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Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose of Darkness #27: A Handy Man (Opening Scene of Beware, My Lovely)

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 Well, I don't know about that. My great-grandfather, who died in 1952 at the age of 84, was raised in a small town in eastern Ohio. He always wore a suit and tie for chores, to garden, we even have a picture of him walking along the Florida beach collecting sea shells... in a suit and tie. This shows to me a certain kind of middle-class aspiration and self-respect on the part of Ryan. 

I agree, if you look at pictures of the past you will see that as very common.  In fact in some ways the odd one in watching Kansas City Confidential when they went fishing was Foster.

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Upon first glance, nothing about Beware, My Lovely says "noir." Unlike some of the other opening scenes we've seen, which thrust us immediately into the action, there's no real elements of noir (save for some slight shadows) until two minutes in, when Howard's discovery of the girl in the closet is pronounced by the jarring music cue. (I can't really tell if she's supposed to be dead or alive since she clearly blinks, but I see no reason for Howard to run unless she were supposed to be dead.) As he's running, we're re-introduced to the popular noir train motif. He's scared and panicked. Perhaps he fears that someone will think he committed the crime. Perhaps he had motive. One thing's for sure: the intensity's about to pick up.

 

Regarding the Salvation Army imagery, I take that to symbolize that someone's going to need some salvation. And judging by the later revelation, that seems to be Howard.

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Describe the noir elements, in terms of style and substance, in this opening sequence.


 


I think there are some novel touches to the opening of Beware My Lovely. There is a jarring juxtaposition of the Salvation Army Band soliciting sinners (how bad could anybody be in an all-American place such as this?) in a small town setting, on a beautiful sunny day, with the discovery of Mrs Warren lying dead in her own closet. 


 


Although we know that WWI is over and a peaceful America has been restored, handsome, virile Robert Ryan is a handyman. Why is such a capable, good-looking guy raking leaves, putting in screens, etc? Audiences wouldn't be surprised to see a handyman looking stereotypical by being older, less many, more stooped from years of laboring. So the audiences


 collective mind is left wondering whether they are looking at a veteran, down on his luck, or after the discovery of Mrs Warren, a shell-shock (the vernacular of the period) victim who actually killed the lady of the house, went about his business and then was startled to realize what he had done in a more lucid moment? I remember thinking these things the first time I watched this film.


 


The shorthand use of a calendar to let us know the date, the workman's list to let us know that Ryan is a hired hand, the neat note leaving Ryan his wages, Ryan's methodical cleanup after his job showing he has been here working before, all remind me of the opening of "M." The director is using lots of symbols which happen in everyday life to let us know a lot of information in a visual way without the use of dialogue or even other characters in the scene.


 


Once Ryan sees the body in the closet, we see his reaction is definitely not that of a man in possession of himself. A normal man would check the victim to see if she was dead and either look for medical or police assistance in dealing with his discovery. Ray s' reaction is not normal which puts the audience on the mindtrack that he is involved with Mrs Warren's demise. Once he runs, looking to hop a freight out of town quickly and anonymously, the scene changes  to Ryan's running over a maze of train tracks (these mirror the confusion of his sick mind as well as the complex route he has to take to escape his own mental instability. The train whistles are a nice touch, heralding not only the trains in the railroad yard, but also the fact that danger is on the loose.


 


I just want to observe a couple of things about the film. First, Robert Ryan is great at portraying mental instablility and menace (maybe only Robert Mitchum was better at this). Casting him in this part was also a good shorthand way to let the audience know they are looking at a damaged person.


 


Second, once Ida Lupino enters the film, the chemistry between the two actors is very good as they veer back and forth between Ryan's stability and instability.


 


Third, the problem with the film in my view is that it is too stagey. It was adapted from a play and this is obvious because some of the camerawork and blocking actually looks like a play is being filmed, especially during Ryan and Lupino's confrontations with each other in the living room.


 


What do you make of the film opening with the Salvation Army band playing and the prominent Salvation Army sign in that first shot?


 


An obvious explanation is that an army (in the form of the first word war) hurt Ryan's character, and it would take an army of a different sort to save him. Of course the Salvation Army was also an institution that provided aid and comfort to our soldiers in many ways during WWI. It hasn't been in time to help Mrs Warren in our scene.


