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Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose of Darkness #24: The Square Circle (Opening Scene from 99 River Street)

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Seeing the TV set in the opening of the clip allows you to flashback to that time.  I was not drawn in by watching the match, or the actor's response but by the tv as the medium for the visual.  A great formalism delivery, but more importantly a contrast of how small the screen of tv was.  The studios wouldn't try this today..........lol.

 

It always amazed me how utterly bitter people were in their marriages.  This time frame makes for a perfect setup to capture this fifties feel.  It seems the norm for a wife not to care about her husband and for him to only care about where she got a watch.  It wasn't what was on TV at the time for sure, all happy families and kids.............remember?

 

Of course the content of the scene makes your Noir ears turn up.  You hear trouble coming and fast.

We are always looking for special lighting etc, but this one clip, the contrast between the tv and the movie iswhat  lasts  for me.  The pullback effect, was great on the tv.  I was totally not into the movie by the fight scene until the effect.

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Effectively, the meaning of the contrast between cinematic and television styles in the shooting and staging of the boxing scene is much more ambigous that it may seem. We watch to the scene two times, but each time we experience it differently: first, it is as if we were the characters fighting, we're inside the scene, we're them (low angles, rapid editing, extreme close-ups and POV shots make us feel the rush of the moment, the strenght of the pain and the impact of violence); then, when the same scene is re-played on the television screen, we're not longer living it but we watch to the character that is re-living these same actions that he once executed and that marked his life; it is as if he could only feel the things he once felt by remembering it or living a second-hand experience through a technological intermediate. 

We may say that Phil Karlson was commenting on the limitations of television in the 1950's when compared to the dynamism of cinema, but I also understand the argument raised here in the board, suggesting that the option for the slow-motion pointed to an actual power of television to give the viewer something that cannot be seen without the aid of technology. However, we mustn't forget that even this ambiguity is only possible because it is alluded and developed throught cinematic means and devices: even when we're re-watching the slow-motion boxing scene in the television, we're still watching to a film, not to a TV program, and so it is cinema itself that questioning its own powers in relation to television. 
However, 99 River Street is not about the tension between cinema and television in the 50's. In what concerns the story of the film, what this scene primarly shows is a disillusioned male character that can't overcome his past failure nor rebuilt his life in the present (he's stuck to the "i could have been the champion"), and a resentful woman that can't forgive him for not being able to give her the life she wanted. 
This kind of social commentary is common in the postwar reality of the American society: insecure men, feeling castrated by more demanding and independent women, can't find a place for them in the new social order and consequently feel that they've lost their power and have to search other (illegal, criminal) ways to retrieve their dominance.
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I really enjoyed this movie, and found it fun to write about over on my blog. I'll try to stick to just what we see here, though, and not get too far into plot specifics.

 

 

This fits into my continuing idea of noir being a sort of body-horror film, wherein the body is the film itself. What I mean by that is that in a lot of postwar films noir, the noir elements are not immediately apparent. A lot of films start off in domestic situations, either as comedies or as dramas. And then as the film continues the noir elements become more pronounced, mutating the look and feel of the picture. Another great example of this is Desperate, which has a similar trajectory to 99 River Street.

 

You can see the seeds of noir in this opening, in the forceful manner of speech Pauline and Ernie have together, the many reasons they would find themselves willing to do something desperate. I'm not sure that I really would consider, from this scene alone, any prominent noir influences. In fact, Eddie Driscoll doesn't know he's in a noir film until late in the game, and actively tries to avoid becoming the hero of one. 

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Hmm, noticing some reoccurring themes in this week's Daily Doses: love on the rocks, greed, conformity, and corruption (even Strangers on a Train contains these themes, though they aren't so prominent in the clip we watched).

 

The ex-showgirl's reluctance to start a gas station reminds me of Lana Turner's character in The Postman Always Rings Twice. She wants to BE somebody, dammit!

 

I think this scene illustrates the themes of evolving gender roles in film noir than any of the clips we've seen. The man feels a little stiffed that he's no longer the big boxer he once was, and his wife feels empowered by the increasing societal status of women and is ashamed of the man's fallen status. 

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-- Compare and contrast how director Karlson shoots and stages the boxing scene as a contrast of styles between cinema and television.

