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Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose of Darkness #30: Into the Darkness (Scene from Desperate)

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A single light and a low angle makes Walt and his cronies large and intimidating. Walt cooly walks over to Steve and POW! We get Walt's fist right in our faces, showing us what it must of looked and felt like for Steve. Walt is so calm and conniving, trying to do anything he can to get Steve to do what he wants.

-"You're in it now Steve, with both feet."

-Steve tries to leave and he gets pushed againts the light, causing to swing.

-"I think we can convince him now to go to the police."

Walt's men start in on Steve and with the light swinging there's a panicked feeling because you don't now which way the punches are coming from.  The camera closes in on Walt's dead, cold stare coming in.....and out.....in.....and out of the light. It gets completely dark for a moment and we see a side profile of Walt. Not once does he flinch and all the while we only hear Steve being hit over and over again. He is definitely someone who has done this kind of thing more than once; it's almost as if he is immune to such acts of violence. You don't need to see it to know how brutal the beating must be; hearing it is bad enough.

-"Hold it." Now Walt thinks he's convinced Steve, but not so. Steve would rather die. Walt breaks a bottle and like Walt's fist, the broken bottle comes right in your face. Killing Steve is too easy, so Walt threatens his wife. Now we see desperation in Steve's face and he's willing to do what he's told. The rhythm of the swinging light was very in sync with Walt's calm demeanor; almost hypnotizing, but at the same time it gives you a very anxious feeling.

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HOLY CRAP...I WON'T BE WATCHING THIS ONE!

 

It's so ironic that Raymond Burr who when he was bad, HE WAS REALLY BAD, ended up playing Perry Mason and Robert T. Ironside when he began SOOOOOOOOOO "BADLY".

 

We saw him in "His Kind of Woman" and he was nasty.

 

This is probably a very good noir...just the opening made my skin crawl.

 

No thank you, I'm not watching it.

Now, now, just remember Alfred Hitchcock's quote, "It's only a movie."  Seriously though, I also had my moments during this clip, especially when Raymond Burr came towards the guy with that broken bottle!  Talk about menace and cruelty!!  But I'm going to hang in there and watch the film.  I couldn't help thinking of Burr in Rear Window when he played the guy who murdered his wife and then cut up her body!!  Who would have thought he would have turned out to be an icon of justice on TV.  And William Talman, that terrifying killer in The Hitchhiker, going on to be Hamilton Burger!!

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This scene must rank at the top as an illustration of what Noir filmaking is all about. Every scene that I have viewed so far has something creative in it that sets it apart from all other Noir scenes. Here the swinging light, as pointed out by the curator's note, serves that purpose in a special way.  Without the swinging light the scene would still be very good, but not as original and not great. The motion of the light and shadow ALONG WITH the shifting range of camera shots from low angle to high angle to close ups to POV makes this scene especially memorable. The beating itself, along with the threat of the broken beer bottle to the wife's face, makes this scene's  brutality remarkable, though it, thankfully, leaves much of the blood and gore to the imagination of the stunned viewer. It all comes together, the acting, the dialogue, and camera work could not be better--- all of which is the result of great directing. 

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The main light in the room is the overhead light with the fan shaped cover.  Steve is lying on a bed, and the two goons are standing above him with a gun.  You see a long shot as the head man comes into the room.  It is Raymond Burr (known for his villain, tough guy roles).  The camera is doing a long shot as you see him come across the room from a doorway.  Walt (Burr) hits the guy.  The camera is on Walt's fist as it punches and comes directly into camera focus (the audience has just been punched in the face).  The music emphasizes the strength of the punch.  Walt takes Steve's wallet and calls the police.  The camera follows him as he goes to the phone.  Burr makes small facial movements that let you know what his character is thinking.  Steve tries to leave, and gets punched.  His arm hits the lamp making it swing back and forth.  There is a closeup of Walt's face.  They take Steve off camera.  All you hear is a ringing sound and his groans as he is punched.  The music intensifies, and the camera does a closeup of Walt.  Walt walks over to Steve and turns him over.  He still refuses.  Walt walks over to the table and breaks a beer bottle.  Steve looks up.  There is a closeup of the bottle as Walt walks toward Steve.  "Going to the police?  While you're there we'll have the missus.  I don't care what you tell them; but if Al doesn't walk out of there by midnight, your wife won't be so good to look at." 

