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


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The opening with the Salvation Army and the plain surroundings the handyman works in are both emblematic of the ordinary life of the typical noir protagonist. One who is down at heel, to some extent. Certainly not wealthy or powerful.

 

There are many film noir elements in this scene, including the ordinary surroundings, the shock of the handyman seeing the dead woman, the shots of running across a landscape (as the camera pulls back, so that he becomes smaller and smaller in a wide expanse of urban landscape, the sound and motion of the train, and the almost hallucinatory shot of the train at the end.

 

I've never seen this film, but I want to now.

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The camera focuses on the Salvation Army band.  It pans around the band members, and the house comes into view.  Robert Ryan looks natural as he replaces the screen and scraps some dirt from it.  It is December 1918.  He comes into the house calling to the owner.  He looks into the other room, then spies a note for him with $5.  He goes to the closet to get his coat.  We see his reflection in the mirror while the closet door hides him from view.  He goes into the utility room to empty the pail and refill it with water.  He calls the owner again, he reaches for the door of a utility closet.  He looks in, and then freezes.  As his face comes back into view, he has a look of horror.  His hand is gripping the door.  Then he backs away and runs leaving the water running.  He runs onto a bridge where you see a train passing.  Then he runs down to the train yard.  The long shot shows lots of tracks and train cars in the distance (reminds me of Gone With The Wind when Vivien Leigh comes into the train yard with all the wounded solders lying there).  He runs until he hops on a train.  He is crouched down.  You see the wheels moving, then a shot of a train heading straight for the audience appears.  He is terrified and sweating.  The music sounds suspenseful and has started when he sees the dead woman.

 

Why did he run?  What was in his background?  How did he get the job?

 

Everyone will assume he killed the woman, unless she died of a heart attack.  The running water will definitely bring people.

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The opening with the Salvation Army and the plain surroundings the handyman works in are both emblematic of the ordinary life of the typical noir protagonist. One who is down at heel, to some extent. Certainly not wealthy or powerful.

 

There are many film noir elements in this scene, including the ordinary surroundings, the shock of the handyman seeing the dead woman, the shots of running across a landscape (as the camera pulls back, so that he becomes smaller and smaller in a wide expanse of urban landscape, the sound and motion of the train, and the almost hallucinatory shot of the train at the end.

 

I've never seen this film, but I want to now.

 

I have never seen the beginning of this film.  To me it does not look cliched.  It seems fresh.  I have seen the film farther on when he meets Ida Lupino's character, but I have never seen it through.  I will definitely see it in its entirety.

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Just as an aside, someone in an earlier post had mentioned the respect he/she now feels for the work of Robert Ryan. I also now have a much greater appreciation for his acting, in addition to that of Charles McGraw and other actors whose films I've  seen this summer.  There are so many fine character actors represented in these films!! 

 

One of the things I really appreciate about this course is that it's caused me to sit down and really watch the films instead of having them on the TV while I do other things.  I know that we all try to multitask, but my focusing on just the film has been such a great learning esperience.

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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.

A thought comes to mind--maybe he killed her with the hammer and did not remember doing it.  Then he comes back into the house, calls out to her, and discovers her body.  He might be bolting because he has done this before.  This makes me think of the Hitchcock film "Spellbound" where a man does not know if he committed murder.

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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?

At the :32 mark you see the door that he will enter to dump the water. At the 1:30 mark there is a cut to a different point of view. The coat closet is in a different room by the kitchen- the door we see at :32.  That cut is important

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A thought comes to mind--maybe he killed her with the hammer and did not remember doing it.  Then he comes back into the house, calls out to her, and discovers her body.  He might be bolting because he has done this before.  This makes me think of the Hitchcock film "Spellbound" where a man does not know if he committed murder.

Having seen this movie over and over, I also think he didn't remember killing her and beat feet when he found her because this had happened before, so he knew he must have done it. 

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Is it just me or did the corpse just blink? Also, why is he running if he didn't kill her? The noir element that that struck me was the reflection of the man in the medicine cabinet mirror...is this revealing something? Foreshadowing? Also, the urban setting differs from other noir films as it is set in a train yard not a gloomu, shadowy city street corner.

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As much as I love watching Robert Ryan, this is the first Daily Dose that's hard to swallow. The story is so set on setting up noir conventions - finding a body, the overflowing water, running from the law, hopping a train - that it overlooks some obvious holes. 

 

First, Ryan opens the closet to get his coat - but doesn't see the body. I presume that's so he can discover it with his coat on, enabling him to run.

 

Second, he puts his coat on before filling the bucket of water, so that when he runs we can see the bucket overflowing, symbolically hammering home that something is awry. (Who puts on their coat before cleaning a bucket and putting away a mop??)

