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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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Here are a few discussion starters (though feel free to come up with your own):

 

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

 

Television is shot tight to show the seriousness of the boxing action. The movie shows space and a sense of largeness. I believe this is purposely done to show how much more powerful and large movies are compared to television.

 

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

 

This is no longer pre WWII where all was seemingly well in homes. This scene show the disappoint, alienation by the wife, longing for what was, and the hopelessness.

 

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

 

Close ups, angles of the shots, Black and white filming, pessimism due to situations that characters are in.

I also couldn't help but think of WWII when watching this scene. Men were glorified for fighting not that long ago in this film's universe, and at this point when the film is made, fighting is something from the past and that glory is far gone, much like Ernie's boxing glory being a relic of the past.

 

It definitely makes the audience think about society's changing expectations for men at that point in time (and yes, also now). What should their role be now? And how do these changing roles affect a person's confidence and perception of himself or herself? It's a question both men and women face, and the woman's changing role is briefly touched upon in this scene as well. 

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I just have to ask: all of the people remarking on the fact that Ernie is "emasculated"--what is the equivalent of that for his wife? If Pauline is robbing Ernie of his masculinity, are there ways in which he is robbing her of her femininity?

 

In other words, if Ernie is being denied the American male dream of a respectable job and a dutiful wife, what is the female American dream? What is Pauline's ideal? What should she be aspiring to? Where does she draw her self-worth (aside from having a husband with high status)? Is her desire for money at odds with the American dream, or is it a grotesque extension of it?

 

I'm genuinely curious about what you guys think about this. I feel like I have a pretty good handle on what life would look like for a happy guy, but I'm not so sure when I think about the "perfect" life for a woman.

 

I had a great-aunt who was in her "prime" during the 50s. She was an (awesome) teacher, and she took her job very seriously. In a conversation with my father, he expressed the opinion that, had she lived in this day and age, she would have probably preferred to stay single--working her job and traveling (she's been to more countries than anyone I've ever met). I sometimes wonder how economic realities and social niceties impacted the direction of her life, and what her version of a "perfect" living situation would have been.

I agree! I see the hen-pecked husband and the unhappy wife in this opening sequence from 99 River Street and it echoes the opening of Too Late For Tears where another grumpy wife lays into her hapless husband. I am interested, in both of these scenes, with the unhappy wife. Apparently they got the short end of a bargain and are now disillusioned with the wagon they have hitched themselves to. In Too Late For Tears the wife's avarice and discontent drive her to take the money and run (uh oh spoilers!) achieving a modicum of happiness before her denouement. I expect that in this movie era, a "happy" wife would be presented as married to a well-off, respected man. That depiction is probably just another male movie-makers' fantasy. In fact my suggested depiction implies that I think that women haven't figured out just yet that they have to make themselves happy. That may not be so, but the Feminine Mystique was not published until 1963! Except maybe Lizabeth Scott's "Jane" in Too Late For Tears. She knows what she wants :-)

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The art of the shot is lost. The psychological implication that decisive camera angles and directorial or sequentially, carefully choreographed shots can offer is completely gone in the film method of television. 

 

That said, part of the homogenized, continuous eye-level shot that occurs in the medium of television (especially recorded live events) is the fact that it is recorded and there is the bonus of "Instant replay". For all of the cinematic, intellectual aspects of the art in film, the American public is going to give it up for the "instant replay" of television.

 

Honestly, those were my thoughts. Karlson's film is documentary, it is realism, especially when seen through the television, but I didn't think that he was making a very poignant anti-television statement. In fact, I believe he promotes it. Sure, you have a strange square circle that is super tiny to look through, but the appeal is different. Moreover this is exactly what is happening in film and television today. There is a new transition in how people view their movies. Mobile devices, tablets, laptops, all hooking you in through the blue-tooth headphones is the way people view. The removal of the appointment idea of watching an episode on television or even a scheduled screening in the theatre is leaving us. As a result, Karlson merely records a historical fact rather than comments on it. 