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The swinging overhead light is the key motif and central device of the film noir cinematography developped by George Diskant in this violent scene from Anthony Mann's Desperate: it's its movement that determines what is shown and what is withheld, what's visible in the image and what happens only in the off-screen. Instead of diminishing the effect of violence, this lighting device emphasizes it and makes it's even more brutaly visual: darkness is the stuff our deepest fears are made of, and it's in the dark that the most violent actions take place; during the scene, we're constantly surprised by the hitting and hurting sounds corresponding to the actions off-screen, as if these actions were even more deadly in the absense of images, precisely because what we don't see can be as violent as our imagination wants it to be. I would suggest that this formalist lighting device, contributing to represent violence beyond the limits of visibility, makes psychologic violence, rather than physical beating, the main theme of this scene.

Besides, it's clear that point of view shots are being used to heighten the tension and the power relatioships among the characters: in one hand, most of the shots of Walt and his men are low-angle shots, as they represent Steve's approximate point of view (the perspective of a subordinated and desperate man who can't even help himself because he's severely injured, which explains the images sometimes distorted and blurred in an expressionist way); in the other hand, most of the shots of Steve are high-angle shots, as if he saw him through the eyes of the aggressors' leader and bully Walt, looking down on him with contempt and perversity (it's rare that we have both characters in the same shot, as Walt distances himself from the actual agressors, and observes them "doing they thing", only intervening when absolutely necessary).
Walt's only two direct interventions are shown through two extremely close-up shots, one of his fist when he punches Steve in the beginning of the scene, and the close-up of the broken bottle he uses to threaten him to disfigure his wife if Steve doesn't confess the crime. We clearly identify with the victim of the beating and, in these close-up shots, it is as if his suffering almost stroke us "in the face", bringing the actual horror of the threat, both physical and psychological, directly to the viewer.
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Wow!! Well, I am gobsmacked.!

 

Noir all around. Heavy and dark. :) !

 

However, I will say that this clip illustrates, in no uncertain terms, the value of black and white photography.  The impact of this subject could never have been achieved as well in a color medium.

 

The teasing and tweeking of the imagination is a key factor in what makes us, the viewers, become involved in a film. The mind can play tricks and the unseen can be extremely powerful; for example, when the overhead light swings to the completely dark screen, we know Steve is being brutalized because we can hear it. When the visual aspect is taken away, our imagination kicks in; we become vulnerable, helpless and trapped. We are exposed only to the sounds which accompany the beating...struggles and fists making contact. The viewer has to rely on another sensory device...the ear. Neurologically, all our sensory organs coordinate with each other in order to supply us with the necessary messages needed to interpret our surroundings. When one of those sensory organs is eliminated or diminished, we must depend on the remaining sensory organs to give us information. Our eyesight should never be taken for granted (just a sidebar).

 

Raymond Burr never ceases to amaze. Here, he has the range and capability to immerse himself in his role. He stays so completely in the moment as to be almost scary. He never flinches!

 

I'm in on this one. I have never seen Desparate so I am eager to see it. I have a feeling it will not disappoint.

Also by withholding information (not being able to see the beating) the imagination can take over and it is human nature to imagine the worst. By forcing the viewer's imagination into it, the beating is more personal and impactful. The swinging light and camera angles add to the feeling of menace.

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As I watch this scene, which is scary, I wonder the impact film noir has on modern cinema photography.  It’s wonderful visual story-telling; only a few punches are seen on screen, but leaving the violence off screen relies on the audience imagination (which is always worse).  I know I’ve seen plenty of scenes shot like this (though none are floating to the top at the moment).

 

I will say this:  this class has changed how I watch movies.

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A single light and a low angle makes Walt and his cronies large and intimidating. Walt cooly walks over to Steve and POW! We get Walt's fist right in our faces, showing us what it must of looked and felt like for Steve. Walt is so calm and conniving, trying to do anything he can to get Steve to do what he wants.

-"You're in it now Steve, with both feet."

