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Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose of Darkness #23: Iverstown (Scene from The Strange Love of Martha Ivers)

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We continue our theme into "Film Noir in the Postwar Period" with a scene from early in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers.

 

This Daily Dose will be delivered Wednesday morning, July 15, by email from TCM.

 

You can also get this Daily Dose at Canvas, through this link: https://learn.canvas.net/courses/748/pages/daily-dose-of-darkness-number-23-july-15-2015

 

Let the discussions begin!

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Oh goodness. Where to start with the Noir elements that will play out?

 

1. Our district attorney drinks too much

2. Our returned childhood friends presumes too much on his friendship with the DA: lingering blackmail?

3. Our returning friend has a girlfriend in the clink.

4. Our DA is corruptible 

5. Our returning friend still lusts for the wife

6. The wife has a hot flash for the returning friend

7. The married couple with the slam of a door signal their unhappy relationship.

 

This is down and dirty in so many ways. I expect all of these Noir elements to come crashing together in an unholy climax. In fact I know they will because I have this movie on VHS (!)

 

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The tension presented in this scene plays out so beautifully. How can it not, with such talented actors as the flashy yet profound Barbara Stanwyck, the ever-caddish yet charming Van Heflin, and the brooding, newly-discovered Kirk Douglas? The undercurrents of this Daily Dose, one of the only so far to be relegated to a single location, and a small office room, no less, are completely in the hands of our characters, whose familiarity is a youthful memory, but a powerful one. What we are left with between these three tragic souls, however polished on the outside, is a veneer about to crack wide open. Phenomenal!

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I don't know who's radiating more pent up cynicism in this scene: the sleaze soaked Kirk Douglas in stellar debut or the alcohol soaked Van Heflin is an equally ideal part. All niceties and B.S. exchanges between uncomfortable childhood buddies. That is, until Barbara Stanwyck shows up. You can just see that soon to be famous cleft chin clinch up in Douglas as Heflin whistles his boyhood standby. Everything was perfectly content to sit on egg shells in this sleepy town, but old Van boy here has opened the murderous floodgates of the past. And that isn't going to bode well for anyone.

 

Except for us, of course, because THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS is a great little slice of small-town noir with a stellar cast. Look forward to seeing this on a TV screen instead of a YouTube panel of a desktop!

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This particular scene in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers gives an atmospheric feel of camaraderie, while hinting on rivalry in between Walter and Sam. Walter is all smiles in conversation with Sam, but does so with a somewhat clinched jaw. His face also tends to drop when Sam's back is turned. This provides an implication of a problematic past. Martha is likely the deciding factor as to why Walter has a seeming amount of pent up anger toward Sam.

 

Martha's entrance also hints on her having some kind of unknown past with Sam. She acts as though she doesn't know him, even after he tells her his name. This is possibly indicative of a cover, as their past most likely has not been disclosed either fully or even partially to Walter. Therefore, Martha's attempt at an abrupt exit is very telling, with Walter watching their interaction very keenly.

 

I suspect Martha is The Femme Fatale, who probably wants a life free of her current husband, Walter. She will likely turn to Sam for this kind of "help," especially due to his profession. Gambling can often involve a shady amount of company and illegal activities, so Sam is probably the man for the job.

 

However, since we are dealing with film noir here, none of the three will likely make it through the film without encountering the law, or ultimately death. Martha brings darkness and dread, and both men will be lured into her destructive, deadly game.

 

I would like to make note of The Postman Always Rings Twice and Gun Crazy as two films that either take place or begin in a small, rural town. Both films are great examples that make use of the classic elements of film noir, but do so in a different setting other than the big cities. This is a bit more intriguing because anything and anyone can be found in a metropolitan area, so a story of scheming and murder isn't all too uncommon. But, stories and characters as these occurring in a small, rural town is often that of an unlikelihood.

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In our “Summer of Darkness” we’ve come across several films noir that are set in non-urban areas. Some, like On Dangerous Ground, send our lead character away from the “dangerous ground” of the city to find redemption.  Others, however, focus on the idea of danger invading a small town, like The Stranger or The KillersThe Strange Love of Martha Ivers appears to fall into the latter category, as it is the arrival of a Sam that is clearly going to bring out the darker sides the characters are hiding beneath a façade of respectability.

 

The scene makes it clear that Walter and Sam have a prickly relationship.  Walter seems to be physically trying to assert his dominance in the scene, looming over Sam at times, sitting higher than him, and invading his personal space.  That all changes once the Walter offers Sam a drink and we learn what Sam wants.  The way that Sam calmly states to Walter that he’ll get the girl out of jail, “for old time’s sake,” suggests blackmail; Sam appears to have knowledge of something that Walter would like to keep hidden. 

