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A Movie A Day: Quint on BLACK WIDOW (1954)
The Secret of Love is Greater Than the Secret of Death.



Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day. [For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.] We’re back into the regular run of AMAD. I’ll miss you Halloween movies, but we have a good recovery week with an eclectic group of flicks. I’ve also done some work to add in another 100 titles into the pool, many of which are horror films I didn’t get to during October, so there’s even more variety. We ease back in following the radiant Gene Tierney over from September 30th’s LAURA to 1954’s Fox Noir DVD title BLACK WIDOW. First thing’s first. Fox Noir needs to actually watch the movies before they put them out under noir releases. There are a couple of femme fatales in the movie, but I wouldn’t categorize this movie as noir. For one, it’s bright, beautiful Technicolor and super scope. Can you have a film noir shot in Technicolor? I think that automatically cancels out the noir categorization, unless there’s an example anyone out there can throw at me, of course. None come to my mind. I can even see the case being made that any color film can not be film noir, but I wouldn’t go that far. Movies like BRICK play up film noir archetypes and have a muted enough color palate to feel right. So, the flick’s in color, but it’s also not very hard-boiled. In other words, if it’s a noir it’s a very unique one, atypical of the genre.

When the flick started I thought it was a dramedy, actually. Set amongst the Broadway elite of New York, we meet some colorful characters, including Lottie Martin, a diva of an actress played by Ginger Rogers who seems to delight in being the biggest bitch in the world to everybody. She lets loose some stingers in the first few minutes to unwitting party-goers that were so harsh and snobby that I couldn’t help but laugh. Van Heflin is the lead of the movie, playing a Broadway producer named Peter Danver whose wife (Tierney) has to go take care of her sick mother, leaving Heflin to go it alone to one of Rogers’ big parties. Heflin intends to walk in and walk right back out again and almost gets away with it, too, before being pulled back in by Rogers’ husband, Brian Mullen (played by Reginald Gardiner). At the party Heflin meets a beautiful young woman, an aspiring writer who speaks her mind and is adorably blunt. Peggy Anne Garner plays Nanny Ordway. Nanny turns out to be a real social climber and her trick is her ability to appear absolutely honest, straight and non-manipulative. Okay, I thought about half an hour into the movie. This is a take on the ALL ABOUT EVE story and we’re going to see an unfortunately realistic series of backstabbings as a seemingly forthright and moral girl manipulates her way to her goals without any regard to the people she fucks over along the way. That had to be it. Heflin was keeping faithful to his wife, but he took a liking to Garner right away and wanted to help her out. He gives her his apartment to use as a place to write, with it’s inspiring view of the New York cityscape, while he’s out all day, which of course starts some gossip since the talkative diva lives in the apartment above him. But Heflin is through and through a good guy. He’s transparent about his new friendship with his wife, alerting her to it immediately after the first dinner they share. So, Tierney comes home and they enter the apartment, which is supposed to be empty, but the record player is blaring. They enter to find all of Garner’s shit still there… and then they find her body, hanging from a rope. What the fuck!?! This is less than 40 minutes into the movie and completely made me throw out my expectations of where this movie was going. And on top of that, it’s a creepy-ass image. Heflin slowly opens the bedroom door and we see the girl’s shadow… And I don’t know about you guys, but the image of a human hanged really gets under my skin. I know it’s not a pleasant image for anybody, but it’s one that particularly works to unnerve me. I don’t know why that image over other horrific shit I see in horror flicks gets me, but it does. And in this movie they do a particularly disturbing version of the hanging person image. Garner’s head is bent backwards, so the face is staring straight up. Fuck that! The rest of the movie is Heflin figuring out why Garner died. At first it’s an average curiosity, but the more that gets uncovered, the more he is implemented in her death, which looks less and less like suicide, despite a bizarre suicide note (there’s a drawing of a hanged girl) left on the scene.

