The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

An ongoing survey of the Criterion Forum membership to create lists of the best films of each decade and genre.
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Steven H
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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#426 Post by Steven H » Wed Dec 08, 2010 12:05 pm

I second I Walk Alone. It made it into my top twenty mostly because of Lancaster and Douglas, but I liked Scott too (she has a uniquely desperate and awkward presence in her noirs) and I also thought the film had slickness and style to spare. Also, thank you for the 99 River Street screenshot and recommendation, the preacher, as it's my favorite Karlson.

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Yojimbo
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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#427 Post by Yojimbo » Wed Dec 08, 2010 12:12 pm

the preacher wrote:A couple of neglected films/filmmakers:

Johnny Angel by Edwin L. Marin (also contender: Nocturne)

Image

Raft plays straight man to a cast of colorful actors - Claire Trevor, Signe Hasso, Hoagy Carmichael, Marvin Miller and Margaret Wycherly – as he pursues his father’s killer through a backlot New Orleans demimonde cunningly photographed by Harry Wild.
A ghost ship emerges out of the fog: bullet-holes, overturned chairs and broken photographs point to a perturbed past. The world of Johnny Angel is very noir indeed. Raft plays Captain Johnny Angel, who's out to avenge the murder of his father, but gets only bland sympathy from the babyish Gusty, his father's boss. Trevor, as Gusty's scheming wife, is playing a shady game of her own, while French girl Paulette (Hasso) is hunted by an unknown killer and trusts no one. They all inhabit a closed world, where even pastoral idylls reek of claustrophobia and obsession. The men struggle against the towering shadows of their fathers, the women are dangerously enigmatic, and the docks of New Orleans glisten under the diffuse light of a single street-lamp. Even Hoagy Carmichael sounds eerie singing 'Memphis in June'. There are no black diamonds, but Johnny Angel glitters like one. -Time Out Film Guide
I'd also recommend another Marin-Raft, 'Nocturne' as being worthy of investigation, although I'm not sure either one will make my 50.

btw, the 'Johnny Angel' screenshot perhaps begs the question, does Tarr's 'The Man From London' qualify?
I might give it another look before the deadline, as it ticks most of the boxes.

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knives
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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#428 Post by knives » Wed Dec 08, 2010 5:10 pm

Dark Passage has one of the best endings for a noir I've ever seen. Unlike most it goes all the way with it's bleakness to the end, no bow wrapping everything up nor police coming at the last minute. Not even a romantic final shoot out. Bogart's just a fuckup on the run to the very last second. Though I suppose he still manages the last laugh in a way, but damn if that's not as nervous a laugh as a hero can get. The first forty minutes also really puts Lady in the Lake off to how poorly it used it's gimmick. The POV shots here are much more effective. Definitely going to rank high on my list.

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Cold Bishop
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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#429 Post by Cold Bishop » Wed Dec 08, 2010 5:32 pm

but I think her trashier platinum blonde is more suited to noir than the classier, too-elegant, 'Betty' Bacall!
I could buy it if her character actually was a little "trashier". But she's not. Lizabeth Scott is a woman who looks like she's lived life hard and fast in her (supposedly) short years. Dead Reckoning makes the mistake of turning her into a sort of pure, flawless beauty, a deceptive innocent. But frankly, I don't see how anyone could be deceived.

But then again, the femme fatale is one of my least favorite elements of film noir (despite being the defining one for many). A film needs to work overtime in making her memorable, or add a little complexity and ambiguity to her beyond mere nastiness, for me to enjoy it.

As for a double bill, I'd recommend Pitfall: a film that uses Scott wrong, followed by one that gets her absolutely right. Or the aforementioned They Made Me a Fugitive, which takes the "war comes home" motif in Reckoning and runs with it.

And she's practically useless in The Racket (although not as much as the absolutely annoying Robert Hutton character). It's a better film than its reputation suggest, but it was perhaps a better film before Howard Hughes ran it through his usual wringer of rewrites and re-shoots. It's a movie that seems like it wants to be riskier than it's allowed to be. The ending in particular: one of the darkest and most cynical of its kind... that is, until a literal last minute save on part of Hughes and the writers.
Last edited by Cold Bishop on Thu Dec 09, 2010 2:13 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Yojimbo
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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#430 Post by Yojimbo » Thu Dec 09, 2010 12:43 am

antnield wrote:How about a Lizabeth Scott double-bill? Possibilities include I Walk Alone (though I don't believe there's a disc available anywhere; I caught it on TV many years ago), The Racket and The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, all of which are surely in contention for a top 50 spot.
Actually, I've just watched The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, which was the second half of the Lizabeth Scott double-bill, but more than being in contention for a top 50 spot, its a strong candidate for a top 50 spot, particularly because of the incendiary performances of the powerhouse trio of Stanwyck,Heflin, and Kirk Douglas (I think it was his debut).
Scott hadn't a prayer in such august company, and even there were one or two decent supports, also
(Kirk's private dick, and Scott's alleged husband)
I think, after watching this, I might give 'Out of the Past' and 'Double Indemnity' another look, to see how Stanwyck and Douglas' performances in those films compare with their performances in 'Ivers'
Cold Bishop wrote:
but I think her trashier platinum blonde is more suited to noir than the classier, too-elegant, 'Betty' Bacall!
I could buy it if her character actually was a little "trashier". But she's not. Lizabeth Scott is a woman who looks like she's lived life hard and fast in her (supposedly) short years. Dead Reckoning makes the mistake of turning her into a sort of pure, flawless beauty, a deceptive innocent. But frankly, I don't see how anyone could be deceived.
Pretty much agree about her Dead Reckoning character, Bish; and its not a great film. It will struggle to make my 50; its not even got a single outstanding feature to make it stand out from the pack.
The thing about Scott, though, which was particularly noticeable here, is that her voice, for the most part, is an unatttractive one, particularly in its more urgent tones.
And, apart from those legendary eyebrows, her mouth isn't especially attractive, either, particularly in the way she often sets.
Somewhat at odds with her fine figure, and the legs, to which the camera and the lead character's attention is drawn in both films.