 


The Army's sign about a "pot boiling" is an unfortunate choice for the opening. A "potboiler" is a literary or artistic work of low quality, created just to allow the artist to earn quick money to make a living. Having seen the film, Beware My Lovely  is definitely not a potboiler.


 


 


 


Even though it is set in 1918, how does this scene reveal some of the typical noir themes of the 1950s?


 


Mental illness, stranger-danger, random acts of violence which are unpredictable, notions of religion as being inadequate to address society's ills, and personal isolation and loneliness are some of the themes which are present in the opening scene.


 


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I saw that, too.  Had to replay it to make sure.  Since it was left in the final film, I assume it means that the woman is not dead yet.  So Howard could actually have gone for help - but didn't.  Makes his running even worse.

You're right.  My apologies to the actress.  I didn't think of that until after I posted my comments.  I agree with you.

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White picket fences:  I will never look at them the same way again.  Midwest and white picket fences have come to mean a 1950s noir film.  How normal everything looks with the band playing and the kids playing.  Right there, I know something horrible is about to happen.

 

(Side note:  and why I have trust issues.)

 

Focusing on the shade’s ring while Robert cleans the screen, focusing on the mundane while the action happens in the background, and focusing on the mirror to see Robert put on his coat behind the open closet door is a noir style of filming.  It sets a mood. 

 

Queue the music to indicate something bad; trumpets blare when he opens the door and backs away in horror:  another noir style troupe.  Thematically, the sudden and unforeseen circumstance of Lauren (at least, I think that’s the name he calls out) dead (was she dead? I thought I saw her blink) in the closet sets a new course for our protagonist: noir style strikes again.

 

What the heck is up with his tie?  Also, how dirty was the house, judging by that bucket water he poured out?  Holy crud.

 

 

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Trouble Brewing, a Soul in Need of Saving

Straight off, the film viewer sees the low angle shots, the close-ups and the framing devices that are synonymous with noir.  We sees the Salvation Army sign in portions so we read it in pieces, then we sees the members of the Salvation Army band in close range, and finally we view Howard (Robert Ryan) framed in a close-up by the space of the screen he is putting on the window.  The framing device of a window is much like John Garfield framed in the window of the car at the beginning of The Postman Always Rings Twice.  Both communicate the possibility of the literal "frame" of a window being a visual metaphor of the character being "framed' for some crime.  Howard attempts to clean the black spot off of the screen as he will in the near future try to clear his reputation of the black spot of a crime.

 

In contrast to The Narrow Margin, the context of this film is subtle and suggestive in its depictions.  We see the calendar and the list of chores on the window frame through the screen.  We assume and then confirm that Howard is a handyman helping out his fellow neighbor Mrs. Warren.  Howard is tidy in cleaning up his tools and conscientious in checking off the tasks completed; he wants to do an honest day's work.  Howard dumps out the dirty water from his bucket and is starting to rinse out the grime when he opens the pantry.  We notice the horror on Howard's face before we sees Mrs. Warren's dead body.  We can deduct that Howard is frightened as he runs away, scared of being caught and tried for Mrs. Warren's death given.  He high-tailed it out of town to the railroad yard like a madman.  He crisscrosses many tracks (his obstacles in his hard life) and throws himself in desperation into an empty boxcar.  Through Howard's panic we sense that he has had a past criminal record and has good reason to run away even when he knows he is innocent.  Howard feels nobody will believe his innocence, so the best option is to escape.  We as viewers do not know what Howard did in the past, but we imagine that he did have trouble with the law.  Literally, Howard is on a train heading somewhere, but figuratively, Howard has a train of paranoia and fear driving through his brain indicated by the superimposed train over his forehead.  Howard is definetely in trouble.  It is refreshing to be given the opportunity to be a detective in this opening scene instead of having the blatant slap of details in the beginning of The Narrow Margin.

 

The Salvation Army sign is another subtle clue to noir.  The upper part of the sign states "Keep the Pot Boiling."  This is a strange statement to make in conjunction to the lower of the sign which reads "The Salvation Army Christmas Cheer."  One would think of a boiling pot as a sign of "trouble brewing" which is in stark contrast to the mission of the Salvation Army, which is to turn lives away from the dark situations of life such as violence, alcohol, and gambling.  A person thinks that a beneficent organization like the Salvation Army would choose a more calming, redemptive statement such as "Turn off the Heat of Life."  The boiling pot statement along with the presence of the Salvation Army in close proximity of Howard at Mrs. Warren house is a foreshadowing of Howard's need for saving.

