Film Noir Journals

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Re: Film Noir Journals

Postby wpqx » Mon Apr 03, 2006 11:28 pm

Sunset Boulevard (1950) - Billy Wilder

Ah what greatness lies in the old Hollywood. For many, including myself at one time, this was the finest Billy Wilder film, and still the champ of Hollywood on Hollywood pictures. It was perhaps Wilders harshest satire, full of his cruelest inside jokes. It is also the film that stands on both ends of nearly every issue. Everything in Sunset Boulevard is ironic, and it is from that which gives forth its greatest attribute.
After kicking around as a screenwriter for several years, Billy Wilder made a name as a director with Double Indemnity (1944) and the Oscar winning Lost Weekend (1945). He followed these with a few more less significant but still profitable films. His studio of the day, Paramount gave him all the room necessary to make this project. Had Wilder not been a critical and commercial success in the past, this picture would have probably never seen the day.
It was one of a string of Wilder and Charles Brackett collaborations. The two had written screenplays in the past for Ernst Lubitsch and Howard Hawks among others, and had co-written all of their own pictures. Brackett served as producer while Wilder directed, very Coen brothers. Although one doesnt usually find too many Brackett supporters claiming he was really a co-director, and there has been no evidence brought to my attention as of yet to prove that. They werent alone this time though, as additional writing was done by D. M. Marshman. Like Casablanca (1942) which also benefited from numerous writers so does this. It is almost impossible to tell who wrote what, but it all works. I feel that perhaps there was some inside competition, hence the reason for so very much brilliant dialogue.
In terms of dialogue, this has no doubt earned comparisons to Joseph Mankiewicz All About Eve (1950). Both films were made the same year, and both expose the underside of their respected art forms, movies here and the stage in Eve. Both films have been known for their ingenious writing, but whereas Mankiewicz was somewhat limited as a director, Wilder is not. His films are full of that precision associated with only the finest perfectionists. Ironic in more than one way to cast Erich Von Stroheim, whose perfectionism was notorious. Eve may have won the Oscar, but for many this will always be the better picture.
The other more noticeable irony with Stroheim is that he plays a former director. A cruel joke after the near totalitarian control he exacted on his films. Unlike Wilder though, he had no commercial success, which forced his directing days to be put to rest by the end of the twenties. He did find success as an actor, with his other most notable success coming from Jean Renoirs the Grand Illusion (1937), where he played an aristocratic German soldier in charge of a prisoner of war camp. There is also the film of Gloria Swansons that they watch, Queen Kelly (1928) , a never finished flop directed by Stroheim.
Perhaps the only complaint may be in who the hero or heroine is. My heart was with William Holdens Joe Gillis the entire time. He begins by narrating from beyond. We then see his story from his eyes, which may leave it open to subjectivity. I believe that the real Joe Gillis was much more of a heel than we see. Since he is the narrator, we see his shame, his wounded pride, and his feelings of being trapped. We dont see just how much he accepted from Norma, and we know that he could leave at any time. Even though he is the narrator, he is still not the hero. Wilder and therefore Gillis seems to have a soft spot for discarded silent stars. Once Norma shows up on screen she is instantly the pitiful and sad case. She is the casualty of a timely industry.
Personally I dont by the poor and pitiful Norma Desmond. She is the victim of nothing. So her star didnt cross into talking pictures, neither did a lot of people. John Gilbert was perhaps the most famous casualty, but even Mary Pickford, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd virtually vanished from the public eye when sound came about. So Desmond was one of those few, be content with your former celebrity and the large amounts of money you still have. She seems to be reminiscent of the modern Michael Jackson. As his star declines, he gets weirder and more secluded. He seems to be in need of adulation, and seems to miss the days when he had no privacy. The same is with Norma. She is happiest when she is surrounded in the Paramount studio by cast and crew, and at the end when she officially goes crazy to a house full of reporters and police officers. Even Gillis refers to her as poor Norma, yet he is the one who got shot three times by her crazy ass.
There is always a little debate about what type of film it is. When asked the question myself I sat in silence for a while. Stylistically it is pure noir. Low light and deep focus photography, plus the all too obvious narration, make this a key blueprint. Yet this is noir like Citizen Kane is noir. There may be many things to make it seem that way, but this doesnt have the seedy underworld vibe of Robert Aldrichs Kiss Me Deadly, or the socioeconomic indictments of Abraham Polanskis Force of Evil (1948) . It doesnt even have that touch of crime and passion like Wilders earlier Double Indemnity. Yet it still feels like noir, and one person when asked argued it to be a thriller. Which is to say the modern term for noir.
