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Bad Girls of Film Noir

Both “bad girl” and “film noir” are terms to be understood loosely in this two-volume, eight-film collection from Sony, but I’m more than willing to put up with a little hype if it means bringing some fresh material to market. To say the least, this isn’t a director-oriented collection; the strongest personality here is the redoubtable Hugo Haas, represented by “One Girl’s Confession,” one of his least pathological productions (this time, Cleo Moore is the masochist).

There are two anonymous efforts by Lewis Seiler (“Women’s Prison,” 1955; “Over-Exposed,” 1956); two somewhat more flavorful films from Henry Levin (“Night Editor,” 1946; “Two of a Kind,” 1951) that suggest Levin had a little more kink in him than his bland Fox comedies would suggest; and a half-hearted medical melodrama from Irving Rapper (“Bad for Each Other,” 1953) which manages to make Charlton Heston look like a much worse actor than he actually was. More intriguing are the two on-location thrillers, “The Killer That Stalked New York” by Earl McAvoy and “The Glass Wall” by Maxwell Shane, both of which show the very strong influence that neorealism was bringing to bear on Hollywood practices, even on this marginal level of production. The latter film goes so far as to import Vittorio Gassman, in his first English language role, to play a Hungarian displaced person on the run in New York City; his attempts to find refuge in Times Square were filmed, according to the trailer, with “hidden cameras” — probably 16-millimeter rigs loaded with high speed newsreel stock.

The performers, of course, are the center of attraction here, and if the set offers a little too much of the fleshy Cleo Moore (in three films, including the all-star “Women’s Prison”), it does showcase Lizabeth Scott (in two films), Ida Lupino, Jan Sterling, Audrey Totter, Gertrude Michael, Juanita Moore and Mae Clarke (all in “Women’s Prison”), Evelyn Keyes (“The Killer That Stalked New York”) and the underrated Janis Carter — whose enthusiastic interpretation of a decadent socialite who gets turned on by the prospect of examining a battered corpse in “Night Editor” makes her the baddest girl of this bunch. That’s her above, with William Gargan. My New York Times review is here.

373 comments to Bad Girls of Film Noir

  • One of the harshest noir-like films (proto-noir?) I’ve seen lately was made before the war and in France — Robert Siodmak’s “Cargaison blanche” (1937), in which a pimp gets revenge on a respectfully bourgeois business partner by selling his daughter as a sex slave in Brazil! Siodmak’s camera snakes all over the place, quite amazingly in a prologue in which a prostitute refuses to resist the hired killers who have been sent to assassinate her — “The Killers” nine years before the letter.

    Tom, the Republic-Paramount situation is complicated. The handiest summation I’ve seen is the one in the Wikipedia entry for Republic:

    Republic was one of the first Hollywood studios to offer its film library to television. In 1951 Republic established a subsidiary, Hollywood Television Service, to sell screening rights in its vintage westerns and action thrillers. Hollywood Television Service also produced television shows filmed in the same style as Republic’s serials such as The Adventures of Fu Manchu (1956). Also, in 1952 the Republic studio lot became the first home of MCA’s series factory, Revue Productions. While it would appear that Republic was well suited for television-series production, it did not have the finances or vision to do so. Yet by the mid-fifties, thanks to its sale of old features and leasing of studio space to MCA, television was the prop holding up Republic Pictures. During this period, Republic produced Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe; unsuccessful as a theater release, the 12-part serial was later sold to NBC for television distribution. Talent-agent MCA exerted influence at the studio, bringing some high-paid clients in for occasional features, and it was rumored at various times that either MCA or deposed MGM head Louis B. Mayer would buy the studio outright. From 1954-1955, Republic produced Stories of the Century, starring and narrated by Jim Davis. The syndicated series was the first western to win an Emmy Award.

    As the demand and market for B-pictures declined, Republic began to cut back, slowing production from 40 features annually in the early 1950s to 18 in 1957. A tearful Herbert Yates informed shareholders at the 1958 annual meeting that feature-film production was ending; the distribution offices were shut down the following year. In the early 1960s, Republic sold its library of films to National Telefilm Associates (NTA). Having used the studio for series production for years, CBS bought Republic’s studio lot; today it is known as CBS Studio Center, and in 2006 became home to the network’s Los Angeles stations, KCBS-TV and KCAL-TV. In 2008, the CBS Network relocated from its Hollywood Television City Location to the Radford lot. All network executives now reside on the lot.

    The studio’s parent company, Republic Corporation, survived for some years on Yates’s other interests, among them Consolidated Film Laboratories and the manufacture of household appliances. Other than producing a 1966 package of 26 “Century 66” 100 minute made-for-TV movies edited from some of the Republic serials to cash in on the popularity of the Batman television series, its role in Hollywood ended with the sale of the studio lot.
    [edit] Aftermath

    During the early 1980s, NTA re-syndicated most of the Republic film library for use by then-emerging cable television, and by 1986 found itself so successful with these product lines that it bought the Republic Pictures name and logo. A television-production unit was set up under the Republic name, and offered, among other things, the CBS series Beauty and the Beast and game show Press Your Luck (the rights to the latter series have since reverted to FremantleMedia). There were also a few theatrical films, including Freeway, Ruby in Paradise, and Bound. The “new” Republic also began marketing the original’s serial library on videotape.

    In 1993, Republic won a landmark legal decision reactivating the copyright on Frank Capra’s 1946 RKO film It’s a Wonderful Life; (under NTA, they had already acquired the film’s negative, music score, and the story on which it was based, “The Greatest Gift”).

    In 1994, Spelling Entertainment (headed by Aaron Spelling) acquired Republic Pictures. Soon after, Spelling consolidated its many divisions, reducing Republic Pictures to a marketing brand-name. Republic’s video division shut down in 1995, allowing the video rights to the Republic library to be leased to Artisan Entertainment, while the library itself continued to be released under the Republic name and logo. By the end of the decade, Viacom bought the portion of Spelling it did not own previously, thus Republic became a wholly owned division of Paramount. Artisan (later sold to Lions Gate Home Entertainment) continued to use the Republic name, logo, and library under license from Paramount.

