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


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The interplay of characters introduces tensions with a back story.  We can see the children all of the adults were as they interact in the office.  Walter appears insecure, pale on purpose within the scene, and Sam appears not to be weighted by the past (though Walter and Martha don't know that yet and assume that he must be complicit in some way).  Martha does not fear being frank in front of her husband Walter.  I am fortunate to have watched the whole film this week online and consider it one of my favorites thus far.  It is so dark and tormented.  This scene seems to illustrate what it means to gamble (in a broader, more symbolic sense).

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This was awfully bright for a noir scene! The darkness comes in the interplay between the characters. They all seem to know each other from way back but it seems that they didn't know that they knew each other. Kirk Douglas was none too please that Van and Barbara became reacquainted. I haven't seen this film in years so I don't remember the particulars but you can't tell that things are going to end up to well. I loved the light from the blinds reflecting on the door as Van Heflin was leaving-clever shot!

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Walter’s stare never waivers from Sam.  Sam breaks eye contact as he talks.  He moves his head after lighting his cigarette.  Sam talks with his hands while Walter doesn’t move.  He holds the cigarette lighter still in his hand.  Also, Walter’s suit has clean lines, well-pressed, and square shoulders.  Sam’s suit and tie are wrinkled.

 

Walter is studying same intently, trying to figure him out now that he’s return.  Sam, if he notices, doesn’t seem to mind.  He’s cool and relaxed.  It makes me think of a chess match between a challenger (Walter) and the champion (Sam).

 

Side note:  I love how everyone drinks and smokes in noir films. 

 

Walter isn’t keen on Martha seeing Walter.  He doesn’t like that Walter wants to see her either.  He knows, and for the life of me, I don’t know why Walter and Martha don’t know that he knows.  And their hugs didn’t thrill Walter in the least.  In fact, by the time he takes his second slug of the day, I’m certain Walter is plotting murder by the way he psychotically stares at Martha and Sam.

 

And when Martha speaks of her husband’s upcoming election, her voice drops an octave.  Though she may smile, she isn’t happy.

 

It’s a great scene that sets up the characters nicely.  Walter’s wooden stature and directness counterbalances Sam’s slouch and charm.  And who can blame skinny tomboy Martha for leaning towards charm.

 

The first movie that comes to mind when thinking of Griel Marcus' observation that "the most emblematic noir location is a small, vaguely Midwestern city" is The Killers.  White picket fences and quaint dinners say Midwest to me.

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This scene seems very straightforward, easier to read than some of the other noir scenes we have witnessed. It starts with a reunion of two (of three) old friends after nearly 20 years. They are sitting in an office and are using some elements of noir in a subtle way. They are smoking and have an early morning drink as the window blinds filter out some of the bright sun, leaving light shadows on the wall. It's nothing ominous - but we get inklings of that later in their interactions.

 

When Walter's secretary buzzes to say his wife has arrived, he oddly tells her to wait, but Sam wants to see her. Walter seems reluctant for the two to meet again and we can see why as Martha and Sam embrace upon meeting again. The camera is close on the two as they embrace, but we can clearly see Walter in the background. The three may all be in the camera frame, but Walter is the odd man out. He is jealous, which never leads to anything good in film noir. Sam is still smitten by Martha, and that usually isn't good either. From her words and actions, it appears Martha isn't very happy in her marriage. Walter also seems possessive and perhaps even quick tempered and a heavy drinker. This is all a lethal combination in film noir that definitely won't lead to anything good and could very well end in murder.

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At the beginning of this scene, we get the feeling that Kirk Douglas' character is successful and in control and that Van Heflin's character isn't so successful or powerful and this is also conveyed in the way Douglas is standing over Heflin. However, that quickly changes when they share drinks and Heflin asks a favor and when Douglas isn't sure he can do the favor, Heflin says "Oh, you can do it. You will". In this part, we see Heflin become powerful.