How clean is Heflin? Is he dodging the investigative team in order to clear his name like he says or is he trying to find a way to cover up his crime? It’s a very interesting story and what I like about it is how the layers are pulled back bit by bit, revealing Garner to be quite a different character than we expect. If you’re like me you won’t want to believe that Garner was anything other than the quirky innocent girl she presented herself as. The acting in the movie is strong across the board, especially where Ginger Rogers is concerned. This isn’t a typical role for her, playing the nasty and mean actress and she really keeps the movie lively. She’s always entertaining and there’s a surprising depth to her character, a certain level of desperation, a motivation for her cruel and cold exterior. Heflin is great, too, but there’s not much depth to his character and they only briefly touch upon the ambiguity of his character, which I think might have made the movie even better, but as it stands there wasn’t really much of the movie where I questioned if he was as innocent as he claimed to be. Otto Kruger (who has appeared in previous AMADs MURDER, MY SWEET and THE YOUNG PHILADELPHIANS) plays Nanny’s Uncle who has a very important, but unfortunately small role in the movie. Kruger makes full use of his screen-time, though. George Raft is the detective hunting down Heflin and trying to solve the case and he gets a lot more to work with, crafting a pretty one-dimensional, but solid character.

Unfortunately, I think the big disappoint with me in the movie is that Gene Tierney was given very, very little to do besides sitting pretty on a coach for most of the movie. The foundations are there for some great, tormented work for her character… how she slowly loses confidence in her husband and has to make the decision to either believe him or believe the growing pile of evidence that contradicts him. There’s a lot of meat there, but that’s not what the movie is focused on so Tierney is left with relatively little to do. BLACK WIDOW was directed and co-written by Nunnally Johnson, who wrote the adaptation of THE GRAPES OF WRATH in 1940. Visually, he knows what he’s doing. There are a few shots that really stand out in my memory already here, mostly playing with shadows. There the one moment I mentioned earlier with the hanging woman and then there’s another shot where a character responds to a knock at a door and when he opens it Heflin’s shadow falls upon the open door, even though he’s hidden from the camera. It’s unmistakably Heflin… he pauses before entering the room, letting his shadow be our first glimpse of him in this scene. Really cool. All that goes to my theory that if Nunnally Johnson had made this a black and white film and really played with the shadows like he tinkers with here then it would have taken this movie from being a really good flick, a solid mystery piece to a great movie. And I love this era’s cinemascope IB Tech eye-popping colors, but in this case I think the story and tone would have been better served with black and white photography and a smaller frame. Final Thoughts: BLACK WIDOW stands apart from like movies and I found it to be surprisingly unique, even if sometimes that hurts the story we’re left with a film that definitely keeps you guessing. Nice photography, solid direction and acting all round out the picture and keep it firmly in the recommend category.

Here’s what we have lined up for the next week: Sunday, November 2nd: THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR (1947)

Monday, November 3rd: THE FLYING TIGERS (1942)

Tuesday, November 4th: EXECUTIVE ACTION (1973)

Wednesday, November 5th: THE BUSY BODY (1967)

Thursday, November 6th: IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD (1963)

Friday, November 7th: LIBELED LADY (1936)

Saturday, November 8th: UP THE RIVER (1930)

In the coming week we have quite a few different kinds of films, as you can see. Comedies, political thrillers, dramas… interesting variety. See you folks tomorrow for yet more Gene Tierney with THE GHOST & MRS. MUIR! -Quint quint@aintitcool.com