 

Interestingly, the way in which this is filmed is a new way of presenting the concept of a flashback. This isn't a cerebral daydream of internal emotions and triggers that cues the wavy fade to flashback, but instead is a sports report that Driscoll decides to beat himself up over while watching the last fight. He could have done without this report. Lord knows his wife sure could have. 

 

So the relationship dynamic is similar in Too Late for Tears. The beautiful blonde has somehow discovered she's married a clown and a loser, whose really just a good guy with a modest amount of his own dream to discover. Lizbeth Scott's character sees a way out and follows quite a path of destruction with the lure of the money. Likewise, the "costume" jewelry on Driscoll's wife, Pauline, might not really be fake. The audience is now speculating that it might be real and she's lying. She's already left him perhaps. The commentary is that Pauline was a woman who had a promising life but gave it up for the promise of this man. The women in both of these films are struggling for independence from the male society, but also want to find love and a future with a man. 

 

The sense of urgency, desperation, dissatisfaction, and an unwillingness to resign themselves to a life of a cab driver and his wife are the themes common among the films in this period. Pauline won't even settle for buying a gas station. What an investment that could have been. But that's how it is in noir films; the here and now was the most important, the love of the way things were is the nostalgia, and the fear and uncertainty of the future causes some pretty terrible things to play out between people. 

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The boxing ring is a perfect setting for a film noir opening scene with it's black ropes caging in the fighters, the strong key light, which would naturally be in this sports arena, the obscure camera angles, but most importantly, the fighting (perceived or actual tension coming to fruition). It's downright bloody and violent.

 

The next thing we know we are at the losing boxer's home re-watching the fight scene as seen through a television, something new to be depicted on the silver screen. It's t.v. commentary is almost like a commercial, with little feeling and little meaning. The boxer is just sadly reliving this bad moment and so the t.v. becomes a mechanism for his wallowing. The t.v. is also causing tension in the room. His wife nags him to stop watching the t.v., criticizing him for paying more attention to that than to his dinner, or her, or anything else. Like the rhinestones, the t.v. is a phony. It only depicts fantasy, or the past, and the two in the room only have any real dialogue, when she finally goes over and shuts it off. The third character in the room has been silenced.

 

Television, in it's time and probably still today, is an interruption to everyday life at home. Whereas with film, people leave their home and attend the show together, and on purpose. T.v. allowed for isolation, disruption of normal home activities, and for people to live in their own fantasy worlds, further separating them from family members.

 

Culturally speaking, he is a man, struggling to find his masculinity and a solid place in the world to provide for his wife. Meanwhile, she is resentful, sees him as holding her down and even mentions she could have been successful if she hadn't married him. She is in the workforce, and he is just a cabbie, and she makes sure he knows her disapproval.  All of the tables are turning here, from t.v. to movies, from male to female roles in life and we are being punched in the face at every turn.....by society.

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I love that as Ernie watches himself being punched on the television, his head snaps over to the right, as if he's being hit again, as if he can still feel the blow.

 

Pauline is obviously not happy, but it's hard to blame her too much. Her husband literally sits with his back to her, watching himself on the TV. He dismisses her dreams (of stardom) as being foolish, and then reminisces about his own aspirations (fighting champion). The dinner she has made is unappreciated. The way that he says "You were a showgirl" has a casual contempt to it that makes Pauline's anger much more understandable. Her social rise and fall depends on his success (something she cannot control), and he's telling her that she was never worth that much in the first place.

 

 

My write up of the film for my blog touched on this same thing. Ernie's wife was incredibly sympathetic to me. Ernie is obviously not the same man she fell in love with(although the film expresses this mainly through her materialistic desires), and as we see through the movie, he's a seething ball of rage who is very eager to use his fists on the people who might not deserve it. I completely understand why she would fall for a man who showed her a little more romance and excitement, even someone as shady as that jewel thief. It also had me viewing the end of the film with a bit of a 'Oh, I'm sure he'll get it right this time' touch of sarcasm. 