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the preacher
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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#431 Post by the preacher » Thu Dec 09, 2010 12:41 pm

Woman on the Run by Norman Foster
Image

Ann Sheridan is a fearful wife who teams with crusading reporter Dennis O’Keefe to locate her missing husband—the lone witness to a murder—before the killer finds him. Director Norman Foster, an Orson Welles collaborator, concocts his own exciting climas at once-thriving Playland at the Beach in San Francisco.
Norman Foster ("Kiss the Blood off My Hands"/originally an actor on Orson Welles's Mercury Players who later codirected "Journey into Fear") is the director of this superb white-knuckler film noir. Hal Mohr provides the dark San Francisco location shots that give the film its sinister look. It's based on an original story by Sylvia Tate; Alan Campbell co-wrote it with Foster. Sheridan gives a sharp performance as a woman trying to help her hubby and to also find out if their shaky marriage is salvageable, all the while menaced by elements out of her control. -Dennis Schwartz
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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#432 Post by Yojimbo » Thu Dec 09, 2010 3:39 pm

domino harvey wrote:Here it is, the first of hopefully many Genre Lists on the forum! Please submit your noir list to me, domino harvey, via PM. Your list must contain 50 noir films.

LISTS ARE DUE BY NOVEMBER 13 (Out of the Past's birthday!) -- Aw heck, Happy Belated Birthday: Lists now due DECEMBER 13

::THIS FIRST POST IS A WORK IN PROGRESS::
If members could please make suggestions VIA PM for books, articles, online resources, and existent forum discussions, I will edit them into the first post!


Compiling help provided by: ArchCarrier, Gregory, Murdoch, ZizouJuve
Dom, can you just clarify the deadline
Is it before midnight, (US) Eastern time, on Dec. 13th, or otherwise advise
Thanks

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domino harvey
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Translate this to United States Time pls

#433 Post by domino harvey » Thu Dec 09, 2010 5:38 pm

I won't get to them until the evening of the 14th anyway, so before that

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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#434 Post by domino harvey » Thu Dec 09, 2010 7:41 pm

A couple of nasty noirs down:

Dick Powell proves himself an interesting director with Split Second, a low budget countdown against the clock thriller with a nuclear twist-- an escaped con and his wounded pal take a gaggle of roadside characters hostage and force them to hide out in the desert site of a fast-approaching nuclear test explosion. Despite some fast and loose reportage of nuclear aftereffects that was surely underwritten by the govt, this is a mean-spirited film with an antagonist who calls to mind Tierney's gruff drifter in the Devil Thumbs a Ride. Steven McNally's con is a blistering fount of violence and danger who shoots an unarmed man, then fucks his girlfriend under the auspices of saving her life afterward, then abandons the girl (who was having an affair with the victim) for showing no loyalty to her husband-- daaaaaamn! And just when this movie couldn't get any better, Arthur Hunnicutt from the Big Sky shows up and drawls on about the old days. What's interesting about Hunnicutt's performance here isn't so much that he provides some much needed comic relief, but that Powell resists the urge to ever have him go on too long or too broadly-- Powell shows a real adeptness at reigning in his actors, which is somewhat unusual for an actor-turned-director, and he refuses to overindulge in actorly moments at the detriment of plot momentum. Also, the film's obvious low budget makes the wonderful special effects during the explosion all the more shocking-- I thought we'd just get stock footage, but I was impressed with the miniature work achieved here. Def making my list.

Sorry, Wrong Number is a sick joke movie with some interesting attempts at saving what is essentially a ninety minute parade of second-hand conversations on the part of Litvak-- I loved the early pans, but the flashbacks get a little ridic (flashes of the Locket again). Still, the film paints even its victim in a pretty negative light and that finale is a killer!

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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#435 Post by domino harvey » Sat Dec 11, 2010 5:31 pm

Warner Archive Binge, Pt 2

The Woman on Pier 13 holds up pretty well despite all its red-baiting, probably because the communist threat is presented in the same manner of any organized crime threat. William Talman is more enjoyable here than he was in the unbearable the Hitch-Hiker, and the film has fun with his and Thomas Gomez's heavies. Robert Ryan is a little bland as the lead, and Laraine Day's a pretty justly forgotten contract star. Enjoyable noir fluff, well-made and entertaining, but not worth charting.

Suspense, a bland title for such a peculiar film, is a pic that allows me for the first and last time to type these words in this order: film noir musical. Monogram threw some bucks at a picture and got their money's worth here. Wild figure skating numbers coupled with a terrific sense of mise-en-scene (loved the shot of Barry Sullivan on the couch with every gun mounted to the wall aimed at his head!) and a fair sense of fun (the hilarious opening visual gag) elevate this one past its flaws (it's way too long). Plus, Eugene Pallette as a lapdog, top that!