 

Director Karlson shows us the fight on film as it really happened. We get to witness the ferocity of the fight. The barrages of punches thrown. Ernie is being pummeled as he stands defenselessly unable to block the punches.

We then see the fight footage on the television screen in slow-motion. The savageness is gone. The fight seems tamed. The reality hidden. It could very well be that the director is sending a subliminal message that the "television" will not deliver the same magic as Hollywood films.

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-- Compare and contrast how director Karlson shoots and stages the boxing scene as a contrast of styles between cinema and television.


 


This is not why I like this movie.  In fact, I started not to watch this movie because of the boxing.  When I realized the whole movie wasn't just about boxing, I watched it and now it is going to be played on TCM again coming up this week.  In fact it airs on Friday, July 17, 2015.


 


-- Discuss the scene's social commentary in the interactions between Ernie (John Payne) and Pauline (Peggie Castle).


Whether it's social or just married bliss, they seem to blame the other for not being the people or having the success that they both thought, hoped and dreamed that they would have.


   In any case, the social commentary, people are forced to do what they must do to put food on the table.  It was really clear cut in this time of history, in our country.  It was a disgrace to be on welfare, for instance.  So this injured boxer can't box, and loses his one chance to be who and what he wanted and for him feels it a disgrace that he has to be a cab driver (reminded so by his wife, at least).


Then the wife, yes, she could have been the show business success, but is reminded by her husband that she was just a show-girl.  I guess this exchange is social commentary.  But in many ways, it really boils down to 2 people who have problems in their marriage and badger each other every time they become upset with their lot in life. 


They are seemingly victims of circumstances that they can't seem to change and won't change and vicious circle that exists in such far too often.


 


 


 


#NOIRSUMMER


 


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What I find interesting about their marriage is not isolated in its time period. They met when each was at the top -- he was an undefeated boxer, and she was at the peak of her beauty as a showgirl. Neither of these undertakings has a long shelf life, but neither the husband nor the wife was prepared for the future. He was resigned to his downward mobility, if nostalgic for days gone by, hoping that a gas station customer would remember him from his glory days. She could only be bitter that she'd not traded her beauty for a more secure and pampered future, rather than having squandered it in a dissipating present. She reminds me of the character Lana Turner played in "Ziegfield Girl", Sheila Ryan. Had Sheila not met such a tragic end (early death from alcoholism), she could very well have been the female of this couple.

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– Compare and contrast how director Karlson shoots and stages the boxing scene as a contrast of styles between cinema and television.

 

In his film version of the final minutes of the bout, Karlson uses low-angle and high-angle shots, high contrast of the fighters against a black background, POV shots showing the viewer what the attack from the Champ looks like through Ernie Driscoll’s eyes, and extreme close-up shots.  The soundtrack has a lot of crowd noise over the fight announcer’s voice, giving the impression of being present at the fight.  At 0:40 into the clip, the crowd noise drops out and the picture goes to slow motion.  The announcer now becomes a television commentator for “Great Fights of Yesterday,” and the camera zooms out slowly to reveal the images on a television screen Ernie is watching.  The television version uses mainly medium shots and some longer low-angle shots that give the impression they were taken from a camera on the floor of the arena looking up at the ring.  The film version in the first 40 seconds has an immediacy that is missing in the television version.  The TV sequence has greater distance from the subjects.  It is a historical record of the fight and serves in the story as exposition of how close Ernie came to becoming the champion.  Even though only parts of the first 40 seconds are shot in POV, we might think of that whole sequence as a vivid recollection of the fight playing in Ernie’s mind as he watches “Great Fights of Yesterday” and relives his defeat.

 

– Discuss the scene's social commentary in the interactions between Ernie (John Payne) and Pauline (Peggie Castle).

 

Pauline and Ernie are two could-have-beens living in New York and working at mundane jobs.  She makes corsages at the Broadway Florist Shop, and he’s driving a taxi while trying to save money to buy a gas station.  Each had dreams of making it big but has had to settle for mediocrity.  She blames her marriage to a fighter (“pug”) for holding her back from success in show business, and he is struggling to claw his way up the ladder of success after having come oh so close to being a boxing champion.  Ernie wants Pauline to give him and their four-year marriage a little more time for him to save money for the gas station, but she has run out of patience and makes fun of the low prestige of someone who runs a gas station.  I think this exchange between Ernie and Pauline sums up their situation:

Pauline:   I’d have been a star if I hadn’t married you.

