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

Posted: Tue Dec 14, 2010 12:48 am
by Steven H
domino harvey wrote:...I'd love to see the film you saw.
This is how I felt during Split Second. I spent the whole film trying desperately to see beyond its leaden characterization, failings at every opportunity to provide a real human moment to actually hold onto during the atomic "tension," and especially at the teleplay quality of presentation, replete with wooden dialogue and even woodier acting. It was like a Mr Show skit version of what a "escaped convicts race down time to a nuclear explosion" film would be like, empty and awkward (I was really expecting a lot out of this maybe especially because I *LOVED* the other recent DH recommendation of Tomorrow Is Another Day).

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

Posted: Tue Dec 14, 2010 6:04 pm
by domino harvey
Voting closed. Results posted soon. Additional short statement to prompt dramatic anticipation.

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

Posted: Tue Dec 14, 2010 7:13 pm
by Cold Bishop
And while we wait, I have another piece of writing for those interested.

Breaking the Cycle: Two Film Noirs by Arthur Ripley

Arthur Ripley is a great example of a “what could have been” filmmaker. It’s perhaps an odd thing to say about a person who had a 40+ year career, working in films from 1914 to 1959. His silent day triumphs included his work with Harry Langdon, being the second major behind-the-scene force alongside Frank Capra, and being largely responsible for his dark edge. The thirties saw a steady decline into poverty row, but not before directing several of the W.C. Field shorts for Mack Sennett (he's even in the Collection!). Throughout the 50s, he seemed to have been prolific in television, and more importantly, academia: he was UCLA’s first Professor of Cinema Arts, and a major force in founding its Film Center. This despite being, by all accounts, an eccentric, a man who Edgar G. Ulmer described, not entirely jokingly, as being of unsound mind and body, but by other accounts knew everything there was to know about filmmaking.

Despite this prolific career, his dramatic feature-film career consists of only 4 1/3 films, all but one made in a brief burst in the 1940s. His first, Prisoner of Japan, was a war-time propaganda film that is largely impossible to see. This despite being written and co-directed by Edgar Ulmer, making 18 times its budget, and which by most descriptions has more than a few auterist links with his later films, including a deep sense of sadism and tragedy which seems uncommon for simple gung-ho jingoism. His last, and most famous, film is Thunder Road, a fine feature, not entirely lacking in the Ripley touch, but where its star-producer (Robert Mitchum) is as much an auteur. Beyond that, he did uncredited work (with fellow noir stalwart John Brahm) on the Maria Montez vehicle Siren of Atlantis, a deliciously campy, yet arty (so much so it was first rejected by its studio) slice of exotica which fits right in with his other films, even if its unclear where he was involved.

Standing at the center of this outburst are two bizarre, dreamlike and disjointed film noirs: Voice in the Wind and The Chase. Both were low-budget affairs, both were critically acclaimed… yet both failed with audiences, cutting short what could have been a fascinating directing career. An auteurist study is perhaps long overdue (the man was in fact mentioned in Sarris’s famed Film Culture #28 issue), but with so much of his work absent from view, I won’t attempt to make it. But by simply comparing these two films, one can already see signs of a clear distinctive voice. Both films take place in humid, exotic locales (the island of Guadalupe, Miami, Havana), with a strong emphasis on the nocturnal. Both have what I would call, for lack of a better term, a delirious and grotesque “funhouse” quality to them, which almost represents Ripley’s two conflicting impulses: one is a deliberate artiness, based in the popular art-house traditions of the period (Cocteau, Poetic Realism, German Expressionism, the French Avant-Garde), a self-consciously European flair, a fixation on classical music; on the other hand, there is a picturesque, subversive element of black comedy, one would venture to guess rooted in his time in comic shorts, as if both films have a deep-seated vulgarity that threatens to break loose at any moment. Both films are deeply tragic in their trajectory, but also essentially romantic: they both concern a young, traumatized, passive male protagonist, psychologically damaged in both films by WWII. In both films, they fall in love with a quietly suffering female character. For this love, they attempt to shake off their passivity, but in both films, must journey across a cruel and violent world to be united with her, embodied by a similar pair of sadistic antagonists in both films: one is silent, serious, more physically menacing; the other is mischievous, humorous, almost playful. In both cases, it is the latter which surprisingly reveals a more shocking sadistic streak. Both romances end tragically, and are accompanied with a deep sense of predetermination: from the opening frame of Voice in the Wind, it is clear that things will end badly, and The Chase ingeniously and deceptively plays with the idea of fate.

Voice in the Wind (Arthur Ripley, 1944)

Voice in the Wind is a hard film to write about. For starters is the matter of its obscurity; this is a film that barely anyone has seen since its initial release (and few watched it then), which for a while was impossible to find. As far as I am aware, there are only two 16mm prints of the film (one housed in the Cinematheque Francaise), and even my copy is truncated. As such, I will keep my comments brief, as I am more focused on the way this film informs The Chase, a more widely available film, and a superior one. It’s a film ripe for discovery, but even then, one wonders whether it would rise above a poverty-row curio. The other problem in looking at the film is the obtuse, disjointed quality of it all. It is ostensibly what one could call a Refugee Noir – that subgenre of wartime propaganda that dealt with the plight of civilians under Axis occupations, such as Andre De Toth’s searing None Shall Escape, or William Cameron Menzie’s visually stunning Address Unknown. Voice in the Wind is the most noir of them all, with its focus of the war as past trauma, and its moody, personal fatalism. Yet, as a classic narrative, it is unsatisfying, frustrating, and at times seemingly inept. It’s central conflict between El Hombre and the two corrupt fisherman feels rushed, its WWII flashback never fully integrated and connected with the going-ons in Guadalupe. It’s difficult to get a finger on what the film is: Anti-Nazi propaganda? Homegrown poetic realism? A treatise on music as cultural identity? A tragic romance? There’s a hollow, incomplete feeling to the film, as if we’re not watching a finished film but the compiled fragments of an abandoned project.

But what haunting, evocative fragments! Michel Michelet’s operatic score, an eerie reworking of Smetana’s La Moldau, establishes the tone early on, and holds the fragments together (how many poverty row films can claim an Oscar nominated score?). Francis Lederer’s El Hombre roams this world of eternal night and fog like a phantom, unable to die until he finds the woman and identity that he’s lost. His frightened eyes, his somnambulist silence, his absolute bewilderment at the world, all are much like the walking dead of the aforementioned Lewtons. Smetana’s music is the only link, the only clue, he has to the world of the living he’s left behind, that he’s abandoned and been abandoned by, both a symbol of the Europe he’s lost to the darkness of the war and the cause of his downfall. The film shoots the island of Guadalupe like some purgatory, some isle of the dead for those who have escaped Europe but await an uncertain, perhaps darker fate. We feel as if all these refugees are doomed. Alexander Granach’s Angelo is almost as captivating. It’s a performance that shouldn’t work; he’s loud, boisterous, over-the-top, saddled with a ridiculous ethnic accent. But his broadly comic, hammy demeanor is turned into a strength, as its always set against his behavior. He’ll go from cheating refugees out of thier only money in one scene, to having a touching homo-erotic moment with El Hombre in the next, to absolute sadism, all while retaining his over-the-top persona. Take this scene, one that’s downright Lynchian in its oddness: a scene of broad, exaggerated slapstick which unsuspectingly becomes genuinely sadistic and misogynistic: a scorned woman attempts to shakedown Angelo's brother. He pays her off, all while trading quips and playful insults to the woman. It's all playful and broadly comic, but without changing his boisterous, over-the-top sense of humor, he reaches over, grabs the girl by the neck. He gives her one slap, then another, then another… until she’s been beaten unconscious, as he lets out one last obnoxious laugh, and everyone joins him. It’s an example of one of the fragments of the film that sticks with you, so unlike any other moment of screen violence of the period. And much like the fragmented narrative, Angelo remains an unresolved contradiction, going from moments of misogynistic violence to moments of true affection for El Hombre. All this is enhanced by the uncredited work of Eugene Schüfftan, that favorite cinematographer of Carné, Ophüls, and later Franju, who gives the film a true sense of poetic realism.

