away you can tell that Cora is the femme fetale and that there will be crime with the introduction of the D.A. in the beginning.  At the end of the scene there are some shadows and rectangles and even bar type shadows, especially as Cora is about to shut the door.

 

This is different from other scenes in that there is so much light.  There is a brighter look to things and we have A list stars, and extremely well known character actors.  It also seems to be diffuse light over Lana Turner (Cora) to make her even more appealing, not unlike the light on Ingrid Bergman in Casablana .

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-- How are the "entrances" of John Garfield and Lana Turner staged in this sequence? What do their "entrances" reveal about their character?

 

 

This is a good example of a Film Soleil type of Film Noir those sun-bleached filled with light Noirs, the visual depiction of ol' Western phrase "Going South", the place to make a getaway.

 

It starts off with the "Man Wanted" sign in bright sun little do we know at the time that it's message is actually more relevant to Cora. Garfield arrives, a hitch-hiker, needing a shave, down on his luck, looking for a change, he carries his small suitcase of everything he owns. The "Man Wanted" sign beckons, the owner Gus comes out and makes his pitch offering a free burger as a sample of the board part of the free "room & board". Garfield displays the grifter look of spotting an easy mark, at least he'll get fed.

 

In the diner Gus gives Garfield, sitting on a bar stool, the low down, and starts to grill a burger. A car honks outside at the gas pump, Garfield offers to watch it and Gus departs.

 

A noise from the floor directs our now POV Garfield down to see a lipstick tube roll towards us. The up panning POV reveals their source, first the light from a doorway leading to a set of feet attached to great pair of legs and the woman they belong to dressed in a white, skimpy (for the time) halter & shorts. The woman is maybe a blond and the white isn't virginal.

 

After Garfield picks up the tube she holds out her hand seeing if she has some power over Garfield, seeing if he will come to her. Garfield holds his ground displaying his own power, this is a mutual attraction. Cora retrieves the tube then goes back to be framed again

in the doorway, and flashes a profile that barley covers her assets.

 

So the "free room & board" is actually "free room, board, & broad".

 

Powerful.

 

-- What are some of the noir elements in this sequence?

 

 

The bright overbearing sunlight reducing Garfield's shadow to an insignificant dough-nut. He has no money his shadow on the land is small.

 

The cooler lighting of the interior of the diner, what is it signifying? The safe harbor that drifter Garfield longs for or the lure of a trap.

 

The  editing, camera movements and the POV changes are integrated nicely.

 

The VO narration.

 

-- What did you notice in this sequence that you identify with the MGM "house style?" (Answer this question only if you are already familiar with other MGM films noir from this time period).





 

Well I believe that is the more conventional realistic lighting, not darkly expressionist formalistic surrealistic trending as other "house" styles

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How are the "entrances" of John Garfield and Lana Turner staged in this sequence? What do their "entrances" reveal about their character?


John Garfield's entrance is very natural and can tell a lot about.  He seems very carefree.  Lana Turners entrance is very staged and precise. Its like she wanted to see if he would cater to her by bringing her the lipstick.  But he didn't and she closed the door but after putting on her lipstick.


What are some of the noir elements in this sequence?


Definitely the slow reveal of Lana Turner and the game she plays of dropping her lipstick. Then the closing of the door after he doesn't do what she wanted.


What did you notice in this sequence that you identify with the MGM "house style?" (Answer this question only if you are already familiar with other MGM films noir from this time period).  


I am not sure if Laura, The Letter and Mildred Pierce are MGM house of Style movies?.


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.  We know her lipstick didn’t fall, but she would never, ever be seen baiting the trap.  People walk into it.

 

It's a little bit like the reverse of Robert Mitchum dropping the coin that rolls over to Kathie's table in Out of the Past. Her little pretending-to-ignore him routine kind of reminds me of Carmen's actions in the scene we watched from The Big Sleep.

 

My trouble with this scene--through a "modern" pair of eyes--is that the Turner character is pushed into too much of an extreme for me to find her actually sexy. It's more like a parody of sexy--the midriff-revealing outfit, the all-white ensemble, the soft-focus long shot of her face, her hair wrapped up in that ridiculous spa style, her insistence on staring into her compact. She might as well be flouncing into a convenience store wearing a ball gown. My genuine reaction the first time I saw this movie years ago was "Ha ha--eh--she's awful." It sort of works because Garfield sells you on the idea that his character is transfixed, but this is one movie that always kind of kept me at arm's length.

 

The burned hamburger is an obvious piece of foreshadowing: this kind of distraction can lead to irreversible destruction.