    Republic Pictures’ holdings consists of a catalog of 3,000 films and TV series, including:

    * The original Republic library (except for the Roy Rogers and Gene Autry catalogs, owned by their respective estates)
    * Inherited properties from NTA
    o It’s a Wonderful Life
    o Almost all pre-October 1950 Paramount short subjects (including Puppetoons, and cartoons produced by the Fleischer and Famous Studios)
    + These do not include the Popeye and Superman cartoons, which were sold to different entities and are now held by Time Warner
    o The pre-1973 NBC catalog, including
    + Bonanza
    + I Married Joan
    + Get Smart (TV rights only)
    o Most of the pre-1952 United Artists feature films, including
    + High Noon
    + Copacabana
    * The holdings of Worldvision Enterprises
    o Television rights to Little House on the Prairie
    o Most of the Quinn Martin library, including
    + The Fugitive
    + The Streets of San Francisco
    o Most of the TV series produced by Aaron Spelling
    o The Laurel Entertainment library, including
    + The international rights to the 1982 horror anthology Creepshow (owned domestically by Warner Bros.)
    o Not included are most of the libraries of Hanna-Barbera and Ruby-Spears Productions, which were sold off to Turner Broadcasting System in 1991 (along with the H-B studio itself); these are also owned by Time Warner

    Today, as a result of the Viacom/CBS corporate split of 2006, Republic’s holdings are divided. CBS Television Studios owns most ancillary rights to Republic’s television output (while sharing the copyrights with Republic themselves), while the theatrical side is owned outright by Viacom’s Paramount Pictures. As of 2009, television distribution of the Republic theatrical films is by Trifecta Entertainment & Media (under license from Paramount).

    Lions Gate Home Entertainment’s home video rights initially expired in late 2005, but have since regained video rights to Republic’s theatrical film library (except It’s a Wonderful Life–the video rights to that and several other films, as well as Republic’s TV library now are with Paramount Home Entertainment, with the TV shows released through the CBS DVD label). Paramount handles internet distribution of the Republic films via iTunes.

    As of 2008, Republic remains an in-name-only distribution company under Paramount Motion Pictures Group, a division of Viacom.

    Outside the US, video rights to the Republic film library are divided. For example, Universal Studios Home Entertainment owns the UK rights (they also own UK DVD rights to the TV series Twin Peaks, despite other Spelling/Republic shows being distributed by Paramount there), and Paramount themselves handles distribution in Latin America and Australia.

    By 2010, Republic Pictures will have celebrated its 75th Anniversary.

    What do you bet that said 75th anniversary will pass entirely unremarked by Paramount?

  • Brian Dauth

    Kent: I think class anxiety is the through line, and in a larger respect, social anxiety of all kinds is a hallmark of noir. For me, the noir sensiblity arose out of a societal disturbance that certain filmmakers responded to in their work. The easiest way to do noir was to make a film about crime since a criminal act is the most obvious tearing of the social fabric. But the fissures that were occuring in society and social/interpersonal relations could also find expression in acts other than criminal ones. Women, Blacks, queers were not staying in their place, and their movement was causing a disturbance in the space-time continuum (oops, sorry wrong genre).

    Not every filmmaker wanted to make crime films, but I think several of them gave expression to noir anxiety in their non-crime films.

  • Kent Jones

    Brian, I don’t get it. There was a societal disturbance (as there often and perhaps always is, taking one form or another); the noir sensibility, centering on criminal acts/i.e. tears in the social fabric, arose from this societal disturbance, which also manifested cinematically through films about tearing the social fabric via the commission of non-criminal acts; and because of the particular nature of said social disturbance it can all be broadly characterized as noir? That’s pretty sweeping. If you know a little bit about the 30s and you watch MY MAN GODFREY back to back with FURY, you can certainly detect some of the same undercurrents, but does that mean that both films have to be classified under one vast generic banner? Why can’t it be enough to say that the 40s films share certain undertones and preoccupations across genres and leave it at that? The term “film noir” is extremely evocative and comes trippingly off the tongue, and in its own way, just plain “noir” is even more tantalizing. But why apply it so broadly?

    dm, I remember liking THE SUSPECT very much, and UNCLE HARRY even more – there’s another Republic/Paramount casualty.

    Let the Republic 75th anniversary festivities begin! I’m sure the Paramount Channel has something special in store for us. Wait a minute – there is no Paramount channel.

    Tom, how do you think ancillary and theatrical wound up being split?

  • Brian Dauth

    Kent: In the 1930’s the disturbance/anxiety was mainly economic. I find movies of the time, especially pre-Code ones, to be much less anxious about gender and sexuality than post-WWII films which have much stronger anxiety reverberations along gender and sexual orientation lines. Looking at FURY and MY MAN GODFREY, I do not see the same type of anxiety that I see in post-WWII noir films. As you point out, each era has its disturbances, but there are dinstinctions that can be made between them.

    If I look at things broadly, it is because I am queer and have developed a default position of inclusion rather than exclusion: I tend to want to make more permeable the rigid borders that separate one from another rather than maintaining strict separations. This doesn’t mean I believe in anything goes, but I tend to opt for less division than more in most cases. As for noir, for me it has at its core an element gender and sexual upheaval and anxiety and can turn up in often unlikely places in post-WWII America.

  • Barry Putterman

    Brian, do you see the conundrum here? You look at things broadly because you are queer. Queer being one of the strictest separators you could call upon.

  • Blake, “Hers To Hold” did make it into the British Durbin collection and is available as a single disc via Amazon U.K. No such luck on “Spring Parade.”