While poetic realism certainly informs the film, one wonders what Ripley was looking at the aforementioned Val Lewton. Certainly, the Lewtons laid the groundwork for aspiring artists working at the lower end of the Hollywood system. And much as Lewton would refashion his pulp material around pieces of high-art – classic literature, poetry, painitings – so does this film build itself around pieces of high-culture. It does so less successfully, perhaps more pretentiously than the Lewtons, out of a stronger need for compensation, but it does so nonetheless. Take the aforementioned La Moldau, which anchors the film. Even more importantly, is a later scene, an awkwardly placed flashback between El Hombre and Marya, before the war, which nonetheless stands as the key to the film. It is a dark, starry night, they sit on a bench, huddled close together, and read the preface to Percy Shelley’s “Alastor”:
They who, deluded by no generous error, instigated by no sacred thirst of doubtful knowledge... loving nothing on this earth, and cherishing no hopes beyond... rejoicing neither in human joy nor mourning with human grief; these, and such as they, have their apportioned curse... They are morally dead. They are neither friends, nor lovers, nor fathers, nor citizens of the world, nor benefactors of their country... Selfish, blind, and torpid, they constitute the lasting misery and loneliness of the world. Those who love not their fellow-beings live unfruitful lives, and prepare for their old age a miserable grave.

'The good die first,
And those whose hearts are dry as summer dust,
Burn to the socket!'
The film draws a line in the sand, between the lovers, the citizens of the world, like El Hombre and Marya, and the "the enemies, the philistines", like the thieves of the island, as well as the Nazis. "Shelley wrote that 120 years ago," he exclaims, "they had them around then too... the world has always had them." Here, Ripley tries to raise this above simple propaganda. The fascists may have thrust the world into darkness, the infinite night and fog of Guadalupe standing in for the darkness that has consumed war-torn Europe, but its just a continuation of an eternal struggle. As the pair die in eachother’s arm, we're left with a last image, a dolly shot moving in a bed side candle, flickering in the darkness of the room. While I have found no proof, I have found accounts that the film (possibly abroad) was released as Candle in the Wind, and it is perhaps a more appropriate title. While Voice in the Wind may point the haunting persistence of La Moldau, this final image is a perfect summation of the film’s modest powers. El Hombre and Mayra, all the "citizens of the world", are much like the candle; a small, flickering, faltering beacon of hope and love threatened by all consuming darkness, threatening to blow out any second. It is too disjointed a film to do these fragments justice, and perhaps its dark sense of tragedy isn’t always earned, sometimes forced and pretentious. But in this mess of a film exists a true sense of dark, romantic poetry, the raw material from which a truly great film could have been mined. It would take the next film to do just that.

The Chase (Arthur Ripley, 1946)

For those who have seen it, The Chase has always been a source of great controversy. Daring in its narrative structure, people either find it courageous or a cop-out. Likewise, as a Woolrich adaptation, it’s equally audacious. It guts much of the novel, retaining only brief fragments, and then seemingly disregards them in its final third. Yet, beyond this, it comes closer than any film in catching the macabre, nightmare quality of Woolrich’s work. Controversy invites more controversy, and I have my own reading and opinion of the work that I hope to touch on here. It’s a reading that becomes especially clear once someone has seen Voice in the Wind, and begins to see the clear connections between the two films. While it may use Woolrich as a source, its clearly an Arthur Ripley film, continuing the prior films struggle between the lovers of the world and the enemies. It is above all, a restaging of that film’s tragedy, but in its ingenious narrative structure, allowing Chuck Scott and Lorna Roman to redeem themselves, and the previous lovers by proxy. I highlighted some similarities above, but the most striking has to be its structure. Both films have what I would call a sandwich structure: they roughly consist of three segments, the opening and closing one existing in a similar setting, but with the middle offering a sharp break. In Voice in the Wind, the opening and closing segments unfold on Guadalupe, in the present day. The middle segment exists in the past, in Nazi-Occupied Czechoslovakia. Likewise, while the bookending segments exist in an “objective” world, the middle is “subjective”: the repressed, lost memories of El Hombre. The Chase continues this, albeit in a different way. The opening and closing segments take place in Miami, the middle in Havana. Likewise, in the films controversial twist, we learn that the bookends took place in the “real” world, while the middle was seemingly a “nightmare”. In both films, the middle segments consists of a world that the protagonists forget in their amnesic illnesses, although the Voice begins where the The Chase third act does in relation to their amnesia. Other links are drawn: El Hombre’s only link to his repressed past is his piano-playing; here, when Chuck Scott finds romance, he suddenly rediscovers he can play the piano. Likewise, his room is adorned with a single, insistent candle which calls to mind to one that closes Voice in the Wind. Here, Ripley refines some of the oddity of Voice, of course: here the twin rivals are more clearly antagonistic, although they retain the same odd duality: Peter Lorre’s stern, silent hatchet-man; Steve Cochran’s misogynistic, joker. The greatest change is in the female love interest: she’s no longer a completely passive character, dying in a filthy bed. Lorna Roman is allowed some agency here, as is Chuck Scott/El Hombre, and as such given a shot at some redemption, although she is still suffering, this time under the control of Steve Cochran’s Eddie Roman. Still, essentially the film is a restaging of the liebestod that befalls the leads of Voice in the Wind. It is refined, more satisfying and coherent as a narrative, but the same trajectory remains. However, the films true genius comes through in the way it averts tragedy.

Whenever this film is theatrically shown, modern viewers have tendency to call it Lynchian. And while I’m not one to throw around the label easily, it’s perhaps a more fitting label than many people realize when using it. Just as the similar objective/subjective, reality/dream structures in Lost Highway and Mulholland Dr. are never clear-cut, so does The Chase bends it structure in ways people don’t give it credit for. Fred Madison may escape the illusion of young Pete Dayton, but he’s still stuck in a purgatorial mobius strip; hardly reality. And many people still debate any easy Betty Elms / Diane Selwyn distinction in the latter film, as they probably should. The Chase’s dream is likewise deceptive. Not only can its “trick” narrative be described as a prototype for the likes of Lost Highway and Mulholland Dr., but it’s also a prototype for another completely different type of film: narrative games in the spirit of Celine & Julie Go Boating and Three Resurrected Drunkards. Much like the dreams of another Lynch project, Twin Peaks, dreams can deliver exclusive knowledge not available elsewhere. Not only does the film replay the tragedy of Voice in the Wind, but once it runs its course, it allows Chuck Scott the chance to play again. The nightmare gives him knowledge of the film’s narrative trajectory and his place in it, and with that knowledge he is able to seize control of the narrative. He conquers the predetermined tragedy of the film - in fact, the fatalistic spirit of film noir – by becoming aware of that predetermination.