 

We can tell that Douglas doesn't really want Heflin to see Stanwyck and when she does come in, Douglas becomes more of an onlooker and third wheel instead of her husband. I believe that was also conveyed in the staging by having Douglas behind them looking on as the jealous husband. It appears that there was once something between Heflin and Stanwyck.

 

I think a small Midwestern town is a great setting for a film noir because the shady characters have less people standing in their way of becoming powerful. They're able to make people be quiet when they need them to be quiet by threatening them with scandal or shutting down their business. Those things are easier to do in a small town. Sometimes, in small towns, people have the feeling that nothing bad can happen in their town. If I'm not mistaken, Shadow of a Doubt seemed to take place in a small town.

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The scene best and most interesting thread in this scene, is the dominance that Heflin has over Douglas.  Already one of my favorites, i can' t separate that aspect from this discussion.  But to look at Barbara's control over Douglas is different.  She steals the scene, and

you forget that men's relationship is complex, and focus on the more sexual content.  

 

Santa Rosa of course, but outside the list, and that's why Hitch is one of the best.

 

Postman always rings twice, the Killers, Out of the past.

 

Just a note, pre any info to the contrary, i truly believe that the movie industry tried to get the midwest/,,middle of the country more interesting in the later products and learned that the cities were great in the beginning of films but later mid american wanted to see more of itself, more of their own lives and not one of the cities.  As a city girl born and raised, i am biased to the city life and quickness we see in these type of films.  The scenery to be is the best type of noir, rain coasted cobblestone street, or the fog of San Fran or just simply a streetlight in the night.  But as we can see the other movies give us great Noir, but they lack background

of grime and crime that fits.  Out of the past, is shot great, and i believe that mexico is brought in for favor as well.  They needed that exotic location to fill the mountain air of this noir.  

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1.)    The scene begins with Sam and Walter talking in an office.  The two men are in close proximity to each other and are framed tightly; as the viewer, we see very little of the whole mise-en-scene.  When Martha enters the scene,  the camera frames her closer and the camera hold on her for much longer than the male characters.  Also, she is introduced standing in a doorway so we see her in better perspective to the set.  As Sam begins to talk to Barbara and she realizes who he is, Martha is then shown to enter the scene with the two male characters. Just at that point,  Walter, Doulgas' character, exits the scene. While Martha and Sam become reacquainted we cut to Walter in a shot by himself pouring a drink.  He is made to appear "ousted" and isolated from the other two characters  just at the pivotal point when Martha remembers Sam.

 

 

2.) From this early scene we can see noir theme of the male character questioning his masculinity...it appears as though Walter is annoyed about the reunion of Sam and Martha and now must face what this mean for the strength and future of his marriage.  The noir theme of a strong female character is shown right at the onset of the film;  a female characters who is dissatisfied with her married life which is somewhat similar to the female character shown in the opening scene of the previous Daily Dose.

 

3.) Other films noir which took place in a vaguely Midwestern town:   A Postman Always Rings Twice,  Detour,  Kiss Me Deadly.

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The dialogue in this scene is very telling. We are given bits and pieces of a sizzling story about to explode.The sharp conversation between Sam and Walter hints of a past relationship (18 years ago) where there are some loose ends or some unfinished gloomy business.This scene is staged where initially, Walter has the upper hand. He stands tall in front of Sam, lights his cigarette and offers him a drink in HIS office. Walter asks the questions and seems to be the one with power.Suddenly (like in good noir movies) Sam asks Walter to help get a girlfriend of his out of jail.Big task! Sam's attitude is glib and he reminds Walter that he WILL do this favor.A hint of that hidden past again. The scene changes totally when Walter's wife' Martha walks in like an electric light and recognizes Sam from their youth. She changes the dynamics in the room. They hug and reminisce excessively while Walter broods, drinking his fears away.A third hint of another secret past or perhaps future. Walter remains behind his desk perhaps using it as a barrier between him and them. The final conversation about Walter's re-election tells us that Martha knows that it's a sure thing. A definite sign of corruption.

 

   From these dynamic conversations, I expect the following noir themes occurring in this movie; corruption, adultery, blackmail, jealousy, marriage of convenience,betrayal and alcoholism.