    Love Marie Windsor, always did. Fondly recall a dinner at the Cinecon in 1993, someone asked her “What was it like to kiss Elisha Cook Jr. in ‘The Killing?'” and she instantly cracked, “Better than it would be now!”

  • Kent Jones

    Brian, if I understand you correctly, it’s not the fact that there was a societal disturbance. It is the particular nature of this societal disturbance, a matter of gender and sexual identity and the attendant anxieties they provoked. Therefore, the era can be painted with a broad brush (called “noir”) while the earlier era, whose disturbances were (supposedly) merely economic in nature, can not? Umm…

    I understand your non-exclusive thinking, but I don’t see any special advantage or virtue in extending it to the consideration of movie genres.

  • nicolas saada

    °Speaking of unavailable Siodmaks, does anyone have anything to say about THE SUSPECT? It’s a film I’d really like to see.”

    Gosh, we french filmgoers are spoiled kids. It’s been rereleased in Paris. I saw it once ( I have a vhs) and it’s terrific, somewhere along the lines of Turn of the century “london fog” noir (sorry kent, that ‘s a sub sub genre) films like HANGOVER SQUARE or THE VERDICT.
    I recently discovered a few british film noirs : NOOSE by Edmond Greville, POOL OF LONDON by Basil Dearden and BRIGHTON ROCK. Dave mentioned “brit noirs “in another thread. This flock of films, together with French films like RIFIFI, MACADAM or QUAI DES ORFEVRES seem to confirm the idea that noir is indeed a idiom or a mood. But I would go alongside with Kent on the fact that it’s an idiom that is really rooted in a period. To make a musical parallel “be bop” and “hard bop” are really connected to jazz, but develop at a certain point in jazz history. I would not consider anything recorded in the thirties by Ellington, Armstrong or Bix as “be bop”. And I am not sure that the films of the thirties, even the starkest ones ( BLOOD MONEY by BRown, or even BEAST OF THE CITY by Brabin) are “film noir”. But Django Reinhardt’s small combos anticipate “bop” as much as Gangster films anticipate “noir”. It’s a tricky notion, fascinating too.

  • Jim Gerow

    Siodmak’s THE SUSPECT is indeed terrific, as is THE STRANGE AFFAIR OF UNCLE HARRY (George Sanders, Geraldine Fitzgerald and Ella Raines!). I saw both of them on TV sometime in the late 70s/early 80s, a period when almost every classic Hollywood film seemed to turn up sooner or later. I’m dying to see them again; it’s been far too long.

  • Brian Dauth

    Barry: Actually, in queer theory, one of the realizations is that everyone and all things can be queer. The distinction between heterosexual and homosexual is far more rigid. I am separated from heterosexuals by my sexual orientation, but can join with them in being queer. Look at Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick who helped to pioneer queer theory: she was a heterosexual woman, and as she said: part of being queer is a resistance to acceptance of the homo/hetero categorization as a done deal.

    Kent: I just find much more sexual/gender anxiety in the 50’s than in the 30’s. In fact, gay and lesbian history shows very different paths of development during these times.

    As for the advantages I find in this approach: using the concept of movie genres is one way of looking at movies. I like to then layer over it other organizing principles and see what the results are (I loved Venn diagrams in grammar school). For me, it is valuable to understand movies as cultural products and then to focus in on those directors who pushed back/resisted/critiqued these shaping cultural forces, turning them to their own expressive advantage while still working within the broadly accepted aesthetic idioms of their particular times. Auteurs like Cukor, Mankiewicz, and Aldrich amaze me in that they possessed radical aesthetic/cultural sensibilities combined with a sophisticated command of the formal aspects of filmmaking, both of which they combined in films that were often popular successes even though their films were often critical of the culture that produced/embraced them. I just have a deep admiration for artists who work in the belly of the beast and get away with it for decades.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Fredrik –

    The Suspect was shown on AMC when they were the TMC of their time, with heavy rotation of Universal/Paramount films. This discussion inspires me to rewatch today or soon.

    Kent –

    Not sure I can quite explain the various rights split situation on Republic. Artisan (best known for Blair Witch Company) was at its heart a library-acquiring company; when it merged (or was bought) by Lionsgate, it was for the patchwork of companies and films they had amassed in its library. Lionsgate today is very much still a library company in terms of its value, though like all companies, the library value has fallen over the last couple years. Carl Icahn has been involved in a multi-year quest to take over the company; it’s unclear if he will succeed (apparently his son wants a “studio” in the contemporary meaning to run.) If they take over, its possible they might sell their libraries.

  • Kent Jones

    Brian, you’ve done an excellent job of explaining what these terms and practices mean to you. But beyond the laudable effort to dissolve the barriers between heterosexuality and homosexuality, I don’t quite get what it all means to the rest of us, uniformly queer as we all are.

    Nicolas, BLOOD MONEY is stark, but it’s also thrilling and hilarious. What a movie.

    Tom, I guess I find myself wondering if it’s odd to see the theatrical and ancillary rights to a library split between two companies. Of course, if someone from Paramount actually cared, it could all be resolved easily.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Kent –

    Theatrical rights I believe usually includes owning the original material, i.e., the value to a company is their remake potential. Paramount – already not having any control over its own product pre-1948 does not have the same incentive to acquire anciallary rights for films of a similar period from another company. (This assumes that I understand correctly who owns what from Republic at this point).

    I do know these rights are commonly divided – RKO’s library for the most part is owned by Turner for anciallaries, but at one point at least in the past few years remake rights were owned by someone separate, who was actively canvassing the catalogue for potential projects to interest producers.

  • Barry Putterman

    Brian, layering organizing principles over genres sounds like an interesting approach to me. But don’t you have to have a clear definition of what the genre is before that can become operative?

  • Kent Jones

    Tom, wasn’t the “remake” of GHOST SHIP one of those films? Thanks for all the clarifications. Meanwhile, speaking of mergers and rights acquisitions, here’s something hot off the presses:

    “Aladdin Distribution LLC, a Marina del Rey, CA-based company, has announced the acquisition of New Yorker Films’ library, which has amassed over 400 film titles.