-Steve tries to leave and he gets pushed againts the light, causing to swing.

-"I think we can convince him now to go to the police."

Walt's men start in on Steve and with the light swinging there's a panicked feeling because you don't now which way the punches are coming from.  The camera closes in on Walt's dead, cold stare coming in.....and out.....in.....and out of the light. It gets completely dark for a moment and we see a side profile of Walt. Not once does he flinch and all the while we only hear Steve being hit over and over again. He is definitely someone who has done this kind of thing more than once; it's almost as if he is immune to such acts of violence. You don't need to see it to know how brutal the beating must be; hearing it is bad enough.

-"Hold it." Now Walt thinks he's convinced Steve, but not so. Steve would rather die. Walt breaks a bottle and like Walt's fist, the broken bottle comes right in your face. Killing Steve is too easy, so Walt threatens his wife. Now we see desperation in Steve's face and he's willing to do what he's told. The rhythm of the swinging light was very in sync with Walt's calm demeanor; almost hypnotizing, but at the same time it gives you a very anxious feeling.

The light is like a metronome, moving back and forth keeping the timing of the music, and the timing of the punches.

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This was a great film, and a great find this summer, one of the reasons I'm so glad I signed up for this course(and one of the reasons I'm so sad to not have TCM anymore). In my write-up of this for my blog I focused a lot on the lighting, which is hard to avoid, because it's so striking in this film.

 

I love how this room(which the film returns to many times) is lit. Ostensibly there's only one light source actually in the room, but look at the corners and edges of the room. There's just enough light to make out the shape and contours of the space, but everything in between is darkness, save for th e lone light that swings wildly back and forth. As a visual metaphor for the movie as a whole, that's pretty damn apt.

 

The two main characters in Desperate do not start the film in noir country, they're dragged there by Raymond Burr and his gang, and they continually try to escape. They run continually, trying to regain the light, and each place they run to begins as an idyllic safe haven, but quickly turns sour as the gang catches up to them. In Desperate there's something dark and rotten within America, something that threatens to swallow the light and corrupt even the most innocent.

 

I mean, the movie isn't really as dark as all that, but it still seems to me that that's the underlying message.

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The swinging overhead lamp with the men's faces alternating between light and dark was very well done. The scene reminds me of a seedy hotel room with a flashing neon sign outside - and how often we see that in noir films. The alternating of light and dark seems to be a noir staple possibly representing the battle between "good" and "evil".

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Wk 9 Desperate


-- Describe how this scene uses cinematography to accentuate the brutal beating of Steve Randall (Steve Brodie). When the light swings away, you try to focus more. This effect helps pull you in by making you try to see what you can’t when the light swings away, and pushes you out when the light comes back. First you’re struggling to see and then you’re hiding your eyes! It makes it seem worse than it is because what you imagine is happening in the dark is probably worse than what is actually happening. This swinging light effect was used previously to lesser effect in “The Glass Key” and later to famous effect in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.”


-- How do Mann and Diskant utilize different points of view to heighten the tension in this scene? Camera looks up on Burr, giving him power, making him look taller. Camera looks down on Brodie, making him the victim. When Brodie gets up, he knocks the light into motion. Is he contributing to his own demise by fighting back, by making his “light” flicker? During the main beating, as the light swings, there are two “two-shots” of Burr and his henchman, a medium close-up and a choker. In both, Burr looks very happy about what he’s watching, seemingly getting a kick out of what’s going on. What’s telling is the point of view of the henchman. In the medium close-up, he’s looking at the fight with a blank stare. However, in the choker, he’s looks at Burr briefly, and seems to be questioning Burr’s delight, almost wondering if/when he would/should order it stopped, then his focus quickly shifts back to the beating. The broken bottle looks exceptionally menacing from Brodie’s point of view, and would’ve been less so if just included in the master shot, or shot from something other than this very low angle.  Brodie’s almost hypnotized by the jagged bottle, and agrees to do what Burr asks. There’s another low angled shot up at Burr.  As the light swings in an even pattern, and he threatens disfigurement of Brodie’s wife, the pulse of the light hitting Burr’s face in such a rhythmic pattern suggests to me the beating of Brodie’s heart.