Ernie:      You were a showgirl.  And I could have been the champion.

 

This situation reminds me of a more famous movie about a boxer who almost made it big.  In 1954, just one year after 99 River Street appeared, Elia Kazan made On the Waterfront, in which Terry (Marlon Brando) famously tells Charlie (Rod Steiger), “You don't understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let's face it.

 

– What are some of the noir elements in this scene, either in terms of style or substance?

 

The fight scenes at the beginning are fairly typical for a number of films noir that deal with prize fighting.  The bright lights and dark shadows of the arena offer opportunities for high contrast lighting; the ropes of the ring provide diagonals across the frame that emphasize how the fighter is trapped in a cruel business that lures little guys from the fringe of society with the chance to make it big; the defeated fighter becomes emblematic for disoriented, disillusioned, alienated characters who people films noir.  And it is almost expected that crime and corruption are associated with boxing, as for example in The Set-Up.

 

In the second part of the opening sequence, the lighting and camerawork seem fairly routine and not especially noir-ish, but the little apartment Ernie and Pauline live in seems close and constricting.  This reflects the way they, and especially Pauline, feel that fate or bad choices have kept them from making it big.  While Ernie is still trying to deal with his loss in the ring, he seems serious about trying to work his way up through acquiring a gas station.  Pauline, on the other hand, clearly resents her lot and says she has run out of patience.  I am expecting her actions to take us into noir territory in one way or another.  In this regard, I am interested in the significance of her costume jewelry watch with the rhinestones that look almost “real” to Ernie.  Is it really costume jewelry?  Could Ernie be on to something?  If it’s expensive, then someone else must have given it to her.  We first see the watch when she leans over to turn off the television with her left hand at 1:57 in the clip.  A minute later there is a close-up of the watch at 2:58 that leads to Pauline’s resentful comment, “They might be real if I hadn’t married a pug.“  Even if it is only costume jewelry, I feel this discussion is signaling that she is ripe for seeking her fortune elsewhere.

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Compare and contrast how director Karlson shoots and stages the boxing scene as a contrast of styles between cinema and television.

  • Assuming this is how we see the scene in the movie - first thinking we are *at* the fight, and then realizing it is on a TV screen when they pan back - he might have been trying to contrast "big as life" versus something not only not "live", but something you can turn off. By shutting off the TV, Pauline might be able to stop the visual reminder of the lost opportunity, but she can't turn off the reality.

 

 

Discuss the scene's social commentary in the interactions between Ernie (John Payne) and Pauline (Peggie Castle).

  • Both Peggie and Ernie are living on past dreams, although Ernie is looking for a practical way out and Peggie just wants out, period. Ernie's claim that he could have been champion is true - had he won that fight against the champ, he would have earned the title. Peggie is a chorus girl who says she would have been a big star if she married someone else, but there's no tangible proof of that - every performer believes they should be top banana.
  • In post-war America a lot of promises of prosperity were made but not everyone got to participate; many people had to start over to survive or risk getting left behind. In his post-boxing career, Ernie has to start over if he wants to survive since he has been left behind (even the voice-over stating "the past" in the broadcast shows us this world he wishes existed is long gone).
  • Although it appears he watches that fight hoping to see a different ending, in reality Ernie has accepted his fate and is trying to move forward; he has a plan. Peggie pretends she's something she's not by having a piece of fake jewelry. Times are tough, but Ernie thinks is they stick together they can attain something. Peggie is unsatisfied and impatient, thinks owning a gas station is beneath them and is about as unsupportive as she could be. He is worried about them but she appears only concerned about herself. Her attitude will likely gnaw away at Ernie and cause him to take some sort of risk to make her happy rather than stick to his plan.

 

What are some of the noir elements in this scene, either in terms of style or substance?