The biggest clue that all isn’t what it seems comes in the form of Chuck Scott’s awakening from his dream. It is the most trance like moment of the film. He doesn’t awaken in one clean start, or a drowsy coming-to. No, the film visualizes his awakening in a series of superimposed fades that establishes a disorientating sense of repetition. If one wants to give it a literal reading, one can easily do so: the repetition is a representation of the drowsiness that comes from awakening from such a stupor. Furthermore, it represents the way a memory can hid itself behind the haze of amnesia. Very well, but it ignore that the scene, and particularly its editing, has a precedent in the film. If we represent the nightmare as nightmare, and everything surrounding it as reality, then the logical place for this early repetitive edit would be sometime around when Chuck Scott goes to his apartment and falls asleep. But this preceding moment doesn’t occur there. Rather, in a much earlier scene (within the seeming reality) Chuck and Lorna stand on the coast. It’s a stormy night, and the waves whip across the rocky shore. Chuck stands a couple yards back, dressed in a black uniform, passive, detached. Lorna stands next to the water, in a white gown, distant, despondent. Chuck asks her, “Is there anything I can do?” “Yes, make it four years ago,” she responds, “if you can’t do that, just look the other way.” And, as in response, as if willing a change in his own narrative world, we cut to a similarly conspicuous series of superimposed fades, of the roaring waves. When we cut back, we meet the pair again, in the same setting. But it is calm. Chuck no longer seems passive and detached to Lorna, but close to her, standing right next to her this time. Lorna is no longer despondent, but almost happy. She’s even dressed in black, linking her with Chuck Scott. Their professional detachment seems to have given way to personal confidence. Lorna’s helplessness in the former scene has been replaced by a boldness; she devises their scheme to escape to Havana. Once again, one can read this literally, the series of waves being a simple passage of time. But both superimposed montages are so conspicuous, and conspicuously similar, that one can’t help but connect them. The earlier montage creates such a sharp break in the narrative trajectory and in the behavior of the characters, that it would seem the most logical place for a dream to begin, even as the latter montage says otherwise.

One of the major elements of the film is the extension of oneiric beyond the middle segment, the only place that should logically be oneiric. But the film isn’t simply fixated on the dream as a psychoanalytical phenomenon; it also takes up the dream as a metaphysical one. And if metaphysics considers time as a continuous loop, in the film, dreams are an embodiment of that loop. For the films other fixation is the predetermination of fate. This is clear from the opening scene, no less dreamy than what arrives later, where Chuck Scott passively follows a wallet in to the Roman mansion and a new career. Eddie Roman’s race with the train is another example of those trying to fight against and conquer an uncertain fate. If in the film noir, the future is uncertain and unknown, here Ripley plays with the idea. It begins as such, but through the dream, Chuck Scott is made away of the trajectory of fate. Look at the later “replay” of the race against the train, the death of Eddie Roman and Gino: it is once again dreamlike, too convenient and unmotivated to seem like objective reality. Yet, Chuck Scott, having gained knowledge about the future, and aware of Eddie Roman’s continuous tempting of fate, almost wills the crash, just as he wills the transformation on the beach. With his knowledge, he begins reshaping the predetermined fate, that is, the predetermined narrative trajectory. His rescue of Lorna Roman continues this idea of persistent dreamlike atmosphere, so unabashedly romantic and operatic that it seems like the dream itself is continuing. And this becomes clear with its final scene, in front of the same Havana club, in the same carriage, which preceded Lorna’s death, and the consummation of the tragedy. We also have reached the point where, Eddie and Gino being dead, Chuck Scott’ knowledge of the predetermined future ends. With it, he has seized control of the narrative, but ultimately, was only able to make some minor changes, its basic trajectory repeating itself, the loop continuing on. The film ends just as Chuck and Lorna reenter the uncertainty of the future.

The aforementioned scene in Voice in the Wind seemed to establish the struggle between El Hombre/Marya and the thieves/Nazi as one between lovers and enemies of the world, an eternal struggle as old as time. The Chase continues this thought by representing Chuck/Lorna’s fight against Eddie/Gino as another chapter in this eternal struggle, so eternal that it continuously repeats itself within the film. Chuck Scott’s amnesia gives him the chance to walk away with a clean slate, but he decides to continue the loop, risking becoming one of the “good” of Shelley’s poem, who “die first.” Chuck Scott and Lorna manage to break the cycle of tragedy, but they reenter the Havana night with no knowledge of what’s to come. This new cycle will run its course, perhaps happily, perhaps tragically, but one sense’s they have gained enough experience to put up a fight. The Chase is one of the great anomalies of film noir: it traffics in a world of impending death, sexual guilt and paranoia that is of a piece with the darkest end of the genre. Yet, through this dark night of the soul travels an unabashedly romantic and anarchic spirit. This is Arthur Ripley’s spirit, and it should have had a long, brilliant career.

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

Posted: Tue Dec 14, 2010 7:59 pm
by Murdoch
Brilliant write-up, The Chase (along with The Thief) was the anomaly of my list-compiling experience. The film's structure is most interesting since a definite reality is never presented to ground Scott's nightmare in, the first act presents us with what appears to be the real but upon Scott's return to that "reality" - if he is indeed engaging with the same world and not some other peripheral existence - we are presented with an all-too-quick succession of events as the bad guys are nicely taken care of and the two lovers once again elope, the repeated image of the lovers in each other's arms a visual cue to the unreality of the moment. I like the idea of Scott stuck in a purgatorial loop, that the film is a mere glimpse of Scott's illusory existence and he forever stumbles upon some device (this time a wallet) to lead him down the same ill road. And now I regret not putting it higher up on my list...

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

Posted: Tue Dec 14, 2010 8:16 pm
by Yojimbo
I note Steve Cochran is in that, also; for a relatively little-known actor he made some very interesting choices.
Aprt from this and 'Tomorrow...', he also starred in my fave Antonioni, 'Il Grido', and another fave noir of mine, 'Private Hell 36', which made my list.

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

Posted: Tue Dec 14, 2010 9:35 pm
by domino harvey

01 Out of the Past (Jacques Tourneur 1947) 483
02 Kiss Me Deadly (Robert Aldrich 1955) 434
03 Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder 1944) 382
04 In a Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray 1950) 381
05 Touch of Evil (Orson Welles 1958) 351
06 Night and the City (Jules Dassin 1950) 320
07 Nightmare Alley (Edmund Goulding 1947) 304
08 the Lady From Shanghai (Orson Welles 1947) 298
09 Scarlet Street (Fritz Lang 1945) 297
10 the Big Heat (Fritz Lang 1953) 294

11 Force of Evil (Abraham Polonsky 1948) 282
12 Gun Crazy (Joseph H Lewis 1949) 280
13 Detour (Edgar G Ulmer 1945) 273
14 the Killers (Robert Siodmak 1946) 252
16 the Big Sleep (Howard Hawks 1946) 244
16 They Live By Night (Nicholas Ray 1949) 244
17 Raw Deal (Anthony Mann 1948) 242
18 the Killing (Stanley Kubrick 1956) 236
19 Thieves' Highway (Jules Dassin 1949) 212
20 Crime Wave (Andre de Toth 1954) 205

21 the Asphalt Jungle (John Huston 1950) 203
22 On Dangerous Ground (Nicholas Ray 1952) 200
23 Pickup on South Street (Samuel Fuller 1953) 198
24 the Maltese Falcon (John Huston 1941) 187
25 Act of Violence (Fred Zinnemann 1948) 177
26 Laura (Otto Preminger 1944) 175
27 Sweet Smell of Success (Alexander Mackendrick 1957) 171
28 Ace in the Hole (Billy Wilder 1951) 162
29 Angel Face (Otto Preminger 1950) 160

31 Criss Cross (Robert Siodmak 1949) 150
31 the Reckless Moment (Max Ophuls 1949) 150
32 the Set-Up (Robert Wise 1949) 149
33 the Hitch-Hiker (Ida Lupino 1953) 147
34 Dark Passage (Delmer Daves 1947) 146
35 Where the Sidewalk Ends (Otto Preminger 1950) 141
36 Sunset Blvd (Billy Wilder 1950) 137
37 T-Men (Anthony Mann 1947) 135
38 the Lineup (Don Siegal 1958)