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As a side note, it has been interesting to see Raymond Burr playing a heavy (no pun intended), as he does in this movie and in His Kind of Woman, which we watched last week. I came to know of Raymond Burr by watching his Perry Mason television series when I was a teen. I therefore thought of him as a "good" guy and it has been a revelation to discover that he was also good at being a "bad" guy.

 

You are so right about the incredible talent of Raymond Burr and agreed that most of us were more familiar with his iconic television image running for nine  years as a very brilliant and civilized Perry Mason.  Seeing Burr in the role of not just a bad guy but a sadistic, heavy who never flinches when seeing pain inflicted on his victims.  Especially our favorite good, tough guy, Robert Mitchum, you can't get any more bad than that.  In A Cry in the Night (1956) he plays a deranged character who kidnaps a teenage Natalie Wood for all the wrong reasons.  The list is long and he was so good at it, it's amazing that he didn't get typecast.  I also wonder if his court room DA role in A Place In the Sun (1951) planted the idea of moving into Perry Mason.  And notice in that role as the DA he was handicapped, using a cane, foreshadowing his wheelchair role of Ironside.  Anyway he was an amazing actor!

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-- Describe how this scene uses cinematography to accentuate the brutal beating of Steve Randall (Steve Brodie).

 

A single hanging lamp is the only light source for the room.  It has a conical shade that casts an inverted “V” of light – limiting what is seen in the room.  As this lamp swings crazily around the room, it acts as a spotlight shining only on what we are meant to see, leaving the rest in pitch dark.  We see Walt and Shorty’s faces, as they watch Steve get beaten.  We only hear the sounds of the beating, and don’t see Steve at all, until he is thrown back on the cot. There are two visual effects the first being when Walt punches Steve and we see the fist, fuzz out of focus as it punches, then come back into focus as it recedes in extreme close up.  The second is when Walt holds the broken glass bottle threateningly towards Steve.  The glass bottle goes out of focus as the POV becomes ours, and we see it moving towards the camera (us) and then back into focus as it stops, when Walt changes his mind about cutting Steve.  

 

-- How do Mann and Diskant utilize different points of view to heighten the tension in this scene?

 

The two visuals mentioned above, the punch and the broken glass bottle, both utilize different points of view to heighten the tension.  Both switched to our POV as we saw the fist and the bottle move towards us, the audience.  We are the ones feeling threatened, which heightens our identification with and sympathy for Steve. The main utilization, however, is when Steve is beaten, which we the audience don’t see at all, but instead we see the faces of Walt and Shorty as the lamp swings across their faces.  Each time we see slightly different reactions, as first Walt and Shorty are watching the beating, then Shorty is watching Walt watch the beating. Also, when the scene is more conversational, the group shot is used, and when more confrontational, single close ups are used. 

 

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The note below about what the scene might be like without the swinging lamp is worth exploring. Even without the curator's note, it's obvious that the light is being used to create an effect of anxiety and terror in this scene. So what might the scene look like without it? Would it be as terrifying? I don't think it would be. Mind you, I still wouldn't want to be in Steve's position--especially with a fist and a broken bottle in my face--but the light certainly amplifies the threat against him. There's plenty scary about the unknown, and when large, brutish figures (they're standing over Steve, while he's sitting) are partly or wholly hidden in the shadows, you don't quite know what you're dealing with. Dark alleys are far scarier than well-lit ones.

 

This scene must rank at the top as an illustration of what Noir filmaking is all about. Every scene that I have viewed so far has something creative in it that sets it apart from all other Noir scenes. Here the swinging light, as pointed out by the curator's note, serves that purpose in a special way.  Without the swinging light the scene would still be very good, but not as original and not great. The motion of the light and shadow ALONG WITH the shifting range of camera shots from low angle to high angle to close ups to POV makes this scene especially memorable. The beating itself, along with the threat of the broken beer bottle to the wife's face, makes this scene's  brutality remarkable, though it, thankfully, leaves much of the blood and gore to the imagination of the stunned viewer. It all comes together, the acting, the dialogue, and camera work could not be better--- all of which is the result of great directing. 