  • Disillusionment, people suffering difficult times, the illusion of a shortcut to a better life, claustrophobic apartment. Need for money, which supposedly buys happiness.
  • Peggie hovering in the background speaking to the back of Ernie's head, almost like a voice in his head haunting him while he's suspended in time reliving his lost opportunity.
  • Lots of low camera angles and close-ups for critical emotional points.
  • Peggie attacking once standing, Ernie standing when asserting ("you were a showgirl", "you know that's only temporary") but sitting and/or following her around the room when vulnerable or pleading for her cooperation.
  • He's taking a physical beating on TV and then takes an emotional beating in his apartment.
  • Think of the apartment as the ring. In the ring he gets led over to the corner where another person (the doctor) decides his fate and tells him his time has run out. He pleads with the doctor to continue, but to no avail. Now he's left in the corner of his apartment while another person (his wife) exits. He asks for more time (four months) for his plan and she infers that she's unwilling to do so - inferring time has run out on his marriage.
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Right at the start the audience is pulled into the ring with the boxers.  You are there as you watch them.  He focused a lot on the boxers' faces.  You have the lighting from the overhead lamp over the arena.  There is also side lighting from the aisles and in the audience area.  The narration is the same volume in the live scene as in the TV scene.  The only difference is that you have to sit close to the small screen to see it.  The picture on the TV shows they moment when one boxer fell on the rope.

 

Then you get into the second issue:  the wife is mad at her husband for disappointing her.  She wants him to eat his dinner.  Then she ruminates on the fact she could have been a star and not a showgirl if she hadn't married him.  She turns off the TV saying it is her night to close up.  The camera stays focused on a watch she has on.  Her husband says they look real.  She quickly fires off what the watch is made of.   She says it could have been real if I hadn't married a pug.

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What I find interesting about their marriage is not isolated in its time period. They met when each was at the top -- he was an undefeated boxer, and she was at the peak of her beauty as a showgirl. Neither of these undertakings has a long shelf life, but neither the husband nor the wife was prepared for the future. He was resigned to his downward mobility, if nostalgic for days gone by, hoping that a gas station customer would remember him from his glory days. She could only be bitter that she'd not traded her beauty for a more secure and pampered future, rather than having squandered it in a dissipating present. She reminds me of the character Lana Turner played in "Ziegfield Girl", Sheila Ryan. Had Sheila not met such a tragic end (early death from alcoholism), she could very well have been the female of this couple.

 

That is an interesting connection.  Sheila started off as a nice girl, but let the glamour and opportunities from men giving her jewels turn her head.  In this case, the showgirl married the boxer.  It was glamorous at the time.  They have been married for four years (not a long time), but making you rusty and out of step with an old life.

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Perceptive comment about Karlson's use of TV's slow motion aesthetic, Richard! I have an additional comment to add to yours regarding "the POV punches that could only be in a cinema version in the 1950's." When I watched the clip, I was thinking that the POV of the fighter's face as he slumped against the rope was something that would not have been shown on TV in the 1950's, as TV did not have cameras positioned there in the 1950's. Only cinema would have provided a POV shot like that (advantage cinema).

 

Actually, back then, most sports fans used the newspapers to follow sports, not television or cinema's weekly newsreels. If you look at newspaper photos of baseball games from back then, you will sometimes see that cameras (and their operators) are positioned on the field, so that the newspapers could have close up shots of the action (zoom lenses weren't that good yet, so the cameras needed to be close by - you can see them not far behind the first- and third-base coaches, in foul territory). 

I know this off the noir topic, but your comment about the position of television cameras reminded me of Jack Lemmon's character in The Fortune Cookie. He plays a television camera operator who is accidently "tackled" by a football player. It's a great movie and might be fun to watch if you want to see how close a camera operator had to be.

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Hmm, noticing some reoccurring themes in this week's Daily Doses: love on the rocks, greed, conformity, and corruption (even Strangers on a Train contains these themes, though they aren't so prominent in the clip we watched).

 

The ex-showgirl's reluctance to start a gas station reminds me of Lana Turner's character in The Postman Always Rings Twice. She wants to BE somebody, dammit!

 

I think this scene illustrates the themes of evolving gender roles in film noir than any of the clips we've seen. The man feels a little stiffed that he's no longer the big boxer he once was, and his wife feels empowered by the increasing societal status of women and is ashamed of the man's fallen status. 

 

Great point! This scene really illustrates the social conditions that led to the rise of the femme fatale in film noir. That figure gets more and more powerfully dangerous as the men she deals with become more and more beaten down by life.