 

Third, he puts the mop away and NOW he sees the body?? And, um, she blinks. (Thankfully Hitchcock had his wife, Alma, to spot Janet Leigh's blink in Psycho before it was released.) 

 

I'll put aside the obvious question about why he doesn't call 911, at least anonymously, since I haven't seen the film and don't know anything about the character. But the part where he runs across the train tracks is definitely noir on steroids - so many tracks, so little time! But a train just happens to be going by at the exact right moment, at a speed slow enough for him to hop on board and escape. Phew!

I think they invented 911 in the 1980s...

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I'm begining to see the trite elements in these Daily Doses: rushing trains, fast-paced music, running, gruff facial expressions and predictable dialogue, playing almost like a spoof of the hard-broiled dectective fiction. The production values are cleaner, but not necessarily stronger. Perhaps what we can call the style and substance of earlier film noir was lapsing into mere stylishness with less substance in these later films.

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Another train! I didn't realize how prevalent trains were in films noir. The cheerfulness of the Salvation Army serves as an ironic contrast to what happens next and later. I'm guessing that Robert Ryan probably killed that lady and that's why he hightailed it. I like the sequence how he hops on the train is obscured by the steam. And that montage of scenes superimposed over the closeup on Ryan was effective as well.

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I can't add much to what's already been said, but a couple of comments:

  • I thought the "Keep the Pot Boiling" message on the Salvation Army sign was a reference to a soup kitchen - literally keeping food in the pot for hungry people.  Since it's also a metaphor for trouble, it seems appropriate for what happens next. 
  • The woman in the closet didn't just blink quickly, it was a couple of times and seemed very obvious, leaving me wondering if she was dead or not.
  • The superimposed train over Howard's face was an ode to classic film noir.  It may have been a over-used device by the time this film came out, but since I haven't been watching films noir for 10 years, it worked for me.
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In today's clip from "Beware, My Lovely," when we first see Howard he is putting up a window screen which somewhat obscures our view of him. There's a spot of dirt on the screen, which appears to be a black mark on his face (and on his character?) but he works to clean it off. When he gets his coat from the closet, we see him in a mirror, which tells us there may be more than one side to him. Finally, after discovering the body of Mrs. Warren, he is panic stricken and flees town. The running would seem to be the action of a guilty man, but his surprise at finding the body seems to indicate he wasn't aware of this (again, two side to the man, as in the mirror).

 

Since Howard is played by Robert Ryan, we (and certainly audiences of the time) have even more reason to expect that Howard is a dark, violent character (and just as much reason to keep watching, since Ryan, even when typecast, is so damn good).

 

However, all of these visual clues (the black mark cleaned away, the doubling in the mirror) may make us suspect that Ryan isn't just a killer. Is that also the message of the sign we see at the opening? "From the kindness of your heart" don't judge this man too harshly? Or am I just hoping for something more than this film will deliver?

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Daily Dose of Darkness #27: A Handy Man

(Opening Scene from Beware, My Lovely)

 

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

The first sign that something is amiss is the fact that Robert Ryan’s character keeps calling for Mrs. Warren and never gets an answer. Money has been left for him, so I have to wonder why he keeps calling when no one seems to be around. The dead body in the closet gives the first real clue that we’re in for a film noir mystery. Who killed Mrs. Warren? Will Robert Ryan be accused? Is he really guilty, in spite of his surprise at finding the body?

• 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 Salvation Army band sounds like it’s playing a marching tune. It’s reminiscent of war and battle, even though the camera pans away from the band and reveals a white-picket fence in a suburban neighborhood. All music fades away, but when Robert Ryan discovers the body in the closet, we hear a few notes on a horn.

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

For returning service men and women, the year probably didn’t matter. They would have had to contend with the transition from war service to civilian life whether they fought in World War I or World War II. But even that doesn’t matter: War brings its own noir themes, of course, and the transition to civilian life would, too. As I understand it, the sense of dislocation would have been more severe in World War I because returning veterans didn’t have any way to return home! National governments at the time did not provide transportation home for new veterans: Wherever they were when peace was declared, they were automatically civilians, most likely in a foreign country, without an army paycheck.

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

 

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

 

The random event that has doomed him to life on the run. The dead body in the closet, he sees no other response but to run. He not believing in the system to give him a fair deal.

 

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

 

I am not sure of the band playing other than to demonstrate everyday life in a town. The role the Salvation Army plays I'm helping people down on their luck and maybe he is someone that received help from them in the past.

 

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

 

Murder has happened since the beginning of time. Despair, random events, murder, sense of hopelessness

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I haven't yet seen this entire film, but I for sure intend to watch it. I loved today's daily dose. It reminded me of lots of my other faves in this class. Psycho killer jumps a train? Hello La Bete Humaine. "Issue Films" that make their point all the more forcefully through a noirish detour? Hello Mildred Pierce and Border Incident.  