    “Veteran film executives David Raphel, a former President of Twentieth Century Fox International, Christopher Harbonville, a producer formerly associated with the Cambridge Film Group; and Hani Musleh, a former investment banker, founded Aladdin Distribution LLC in late 2009, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Aladdin Films Corporation, which is an international motion picture development, financing and production company.

    “New Yorker Films was founded by Dan Talbot in 1965, and became one of the most influential distributors of foreign language and independent films in the US. The principals of Aladdin Distribution LLC announced that Jose Lopez, formerly Dan Talbot’s business partner and Vice-President of New Yorker Films, will remain with the company and has been named President. Peter Marai has been hired as Acquisitions Consultant.

    “The company will operate out of New York City starting March 8, 2010, a year after New Yorker was forced to close its doors, the pioneer distributor of foreign language and independent films is back in business.”

    The question is, what do they still own? Which rights haven’t lapsed?

  • Brian Dauth

    Kent: My approach may never mean much to you since your self and life experiences probably cause you to not have any strong response (positive or negative) to my aesthetic approach. In the same way, your approach will be found useful by some and not as consequential to others.

    All I can reasonably aspire to is to make my aesthetic as clear as possible and then apply it with (hopefully) equal clarity to works I love. There will be people who vibe with my approach and others who have no use for it. I can only offer it as one way to operate by. Cukor, Mankiewicz, and Aldrich can be loved and appreciated for a completely different set of reasons than the one I propose. The aesthetic a person develops usually serves at least two purposes: 1) to provide access to and explication of works of art they love (and sometimes hate); and 2) to catalogue and explain how the aesthetic experience manifests itself in their lives. After three and one-half decades of both serious living and serious movie watching, I at last feel I understand myself, the world, and movies in sufficient degree that I can offer a certain amount of valuable information concerning some movies. I know my biases, both positive and negative, and can now adjust for them as best I can. These biases are never going to disappear: at most, I can hold them in abeyance for a while and use approaches I have learned from others when watching films. As I posted once before: when I watch Kazan movies now I try to bring a little “Kent Jones” into my viewing to forestall my own distaste for aspects of Kazan’s style. I will never be a big fan, but I am now at least able to comprehend and appreciate what others find valuable in him.

  • I’ll just add that years ago, I pushed Artisan/Lions Gate to do a major push of Laurel & Hardy films for the team’s 75th anniversary… Steve Beeks, the head of their home video department, infamously told me, “There’s no market for black & white films unless John Wayne is in them.”

  • David Boxwell

    Film noir? None of that fancy French talk! Iowa grandmother Mabel Boxwell (1900-1998) called ’em, as all her contemporaries did, “murder mysteries.” And she shunned them for being trop louche.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘The essay you might be referring to is “Some Visual Motifs of Film Noir” by Janey Place and Lowell Peterson. It’s reprinted in THE FILM NOIR READER. I agree it’s terrific: one of the best, most important essays on film noir.
    It is full of what one might call “visual techniques common to many good film noir movies”.
    I agree that we should study visual techniques common to noir.’

    Yes, Mike, that is the article. Thank you for telling where it can be found.

    If film noir is style and not genre, then there can be noir movie in many genre.

    I will make analogy with Western painting: there is genre of still life, landscape, portrait, nude, etc., and there is style of Baroque, Academic, Impressionist, Cubist, etc. so there is Baroque still life and Cubist still life, there is Academic landscape and Impressionist landscape, etc. So if film noir is style there can be noir melodrama (MILDRED PIERCE) and noir western (PURSUED.) I am not saying that film noir is definitely style and not genre, but I am saying it could be more style than genre sometimes.

  • Kent Jones

    Junko, here’s a question – do you think it translates across cultures? Does STRAY DOG (NORA INU) qualify?

  • Junko,

    You are making a very interesting point.
    In theory, features of noir style could be applied to all sorts of genres and subjects. Such style features include night-for-night shooting, high and low tilted angles, deep focus staging, complex mirror shots, shooting though bars and grillwork.

    The big question is: how often did Hollywood ever apply such style to non-crime film genres?
    Are there musicals, Westerns, sports movies, comedies, films about African animal trappers, war movies, melodramas/soap operas in this noir style?
    I can’t think of a lot of examples. (Warning: my knowledge of war movies is poor!)
    Instead, Hollywood seems to have restricted the “noir style” to crime movies, almost totally.
    Maybe some films by Anthony Mann, such as GOD’S LITTLE ACRE.
    And CLASH BY NIGHT is a melodrama given a noir look by Lang.
    I would greatly welcome other examples.

    One could ask the same question about the “Western style”. Lots of Hollywood Westerns of 1950-1965 featured spectacular landscapes, brightly painted buildings and colorful clothes for men. You can see this as a ground approach in Boetticher, Mann, Toth, Lewis, George Sherman and lots of films by lesser directors: OLD YELLER and the TV series THE VIRGINIAN, for example.
    Each great director gave this their own creativity: a landscape by Boetticher looks very different from a landscape by Mann.
    But I’ve seen few films in other genres that echo the Western style. Are there any Rock Hudson comedies that look like SEVEN MEN FROM NOW or THEY RODE WEST?

    On the specific films you mention.
    MILDRED PIERCE doesn’t just have noir style. It also has a murder, a whodunit mystery and a police investigation. Its noir style probably reflects that fact that it’s a crime movie.

    PURSUED is widely seen as a full-fledged attempt to make a hybrid between the Western and the noir crime movie. Once again, there is a murder and a mystery. There are also the psychological problems frequently found in 40’s crime movies. These make the film at least one half “crime movie”.
    Noir style is laid on with a trowel in PURSUED. It has some of the few deep focus stagings in Walsh (another is found in the wedding sequence in THE WORLD IN HIS ARMS.)

