Saturday, 26 January 2008

Detour (E. G. Ulmer, 1945)

Al Roberts: That's life. Whichever way you turn, Fate sticks out a foot to trip you.

There is a fatalistic quality in Detour. In fact the movie is like a nightmare: The events seem to roll inevitably to a fatal end. The film opens with a road… in a bar Al Roberts (Tom Neal) hears the song I can’t believe you’re in love with me and his thoughts are taken to the past.

He had begun a hitch-hiking trip from New York to L.A. (where his girlfriend was waiting for him). A driver called Charles Haskell Jr. offered to take him directly to LA. However his sudden death took Al by surprise:

Al Roberts: (narrating the story) Until then I had done things my way, but from then on something stepped in and shunted me off to a different destination than the one I'd picked for myself.

Thinking that the police will never believe his version and he may be accused of murder he hides the body and goes away with the car using Haskell's identity. Later he gives a lift to Vera (Ann Savage) who happened to know Charles and blames Al for his death… He is trapped by her and is just a puppet in her hands..

Vera’s accidental death is another destiny trap surrounding Al. The narrator is always surrounded by a dark or foggy atmosphere and never seems to have a chance:

Al Roberts: Yes. Fate, or some mysterious force, can put the finger on you or me for no good reason at all.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

The Lady From Shanghai (Orson Welles, 1947)

Michael O’Hara: That's how I found her, and from that moment on, I did not use my head very much, except to be thinking of her.

Michael O’Hara (Orson Welles) meets Elsa Banister (a really beautiful short-haired Rita Hayworth) in Central Park.

O’Hara is hired as a sailor by the Bannister family and soon they set off for a pleasure cruise to Acapulco (a getaway setting for many noir films).

Irish sailor O’Hara soon realises that Arthur Bannister (Everett Sloane), his partner George Grisby (Glenn Anders) and his wife are like sharks ready to destroy each other: you could smell the death, reeking up out of the sea. I never saw anything worse... until this little picnic tonight.

Later Grisby makes a strange proposition to O’Hara. Grisby himself should be killed and the sailor would receive $5000. O’Hara is willing to accept so he could run away with Elsa but in fact she is the femme fatale behind the plot…

The film is certainly a masterpiece with many of Welles’ trademarks (camera angles, a complex story, baroque settings… - the scenes at the aquarium and at the amusement park are unforgettable). Some critics may argue that the plot is complicated and nonsense but as Francois Truffaut once wrote: "The only raison d'etre for The Lady from the cinema itself".

The final scene in the hall of the mirrors is one of the best remembered in film history… Bannister is killed and Elsa is also left to die alone… Like the sharks, mad with their own blood. Chewing away at their own selves.

Michael O'Hara: Maybe I'll live so long that I'll forget her. Maybe I'll die trying.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

He ran all the way (John Berry 1951)

Nick Robey: “...but I am running so hard in this dream…”

At the beginning of the film Nick Robey (John Garfield) wakes up from a nightmare – he was running… he feels he won’t be lucky that day..

On the same day he takes part in an payroll robbery in which a man is seriously wounded. Running away from the police he goes to a pool where he meets Peg Dobbs (Shelley Winters). After a friendly conversation Peggy takes him to her apartment. Nick is thinking about the robbery and the wounded man and he is wondering what to do next. When Peg’s parents and younger brother return home at night Nick thinks they know about his criminal deed. Then Nick’s paranoia increases and he takes Peg and her family as hostages while he is hoping to find a way to escape.

But Nick is doomed and his dream of running all the way comes true…

In the film Nick is portrayed as a hunted man, victim of the rejection of society rather than as a cold criminal.

In the same sense the film is also a symbol of the career and status of John Garfield, a great actor that had taken part in many noir films. His political ideas had put him in the spotlight of the MacCarthy witch hunt campaign. One year after making this film he died of a heart attack. It wasn’t only him that had been blacklisted, director John Berry and the screenwriters (Dalton Trumbo and Hugo Butler) had also been in political trouble and had to be exiled – part of this paranoia is in a way present in the film. In this context the death of Nick in the gutter is a highly symbolic image…

Wednesday, 2 January 2008


A dark street, shadows, men and women fighting against their fate... this is for me the essence of film noir.
It's true that film noir deals about many unpleasant subjects: murder, dishonesty, betrayal... However the classic movies we are referring to have a high aesthetic quality and elegance.

The movies we are going to write about in those pages are filled with different characters: private investigators, femmes fatale, outlaws, people escaping form their past or from a nightmare… It all forms a fascinating universe of its own which is worth exploring…