 

The dynamic between the two men becomes even more strained when Martha enters.  She seems to share none of her husband’s dislike of Sam.  Instead, she and Sam form a couple visually, while her husband is excluded.  After they embrace, he slinks out of the frame, leaving the two together.  Walter is next seen with a drink in his hand, showing his dislike of the situation.  Martha’s tone is much more upbeat when talking to Sam than when talking to her husband.  Her tone and body language indicate that she is not happy with her husband. 

 

Martha and Sam seem to share a history together as well, one that Martha doesn’t seem to want to discuss fully in front of her husband.  They also are in close physical proximity, if not touching the entire time they are in the room together.  Everything about their interaction suggests intimacy.  When Walter reenters the frame, he is still physically separated from the other two by the desk, and they dominate the frame.  Even after Sam leaves, we see the couple on opposing sides of the frame, indicating an adversarial relationship.  

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- Discuss the scene in terms of its acting and staging. In this brief scene, what do you see as the interpersonal relationships between Sam (Heflin), Walter (Douglas), and Martha (Stanwyck)? If you have seen the entire film, avoid larger points about the plot, and focus simply on what you are seeing just in this scene.


 


Suddenly, this seems easy to talk about, or the question is easier.  Sam is not naive but he isn't a corrupt man either.  He's asking the D.A., played by Douglas for a favor for old times sake.  When he asks him, it's almost as tho he's holding something over the D.A.'s head, so he has to comply with Sam's request.  However, as Sam is leaving, Walter seems to shift in his stance on the favor, and rides the fence, says he'll try, on the verge of saying drop dead, being polite only in a restrained way.  Walter has no intention of being coerced into anything.  There seemed to be a hint of blackmail involved, when Sam first asked Walter for the favor.


 


So in walks Martha, that's when Walter's attitude changed and Sam was suddenly a kid again with the love of his life, Martha.  Of course, reality now is they aren't an item and when Sam suggests that she be happy to have missed that circus train....in question form....she says she's not so sure.  Well, that enrages Walter.  Oh yes, he's enraged.  He's a flaming maniac, he's a criminal, he's got the election in the bag and Martha is behind that think all the way.  Sam doubts it or tries to suggest that it could fall through.


 


 


-- From this early scene, what are some of the noir themes that you expect will play out in this film?


I expect that Martha will hook up with Sam, perhaps in a romantic interlude or either she'll ask him for his help for something.  He's still not the criminal, in this film....so he's going to be used, if that is possible.  Only because he loves Martha and because that love started long ago, when they were younger and innocent and no dirty WALTER WAS AROUND.


-- What other films or settings in the Summer of Darkness lineup remind you of Griel Marcus' observation that "the most emblematic noir location is a small, vaguely Midwestern city?"  


 


HAVE TO STUDY THIS ? MORE FOR A STRONG, GOOD, RIGHT ANSWER.


 #NOIRSUMMER


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Very interesting to watch this scene.. Two old friends who haven't seen each other in years... It starts out fine and dandy with some drinks yet there's something that just doesn't feel right. And when one asks a favour from the other you feel the tension and get the sense that there's a threat behind it. "You'll do it".

When the fabulous Stanwyck enters, and seems a little too comfortable with the long lost friend the tension grows and Douglas does not look happy. The look on his face is one of disgust.. Hate.

The characters are the only thing carrying this scene, that is shot in a boring office.

Perhaps we could say that the bottle of alcohol is another character since it appears quite a lot?

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-- Discuss the scene in terms of its acting and staging. In this brief scene, what do you see as the interpersonal relationships between Sam (Heflin), Walter (Douglas), and Martha (Stanwyck)? If you have seen the entire film, avoid larger points about the plot, and focus simply on what you are seeing just in this scene.

 

Well you get the impression that they were all good friends, with Sam and Walter in a bit of competition for Martha.

 

-- From this early scene, what are some of the noir themes that you expect will play out in this film?

 

Renewal of the competition between Sam and Walter over Martha with some darker undertones.

 

-- What other films or settings in the Summer of Darkness lineup remind you of Griel Marcus' observation that "the most emblematic noir location is a small, vaguely Midwestern city?"

 

Gun Crazy had a small town setting as mentioned so did Nightmare Alley with it's traveling carnival. Iverstown represents basically Everytown.