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Karlson shoots the boxing match in an interesting way in that we don't know initially that we are watching TV. It's a commentary of sorts about good storytelling and how the movies can make anything. The boxing scene is staged in very close quarters with the actors very close together. he also uses a tinted lighting to recreate arena lighting of the time. He is implying that television is closed in while film is expansive.

 

There is a lot of social commentary. Pauline has to work a menial job to bring home money. She is strong and takes the league domestically with regard to money. there is also a sense that proud and independent men must now scrap together for jobs because of their situation in life. They may now have to work jobs they do not like in order to make ends meet. there wis also an interesting dynamic between these characters that shows a lot about the role reversal of married life. Women are stronger and more determined while the men are a bit lost in many ways. 

 

It's a commentary on how Postwar America is not completely hunky dory. it's a tough, working class environment for a lot of people and they are struggling.

 

The noir elements are the close ups on his beaten face to show how he's weathered a storm so to speak. The lighting is very noir. The way they fade out of the TV screen is a noir aspect and the staging of the living room where the Tv is the center piece of the set with the characters almost secondary. There also is a hard talking woman who doesn't relent in holding her own. Her husband is vulnerable and seemingly beaten down. The lighting in the apartment and the way they staged the couple in that scene is familiar in the noir genre.

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There is nothing subtle in the directors use of noir elements to contrast the film's version of the fight with television's. It isn't the slow motion that caught my eye, but the "flatness" and lack of depth or perspective to the television version. The low camera angles, POV shots and extreme close ups give formalism to the film vs the television which is more realistic, and in my opinion flat.

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Another bit of symbolism that struck me (it should have hit me over the head immediately) is Ernie's job as a taxi driver, and his new dream of running a filling station. Instead of going places as a champion prize fighter, he's now relegated to running around in circles, taking other people places, and his new dream is to help send other people on their way. He's going nowhere.

 

No wonder his wife doesn't share that dream.

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A thought on the early rivalry between TV and Movies:

 

This excerpt from our Daily Dose notice was intriguing - "Moreover, this film has a complex engagement with its 1950s rival, television, exemplified through an analogy to boxing. From its opening shot, we are thrown right into the ring through the revealing and expressive power of pure cinema: low angles, rapid editing, extreme close-ups, and POV shots. Then, the scene cuts to the same boxing match on television. In an almost humorous contrast, director Phil Karlson seems to be slyly commenting on the limitations of television in the 1950s: in comparison to the vigorous action we have just witnessed, our first glimpse of television is in slow motion, as if TV literally can't keep up with cinema's dynamism."

 

TV was an emerging medium, and as McLuhan points out, every new medium contains the older medium/media as CONTENT. Although Movies were an older medium, early TV used something else for its primary content: the stage. (and live events.) Early TV was nothing more than pointing a camera at a stage (with Uncle Miltie, Ricky & Lucy, Sid Ceasar, etc.) and hitting the "broadcast" button. Sometimes the stage was the square circle or the news desk, but even the commercials were live. Even re-broadcasts were "filmed before a live studio audience." This explains the early difference between the sophisticated and dynamic production arts of cinema, with it's established and developed grammars, techniques and style, and the clunky fixed-camera efforts of broadcast tv. 

 

The real fight begins when TV uses "movies" (produced materials - a la Serling and Hitchock) as the content, and then develops it's own story-telling literacy that suits (and takes advantage of) the unique facets of the medium. (LOST, 24, House of Cards - all examples of how TV goes beyond copying previous media and capitalizes on TV's unique capabilities.)

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Low angles and close-ups bring you right into the brutal fight. The defeated and anguished look on Ernie's face is both in the ring and at home. He is a man losing all hope with a wife who doesn't support him. The room they are in is like a fight ring, only instead of physical blows they're verbal blows.  Ernie's in his corner and Pauline in her's, then the fight begins.

 

"I'd been a star if I hadn't married you" (That's one for Pauline)

"You were a showgirl (That's one for Ernie; insinuating that being a showgirl is talentless and it doesn't mean she's a star)....I could have been a champion"

 

Then it looks like Pauline has given up saying she has lost patience. Then Ernie notices her watch wondering if it's real, but it's "rhinestones around a ten dollar movement," or is it?