41 Kansas City Confidential (Phil Karlson 1952) 124
41 the Prowler (Joseph Losey 1951) 124
41 the Third Man (Carol Reed 1949) 124
42 Strangers on a Train (Alfred Hitchcock 1951) 123
43 Border Incident (Anthony Mann 1949) 121
44 He Walked By Night (Alfred J Werker 1948) 120
45 Murder, My Sweet (Edward Dmytryk 1944) 118
46 Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton 1955) 117
47 the Big Combo (Joseph H Lewis 1955) 114
48 99 River Street (Phil Karlson 1953) 107
49 A Kiss Before Dying (Gerd Oswald 1956) 106
50 Slightly Scarlet (Allan Dwan 1956) 102

51 Pitfall (Andre de Toth 1948) 101
52 the Blue Gardenia (Fritz Lang 1953) 100
53 Ride the Pink Horse (Robert Montgomery 1947) 99
54 Gilda (Charles Vidor 1946) 97
56 Brute Force (Jules Dassin 1947) 94
56 Human Desire (Fritz Lang 1954) 94
57 Murder by Contract (Irving Lerner 1958) 93
58 Shockproof (Douglas Sirk 1949) 92
59 Armored Car Robbery (Richard Fleischer 1950) 88

62 He Ran All the Way (John Berry 1951) 87
62 Fallen Angel (Otto Preminger 1945) 87
62 Shadow of a Doubt (Alfred Hitchcock 1943) 87
63 the Narrow Margin (Richard Fleischer 1952) 86
64 the Blue Dahlia (George Marshall 1946) 84
65 Underworld USA (Samuel Fuller 1961) 82
66 Hollow Triumph / the Scar (Steve Sekely 1948) 81
68 Kiss of Death (Henry Hathaway 1947) 79
68 Leave Her to Heaven (John Dahl 1945) 79
69 the Postman Always Rings Twice (Tay Garnett 1946) 78

71 the Phenix City Story (Phil Karlson 1955) 77
71 the Seventh Victim (Mark Robson 1943) 77
72 Chinatown (Roman Polanski 1974) 76
74 Caged (John Cromwell 1950) 73
74 the Naked Kiss (Samuel Fuller 1964) 73
75 Side Street (Anthony Mann 1950) 72
77 Where Danger Lives (John Farrow 1950) 70
77 Whirlpool (Otto Preminger 1949) 70
78 Tomorrow is Another Day (Felix Feist 1951) 68
79 White Heat (Raoul Walsh 1949) 66

81 Moonrise (Frank Borzage 1948) 65
81 the Thief (Russell Rouse 1952) 65
83 Crossfire (Edward Dmytryk 1947) 64
83 Somewhere in the Night (Joseph L Mankiewicz 1946) 64
87 the Chase (Arthur Ripley 1946) 63
87 DOA (Rudolph Mate 1950) 63
87 the Sniper (Edward Dmytryk 1952) 63
87 the Woman on the Beach (Jean Renoir 1947) 63
88 the Woman in the Window (Fritz Lang 1944) 61
89 the Tall Target (Anthony Mann 1951) 58
90 Woman on the Run (Norman Foster 1950) 57

92 the Big Steal (Don Siegal 1949) 55
92 the Spiral Staircase (Robert Siodmak 1946) 55
93 the Racket (John Cromwell 1951) 52
94 the Long Goodbye (Robert Altman 1973) 51
95 Body and Soul (Robert Rossen 1945) 49
96 Phantom Lady (Robert Siodmak 1944) 47
99 Detective Story (William Wyler 1951) 46
99 Nightfall (Jacques Tourneur 1957) 46
99 Panic in the Streets (Elia Kazan 1950) 46
100 Mr Arkadin (Orson Welles 1955) 45

Key to color codes:
On every submitted list
On every submitted list but one
On every submitted list but two
On every submitted list but three

To paraphrase Robert Mitchum, Out of the Past may not have been any member's number one pick for best noir, but it comes the closest

ALSO RANS (two or more members voting, in descending order)
High Sierra, the Window, the Unsuspected, the Dark Corner, This Gun For Hire, the Glass Key, the Lady in the Lake, Born to Kill, Private Hell 36, Secret Beyond the Door, the Burglar, Railroaded!, the Strange Love of Martha Ivers, the Amazing Mr X, Dead Reckoning, the Big Clock, Pushover, Boomerang!, Mildred Pierce, Cape Fear, Decoy

ORPHANS (only one member's vote, in alphabetical order)
Between Midnight and Dawn, Beware My Lovely, the Big Night, Black Angel, Black Tuesday, Blues in the Night, Brainstorm, the Breaking Point, the Bribe, the Brothers Rico, Call Northside 777, Caught, the Crooked Way, Cry Danger, Damnation, Deadline USA, Desert Fury, Desperate, the Desperate Hours, the Devil Thumbs a Ride, Diabolique, Dial 119, Dragonwyck, Drive a Crooked Road, Drunken Angel, the Enforcer, Farewell My Lovely, Fear In the Night, the File on Thelma Jordan, Fury, the Gangster, High and Low, His Kind of Woman, House of Bamboo, House of Strangers, Impact, I Walk Alone, Johnny Angel, Juke Girl, the Kill-Off, La Bete Humaine, Lady Without Passport, Le Jour se leve, the Long Night, M, Macao, the Man From London, the Manchurian Candidate, Memento, Mickey One, the Naked City, Night Moves, Notorious, Odd Man Out, Odds Against Tomorrow, Ossesione, Out of the Fog, Party Girl, Pickup, Pickpocket, Point Blank, Possessed, Pursued, Reign of Terror, Riffifi, the Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond, Road House, Roadblock, Rogue Cop, Scandal Sheet, the Scarf, Seconds, Serie noir, 711 Ocean Drive, the Shanghai Gesture, Shield For Murder, So Dark the Night, the Sound of Fury, Split Second, Strange Impersonation, the Street With No Name, the Suspect, Suspense, Taxi Driver, Tension, They Made Me a Fugitive, Touchez pas au grisbi, Two of a Kind, the Underworld Story, Union Station, the Verdict, Vertigo, the Woman on Pier 13, You Only Live Once

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

Posted: Tue Dec 14, 2010 9:43 pm
by Tribe
Domino, from the hints you dropped, I was expecting an entirely unique Hot Hundred. But this appears to me a pretty standard and canonical list, no surprises here. Maybe I was reading way too much into your previous posts. Not quibbling with it in the least, mind you.

EDIT: Also, the only non-American noir is The Third Man...seems like the vast bulk of those submitting lists limited their picks to American productions. I don't agree, but there are certainly well-supported grounds for doing so. The same goes for post-50s noirs...very, very few from just a glance.

EDIT: One surprise (for me)...only one vote for Point Blank (which I think was me).

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

Posted: Tue Dec 14, 2010 9:54 pm
by Yojimbo
Initial thoughts: pleased to see 'Nightmare Alley' feature so high, although somewhat surprised 'Detour' didn't make the Top 10.
Nice, also, to see 'They Live By Night' and 'Raw Deal feature in the Top 20.
I almost resorted to flipping a coin when trying to decide between 'Double Indemnity' and 'Out of the Past' for my 'Numero Uno', until I settled on the former, which hasn't lost its appeal over considerably more viewings.

Disappointed 'Pushover' didn't make it: that was possibly the most wonderful discovery of the many wonderful discoveries of the two Sony noir box-sets and one I'm looking forward to re-watching.

Thanks to you, dom, and your crack team of compilers
I demand a recount! :D

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

Posted: Tue Dec 14, 2010 10:02 pm
by Yojimbo
Am I the person with the most 'orphans'?
I recognise a lot of my 'babies', there!

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

Posted: Tue Dec 14, 2010 10:08 pm
by Murdoch
Four of mine didn't make it (High Sierra, the Unsuspected, the Amazing Mr X, Cape Fear). And there were quite a few on the main list I regrettably never got to, only saw seven of the bottom twenty.

And how did so many see The Prowler? I thought there was no release of it available.