Previous Movies: June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders
July 15th: Sleuth
July 16th: Frenzy
July 17th: Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
July 18th: Cadillac Man
July 19th: The Sure Thing
July 20th: Moving Violations
July 21st: Meatballs
July 22nd: Cast a Giant Shadow
July 23rd: Out of the Past
July 24th: The Big Steal
July 25th: Where Danger Lives
July 26th: Crossfire
July 27th: Ricco, The Mean Machine
July 28th: In Harm’s Way
July 29th: Firecreek
July 30th: The Cheyenne Social Club
July 31st: The Man Who Knew Too Much
August 1st: The Spirit of St. Louis
August 2nd: Von Ryan’s Express
August 3rd: Can-Can
August 4th: Desperate Characters
August 5th: The Possession of Joel Delaney
August 6th: Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx
August 7th: Start the Revolution Without Me
August 8th: Hell Is A City
August 9th: The Pied Piper
August 10th: Partners
August 11th: Barry Lyndon
August 12th: The Skull
August 13th: The Hellfire Club
August 14th: Blood of the Vampire
August 15th: Terror of the Tongs
August 16th: Pirates of Blood River
August 17th: The Devil-Ship Pirates
August 18th: Jess Franco’s Count Dracula
August 19th: Dracula A.D. 1972
August 20th: The Stranglers of Bombay
August 21st: Man, Woman & Child
August 22nd: The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane
August 23rd: The Young Philadelphians
August 24th: The Rack
August 25th: Until They Sail
August 26th: Somebody Up There Likes Me
August 27th: The Set-Up
August 28th: The Devil & Daniel Webster
August 29th: Cat People
August 30th: The Curse of the Cat People
August 31st: The 7th Victim
September 1st: The Ghost Ship
September 2nd: Isle of the Dead
September 3rd: Bedlam
September 4th: Black Sabbath
September 5th: Black Sunday
September 6th: Twitch of the Death Nerve
September 7th: Tragic Ceremony
September 8th: Lisa & The Devil
September 9th: Baron Blood
September 10th: A Shot In The Dark
September 11th: The Pink Panther
September 12th: The Return of the Pink Panther
September 13th: The Pink Panther Strikes Again
September 14th: Revenge of the Pink Panther
September 15th: Trail of the Pink Panther
September 16th: The Real Glory
September 17th: The Winning of Barbara Worth
September 18th: The Cowboy and the Lady
September 19th: Dakota
September 20th: Red River
September 21st: Terminal Station
September 22nd: The Search
September 23rd: Act of Violence
September 24th: Houdini
September 25th: Money From Home
September 26th: Papa’s Delicate Condition
September 27th: Dillinger
September 28th: Battle of the Bulge
September 29th: Daisy Kenyon
September 30th: Laura
October 1st: The Dunwich Horror
October 2nd: Experiment In Terror
October 3rd: The Devil’s Rain
October 4th: Race With The Devil
October 5th: Salo, Or The 120 Days of Sodom
October 6th: Bad Dreams
October 7th: The House Where Evil Dwells
October 8th: Memories of Murder
October 9th: The Hunger
October 10th: I Saw What You Did
October 11th: I Spit On Your Grave
October 12th: Naked You Die
October 13th: The Wraith
October 14th: Silent Night, Bloody Night
October 15th: I Bury The Living
October 16th: The Beast Must Die
October 17th: Hellgate
October 18th: He Knows You’re Alone
October 19th: The Thing From Another World
October 20th: The Fall of the House of Usher
October 21st: Audrey Rose
October 22nd: Who Slew Auntie Roo?
October 23rd: Wait Until Dark
October 24th: Dead & Buried
October 25th: A Bucket of Blood
October 26th: The Bloodstained Shadow
October 27th: I, Madman
October 28th: Return to Horror High
October 29th: Die, Monster, Die
October 30th: Epidemic
October 31st: Student Bodies

Readers Talkback
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  • Nov. 2, 2008, 3:04 a.m. CST

    First!

    by Giphangster

    First

  • Nov. 2, 2008, 4:38 a.m. CST

    welcome back amad

    by aint_it_cruel?

    Enjoyed October. Something I'll tell my grand kids about. Black Widow added to the Q. I should get to it in a year or so.

  • Nov. 2, 2008, 7:50 a.m. CST

    NOIR refers to the darkness inherent in the story...

    by greigy just wanted to say

    ... not the film stock, coined by the French to catagorise film with a moral ambiguity. Anyhow if you don't love The Ghost and Mrs Muir.. check your pulse you're probably dead or a McG fan... same thing.

  • Nov. 2, 2008, 8:21 a.m. CST

    Another good Gene Tierney film

    by pilotgrl

    Thanks for the review. I'm familiar with the 1980s Black Widow with Debra Winger and Theresa Russell, but not this one which looks to be quite different. I'm also going to add this one to my queue. Another color noir with Gene Tierney is "Leave Her To Heaven." She certainly does not just sit on a couch looking pretty in this. The Technicolor enhances her beauty but her character is really disturbed. I think you'll enjoy it.