By 1950 that type of picture was growing out of style. The past five years had seen a slew of films of that sort flood theaters. It is because of this that Andrew Sarris believes it lost the Oscars to Eve. I think that it was because Hollywood wasnt quite ready to accept what they had done. I have also read that Sunset Boulevard is a clear cut horror film. Although Franz Waxmans score can have horror tones to it, and the first time we hear the organ played, Max (Stroheim) is playing Bachs Toccata and Fugue in D minor, or the Phantom of the Opera music for those who know. There is also the comparisons between Norma Desmond (Swanson) and the vampire from Draculas Daughter (1933) Norma never leaves the house, except in large quantities of makeup. She hides in her run down mansion. She even holds a funeral for a chimpanzee. At times this can get a little creepy.
Knowing Wilder though, he never lets us go without a laugh. This time though it takes a while to find one. It is a black comedy in the stretching the term sense. Noticing though with a bunch of ignorant movie goers though, that they thought some of it funny, and they probably werent supposed to. I noticed that Wilder did use a few melodramatic cliches. That might have been done in mockery of this film so against Hollywood, but I just think it came out that way. Joe Gillis (William Holden) makes a comment to Betty Schaefer (Nancy Olson) about having her wonderful dialogue drowned out by music. At times Wilder does just that. In particular after Max tells Joe that he was Normas first husband, cue dramatic strings. At times the accented music seems near comical.
I also noticed a room full of chuckles as Norma began going officially crazy. Her crazed looks in the screen, the ridiculous narcissism, and her grand silent film gestures. All of this pulled off with the utmost perfection by Swanson. She was the best actress that year, although All About Eve had a gala of great actresses, and winner Judy Holliday was excellent in Born Yesterday (1950). Swanson topped all though in her return to the screen, in honor of Norma disliking comeback. Another irony of the film is that despite Normas great case against talking pictures, she still gets the best lines of dialogue in the film.
There were a few other cruel inside jokes. Normas waxworks were all former silent stars, including the now legendary Buster Keaton. They all play themselves, although none of them are officially introduced. Only Hedda Hopper and Cecil B. De Mille are acknowledged as themselves. Hopper arguing that her gossip column took precedence over the coroner. Another irony being that the film De Mille was shooting at the time, the set visited by Desmond was for Sodom and Gomorrah (1950). The irony being that Normas film was also a biblical epic.
It is from her Salome that another homage was found. In Peter Jacksons Forgotten Silver (1997), Colin Mackenzie spent the better part of fifteen years making a large scale adaptation of Salome. That too never made the screen, and was probably too long. There were also a slew of misquoting Normas final line. That you can blame on Bugs Bunny who probably misquoted it for the first time. I sometimes get confused myself over which is the right version. Not to mention the string of Hollywood on Hollywood pictures that emerged in its wake, and the eventual return of noir.
One last irony is that everyone wins. Max gets to direct once more, something that didnt happen to Stroheim. Norma gets her press and gets to act again. Joe gets his pool that he always wanted. Then there is Betty, who ends up with Artie (Jack Webb), who we all know is the nicest guy around. So each of them had to pay a little. Norma is going away permanently, despite her line that shell never leave them again. Max has lost Norma forever, perhaps making himself go a little crazy. His goal to keep the truth from her has finally backfired. Joe gets the pool at the cost of his life, and his pride. Betty gets Artie and the script, but at the cost of Joe.
In more ways that one Sunset Boulevard is a film that demands your attention. Wilders films always benefited from being seen through the looking glass. This picture gets better with each viewing, because of what is behind the film. The mise-en-scene is so engrossing that we may forget were watching a movie, just like we may forget Joe is dead right from the beginning. The camera work is seamless, shots are held for the right time, and never does the editing distract. My only beef then is with the score. Waxman usually does good work, but the score seems at times to be overdone. It is the only thing that reminds you this is a movie. I must also make a final note of the brilliant deep focus cinematography. It seems like a lost art, but it is slowly making its way back. Hopefully theyll be films of this quality to go along with it.