    But neither PURSUED nor MILDRED PIERCE can be described as just noir style applied to other genres. Both are also full of crime movie content.

  • Alex Hicks

    Great to hear such praise for Siodmak, his neglected (and “massively great”) CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY in particular.

    Great to hear new propects for Siodmak viewing, such as “CARGAISON BLANCHE” and “THE SUSPECT, as well as for the reviewing of CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY under David Hare’s somewhat heartening account of the film’s current seeming unavailability.

    I guess CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY must be the best Somerset Maugham adaptation, though THE RAZOR’S EDGE is smooth and fascinating as a matrix of Maugham personae.

  • Kent, have you read Toby Talbot’s very entertaining book on The New Yorker theater and other Talbot ventures? In it, she proudly proclaims that practically all the rights deals Dan made were handshake deals. Which speaks well with respect to Talbot’s menschiness and progressive philosophy, but likely means multiple nightmares for whoever has to sort out the “What do they still own” questions…

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Glenn – I didn’t know about Toby’s book (she and Dan very much have been partners in all his business ventures) – I will search it out.

    A lot of people have begged Dan to write a book, or at least do some oral memoirs. He has had so many contacts over the year. I got him talking about Jacques Tati one day and knew that there was no way I could remember all the details, much less capture the flavor of his remembrances.

    (Just ordered the book; I hope it at least partly goes into some of these relationships).

  • Kent Jones

    Mike, what about THE FURIES or DUEL IN THE SUN? What about a period movie like THE BLACK BOOK? Or a musical like THE MAN I LOVE, or LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME? For a film about “African animal hunters” rather than “trappers” (close enough?), try the dark, brooding MACOMBER AFFAIR. Comedy: FATHER OF THE BRIDE, UNFAITHFULLY YOURS and certain stretches of GETTING GERTIE’S GARTER and UP IN MABEL’S ROOM. Melodramas? I wouldn’t even know where to start.

    Glenn, I have read the book, it’s very good, and the handshake deals are the stuff of legend.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘do you think it translates across cultures? Does STRAY DOG (NORA INU) qualify?’

    Kent, that is interesting question. NORA INU could qualify because it is crime movie and has some stylistic quality of film noir. Also, YOIDORE TENSHI could also qualify.

    Mike, it is true what you say about MILDRED PIERCE and PURSUED, but to me these movies is first melodrama and western because crime investigation is secondary. I will add SUNSET BOULEVARD and GILDA because crime investigation is secondary in these movies too.

    If they was not color movies would LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN and LADY IN THE DARK qualify to be film noir?

  • Johan Andreasson

    When you start thinking about noir style and themes in other genres, BRINGING UP BABY has a pretty dark look, and you would just have to make some minor changes in the story to have Hepburn’s femme fatale ruin Grant’s characters life.

  • Pete, you wrote “DOUBLE INDEMNITY, MURDER, MY SWEET, CONFLICT, LAURA and the on-the-way THE DARK CORNER, THE BRASHER DOUBLOON, THE BLUE DAHLIA, THE LADY IN THE LAKE, THE BIG SLEEP, THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE and, uh, SERENADE”. I love the fact that among all this well established classics (and two lesser known classics) THE BRASHER DOUBLOON pops up. Great title by the way.

    Johan, BRINGING UP BABY to me is one of the true marvels of American cinema. And yes, it’s both noir and gangster. And screwball. And queer. In short, it’s Hawks.

    Kent, I’m happy somebody brought up THE MACOMBER AFFAIR. Great film! I would love to see Korda’s A WOMAN’S VENGEANCE. Is it any good? You also mentioned THE FATHER OF THE BRIDE, and I’m not sure about that as a noir, although I think that THE LONG, LONG TRAILER is consciously framed as a noir, with Desi Arnaz coming in from the rain, telling his story about a dame who led him astray (more or less).

    THE LOST WEEKEND hasn’t got any crime in it, but it doesn’t get much darker than that one. John F. Seitz’s photography is just staggering.

    I just saw THE MALTESE FALCON for the eleventh time or something rather. It certainly is a noir, but it doesn’t really look like one. Is not particularly dark, it’s more grey. Like a MGM-set before they polish the furniture. And not much shadow-play either. Take any Curtiz-film (at least before the 50s) and it has more shadows in one scene than the whole of THE MALTESE FALCON. And no flashback, voice-over, or any of that.

  • Alex Hicks

    Consideration of BRINGING UP BABY and the great THE MACOMBER AFFAIR as noir strikes me as a reductio ad absurdum of the strictly stylistic conception of noir –why not call KANE noir instead of expressionistic?– while inclusion of THE LONG, LONG TRAILER as noir strikes me a stretch by every proposed standard of noir (as the flashback link is pretty tenuous), though a clear carrier of noir parody.

    Glad to hear THE LOST WEEKEND more than dismised as a social problem film, as I recall was the case when it came up during our several Wilder discussions. It’s as sharp as DOUBLE INDEMNITY (and “John F. Seitz’s photography is just staggering” in each).

    Recognition that THE MALTESE FALCON “certainly is a noir” take us squarely back to Krutnik’s conception of noir as narrative, specifically to his tough guy “investigative thriller” (in which the PI confronts an investigation as challenge to his crucial sense of social and psychological control “When a man’s partner is killed” …and … “it doesn’t matter how much I love you or you love me…I won’t play the sap”).

    THE MACOMBER AFFAIR is, like THE RAZOR’S EDGE and ARKADAN, a great example of drama as confrontation among — or in this case between — an author’s personae. (Actually closer to noir as narrative genre than style –and made within Krutniuk’s key 1940-1950, Vet-targetted, noir period.)

  • I was going to add Mann’s THE BLACK BOOK, and maybe THE TIN STAR. Mann is definitely a man who used noir style in other genres.