 

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This scene shows three adults meeting for the first time since childhood.  It shows a confident Sam, who is there to ask a favor, a very nervous Walter, and an overjoyed Martha. Her joy comes from seeing Sam again.  Martha and Walter are married.  Happily?  Walter certainly isn't happy about seeing Sam and tries to avoid the meeting between Sam and Martha.  Walter emits a feeling of dread and tension.  He observes their reunion and doesn't like what he sees.  There is a hint from Martha that all is not well as Sam leaves.  They may be unhappy but they are the biggest fish in that particular pond.   Let the games begin.

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Friends? On the surface maybe. But there's more than a few hints that all is not as it seems between Walter and Sam, after all, they haven't seen each other since they were kids and Walter - at least - seems very comfortable with that fact. Martha however, well, that's another story: she obviously had some kind of happier memories of Sam than her husband (was Walter bullied by Sam? There are pointed comments about their relevant size as kids), and what was that question about riding the railroad? Has Sam and Martha talked about running away together? 

 

So much tension played out in a short scene...you know from Kirk Douglas's expression (and drinking) that it's not going to play out well from this point on. 

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I haven't seen this movie, but some of the impressions I got of their interpersonal relations are: 

 

Van Heflin has come "out of the past" to see Kirk Douglas, the District Attorney.  They were once friends who haven't seen each other in years.  The memories aren't as pleasant for Kirk Douglas.

 

Van Heflin wants a favor.  While it looks like he's just asking for "old times sake", there is a hint of an order being given with a threat behind it.  "You can do it. You will."  It's as if he's got something on Kirk that Kirk doesn't want out in the open with the election coming up.

 

Kirk Douglas is jealous of Van Heflin.  Heflin was always bigger... better.  He thinks his wife prefers Van Heflin (her first love).  If she hadn't missed the train, she would've gone with Heflin instead of staying and marrying Kirk.

 

Barbara knows Kirk is jealous and tries to downplay her happiness at seeing Heflin.  She "walking on eggshells around him".  She knows he overly sensitive which he shows earlier when he takes offense at Van Heflin's remark "Some win, some lose".  I get the impression that Kirk feels he's lost even though he's "got the girl".

 

Noir themes that I expect to show up:  Passion, jealousy, blackmail

 

Other movies in the line-up with a small Midwestern town feeling:  I would choose "Mildred Pierce" as the movie with the most small town feeling.

 

(On a side note:  I never realized how much Michael Douglas looks like his dad until I saw this "young" Kirk Douglas.)

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I absolutely love this movie. It was one of the first movies I watched when I first became interested in film noir. Although I've seen it many times I never noticed the staging before.

 

From this short scene we can see there are many film noir elements as mentioned by other posters. We have alcoholism, jealousy, and love to name a few. The staging really drives the jealousy home. As the scene opens Kirk Douglas and Van Heflin are always in the same shot together, however when Barbara Stanwyck comes in that all changes. If Douglas is in the shot at all he is separated by something like a desk. However most of the time we only see Heflin and Stanwyck together with Douglas brooding in shots by himself. This reinforces that Heflin is already driving a wedge between them.

 

Can't wait to see this movie again. Now I have to go to watch some Stanwyck Pre -code movies. Yes, I watch way too much TV :)

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Having never seen this film, my impressions show that Van Heflin has charge of this encounter. Van Heflin is confident and has some "power" over Douglas. What drives that point home is VanHeflin's response of "you will" to Douglas as if Douglas has no choice as to getting charges dropped on VanHeflins "friend". Blackmail, deceit, and bad karma have already laid the foundation for noir themes.

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A district attorney who's up for re-election shares an early morning drink in his office with a professional gambler who wants a favor in getting a woman out of a legal jam and then openly flirts with the D.A.'s wife?

 

I'm in.

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Quick FYI: There's a typo in today's email version of the Daily Dose. The email incorrectly identifies Sam as Van Johnson. It should read Van Heflin. The actor's name is correct in the Daily Dose link at Canvas, but not in the email. Not a big deal, I just don't want to clutter up the message board with comments on this. Thanks!

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There definitely tension there. Walter seems he is always on guard. Douglas's sharp features are wonderful for noir because the shadows can present insight into his character. One knows almost immediately that you can't trust Walter.  

 

The relationship between the three is interesting. Three early friends. Martha was obviously in love with Sam and Sam was in love with her at some time. Walter doesn't like this relationship. You can almost see the past play out in the undertones. Walter knows he was Martha's second choice. Walter seems the type of person that believes in the power of ownership. He owns Martha, she is a prize won from Walter and he likes that. She is one of his trophies, just as is the position he holds as District Attorney. 