 

 

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Posted Yesterday, 11:01 PM

I just have to ask: all of the people remarking on the fact that Ernie is "emasculated"--what is the equivalent of that for his wife? If Pauline is robbing Ernie of his masculinity, are there ways in which he is robbing her of her femininity?

 

In other words, if Ernie is being denied the American male dream of a respectable job and a dutiful wife, what is the female American dream? What is Pauline's ideal? What should she be aspiring to? Where does she draw her self-worth (aside from having a husband with high status)? Is her desire for money at odds with the American dream, or is it a grotesque extension of it?

 

I'm genuinely curious about what you guys think about this. I feel like I have a pretty good handle on what life would look like for a happy guy, but I'm not so sure when I think about the "perfect" life for a woman.

 

I had a great-aunt who was in her "prime" during the 50s. She was an (awesome) teacher, and she took her job very seriously. In a conversation with my father, he expressed the opinion that, had she lived in this day and age, she would have probably preferred to stay single--working her job and traveling (she's been to more countries than anyone I've ever met). I sometimes wonder how economic realities and social niceties impacted the direction of her life, and what her version of a "perfect" living situation would have been.

 

 

Dear Takoma 1:  This is an issue I have wondered about ever since I found out what "emasculated" meant.  

Not to bore you to death:  just let me say:  My husband kept accusing me of emasculating him.  I finally asked him what that was.  He told me.  I couldn't agree or disagree.  Because what I was doing was trying to defend myself against all the oppression and suppression he was heaping on me in such doses that I could now write 100 films noir scripts on him and his influences over me alone, since I have taken this course...The impact of life on us is amazing.  

 

I'm still trying to execute my career path.  I've had more door slammed in my face than I care to share just now.

 

Your Aunt probably did exactly what she wanted to do.  I can't be sure.  It just sounds like she might well have, since she traveled so much.

 

In my original post for this d.d. #24, I commented on how their marriage was a mess, and that probably started with each of them before they even met.  Then they did and said things that just seem to be what we as humans do, when things don't turn out the way we hope for and on and on and on......

 

Thanks very much Takoma 1  for your post...it sparked more insight for me and creative juices are flowing and that's always a good thing, when you're an artist, as I am an artist!!!

 

SINCERELY,

 

DIANE DYAN BIGGS

NOIRKNIGHTOWL@AOL.COM

 

I'D LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU.

 

#NOIRSUMMER

 

 

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The set is sparse. Ernie's apartment is clearly on the top floor of a building, evoking an attic, where we store those things of yesteryear that are no longer useful. The walls are sparse and the only ornate feature is his wife's watch, clearly a symbolic point of contention. I look forward to seeing how props and sets continue to inform the story of the film.

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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.

 

To me, director Karlson compares and contrasts the difference between cinema and television in a few interesting ways in regard to the boxing scene.

 

First, he uses the quick pace of film to represent Ernie’s (John Payne) live action memories of the scene.

 

Secondly, he uses television to only represent the slow motion of the boxing scene because television was a new medium that people really didn’t trust at that time.

 

Thirdly, he use the difference between the two mediums as a representation of Ernie looking back into his past (the television boxing scene) for the faults that predicted his present (him watching the boxing scene on television for faults in his actions).

 

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

 

To me, I believe that there was a lot of social commentary between Ernie and Pauline.

 

However, I think most of it was based on how each of them were upset that their future didn’t turn out how they dreamed it would be like Ernie being a world championship boxer and Pauline making a living as a star actress or both of the being rich.

 

So instead of them blaming their own individual shortcomings on themselves, they decide to blame each other (well Pauline mostly blames Ernie for being a failure in her eyes).

 

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

 

To me, the biggest noir elements that I notice in this scene are the types of characters that Ernie and Pauline are. They’re both washed up people but they’re too silly to see their own faults so they just blame each other.

 

Ernie is an ex-boxer looking for a way to reclaim his glory and Pauline is most likely a talentless woman who only has her good looks to make it by in life. They’re a sad couple that seems like they will get worse before the story ends.