Grade A

Re: Film Noir Journals

Postby wpqx » Mon Apr 03, 2006 11:30 pm

White Heat (1949) - Raoul Walsh

Top of the world Ma!
That right there is why White Heat is the best gangster film ever made. It was the return of James Cagney to the genre that made him a legend. Yet it wasnt particularly a warm welcome. Cagney hated the role and grew to resent the genre. The film was quickly disregarded as a money maker and nothing more. It wasnt until decades later when Cagneys cult emerged that the true appreciation for White Heat began to emerge. After many decades many people have now come to regard it as superior to Cagneys original the Public Enemy (1931).
The film is the grand send-off to the classic gangster film much like the Wild Bunch (1969) is the farewell to the Western. It was directed by veteran Warner Bros. contract player Raoul Walsh, who also directed Cagney in the Roaring Twenties (1939). Gangster films were becoming old news. The stories of prohibition gangsters started to seem dated after World War II. Throughout the forties the output of the genre continued to decline, gradually being replaced by crime films, mysteries, and what is now called noir. Much like the character of Cody Jarrett (Cagney), the films themselves were becoming outcasts and quickly forgotten.
So if Walsh was going to send the genre off, he was going to do it in grand style. Much like the final film in a trilogy tries to encapsulate everything, so did Walsh with White Heat. It opens with a train robbery, straight from the old Edwin S. Porter days. The film has all the dimensions that you could ask for in a gangster film. Since this isnt an epic the films jam packed action makes this incredibly fast paced. It has snitchers, action, prison scenes, back stabbing, the gangster moral code, and an amazing performance by Cagney. Not to mention the fact that this adheres to the Godfather (1972) ethic that the family is number one.
Jarretts family consists only of his mother (Margaret Wycherly), and his unfaithful wife Verna (Virginia Mayo). Cody has no love for his backstabbing wife. He is abusive to her, and she in turn does everything she can to hurt him. She even has an affair with Big Ed Somers (Steve Cochran) who is trying to hone in on Jarretts gang. He even tries to set him up to be killed while hes in prison. Like the typical rat, he immediately cowers away from Cody once he is sprung.
Jarrett is not the cruel monster of Edward G. Robinsons Rico, instead he is the sympathetic one that we root for. Cagney was too likeable to ever really be a villain. All of his gangsters, from Tom Powers in the Public Enemy right up to Jarrett, was a guy that you wanted to pull through. Like his character in the Roaring Twenties he seems to lose everything. His mother dies, his friend turns out to be a cop, and his wife and her lover tried to have him killed. He has been betrayed and is standing on the outside of the world he created. On top of it he suffers from violent headaches that only seem to go away when he is looked after by his mother. When he is in prison and suffers a headache he has no one. The same is said when he is out and finds out of his mothers death. There is no place left for him in the world. So he prepares to go out.
It seems all too standard that the gangster hero needs to die. The Hollywood production code was quite vocal about punishing the lawlessness. So how do you make it interesting, even though you see it coming a mile away? You may be upset that I have virtually given away the ending to every gangster film, but thats just the way they were made. So with the script of Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts in hand, Walsh set out to stage this explosive conclusion. I couldnt have imagined any other performer for this role. Cagney truly is perfect, and it seems almost a blessing that his previous films did so poorly, otherwise he would have declined. Cagneys final line and that image of Jarrett being surrounded by flames just before the final explosion is the most memorable from any gangster film. It was the finest death for any gangster hero, and the only one that could have concluded the whole genre.
In the 1930s Cagney was one of the most ferociously active actors. He spent the decade at Warner Bros. and quickly became the top action star. After Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) Cagney greatly slowed down. He had his Oscar and formed his own production company. Like Bogarts Santana company, Cagney wouldnt have much better luck. After four failed films the chance came to go back to Warner Bros. A defeated Cagney swallowed his pride and agreed. He remarked that he couldnt wait to get on to make more family oriented pictures.
The films Oscar nominations were a staggering one, for best black and white cinematography. It didnt win, but then again how often do the Oscars overlook a masterpiece? That years big winner was All the Kings Men (1949) which was directed by Robert Rosen who had a hand in writing the Roaring Twenties. Walsh would never win a best director Oscar. His specialty was always for action films and he was responsible for bringing Humphrey Bogart into the leading man light with High Sierra (1941). Walsh was even more active than Cagney, the only director who could rival him in terms of Filmography would be Michael Curtiz. Like Curtiz, Walsh was also an immigrant who got his start in the silent days. For all of the films made by Walsh in his busy career, none are as exciting, entertaining, or worth watching as much as White Heat.