I watched the Man With a Cloak out of perverse fascination but was surprised at how much I liked it. It's a very genial inheritance fight with a famous protagonist acting Sherlock. The film withholds the "secret" identity of the Joseph Cotten character until the last shot, but knowing who it is doesn't really matter or shock, so who knows why. Leslie Caron is wide-eyed, Louis Calhern is pie-eyed, and Barbara Stanwyck is easy-on-the-eyes. Good clean fun.

I forgot what was happening in A Woman Without Passport while it was happening. I vaguely recall John Hodiak trying to talk with an eastern European accent, and the threat of illegal immigrants being eaten by snakes, but that's about it. I'm still waiting to see a Joseph H Lewis film that's anywhere near the achievement of Gun Crazy.

++++++++++++++

In related news, we're nearing the deadline and my list is being finalized, which means if something was going to come around to shake things up, it needed to happen soon. It happened.

I can't recall exactly when I realized Tomorrow Is Another Day would be my #1 pick for the best film noir, but once I entertained the notion, nothing I could produce did anything but bolster such a claim. My Top Ten is populated with films that do double duty as both great films and embodiments of key noir concepts, but here is a film that besides being a total joy from start to finish gets fundamentally at what noir as style, as a movement, as a historically-specific construct is.

Steve Cochran plays an ex-con who came to prison at the age of thirteen for murder and came out eighteen years later. Once out in the world, he maneuvers through what the once-wholesome world has become post-war, and finds nothing but derision and pushback from the general populace. If these films reflect the mindset of the returning WWII vets, here's a character who finds himself operating in the same world these once green kids now encounter after seeing the front-lines.

I've seen a lot of noirs with memorable Femme Fatales and Good Girls, but never one that so explicitly and convincingly transforms its femme fatale into its good girl. The tremendous Ruth Roman is a dancehall girl at a dime a minute joint and here the bottle blonde beauty coldly attaches meaning only to the financially beneficial aspects of courting-- Another fascinating aspect of the film concerns its characters constant commercial materialism, as every key decision boils down to one of commerce and the motif of the exchange of money for rendering services is a toll rung for the impending fifties boom-- only to transform herself into the doting wife, complete with hair dye and bun in the oven.

But, while the film wears the conservative fears of the deterioration of the traditional family unit as ideal to great effect, the circumstances surrounding this myth are exploited as effectively as I've ever seen in a film of this era: here is a movie that clearly believes in the worth of conservative values, but also expresses the grim notion that the new world refuses to let such constructs remain unscathed and unchallenged. This isn't a conservative film, it's a nihilistic one: Women, kids, family, police, neighbors, all foundations of a well-run social order will betray you. Even the "happy" ending is gloss on nothing: what world can these characters possibly hope to survive within? The title, Tomorrow Is Another Day isn't a promise: it's a threat.

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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#436 Post by Yojimbo » Sat Dec 11, 2010 9:26 pm

domino harvey wrote:Warner Archive Binge, Pt 2

The Woman on Pier 13 holds up pretty well despite all its red-baiting, probably because the communist threat is presented in the same manner of any organized crime threat. William Talman is more enjoyable here than he was in the unbearable the Hitch-Hiker, and the film has fun with his and Thomas Gomez's heavies. Robert Ryan is a little bland as the lead, and Laraine Day's a pretty justly forgotten contract star. Enjoyable noir fluff, well-made and entertaining, but not worth charting.

Suspense, a bland title for such a peculiar film, is a pic that allows me for the first and last time to type these words in this order: film noir musical. Monogram threw some bucks at a picture and got their money's worth here. Wild figure skating numbers coupled with a terrific sense of mise-en-scene (loved the shot of Barry Sullivan on the couch with every gun mounted to the wall aimed at his head!) and a fair sense of fun (the hilarious opening visual gag) elevate this one past its flaws (it's way too long). Plus, Eugene Pallette as a lapdog, top that!

I watched the Man With a Cloak out of perverse fascination but was surprised at how much I liked it. It's a very genial inheritance fight with a famous protagonist acting Sherlock. The film withholds the "secret" identity of the Joseph Cotten character until the last shot, but knowing who it is doesn't really matter or shock, so who knows why. Leslie Caron is wide-eyed, Louis Calhern is pie-eyed, and Barbara Stanwyck is easy-on-the-eyes. Good clean fun.

I forgot what was happening in A Woman Without Passport while it was happening. I vaguely recall John Hodiak trying to talk with an eastern European accent, and the threat of illegal immigrants being eaten by snakes, but that's about it. I'm still waiting to see a Joseph H Lewis film that's anywhere near the achievement of Gun Crazy.

++++++++++++++

In related news, we're nearing the deadline and my list is being finalized, which means if something was going to come around to shake things up, it needed to happen soon. It happened.

I can't recall exactly when I realized Tomorrow Is Another Day would be my #1 pick for the best film noir, but once I entertained the notion, nothing I could produce did anything but bolster such a claim. My Top Ten is populated with films that do double duty as both great films and embodiments of key noir concepts, but here is a film that besides being a total joy from start to finish gets fundamentally at what noir as style, as a movement, as a historically-specific construct is.
I haven't seen The Woman on Pier 13 in almost 20 years; I remember it as a lotta fun, and I might find a place for it.