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Beware My Lovely is also ahead of it's time. I now believe Hitchcock owes a great deal of his success in Psycho to this film. It's almost a carbon copy; a dead woman on the floor with a close up of her face, running water left ON (seriously the most agitating thing ever) and then the male just leaving the scene.  Running away; another male-in-crisis motif made more uncomfortable with visual and audible elements of the running water abandoned (as well as this lifeless human).

 

Absolutely dead on!  I had the privilege of meeting Janet Leigh at a book signing and specifically asked her about her scene, after being murdered, that fabulous close-up shot of the shower drain slowly dissolving to an extreme close-up of her pupil and then a painfully slow zoom back (and rotating from vertical to horizontal view) of her lifeless body on the bathroom floor and with the constant sound of running water.  I thought they must have used a still picture of Janet Leigh's face and zoomed off of that.  She assured me, as difficult as it was lying on that floor, half naked and holding her eyes wide open and face frozen till the shot was complete.  Being the professional she was, she never blinked!  What a woman!

https://youtu.be/0WtDmbr9xyY 

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I would describe the noir elements and substance as mostly realism--daylight and minimal shadows, although there are formalist touches--such as the odd camera angle through the clapping symbols and the final shot of Robert Ryan's face layered with the rushing train wheels and hydraulics along with a frontal shot of the train rushing forward, all as if culminating in Ryan's brain.  There is also the horror-closeup of Mrs. Warren's dead face.  There are the elements of closeups of Ryan's face when he discovers Warren's body and of Mrs. Warren's face.  There are the aforementioned odd camera angles.  There is the oddness of a marching band and parade along with a woman painting her fence all during December of 1918.  We would expect those events in July, but here they are in the dead of winter. Finally, there are the criss-crossing rail tracks and the opression of industry with the expansive railyards.  All of the above are expository elements that give the impression that Ryan is working an odd job for quick money; he discovers a dead body; and, he runs fast for the nearest train to hop, obviously not wanting to get caught anywhere near a murder.  He has a past.

 

We learn from the opening Salvation Army scene that it is Christmas time, yet, oddly, a band is playing and a lady is painting her fence.  These seem to be activities from the summer, yet they are in the dead of winter.  This tells us that the location must be in the south somewhere, where there is minimal or no snow and a warmer climate.  Either that, or "Indian summer." Again, expository material.

 

This is a typical noirish theme that could have been in the forties or fifties because there is an oddness about, a mysterious murder and a mysterious man with a past.  There are expansive scenes of industry that press in on the man as if his brain is rattling.

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-- Describe the noir elements, in terms of style and substance, in this opening sequence.

There are several film noir elements observed in this short clip. As Howard moves around the room we see his shadow on the wall. Then when he opens the closet to get his jacket, we see Howard's face in the mirror. As Howard opens the door as sees Mrs. Warren on the floor, ominous music builds up, What does Howard see? Howard is now panicking and runs to a rail yard as the music sounds like a high speed chase. At the very end of the clip, there are multiple images on top of each other, there is Howard's painful face, racing locomotive wheels, and an oncoming locomotive.

 

-- What do you make of the film opening with the Salvation Army band playing and the prominent Salvation Army sign in that first shot?

The opening scene with the Salvation Army band playing and the "Salvation" sign signifies that someone may need help, they need salvation.

 

-- Even though it is set in 1918, how does this scene reveal some of the typical noir themes of the 1950s?

It is December 1918, WWI is over and Howard, a returning veteran has a low level job as a handy man. He should do better, but why not. When he opens the door and sees Mrs. Warren on the floor, he panics, does this remind him of scenes he saw in the war. Did Howard do it and just realize that he killed Mrs. Howard. Mental illness and/or PTSD or shell shock were common themes in the 1950's films.

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-- Describe the noir elements, in terms of style and substance, in this opening sequence.