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Who would have thought Perry Mason (Raymond Burr) a real "heavy", bad guy? Clenched fists coming at you is powerful camera work.  The off side beating, hitting sounds, puts the viewer right there after every punch. The pendulum swinging light was extremely effective (time is running out). The collaboration of the director and cinematographer were definitely in sync. I'm looking forward to this film, I can't believe I've never seen it. 

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I couldn't help but think about how similar this scene is in some ways to the various 'third degree' police interrogations and beatings we have seen in some noir films. We have the same situation of a probably innocent man in a dark room with only a single source of light and a bunch of antagonists (whether police or thugs) who want something from him. In this case, it is the same thing. They want the man to confess to the crime but Walt's purpose is in direct contrast to the motive the police would have: not to solve the crime but to gain something for himself at the expense of the innocent man (i.e., his brother's release). Just like brutal police are often willing to beat a confession out of someone, so are the thugs.

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Oh hey, young Raymond Burr.  It’s often said how entertaining it is to play bad guys, and Burr is certainly a chilling one in this clip.  Looming over Steve, he is an extremely threatening presence.  He is smart too.  Steve naively thinks that Walt can’t frame him.  Without a word, Walt calls the police and gives them the Steve’s truck license number.  Even though we see a few punches, the majority of the violence takes place off camera, leaving the full extent of the beating to our imaginations.  Sometimes, what our imaginations produces is more horrifying than anything the camera can produce.  Like the others have said, the lighting really does add a lot to the scene.  It is like a Caravaggio painting, almost completely shrouded in darkness with only one illuminating source of light.  The darkness also creates a sense of claustrophobia in this small room as the men crowd together around the hanging lamp.  The swinging motion of the lamp during the beating adds a lot to the terror of the beating.  It is a little disorienting with the way the screen goes almost completely black and back again filled with bright light.  The choker close-up on Walt is especially memorable as we see the sheen of sweat on his face and his slight grin just before he stops Steve’s beating.

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You can tell this is a film noir scene by a thousand miles. With Anthony Mann directing (I just love what this guy could do in noir during the late 40's) and iconic cinematographer John Alton being his collaborator, this scene is just a beauty.

 

Eveything screams noir. The music, the characters, the fast, rough dialogue, the violence depicted and, last but not least, the way the scene is shot. The shadows, the lighting, the composition, everythings seems absurd, paranoid, frightening. It's just the case for the character who's coerced and beaten up during the scene, and it's not difficult for the viewer to be absorbed in this not-so-realistic world.

 

The use of the swinging light is a wonderful innovation by Mann. Combined with extreme low-key lighting, it just makes all this chaos and despair (remember, the film is titled Desperate) more intense.

 

Actors and characters haven't got much to do in this scene; in fact, there aren't any big stars in this or any other Mann's great B-noirs (T-MenBorder IncidentSide Street). It's somewhat difficult to believe that this is the same guy who would, only a few years later, direct lavish and colorful westerns with top stars like James Stewart and Gary Cooper. But he was great in both styles.

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I love the use of the light swinging back and forth casting the two men's faces into shadow and than light again as we watch them watch the beating of a man.  We do not need to see the actually beating to know how bad it is all we have to do is listen to the sounds.  A great use of close-up shots on the glass used to threaten the beaten man into submission and of course the shot of the man being beaten looking up at the man doing the beating also screams noir.  

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Into the Darkness (Scene from Desperate)

 

 

In this collaboration, Anthony Mann and George Diskant show that they are in top form. Their short scene here, composed of expressionist lights and shadows and excellent stage settings, is one of the most thrilling I’ve seen all summer.

 

Two highlights

1. The first 16 seconds sees Raymond Burr walk through a sequence of cinematic lighting alternating positions (top, left, right) where we see him come in and out of view with shadows on either side of his face. A spectacular display of craftsmanship.

 

2. Just as impressive is the mise-en-scene: the swinging back and forth of the ceiling lamp, the punch thrown that ends with the fist at the viewer’s face, and immediately after the perfectly centered Burr stands with two men behind him completing a visual triangle.

