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Showing posts from December, 2007

The Role of Shadow in the Noir Film " Sudden Fear "

In director David Miller's 1952 film noir classic, "Sudden Fear", a clock's pendulum rhythmically sways and its shadow falls across Joan Crawford's face, shifting from side to side like her thoughts. Although we cannot see the thoughts within her mind, the shadow of the clock speaks of them: "Do I kill him before he kills me?" The clock ticks away, measuring the seconds. She holds a written schedule in her hand. It forecasts the minutes before and after midnight tonight; I leave her house at a certain time, Irene goes to the garage to meet Jack at midnight but he isn't there. Jack comes to Irene's house while she's away, and there I shoot him with her gun. She returns when I am gone and is convicted of murder. Everything is in place, and everything is simple. We see what she sees as she imagines each element of her plan. It ticks away like clockwork in her mind, each piece falling into place perfectly. In her mind, the plan is executed as voi

Nameless in the Shadows of Cornell Woolrich ' s " I Married a Deadman "

"I Married a Deadman" echoes the sense of doom and personal impotence found in much of Cornell Woolrich's fiction. Francis Nevins called Woolrich "the Poe of the 20th century and the poet of its shadows, the Hitchcock of the written word" (Francis M. Nevins. “Tonight, Somewhere in New York”. Carroll & Graf, New York, 2005. p. 1). Between 1938 and 1950, 15 films and at least 20 radio plays were produced based on his fiction. But even though Woolrich was a significant influence on the development of film noir's themes, characters, and world view in the 1940s, his novels have been out of print most of the last 60 years. Published in 1948, "Deadman" is the last novel of Woolrich's main creative period and could be described as one of his most cynical; life is a game we are destined to lose, possibly because of the hopeless webs fate uses to ensnare us. What truly elevated "Deadman" is Woolrich's gift of prose, but it has been argu

Poison as a Dramatic Device in Rudolph Mat é ' s Film " D.O.A. "

In Rudolph Maté's 1950 film "D.O.A." Frank Bigelow is looking for a murderer, his own. Bigelow has been poisoned and there is no antidote; he will have no more than one week to live. His urgent need to convict his murderer propels Bigelow's quest, as well as the pace of the film. It's a matter of life and death. In a post-Hiroshima world (the film was released only five years after the tragedy of Hiroshima), society lives under a new and constant fear of nuclear fallout. While living his life unaware of danger, Frank Bigelo has been slipped a dose of "iridium", a toxin associated with radiation. He is "everyman" and his quest to track down and destroy the source of this poison could be said to represent post-War America's need to track down and destroy the source of a nuclear threat; the search for Frank Bigelo's murderer becomes the concern of every man, woman, and child who could fall prey to a similar poison from a less-personal hand

Time in Kenneth Fearing ' s Noir Novel " The Big Clock "

If you happen to own a big city publishing firm and have a little problem, like the fact that you’ve murdered your girlfriend, and you want to pin the crime on a man you saw outside her home right before the dirty deed, why not put your best investigative reporter to the task of finding that man? Sounds like a good idea, unless that same investigative reporter just happens to be the same man you saw outside your girlfriend’s place. George Stroud merely became involved with the wrong woman, his boss’s girlfriend. In Kenneth Fearing’s Noir novel “The Big Clock” Stroud tries to keep personal life and the office separate; he has to, because the facts about his evening with the boss’s girlfriend threaten more than just job security. If he is pinned as the man seen leaving the scene of the crime, he’s likely to be pinned as the murderer as well. That is, if the boss gets his way. His life in danger, Stroud’s survival is measured in the minute-by-minute movements of the huge central clock of