 

"They might be real if I hadn't married a pug!" That's the blow that ends the fight, Pauline has won...maybe. A close-up on Ernie's face show's desparation, defeat, but a little bit of determination, as though he isn't ready to give in just yet. I have the feeling he's going to do something he's going to regret.

 

Both Ernie and Pauline are wanting a future, but a different future and they also live in the past. They talk about what they were and could have been. Only Pauline wants money, power and stardom. She reminds me of Jane in Too Late for Tears, wanting money and status, and willing to do anything to get it. Ernie is happy to just have a gas station, but he only wants it so fans will remember him.

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The contrast between the shots of the fight seen through the TV and through the "camera" are indeed powerful. Truth be told, all the shots were " through the camera", it is just that some of the film of the fight was staged to look like it came over a TV set. First we see long shots showing the TV set itself  (where the fight happens to be playing) and the various objects in the room, and Ernie (watching himself on TV), and even Pauline, his wife, eating dinner in the background, in a very modest apartment. Unique and attention getting.

 

The camera then zooms to close ups THROUGH the TV set and we see the scene "full size". This is a creative and compelling way to use staging and camera work to engage the viewers.It also makes a dramatic contrast between the TV and the big screen. There are close ups, POV shots, mid range shots and low camera angles all adding contrast and variety and demonstrating great acting, directing, lighting, and cinematography.  This is the best opening sceen we have viewed, although I see opening sceens now, after taking this course, in a completely new light.

 

All of the opening sceens are excellent and I realize that opening sceens are given special attention in film making. When you look at it in this way, plus look for Noir themes and style and substance, movie going is even more satisfying. I am more actively involved with the film. I feel like I am an actor or at least a participant in the experience.

 

Noir elements of tension and conflict is immediately introduced when Pauline criticizes Ernie for even watching the fight. This entroduces a Noir theme of the troubled marriage. Ernie seems to be willing to accept the fact that he has not made it as a boxer, and wants to do the honarable, honest thing, which is to use what skills and abilities which he does have to do honest work ( run a gas station). He is even optimistic that it can be as successful as a boxing career, but it will take much longer. Pauline wants instant gratification and money and status. She is a pessimistic and dark character.  Makes one think about what marriage means-- love--til death do us part--I don't think so, at least as far as Pauline is concerned. She sees it as a business contract to insure success.

 

The focus on the watch, which Pauline says is a fake, is only a symbol of what she really wants. This is a typical, every day item, an element in Noir film making, emphasizing in an inverse way, the money, greed, "diamonds are a girls best friend", mentality. However, in a twist of fate, I would not be surprized if the watch turns out to be real, given by some other guy with a different motive.

 

The scene ends with Pauline asking Ernie directly why she married a "pug" ( or was it a "bum" ?, I could not make out which it was). Earnie looks crushed. Anyway, with the closing of the scene, we can plan to see the worst of human nature once again unfold on the silver screen.

 

Pass the pop corn, while I do what a good film should make me do, reflect on WHY things are the way they actually are in the real world, and to question if they have to be this way.

 

Thanks Professor Edwards, for a wonderful course.

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Perceptive comment about Karlson's use of TV's slow motion aesthetic, Richard! I have an additional comment to add to yours regarding "the POV punches that could only be in a cinema version in the 1950's." When I watched the clip, I was thinking that the POV of the fighter's face as he slumped against the rope was something that would not have been shown on TV in the 1950's, as TV did not have cameras positioned there in the 1950's. Only cinema would have provided a POV shot like that (advantage cinema).

 

Actually, back then, most sports fans used the newspapers to follow sports, not television or cinema's weekly newsreels. If you look at newspaper photos of baseball games from back then, you will sometimes see that cameras (and their operators) are positioned on the field, so that the newspapers could have close up shots of the action (zoom lenses weren't that good yet, so the cameras needed to be close by - you can see them not far behind the first- and third-base coaches, in foul territory).

So, in that regard 99 River Street was ahead of its time. Some shots spoke to me like Raging Bull. Raging Bull incorporates just about every imaginable angle in and out of the ring.