 

Side note

Other than perhaps Raw Deal, where he played an evil cold-blooded killer, I have never seen Burr look more sinister than when he takes that short walk to the phone and places a call to the police.

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The brutality comes to life through the use of the fist coming out of the shadows and into focus is pretty alarming and emotional. The fact that the beating happens right off the bat in the film creates an intense atmosphere. The use of light and shadows effectively sets a tone for the film. Burr's face being partially hidden is also effective. Having Steve's beating happen more or less in the dark shadows is also effective.

 

The different points of view are illustrated by the swinging light while Steve is getting beaten. We also see close ups from Steve's perspective as well which changes the mix up a bit and gives us a different point of view. Mann and disk ant use lights, shadows, sound and darkness as catalysts for the chaining points of view. the close up of the broken bottle is the best example of this.

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Well, that was an intense scene! I've never seen Desperate, so when Raymond Burr broke that bottle I didn't know where the scene was going and my eyes squeezed themselves shut, and I had to rewind it a bit.

 

The camera work in this clip accentuated Raymond Burr's air of menace by filming him from low angles in varying degrees of shadow, even before the beating started. The particular violence of the beating is made all the more sinister by that swinging lamp casting everything in light, then dark and back again and again, as pointed out in today's Daily Dose intro. And then there's that bottle...the closeup of it scared the crap out of me. But even though Burr's flunkies do most of the actual beating, and the majority of it is off camera, (with Raymond Burr on camera), the cinematography seems designed to demonstrate to us that Walt is the danger (sigh). 

 

Using Steve's POV for that initial punch in the face, with the closeup of Raymond Burr's clenched fist right after, made me jump a little. And seeing that jagged, broken bottle from Steve's point of view made me want to go tell the cops I did it!

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Daily Dose of Darkness #30:


Into the Darkness (Scene from Desperate)


-- Describe how this scene uses cinematography to accentuate the brutal beating of Steve Randall (Steve Brodie).


Ruthless.  The lighting was everything.  The swinging light was really something else.  My only understanding of Raymond Burr growing up was Perry Mason, and I loved that TV show, still do.  When I first saw R.B. in a different style movie or became aware of him was probably in HITCHCOCK'S "REAR WINDOW".  At first I didn't even know it was Raymond Burr.  This was really ruthless and brutal.  The lighting didn't make it acceptable or less ruthless and brutal but it did lend an aura of  evenness about the scene, a certain coldness that could only be achieved in the dark, with so much light on the subject. The words used to convince the guy getting the beating to go to the police, were actually more convincing than the beating....if it had been conducted in broad daylight, it would never have worked at all.....


I especially liked the fact that at first the man getting the beating was not being seen but the light and dark and shadows and the swinging light were in the scene.....that's using cinematography for all its worth.  Isn't it?


-- How do Mann and Diskant utilize different points of view to heighten the tension in this scene?


The focus on Raymond Burr, who is obviously in charge of this beating.  First, when the beating begins, he just stands there, then he goes to the phone, then the man says kill me here, then R.B. breaks the bottle and comes closer to the man....it was his words that convinced him to go to the police....not the broken bottle.  The camera angles on R.B. in each segment of the dose was superb.


 


#NOIRSUMMER


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In last weeks lecture Dr. Edwards spoke of censorship limiting how filmmakers could depict violence on screen.  He said, "the off-screen violence of in the films of this period can be much more harrowing and much more brutal than some of the most realistic computer-generated imagery in our current films."  I think we can consider this Example A.

 

This is an epic beat down, superbly staged, filmed and acted.  The viewer can help but empathize with the victim.  This is the second time I've watched this and it still grabs me especially the shot from the victim's pov of Raymond Burr (awesome in this film) moves toward him with the broken bottle. 

 

This is the gritty dark intimidating film noir we all love!

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One of my favorite British TV series, "The Avengers," has an episode ("The Forget-Me-Knot") which begins (after the opening credits) with a hanging lamp that has been set swinging as a result of a fight.  Wonder if director James Hill and teleplay writer Brian Clemens got the idea from this movie!

 

[...]

 

Judge for yourself:  (opening credits end at 1:15).

Edited by TCMModerator1
Video removed due to copyright concerns
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