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How are the "entrances" of John Garfield and Lana Turner staged in this sequence? What do their "entrances" reveal about their character?

- Garfield starts in a backdrop of realism.  Garfield’s dialogue (and more importantly?) tone of voice are friendly, even lighthearted.  When he enters the rod house the lighting changes.   This setting is somewhat darker, with medium contrast shadows.  the interior of the roadhouse, because of these shadows s seems a halfway point between realism and formalism.  Lana Turner’s entrance is preceded by definite formalism—the lipstick rolling across fairly high contrast shadows that form diagonals.  She is dressed in white and her marks always put her in direct light.  Garfield’s tone, although only one line, is decidedly not lighthearted.

Garfield is a happy-go-lucky adventurous guy, but he has a preconceived notion that everyone is on the take and/or has “an angle.”  Despite the lack of dialogue [in the 59 seconds from the lipstick rolling until the door closes, each only says three words] there is a power play for dominance.
              


 

What are some of the noir elements in this sequence?

- First person narration in the beginning.  The lighting gets darker s Garfield moves from outside to inside and thus closer to a new world.  The formalism of the lipstick rolling cross diagonal shadow coupled with ominous music that immediately precedes our view of Lana Turner (--and those gams--).  Contrast is the watchword here: Light and dark are at ply in many elements; Garfield in dark clothes, Turner in white; Garfield in the shadows, Turner is nearly always in the light.  The music says that Turner is a femme fatal, but she is dressed white (good guy in the white hat?), almost bathed in light initially, and her tone of voice has a friendly girl-next- door quality.


#3 *SUBSTITUTE QUESTION
What “foreshadowing” did you see in this film clip?

- The D. A. asks Garfield about his future then suggests he might be seeing him again.
The motorcycle siren gets our (and Garfield’s) attention—does Garfield have a nefarious past?  Will Garfield encounter this cop or other police later in the picture?
Garfield’s feet itching to go places.
The mention of a “fine bed.”
These statements make us wonder what will happen and wonder also what ones might be “red herrings.”

              

 

 

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the scene opens with a voiceover narration, Frank is then seen exiting the car that picked him up while hitchhiking by the DA no less. We learn that he is always on the go and he never likes any job he gets. It seems like he's looking for something but  can't seem to find it. He spots the "Man Wanted sign" and he says "The future might start here". While in  the diner Cora is seen standing in the doorway that leads upstairs which leads me to believe she lives there with her dad. I liked the close up shots of both characters too.

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I thought the shadows on the walls and floor were very noir.  As Frank sits at the counter talking to Cora's husband, a confined shadow of cross hatches is located on the wall behind Frank, at the same level visually as his head.  When the lipstick tube rolls across the floor, the camera shoots the shadows on the floor, presumably from the diner window, on the diagonal.  As the camera eventually views Cora in full, there are diagonal cross hatches on the walls on either side of her very cramped framing, with the shadows larger on the left versus the right.  These crossing linear shadows in diagonal form suggest that deeper motives--cross purposes, betrayed, double crosses--are at work, compared to the superficial motives we see of a guy looking for temporary work and a woman who dropped her lipstick.

 

I liked his entrance in the scene in that he's being driven by someone else.  He lets others drive him to his eventual destination, in more ways than one, and what he does is prompted by cues generated by others--the sign with "Man Wanted" led him to seek work at the diner.  His introduction suggests he is not completely in control of his present circumstances.

 

Cora's also standing at the bottom of a staircase that is behind her. Stair cases in noir suggest the fortunes of the characters on or by a staircase--whether they go up or down the staircase foreshadows their trajectory in the film.  Although we don't see her coming down the steps, her standing near the base of the steps may suggest she's reached the "bottom" in more than the usual sense.  Interesting that the stairs are also viewed on the diagonal by the camera and not straight on--another noir feature implying a tipping point in the story--with a tidy bull's eye on the floor at the base of the steps.  

 

Although Frank's burger is burning, she's also reached the depths of her declining moral fortunes by her position at the bottom of the staircase.

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Another one I haven't seen, yet. So another load of assumptions.

 

Frank seems to live on coincidence. His dialogue makes it clear that he longs to keep moving, but the actions that surround him make clear how much of his living is based on luck and chance. Even the car that picked him up; it belonged to the district attorney, which will probably become important later on. He gets out of the car and is immediately offered a job and a meal. He sits down for said meal and is immediately introduced to the stunning Lana Turner. And throughout it all he passively goes along with whatever anyone else decides.