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We are moved out of an immense experience of "now" (movie theater) to a distant experience of the past (television). As somebody else wrote "The art of the shot is lost".

The american dream crashes bloodily down on the ropes in the (symbolic?) constraint of the boxing ring. A dream of  a suitable good life may very well be running a gas station but it is apprehended as a downhill path by the one who put her beauty at stake for the imagined big money prize fighter. There is no turning back of age, so there she stands looking in to his smashed face, a reflection of her lost future. A hollow vision built on shallow and passing attributes, The show beauty and the knock out beast have a best before date. With a bit of luck, a success story, the american dream. Now shattered by overblown imagination, supported by a whole nations dreamy aspirations for the individual and the family. They are soon to be forgotten debris in the dead end street of crashed careers, exchanged by new contenders for the (materialistic) throne. All this very much caught by the bracelet bickering.

We have a feeling of dread, ignited by the woman, life is harsh, society grim and there is, when it matters, no way out. Or?

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Slug line - Broken down prize fighter & his ex-showgirl wife living the American broken dream, the sign post up ahead says Noirsville.

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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.

Bizarre angles, diagonals, close-ups insisting on Ernie's pain and helplessness... That's how Karlson shoots the boxing match. Television offers a very different vision with the use of slow motion: it seems impersonal in comparison, and even cruel, because the juxtaposition of the past (the boxing match) and the present (Ernie watching TV) insists on what could have been.

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

Once more, the social changes after WWII are visible here with a woman who doesn't hesitate to remind her husband of his failures... She might be cheating on him (the watch).

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

The notion of 'what could have been' (if Ernie had won that boxing match, if Pauline had married someone else) is very important here. The notion of helplessness too. Am I the only one who noticed Ernie's gesture when the commentator mentions his right eye being examined during the match? While watching this scene on TV, Ernie touches his right eye and we briefly see him blinking; I found this detail really moving. Ernie bears the scars of his past, of the choices he made and he seems rather helpless.

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The scene opens with the boxing match where Ernie goes down for the first and evidently the last time. The camera angles are close with emphasis on the faces and hands/gloves. The angle is from below as if you were a spectator at the event and you see the struggle that Ernie is facing, bloody and beaten. Then the slow motion and voice over begin and the pull back from feeling like you are in the action to being a third party voyeur. We are watching from a TV set with a running commentary. It is a different experience, almost clinical, like watching bugs wriggling in a jar. We watch the fight, but the emotion is cut until we see Ernie watching himself. He winces when he gets the blow to the eye and it is discussed. We see the scar on his eyebrow and we see his wife, sitting alone at the dinner table, frustrated by his absence.

This is commentary both on their personal life - his absorption in his past and the fight that knocked him down and in the TV culture that brought the TV in the room while people who had once enjoyed meals together found themselves focused on the TV instead of each other. It caused a break in the family circle.

We see her face and then her hand with the watch she wears as she turns the TV off. They begin a conversation that goes back and forth - the faces again, like the fight. Each scene there is something coming between them - first the TV, then the coffee pot as she pours, then the watch.

He notices the watch and says that the stones almost look as if they were real. We see the fire in her eyes as she says, "they might be if I hadn't married a pug." But we know they are most likely real and given to her by someone else. She is a "show girl" and beautiful and he is broken and paralyzed with it.

The dark room, the depression that is evident on the sparse table and décor in the room, the camera angles and shots of arms and watches that mean so much more are all film noir. The hopelessness of the situation is evident and we know there will be a battle of some kind in the future. The idea that a prize fighter would make it big and the show girl are commentaries on the theme of get rich quick schemes that helped add to the desperation of the times. These gritty, realistic themes of regular people make film noir more poignant that the high-gloss fluff that Hollywood also offered.

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Karlson shows boxing through cinema as an epic duel between two men who get hurt, bloodied and knocked down.  Everything is very kinetic and exciting.  With television, Karlson shows boxing as almost static, much smaller in scale and not a big deal at all.