 

    The other noir movies set in a small mid western city are; The Killers, Mildred Pierce, The Postman Always Rings Twice

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In today's clip from "The Strange Loves of Martha Ivers," several things work to establish the relationships of the characters.

 

Walter is first seen slightly higher than Sam, but when Sam asks him for a "favor," he is the taller one, indicating he may have the upper hand here. Walter seems reluctant until Sam asks "for old time's sake" which seems to have a chilling effect on Walter, making us wonder what in the past Sam may have on Walter.

 

Once Martha enters and recognizes Sam, they are photographed together, as a couple. Walter is seen in separate shots, or, if in the same shot, physically separated from them by a desk. Walter the D.A. would presumably hold the moral high ground over Sam the gambler, but he certainly is drinking a lot, at a time of the morning that even the gambler thinks is too early.

 

When Sam asks how Walter knows he will win the election, Walter says he should ask Martha. This not only suggests she has some control here (and what does it take to guarantee an election?) but further diminishes him in relationship to his wife.

 

Overall, the scene gives us a sense of mysterious doings in the past that keep reverberating in the present, a sense of corruption in terms of D.A.s doing favors for gamblers and elections that can be guaranteed, and a strong woman holding a man under her thumb - all noir staples.

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I've seen this film many times, so I'll try to post with minimal reference to the movie as a whole.

 

I mentioned false appearances in a previous daily dose in that nothing isn't what it seems. Douglas's character fits that profile. He seems well put together, successful etc. In reality, he is highly self-conscious and easily intimidated by Heflin's character. He is also more submissive in his relationship with Stanwyck's character. Stanwyck is clearly in charge exhibiting self confidence while Douglas continues to cower and drown his sorrows in alcohol.

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The recurring metaphor in this clip is gambling. "Some win, some don't," Van Heflin says, after describing himself as a gambler. Toward the end of the Barbara Stanwyck states that Kirk Douglas' election bid isn't a gamble, it's a "sure thing." The willingness to take risks to get what one wants is central to films noir. Within this short clip we can see how each character is feeling one another out, trying to assess what each other has to offer, how one character can use another to achieve his or her ends. Douglas, Heflin, and Stanwyck almost represent the three driving motives we've seen again and again in the films so far--power, money, and sex. The scene sets up this clash of personalities and the remainder of the film, I'm betting, will depict how each character connives and manipulates the others to get what he or she most desires.

 

I was happy to see that the Greil Marcus quote that introduces today's Daily Dose mentions Jim Thompson, who's been missing from this discussion of noir so far. Thompson's novels elevate pulp fiction and take it to its raw, grisly, logical extreme. Kubrick hired Thompson to script The Killing, but somehow Kubrick wound up with the screenwriting credit.  

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Sam:  Lately or Mostly?  

 

This phrase glued my attention.  If I were to see nothing further of this clip, I am led to think that Sam is going to veer from ‘mostly’ (a gamble) to ‘lately’.  Whatever the ‘lately’ is - I feel it is going to be THE story.

 

Sam:  You know how it is …You keep something in your mind since you’re a kid (referring to Martha).

 

The mystery: Is Martha the ‘lately’ that Sam will soon be drawn into?  Or is this the ‘lately’ that Sam has been planning?   In short, it feels like whatever Sam’s ‘lately’ is, it will translate into Martha and Walter’s unanticipated gamble – for according to Walter, even a ‘sure thing’ are odds to gamble on.

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This scene at first appears to be a pleasant social call between Sam and Walter but Walter is overly pushy about Sam's past in the intervening years.  Walter's confidence wanes and he needs a drink early in the morning, revealing an alcohol dependency.  Sam pushes his own agenda to have Walter use his influence to release his new girlfriend from a parole violation charge.  When Martha arrives, Walter does not want Sam to see her but capitulates ungraciously.  She appears to be friendly and genuine, unlike her husband, who is now brittle, fearful and jealous.  She is thrilled when she realizes the whistle is Sammy from her childhood and these two clearly adore each other.  Walter looks as if he could shoot them both at this moment and his character seems noirish enough but that would be too simple to be a noir plot and Martha is not the genuine person she seems; later she reveals herself to be a femme fatale of the highest order.  These three "old friends" are not really friends and the looks between husband and wife at the end reveal a relationship gone dangerously sour.  The twists and turns are getting familiar.   