 

The noir elements don’t show up until late in this scene, when Howard opens the closet door.  He is seen just prior to that in the mirror– a small reflection, a symbol of a double or alternate identity.  As soon as Howard looks into the closet everything changes.  Howard’s face shows pure shock and panic.  As he runs off, we see inside the closet, where Mrs. Warren (is it Lauren or Mrs. Warren??) has been left, dead on the floor.  Howard runs across town into the railroad yard, another classic noir element.  As he runs, the camera is high above and far off, so we see the vast railroad yard and little Howard running  until he hops a freight just pulling out of the yard.  It is then the camera switches to Howard’s face, frightened, while another train, superimposed over his face, comes head on out of nowhere straight into the camera. 

 

-- What do you make of the film opening with the Salvation Army band playing and the prominent Salvation Army sign in that first shot?

 

First, it seems every single film set in the first decades of the Twentieth Century regardless of genre seems to have a Salvation Army Band in it.  Sheesh.  But the sign has “Keep the Pot Boiling” printed across the top, which the camera zeroes in on.  After the camera moves from the band playing in the street in front of the house to Howard finishing up with the screens, he then calls for Mrs. Warren several times, finds his pay, starts tidying up and is getting set to either clean the pail or mop (rinse?) something, when the camera goes from the faucet gushing water into the pail to the closet door.  So “Keep the Pot Boiling” has the first implication of Howard, a handy man, filling a pail with hot water, i.e., doing his job.  But the second implication, and the one most noir to our hearts, is that it’s  Howard ‘s emotions that are being kept boiling, i.e., his reaction of panic and flight is not appropriate to finding the body.  Something has been set off inside Howard that causes him to run out of sheer terror.

 

-- Even though it is set in 1918, how does this scene reveal some of the typical noir themes of the 1950s?

 

Everyman, minding his own business, getting caught up in a bad situation.  Everyman’s inability to deal directly with said bad situation (panics, runs).  Everyman haunted by memories or “stuff ” inside his head that cause him to be a tortured human being.  Everyman is forced to deal with his own ghosts and wounds rather than deal with reality.

 

It's a long time since I've seen this film mostly because I'm not very fond of "girl torturing" suspense movies.  But, maybe I'll watch it again.  Ida Lupino and Robert Ryan are so good together.  Can you imagine THEM as Nick and Nora Charles???

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Although it’s fairly standard for a film noir to have flashbacks, for them to be set so far back in the past is fairly unusual (discounting, for a moment, the film noir westerns Dr. Edwards discussed a few weeks ago).  This is set even before Chandler and Hammett began writing those hard-boiled detective stories that led to the development of film noir.  Although they went to a little effort of creating a sense of the time with the costumes (though 1950s B films did not have the emphasis on accuracy we’ve come to expect from Masterpiece Theatre), this scene feels like it could take place in any rural town in the 1950s.  Until Howard discovers Mrs. Warren’s body, it feels very much like a slice of life clip from a television show.  I think that timelessness works in Beware, My Lovely’s favor.  While the U.S. did not suffer nearly as much as Europe during WWI, American soldiers returned with deep physical and psychological wounds.  By setting the story in 1918, just after the war ended, Beware, My Lovely is setting up a parallel between the veterans of WWI and WWII.  This is a film noir about post-WWII America disguised as a period piece.

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"Keep the pot boiling", I guess we are in for it in "Beware, My Lovely". O.K. we have Robert Ryan in a tie doing chores, got to love the 50s. He is very thorough in completing his work. He carefully folds and puts thing back where they belong, (maybe its Military training or something).  We know this can't be good when he starts opening doors.  The music changes rapidly, frozen with fear, he escapes just in time for the train. Flashbacks of a full speed train aiming right towards him- All the Noir elements are present- can't wait.

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I agree with Professor Edward's suggestion that viewing the entire movie will offer a better chance to evaluate the noir elements. I saw this movie a very long while back and will need to be reminded of a few aspects of the plot. So far, I think the movie will attempt to retrieve and maintain the noir style; right now, it feels a bit diluted in that regard.

 

A postwar theme runs through the opener. 1918 was the ending of the Great War. Huge politcal and human welfare changes took place afterwards as they did after WW2. The movies we have been studying in this last module reflect a postwar reaction/change to movies made at the height of WW2. Since this movie was made in 1952, I assume those 1950's opinions and doctrines cannot help but be insinuated in this movie.