 

Ernie seems to really want to provide for Pauline.  The boxing injury derailed his big portion of his livelihood and manhood as well.  Pauline is completely toxic and never stops putting Ernie down and puffing herself up.

 

The most notable element of noir in the scene came when Ernie sat down after admitting his boxing career was over.  This shows Pauline in a position of power over Ernie.  Also, it shows a man who will do anything to have money like he did before. Crime or murder is sure to follow.

 

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The boxing is this amazing spectacle that is high energy and explosive and that is what the cinema claims to be whereas it shows the tv as being only a shadow of what was actually happening in real life. Saying almost that cinema is larger than life and tv is smaller and more mundane.

 

The couple seems very bitter about their lots in life and feel as though they can take it out on each other to make themselves feel better about how they've failed in their life dreams and goals.

 

The noir feel comes from the unhappiness and the emptiness that we see from the characters. Their grass is greener on the other side mentality probably will be the setup for someone's demise in this story. 

 

Mark

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A humble home, a former boxer failed, an ambitious woman... Everyday elements common to thousands of homes in any time and place, but that can be a good starting point for making a police film, or noir. The way in which the camera shows gold bangle is eloquent. 

Boxing environment served as the backdrop for many films of the 40s and 50s (Body and Soul, The harder they fall, The set up, among others...)   By comparing the initial images of the fight and the televised, we see more action, more realism and more dramatic in the first charge, while across the television screen is most noticeable construction, editing the image, movements in slow motion, etc. We are no longer a fiction but reality. Interesting element to display in a film and discuss it

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In this relationship, “something’s wrong with his eye.”  His focus is not on Pauline. 

 

Great catch - somehow in all the vitriol, I missed the sarcasm in that "there's something's the matter with (your eye), alright" dig from Pauline.

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Boxing scenes in films show more of everything than a televised fight does.  All you get on a tv screen is the movement and maybe how the two fighters hurt one another, but you don't see the wounds happen so well, so close up, on tv as you do in film.  I feel sorry for Ernie.  He is watching this replay of this last fight and about ready to climb the walls.  He had his hand on the prize and lost it to the fight being stopped by the doctor.  Although, the doctor didn't do it to him to be mean, he feels cheated some how.  And his wife makes it known that she feels cheated in her own way, by having married this has been of a fighter.  Her words cut Ernie deeply, he's trying to make a life for them and she keeps stomping on that.  The way he looked at his wife when she left the room, after he saw her new bracelet, he looked like he could kill her if he ever caught her fooling around.  There is where the noir substance and style come in to the film.  There is nothing in shadow here, it's all out in the open.  Pauline made no effort to hide her new piece of jewelry, she tried to down play it, but she still wore it.  Allowing her husband to see that someone may be interested in her.  This may have given Ernie the idea that she may not be going into work tonight.  Perhaps when she is at work, her secret admirer comes along to chat with her, steal a kiss, or maybe he waits for Pauline to get off work.  Some stolen moments together.  Ernie may follow her and find out the truth for himself.  And when he does all hell breaks lose.  The director is setting up the audience for the action. 

 

What happens between Ernie and Pauline is still pretty common today. Here you have two people who married at the heights of one or both careers and things didn't work out, so now they have to accept their lives and be content some how.  As with many people, neither of them is very happy.  Their dreams didn't come true, but instead of accepting that and trying the next dream, they break their own hearts over something that is gone.  Maybe Ernie feels he could try to become the champ again. Not knowing that he may have a similar fate at the first go round.  His wife could be a show girl, but it would be in a dive by now.  She's not some hot 20 year old any more.  The frustration, dissatisfaction and hurt they both feel, they take out on one another.  Though I think Ernie's wife is hitting harder than he does.  I can't help feeling that it would be Ernie that has the last most painful hit.