Grade A

Re: Film Noir Journals

Postby wpqx » Mon Apr 03, 2006 11:31 pm

The Maltese Falcon (1941) - John Huston

When sitting through countless brilliant films that are of amazing historical significance, you occasionally wonder just how they got that way. Frequently these movies are too serious to be entertaining. Not to say these are always disappointing, but the higher the expectations the higher the inevitable let down. One of these essential, groundbreaking, and important films is also damn entertaining, and worth watching twenty times. Not because it has so much in it, but because you just want to see it. That film is John Hustons the Maltese Falcon.
The Maltese Falcon is historically significant for not one, or two, but three reasons. The first was that it marked the directorial debut of John Huston. Huston was the son of actor Walter Huston and got his start as a screenwriter. After getting frustrated with the treatment of his work, he decided to do it himself. A big step, considering he had a very prominent career as a director that lasted up until his death several decades later. Second was that it made Humphrey Bogart the biggest star in Hollywood. Bogey was a long running contract player for Warner Bros. and wound up profiting immensely from the fact that most of Hollywoods top stars went off to fight in World War II. Bogey was a veteran of World War I, and he was actually injured there, which is where he got his trademark voice. This breakthrough for Bogey would lead him into Casablanca (1942), To Have and Have Not (1944), and the Big Sleep (1946), as well as Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), Key Largo (1948), and the African Queen (1951) also directed by Huston. The last reason is just as monumental, if not more so, and that was the fact that this film virtually gave birth to film noir.
This wasnt the first time that the Dashiell Hammet novel was brought to the screen. The original version came out in 1931, and then came Satan Met a Lady (1936), which stared Betty Davis. Both films were quite a bit off from the source, and neither are considered worth sitting through. The reason why Hustons version worked so well was that he didnt try to change the story. The other two films altered quite a bit, including a trumpet instead of the bird in Satan Met a Lady.
With Hammetts Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) Huston created the definitive noir hero. A rebellious detective, who uses any means necessary to get the job done. The anti-hero that Bogart plays is what helped to make him such an enormous cult star with the counterculture in the 1960s. Bogart falls for the girl Brigid OShaughnessy (Mary Astor) but is more than willing to sacrifice her to do what it right. As he says, I wont play the sap for you. Later spouting unflinchingly that hell be waiting for her, provided they dont hang her By your pretty neck. This stance made Bogey a definitive tough guy, and one that nearly everybody instantly admired if not worshiped.
Bogarts performance is still top notch. He is still today perhaps the best noir hero, and the model for Ralph Meeker, Sterling Hayden, and even Jack Nicholson and Russell Crowe. They all took note of his method, and even more admiration must be paid, when he hands the police the thousand dollar bill that Casper Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet), gave him as a bribe. For more historical significance, this was also the screen debut for Greenstreet. The whole time we see that Bogey was looking out for number one, then in the end he does what is right. Not in an overtly dramatic revelation as in too many other films, but in a fast paced manner that will make you dizzy just trying to comprehend it.
Its all here. The femme fatale (Astor), the crime boss (Greenstreet), the object that everyone is killing for (the falcon), and the private investigator (Bogart). If that wasnt enough, we also are given Peter Lorre, in one of his first American roles. Lorre first made a splash as Fritz Langs demented child killer in M (1931). He would go on to be a regular character actor for Warners, and end his career as a drunk horror actor in too many Roger Corman films. The other two main speaking roles are Spades secretary Iva Archer (Gladys George), and Wilmer Cook (Elisha Cook, Jr.). One of them is the only person that Bogart trusts, and the other the over ambitious young goon of Gutmans. There is also a cameo by Hustons father as Captain Jacobi.
As with most films of this nature, it may get a little confusing. There are a lot of names to remember, and the faster Spade talks, the harder it is to remember everyone. That right there is enough to try and dissect the film. It truly is wonderful, and still today without a doubt the best noir film ever made. Perhaps its only competition is the neo-noir Chinatown (1974) which starred John Huston. Huston would tackle the genre again with the Asphalt Jungle (1950). Bogey would take a turn as perhaps the most famous detective Phillip Marlowe in Howard Hawks the Big Sleep. Yet neither film could quite match the sure thrill of the Maltese Falcon.