I don't think I've seen any of those other films, though I gotta admit the notion of Eugene Pallette as a lapdog is certainly an intriguing one.

I was somewhat disappointed with 'The Big Combo', particularly in view of 'Gun Crazy': I think its best bits are more down to John Alton than Lewis.

I've always thought Ruth Roman too sweet to ever make a convincing 'femme fatale'; Jean Hagen, on the other hand.

Just caught 'Fear in the Night' last night; worth checking out, and I plan to leave a slot open for it.

Right now I'm aiming to leave at least 10 slots open for lo-lo-budget efforts like this one; I'm also planning to include at least five foreign language films, possibly including two Kurosawas and two Bela Tarrs, and perhaps a couple of Truffauts.
I'll also be including at least five colour noirs.

My ranking of the films will be based on their noir quotient, rather than their quality as films, per se, although any film included in my Silver/Ward Film Noir encyclopaedia automatically qualifies for consideration, whether I consider them quintessential noir or not

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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#437 Post by Cold Bishop » Sun Dec 12, 2010 2:06 am

domino harvey wrote:I can't recall exactly when I realized Tomorrow Is Another Day would be my #1 pick for the best film noir
Goddamn you... that's another film I'm going to have to squeeze in these last three evenings.

Rankings are going to be interesting. I think my top 15 is pretty solidly formed, but after that... ranks can be as a good as random so far. When you add the difference between films that are fresh in my mind from watching them in the last few weeks vs. films that I haven't seen for years (a decade even) that I'm ranking based off memory... well, I'll probably be regretting some of the rankings and omissions as I catch up with the rest of the films, post-list.

I'm still on the fence about foreign noirs: I got two so far, but being cautious with the definition, there are a good half-dozen I could ostensibly add to my list if I decided to go that route.

No color noirs. No western noirs. I allowed a few period noirs, although surprisingly neither are the two Manns (which isn't to knock them; they just don't seem to fit the definition to me). Still undecided on whether to count The Naked Kiss as a noir, otherwise nothing later than-1961.

Luckily, I consider my final list the least interesting part about this all.

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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#438 Post by Yojimbo » Sun Dec 12, 2010 2:41 am

Cold Bishop wrote:
domino harvey wrote:I can't recall exactly when I realized Tomorrow Is Another Day would be my #1 pick for the best film noir
Goddamn you... that's another film I'm going to have to squeeze in these last three evenings.

I'm still on the fence about foreign noirs: I got two so far, but being cautious with the definition, there are a good half-dozen I could ostensibly add to my list if I decided to go that route.

No color noirs. ........... otherwise nothing later than-1961.
I saw a clip of 'Tomorrow Is Another Day' on an IMDb-linked review; it certainly looks interesting, but I won't be able to see it in time.
'Chinatown' and 'Night Moves' are racing certainties to make my 50, but no 'western', 'costume', or 'horror' noirs.

Tarr's 'Damnation' may well make my Top 10, and may thus be my top-ranked foreign film.

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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#439 Post by domino harvey » Sun Dec 12, 2010 10:34 am

Well, so far the submitted lists have been all over the place. No clear consensus (only ONE film has appeared on every list) and several shocking omissions-- there are going to be some widely-accepted noir masterpieces completely left behind by our list. Prepare thyself.

As for Tomorrow is Another Day, it's pretty late in the game and I wouldn't be surprised if I was the only one who had a chance to see it before the lists are due, but I hope others eventually seek it out and come in to discuss it, because it's the first film in a long time that made me reignite the ol' academic in me and go, "I want to write a paper about this film!" Admittedly, it'll suffer from impossibly high expectations now that I've revealed it to be my top pick, but it's such a wonderfully dense film that it could only benefit from some serious discussion here.

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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#440 Post by Yojimbo » Sun Dec 12, 2010 10:51 am

I see Felix Feist is the director and I checked and discovered that I no longer have 'Devil Thumbs A Ride' on vhs any more.
Although I did realise I do have 'The Locket' which sounds interesting

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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#441 Post by knives » Sun Dec 12, 2010 3:26 pm

Is it another Archives movie because I can't even seem to find a VHS.

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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#442 Post by domino harvey » Sun Dec 12, 2010 4:46 pm

Can't tell which title you're asking about, but Tomorrow Is Another Day and the Locket are, the Devil Thumbs A Ride is not (but is up on YouTube)

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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#443 Post by knives » Sun Dec 12, 2010 4:48 pm

Mostly speaking of Tomorrow is Another Day, but help on all three is always great. Unfortunate about that though.

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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#444 Post by Yojimbo » Sun Dec 12, 2010 5:58 pm

domino harvey wrote: the Devil Thumbs A Ride is not (but is up on YouTube)
It doesn't seem to be there any more
(just done a search!)

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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#445 Post by domino harvey » Sun Dec 12, 2010 6:04 pm

Huh, it looks like Warners made 'em remove it... maybe it too is coming soon from the Archives?

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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#446 Post by Cold Bishop » Mon Dec 13, 2010 7:21 am

Devil... got bumped off my list so far, although I do like it. My rental store has a copy of Tomorrow... but there are about four other films I definitely want to see before the final list tomorrow, and I probably have time for two, so we'll see if it makes it.