 

Ryan's character is a drifter seeking odd jobs.(Like Frank Chambers in The Postman Always Rings Twice). Whether Ryan's character is a veteran or not is unknown. 

As he is completes his list of tasks, he repeatedly calls out to Mrs. Warren, the widow who hired him as her handyman. She doesn't answer. As he searches for her, he opens a door only to discover a body.  He is terrified and bolts from the house. At that moment his persona changes. In his shock at this discovery, did he think he may have killed someone and supressed it in his mind? And by the way, who was killed?  I love Ryan's anguished facial expression as he boards the train. He is very troubled and possibly guilty.

 

Fantastic railroad and train shots.

 

The Salvation Army sign puts the story around Christmas. The word "cheerful" bothered me. Christmas is not always a cheerful time for some people and I imagine that might have rung true for wounded and displaced soldiers returning from one of the worst military conflicts in recent history. 

 

Looking forward to seeing the movie and in particular watching Robert Ryan and Ida Lupino. It will be interesting to get the "Final Clues and Last Words".

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I like the juxtaposition of the opening shot of the Salvation Army followed by Robert Ryan as he clean house. The Salvation Army wants to cleanse our souls and Ryan is determined to get that damned spot of gunk off the screen. It seems like the camera lingers on him scraping the screen longer than is necessary to simple establish the fact that he's the house cleaner. Then he pours the bucket of seriously filthy water down the sink. He's purging all that is bad and ugly. Then he finally opens the door, sees the body, and suddenly we know that this house isn't morally clean at all. There's evil here that no amount of mopping and scrubbing can undo.

 

The visuals draw from the usual noir stylistic elements. He's seen in a mirror as he puts on his coat. The shadows behind Ryan's head as he flees the home suggest a web. He's filmed running across train tracks with a high overhead shot. I especially liked his facial reaction as he backs out from behind the door where he has discovered the body. His look of horror and disbelief recall the reaction to the glowing briefcase in Kiss Me Deadly, as if he has just seen something terrible beyond his comprehension. How did this seemingly simple, nice guy find himself confronted by a body on the floor.

 

I haven't seen this film before, so I can't quite understand Ryan's reaction. If I discovered a body I don't think my first impulse would be to hop a boxcar bound for who knows where, so I'm interested to learn why he runs from the scene of the crime.

 

At this point in the course I'm beginning to think that the mere presence of Robert Ryan constitutes a noir element all by itself. How many movies shown on TCM this summer has he been in? I've seen at least eight films with Ryan in this course, and I haven't watched anywhere near all the films that have been shown. I've developed a huge respect for Ryan's talent. He's equally good at playing the righteous detective and the vicious criminal. He's got a great screen presence and not just because he's always the tallest person in any given scene. Prior to watching the films on TCM this summer, my main image of Ryan was as the homicidal bad guy in Bad Day at Black Rock, which I guess we would call a noir Western filmed in Technicolor.  

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I never considered BEWARE, MY LOVELY to be noir,  but a suspense film and proto-female in danger flick (Ida Lupino had starred in WOMAN IN HIDING, 1949, with future husband Howard Duff, and made something of a specialty of playing endangered characters), but I'm happy to see it included in the Summer of Darkness line-up and our discussion. So, seeing this clip, BEWARE, MY LOVELY opens on a tranquil note (except for the Salvation Army band blaring away) and plunges headlong into noir when Robert Ryan's character Howard finds the body, presumably that of Mrs. Warren, in the closet. The look of shock and fear that convulses Howard's face indicates more than fright over the discovery. He knows, or thinks he knows, something about her death. His flight from the scene confirms this belief, and is confirmed when he hops a freight train out of town. His face registers the same emotions of guilt, fear and confusion. This is something that's occurred before with Howard.

 

Unless I'm missing something -- and I probably am -- the shot of the camera pushing past the Salvation Army band to the Warren house after the title sets the year as 1918 serves to tell us the Christmas season is approaching, although as pointed out elsewhere, the weather's awful temperate for that location at that time of year. I like the observation that salvation of some kind is in order for one of the characters we are to meet. The noir atmosphere takes hold when we dissolve to the interior of the Warren kitchen, more shadowy and brooding. The shot in which the camera closes in on Mrs. Warren's death grimace as the bucket in the sink overflows with water in the foreground is an impressive mood-setter.

