Film Noir and the Femme Fatale

July 16, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

High Heels on Wet Pavement

Los Ange­les 1948

Femme fatale—is defined as “an irre­sistibly attrac­tive woman, espe­cially one who leads men into dan­ger or dis­as­ter”. To me the most engag­ing sem­blance of a “femme fatale” is the stun­ning image of Lana Turner, as the cam­era pans from her ankles upward in that breath­tak­ing shot from The Post­man Always Rings Twice 1946. Read more

Double Indemnity & Film Noir

July 15, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Double Indemnity book cover

The per­fect Film Noir, weak man, strong woman

By the fall of 1943, Bar­bara Stan­wyck had starred in 43 films. She had shown ver­sa­til­ity with many styles. How­ever, there remained one type of role, and an inte­gral part of the spec­trum of any actress, that she had never done, and the time seemed right for it. It was still early enough in cin­ema his­tory for audi­ences to be shaken up by a thor­oughly evil woman.Stanwyck was well aware of the poten­tial in the role of Phyl­lis Diet­rich­son in Billy Wilder’s Dou­ble Indem­nity, Wilder remarked later how Bar­bara jumped at the chance of play­ing it. In an inter­view for Movie Digest in 1972, Bar­bara, recalled, “when Billy Wilder sent me the script of Dou­ble Indem­nity, and I read it, I real­ized that I had never played an out–and–out killer. I had played medium heav­ies, but never an out–and–out killer. And because it was an unsym­pa­thetic char­ac­ter, I was a lit­tle fright­ened of it. I went to his office, and I said to him, I love the script and I love you, but I’m a lit­tle afraid, after all these years of play­ing hero­ines to play the part of an out–and–out cold– blooded killer… Read more

Out of the Past: An In-depth Review

July 3, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Virginia Huston Robert Mitchum

Vir­ginia Hus­ton, Robert Mitchum

In the lit­tle town of Bridge­port, Cal­i­for­nia, Jeff Bai­ley runs a gas sta­tion with the assis­tance of a mute boy, Jimmy, and courts Ann. One autumn day, Joe Ste­fanos dri­ves into town and informs Jeff that Whit Ster­lin a rack­e­teer, wants to see him. Jeff relates his life’s story to Ann as they drive to Sterling’s Lake Tahoe man­sion. As a pri­vate detec­tive named Jeff Markham, he was hired to find Sterling’s mis­tress, Kathie Mof­fett, who had shot Ster­ling and escaped with $40,000. Jeff found Kathie in Mex­ico but fell in love with her and believed her claim that she did not steal any money. They moved to San Fran­cisco and lived anony­mously until Fisher, Jeff’s for­mer part­ner, found them. Kathie killed Fisher and Jeff dis­cov­ered evi­dence that proved she lied about the money. Dis­il­lu­sioned, Jeff moved to his new life at Bridge­port. Arriv­ing at Sterling’s, Jeff assures Ann before she departs that he no longer loves Kathie. Meet­ing with Ster­ling, Jeff is sur­prised to see Kathie. She secretly tells him that Ster­ling is black­mail­ing her about Fisher’s mur­der to stay with him. The rack­e­teer black­mails Jeff to obtain tax records from Eels, a rene­gade accoun­tant of Sterling’s gang, but Jeff is being used as a patsy: Eels is to be killed by Ste­fanos, who will frame Jeff for the mur­der. Read more

Narrative Innovations in Film Noir

April 26, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Fred MacMurray as Walter Neff

Fred Mac­Mur­ray “Dou­ble Indem­nity” 1944

Film Noir is often inno­vated in nar­ra­tive tech­niques. Dou­ble Indem­nity is marked by two tem­po­ral move­ments: of real time and remem­bered time. The film opens with Wal­ter Neff (Mac­Mur­ray) arriv­ing at his office in the mid­dle of the night and deliv­er­ing into a dic­tat­ing machine his con­fes­sion for killing a man— for money (pause) and for a woman. These words trig­ger a flash­back that is occa­sion­ally nar­rated by his voice– over con­fes­sion. Grad­u­ally the nar­ra­tive brings real time and mem­ory together, while the unusual jux­ta­po­si­tion of tem­po­ral­i­ties gives the spec­ta­tor a pre­mo­ni­tion of what will occur/has occurred in the flash­back story. Finally, they meet as Neff is about to die from the gun­shot would he suf­fered at the end of his flashback.

Scar­let Street another tale of allure­ment and murder–and a remake of Jean Renoir’s 1931 French film La Chi­enne the nov­elty (under Pro­duc­tion Code rules) is that the Mur­derer gets away with it, while another man dies in the elec­tric chair for the crime. Because of this appar­ent breach of the Code, the city of Atlanta, Geor­gia, tried to stop the film from screen­ing there. In an affi­davit sup­port­ing the film, Joseph L. Breen of the Pro­duc­tion Code Admin­is­tra­tion wrote, “It was our con­tention and belief that in this par­tic­u­lar motion pic­ture, the mur­derer was ade­quately pun­ished by a higher power, work­ing through his own con­science, which drove him to become a social out­cast and a hope­less derelict.” Read more

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