And if anyone wants a last recommendation based out of the Archives, I just noticed Warner put out Gordon Wiles' The Gangster this whole time and I didn't notice. I really loved the film when I saw it years ago, will probably rewatch it soon, but it might be worthwhile.

The Seventh Victim (Mark Robson, 1943)

Arguably the best of the Val Lewton films, The Seventh Victim strikes me as something of an anomaly in the series. It represents both the logical conclusion to the first cycle of the films (the Jacques Tourneur films), as well as a sharp break to what came before. Whether it was the loss of Tourneur, allowing Lewton’s voice to come out clearer than before (disregarding the Lewton-Robson auteur debate, it certainly registers as one of the most deeply personal films of the 1940s), or from a desire to break free from his b-horror label (it was, after-all, meant to be his first A-picture, until he refused to budge on Robson), there seems to be a marked difference from the horror films that came before: it’s a darker, more personal, more philosophical film; more self-consciously grounded in classical literary and artistic allusions; practically eliminating the supernatural elements that defined his other films; and set in a modern, urban world that more resembles our own.

But it also builds on the previous films, particularly the two that came before. Some of its major evolutionary steps are already apparent in The Leopard Man. While certainly a horror film, that film was itself based off a certifiably noir novel: Black Alibi by Cornell Woolrich. There’s already a step away from the supernatural and towards the horrors of the real world, its proto-slasher narrative standing in sharp contrast to his other cat based films. And its premise also lays the groundwork for this film, its titular monster representing a death that lurks behind every corner, preying on the rich and poor alike at their most unsuspecting, striking those in the midst of pursuing life (food, romance, money). I Walked with a Zombie has perhaps even greater parallels, representing a society born out of suffering, where death and hardship is ingrained in every fabric of life and culture, so that people ceremoniously cry at births and celebrate at funerals, and where this knowledge manifests itself in alternative religions (although that film is much more sympathetic and ambiguous towards Voodoo culture than Victim is to Satanism). It’s also, like Victim, a film of great ambiguity – both in relation to the horror genre, where an atmosphere of pervasive dread and intangible death substitutes for a lack of a true monster/antagonist (Who is the villain? Carre-Four? Paul? Jessica? Wesley?) – as well as to its abstracted narrative: a mystery to which, even at the end, we are only allowed small, sidelong glimpses, ultimately unable to completely comprehend or understand. That film’s Betsy Connell is a prototype for this film’s Mary, a young innocent who gains experience from her encounter with this previously unknown world. Jessica is equally an ancestor of the Seventh Victim’s Jacqueline, a enigmatic woman who is in fact a walking dead, lost in world of darkness and oblivion, fixed with a similar somnambulistic stare, as if glimpsing at a frightening reality hiding right behind our own. But what Zombie couched in supernatural otherness, The Seventh Victim returns home, transporting the story from exotic San Sebastian to urban New York, from black “others” to white Americans, from romanticized Voodoo to deglamorized, homegrown occultism. And while it’s certainly a different film (it of course loses the thematic link to slavery and colonialism so important to Zombie) it makes on thing clear: you don’t have to turn to zombies or witch doctors, neither ailuranthropes nor the ailuranthropic at heart, to find lurking, inescapable death and decay; it’s already present in the modern city.

This increased emphasis on the urban city is matched by a similarly decreased reliance on the supernatural. The shadow of film noir hangs over the entirety of the Lewton cycle, bridging the divide between the horror film of the 1930s and the genuine film noir of the post-war 1940s. Even then, The Seventh Victim stands out in its etching of urban paranoia and existential dread. Certainly, it is not a textbook example; but how many noirs before 1944 (the year of Double Indemnity, Laura, Murder My Sweet, Phantom Lady, The Woman in the Window) truly are? The film noir and the horror film share a common lineage in the world of “low-taste”: b-production units and dime-store literature, Weird Tales and Black Mask, yet with both their cinematic roots largely leading back to German Expressionism. Many of the early film noirs bear the traces of the horror film (namely Stranger on the Third Floor and Among the Living), and even after the watermark year of 1944, they often reached back into the horror film's goodie bag of the bizarre and grotesque: the soothsayers and psychics of The Amazing Mr. X, Night Has a Thousand Eyes and Nightmare Alley; the grand guignol nightmares that permeate the genre from Murder My Sweet to Secret Beyond the Door; the psychotic killers of Follow Me Quietly and While the City Sleeps; its preoccupation with sadism and the subconcious. If not for the name on the production credit, one could wonder whether this film would even be labeled a horror film. Many people will point to the Satanists, but even this alone doesn’t create a clear distinction; the world of the hard-boiled has never been completely impervious to this arena, as Dashiel Hammet’s The Dain Curse or Jonathan Latimer’s Solomon’s Vineyard attest to: both focused on occult secret societies, both iconic pieces of noir literature. All this makes sense: noir is only a genre in hindsight, so examples are bound to be filled with cross-pollination. While they often share a thematic link, especially in regards to the macabre, the horror film always turns its internal anxieties into external threats: monsters or supernatural phenomena. The anxieties of The Seventh Victim – the city as paranoid nighmarescape, the inescapable approach of death, loneliness and isolation, the meaninglessness of life, the dangerous allure of suicide – may overlap with the horror macabre, but here they remain abstract. The worst you can say about the Satanists are that they’re a symptom of these anxieties, not a complete embodiment of it… and by the end of the film, they seem victim to them as much as any of the sympathetic characters.