 

Granted this guy in our daily dose is not your typical film noir protagonist. He challenges our conventional definitions of film noir -- just like the illegal migrant laborer in Border Incident did, and just like the divorced middle-class housewife in  Mildred Pierce did. This guy finds himself in a situation where his passions are suddenly ignited and demonically fueled to the point where he succumbs despite all the reasonable objections that come to (our) mind. And he will no doubt pay a terrible price. Mildred was lured across class boundaries -- despite Veda's bitchy objections. The poor migrant laborer was lured across the national boundaries -- despite his lack of a legal work visa and all of Ricardo Montalban's warnings. And both the immigrant laborer and the divorced housewife were confronted with the hellish consequences of their decisions. 

 

Over the course of our course, I've learned to stretch my understanding of film noir a bit further than  I was accustomed. In learning to appreciate  the degree to which film noir seeped into other kinds of film -- like the "issue film" -- I came to understand film noir a bit better AND I came to understand the issues that are documented in those films better (or at least from a different perspective). I'm thinking this will again be the case with Beware, My Lovely.

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The opening scene in Beware, My Lovely (1952) shows noir elements such as documentary realism in the on location shot of the Salvation Army playing in public and when the handyman Howard (Robert Ryan) is running through the train stock yard to catch a train; use of music only as an emphasis to heighten the suspense or tension when things go wrong—until Howard finds the body, one hears only the usual sounds of the Salvation Army music playing, doors opening and closing (i.e. regular sounds of objects used or moved; the 'silence' also makes it suspenseful); Howard, the handyman, is careful about his work, putting the cleaning things back in their place, and meticulous with keeping track of his duties by checking them off of a list – this psychology does not seem to be that of a murderer, but, he panics and runs when he finds a body in the cleaning closet.

 

The scene opening with the Salvation Army band playing and its prominent sign displayed seems to be some sort of 'wake up call' to something (we do not know about yet) for this small quiet town.  Also, the town does not seem to be busy nor are there many people about for the holiday season as the Salvation Army's sign is asking for donations for 'Christmas Cheer'.

 

Some of the typical 1950s film noir themes revealed are:  the social classes of rich vs poor and working class vs upper class; and, Howard, an outsider or loner type, possibly insane or misunderstood, running from being accused or convicted of the murder of his employer.

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   I must say that I agree with my fellow noir movie colleagues on the TCM Message Board today on their observations for "Beware My Lovely". I've learned so much from them!!! The noir elements I noticed are the camera angles framing the protagonist in the window, doors and mirror. The use of moody music to dramatize the moment when Howard in the closet. Also, Howards character is a "noirish" enigma. He is portrayed as a meticulous (removing spot on screen, folding rags. putting away hammer) loner doing housework not usually attributed to men in 1918. In addition he responds hysterically by running from the scene of the crime. Is he guilty? Not sure

     I'm not sure of the significance of the Salvation Army outside of the symbolic benevolence and compassion for those in need. "From the kindness of your heart". Perhaps it's a message for the viewer to go easy on Howard if he's guilty of any wrongdoing.

     Love the comments about the "blinking corpse" Great viewers.

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

 

The use of light is prominent as well as the use of fades and transition shots. I liked the splash of light on the trombone. We also open on a group of faceless people.The use of shadows when he opens the door is a watered down remnant of noir.The shot with the open door where we only see Ryan in a mirror is incredible. The use of music to indicate a change in pacing and drama is also prominent. The layered shots over the train is also very reminiscent of 40s noir. 

 

 

I think the setting of the film in 1918 and the band playing are all parts of a metaphor for postwar America in the 1950s.

 

There is a sense of paranoia and fear in the film that mirrors the times. There also is a sense of panic and anxiety throughout the latter part of the clip.  

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I'm going to give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt and call the blink an unintentional oversight. A careless slipup, perhaps, but I won't let it mar the scene for me.

 

That said, I find the opening effective in establishing the noir mood. It starts inocuously enough in a friendly neighborhood setting, then moves calmly into the house where Howard, quickly identifiable as a hired handyman, is finishing up his work. But a sense that something's amiss creeps in when Mrs Warren doesn't respond. Robert Ryan conveys Howard's unease over that with his look of worry (a Ryan specialty) and little subtle pauses in his movements.

 

The camera makes the house look small and confining. The space is hemmed in by walls and doors, and there's something unsettling in how Howard is half-hidden by the door each time he opens one. The first time, he's briefly replaced by his reflection in a small mirror on the rear wall.