    On the other hand, THE MAN I LOVE has crime elements: threatened gunplay, blackmail, going to the police, hard-boiled types. These aren’t “primary”, but they are there.
    And LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME has a gangster who shoots his romantic rival.
    UNFAITHFULLY YOURS is a comedy about fantasies of murder.
    I agree that these are all hybrids of crime with other genres. But the crime elements are present. They are not just “noir style”, but are linked to crime content.
    In general, noir style is largely linked in Hollywood to crime content, I believe.

    I don’t recall noir style in GETTING GERTIE’S GARTER. And claiming the nightmare in FATHER OF THE BRIDE is noir seems like a stretch. Ditto BRINGING UP BABY or THE LONG, LONG TRAILER.


    When I brought up the Silver-Ursini idea that noir was just the crime genre films of the 40’s and 50’s. I had no idea this would be controversial. These are the editors of the best known books on film noir in English. And they have maintained this view for over thirty years. I thought everyone would at least be familiar with this idea. No one has to agree with a popular idea, of course, but I expected it to be a commonplace view that everyone knew about.

    As best I can tell, film noir is a genre (crime films of a certain era). And studying it is a branch of Genre Studies.

  • Kent Jones

    Hey everybody, I think neither THE MACOMBER AFFAIR nor FATHER OF THE BRIDE are films noirs, nor any of the other titles I listed. I was just answering Mike’s question about the application of stylistic choices commonly associated with “noir” to stories outside the crime genre.

  • Kent,

    Thank you!

    And thank you for the recommendation of THE MACOMBER AFFAIR, a film completely “off my radar”.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    From The Encyclopedia of Film Noir/Alain Silver, Elizabeth Ward

    “Film noir is literally black film, not just in the sense of being full of physically dark images, nor of reflecting a dark mood in American society, but equally, almost empirically, as a black slate on which the culture could inscribe its ills and in the process create a catharsis in which to relieve them.

    …these noir films possessed an economy of expression and a graphic impact substantially different from the hard-boiled novels or pulp short stories…from which they may have derived.”

    The whole essay is lengthy, but although it recognizes crime stories as being sometimes part of the genre, at no point can I see anything resembling a claim that crime films = films noir.

    For me the genre (if that is the right word) usually includes a visual style more expressionistic/German influenced than typical studio films of the time; a recognition to psychological basis of behavior far beyond what often is delved into in genre/b-movies et al; a shading of the concept of good and evil so that the plot did not necessarily lead to a happy ending or good triumphing over evil. And what that above definition suggested – a real time and event relationship to the despair that grew in America after the WW2 victories with the reality that peace was not at hand, that society would never return to what it had been, awareness of the permanent change of the nuclear era and so on – to me some of these outside factors often are part of the atmosphere behind noir films.

    Hmmm – maybe we can revisit the neorealist debate and see how these overlap – there are elements of neorealism in some noir films and noir elements perhaps in some post-war Italian films…

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    Fredrik: if a film doesn’t look like a noir, it isn’t noir.
    THE MALTESE FALCON never looked like a noir film to me even though it was released in 1941. And even though it’s about “crime.” Visually, the film looks like most good thirties movies, and it’s very good indeed, but the noir “feel” just isn’t there. Perhaps Huston wanted to play it safe directing his first movie.

    Charlie Parker is quoted somewhere as telling Dizzy Gillespie, way back then when the “new” jazz music was being born: “Let’s not call it bebop, let’s call it music.” (I quote from Giddins Parker book).

    Of course no one listened to Parker and they called it bebop. Still, Bird had a point.

    I just thought about the above after reading nicolas’s post about the similarity, or rather comparison, between noir and bop = they appeared at the same exact time (early forties)and I could go on for a while coming up with other similarities (like the fact that bop reached the general US audience slowly after two years of the two-year long infamous Recording Ban (1942-43), in the somewat same way that noir films — and also bop jazz of course — reached the European shores..)

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Totally off topic

    Starz Encore Western’s Maverick episode tomorrow AM (8 AM PT – not sure if they time shift, although I believe they do, so like same time in ET) is a 1958 Gordon Douglas directed one.

  • Kent Jones

    Mike, you’re welcome. THE MACOMBER AFFAIR is hard to find. Let me know what happens.

    Fredrik, A WOMAN’S VENGEANCE is very good, if memory serves. I like COUNTER-ATTACK too.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Not remotely noir, but throw in Sahara and The Drum among very fine Zoltan Korda films.

    I might propose Sahara as the best American World War II combat film not directed by someone in Sarris’ top three categories (in other words, apart from Siegel, Fuller, Aldrich, Hawks, Ford and so on).

  • Peter Henne

    This is an odd one about the New Yorker package. The discrete phrase “Aladdin Films Corporation” has all of two hits on a google search tonight, and both are from the same press release that Kent quoted. I’m left wondering, is this an actual company or isn’t it? And what on earth does it want with the NYF library? Possibly to flip it?

    Brian, I think your definition of noir faces the same problem as Mike’s first try. It doesn’t really get you to content (by that, I mean anything descriptive of what we see on screen in the films). There is a gap between charting out one kind of societal disturbance and arriving at why certain kinds of angles and shadows were used in certain combinations and not others. It remains to be explained why one particular set of visual traits, which is called film noir style, emerged to express your idea of societal disturbance, and not another set. Because certainly there is more than one stylistic path available.

  • Blake Lucas

    The Gordon Douglas episode of MAVERICK–“The Burning Sky”–is outstanding. I saw all 120 episodes and thought that for visual style I would rate it as the best–not the show’s most distinctive episode, which would more likely be found among its comedic episodes, and it’s more or less cut to a pattern for the more dramatic ones, but these could be good too. Although it’s a siege story, Douglas’ rich, dramatic compositions have so much internal tension, it never feels static. And the characters and relationships are well-drawn in his hands too. It’s the only hour of episodic television Douglas directed I believe. I kind of wondered why–if maybe it was a cut-down derivation of a movie script he was going to do earlier that didn’t get made or something, though realize that’s unlikely.