Grade A+

Re: Film Noir Journals

Postby A » Tue Apr 11, 2006 8:25 pm

Don't bash me, but I think this belongs into this thread.

Blade Runner [director's cut] (1982 / USA / Ridley Scott)

Los Angeles 2019. We are in a future that has seemingly gone out of range, lost its scope, its proportions, maybe even its desirability. The city has 109 million inhabitants, the streets always crowded, always dark, a night that doesn't seem to end, a darkness that encompases everything. Even at day, the huge buildings, with thousands of storeys, some build like pyramids, seem to engulf the whole city, the architecture swallowing the people. Cars flying through the air, bicycles on ground, a carpet of different languages and sounds that could bring the fragile composition off-balance. Yet, everything seems firmly rooted, firmly centered, everything besides the people. A faceless mass, we get introduced to loners and wanderers on a closer inspection. Drifting through life in a raging hell,which has become a calm sea, enarmed with promises of a better life on advertisement banners that span over the sky, a sky that has also become dark, a shapeless mass the same as the City. In this world which entirely depends on its exterior, that has probably already sucked out all the life that ever existed in this world, all the energy and enthusiasm - if it isn't for whoring or drinking, that is - in this world new life is being created. New life, that is, artificial one, life that is needed for an ongoing expansion, for settlements on new planets, for the good of the human race, for... - what exactly the film never makes clear. As much as everything seems possible in this future of ours, everything is restrained, rules and regulations ordering a chaos beyond control. Nevertheless control is still a factor, at least for the mighty ones, as the artificial beings they have created are not as easily to be satisfied as the humans on earth.
The statement at the beginning of the film reads that after a rebellion of these so-called "replicants", their restrictions were intensified, allowing them a maximum lifetime of four years, because after this timelimit their emotions start getting out of line, that means developing on themselves on their own experience, that, and cannot be controled any longer. These replicants that are regarded as machines only, with no rights of their own are constructed for precise purposes. Some are workers, some soldiers, some are even for pleasing its owners. But whatever their purpose may be, they are of no use to the ordinary man on the street. Forbidden to enter planet earth, they live on other planets for the usage of people who can afford them. Thus we have a class system that has officially reintroduced the ancient tradition of master and slave. Like in ancient Greece, the slave isn't a citizen, and like in fascist ideology is an "untermensch", a second-rate living being. Though build to be perfect, with capabilities that surpass those of a human being, he is nevertheless held in a prison of time and space. Maybe their constructors are afraid that they could replace mankind, that evolution could take a new turn? But of course what has been developed must be used...
The film confronts us with a capitalist society that has clearly gone over the zenith, that has eaten itself up, and all the "progress" achieved is released into a vacuum, into a society that has lost its humanity. In the end when Dekkard - the policeman and "Blade Runner" played by Harrison Ford - is on the run, he is accompanied by a replicant in whose arms he has rediscovered a piece of it in the form of love. Overall, the film is a very strange one. The main protagonist being space and time, the location brought to us through art design and special effects that are still stunning and beautiful to behold nowadays, everything else seems to pale in comparison, is reduced to be playing the second fiddle. What is life worth in such a world? In what is seemingly a standard "film noir" plot, the stoic, cynical and disillusioned hero has to hunt down the villains and win the love of the ice-cold femme fatale, who could cost him his life but is the only person he lets close to his heart. Yet, here again the roles are reversed. The hero is actually the bad guy, though equipped with a conscience, while the villains who are first introduced as cold-blooded killers are the ones who carry hope and life with them, who actually have something to live for. Deprived of a dignified life they have nevertheless rediscovered its value. And the beautiful femme fatale is actually the most vulnerable and sensitive person, for whom the protagonist gives up his former life, after a persuasion and seduction that has been initiated and carried out by him alone.
The excellent camera bathes this existential drama in long and huge shadows that act like an extension of the city, offering the possibility of comfort and refuge through anonymity, as well as presenting a danger that may lie hidden in their very center. The film is at its best when the outward action ceases and the camera only observes. It then starts to breathe, while the space expands into the inward. The great story, adapted from a novel by Phillip K. Dick, has been turned into a mediocre screenplay though, with its weakness most aparent in the dialogue. A lack of imagination and originality that stands in contrast to the rich textures of the landscape and doesn't bring much depth to the characters - and when it does, it seems borrowed from the book. Harrison Ford isn't exactly a revelation either, though his confusion and insecurity as an actor help in some ways to define the character. But a better actor could have accomplished much more. Nevertheless worth seeing for its timeless feel, and the philosophical implications. And if you want to see where the following science fiction films from Batman over Ghost in the shell to Matrix got most of their inspiration from, this is a good starting point.