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

Posted: Tue Dec 14, 2010 10:13 pm
by domino harvey
I've seen 82 of the Top 100, and the number of unseen will hopefully go down a bit. A couple titles I remembered I'd forgotten while tallying wouldn't have made much difference (Whoops, I Wake Up Screaming!) and most of my unwatched pile was likewise in no danger of being counted for anything but another spot with the Orphans

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

Posted: Tue Dec 14, 2010 10:25 pm
by Yojimbo
Murdoch wrote:Four of mine didn't make it (High Sierra, the Unsuspected, the Amazing Mr X, Cape Fear). And there were quite a few on the main list I regrettably never got to, only saw seven of the bottom twenty.

And how did so many see The Prowler? I thought there was no release of it available.
I taped my VHS copy from a BBC2 'Videodrome' season of some 20 years ago, presented by filmmaker Alex Cox ('Repo Man', etc).
I converted it into a DVD-R, although the VHS copy is better quality

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

Posted: Tue Dec 14, 2010 10:25 pm
by knives
I can count ten orphans, but most of those were never going to get an other vote so I'm happy for their listing. Limited myself to just one foreign and neo (though I guess you could count Seconds as neo). Really wish I hadn't missed all, what was it ten, showings The Prowler's had recently. Guess I'll definitely have to pick up that DVD.

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

Posted: Tue Dec 14, 2010 10:39 pm
by Yojimbo
knives wrote:I can count ten orphans, but most of those were never going to get an other vote so I'm happy for their listing. Limited myself to just one foreign and neo (though I guess you could count Seconds as neo). Really wish I hadn't missed all, what was it ten, showings The Prowler's had recently. Guess I'll definitely have to pick up that DVD.
I think I had more foreign language than colour noir; it wasn't a conscious effort on my part to be eclectic, necessarily, just a case of evaluating noir 'essence' and 'spirit' as well as period and the Expressionism influence.

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

Posted: Tue Dec 14, 2010 11:12 pm
by swo17
I've already given my heart to the decades projects, but I greatly appreciate the efforts of everyone who participated here, and intend to use this thread as a resource during the '40s and '50s lists. Thanks!

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

Posted: Wed Dec 15, 2010 6:47 am
by Cold Bishop
Three out of ten for the top 10. Seven out of twenty for the top 20.

Four also-rans. Eight orphans (two of them top 5 ranked). That's what I get for voting foreign.

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

Posted: Wed Dec 15, 2010 11:42 am
by souvenir
I guess I was the only one who considers Notorious to be film noir. Also wondering who else voted for The Burglar.

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

Posted: Wed Dec 15, 2010 1:42 pm
by Yojimbo
Cold Bishop wrote:Three out of ten for the top 10. Seven out of twenty for the top 20.

Four also-rans. Eight orphans (two of them top 5 ranked). That's what I get for voting foreign.
I had seven foreign, and five colour noir, excluding the foreign.
Two of the Top Ten didn't make my 50, even though I've seen both on two occasions

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

Posted: Wed Dec 15, 2010 1:42 pm
by Murdoch
Notorious just barely fell off my list, but it was on it for a while as a sort of placeholder until I saw something "more noir." Hitchcock is just a strange case of having his own distinct genre of filmmaking that it feels weird to confine his films to a single genre, especially one so odd as noir. Strangers on a Train made mine since it feels the most noir of all Hitch's films, but even there I hesitate to go all-out and declare it noir.

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

Posted: Wed Dec 15, 2010 1:53 pm
by Yojimbo
Murdoch wrote:Notorious just barely fell off my list, but it was on it for a while as a sort of placeholder until I saw something "more noir." Hitchcock is just a strange case of having his own distinct genre of filmmaking that it feels weird to confine his films to a single genre, especially one so odd as noir. Strangers on a Train made mine since it feels the most noir of all Hitch's films, but even there I hesitate to go all-out and declare it noir.
I pondered about including 'Strangers on a Train', and even 'The Wrong Man', but then I decided that Hitch, even with his Lang influences, is a distinct and separate animal.

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

Posted: Wed Dec 15, 2010 3:35 pm
by the preacher
I chose 50 American films between 1940 and 1960 to make the exercise easier, but I love criminal foreign films too (from O Drakos to Bob le flambeur, the list could have been very different).

I've seen all but 3:
A Kiss Before Dying (Gerd Oswald 1956): Only seen the (heavily edited) Spanish version.
Tomorrow is Another Day (Felix Feist 1951): I have taken good note of your recommendation.
the Thief (Russell Rouse 1952): No dialog, eh?

Glad to see unfairly neglected The Woman on the Beach make the list.

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

Posted: Sun Jan 09, 2011 12:57 am
by domino harvey
My personal Top Ten, plus orphans:

01 Tomorrow Is Another Day
02 Kiss Me Deadly
03 Whirlpool
04 A Kiss Before Dying
05 the Blue Dahlia
06 Out of the Past
07 the Blue Gardenia
08 Odd Man Out
09 Night and the City
10 Caged

12 Two of a Kind
13 Union Station
23 The Suspect
35 Impact
36 the Devil Thumbs a Ride
39 Dragonwyck
41 Split Second
42 Juke Girl
48 Suspense
49 the Desperate Hours

Also, since this list was compiled, I saw Sudden Fear, which proved once again that Jack Palance just can't act, with the exception of one small part in the film where he flips out on Gloria Grahame. So I could definitely believe him as some guy who could beat the crap out of me unless I made him a movie star. This movie is ridiculous but the good news is that silent pictures apparently didn't leave us after all based on some of the more let's say emotive facial work from Joan Crawford here.

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

Posted: Sun Jan 09, 2011 3:57 am
by Cold Bishop
I like him in Attack.

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

Posted: Tue Jan 11, 2011 12:44 am
by Murdoch
I've been going through some more of my noir kevyip and finally got around to I Wake Up Screaming, which I've wanted to see ever since the beginning of the list but always found myself popping something else in instead. I regret not having watched it sooner since it was definitely list-worthy if only for Laird Cregar who to me perfectly embodies everything that noir is. A policeman who has so far removed himself from justice that he just doesn't care about anything around him, he's almost a nihilist if not for his love for Landis. The way he somberly stalks through the film taunting Mature he has the presence of a ghost shadowing Mature's every move. Unlike so many other corrupt cops who sneer and are caught off-guard by their inevitable comeuppance Cregar's Cornell possesses an underlying knowledge of his fate, fighting against it by framing Mature yet accepting of his dismal situation. He's given what I think is noir's greatest line ever uttered when Grable asks him "what's the good of living without hope?" to which he mutters, "It can be done."

Without his character the film wouldn't nearly possess the same draw for me, despite Cronjager's beautiful photography and an inspired use of an instrumental "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," but with the character it certainly would have made the top half of my list. I guess I should be watching westerns by now, but dammit I'm too far behind in my noirs!

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

Posted: Sat Jan 22, 2011 8:00 am
by Cold Bishop
Pitfall (Andre De Toth, 1948)

From the opening scenes of Pitfall, one wouldn’t be faulted for thinking that they were in for a typical film noir. We have the insurance agent, married, bored, restless, who is given an assignment: to recover the stolen money from an embezzlement case, retrieving the ill-gotten goods from the very woman they were stolen for. She’s a model, easy on the eyes and charming personality, all with a bad reputation. According to the laws of noir: pure trouble. Nonetheless, he’s smitten with her, he falls for her, he begins an affair, he even begins to falsify his reports for her. To compound the generic qualities of this, let’s look at the leads: Lizabeth Scott as Mona Stevens, “The Threat” herself, fresh off her b-girl turns in I Walk Alone, Desert Fury and Dead Reckoning. Dick Powell as John Forbes, Hollywood’s newly minted tough-guy king and once-upon-a-time also-ran for the role of Walter Neff (about the only star who actually wanted the role). Notice the last fact, and one could be forgiven for thinking they were watching a retread of Double Indemnity’s mix of insurance, sex and murder. Perhaps, in these hands, that film would be worth watching, but this is not the film that André De Toth chose to make. For Pitfall is anything but a typical film noir.