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This was a very interesting scene.  In some ways it reminds me of Robert Ryan in THE SETUP.  I just bet that when Ernie was winning - it said before this fight that he was never knocked off his feet, that Pauline was riding the crest of his wave.  She wanted it all and she now takes it all out on him because he lost that championship fight.  Viewing it on television placed her in a state of attacking Ernie.  She is so consumed about climbing that ladder of success  that she now hates her husband calling him at the end of the scene a PUG.  Relegated to pinning cosages and driving taxis is NOT her envisionment of success.  One of the undercurrents of the post war America. 

 

I never did see this movie or knew that it existed and will try to view it on Friday or purchase it if that is possible.  Quite a change for JOHN PAYNE after MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET. 

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It seems clear that director Phil Karlson in 99 River Street, wanted to emphasize the superior images and effects as viewed on the big screen (in a theater near you) with its larger than life aspects of the boxing match with in-your-face close ups, fighters dripping blood and perspiration while accompanied by the harsh sound effects of gloved fists battering bodies with exasperating moans and grunts interplayed with shots from the boxer’s POV.  Compared to the same match on the small screen of the television (in your very own home) where the images are restricted to views from the spectators point-of-view and the sounds limited to the sports announcer’s play by play…blow by blow. And weren’t they lucky the television had as good a reception as it did!

 

On the social commentary we have an unhappy, disillusioned couple like some many in noir’s post-war period.  Ernie (John Payne) could have been a contender yet he still has plans to make good.  Pauline (Peggie Castle) could have been a star and had a better life if only she hadn’t married Ernie.  In spite of Ernie’s optimistic idea of buying a gas station, this couple is on the skids and desperate to break out of their situation.  The motives and opportunities are ripe for them to hop on a one way train to Noir City and play out their doom.  Or not.    

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I'll just say it...I'm not a boxing fan. Having grown up minutes from Colma, CA where boxers punched each other out alongside the headstones of the dead, you'd think I could appreciate the sport. I can remember uncles, aunts, and even my mother talking about going to "the fights." They were an important form on entertainment in an era when most entertainment was still live. They were a place like Shakespeare's theater where all the classes mixed and mingled. Maybe that's the problem with people today, we don't get out and rub elbows with one another - we lack empathy for one another. Yikes, talk about social commentary. Let's get on with the show, as they say.

 

99 River Street could be about any former married professional. Former baseball player, basketball player, tennis player, actor, etc. etc. etc. whose spouse vicariously borrows respect and stature from that spouse. Once the dance is over, well it's over all they way around.

 

The wristwatch says it all, Pauline. Don't tell this dame that its a phony. Your husband may want to believe you, but don't count on the rest of us. Pauline's already got a foot out the door in an era when women were becoming more independent and divorce was not unthinkable (however you wouldn't know that from watching serial television). I bet there's another man involved buying her corsages.

 

I feel sorry for that sap, Ernie. He's in for a hard ride down that lonely highway. I hope the headlights come on eventually.

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One interesting aspect of this film clip is how it reinforces the notion of how humans are motivated by the desire to improve their status that was discussed in Drew Casper's article on Postwar Hollywood. He paraphrases from Vance Packard's 1959 book The Status Seekers, where Packard "theorizes that all behavior was controlled by the drive for status, producing compulsive behavior and a concern for the symbols of success in lieu of the genuine achievement." Both the boxer and his wife are overly focused on how things might have been if his boxing career hadn't been cut short and he had achieved a higher level of material success and a sense of achievement. Although the couple doesn't seem to be in dire straits economically (how many people owned televisions in 1953 I wonder?), they still feel unfulfilled by what they have, and we begin to wonder what they would be willing to do to attain more and more. Where, for example, does that diamond-studded watch fit into this plot? Is it really a inexpensive imitation as the wife claims, or has she done something morally compromising in exchange for the real thing? I haven't seen this film before, so that is a question that I expect the full viewing to explain.

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Both Ernie and Pauline are wanting a future, but a different future and they also live in the past. They talk about what they were and could have been. Only Pauline wants money, power and stardom. She reminds me of Jane in Too Late for Tears, wanting money and status, and willing to do anything to get it. Ernie is happy to just have a gas station, but he only wants it so fans will remember him.

 

I believe Kitty Collins (Ava Gardner) from The Killers would fit in with Pauline and Jane and their noir shaded ambition, modus operandi as well!

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