    With MAVERICK now confined to one hour in the morning, I have a feeling this might be the last round for the moment, something its fans might keep in mind.


    “…and, uh, SERENADE.”

    I understand why you put it this way. But you should know that Cain’s original novel bears almost no resemblance to the movie made in 1956–the worst movie ever of Anthony Mann, but everyone has to have a low point. The novel is compelling, and I would have love to have seen a faithful adaptation in the right hands; Mann might even have been an interesting if offbeat choice, though Raoul Walsh might have been better (and the film has writers associated with him, including John Twist, all as down on their form as Mann–it’s as if the novel’s homosexual theme and the seeming impossibility of dramatizing it paralyzed everyone involved). In any event, in the face of the castration of the material and the casting of Mario Lanza (believe me, this was NOT the character Cain created, except for being an opera singer) Mann seems to withdraw from it and where normally his mise en scene jumps out, it simply doesn’t at all here–as woeful a movie on every count as his next one MEN IN WAR was great on every count!

    Other Cain novels fared better in their film adaptations obviously. The one that was never done that I’ve always wished someone would have made was PAST ALL DISHONOR, a Western. I know there were filmmakers interested at one point or another, some of them very good, but I’m not sure enough at this point of just who it was.

  • Kent Jones

    Tom, SAHARA’s pretty good, but so is PRIDE OF THE MARINES.

    I like THE DRUM too, but let’s not forget CRY THE BELOVED COUNTRY and, of course, THE FOUR FEATHERS.

    Peter, since Jose Lopez has been made president and they’ve hired Peter Marai to consult, they’re definitely not interested in flipping the company. I just have to wonder what’s left there.

  • Asher Steinberg

    Of course one can’t define noir. It’s like what Wittgenstein wrote about games; they don’t all have any one thing in common (other than that they’re all things you play, which is ultimately circular), they share what he called family resemblances. ANGEL FACE is a film noir (I suppose) with generally even lighting and few night scenes. Other films look like film noirs but don’t have typically film noir plots. Many noirs have male voiceover, inscrutable femme fatales, very often a femme fatale-rich impotent husband-young dashing dupe/protagonist triangle, but of course none of these elements are necessary to noir. What is it about Hitchcock that seems to put him outside film noir? Is THE SEVENTH VICTIM a noir or does it just look like one with the sound turned off? (My inclination is that there is such a thing as the horror/noir but that THE SEVENTH VICTIM’s concerns are too metaphysical to fit it comfortably under the noir umbrella.)

    At any rate, to complicate matters a little, my favorite noirs tend to be noirs that don’t want to be noirs. FALLEN ANGEL, for instance, starts out as a fine enough noir, but after Linda Darnell’s death turns into something completely different (signaled most bluntly by the revelation that Dana Andrews, not Linda Darnell, is the eponymous fallen angel), a surprisingly optimistic masterpiece about love and redemption. THE RECKLESS MOMENT is a film where Joan Bennett’s character seems to be trying, unknowingly, to turn the film and her life into a noir, and failing again and again. The blackmailer who gives his life to keep her nose clean is the obvious example, but I’m particularly thinking of when she goes to what she expects and the soundtrack suggests will be a sleazy pawnshop, and the cashier turns out to be a perfect gentleman who assures her her pieces won’t be put in the window. In a sense, she seeks out and is denied the liberating possibilities of noir, sent back to her comfortable home and her absent husband and her Christmas tree. You could even argue that THE RECKLESS MOMENT is a deconstruction of noir; where noir asserts that there’s a secret world of triple-crossing murderous trophy wives lurking just beneath the everyday, THE RECKLESS MOMENT suggests that beneath the dangerous and attractive blackmailer’s exterior lies someone whom you’d be perfectly happy to go grocery shopping with, that behind the pawn shop’s seedy facade there are friendly assistants waiting to discreetly advance you credit, that low-grade hustlers waiting to talk to you in cheap hotel bars are just that, low-grade hustlers waiting to talk to you in cheap hotel bars, nothing more.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Just resaw The Suspect – quite solid mystery of a sort, but not really film noir (Ward/Silver do not list is as such, Selby does) – lacking most of the normally included elements (including femme fatale – Ella Raines is merely an innocent bystander) apart from crime committed by someone not necessarily inclined to it. It likely gets classified as one because of its year and director (Siodmak made 6-8 otherwise), but other than its ending hard to place it within the genre.

  • jbryant

    I was surprised when reading Cain’s MILDRED PIERCE–after seeing the movie a couple of times–that it felt more melodrama than noir. Had I read the book first, I’d probably expect the resulting film to look more like a Sirk or Minnelli (albeit in the wrong decade) than a B&W Curtiz (I’d probably have visualized Stanwyck instead of Crawford, too).

  • david hare

    Late to this,again, but there are some prewar, and at least one post war Siodmak worth watching in the context of this discussion.

    Panique, his last film in 1939 in France before he fled (theres one other but I think he shot it was shot before Panique) is of course the same text as Sirk’s Lured. In many ways it’s the equal or better, BUT, and I can’t explain it, despite casting Chevalier as the killer (spoiler if that’s not too late…) the picture gives Chevalier lousy musical scenes to break up the narrative. This after and within the terrific music and rhythm, he already uses to create the atmosphere. It’s the pre Hollywod film most like his Hollywood films. Maddeningly, to this point Siodmak’s musical track has been flawless. But in any case, it certainly shows off his nose for “Dark” films, albeit with his own edgy taste and tone. And some years later, with his return to Germany, Nachts, wenn der Teufel kamm (the Devil Strikes at Night) whose mise en scene for the period and place alone gives it great Noir thickness. I realize the latter is not generally well regarded, but in purely formal terms, it has a great deal to offer.

  • david hare

    Late to this,again, but there are some prewar, and at least one post war Siodmak worth watching in the context of this discussion.