De Toth’s guiding principle in Hollywood was the search for truth. “I shoot the clean, dirty truth,” he once said, and it’s the motive that drove his career, from his early realist melodramas in Hungary, to the blood and sand of Play Dirty. Crime Wave puts us into the backseat of crime, a photorealistic tour through a world of inky blacks, harsh whites and murky characters. Here, De Toth tones down the stylization; he makes some wonderful location use of L.A. (and like that film, eschewing the typical locales), and his trademark violence punctuates the film (punches rarely land harder than in a De Toth film, and a simple fistfight is enough to put a character out of commission for a week), but the moments of visual ingenuity are handed out more deliberately, and the film is lensed in a largely “invisible” style unlike that of Crime Wave. But what distinguishes these two films as De Toth films is the human element: his talent working with actors, his ability to flesh-out and empathize with his characters, to carefully examine their murky relationships to one another. Hollywood’s grittiest, most social-realist films are still larger-than-life; De Toth’s talent is pinpointing and extracting that which is life-size within the given material. One thinks of film noir in the mode of In a Lonely Place, where the genre material (the thriller narrative) barely holds together what is in fact a small, intimate character study. The plot of the film makes one expect a convoluted, duplicitous tale of adultery, obsession and blackmail, in the spirit of Double Indemnity or Fallen Angel. But De Toth keeps the plot very simple, almost bare-bones for this style of film. While many films (including very many of the greatest film noirs) embrace the pulp and luridness of the material, De Toth doesn’t allow it to overpower the “reality” of his narrative. Even when the surface of the film is at its most derivative, the characterizations are complex and ambiguous. This is a domestic noir, pointing to the likes of The Reckless Moment, Act of Violence and Crimes of Passion. But this is a domestic noir that often feels like a straight domestic melodrama (pointing to Douglas Sirk), with only the occasional splash of crime and perversity bringing it back home, and where the scenes of domesticity are filled with as much complexity, incident and conflict as the noir elements that attempt to invade the home. This complexity stems from its ability to wrestle with an America dealing with demobilization, as the tumult of the war-era gives way to an anticlimactic complacency in the suburbs, and as its characters clash with the new expectation of patriarchal normality. This is a film that captures the social malaise of the middle-class, its boredom, its repression, its castrated masculinity. But its real strength comes in its double-edged observations, its ability to also capture and sympathize with the very fears and aspirations that drove people into suburbia and domesticity in mass.

De Toth’s talent with actors immediately shines through in his work with Dick Powell. This was his third noir, after Murder, My Sweet, Cornered and Johnny O’Clock. It is also his best. For all those films' merits, there was a certain sense of unease in Powell’s performances, a sense of over-compensation: the once-young dapper crooner, now middle-aged, trying to remake himself as a cynical, wisecracking tough-guy. He at times went over-the-top or one-note, and even when in the groove of the persona, small gestures would occasionally serve to disrupt the façade: his too-straight posture, the romcom sweetness hiding behind his sarcastic smirk. Which isn’t to say he was bad; he was more on than off, and sometimes it worked in his favor (he captures the vulnerability of Marlowe in a way the always-cool Bogart doesn’t), but that simply, there was an inherent buttoned-up respectability to Powell which conflicted with his macho persona. But here, a weakness becomes a strength. Here, Dick Powell is not a wisecracking, tough-guy. He’s a bored (and slightly boring) middle-class father and husband playing the role of a wisecracking tough-guy, propelled by a drama of infidelity of his own making. Just as Powell can’t escape his straight-laced congeniality, neither can his John Forbes completely pull himself from his middle-class lifestyle, scrambling to hold it together. Some may posit a touch of retribution in Powell’s choice to take this role, to restage that once coveted role of Walter Neff lost to studio politics. But there’s a world of difference between the two characters, despite their similar occupations and dilemmas. Film noir often posits that an average man, through one simple mistake, can find himself tumbling towards doom. But that fall from grace is always a fall from normalcy, respectability as defined by the middle class, towards the crime and violence of the underworld. As such, through monstrous greed and lust, Neff goes from a working stiff to a conspirator in murder, quickly leaping from normalcy into the lower depths, a sharp and irreparable transgression against decent society. Here, instead, the film's titular pitfalls are found within the very fabric of normal society, small (though no less significant) moments of weakness that could seemingly effect the most decent of human beings. John Forbes always remains an (imperfect and deeply flawed) object of middle-class identification and empathy, and De Toth’s always carefully keeps the sensationalistic incidents of the narrative carefully proportioned to the dimensions of the human drama.

Luckily, De Toth is generous with those dimensions. While there’s enough material in the Powell/Forbes character for a film to itself – masculinity stifling under post-war domesticity – this as much a film about Lizabeth Scott’s Mona Stevens. Much like De Toth’s use of Powell, you could call it typecasting-against-type, simultaneously playing up and tearing down her screen persona. For Scott is nothing less than “The Threat”, perhaps the first Hollywood starlet manufactured exclusively as a femme fatale. Even the advertising for this film played up this persona, with such taglines as “A man can be as strong as steel...but somewhere there's a woman who'll break him!” and “With the wrong woman to show you how, it doesn’t take long to go from this… to the fatal fury of Pitfall!” Yet if the film initially presents Scott as a potentially dangerous woman, it spends the rest of the film qualifying and destroying her identity as a femme fatale. This film embraces all those qualities which Dead Reckoning attempted to deny – her look of hard-worn experience, her calloused fragility, manifested in her frayed beauty and graveled voice – while rejecting that film’s reactionary misogyny. If the film is double-edged in its look at middle-class domesticity, both criticizing it and attempting to understand its justification, it does this by looking at both sides of the post-war experience. For Mona Stevens is John Forbes’ double, representing everything he’s not in gender (male/female), economics (successful agent/struggling model), social status (husband, patriarch/single and looking for love). Simply put, she’s the other side of the post-war experience. While the film makes clear that Forbes remained home during the war years, it's easy to read in his character all the unease and dashed hopes of the war generation: men, in their twenties to early thirties, who in a short burst of time was faced with a great tumult and momentum in the war, and then suddenly faced with a remaining life of quiet domesticity and labor that could only seem anti-climatic in comparison. Likewise, Scott’s character represent those women who tasted, in that same short span, a level of autonomy and independence that quickly receded during demobilization. But Scott is emblematic of those who didn’t, or weren’t able, to retreat back into domesticity, who didn’t marry as the soldiers returned home, and who now find themselves in a social position that is quickly becoming more and more antagonistic to dominant society. Scott once described Mona Stevens as a character who when she decided to love “she really loved truthfully, she really loved with enormous heart.” But she happens to love the wrong men. Far from the manipulative and vindictive femme fatale, the film follows Mona Stevens through a succession of men who continually – intentional or not – miscomprehend and exploit her position as a single woman in the post-war era.

Much like They Made Me a Fugitive, you could call the film a “woman’s nightmare”, describing the way a woman is ensnared and undone by the men around her. For what Mona Stevens contends with in this film is the rise of the post-war male. John Forbes is the new middle-class ideal, a successful, suburban patriarch. He goes slumming in Lizabeth Scott’s world, but at the end of the day, he returns home to his career and family. Steven’s former beau, Bill Smiley, is almost a frustrated, embryonic mirror image of Forbes successful family man: he doesn’t have the family or success, so he clings to Stevens with a jealous intensity, and his ambitious ultimately leaves him jailed in an embezzlement scheme. And then there’s MacDonald. If Mona Stevens is the female on the other side of the suburban divide, then MacDonald represents the male, and acts as Forbes’s masculine double. Forbes represents middle-class respectability: the suburbs, a successful career, a loving family, normalcy. MacDonald, on the other hand, belongs to the city; while not a criminal, his seedy profession grounds him into the underbelly of society; and he makes no apology for his obsessive desires, nor hesitates in satiating them. He gives vent to all those qualities which it is necessary for the suburban Forbes to repress: his violence, his perversity, his anti-social autonomy.