 

All of this is creating the tension that will play out in the remainder of the movie. There will be tension of a love triangle. Martha and Sam may actually begin to have an affair behind Walter's back --> though, I can't be certain such an affair wouldn't be orchestrated by Martha and Walter to frame Sam for something they have done (in relation to the election?). Sam is meant to be the fall guy. Is Martha on Walter's side, Sam's side, or orchestrating everything to her own benefit?

 

I had been beginning to think that film noir was primarily set in seedy city settings with L.A. seeming to be a popular city for noir. If I remember correctly, as we move into the 1950s and the idealistic settings of suburbs and the goodness of old-fashioned midwestern values moves the action from Chicago and L.A. to these more nondescript midwestern cities. I have noticed that out-of-the-way places are wonderful for noir because of their remoteness. Remoteness gives the feeling that the characters are free to do as they please without much interference. Characters are given the luxury of creating their own rules making for much more intriguing plots. 

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I got a chuckle out of "the most respectable citizen is always the most criminal." [Curated by Richard Edwards] It reminded me of how true that was growing up in the post war era in midwestern towns like Kokomo, In and Grand Rapids, Mi. My mother even dressed like Martha Ivers, Lol.

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-- Discuss the scene in terms of its acting and staging. In this brief scene, what do you see as the interpersonal relationships between Sam (Heflin), Walter (Douglas), and Martha (Stanwyck)? If you have seen the entire film, avoid larger points about the plot, and focus simply on what you are seeing just in this scene.

 

I sense some type of tension between Heflin's and Douglas' character. It's seems that Heflin has something over Douglas. This is demonstrated when he tells him that he will help his friend with the criminal charges and it seems that Douglas does not have a choice. Barbara's seems to have a genuine fondness for Heflin. I have never seen the movie but I can't wait to see the movie

 

-- From this early scene, what are some of the noir themes that you expect will play out in this film?

 

Hate, greed, the typical love triangle, contempt, jealousy which always lead to one of many of the major character's demise.

 

-- What other films or settings in the Summer of Darkness lineup remind you of Griel Marcus' observation that "the most emblematic noir location is a small, vaguely Midwestern city?"

 

All of the movies I have seen, especially the earlier films took place in San Fran, LA or New York like Detour, Dark Passage, etc. The more recent films took place on highways.

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The interplay between Kirk Douglas, Van Heflin, and Barbara Stanwyck suggests that each of them is hiding something (probably hiding many things, actually). It is revealed that they all knew each other when they were young, but the details are only hinted at. It seems that Stanwyck was once Van Heflin's girlfriend, and that they might have tried to run away together on a circus train. I can't tell what Van Heflin has on Douglas, but it might be something he could use for blackmail, as suggested by him saying "You'll do it" when Douglas wavers on doing the favor requested by Van Heflin, and by his cryptic comment about the upcoming election that even "sure things" have odds.   

 

Douglas is probably an alcoholic. He has a bar in his office and pours two drinks for himself during this three minute clip, and it is still early in the morning (Van Heflin has not yet had breakfast). Also, there his excuse that "special occasions" merit the drinking of alcohol. I am guessing that drinking will occur again in this film, and I am wondering if the author of the novel on which this film was based was also an alcoholic. Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett were alcoholics, and their detectives usually drank early and often, ha ha.  Douglas also has a temper. He almost loses it twice with Van Heflin during this clip. I expect his temper and his drinking will come into play later in the film (as it does in so many of Douglas' films).  

 

As always, Barbara Stanwyck is interesting to watch. It was surprising to see that it took her so long to recognize Van Heflin, even though he had told her his name, given that they seem to have been in some kind of a relationship when they were younger. This is evident by her happiness when she realizes who he is, and by her evasive remark when he asks if she were happy that she had missed the circus train (this also says something about her relationship with Douglas).

 

As for the setting being a "small, vaguely Midwestern city," that may be true, but since the scene is shot entirely within the District attorney's office, I think that only a psychic would be able to divine its location. We know it is in a city, as Douglas mentions that his wife usually stops by on her way downtown, but I do not see any clues regarding the location of the city, do you?

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The Strange Love of Martha Ivers gives a lot in this short scene that ties in with the disaffected feeling of life expressed in existentialism. The setting of the Walter's office, who is the District Attorney, is soft and full of luxury. It is a large room with large windows, leather chairs and sofa's, expensive fixtures, and a liqueur cabinet that if fine furniture, even with a mirror in the top.

