Robert Horton is a Scarecrow board member and a longtime film critic. He will be contributing a series of “critic’s notes” to the Scarecrow blog—a chance to highlight worthy films playing locally and connecting them to the riches of Scarecrow’s collection.
Saturday I’ll be introducing Double Indemnity at the Whidbey Island Film Festival’s “Femme Fatales of Film Noir” program, and delivering a few observations about the women of noir.
This has me checking some old notes for a Film Noir course I taught at Seattle University a few years ago. I realized that in jotting down ideas to mention in introducing the assigned films, these notes form a kind of found poetry on the subject of noir. So here are the scribblings for three classic films, offered as noir prosody:
First image: woman in a window; next-to-last image, ditto
The homes: a progression of places that grow abstract: house, then the house in disarray; his apartment w/target figure; the motel; the ghost house
The American Dream: fool’s gold; Muscle Power magazine; Heflin taking the time to play a slot machine at his motel; friend: “A Caddy? He sure made it”
Pre-figuring. the mentions of ghost towns, “I’d take the hills”
Fascination with an intruder: the way Heflin moves around the house during his visit; Evelyn K’s vulnerability (“A lot of good things aren’t exciting—that’s what’s good about them”).
Technology: the radio and records; the way they come back like a guilty conscience; they way they present a false portrait of a marriage
Opening shot settles on a parking lot: one of the many dramas going on in the city; opening dialogue predicts the end (“it’ll be just you and me the way it should’ve been from the start”)
Steve w/his mother—a little boy being bossed around—sitting, hands folded, next to her on his bed as she derides his choice of dates; you can see his hapless way with women
The characters on the periphery: barman, barfly, maitre d’, hospital observer; the drunk planner, Finchley
The heist as a half-hearted affair, dissolving into fog
The end: moonlit sea, cottage, tree: the lure of California as the end place
Anne’s ultimate spot—”Love, love—you have to watch out for yourself, that’s the way it is”—an escapee would understand that kind of fierceness; Steve follows with his memory of dreaming about her in distant cities, and how far his little dream has been from reality
You don’t know what you’re doing. Trouble is, you always know what you want.
the train station, street encounter, and room; the hospital; the dance
Kiss Me Deadly
Spillane: good guys and bad guys, no moral haziness
What’s different from the Forties—the beatnik mood
Cloris: you can tell a lot about people: Hammer’s pad—cameras hanging, phone recorder, sculpture, hepcat stuff
Lighting as though by interrogation light
“You know the old saying” “What I don’t know can’t hurt me?”
“Sad for the way the world is”
Labyrinth/modern art/pull a thread, a string, a rope/the voice talking about the civilized world that used to be/words, letters scrambled together—Manhattan project/
Classical colliding with modern: ballet, references to Medusa and Pandora, Caruso opera, Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony
Long takes: questioning Strother Martin, the boxing gym—so many locations and stops
previous films—the beach house as the destination
Robert Horton, the longtime reviewer for the Daily Herald and Seattle Weekly, is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.