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Smoldering fires fanned by memories of past affairs

The acting of Kirk Douglas, Van Hefflin, and Barbara Stanwyck is superb; all three individually are strong, but together they create a dynamo of energy.  The staging of their acting clearly displays the love triangle of the past.  Sam has been away for 17 or 18 years while Walter has stayed in the same city and has married Martha.  Yet, when Martha enters Walter's office as Mrs. O'Neill she soon forgets her marital status when she hears Sam's whistle.  Martha transforms into a schoolgirl with her "crush" touching Sam's arm, smiling coyly at Sam, and gushing verbally about old times.  Behind Sam and Martha, we see Walter smoldering with rage; his stone face and hot poker eyes could burn holes in Sam and Martha's backs if they were not insulated by their old memories.  Walter handles the situation by having his second drink of the morning.  Obviously, the three have a history which has not been put to rest.

The viewer would expect the destructiveness of an old flame to build to a raging fire.  One would not be surprised if blackmail, murder, and theft of one sort or another occur while these three persons vie for attention.  Obviously, it will end badly for at least one if not all three.  The viewer knows that this girl who Sam wants Walter to get free of her violation of probation will be a conflict for Sam, Walter, and Martha.  This "other" woman will bring in the element of jealousy, no doubt.

Griel Marcus' observation that "the most emblematic noir location is a small, vaguely Midwestern city" occurs in this film as well as The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Killers, Mildred Pierce, and Dark Passage.  Many of these films show the coast and the ocean, but the viewer gets the feel of a small town by the houses and diners/restaurants that populate the scenery.  Setting the film noir in a small town or city provides immediate connection with a wide ranges of film viewers.  People recognize the location to be similar to their own hometown, so they relate to the characters who live in this place.

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Walter appears to be the jealous type. Douglas keeps a rather cautious look on his face when Sam and Martha embrace. Martha is quite smitten by Sam. It could just be that she hasn't seen him in a long time, but this could easily lead to something more. Stanwyck's facial expressions towards Heflin are that of a starry-eyed teenager; she even puts her arm around his as they walk towards the door. All the while, you could see the gears turning in Walter's head, his caution growing by the second. Given the title of the film, it stands to reason there might be a twisted love triangle yet to come--one that will likely result in murder.

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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.

- The interpretation (mannerisms, intonation) of the dialogue (and the writing itself) reveals quite quickly that there are issues between the two men and Martha.  Sam wants something from each, but is willing and seemingly capable of demanding it from Walter.  Martha seems alternately caught in between the two men, and able to exert confidence.  Also, she does not fear her husband’s reactions.  Sam orders Walter to free the girl in jail, but that is just the opening gambit.  He wants something else and we’re not sure what it is or who he wants it from.

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

- The D.A. (instead of a detective) might get burned by the woman or maybe he might give her up for the greater good.  We may see some good versus evil between the 3 characters and also within each character.  Something is at stake and somebody has a past they’d just soon forget.   Somebody’s going down—are the stakes high enough for someone to die?

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?"

- The diner scene from The Killers could be in “Anytown, USA”.  Although the narrator in The Postman Always Rings Twice clearly states the location as being “… on a side road just outside of Los Angeles”, the are many elements that evoke a stereotypical Midwest feel; the frame house, the cop bowing to the status of the D.A., the girl that belongs in the metropolis.

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Everything is flipped upside down in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers. No one is happy, and no one is who they appear to be. The so-called District Attorney is a criminal and a drunk. He offers a drink to his visiting childhood friend (who is a gambler, looking for favor for his crooked jailed friends) and even Hefln's character is surprised at drinking during the day habits of this D.A.. Martha walks in unexpectedly, and is somewhere in between. She is living the high life, doesn't even recognize her former love (b/c he's been away too long and she has grown apart), yet she is intrigued. He mentions something to the effect of "Aren't you glad you didn't join that circus train?" meaning aren't you glad you didn't stay with me? She replies, "I don't know" indicating how low her married life actually is with Walter.