If Scott loves her men “truthfully”, they don’t return the sentiment. There is a selfishness to their end of the relationship, they objectify her, turn her into a blank canvass on which they hang their own desires and frustrations… and when the relationship turns sour, they allow her to become an object of condemnation. For Forbes, she’s a vacation from his hum-drum routine life. From the opening of the film, he’s itching to break away from his bourgeois home ("Sometimes I get to feel like wheel within a wheel within a wheel..."), and Stevens is there at the right place and the right time. We feel as if it wasn’t her, it would have been another woman. Though she initiates the breakup, and Forbes return to his family, Forbes desire to preserve his family and hide his affair precipitates her downfall. While Smiley stole for her, she claims she never asked for those things. When he’s released, he hangs it over her head ("For you... don't tell me you did this for me"), and it's as if he’s using her to justify his own ambitious greed. When he springs into a murderous, jealous rage, the sexual rivalry seems an excuse to vent his own anger and frustration, his wounded masculinity in the face of prison and Forbes’s seduction. The egotism implicit in their actions becomes explicit in MacDonald, who knows exactly what he wants from Stevens, and pulls no punches to get it. He’s not interested in marriage, like Smiley, nor does he exhibit the tenderness of Forbes; he makes it clear he wants to possess her. On first sight, he claims her as his own. For him, “no” means “push harder”, and if he pushes hard enough, she’ll submit. He’s the chauvinist, hyper-masculine side of the post-war male, and he’s not against using intimidation, blackmail and violence against her to make her his. “Smiley didn't have the nerve, and Forbes didn't have the chance. So, it's me you end up with.” She’s an object, a reward that’s entitled to him, a prize to be won against rival suitors, a trophy to his ego, proving he’s the bigger, stronger man. Nowhere is this clearer than the dressing-room scene, anticipating Vertigo by a decade. Mona Stevens works as a showroom model. MacDonald visits her, forcing her to model for him, going to her management when she refuses. De Toth one-ups Hitchcock, turning this moment of possession and control into a genuine moment of sexual violation. As a man and a paying customer, he uses her sexual and economic vulnerability to force her to perform and expose herself to him. He takes in each new dress, each new posture, each turn, with that obscene, predatory gaze that barely hides the illicit desires flickering under those dark eyes, and which he seems more than capable of fulfilling.

For a follower of the genre, Raymond Burr emerges as the Eternal Creep of Film Noir, and his MacDonald doesn’t disappoint. Before we even see him, characters refer to him as “Gruesome”, and our first glance at him is the word made manifest. He hunches over in his chair as if his very spinal curvature was deviant, and his dark, bulky frame sticks out in Forbes office like a scorpion in a fishbowl. Hunched over, his heavy trenchcoat and fedora seems to hide an anthology of pathological perversities which they can barely contain. De Toth liked to gloat that he chose the then-unknown Burr over Humphrey Bogart for the role, and our first impression makes us believe it’s the right choice. Yet if we consider that possibility – Bogart as MacDonald – we get a very important key in approaching the film, especially in view of De Toth’s technique of typecasting-against-type. For what baggage would the Bogart persona have brought to the role? Ignoring his early roles and the occasional turn in a film like Conflict, Bogart had at this point established himself as the quintessential noir hero, Powell’s major rival as the sardonic, hard-boiled tough guy par excellence, and unlike Powell, a person for whom the role came effortlessly. He was also the quintessential private eye, as occupation he shares with the character of MacDonald, right down to the uniform of trenchcoat and fedora. In this world of domestic noir, that great symbol of pure noir sticks out like a sore thumb, like MacDonald in Forbes's respectable office. But not only does MacDonald posses the occupation and attire of the “errant knights” of film noir, but he contains all the violence and perversions of the noir heavy – as typified by Raymond Burr, fresh off his films for Anthony Mann. As such, he possesses the full spectrum of pure noir, that world completely opposed to Forbes world of domesticity. Like Act of Violence, the film’s ability to perceive the cultural clash as America’s war years retreated towards the suburbs is matched by an ability to perceive the markers of genre that weren’t labeled yet. As such, this conflict between masculine doubles is a conflict of demobilization, the domesticity of the fifties against the urbanity of the war-years, film noir versus suburban idyll.

This has lead some to call the film an anti-noir, although I feel it doesn’t do enough justice to the film’s ambiguity towards its suburbs/noir dichotomy. Nonetheless, it documents Forbes very struggle with the cynical, illicit and anti-social behavior that was so prevalent in the post-war years, and which gave birth to film noir, externalized in his affair with femme fatale Mona Stevens and his rivalry with private eye MacDonald. And if his affair is a walk along film noir’s wild side, then his rivalry with MacDonald often has Forbes stooping to his level of violent masculinity. In a film which keeps sensationalism at bay, where incident is parsed out carefully and judiciously, it is not surprising that the most violent and momentous moments of the film, the major impasses in its narrative, all concern Forbes playing MacDonald’s game of noir toughness:

1) When MacDonald catches wind of Forbes’s own affair with Mona Stevens, he ambushes him in his driveway, delivering a violent beating. Far from the refuge from the city it's suppose to be, Forbes own home finds itself invaded with the violence of MacDonalds’ city, his double-life threatening to break through the divide. Not only is it a personal attack against Forbes, but it subverts his role as the family patriarch. Found in the driveway, and in bed for a week, the wounds are presented fully to his wife and son, revealing his vulnerability to them, and especially his son, who seems disturbed by the fact that anyone could beat his father in a fight. If the emasculating atmosphere of the domestic home drove Forbes to an affair, it is with irony that this affair leads to him being emasculated in front of that family.

2) When Mona Stevens is blackmailed, he goes to Forbes, despite the fact that at this point the affair has ended. Unable and unwilling to take care of the problem through any legitimate means, he uses MacDonald’s own methodology against him. He ambushes MacDonald at his apartment, returning the beating he received earlier. That is, he enters the noir-world of MacDonald, and this point, more than any other, is when John Forbes most resembles the traditional Dick Powell persona. But like Smiley’s crime, the act masks an inherent selfishness; Forbes attacks seems less to do with Stevens than revenge for his emasculation in front of his family. But Forbes makes the mistake of thinking he can dip his toes into MacDonald’s world of masculine violence then revert back to his suburban role. It’s this beating that switches the direction of MacDonald’s machinations, and leads directly the final tragedy of the film.

3) MacDonald drops the blackmail, and turns to manipulating Smiley instead, driving him to murder Forbes, and eliminating both his sexual rivals. Smiley, armed with a gun, attempts to invade the Forbes's home, and Forbes is forced to take a last lonely stand against him, just as his family waits upstairs, completely unaware. In his own way, Smiley is similarly stuck playing the noir tough guy: his grand criminal scheme led him to prison, and now, his jealous rage leads to violence, not much different than Forbes own revenge on MacDonald. Forbes’s double life comes crashing into his home, and he stands in his living dark living room, alone, no longer able to prevent it, holding a gun that he doesn’t want to use. Likewise, Smiley’s murderous rage seems to give way to moments of reluctance and doubt, but he remains driven on by a desire to prove he’s a man. But once again, Forbes desire to unsully his family life prevents him from stopping it; he sneaks up on Smiley and puts a gun to his back, but instead of holding him for the cops (and thus, revealing the incident to his family), he tries to drive him away… but to no avail; Smiley returns and is shot dead. Murder is often handed out in film noir with a startling casualness. Usually, all it takes is one act of bloodshed to precipitate an entire chain, and it usually the act of murder that sets a protagonist off towards his doom. But as mentioned, this is no typical film noir. There is (as far as we are aware) only one murder in this film and it is given a poignancy and sense of remorse that is often lacking from the darker recesses of the genre. It is the weight of that murder, committed in self-defense, which nonetheless drives Forbes to make amends. He comes clean to his wife, and risking the end of his marriage, goes to the police… putting his hands in the very institution that is meant to protect the middle-class, and keep the seediness of the noirscape at bay.