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This short segment from "99 River Street" was as brutal outside of the ring as it was in the ring. The opening shots take the viewer right into the ring using a realistic shooting style with close-ups of a bloody face jaggedly intercut with POV shots of the champ who is doing the pummeling. From these close shots to the crowd noise and the voice of the announcer sounding like he is sitting right next to us, we feel like we are ringside. Finally, Ernie goes down with his bloody face caught on a lower rope staring at the viewer. He could almost be dead.

 

The camera then pulls back and just by the grainy look of the boxers, their slow-motion movements and the tinny sound of the announcer, we are taken out of the ring and transported into the real world where Ernie is watching a replay of the fight. His wife is sitting at the dinner table behind him looking quite bored. Instead of those quick-cutting close-ups, the editing and camera now linger with Ernie watching himself on TV or medium shots of the two talking. His wife often towers over him, she needles him about not being a boxer anymore, but just being a cab driver with dreams of opening a gas station. "I'd have been a star if it hadn't been for you," she says, bitterly. Is this our femme fatale - a bitter woman who wants money, stardom and the finer things in life but she's tied to a man she feels is a loser? And what about that diamond bracelet? That hints at something else going on her life. (The shot of her arm reaching in to shut off the TV with the bracelet glistening over the footage of her husband is priceless.)

 

I feel this dynamic between husband and wife also is a commentary on society where hard working but poor individuals are made to feel guilty for not providing enough for their wife/family. It also speaks to the need for celebrity/stardom - the selfish wife is bitter because she's not a star; the husband is broken because he's not the champ. It's a brutal, unhappy life.

 

@toniruberto

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Plenty of resentment and go around here. The key word is in the title of the show - yesterday. The original first person POV makes the boxing all too vivid. As he sits, enrapt in the "big chair", his wife sits in the background. She took a back seat to boxing before and didn't mind, but boy does she mind now.

 

One thing this brought to mind was an argument I've repeatedly heard - TV will replace film. This debate still continues today, as some people (me included) would rather wait and see a film on DVD than theatrically. TVs were also going to split up the family unit - and that is shown here. It is more important to watch the fight than eat. TV and cinema have always been at war, yet theaters still stand.

 

The final shot, with his face full frame, is a low shot. Driscoll does look very menacing - but not enough to hit his wife (which he probably would have if this was a pre-war film).

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The opening shot of the "99 River Street" clip is vivid, imaginative and could be a forerunner to Martin Scorcese's "Raging Bull" fight scenes.  As the film widens the focus to show the television set in the small and, noting the slanting upper wall, attic apartment of the once heavyweight contender, Ernie, and his once promising chanteuse wife, Pauline, the same footage seems to diminish in scope and importance.  The couple's dialogue is bitter and resentful on her side, pleading and placating on his. The two fairly reek with broken dreams and unfulfilled potential.  The director changes the crisp, cinematic rendering of the pivital bout to a small, slightly faded, agonizingly slow motion version; as if Ernie's title dreams are in a never-ending quagmire of failure and pain.  The couple's eager hopes have shrunk to the size of a 15 inch black and white television that keeps re-running past defeats.

 

These two trying to bring, albeit separate, order to a random world, embody the Existentialist philosophy gaining adherents in the post war period.  In a fair world, those who fought in the war, those who saved the world, should be able to fulfill their ambitions and live happily ever after.  Those who took up the slack for the men fighting, should also be permitted to pursue and fulfill their dreams.  Ernie, a good guy whose sad eyes show constant surprise that the universe treats him so poorly, and Pauline, bitterly disappointed in the husband she married on the way up and who has now landed in a heap at her opportunistic feet, in earlier noirs might have been the second string characters.  Not as flashy nor as wanton as the leads, but Ernie particularly would have been right at home as the best friend of Robert Mitchum or Dennis O'Keefe.  Probing into these identifiable characters and situations through the bleak, pessimistic, anxiety ridden, double-crossing, prism of 1950s film noir adds another dimension to the folio.