Walter, unable to cope with ANYTHING in life, naturally escapes to get a second drink, then says "I thank you, from my wife". Does he REALLY think he is going to speak for her here? The filmmakers are laying out his inability to even reach reality at this point.

She then speaks for herself, "A sure thing is never a gamble" taking a stab at Heflin's chosen career. It positions her in a place above the others while also referencing their past of true love. She is above them both; rare of females depicted in films just a decade earlier.

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This particular clip opens with Van Heflin (Sam) sitting on a couch casually not thinking much about how Walter (Douglas) has him framed in. Within the dialogue about "chance, gambling and sure things" is the allusion to the life that could have been, the reality of the here and now, and the life that might still be new that Martha knows Sam is back. 

While Sam is on the couch, Walter is struggling not to just simply explode at him with his baggage. Whether you've seen the film or not, it is clear that Walter is harboring some resentment for Sam. Furthermore, he gathers himself and tries to end the "stuffy" conversation. So a drink is offered, and Sam gets up and the conversation becomes more about the moment. The two are staged together in equal height. However, it is the dialogue that offers the allusion to some power play going on. Sam asks for a favor for a girl he just met who's in trouble. Walter gives away that he has always been jealous of how Sam has a way with women that he never had in this interchange. To add insult to injury, Sam knows this, and even proceeds to tell Walter that, despite the difficulty that even a D.A. can have in helping out this young woman he will absolutely do it; Sam says, "oh, you'll do it". This verbal power play signifies a past. Is signifies that there is something we don't know about how fickle Walter is. He is in a powerful position, but he is also terribly weak in will and self-confidence. Moreover, he's drinking endlessly. 

 

When Martha appears and realizes that "Sammy Masterson" and is little whistling call is back, all bets are off for any power Walter might have. Walter is a lapdog with an existential crisis. What has his life been about? So there are all kinds of "what if's" brought to the surface when old friends meet again after so long and life has played out. Some things seem inevitable; Martha being successful, even Walter being successful, though not necessarily a D.A. on the verge of an election win, but the fact that Martha and Walter are married is a farce to Sam. 

 

As far as Greil Marcus' statement, well the biggest and baddest of things can happen in even the smallest of towns. The fact that it is so "emblematic" as he put it, is the fact that the Midwestern town represented the golden age of "Americana". On the surface, happy, and care-free, but below there was a darkness. Many terrible occurrences and actions have been shoved under the table and intentionally "forgotten" in order to arrive at this facade. 

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This scene starts very casually with the men conversing but as the tension between them builds they stand up and move closer.

 

Once the lady walks in and realizes the man is a childhood friend the husband moves away signifying how he feels pushed out of the conversation. As the man realizes he's not as welcome as before he moves to leave but also makes one last contact with the lady. To show his affection towards her.

 

I'd expect to see betrayal by the husband towards helping this so called friend and possibly an affair and maybe a murder as well. 

 

Lots more tension between the characters.

 

 

 

As for other small town settings I'm reminded of The Killers and Detour when he's in the diner.

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This scene from Lewis Milestone's The Loves of Martha Ivers is really symptomatic of how in a film noir the apparently most respectable citizen is potentially always the most criminal - you just have to give him a little motive, for that, such as a glimpse of jealousy and suspicion (usually something that the male character feels menacing to his masculinity and power). 