  • Nov. 2, 2008, 8:51 a.m. CST

    Noir in Color

    by Neosamurai85

    "Neo Noir" as some call it, is often in color (Chinatown, Blade Runner, The Long Goodbye, Twilight, The Hitcher, Blood Simple, etc) Though historically, the film is positioned quite awkwardly early in the grey zone of the time line to fall easily in that realm. It's true though that a noir can be in color if it contains enough other elements essential to the genre, they are just really really rare. Considering the surreal qualities that German expressionism brought to the genre, I would argue that Vertigo is VERY MUCH a Noir film, though again, that's sorta on the later end of things (1958) it still came out the same year as Touch of Evil and any kind of real point where Noir ends and Neo Noir begins is highly disputable. There's another famous Noir in technicolor that takes place outside of the city that I can't remember the name of that has this really famous scene where a woman in a boat drowns a girl in a kid in a lake. Really evil stuff. But yeah. I've never seen this to argue it, but color isn't everything, nor the hard boiled elements of the Marlowes and Spades, or even the more existential ooze of rotteness that a Walter Neff brings to the pot. Some people argue Casablanca is absolutely not a noir, others argue Gilda is without question. It's never easy to frame the genre because there are too many different themes and elements that collided around the same time. Thus, prototypes can be traced back as far as M (Expressionism) and Pandora's Box (sexually dangerous woman), perhaps further. The Hard Boiled stuff is rooted in dime novels that go back to the late 20s and 30s where the last war's disenfranchisement met with various themes addressing or masking masculine crisis. So many of the films made during WWII (Maltese Falcon) and after (Double Indemnity) are radically different in tone and style, yet still fall under Noir. So it's a tough call. What is or isn't noir. Looking forward to checking Black Widow out, should be interesting to see what works and what doesn't.

  • Nov. 2, 2008, 10:04 a.m. CST

    Calling noir a genre is a mistake

    by lex romero

    It's just too fluid a style to have any definitive list of "this makes a noir film". THere are certainly similarities, but you could have a list of 10 things that make a noir film, and then have one film with 5 of them and another film with the other 5 and they could still both be noir.

  • Nov. 2, 2008, 10:16 a.m. CST

    Van Heflin. He was great in Shane

    by catlettuce4

    I haven't seen him in a lot of stuff but what I've seen he's top notch.

  • Nov. 2, 2008, 10:20 a.m. CST

    Leave Her To Heaven

    by cgccomics

    pilotgrl, You are so right. Excellent film.

  • Nov. 2, 2008, 11:05 a.m. CST

    Quint: Thanks for the ride to the hotel.

    by Some Dude

    I hope we did not cause you any trouble.

  • Nov. 2, 2008, noon CST

    Also...

    by ArmandVA

    i was gonna suggest the amazing Body Heat as "noir in color", but i think neosamurai just convinced me i have to reevaluate and call it "neo-noir".

  • Nov. 2, 2008, 1:46 p.m. CST

    Noir vs Neo-Noir

    by Neosamurai85

    Well, like lex romero said, calling noir a genre is very problematic. Films give or take after Touch of Evil that look/feel/act like noir are called a variety of things, "post-noir, post war noir, modern noir" Foster Hirsch uses Neo-Noir, which becomes just as problematic as old noir. Saying one group of films was made over a span of 25-30 years, and another "neo" version of those films has proceeded on for almost 60, proves a little tiring on the sense of newness. It's sorta like modernism and post-modernism. The important thing to remember about classic noir, is that the films were not noir until a group of French cinephiles were able to sit down awhile after the fact and observe these reoccurring trends in the films made between the late 30s and the early 50s. The film makers working on T-Men, Maltese Falcon (remakes or original) and The Killers were not aware that they were making noir until long after the fact, where film makers in the 60s (after the French criticism caught on) were VERY aware that they were making noir. Look at all the in jokes and nods within Body Heat, the way it builds suspense though the conventions of the noir "genre" (how the fedora's appearance becomes foreboding... there is a way this story is going to go, like the slasher movie rules in Scream). So however you frame it, that the key thing to consider. The war is commonly argued as definitive of noir, but the shift between accepted wartime and post war films makes it difficult to argue that the third, forth and possibly fifth waves are not all part of noir by that rational. Which is arguable.