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Ernie yearns for the days when he was a boxer, not necessarily because of the actual boxing but because of the money that came along with it. His wife is obviously dissatisfied with their living arrangements and basically sees her husband as a bum. Ernie feels desperate because he cares for his wife but sees that she is at the end of her rope. He wants to own a legitimate business, but as we see in film noir, things are never too good to be true. There's this idea of nostalgia being explored in this scene. When movies became a thing, it took the world by storm. It provided people with a cheap form of entertainment and the technicality of the productions blew audiences away. Some were even terrified. Then, television came along and that became the new thing. A battle began between the tow mediums, something we will always see as each try to outdo one another. In the end, Ernie is stuck in the past and his wife wants to move on to the next, big thing.

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First, Ernie watches himself take a physical beating on the TV. Then we watch as Ernie takes a verbal beating from Pauline. The verbal beating can be as bad, if not worse, to a proud person.

 

The camera views early in the boxing sequence have a lot of close ups and reaction shots of the boxers. Then, once we establish that Ernie is watching on TV, the shots are wider showing overall views of the action as you would expect to see it on TV. The interactions between Pauline and Ernie are, initially, wider shots, but as their discussion heats up, there are close ups and reaction shots similar to the opening shots of the boxing sequence.

 

 

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In many ways, 99 River Street is an allegory for some of the topics and themes raised in this week's lecture, etc...especially the radical change and challenges confronting the American male in the Postwar era.  

 

It matters less that Ernie (John Payne) is a boxer, and more that he's portrayed as a failure at his job, unable to provide his spouse with the type of home, conveniences and luxuries his wife, Pauline, (Peggie Castle) clearly covets.   Innuendos abound that the spark has gone out of their marriage, and his very modest ambition of owning a gas station is not exactly rekindling the flame.  

 

Making matters worse, he's also a cuckhold as well as somewhat of a dupe in general, as demonstrated by his falling for Linda's (Evelyn Keyes) theatrical ploy in her scene for the play's backers.   Ernie's also victimized by Vic Rawlins, the man Pauline is cheating on him with, and thought of so poorly that Rawlin's kills Pauline and dumps her body in the back seat of his cab without Ernie's knowledge.  So now he's running from the police, too.  

 

Ernie's not terribly bright.  He's angry, bitter, not especially talented (except for using his fists), and suffers from a bad temper and a very short fuse.   

 

He could be a poster boy for the Postwar American male, his traditional role as empowered head of the family and breadwinner undermined.   He's a failure as a boxer, husband and lover.   The fact he and Pauline are childless is telling.   He's struggling to keep his head above water, but his wife wants and demands things Ernie can't possibly give her.     

 

The sense of powerlessness and victimization surrounding Ernie is palatable.  He's being pummelled from all sides, bounding from one blow to another, no less in his post-boxing career than he was in the ring; except now he's less able to defend himself and regain his bearings.  

 

It's painful watching Ernie take this kind of beating even now...I can only imagine what it was like for guys seeing the film when it first played in theaters in 1953.  No wonder he goes off on Rawlin's when he finally catches up to him, but it's no where near the punishment he's taken to get to that point.    I wonder if what's really left of Ernie after the final credits roll is enough to keep him going for another round.        

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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. Closeups in the beginning, indicating what cinema can do; as soon as the knockdown happens, the pain shows on Ernie’s face. The slow motion as the camera pulls out and shows the scene on TV makes the shot even more painful. As spectators, we are pulled out from the reality of the match, but at the same time, we identify with Ernie and his pain, as we see him watching himself on TV. As the commentator mentions that the referee is examining Ernie’s right eye, he touches the eye and then it twitches, seemingly in response to what is happening on the TV screen.

 

-- Discuss the scene's social commentary in the interactions between Ernie (John Payne) and Pauline (Peggie Castle). Pauline seems to feel as if Ernie’s need to watch himself lose this match is somehow aimed at her and she is offended. She is not concerned about his feelings, suggesting the more powerful position women were beginning to be in after the war. She appears to be trying to emasculate him, making him feel guilty for not succeeding in the boxing ring. The tension is building and it feels like violence is in the air toward the end of the scene.