Lana Turner, on the other hand, seems to orchestrate every aspect of her life. From the 'accidental' drop of her lipstick(I think someone else has noted how unlikely it would be for her to honestly drop that item) to the pose she's standing in when Frank notices her. She's acted as the director here, guiding his line of sight so that he notices her when she's ready, and when she's perfectly lit. Seriously, it's mid day and she's chosen the most shadow filled spot in the room to stand. She also plans to direct Frank's actions, holding out her hand imperially for the lipstick case. But here Frank spoils that plan, and leans back, mirroring her pose, so that she is forced to come to him. Here's someone who won't play her games, but she gives a smile that says she knows better.

 

John Garfield's character seems to glide through life like a leaf on the breeze(to paraphrase another tragic character), Lana Turner's seems to command life to do what she wishes.

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First off let me say Lana Turner is a smoking hot babe. She oozes sex in her entrance wearing her little outfit teasing dude when she "accidentally" drops her lipstick. Garfield enters as a hitchhiker, dropped off by who we know as the D.A.. Garfield is dressed decently so he's not a hobo but a man in transition to whatever he makes of himself.


I see traditional Venetian blinds shadows typical of noir, the femme fa-tale background music when Turner appears in her closeup, the supposition of dude going to the gas chamber when dame seduces him and into noir zone.

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-- How are the "entrances" of John Garfield and Lana Turner staged in this sequence? What do their "entrances" reveal about their character?


 


John Garfield is obviously a drifter, wandering from place to place, and has a quick wit.


Lana Turner is like Phyllis in Double Indemnity, Mrs. O'Shaunssey in the Maltese Falcon,  Lisbeth Scott in Two Late For Tears. They know how to put on the little innocent "school girl" act. And the way they framed Lana Turner was part of MGM style, glossy, glam.


 


 


-- What are some of the noir elements in this sequence?


 


At first, not very noir. It seems light hearted, but Lana just like Kathy in Out of the Past, Phyliss in Double Indemnity, even Audrey Totter in the Lady of the Lake(but she was too hard acting), they have tricks up their sleeves. Number 1 trick is pretending to be nice and sweet and trying to keep up this act as long as possible.


 


It's like in the old Westerns, the good guys wore white and the bad guys black. That's why they wear white. They are trying to through people off.  Well the femme fatales pretend to in the good guy camp until they are busted and even then they try hard to keep up that act


 


-- What did you notice in this sequence that you identify with the MGM "house style?" (Answer this question only if you are already familiar with other MGM films noir from this time period).


MGM films are glossy, high budget.  A movie with a similar plot made by Equity Pictures, B movie, is Shed No Tears and you can tell it's low budget and actors are not top level stars. 


Now on to other film noirs in the time such as,  The Asphalt Jungle and Johnny Eager.


Notable is that tge Asphalt Jungle had Marilyn Monroe in it and Johnny Eager, Lana Turner.  Also Tension had Audrey Totter.


MGM's style is glossy, glam, I like to call it the land where pretty people live.  The MGM noirs seem a bit unauthentic to me for that reason.  BUT, they produced Force of Evil with John Garfield and that film doesn't even feel like a MGM noir because it's focused more on the story then playing up the pretty actors :-)


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How entrances are staged for Garfield and Turner/What each entrance reveals about their character:

 

Garfield is presented both literally and figuratively as a man in motion; a hitch hiker, he's getting out of a vehicle before he's even finished his latest story, and makes it clear to everyone he's not long for any one place. He's framed in a car window. In glaring contrast is Turner's slow "entrance" framed in a doorway; the only place she's headed for is trouble, which her deliberate dropping of the lipstick and petulant retrieval of it makes plain; her manipulative flirtation hasn't worked with this guy....yet. Whereas Garfield is happy-go-lucky, Turner is spoiled and entitled, and we can tell immediately that a union between the two will be disastrous. Her closing of the door accentuates the sexual tension building in the scene, and dares him to open it and cross the boundary into forbidden territory. As has been suggested, the "man wanted" sign serves her as much as it does the business.

 

Noir elements in this sequence:

 

The voice-over narration and flashback format are the first obvious noir elements. Even though the opening scene is filmed in daylight, the shadows of venetian blinds and lattice work make their way into the lunch kitchen, as does the overhead spotlighting and intense music. The unsettling, unexpected police siren foreshadows problems to come, and of course we already can see that Turner's character, clothed in stark white, is entirely out of place in her surroundings and up to no good.

 

MGM "house style" elements:

 

Using two big stars for the main characters is one thing, but the clearest MGM trademark here is the treatment of Turner, who literally glows in soft focus. Her ethereal beauty and effortless grace is underscored in striking contrast to her humble surroundings. Big MGM-ish "wow" effect.

