darker evenings, darker movies: an uneducated foray into film noir

when i was a kid living at home, my dad and stepmom would watch a movie every friday night.  actually, i bet they still do, because they are nothing if not creatures of habit.  anyway, after we ate dinner and my kid sister was put to bed, my older sister and my parents and i would sit down together in front of the screen and watch whatever film they’d chosen.  i’d usually last for 30 minutes.  maybe 45.  after that, i’d leave, usually in favour of a bath and a book.

in high school, a lot of my friends worked in theatres and would give the rest of us free entrance.  weekends often involved hanging out at the uptown or the paramount, and maybe the consumption of controlled substances.  because of this, i can’t say that i sat through many films with the intention of following the plot, so my short attention span wasn’t much of an issue.

the point here: movies are hard for me to endure.  now that i’m all grown up, i can enjoy them if i have a craft project to work on, or if i’m watching with someone who enjoys talking throughout.  yeah, i’m one of those people.  i know, we’re annoying.  i’m sorry.

recently, i’ve been helping a friend with research for an upcoming stage role as a hard-boiled detective.  we’ve been watching as much film noir as we can get our hands on, and analysing it:  the clothing, the scenery, the racism, the misogyny, the lighting… it’s fantastic.  i’m especially enjoying it because we have no pretense about our ability to judge what we’re seeing, aside from the feminist/queer/leftist/artsy lens that we bring to everything.  i’ve barely even skimmed the wikipedia entries about these movies, let alone learned anything about the genre or the state of filmmaking in that era.  i’m just calling ’em as i see ’em.

so far, the very best has been double indemnity (1944):  the rapid-fire banter between the femme fatale and the protagonist is better than any porn i’ve seen recently.  hawt stuff.  we found the killers (1946) to be the exact opposite: too dull to even finish.  i have a thing for the female assistant characters; i even played sam spade’s effie in a high school dashiell hammett mash-up.  in this regard, kiss me deadly (1955) was a disappointment, because the secretary (velda) is clingy and desperate.  blech! i kinda liked the confusing ending, though.

i had higher hopes for the maltese falcon (1941) because of the above-mentioned experience in playing effie on stage, and also cuz it’s supposed to be one of the best films ever.  really?  eh.  effie was fabulous, but mr. cairo comes off as a weird composite of homophobic and racialized stereotypes:  slimy, devious, limp-wristed, speaks with an accent.  wtf?!  not extreme enough to be amusing, was instead just kinda boring.

last night we watched the big clock (1948) as it was recommended by sj, who also loves double indemnity.  i’m sorry to report that i fell asleep and missed the ending, and i don’t care enough to go back and watch it.  the plot just didn’t grip me.  but hey, my taste isn’t great, so i still believe sj when she sez it’s a good film.

you know what the surprise winner has been?  witness to murder (1954).  srsly, y’all should check it out.  amazing commentary on the role of the career woman in the 1950s!  disturbing demonstration of how women’s concerns were (are) pathologized as “hysteria”!  hell, it even passes the bechdel test!  don’t get me wrong, the movie’s still pretty bad in the standard ways (the only person of colour is an attempt-suicide in the hospital mental ward, the romantic relationship involves a lot of uncomfortable power dynamics, etc.) but is better than so many of the others.  plus, it fulfills one of my favourite film requirements: the weird-nazi-subplot (i {heart} the sound of music).

next up: laura (1954).  also, women in cages (1971)… but that’s not film noir; it’s part of my upcoming ignorant-film-reviewer project, focusing on the works of the amazing and talented pam grier.


4 responses to “darker evenings, darker movies: an uneducated foray into film noir

  1. film noir nights on wednesdays at the superior, every fall! already underway, next up is slightly scarlet. see


    for the full schedule and lineup.

  2. zomg! i remember they were doing that a few years ago, but had no idea it was still happening!
    thanks, peter. i’m going to try to make it next week.

  3. See Phantom Lady! 1944 noir with a female-detective protagonist. Great orgasmic-drumming scene with Elisha Cook Jr.

  4. Hey, sorry your Big Clock experience was less than optimal. I watched it ten years ago, maybe I wouldn’t care for it anymore either, hee.

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