 

-- What are some of the noir elements in this scene, either in terms of style or substance? Many closeups during the boxing scene; the impotence men are feeling after the end of the war comes out in Pauline’s treatment of Ernie and the fact that he submits to it. The feeling that “you can’t win,” coming out of the war and Existentialism. We are seeing sort of a flashback in the historical replaying of the fight. Shadows on the walls of the apartment suggest that things are not good in this scene, and in the marriage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I just have to ask: all of the people remarking on the fact that Ernie is "emasculated"--what is the equivalent of that for his wife? If Pauline is robbing Ernie of his masculinity, are there ways in which he is robbing her of her femininity?

 

In other words, if Ernie is being denied the American male dream of a respectable job and a dutiful wife, what is the female American dream? What is Pauline's ideal? What should she be aspiring to? Where does she draw her self-worth (aside from having a husband with high status)? Is her desire for money at odds with the American dream, or is it a grotesque extension of it?

 

I'm genuinely curious about what you guys think about this. I feel like I have a pretty good handle on what life would look like for a happy guy, but I'm not so sure when I think about the "perfect" life for a woman.

 

I had a great-aunt who was in her "prime" during the 50s. She was an (awesome) teacher, and she took her job very seriously. In a conversation with my father, he expressed the opinion that, had she lived in this day and age, she would have probably preferred to stay single--working her job and traveling (she's been to more countries than anyone I've ever met). I sometimes wonder how economic realities and social niceties impacted the direction of her life, and what her version of a "perfect" living situation would have been.

 

 

Your's are excellent questions, but I suspect they're probably not ones likely to have been asked by audiences back in the early Fifties because the role for women in society was so much more suppressed and restricted then than it is today.   

 

It may be even more complicated by the fact that the mythical American Dream was really a package deal...intended for men and women alike...one that they both had to buy into, something both could aspire to and find purpose and security in.   That unspoken larger social contract will not work if both parties aren't active participants and don't reap some sort of tangible benefits...however disparate and unequal those benefits might be.  

 

Drilling deeper, is Pauline's behavior really what's emasculating Ernie?  She's fulfilling her part of the larger social contract by buying-into the consumerism and materialism that pervades the Postwar era.   It's Ernie's inability to provide those commodities that's more the issue.   Bluntly put, Ernie's inability to satisfy his wife and, by extension, himself, on numerous levels is the real problem.  Ernie's pent-up anger, bitterness and resentment tell us that he wants these same things, too, and is ashamed and frustrated by his inability to provide them.  

 

In that context, is Pauline's fault then more of one of her calling attention to her husband's shortcomings, of not remaining within the restrictive confines of her role as a dutiful American woman and wife in the Fifties?   She's not content to stand by her man, not patient enough for him to find the success they've both been promised.   In this framework, it's her disloyalty to Ernie --- and the social contract binding her ---that is her crime; the cardinal sin she must ultimately die for in a social context that pays lip service to a moral code as outdated then as was the Hollywood code itself.    

 

I think it's entirely too early yet, in 1953, to ask the questions you so aptly pose: what was Pauline aspiring to?  What was her ideal and dream?  Where was her empowerment?   I'm not sure those questions have been adequately answered even today, sixty years later.

 

We could probably ask the same kind of questions about Ernie and get equally unsatisfactory results.   Fact is neither Pauline nor Ernie established their own agendas or goals.  Their values, identities and ambitions were shaped and co-opted by the larger society around them, and their impotence in the face of that oppressive structure made them both victims of sorts.  

 

How much has really changed in six decades?   Don't very similar fears and uncertainties plague us today?   Aren't our roles and identities still being co-opted?   Aren't we still being spoon-fed the notion that life is a zero-sum game, where the only way one person, gender, race, ethnicity, nation or faith, etc. can flourish and 'win' is for someone/something else to be diminished, defeated, and to 'lose'?     

 

In the end, I suspect the biggest mistakes are to to think a 'perfect' outcome is possible...or even desirable, and that there is only one path capable of getting any of us remotely close to where we'd like to go.  

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