  • Nov. 2, 2008, 2:28 p.m. CST

    Neosamurai85

    by Continentalop

    The movie with the girl in the boat is Leave Her to Heaven, which ironically enough is the film pilotgrl is mentioning above your comment. As for your comments of Noir vs. Neo-Noir, I think the simple explanation is that Film Noir was a movement, while Neo-Noir is Film Noir as a genre. Ok, maybe not that simplest explanation.

  • Nov. 2, 2008, 2:43 p.m. CST

    Haloween II

    by subtlety

    hey HMAD fans, I'm hosting an all-day horror film fest next weekend, and I need some suggestions for really solid, obscure horror films. The HMAD flicks Quint put on the list are the right level (worse than "The Changeling" but better than "The Thirsty Dead") but I watched em all during October. Who has some other ideas? I tend to really like the nightmare sort of horror films (Jacob's Ladder, Uzumaki, Kwaidan, Rosemary's Baby, Suspiria, Prince of Darkness, Dead Ringers) but anything worth watching will do. Any Takers?

  • Nov. 2, 2008, 2:53 p.m. CST

    taker

    by Neosamurai85

    Silent era: Vampyr. Foreign classic: Hour of the Wolf. 80's gore and monster effects: The Deadly Spawn. 90's underrated/becoming tragically forgotten: Candyman and Frailty. Straight to video but isn't shit: The Dark. Enjoy!

  • Nov. 2, 2008, 2:53 p.m. CST

    Leave Her to Heaven

    by Neosamurai85

    Thanks! Been wanting to see that film for a while now.

  • Nov. 2, 2008, 3:47 p.m. CST

    taker 2

    by Continentalop

    I don't want to repeat Neosamurai85 (damn it, he had to choose Vampyr) but I will say: Silent era: Waxwork; Foreign Classic: Eyes Without a Face; New Hollywood: Targets and Martin; 80's gore and Monster effects (and method acting in a horror movie): Q; Hammer or English Horror Film: Witchfinder General; Guilty Pleasure: Slumber Party Massacre.

  • Nov. 2, 2008, 3:49 p.m. CST

    Neosamurai

    by subtlety

    good suggestions. Haven't see "howl of the wolf" or Deadly Spawn, will now. Frailty is great but I think the final twist really ruins the film for me, since it kind of undoes the main tension in the rest of the film. Thanks for the ideas!

  • Nov. 2, 2008, 3:51 p.m. CST

    Continentalop

    by subtlety

    Eyes without a face is an absolute favorite of mine. Really, really creepy and elegant. Good suggestions.

  • Nov. 2, 2008, 3:55 p.m. CST

    Quint, Star Wars Comp...

    by vadakinX

    Any update?

  • Nov. 2, 2008, 4:45 p.m. CST

    This is a noir...

    by jfp2007

    House of Bamboo is a noir shot in Technicolor. There are plenty of pure Noirs in color both new and old. Color or lack of it has nothing to do with Noir nor does lots of shadows and harsh lighting. Noir refers to the darkness of the story, not the visual aesthetic, although that is what one would usually think of when thinking of it. There are also comedy Noirs.

  • Nov. 2, 2008, 4:48 p.m. CST

    Tierney..

    by jfp2007

    She didn't do much in the movie because she was going nuts in her personal life. After making this movie she was more or less put away for a while and given electroshock.

  • Nov. 2, 2008, 5:43 p.m. CST

    "Can you have a film noir shot in Technicolor?"

    by jimmy rabbitte

    Yup. It was called Blade Runner.