It’s a sui generis film, certainly; but then again, which of the Val Lewton films weren’t? This is why a description of this film as an average no-budget horror film is so baffling. If film noir is only a respectable genre in hindsight - European critics finding art in the supposedly artless, looking at the mere genre films and b-movies of the Hollywood factories and discovering within them personal studies of a pessimistic and cynical post-war America - then The Seventh Victim is a crowning achievement. Its b-movie plot, completely pulp in nature, is so ramshackle, so fractured, so conventionally unsatisfying, that it barely holds the material together as a commercial film, while its self-consciously poetic approach inch closer to “art film” than any of the other Lewton films. Yet, it is its substance, its dark and uncompromising meditation on modern spiritual breakdown, which holds it together; only Nick Ray’s In a Lonely Place uses the film noir genre to express and examine such deeply personal trauma. Yet, it still captures much of what later film noirs would finesse into a recognizable genre. Its nightmare city – with its cold maze-like architecture, it’s ever lurking threat of violence, it’s increasing atomization and indifference, its tapestry of loneliness, sadness and perversity – is a dry run for the menacing urban wastelands that soon became the playground for noir. Isn't Mary search essentially that of the detective film? Is Jacqueline’s walk through the city any different from Act of Violence’s Los Angeles or Night and the City’s Soho? And are the Satanists really different a threat from your typical crime syndicate? The existential and spiritual crises of its protagonists are nothing more than the moral quandaries of the typical film noir unfettered. And the film’s danse macabre, its simultaneous fear of dying and its obsessive drive towards it, is the full embodiment of film noir’s fatalistic spirit, from Frank Bigelow’s search for his own killer, to Jeff Bailey’s headlong rush into a police firing squad. In fact, considering his influence on his contemporaries, as well as the type of films made before and after it, it is perhaps not difficult to postulate this film as having a direct influence on a number of film noirs that went into production in its wake, such as Phantom Lady, Murder My Sweet and When Strangers Marry (and some critics have done just that). Or what of directors like Alberto Cavalcanti, Michael Powell and Carol Reed, all of whom were great admirers of the film, whose influence extends to their British noirs. Film noir would later pick up the pulp, burying its personal obsessions into a catalog of fedoraed detectives, deceptive beauties, and vicious hoods. The Seventh Victim disregards the formalities, and brings those obsessions front and center. It’s the raw material of film noir undiluted, 90% pure. A shot of the stuff could kill you, and its not surprising that it was the first failure of the cycle; it’s only recently that it has begun to be recognized for the masterpiece that it is.

There are better appreciations out there for those who need more convincing. Edmung G. Bansak devotes a whole chapter to it in Fearing the Dark. And the poet John Ashbery's appreciation of the film in his Selected Prose is worth reading. There are some blog pieces for those who want further reading, such as Jen Winzships’ four-part scene-by-scene look at the film, or these from Not Coming, Only the Cinema and Cailloux de Cinema. For my part, I will only give a few words to this strange and sorrowful masterpiece. The Lewton cycle was often fixated on doubles, and this film has one of the most elaborate, criss-crossing networks of them. Standing at the center is its most visible doubling: Mary and Jacqueline. Mary’s journey in the film is one from Innocence to Experience; from the sheltered security of youth, cloistered in a girls school (faint traces of the coming Curse of the Cat People), to suddenly being thrust into the uncertainty and cruelty of adulthood, the urban city. “One must have courage to live in the world”, she is warned early on, and she is determined to do so. Her sister, Jacqueline, is at the other end of the spectrum, initiated with experience, to the point that the knowledge of coming death haunts her every waking moment. A pale, fragile face peeking out from a long jet-black coat and raven hair, her eyes are dazed, fixated on some point off-screen, as if seeing the all-consuming void that all the characters skirt around and ignore. It's perhaps not coincidental that the film begins entirely preoccupied with Mary, but by the end, fixes all its intention on Jacqueline; it’s a journey from one extreme of life to another.

Surrounding them is a cross-section of the damned, debased and defeated, the lost, lonely souls who call Greenwich Village home. Both Zombie and Leopard Man balanced an entire tapestry of characters that sometimes made those respective works border on an ensemble film; this is no exception. Like that later famous noir adage, there are a million hard-luck stories in this naked city; here, we are witness to only a few. The “missing persons” scene makes this clear: we follow Mary into the Missing Person Bureau, but the camera tracks along the desks, catching glimpses of other smalls tragedies - a man looking for his sixteen year old daughter, an elderly lady searching for her husband – before joining her. Failure and despair is always poking through the film, from major to minor characters. From the opening, where the idyllic purity of the school is tarnished by the regretful, quietly suffering Ms. Gilchrist, earnestly warning Mary not to come back, to flee the confines of the school, and the stingy, joyless, sexless headmaster Mrs. Lowood. This pair even gets its double within the Palladists, in the equally stern and authoritarian Mrs. Redi, and the young, incongruously gentle coded-lesbian, Frances. In fact, there is a pallor of pity and a sense of unspoken personal frustration behind the supposed menace of the Palladists, best personified in the enigmatic one-armed woman (early Sternberg muse Evelyn Brent) who hauntingly lingers within the frame whenever the camera enters their den. Their amorality is matched by that of Tim Conway’s Dr. Judd, so sleazy and devious, he seemed able to con his way out of the fate he suffered in Cat People. But this amorality seems to be rooted out of ennui and stagnation, as his comment about losing his vocation professes, and by the end, it seems he was courting the Palladists as much as protecting Jacqueline (and its implied that he is the “breach” the Palladists were worried about). Gregory, so rational and business-like, seems respectable to a fault, with lingering questions of culpability (where was he during his wife’s downward spiral?) and selfishness (disregarding Jacqueline for her younger sister). There’s Irving August, Private Eye, who seems sketchy and underhanded at first, picking up clients at the Missing Persons Bureau, but who later helps Mary (out of sympathy? General concern? Loneliness?)… and has his one kind deed repaid with a knife in the chest. There’s Mimi, Jacqueline’s “neighbor”, young, once-beautiful, now slowly dying, hiding behind a locked door and trying to ward off death as long as possible. Even the sole happy characters of the film, Mr. and Mrs. Romari, have a need to keep Jason around to stay happy, constantly invoking him to make them laugh.