" The Big Sleep " as Pulp Fiction for the Thinking Man

Howard Hawks, director of such favorite movies as "His Girl Friday" and "Bringing Up Baby" is reported to have defined a good movie as "three great scenes and no bad scenes." The final theatrical release of his film "The Big Sleep" includes reshoots which give us one of the film's great scenes, and is said to have had cuts which eliminated some of the bad ones. The point seems well taken, because "The Big Sleep" is considered by many one of the great American films. The movie was filmed prior to Lauren Becall's starmaking performance in "To Have and Have Not", but hadn't been released; since the war was drawing to an end, "The Big Sleep" had been shelved while Warner Bros. released a backlog of war related films before interest waned. But when it came time to release the film, it didn't seem a strong enough star vehicle for Becall's new celebrity. Among others, a suggestive new "horse racing&

German Expressionism in Edgar G. Ulmer ' s Film Noir " Detour "

Filmed in a style so classically noir it verges on parody, all the genre's defining elements are present in director Edgar G. Ulmer's "Detour": confusion, fatalism, and claustrophobia, filmed in a style calculated to intensify the effect. Ulmer's film is one of the darkest of the film noir genre, more specifically, a dystopian example of the "road movie" ("It Happened One Night" is a popular example of the road movie genre). The road is seldom clear in noir, and Al Roberts fumbles though the confusion like it's an unfamiliar road, like the "detour" of the film's name. But Roberts doesn't seem to be doing the driving; it seems fate has taken the wheel and he is just a hitchhiker along for the ride. At first he struggles against it, but by the end he adopts a fatalistic attitude. "I keep trying to forget what happened and wonder what my life might have been like if that car of Haskel's hadn't stopped. But one th

Life as a Marathon Dance in Horace McCoy ' s " They Shoot Horses, Don ' t They? "

In Horace McCoy's novella "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" the cycles and repetition of life are represented by the circular movements of marathon dancers suspended on a pier over the ocean's rolling waves. The marathon, and life by comparison, is a draining and degrading dance contest, and most likely the outcome is fixed. But underneath it all, the tides roll in and out and you can feel the rhythm of the waves beneath your feet, a rhythm which has been rolling forever. We walked around the side of the building onto the pier. It stretched out over the ocean as far as I could see, rising and falling and groaning and creaking with the movements of the water. "It's a wonder the waves don't wash this pier away," I said. "You're hipped on the subject of waves," Gloria said. "No, I'm not," I said. "That's all you've been talking about for a month--" "All right, stand still a minute and you'll see

The Cat Theme in James M. Cains " The Postman Always Rings Twice "

Frank Chambers' partner in murder, Cora, has gone to visit her dying mother and he takes a trip down the coast with a girl named Madge Allen. Madge raises cats, but not the domestic type. "Cats, hey. What do you do, train them?" "Not the stuff we've got. They're no good. All but the tigers are outlaws. But I do train them." "You like it?" "Not much, the real big ones. But I like pumas. I'm going to get an act together with them some time. But I'll need a lot of them. Jungle pumas. Not these outlaws you see in the zoos." "What's an outlaw?" "He'd kill you." "Wouldn't they all?" "They might, but an outlaw does anyhow. If it was people, he would be a crazy person. It comes from being bred in captivity. The cats you see, they look like cats, but they're really cat lunatics." In "The Postman Always Rings Twice", James M. Cain's hardboiled novel from 1934, cats ar

Visual Representation of Psychological Separation in Billy Wilde ' s " Double Indemnity "

They hadn't seen each other that evening, but it could also be said they had never truly seen each other at all. They worked together on faith and hope; hoping the other person was someone they could trust and faith that other person really was. They were on a journey together, a journey which Walter Neff's co-worker and friend Barton Keyes had said ends only at the grave, but something stood between them; they had to depend on faith and hope because they didn't know each other well enough to have it another way. In the film "Double Indemnity", based on the James M. Cain novella of the same name, things were seldom as they seemed. Walter returned home, confident they had accomplished the perfect murder. Phyllis called from the drug store and wanted to see him, and he agreed. But before she arrived, Keyes payed Walter a visit; something was on his mind about this murder case and he wanted to bounce it off a friend. If Keyes happened to see Walter and Phyllis togeth