    Panique, his last film in 1939 in France before he fled (theres one other but I think it was shot before Panique) is of course the same text as Sirk’s Lured. In many ways it’s the equal or better, BUT, and I can’t explain it, despite casting Chevalier as the killer (spoiler if that’s not too late…) the picture gives Chevalier lousy musical scenes to break up the narrative. This after and within the terrific music and rhythm, he already uses to create the atmosphere. It’s the pre Hollywod film most like his Hollywood films. Maddeningly, to this point Siodmak’s musical track has been flawless. But in any case, it certainly shows off his nose for “Dark” films, albeit with his own edgy taste and tone. And some years later, with his return to Germany, Nachts, wenn der Teufel kamm (the Devil Strikes at Night) whose mise en scene for the period and place alone gives it great Noir thickness. I realize the latter is not generally well regarded, but in purely formal terms, it has a great deal to offer.

  • pete

    Fredrik, I imagine THE BRASHER DOUBLOON’s pedigree had some folks buzzing over it, but alas, it was not Nancy Guild’s finest moment. I enjoyed its occasional flourishes, which I feel comfortable attributing to John Brahm.

    Blake, thank you for the flesh out, re: SERENADE. I think your intuition about the difficulty in bringing the material to the screen is borne out by the fact that the article mentioning it as a ‘coming attraction’ was written in 1945 and the film arrives some ten years later. My Cain education has been limited to a compact ‘Everyman’s Library’ edition with POSTMAN, DI, MILDRED PIERCE and a few short stories, but unfortunately no SERENADE. I shall keep an eye out for it.

    Other westerns that flirt with noir style might include BLOOD ON THE MOON (Wise, 1948), YELLOW SKY (Wellman, 1948), DEVIL’S DOORWAY (Mann, 1950), THE HALLIDAY BRAND (Lewis, 1957) and STATION WEST (Lanfield, 1948).

  • Alex, I didn’t mean to say that BRINGING UP BABY was film noir. I was just mentioning that BABY is a mixture of different things, most likely because Hawks thought it was fun. And regarding THE LONG LONG TRAILER, I thought that they meant it as a joke, or parody, with the beginning and end, I wasn’t implying that the whole film was a film noir.

    Who’s dismissing THE LOST WEEKEND? The idea!

    About Somerset Maugham, let’s not forget Wyler’s magnificent THE LETTER. Talk about tropical malady.

    Tom and Kent, I’m actually not that big a fan of Korda’s British films, although THE FOUR FEATHERS definitely has its moments and THE DRUM has a radiant Valerie Hobson. THE JUNGLE BOOK has some nice moments to, but the parts are better than the whole.

    Jean-Pierre, considering how many there are who see THE MALTESE FALCON as the first proper film noir, that’s some suggestion you make. But I’m with you. I don’t think Huston was playing it safe though, in fact I think the film is rather daring. It’s got a very modern feel to it in the sense that it’s so playful with its complexity and untrustworthiness. People are constantly talking but nothing they say has the least resemblance to the truth. And they are all acting, all the time. For these guys and this gal the world certainly is a stage. And sometimes the film pauses for a second as if to see if the audience is in on it, like when Bogart stops in mid-sentence and says “Are you getting all of this or am I talking to fast for you?”. (I’m working on an article about it, and in it I’ll hopefully be able to be more clear on what I mean.)

    But compared to Siodmak’s or Wilder’s later films, or say Wyler’s DEAD END from 1937, it’s looks nothing like our idea of noir. But it’s got the detective, the cynicism, the emotional darkness.

  • Johan Andreasson

    Mike, Alex and Fredrik: BRINGING UP BABY really is an odd mix of things, screwball noir being one aspect (and yes, something of a stretch). You definitely get the feeling the filmmakers were playing around and experimenting. I think it’s the only comedy Dudley Nichols ever wrote, it was Hepburns first screwball comedy, Hawks was also kind of new at this thing (although he had done TWENTIETH CENTURY), and Russell Metty’s photography is rather unorthodox for a comedy. So they took their time and had fun working, and ended up with a pretty unique film.

  • Johan, let’s not forget Hagar Wilde’s contributions.

    BUB IS also important as the first cooperation between Hawks and Grant. And you’re right to point out Metty. This was arguably the first major film he worked on. (The previous one was called FORTY NAUGHTY GIRLS, which is some title. Is it noir though?) But he didn’t really make it big until the 50s I’d say. (Apparently Siegel was most displeased with him on the set of MADIGAN)

    In general, I think the work of the cinematographer should be mentioned more often than it does. The look of a director’s films may change depending upon who’s photographing it. As for THE MALTESE FALCON, its DoP was Arthur Edeson who Incidentally also shot Dieterle’s earlier take on THE MALTESE FALCON, SATAN MET A LADY.

    About Nichols and comedies, I haven’t seen HOLD THAT GIRL! (from 1934) but it sure sounds like a comedy… He also wrote IT HAPPENED TOMORROW in 1944.

  • Barry Putterman

    Blake, I’m recording the Gordon Douglas “Maverick” episode even as I write since I also suspect that it is about to be phased out on the westerns channel. You are probably right about it being a re-cycled film script since Warners was constantly doing that in their TV output. I recently saw a “Cheyenne” that was a cut down re-working of THE CHARGE AT FEATHER RIVER.

    I also agree that the best episodes were the comedies. My personal favorite is “A Fellow’s Brother” but the Altman “Bolt From the Blue” is pretty good too.

    Just a few glances at the screen while this is recording is reminding me a bit of ONLY THE VALIANT, but what is striking me at the moment is that here is one of the five thousand TV episodes from the 50s and 60s that features Gerald Mohr (about a dozen of them were “Mavericks”). Is it not time for an “Ode to Gerald Mohr?” We can speak of this period as the Golden Age of Movie Villaindom, but on television, Gerald Mohr was a one man Renaissance who covered practically everybody’s style.