 

It could be that BEWARE, MY LOVELY was not so much intended as noir, but borrowed elements such as lighting, alienated characters like Howard and the concept of fate (Howard and Ida Lupino's landlady being thrown together when he answers her help wanted ad) to create a suspenseful situation. You could argue that such borrowings indicated cannibalization of the noir style and the decline to which it was subjected, but the film as a whole holds together.

 

Again a product of Lupino's company, The Filmakers, and released by RKO, BEWARE, MY LOVELY has the look of that studio's product we came to associate with postwar noir. (It was directed not by Ida, but Harry Horner). The pace drags as scenarist Mel Dinelli (THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE, 1946) tried spinning out a radio play of his entitled "The Man" to feature film length, but like any good story, it keeps you hanging on for the outcome. "The Man" was performed twice on SUSPENSE, the second time in 1949 with Ethel Barrymore and Gene Kelly in the lead roles.

 

If you view the entire film on Friday, see if you can recognize whom Ida's deceased soldier husband is in the photograph in her parlor. Hint: He's in THE HITCH-HIKER.

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K, Ima have to take issue with that Silver and Ward quote before addressing anything else. I love this movie (Robert Ryan + Ida Lupino = love), and have seen it several times, so I can say with confidence that I do not believe Beware, My Lovely is a true film noir, but rather one of the Filmakers' issue pictures, the issue in this case being acute violent psychosis. It uses the conventions of noir, no doubt, but it's aim is not to create a cheap thrill, nor to engage in standard noir-themed social commentary - it is meant to shine a light on the plight of individuals affected by such mental illness, and to engender sympathy for and understanding of that plight in the hearts and minds of the audience. I disagree with their description of Ida Lupino's character as "a lonely and harrassed young woman," but instead find her to be an interesting, resourceful, and not-particularly-young woman, and I don't know how Robert Ryan's behavior could be characterized as "bordering on psychosis" by anyone, since the guy is clearly BULL GOOSE BOZO from the first scene!!!!! That being said, I don't really trust anything Silver and Ward have to say on the subject of this movie. 

 

Woo sah. I feel much better.

 

Now, some of the noir elements in the clip we watched were a shadow filled kitchen (even in broad daylight), suspense music, the dead body in the closet and Robert Ryan's reaction to finding it, and the train.

 

I think the prominent featuring of the Salvation Army at the very beginning of the movie is an immediate cue to the audience that they should view the Robert Ryan character with a charitable, Christian heart (as opposed to reacting with fear and condemnation).

 

The movie does have some noir themes, such as random acts of kindness leading to danger and a sense that all is not well in the world. So I guess you can call it film noir if you want to, but I find it a stretch.

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From the Salvation Army sign:

 

"Keep the pot boiling..From the kindness of your heart".

 

The black kettle hanging from the iron tripod has always been a trademark of the Salvation Army. You'd walk by and drop a donation in the kettle. I believe the slogan means to keep the pot filling up with donations. Don't let the pot dry up. One has to keep adding to it in order to keep it going (boiling).

 

Boiling over. Coming to a boil. All this may be central to the plot...that eventually things will either come to a boil or boil over. Need to watch the movie and find out. Right now I don't see much symbolism with this.

 

I could be thinking way outside the box or I'm being too practical. Just thought I'd put it out there, anyway.

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The clip begins with a well lit, outside scene in what is a "suburban" like setting with a nice house, complete with white picket fence.  The presence of the Salvation Army Band is a recognizable part of Americana; this is a place and lifestyle that is pleasant, safe and predictable.

 

But when the scene shifts to the inside of the house, the lighting is dim, with lots of shadows.  Horizontal and vertical lines are reflected everywhere in the decor of the house as well as in shadows.  Ryan is a drifter who was fortunate enough to be hired by the home owner to do some chores so he could earn some money.  As he goes about finishing his tasks and calls for the home owner several times,  the room starts to feel a little claustrophobic.  When he gets his coat out of the closet, we see him reflected in the mirror as he puts it on.  It somehow makes him look small, diminished...  When he pours out that bucket of water into the sink, it looks black with dirt and God knows what else!!  Not a good sign...