 

I noticed too that the water was unusually dark, either very dirty, or ... something else. And he puts the hammer in the drawer a little too quickly, as if it needed to disappear. Things that add to the sense of mystery, they may or may not mean anything, just things to keep in the back of my mind for later.

 

Then Howard opens the second closet, sees the dead woman, and rushes out. In a split second the location changes from the confines of the house to a vast outdoor space. The viewpoint retreats skyward for an almost aerial shot of Howard fleeing across the vast railroad yard, then back down as he takes refuge in a boxcar. The final shot superimposing the rushing locomotive over Howard's tormented face suggests that we're now going into his headspace or that a flashback is coming.

 

IN itself, the corpse in the closet is not an element of noir. But Howard's disturbed state and his unexplained flight after he sees it, is. I see noir style in the cinematography and the music.

 

 

 

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I feel that the Salvation Army here was intended to convey neighborliness, of good people collecting money for the needy. And maybe contrast such a benign, friendly thing with the horror about to happen.

 

The uniformed troops with their kettle and small ensemble of musicians were probably more common in 1918 than in 1952, and in 52 more than today. (I've seen them in several precode films.)  As others have pointed out, "keep the pot boiling" probably had the twofold meaning of a) urging passersby to put money in the collection kettle so B) they could keep their soup kitchens running.

 

IN the context of the movie, the Salvation Army's presence plus the date, so short after the end of WW I, reminds viewers that there is social need, and that there are returning soldiers with physical and mental wounds and no jobs, and Howard might be one of them.

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I feel that the Salvation Army here was intended to convey neighborliness, of good people collecting money for the needy. And maybe contrast such a benign, friendly thing with the horror about to happen.

 

The uniformed troops with their kettle and small ensemble of musicians were probably more common in 1918 than in 1952, and in 52 more than today. (I've seen them in several precode films.)  As others have pointed out, "keep the pot boiling" probably had the twofold meaning of a) urging passersby to put money in the collection kettle so B) they could keep their soup kitchens running.

 

IN the context of the movie, the Salvation Army's presence plus the date, so short after the end of WW I, reminds viewers that there is social need, and that there are returning soldiers with physical and mental wounds and no jobs, and Howard might be one of them.

I didn't put that smiley in there intentionally. It just slipped in. :mellow: This one, on the other hand, is.

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I see a lot of familiar noir elements in the way Howard is framed in the opening shots of Beware My Lovely.  We first see him through a screen, a broken screen.  He's patched it, but he is clearly shown as a man on the fringes of society in this shot, a man on the outside looking in.  As we follow Howard inside the house, the significance of the Salvation Army Band becomes clear, in that we are to think about people falling on hard times.  Times appear so hard for Howard that he is "reduced" to performing menial tasks around the house for a woman more well off than he.  

 

The shot where he opens the closet door blocking our view so that we can only watch him in the mirror, is classic noir depth of field and could hint that maybe we're not seeing all of Howard's character, perhaps what we are watching is only a small reflection of who the man is really.

 

This scene also evokes the classic noir sense of foreboding.  It may be bright and full of light, but Howard keeps looking for his employer and the sense of wrongness is there from the first time he calls her name.  I think this is also an example of noir sort of running its course.  Howard's discovery of the corpse isn't as shocking as it could have been, because we know what's coming, not specifically a body but something bad is going to happen, it always does.  Howard racing away from the house and jumping on to a departing train is showing us a familiar set up of a character being hurtled towards a dark fate because of one wrong opened door.

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Though set in 1918, film noir elements are found throughout this early scene. Multiple doorways are used as claustrophobic framing devices, a mirror in the background shows his reflection, a large number of train tracks take over full frames. There are elements of formalism as the terrified man goes on the run and a nightmarish sequence begins with a spinning train "wheel," dissolving into his sweaty, disoriented face, dissolving back again and then, in the middle of the frame, a train starts to come right to us. That sequence in particular highlights the noir themes of desperation, disorientation. Also, is his running away instead of calling for help going to be his fatal mistake?

 

The Salvation Army Band appearance has two meanings for me. First, it underscores the noir theme of how fate enters life at any moment - it's a normal day on a pretty street where houses are surrounded by white picket fences. The Salvation Army Band is even playing - what could go wrong? The other thing it signifies is the opportunity for redemption, especially through help of others as the sign reads "through the kindness of your heart."

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I didn't really think anything was up until that door was opened and we see his face...then the music changes and it's like "oh so it's a noir picture...okay then" lololol I think I don't really get the noir vibe until that moment. I was confused as to why he ran...I get that finding a corpse is scary but scary enough to make you wanna leave town? not so sure about that. Clearly there is a piece of this puzzle we don't know yet...is he on the run? 

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