In this scene, this growing impression is particularly conveyed by the acting and the staging of the two male actors, Van Heflin and Kirk Douglas, and the way their longtime interpersonal relationship is exposed and developed: elements from their past and their present get together during their dialogue, the subjects they talk about also change from present things to childhood memories, love relationships to criminal issues, and from this interminglement of different times of experience arises the tension in their encounter. In other films noir, sometimes characters are pursued by past issues that may lead to their ruin in the present, but here we'd rather talk about a less evident shadow of past over their present lives. Or course, that shadow, as in many other films noir, will be personified by a woman.
The character of Martha Ivers, played by one of the most well-know noir femme fatales, Barbara Stanwyck, resumes in her appearence the motives to all this tension between the two men. Something (bad?) that happened in the past connects - or maybe even haunts - the three of them. Since she enters the room, we see the fascination in Heflin's eyes, the jealousy in Douglas's, the shadow of the confusion and then the bright of the recognition (when she listens the little whistling call) in Stanwayck's eyes: more than the emerging of a new love triangle, it's the shadow of past memories and lost love opportunities that's coming into the scene. It's here the moment where we feel that the respectable husband is menaced by the revival of Martha and Sam's relationship and that he will be able to do anything to separate them and save his mariage (and maybe some other deep secrets).
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Daily Dose #23 Martha Ivers response  (7/16/15)

      From the start of the scene, it seems that Walter is wary of Sam for some unknown reason.  As the actors talk, Sam seems to be direct and to the point ...explaining what he wants.  His girl Toni is in jail for violation of probation and he wants Walter the DA to help her out of her predicament.  Walter is not sure he can fix that problem but Sam believes Walter can and will “for old times sake”.  Walter’s facial reaction is curious, as though the request is some kind of veiled threat. The staging is fixed as the scene starts with Sam sitting and Walter standing over him.  After offering a cigarette to Sam, Walter comes down to Sam’s level and Walter is reminded of how long it’s been since they have had contact.  Sam remarks “seventeen or eighteen years” ago they were kids together.  Walter does not seem surprised that Sam is a gambler and there seems to be tension but the viewer is not sure why.  This tension continues after Martha enters the scene.  She shows that she does not recognize Sam but it is obvious that Sam remembers her.  He whistles to her as she is about to leave the room, and then Martha immediately recognizes him through the whistle, and warmly recalls him as she states his diminutive name “Sammy”……. Masterson.  She looks genuinely happy to see him and the viewer begins to think that perhaps they were sweet on each other as kids and that is why the tension exists between Sam and Walter.  Walter continues to exhibit his displeasure with the situation and leaves the frame for another drink.  Sam and Martha in a two shot begin to talk about remembering things from the past, and that is when Martha’s voice hesitates momentarily.  There is slight hitch to her response and she quickly catches herself and goes back to the cheery tone for the reunion.  Walter is now pouring and drinking another glass of liquor and he views the conversation between Sam and Martha even more warily. In fact, he looks like the liquor is taking effect as the camera goes back to Sam and Martha walking to the door.  Sam asks her about being glad she missed the “circus” train.  She says she doesn’t know and we in the audience don’t know what the circus train is (or is that a circuit train?).  When the scene ends the music begins again and the closing of the door portends a discussion will take place that will reveal Walter and Martha’s true feelings about the reappearance of Sam. One “sure thing” is that there is more to this story than the scene has started.

 

The noir themes here are uncertainty, and being caught up in a complex situation and unsure of the direction or outcome of the events.  There is a sense of fear and anxiety throughout the scene and all the characters seem to be equally important. As usual in noir films, the viewer really doesn't know what is really going on. 

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The direction and acting in this scene very effectively convey Walter's evident discomfort and his need to  establish his dominance over Sam. Walter perches on the edge of a coffee table and tensely hovers over Sam, who casually sits back and lets his old acquaintance posture. Walter speaks crisply, and at a good clip. Sam sort of has this Joseph Cottonish easy-goingness when it comes to smooth speaking and sitting back on a sofa. When both men stand up, it looks as if Walter is  evidently uncomfortable about Sam's obvious height advantage once he leaves the sofa. Walter's ominous tension seems to stand out all the more against Sam's casual (or is it studied?) obliviousness.

 

Walter has apparently taken over the town (and the girl) since Sam left. How has he managed this domination? What powerfully sinister forces has he learned to channel? Will Sam be able to stand up to those forces? What will that effort cost him? By subtly provoking these questions, this scene very smoothly shifts us into a noir gear.