Grade B+

Re: Film Noir Journals

Postby wpqx » Wed Apr 12, 2006 2:25 pm

It certainly counts, and I'm damn glad someone other than me finally contributed to this thread. I love the film, but have never seen the original cut of it, only the director's cut three times. I'm told the original theatrical version was much more noir-esque, and I heard at least one person say it was better.

Re: Film Noir Journals

Postby A » Thu Apr 13, 2006 5:07 pm

For me it's also three times director's cut, zero times theatrical version. I heard the original version has a voice over (by Ford?), and a different ending (longer and with less hope ). Not sure where to see it though. The version that seems circulating nowadays is the director's cut from '92.
And I think I've also heard at least one person claim the original to be better - but maybe I'm just hoping this myself

Re: Film Noir Journals

Postby Anasazie » Wed Apr 19, 2006 4:17 am

The original is far from better, it's practically the same other than the horrible Ford voice over, a rdiculous recurring dream image of a unicorn and a tacked on ending that was "borrowed" from the beginning of The Shining. The helicopter shots of Nicholson's family car driving down the highway, apparantly the studio weren't happy so lifted the ending from Kubrick's film. Sad!

Re: Film Noir Journals

Postby trevor826 » Wed Apr 19, 2006 7:02 am

Re: Blade Runner, although I can't remember the finer points, I haven't seen any version in years, I did see it on its release in the cinema and one of the things I loved about it (apart from the look and feel of the world) was Harrison Ford's "Noir" style narrative, reminiscent of the private eye films from a bygone era.

I was more than a little surprised to find the narrative missing on the dvd release. They were supposed to be releasing a dvd set with three different cuts of the film, does anyone know what happened to it?

Cheers Trev.

Re: Film Noir Journals

Postby A » Fri May 12, 2006 12:47 am

Haven't heard of such a release. Would be intersting to campare the different versions. Do you know what the 3rd would be, Trev?
I like the idea of a voice over, but I found out that it's usually handled rather badly in films. I know some comics were it works fine, but "Sin City" was for me the most recent example of a "bad" noir-voice over.
I could imagine that it would destroy a lot of the atmosphere in Blade Runner, but it could also add something...
Could you say more about your impressions Anasazie?