  • Nov. 2, 2008, 6:23 p.m. CST

    yeah

    by Quint

    Blade Runner and Chinatown for some reason didn't jump to mind... I think I was trying to think of films like Black Widow, more that era and those were too obvious for me to see... right in front of me, as they say. Thanks for the interesting discussion on Noir vs. Neo-Noir. I especially like the idea that you can't really classify noir as a genre because it's right on that a lot of these movies have one or two elements of a noir, but aren't full on. And as for Casablanca, I don't think you can get any less noir than Casablanca. There are a lot of grey characters, that's for sure, ambiguous characters, but the heart of the movie is one of sweetest romances of all time. I'm still touched by that film when I watch it today.

  • Nov. 2, 2008, 6:25 p.m. CST

    jimmy

    by Quint

    but I'd also say that Blade Runner is NOT Technicolor. It's beautiful, but certainly not the technicolor process which stopped... I believe in the late '60s or early '70s.

  • Nov. 2, 2008, 7:06 p.m. CST

    Film Noir: the Definitve Definition (maybe)

    by Continentalop

    As others, including myself, have mentioned Film Noir was a film movement/style that developed in the United States during the 40's. The term wasn't coined until French critic Nino Frank saw how much darker America finally playing in France after WWII had become, and many French film critics began to notice certain similarity between these films. Many of those involved in the making of these classic noirs were unaware of making a distinctive type of film, and the term film noir didn’t become popular in the US until sometime in the 60s amongst film students and scholars. After that, it became a genre - or more aptly, it created a genre called Neo-Noir. Therefore, while most film noirs are black and white, you can have film noirs in color, just as you can have a French New Wave movie be in color, despite the fact that the majority of them where shot in black and white (one of the defining elements of La Nouvelle Vague was the use of lighter, cheaper equipment and tight budgets, hence the use of b & w film). As for what elements made up a film noir? Well, critics disagree, and are still trying to come up with a definitive definition, most agree that they contain several unifying elements: Distinct visual style (low key lighting, exchange camera angles, deep focus); complex narrative structure (flashbacks, voiceover narration, nonlinear story-telling); certain types of plots (crime, murder, an investigation), settings (urban cities) and character (femme fatales, detectives, gangsters, fall guys); and normally a bleak, pessimistic and/or ambiguous tone and morality for the film. Film Noirs are not required, however, to possess all of these traits, just some. Neo-Noirs (the modern Noir genre) consciously try to have as many of these elements as possible, and usually focus on the better-known elements and devices (femme fatales, PI’s, crime stories, voice over).

  • Nov. 2, 2008, 7:14 p.m. CST

    As for Casablanca

    by Continentalop

    I agree that is NOT a film noir. Besides the visual style (romantic and adventurous instead of dark, mysterious and dangerous) it is the tone and morality that excludes it. Casablanca is about overcoming your pessimism and cynicism and realize that sometimes you have to make sacrifices for a greater good. The Film Noir version of Casablanca would have Rick sell out Victor Lazlo to Captain Renault and Major Strasser so he can have Isla to himself, only to have one of his employees who are loyal to the Resistance discover this and kill him afterwards.

  • Nov. 2, 2008, 8:30 p.m. CST

    The problem with Casablanca...

    by Neosamurai85

    is that many war time or Hollywood Noirs were optimistic. Compare with the Maltese Falcon (1941) or The Big Sleep. Cynicism is everywhere in both films, yet especially in the later we find happy endings do await. The grimness is toned down, but Casablanca is a world where people die and anyone might stab you in the back, much like that of The Third Man, which opens on a less screwball, but nonetheless black humor note. I bring it up because (like Citizen Kane, which welcomes a stronger argument) it embraces some of the look of noir, but clearly goes against the tonal feel, further complicating the argument between noir as style and noir as genre.

  • Nov. 2, 2008, 8:44 p.m. CST

    The problem with noir as style...

    by Neosamurai85

    Is that the elements of early noir which we use to identify it were often established styles of their own which predated it. German Expressionism is often credited for both the lighting and cockeyed angles, and while there are grounds for this, the B reel budgeted circumstances led to many early filmmakers who were not german refugees to use similar technique to hide an awkwardly bare mise-en-scene. In the case of the later, you can see it as a predominantly original style, but we cannot abandon the Expressionist roots behind so many of the more well known classics. The hard-boiled tone is also rooted in both Hemingway modernism (The Killers) and in the dime novels a decade prior to many of the films based on them. While in this case, shifting from one medium to another does allow the tough guy tone to become a new style in cinema, we cannot forget that the tough guy tone is just as comfortable in the gangster genre as the noir. I won't even get started on femme fetals, they've almost always been around in one form or another. Overall though, I agree that it is better to look at classic noir as a cinematic style, but ultimately what that style is depends on what we accept up front as noir and what we don't. What does it mean to say The Stranger on the Third Floor is the first versus Citizen Kane or M? Anyway, great discussion everyone. Peace.