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Great staging in this scene! First Douglas is towering above Heflin as Heflin sits on the couch. He offers Heflin a cigarette and lights it for him and seems very engaging, but there is an edge. His body language is still dominant as he questions Heflin - like an attorney, cross examining. They are both sitting with Douglass still sitting higher than Heflin with an empty chair between them. Someone has coming between them in the past - someone not in the room.  

They get up and cross to another part of the room where Heflin, who is taller, is now asking for a favor of Douglas. Once again the posture is imposing as Douglas pours them a drink. Heflin towers above Douglas this time. Douglas is in a crisp, expensive suit. Heflin's is slightly more rumpled and the material less sharp. Douglas holds the decanter and pours the drinks, but Heflin is more dominant at this point in the conversation. He has something on Douglas, saying, "you will do this, for old times' sake."

Then Douglas crosses behinds his desk with the imposing horizontal blinds behind him. They were always in the background, but now are really imposing. Something is changing. He buzzes his secretary to "send in Mrs. O'Neil," his wife who is obviously known to Heflin. We have met the empty chair. It is Stanwyck and we know this as soon as Douglas' demeanor changes. He no longer smiles or is playing at being relaxed and in charge. He looks openly hostile now from behind the desk as Stanwyck comes in.

Strangely enough, it takes three times for her to recognize Heflin and it is not until he whistles at her that she finally recognizes who he is. Douglas is unmoved behind the desk, smoldering as Stanwyck and Heflin embrace in front of him. He is in the camera shot with them, but separated by the desk.

He moves out of the camera shot and the couple are left alone in the shot to reminisce. Douglas is shown in the next shot alone with his bottle and glass as he pours another drink. The conversation is clipped as Heflin seems completely unfettered by Douglas' reaction. Stanwyck shows discomfort and awareness of Douglas. Heflin notices, but is almost enjoying it. The buzzer sounds and Douglas crosses back into the camera shot with the others, still separated by the desk, saying, "I do not want to be disturbed," which is ironic because it is obvious that he is already very much "disturbed!"

Douglas shows relief when Heflin indicates that he is leaving. He halfway smiles again as they depart, but there is no warmth. It is challenge. Stanwyck sees Heflin to the door and the camera angle changes to the outer office as Stanwyck closes the door and joins Douglas in the room alone.

There is history, danger and violence ahead as you see the anger that pours from Douglas' eyes. You see the fear in Stanwyck's eyes as she notices it. You see the threatening postures as the men try to show dominance of each other. Douglas is running for office - an upstanding citizen, the DA who represents law and order. Heflin's "dropping in" has stirred the pot and is the beginning of something dangerous, and all of the characters we have met are complicit, as are we watching it. 

These film noir settings in towns represent that "anywhere America" towns are the most dangerous. They represent the randomness of fate - it can happen anywhere. They are also set in the places where Americans thought they would feel safe in post WWII society. "A great place to raise a family." This made it even more cataclysmic when bad things happen. It is not supposed to happen here.

Other film noir movies set in these small, "safe" settings are The Killers, Too Late for Tears, and even The Postman Rings Twice (we know it is on the coast, but it is in a nowhere little area, far from the madding crowd.  

 

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Poor Kirk Douglas, he doesn't stand a chance.

 

You can tell that he wants to crush the glass in his hands and then do the same to Sam.

 

Martha makes no effort to hide her feelings from Walter...even without knowing the plot (I've seen this so many times and it's actually part of my own library), you can see that there's SOME history with these three.

 

I always felt sorry for Martha...her life was never really her own, she was pushed and directed and told everything.  She got stuck in a marriage she clearly didn't want; perhaps she grew to have some feelings for Walter, however, it's unlikely.  She tried to take hold at this point and run things but Sam, ever Sam, still wouldn't bite.  It's amazing that Toni was able to rope him in.

 

Sad movie in so many ways, the more Martha pushed Sam, the more he pulled away. 

 

Can you really ever go home again?

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