 

Then he finds the body.  The movement of his hand on the door, followed by the expression of horror and fear on his face when it finally comes into view, let us know something awful has happened before we ever see the body. One minute we think we're watching a handyman finish his work on an ordinary day, the next minute we're confronted with a dead woman and a fugitive!!

 

The way he bolts from the house lets us know that while he may not remember what happened, he is not innocent.  His panicked running through the back streets and across the train tracks, and his hopping onto the train while partially hidden by steam from the train all were in the noir style.  The visions of the train superimposed on his face made me think that it was his thoughts and emotions that were going through his mind at such breakneck speed. 

 

The Salvation Army sign lets us know that it's the Christmas season.  During this time of the year, people do tend to do more for others  "from the kindness of (our) heart(s)."  The homeowner gave work to someone who needed it.  It was safe, in those days, to let a stranger into one's house for that purpose.  But in noir style, the "norm" of helping a stranger, whether it be to stop to help someone who has run out of gas as in "The Hitchhiker" or to hire someone to do chores around the house so he could earn some money as in this film, is suddenly dangerous.  In this case, helping a stranger cost a woman her life.

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First of all, I heard the RADIO version of the story, but have not seen the film version.  Mel Dinelli wrote a version for radio that was featured on the CBS radio show Suspense as "To Find Help" on January 18, 1945 with Frank Sinatra as Howard and Agnes Moorehead as Mrs. Gillis (Mrs. Gordon in the film). It was dramatized again on Suspense in 1949 with Gene Kelly and Ethel Barrymore on January 6, 1949.

 

    

The title of the radio version referred to the labor shortage of World War II. "it's so hard to find help these days..."

 

The version with Agnes Moorehead and Frank Sinatra is the better of the two as Sinatra is a SADIST in that version.

 

As the story begins, it's 1918, the last year of World War I and the phrase "Keep the Pot Boiling" obviously was similar to "Keep the Home Fires Burning" in World War II. It's also Christmas time and we often see those Salvation Army kettles at that time of year, and occasionally their brass bands as well.

 

We learn who Howard is via the note and money left on the table. He repeatedly calls for Mrs. Warren, but there is no answer. He is about to do his mopping when he opens the door and recoils in horror. He sees the dead body (and I swear I saw blinking eyes in the shot) and suddenly need to get out FAST.

We see him race across the rail yards and frantically jump onto a moving box car. A classic element of film noir right there, to escape quickly and hope no one sees you.

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I enjoyed this film immensely. Personally, I thought that this Noir is constructed quite differently than the majority of films we had come across in this course - it is mostly based on a psychological element than anything else. Yes, there is a crime committed in the beginning, but even though we suspect who is responsible for the "dirty deed" we cannot be completely sure just yet. There is simply no need for anyone else to tell a story successfully but this fantastic duo; like someone mentioned it in the post; I also became so respectful of Robert Ryan's talent. Even though the story is set just after the WWI, it clearly indicates the situation, state of mind of the end WWII and the "American fear of the enemy, lurking concealed among the ordinary folks". We are drawn into this nightmare, but we are torn between taking sides with the victim and the "oppressor" (who evidently need professional help). It is a torturing rollercoaster, we are sick by the experience and there is no way out.  There is no worse dread than being locked with an unstable person, someone you can't reason with and who is a threat to your very existence... Great, great film.

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-- Describe the noir elements, in terms of style and substance, in this opening sequence. We home in on a character through a window – and one with a black mark on it that is not identifiable – it looks like it is on his face - this creates an uncomfortable feeling about his future. He tries to remove the blot, but is only partly successful. The shadows in the house, even though it is broad daylight outside are classic noir. And the fact that the woman who hired him does not respond to his calling out her name sets us on edge. We see the protagonist only as a reflection in the mirror as he opens the closet to get his coat. The score, as well as his hand on the door, alert us to his discovery of the body. The trains and railroad tracks are also noir elements, as is the loneliness of the figure running across the railroad tracks.

 

-- What do you make of the film opening with the Salvation Army band playing and the prominent Salvation Army sign in that first shot? The protagonist seems like he may have gotten this work he is doing through the Salvation Army. His demeanor suggests he may have had a difficult past and a hard time finding work.