And then there’s Jason, perhaps the third largest character of the film. In a film loaded with doubles, he has several: August (as a kindly detective), Gregory (as a romantic suitor), Dr. Judd (as a man who’s lost his vocation), even Dante (a poet journeying through the underworld for the love of a Beatrice… or in this case, two Beatrices: both Mary and the former love he lost to Dr. Judd). But perhaps the most significant double may be Val Lewton himself. Strongly personal, the film mirrors Lewton’s own time in Greenwich Village, his artistic decline perhaps parallel to Lewton’s own time stuck writing film novelizations, or even his frustration as a b-unit horror producer. Frustrated in life and love, Jason seems to cling to art and poetry as his sole refuge from the sadness and loneliness of the modern world. And for a man able to make such a dark, uncompromising film, one wonders whether Lewton felt the same way (and for a film so preoccupied with death, the knowledge of both Lewton and Erford Gage’s early deaths sticks in the mind while watching).

This preoccupation with death is the sticking point for those who want to classify this film as horror. And certainly the film operates on the metaphysical fear of death. It has a sense for the macabre which, while not uncommon for horror films, is only indulged as fully in the rarest of film noirs (They Made Me a Fugitive, The Chase, Nightmare Alley). It may not be supernatural, but it has that thick, humid atmosphere of doom that one identifies with the Lewton horror films. One may argue for it as a poetic horror film, but deprived of the supernatural, it’s one that borders on poetic realism. And just as poetic realism was the “mongrel whelp” of conflicting impulses like naturalism, impressionism and surrealism, so does Victim lay bare the conflicting impulses that would soon be refined into the film noir. And whether film noir, horror film or poetic realist, it lays bare the central concern (man's central concern?) under them all: man’s metaphysical terror, both of an ever-nearing death, and a life of suffering that precedes it, and the way people ward off, transcend or succumb to it. With its fractured, fragmented narrative, it emphasizes the episode, vignette-like structure of the Lewton films, and these set-pieces are among his most poetic and philosophically preoccupied. Is there a more perfect symbol for our deepest fears, our inescapable mortality, both our instinctual drive to conquer it and to give in, than an unassuming door, in an unassuming boarding-house, behind which lies an empty room, bare but for a gilt chair over which hangs a noose? Mary’s subway ride is a Sisyphean task of repetition back and forth across the city, where in her fear and terror she realizes that, among the dense population of the city, she is fundamentally alone. When she goads August to walk down the dark hallway, it is a journey into metaphysical darkness as much as literal: he enters into the same world of darkness and oblivion that Jacqueline lives in, behind a locked door much like that of the boardinghouse. It is only right that by entering this world, he meets both Jacqueline and death. This movie is littered with staircases, always representing contrast and transition, starting with the opening Amberson staircase, where Mary is already moving against the current of youth and innocence, to the final chilling scene, capping one of the famed Lewton walks, where Jacqueline meets another of her doubles.

This final walk may be the greatest of those constructed by Val Lewton. Not only is it a great example of Lewton refining his art, but it’s a logical culmination to a film about those who run to and from death. It’s not just another walk through a dark city: it is a walk through the isolation and despair of the modern city in general, it is a journey through Jacqueline’s own subjective worldview, and a final summation of all that came before in the film. Jacqueline in her obsession with death, has jumped from one sensation to the next, searching for any meaningful bond that could conquer her death instinct: her familial bond with her sister, prosperity with her own cosmetic company, romance – both respectable (with her marriage to Gregory) and l’amour fou (Dr. Judd, Frances), she’s clung to religions, both mainstream (the school leads us to believe this) and esoteric (the Palladists). Yet, despite this all, she can’t escape the pull of death. Likewise, the film chronicles the way other people construct their own systems of meaning to ward off their own metaphysical and existential fear – romance, religion, art, secret societies, work, drink and merriment, friendship – and this walk is as much a journey through their world as it is hers. In her walk, she comes across a pair of lovers – mirroring the romantic frustration that envelopes the film. She faces the same indifference and callousness from the crowd that Mary met on the subway, and which in fact, is at the root at all the characters’ isolation. She comes across a door to a theater, locked to her – the world of art and poetry which Jason lives in, but which she is unable to find meaning in. She is eventually saved and is swept up in the crowd, but loses them again, stopped short in front of a bardoor – a world where drink and revelry stands in for happiness, but to which she finds no joy. And after this, all the while escaping a knife-wielding killer, she ultimately escapes death only to run to it. She has spent to film trying to conquer death, telling herself she is not afraid of it, but only after finding that the pleasures of the world are no match in the face of it, does she give in. There she meets Mimi, frail, sick, dying, her double, her opposite. Jacqueline runs to death, Mimi hides from it. Jacqueline gives in to it, Mimi fights against it. Both choices are a suicide in their own right, but with its own negative and positive implications