 

Sam is friendly throughout open about his business in gambling, looking for a favor for Toni from an old childhood friend. Walter seems to be holding back, there is also a sense of weakness about him, this is definitely not Kirk Douglas cast to type, as he would be in his later films. He doesn't want Sam to meet Martha when she shows up and we can see why once Martha meets Sam.

 

You can tell that Martha regrets her life, having missed “...the circus train...”, despite the clothes and furs she wears. And Walter knows she regrets it, you can see the resignation in Walter's face, not jealousy, just resignation that now Martha is lost to him.

 

From the discussion you can tell that the election is in the bag because it is a corrupt election, and Martha has assured that Walter will win. Sam seems oblivious to the feelings of Martha and Walter, but you know that he will be drawn in somehow, and that it probably will not work out well for any of them.

 

In Post-War America the mid-western part of the U.S. was growing the fastest, because it was where industry had already begun, along the Great Lakes and south and west into the great coal and iron ore deposits of the time. The factories were going like crazy to produce the consumer items that people had not been able to buy for lack of money during the Depression. Then when they were working and had money to spend, they couldn't spend it because of the war effort.

 

As Hollywood always knew, it was different, yet it set what they could and should offer for entertainment. The new rich striving for sophistication but also old fashioned. Sinclair Lewis' Main Street, Babbitt, Arrowsmith, Elmer Gantry, Dodsworth all came from this area. Which was even more so after the war. As African-Americans moved north for jobs, also the Ku Klux Klan was already there to meet them.

 

It is a different world from either of the coast line cities, a different ethos, different back ground, that would be much harder for a Marlowe to navigate. The cosmopolitanism of the cities along the coast gives an advantage that Marlowe wouldn't have in a Buffalo or Akron. Even physically the world is different, Akron is in the same time zone as N.Y.C., but by 8 it is dark in NYC, while in Akron the sun can still be out at 10.

 

The Great Lakes may be like oceans, but they are not, despite all the sea gulls. The land is flat and disorientating. Hitchcock showed it best with the intersection in the middle of the corn field and the crop duster in North By Northwest.

 

The mid west is a different world. It's main city Chicago, where the gangsters had their most notoriety, where the rich made their great wealth, meat packing and the dangers to consumers that Upton Sinclair showed us in The Jungle, Rockefeller making his fortune, no amount of dimes to children could rectify, yet his name became synonymous with philanthropy. This was a totally different world for a Marlowe.

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This is my favorite week of daily doses, so far all these films are beloved noirs, so it's gonna be hard to to do this and focus on the scene, but i'm gonna give it a shot!


 


-- Discuss the scene in terms of its acting and staging. In this brief scene, what do you see as the interpersonal relationships between Sam (Heflin), Walter (Douglas), and Martha (Stanwyck)? If you have seen the entire film, avoid larger points about the plot, and focus simply on what you are seeing just in this scene.


 


You can tell they all three know each other and Walter is jealous of Sam, just by the look in his eyes, but he has a position of power. You also can tell Sam and Martha have a liking for each other but Walter is married to Martha. At first glance seems melodramatic, soapy...


 


-- From this early scene, what are some of the noir themes that you expect will play out in this film?


 


You know there is gonna be a conflict between Sam and Walther


 


-- What other films or settings in the Summer of Darkness lineup remind you of Griel Marcus' observation that "the most emblematic noir location is a small, vaguely Midwestern city?"


Out of the Past, The Killers, Mildred Pierce, Angel Face, Cause for Alarm,


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He really does, I love young Kirk Douglas, He plays the slimeball role well

 


 

(On a side note:  I never realized how much Michael Douglas looks like his dad until I saw this "young" Kirk Douglas.)

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Discuss the scene in terms of its acting and staging. In this brief scene, what do you see as the interpersonal relationships between Sam (Heflin), Walter (Douglas), and Martha (Stanwyck)? If you have seen the entire film, avoid larger points about the plot, and focus simply on what you are seeing just in this scene.


It appears that sam and martha seem to have a very natural friendly feel towards each other.  Walter seems kind of standoffish to both in part i guess because he feels left out.


From this early scene, what are some of the noir themes that you expect will play out in this film?


deception, betrayal, maybe murder?


What other films or settings in the Summer of Darkness lineup remind you of Griel Marcus' observation that "the most emblematic noir location is a small, vaguely Midwestern city?"


Postman always rings twice, Mildred Pierce.


 


 


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