  • Nov. 2, 2008, 8:54 p.m. CST

    Casablanca versus The Big Sleep

    by Continentalop

    I agree with everything that you said Neosamurai85, but I wanted to comment on one difference between the films. In Casablanca Rick is a bitter, cynical, hurt man who "sticks his nose out for nobody", but by the end of the film he has undergone a character arc and has regained his idealism again. Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep, however, does not undergo any sort of arc, and by the end of the film his character will still be the same tough, cynical, hard-boiled detective he was at the start, even if he continues to see Lauren Bacall's character. His worldview hasn't changed at all. The first movie is about optimism, hope and sacrifice; the second one is about how the world is dark and shadowy, and what type of person you have to be to survive in it.

  • Nov. 2, 2008, 9:07 p.m. CST

    As for Film Noir as a style

    by Continentalop

    I think a better term would be movement. A movement expresses the idea that certain styles, techniques and ideas, as well as innovations, seemed to become popular at the same time; a zeitgeist moment such as what happened during the Italian Neo-realism, the French New Wave, and New Hollywood. Of course this still creates a problem with the categorizing of films (such as, why is the Godfather part of New Hollywood but not the Poseidon Adventure?). Well, that is it for now.

  • Nov. 2, 2008, 9:18 p.m. CST

    Films in color after the 50's that are Noir are

    by DRACULA_WANTS_THE_AMULET

    Called Neo-Noir, and there are tons of them. Just wiki the word Noir. You will see that the films that fall under the Terminology Neo Noir are films like china Town and L.A. Confidential Blade Runner, and lots more. JGL did a Neo Noir film that took place in a highschool setting a few years back. Styles constantly are brought back into fashion and reused. Crime Dramas are no different

  • Nov. 2, 2008, 9:38 p.m. CST

    Lord, it's like being back at USC Critical Studies

    by HereAgain

    The term has been abused in recent years - just scan through IMDb, to see some ludicrous applications.

  • Nov. 2, 2008, 11:09 p.m. CST

    Debating film genre is nearly pointless...

    by chaplinatemyshoe

    because of how poorly the requirements for genre have been drawn. Epic, Tragedy, Lyric and Comedy (within comedy Infernal, Purgatorial, Paradisal). Call me old school, but I find that a far more useful way of delineating genre than fast and loose terms like "noir", "meta" or, worse still, "dramedy."

  • Nov. 3, 2008, 5:28 a.m. CST

    I'm going to turn the color off

    by Mace Tofu

    and watch it in Black & White. Should be cool.

  • Nov. 3, 2008, 8:35 a.m. CST

    "Leave Her to Heaven" Fucking ROCKS!

    by LaneMyersClassic

    Tierney has never looked more beautiful - absolutely stunning!