 

 

-- Even though it is set in 1918, how does this scene reveal some of the typical noir themes of the 1950s? A situation involving murder and an innocent man who assumes he will be blamed. Because of his presence in the house and his low status, he will be a suspect, so he has no control in the situation. We feel, as he runs across the tracks, that there will be no escape.

 

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I like the juxtaposition of the opening shot of the Salvation Army followed by Robert Ryan as he clean house. The Salvation Army wants to cleanse our souls and Ryan is determined to get that damned spot of gunk off the screen. It seems like the camera lingers on him scraping the screen longer than is necessary to simple establish the fact that he's the house cleaner. Then he pours the bucket of seriously filthy water down the sink. He's purging all that is bad and ugly. Then he finally opens the door, sees the body, and suddenly we know that this house isn't morally clean at all. There's evil here that no amount of mopping and scrubbing can undo.

 

The visuals draw from the usual noir stylistic elements. He's seen in a mirror as he puts on his coat. The shadows behind Ryan's head as he flees the home suggest a web. He's filmed running across train tracks with a high overhead shot. I especially liked his facial reaction as he backs out from behind the door where he has discovered the body. His look of horror and disbelief recall the reaction to the glowing briefcase in Kiss Me Deadly, as if he has just seen something terrible beyond his comprehension. How did this seemingly simple, nice guy find himself confronted by a body on the floor.

 

I haven't seen this film before, so I can't quite understand Ryan's reaction. If I discovered a body I don't think my first impulse would be to hop a boxcar bound for who knows where, so I'm interested to learn why he runs from the scene of the crime.

 

At this point in the course I'm beginning to think that the mere presence of Robert Ryan constitutes a noir element all by itself. How many movies shown on TCM this summer has he been in? I've seen at least eight films with Ryan in this course, and I haven't watched anywhere near all the films that have been shown. I've developed a huge respect for Ryan's talent. He's equally good at playing the righteous detective and the vicious criminal. He's got a great screen presence and not just because he's always the tallest person in any given scene. Prior to watching the films on TCM this summer, my main image of Ryan was as the homicidal bad guy in Bad Day at Black Rock, which I guess we would call a noir Western filmed in Technicolor.  

Ha ha, great comment: "At this point in the course I'm beginning to think that the mere presence of Robert Ryan constitutes a noir element all by itself."

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Its funny to me that this opening reminds me somewhat of the very first daily dose. In "M" the mother waits for her daughter to come home and I couldn't help the fact of being reminded of that as he called for Mrs. Warren or whoever that was. The anticipation has a noir feel and the contrast of the man cleaning and the clean house vs a dead or dying body was jarring. I feel like his reaction too implied guilt as he just gets up and runs away. It has a noir feel that wouldn't necesarrily happen normally. Also the shots being superimposed over one another to imply stress or hallucinations feels very noir-esque.

 

I think the salvation army band playing outside was a really good contrast in that they are there trying to save souls of people and he seems to not really acknowledge or be aware of them. Then when we see the body looking like its come from a bad situation we see how this man Howard may be the opposite or have the opposite of the SA cause in his life.

 

This seems to have the themes of fear and terror of the unknown in it which was prominent in noir films.

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A few things came to mind when watching the clip: when the man picks up the money and he puts the hammer in the drawer, I was thinking: why is that hammer out?

 

And when I saw the bucket with the dirty water, I was thinking it might be blood or otherwise evidence of the crime.

 

I can see why someone may think that this shows a decline in noir. For instance, the fast close-up of the body and the music that accompanies it reminded me of an exploitation or some schlock horror film from the 1960s, like George Romero's Night of the Living Dead. It starts to seem ridiculous, cliche, and not the innovative genre or style or movement or what-you-call-it that it was in the 1940s. Don't get me wrong, I love a good exploitation or camp flick (one of my favorite movies is Beyond the Valley of the Dolls), but i'm not sure a campy film noir is the best idea.

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A few people have questioned Ryan Not Seeing The Body When He Retrieved His Coat.  I watched the clip again, and I believe he gets his coat from a closet in the kitchen [a mirror is behind him], then enters the Laundry/mud room, opens another closet [screen door is behind him] where the body is.

Thoughts?

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