Btw, this thread is getting bigger and bigger.
But it seems like only wpqx is currently watching noir films.

Re: Film Noir Journals

Postby wpqx » Wed May 17, 2006 1:59 pm

The Woman in the Window (1944) - Fritz Lang

Fritz Lang was a filmmaker born to make noir. The movement effectively grew out of the expressionist style of German film, and Lang was with it from the beginning. Some of his films were noir before noir was even a style or trend. His earliest American films implore the same use of hard boiled plots and stark lighting. Lang's films always had a symbolic use of light, primarily the reflection of bars. So by the time the movement actually began it seemed like Lang should be its forerunner.

The Woman in the Window, along with the same year's Ministry of Fear were the first two films Fritz Lang made that fell into the "period" of film noir, that being 1944. This year will forever be cited as the starting point for the style because it saw the release of Otto Preminger's Laura as well as Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity. Those two films helped define the genre, and these two efforts from Lang easily slipped in amongst them. In many ways Lang's films were even truer to the movement, for he set up what would be the future trend in noir.

Laura and Double Indemnity were studio productions, they were lush pieces with stars high production values and plenty of publicity. Fritz Lang's films were independent productions, with a few names (including Edward G. Robinson of Double Indemnity), and they were financed by International Picture, a B-wing of the already B level RKO. The crew weren't legendary names in their fields and only cinematographer Milton Krasner might ring a bell today. Lang wasn't making a lush romantic melodrama for a studio, he was a hired hand making a cheap, quick movie under the guise of an exploitative plot.

The plot however isn't necessarily the stuff of pulp. Prof. Richard Wanley (Robinson) becomes a murderer not from the evil influence of a seductress, but out of self defense. His victim was trying to kill him. Where the noir element comes in is how they attempt to cover it up, rather than do what certainly seems most rational, which is to report it. The crime effectively in this film is two fold, one is the lie of the cover up, and the other is the intent of Wanley. Sure he's a happily married man, but as we already established Alice Reed (Joan Bennett) is his dream girl, and he most certainly has desires for her, regardless of his actions.

Now reality plays a big role, but there are a few clues that let up to the "twist" at the end. The first is what seems to be Alice's unexplainable attraction to Wanley. Sure we know what he's thinking, but we can't quite fathom how she would feel any attraction towards him. Now this isn't to say she blatantly and openly comes on to him, but there is a desire in her eyes, and she is the one who seems upset about their relationship being severed. It is also her who breaks down and calls him, which may be a misogynist undertone at the hands of the writer, but is most likely a representation of how Wanley wishes to be perceived.

However, like the dreadfully lackluster Derailed the two don't actually do anything. The moral code of Hollywood demands that not only killers, but adulterers be punished. So the mystery in this film is to see what will happen to these two who didn't commit adultery, and who only killed in self defense, hardly making them cold blooded murderers. Their crime is in disposing of the body, and there is no bylaw stating that they have to go to the gallows for that. On the other hand there's nothing saying they'll get away with it.

Now the twist is similar to the one used in DePalma's Femme Fatale (2002), and this time it is slightly more effective. Its more effective because rather than an escapist bit of nonsense, it is used more to comedic effect for its conclusion. However both film suffer for the same flaws in construction. If the events of this film are to be a dream, then how could they be so logical and linear? There isn't anytying really in this film or DePalma's to lend itself to surrealism. However Lang's film helps to explain the cast of characters in a realistic way (for dreams anyways).

The Woman in the Window is a step from The Ministry of Fear, a rather predictable propoganda piece with Ray Milland. However it is a flawed film, and rarely do you get a feeling that Lang was making the film he wanted, only a few times does he get to do anything really interesting. He would reunite the next year with his two leading actors for Scarlet Street, which will be soon to come to the film noir journals.

Grade B -


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