  • Nov. 3, 2008, 12:10 p.m. CST

    chaplinatemyshoe... plus all genre fans

    by subtlety

    well, although I don't necessarily go in for the 'epic, comedy, tragedy, lyric' stuff, I do agree that trying to come up with some sort of absolute terms for genre is arbitrary and absurd. Now, some types of film styles ARE clearly deliniated (we've been talking about dogme cinema, but french new wave, italean neo-realism, etc all are specific schools of thought, with clearly stated rules and directors who rigorously apply them. But genre, particularly since it has so much to do with plot, will always be to some extent unclassifiable. There are a few things which are sort of paragons of genre (ie, Shane is a Western, Nightmare on Elm Street is a Horror, Double Indemnity is a Noir) but most films dabble a bit, and trying to apply rigid rules to make them one thing or another actually diminishes what we can learn from them. Actually, I disagree with the person who said that noir is overused as a term on IMDB. The IMDB genre bar seems to me to indicate that the film has ELEMENTS of one genre or another. Hence, Blade Runner has elements of Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Noir, thriller, action... um, if you go down the list it gives about 50 genres, including some questionable ones like "person gets thrown through a window" and "cyborg". Still, I imagine a serious scholar could build a case around the "cyborg" genre... (a professor I had in college wrote a great deal, very seriously, about a genre he called the "mind-fuck." It included films like the Matrix, Videodrome, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Total Recall, and The Long Kiss Goodnight. He had a fairly narrow definition of structural similarities in plot and style which linked these films. It was interesting, but, again, I think just proves how arbitrary any genre definition is. Many great films have things in common because directors watch films and borrow stories and styles from other places. Rather than speaking in terms of genre, I think it more useful to think about specific effects movies have on each other, and overall trends which are observable over time. Just my 10 cents.

  • Nov. 4, 2008, 9:53 a.m. CST

    Not sure I agree on the etymology of term "noir"

    by JackRabbitSlim

    The impression Ive gotten was it was a play on both the dark look/dark them of the pictures as well as a line of French pulp novels (not all of them French authors - many American novelists inc Hammett and Postman Always Rings twice guy - forget his name - were published by this publisher) that were cheaply produced and put under the "noir" label because their covers were ... well ... black. This same publisher - as Ive been lead to believe - also put out cheap horror novels under yellow covers, thus popularizing the term giallo.

  • Nov. 4, 2008, 10 a.m. CST

    Van Heflin really proves its what you first saw the actor in

    by JackRabbitSlim

    I first noticed Heflin in a 1940s Robert Taylor crime film called "Johnny Eager" where he played the crime boss second-in-command-consigliere-whatever. What was odd was the way they filmed him as having a crush on his boss - a real eye-opener in how Hayes-code era films dealt with homosexuality. I didnt see Shane til years later - two years ago in fact - and while he was fine in that film he'll always be that love-smitten gangster in Johnny Eager to me.

  • Nov. 4, 2008, 10:22 a.m. CST

    "Implemented in her death"

    by JIMBOCOP

    I think you mean "implicated". Nice review though. I've not seen this, but any movie with Rogers (Ginger, not Ted) is a must for me, so I'll check it out. That is all.

  • Nov. 4, 2008, 11:45 a.m. CST

    Re: Debating film genre is nearly pointless...

    by Neosamurai85

    With respect to your use of the word "nearly" I'd have to say yes, and no. It's true that genre can never be perfectly defined as films react to the emergence of formula (and cliche) by deviating from it. Playing on expectations is a well established past time of storytelling evident in the prevalence of red herring femme fatals that show up in later films. Film genres are particularly problematic due to the shift from attraction cinema (see Gunning) to narrative as the dominate form of the medium occurring roughly at the same time as modernism, making the discourse between the literary and cinematic highly intertextual. Cinema was growing up and coming of age during a period where the dominate narrative mediums where breaking down and mixing up just about every convention of storytelling available. So yes, categorizing films into neat unproblematic boxes is somewhat of a futile endeavor. HOWEVER, the same could be said for the interpretation of history in general. There is always an aspect of story telling at the core of string any series of observed facts into something with meaning. The important thing becomes ultimately understanding how shape those things and what that says about the ideology of any given period of criticism. Why we exclude Casablanca and/or Citizen Kane from noir says things about the value system with which we we define noir. Splitting "classic noir" from "neo-noir" on the grounds of the latter's awareness of itself indicates self-awareness as something valued differently, just as framing classic noir as movement set within the context of WWII which cannot be continued long after the direct effects of the war passed. We'll never get it right (though I agree that movement is the best way to describe the early period), but through the effort we learn more about current values and how we look at film, and history in general.

  • Nov. 4, 2008, 12:31 p.m. CST

    Neosamurai

    by subtlety

    true true. It's all about thinking about the way that films and movements impact each other, and asking ourselves about similarities and differences between them help us understand what forces shaped the films of the time and what forces shape the way we currently think about narrative and storytelling.