As Jacqueline and Mimi enter their rooms, but before they commit to their choices, the film (almost awkwardly) cuts away for two scenes involving the other characters. While some may see shoehorning in this, a further example of its fractured narrative, a last-minute attempt to tie-up loose-ends, I think their placement is more important. Suspended as they are, between Jacqueline’s decision to commit suicide and the suicide itself, the two scenes are absolutely connected to its grim conclusion. Jacqueline has decided to embrace death, but here we cut away to those still struggling to live. She has given into oblivion and nihilism, but here we find those still trying to find meaning and structure in the world. She has decided to shuffle off her mortal coil, while the others (for the time being) will live on. Without these scenes, the film would be too-dark, almost destructive in its worldview. If they happened after, or if it stuck with its original ending, simultaneously more upbeat about Mary and Gregory, more downbeat about Jason, they may have seemed too much like sugarcoating. But as it is, there locations are as ambiguous as the scenes themselves, offering a glimmer of hope within the characters, but still remaining uncertain.

In the first of these scenes, Judd and Jason confront the Palladists, and recite the Lord’s Prayer to them. Perhaps the scene may seem hokey to some, but that is too miss the ambiguity and irony that inflects the scene. Perhaps it seems preachy that the two are able to talk down the menacing Palladists with such simple scripture, but I think the undercutting of the Palladists is crucial: they are not the actual threat of the film, and are in final summation as pitiful and sad as any of the protagonists, clinging to their secret society almost out of desperation ("a pathetic joke"). Likewise, the moralizing seems suspect in view of several red flags: 1) The film after all ends not with a prayer but with a suicide. 2) This is a film that opens, ominously, with a girl leaving a religious school (and religion), with no sign of coming back, and in several points, the Palladists and Highcliffe Academy are linked in unflattering ways. 3) The prayer is delivered by Dr. Judd, perhaps, the most amoral character in the whole film (it was said by Jason in the script, so it must have been a conscious decision). Nonetheless, while its view of religion may be bleak, there is still some hope here, both in Judd’s disavowal of the Satanists he was originally courting, as well as the possibility of a friendship between him and Jason. The next scene is similarly ambiguous. It is also one which is most affected by the lack of knowledge of Jacqueline’s whereabouts. Mary and Gregory confess their love for each other, but because of Jacqueline, Mary makes a stand against it. It’s a scene the offers a glimmer of hope for Mary and Gregory with love, yet with an underside in regards to the unresolved marriage between Gregory and Jacqueline. Perhaps Jacqueline’s death will draw them together, perhaps it will pull them apart. And would a romance with the repressed, selfish Gregory even be ideal? The film leaves this up in the air, fitting for a film about our collective uncertainty.

Art? Friendship? Prayers? Romance? They flash before the film as if in front of Jacqueline’s eyes, and all these pleasures become like yesterday. Mimi returns from her door, dressed up for one last hurrah that will probably kill her. As she passes Jacqueline’s door, she pauses as she’s hear a sharp thud – the chair is kicked back, the rope snaps – but then walks on. Of all the stairway meetings, this is the most significant, the seizing of life versus the embrace of death, Thanatos against Eros. Death haunts both of them, but each chooses a different philosophy. Death in fact haunts everyone here, and the way they struggle and come to terms with is the film’s subject. Death haunts the film noir, in fact: some people try to escape it with avarice or lust, others turn to criminality to get the upper hand on their fates, other take moral stand and try to find redemption - and meaning - through it. In all instances, people are trying to make sense and find peace in a world gone mad, and which has perhaps always been so. For this we go through a journey through the modern city, one that is oneiric, strange, erotic, ambivalent and cruel, but especially, dark. Hollywood films come no darker. If this isn’t a film noir, then I don’t know if any film is worthy of the title.
Last edited by Cold Bishop on Mon Dec 13, 2010 7:12 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Yojimbo
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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#447 Post by Yojimbo » Mon Dec 13, 2010 8:28 am

I don't have time to read it, Bish!
Too many 11th hour viewings to fit in! :wink:

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domino harvey
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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#448 Post by domino harvey » Mon Dec 13, 2010 9:51 pm

Cold Bishop, to quote myself in response to the write-up for Cutter's Way, I'd love to see the film you saw.

Many regrets as I close the book on my noir list: I never made it to the last Warners set, or the half dozen Archive noirs I had left, nor the dozens of PD titles or rare pix I'd acquired in the last months. Surely this will be a busy thread for weeks to come regardless of the list deadline.

I would sort of expect more lists than I have already, so hopefully all of you reading remember to submit your goddamn lists by 5PM EST tomorrow. Earlier is better but whatevs

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Cold Bishop
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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#449 Post by Cold Bishop » Mon Dec 13, 2010 10:19 pm

Except this is a much greater film than Cutter's Way.

So the Western list is next?

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domino harvey
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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#450 Post by domino harvey » Mon Dec 13, 2010 10:44 pm

Yup, I'll start that thread tomorrow when I post the Noir List

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