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"I was hitchhiking from San Francisco down to ....San Diego I guess." This voiceover line tells us volumes about John Garfield's character. At this point he's directionless and doesn't have any kind of roots but is searching. This is confirmed when he thanks the DA for not laughing at his viewpoints on life. The conversation also tells us Garfield's character is amiable. No one can play a more likeable morally ambiguous character than Garfield. As the scene opens he's in the car and then when he gets out he still framed by the window. This could be symbolizing his confinement - trapped in his own search for something better, something ideal. He exits the car to open area ( you can't get more wide open than the ocean) saying maybe his future is there.

 

Lana Turner is introduced framed in a doorway possibly showing she too feels trapped in her circumstances. I believe she must have heard Garfield's conversation with her husband because she comes in cool almost cold yet alluring. Her white outfit reflects this as well. I say I believe she heard her husband's conversation with Garfield because if he was a customer she would have been a little more friendly and a lot less seductive.

 

You can definitely see the use of shadows in this clip. Shadows are used to frame Turner's eyes. Through the eyes of the camera we follow the vertical shadows on the floor (more signs of entrapment?) and pan up to Turner's legs. To me it seemed that when he was outside Garfield's face was more evenly lit, but inside looking at Turner his face seems only half lit giving it a little more of a lecherous appearance. We know he is having thoughts about her, he's sizzling just like the hamburger. If I understand it correctly, a good example of low key lighting. ( I definitely want to read up more on the whole lighting thing). That along with the voiceover gives us a definite sense of film noir.

 

I can't really speak on how it appears to be an MGM house style movie because the only MGM film noir I'm aware of being familiar with is "The Stranger". But I do want to say that both the "Postman Always Rings Twice" which is one of my favorites,and "The Stranger" seem glossier than Warner Brothers and RKO film noirs. I can't my finger on why that is, but then that's why I'm in this class. ----Or maybe it's just because I saw MGM lion roaring and thought "Glossy" ;)

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Daily Dose of Darkness #15: MGM Noir: “Man Wanted”

(Scene from The Postman Always Rings Twice)

 

—How are the entrances of John Garfield and Lana Turner staged in this sequence? What do their entrances reveal about their character?

We hear John Garfield before we see him. He narrates a very little bit about his journey from San Francisco to San Diego (he guesses). Garfield arrives at a roadside diner via hitch-hiking. The first time that we seem him, he’s standing on the far side of the car and his upper body is framed by the car window. He’s a drifter with a head, shoulders, and (eventually) a suitcase. We hear Lana Turner before we see her, courtesy of a dropped tube of lipstick that rolls in Garfield’s general direction. He picks it up, and the camera shows us what he sees first: Lana Turner’s legs. The camera pans up from her legs to a full-body shot. And Garfield likes what he sees.

—What are some of the noir elements in this sequence?

The sequence between Garfield and Turner is filled with tension and the characters vying for power almost from the start. Turner waits, expecting Garfield to come to her with her lipstick. But he refuses: He holds the tube in his open palm by the end of the lunch counter, and she finally decides, rather reluctantly, to come to him and retrieve her lipstick. But we don’t really know who has the upper hand in this tug-of-war. Turner turns her back on Garfield and closes the door, and Garfield’s hamburger, which was cooking on the grill, is burning. Things are sizzling in more ways than one!

 

I don’t know enough about film noir, let alone MGM film noir. I’ll have to pass on the last question. I bet I’ll be able to fill in some of the gaps during this course. I’m trying to keep up with the reading suggestions and the movies, but whatever I don’t see or read now, I know I’ll get to eventually.

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Fascinating how they immediately establish dominance. Whether accidental or contrived, they're introduced by the dropped lipstick. She holds her hand out, silently saying "Come here and give it to me". Garfield leans against the counter with the lipstick in his hand, silently "No, YOU come here if you want it". This, I believe, is the moment, the spark that ignites the flame that will destroy. She acquiesces... quickly seeing he's independant, strong, young and handsome...unlike her husband. On her closeup, her eyes are highlighted with light, she sees a ray of hope.

 

There are shadows, especially when Turner appears. Though she gleams in white, seemingly innocent, pristine, you see she's captive. Shadows are cast from the venetian blinds, lattice, shelf, and stairs...like bars, a place she's trapped in. Just before Garfield hands the lipstick back, the shadows are on his back now...he enters her world. Most of the shadows in the room disappear when she leaves the room, closing the door to her cage.

 

Regrettably, I am not that familiar with MGM "house style" to comment in this area....

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