One can see the reactionary tinge to this, John Forbes fighting with, and overcoming, his own noir demons, and emerging a better middle-class patriarch because of it. Yet this is undercut immediately, as the scene of violence in the Forbes home is immediately echoed in Mona Stevens’s narrative climax. MacDonald is in her apartment, and she learns of the incident: her fiancé dead, her former lover certainly facing a murder charge. The investigation is bound to drag her in and ruin her, and MacDonald uses this information to strong-arm her into leaving with him to Mexico, convinced he’s won. Unlike Forbes, she can’t turn to the police; the middle-class society it supports can only damn her. As Forbes is scrambling to save his marriage and salve his own conscience, he seems to have forgotten her, leaving her to the mercy of MacDonald. He even reports the murdered man as a “prowler”, still not entirely willing to let his secret out. There is no last second act of redemption for her, the law can’t protect her. The entire situation leaves her to adopt the role of the violent, vindictive femme fatale that she has spent the entire film desperate to avoid. With the people she loves gone, and all social mores against her, she turns to the barrel of a gun and shoots MacDonald down.

If one want to read the film as an anti-noir, the film’s ending, on its surface, has all the hallmarks of a happy ending. Forbes takes a long walk spanning the entire Los Angeles night, ending at City Hall. There, he confesses the entire sordid affair. He learns that Mona Stevens is being held for attempted murder, MacDonald fighting for his life in a hospital bed. Forbes is admonished for his role in the crime (“Personally, I think we got the wrong person in the cell upstairs”), but as it was self-defense, he gets off with a slap on the wrist. When he walks out, he is surprised to find his wife waiting for him. She threatened to leave him, but has decided to stay for the sake of their son. She is already making plans to move and start anew. So, the patriarchy is restored. The bad girl is punished, with a slight sliver of hope that she’ll get something less the murder. Forbes is shaken up, but allowed to return to his fatherly duties, stronger for the ordeal.

Yet, one must admit that as a happy ending, it is essentially hollow, with a strong undercurrent of cruelty, and loaded with uncertainty. We follow Forbes as he walks through (really, towards) the city, through his confession and his final reunion, capturing every guilt-wracked twinge and remorseful sigh. Yet as mentioned, this is as much Mona Stevens’s story, but here, we find her pushed to the margins of the narrative. Forbes and Mona are even given a chance at a last farewell during this last section when he runs into her being carried away. But there are no sentimental speeches, no teary-eyed close ups; there are no words. The moment lasts a few seconds, a wide shot as they miss eachother exiting separate offices. Forbes sees her, but doesn’t make contact. We don’t even get a decent look at Mona, as the shot plays out with her back to the camera, until she is lead behind a terminal door. After having such an investment in Mona Stevens, to rob us of narrative closure with her comes as cruelty on part of De Toth, an immoral directorial choice even. But this sense of injustice is the very emotion De Toth is trying to invoke, we simply have to know not to direct it at him. If she is pushed to the margins, that's because it is where society places her. “Personally, I think we got the wrong person in the cell upstairs,” is not just a slap on the wrist, but a precise summation of what any sensitive viewer will be feeling. Stevens doesn’t even get the redemption of the Western Whore, her act of murder being a sacrificial act for Forbes and the respectable family. MacDonald may very well live, an unanswered question leaving us completely hanging on her fate, robbing us of even a cathartic sense of justice against MacDonald. And while Forbes is certainly sympathetic to her situation, for the preservation of his own family, he must accept her condemnation in the face of the society, the law and even his wife.

Here, one must give a word to Jane Wyatt as Sue Forbes. Later, the proud matriarch of Father Knows Best, there is a perverse delight seeing her in a role that so critically examines the very institution that series glorified. For a film where Mona Stevens should play the role of the traditional femme fatale, it’s not she who gets the most frightening moment of femininity, but Sue Forbes: upon hearing of the affair, she threatens to leave her husband if he goes to the police with the truth (“You will not drag this family’s name through the dirt.”). But De Toth’s boundless empathy doesn’t allow her to become a mere caricature of shrill frigidity or saintly domesticity. She plays off John Forbes’s childish protestations by humoring him, but De Toth’s camera registers the undercurrent of resentment towards his condescension: John so thoughtlessly putting down everything they’ve built together, the very institution which her identity is built on. The marriage and family is all that's keeping her from being a Mona Stevens, and she doesn't have the convenience of being able to start an adulterous affair; if adultery is a transgression for a male, it's still all too common, while it is unthinkable for a woman, a behavioral extreme that cannot be tolerated. Whether De Toth agrees or disagrees with that social role doesn’t stop him from treating her as an equal, warts and all, to that relationship, even as her husband doesn’t return the same amount of respect. So, what do we see in that final “happy” reunion? Sue Forbes clutching the wheel of the car, laying down the terms of the relationship, eyes intently on the road, unable to look at Forbes, as if the reminder of betrayal could break her resolve. Forbes, passive, submissive, quietly accepts the terms, seated as far from Wyatt as possible in a car seat. There is a definite reversal of power in this relationship; one thinks of a similar ending at the end of L’Avventura – another tale of male eroticism run amok. Likewise, there is ambiguity to this reversal; there is a cruel severity to her terms: their son, Tommy, has been pulled out of school, and she makes it clear that John is to ask for a transfer to another town (further away from the city, deeper into the suburbs), all for the sake of a reputation. From this, it is clear that the affair is not to be spoken of again, there will be no chance for John to intercede on Mona’s behalf. She’ll go down simply as a home-wrecker, a bad memory to be forgotten. The entire affair is to be suppressed, the marriage's future happiness dependent on this repression. And there are no final embraces or kiss between this couple. This reunion’s final words are simply “we’ll try.” Perhaps the happy home can be rebuilt stronger than before. Perhaps it’ll disintegrate in the long run. Perhaps it’ll sustain, but as a marriage of convenience, for the sake of Tommy, bitter resentments underlining the relationship for the rest of its days.

There is a famous moment in this film a few scenes earlier: the young Tommy awakens screaming from a dream, and John and Sue try to calm him. He’s been reading comic books, and Sue threatens to burn them the very next day. He asks what makes a dream (and nightmare) and John gives a speech, describing the mind as a camera. “The trick is, take only good pictures and have only good dreams.” Here we have apologia for the suburban family, its repression and monotony a fair exchange for its stability, its security against the “bad pictures” of the city and the war era. De Toth sympathizes, but also is aware of its underside: that John Forbes himself can’t follow this advice; that the anxieties of the patriarchy are palpable enough that a young child can notice it; and that the transferring of these anxieties onto external targets (comic books, an adulterous woman) makes it far too easy to ignore the trouble brewing beneath the surface. As Scorsese said, “[I]n De Toth’s movies, there are no happy endings, only ambiguous ones.” He may have been watching this very film, where it takes an adulterous affair for a man to learn the true worth of his middle-class family, and where a sad, affectionate woman is undone by raging masculinity and suburban piety. Where De Toth is not interested in either condemning or glorifying the middle-class home, but to understand it, examining America standing on the border of noir and suburbia, two responses to the same disillusionment.