Chapter 3 – Queers and Dykes in the Dark: Classic, Noir & Horror Cinema’s Coded Gay Characters:

The subtle gay gangster films of the early 1930s – Little Caesar 1931, The Public Enemy 1931 and Scarface 1932

“Criminals should not be made heroes… The flaunting of weapons by gangsters will not be allowed…”

“… the fashion for romanticizing gangsters” must be denounced.

The three films also evenhandedly parcel out social pathology and sexual aberration: homosexuality in Little Caesar. Directed by Mervyn LeRoy from the novel by W.R. Burnett Little Caesar was first out of the gate and an immediate sensation. A diminutive bandit whose single-minded ambition compensates less for his stature than his repressed homosexual desire, Caesar Enrico Bandello is compact, swarthy and tightly wound; his golden boy pal Joe played by the scion of Hollywood royalty Douglas Fairbanks Jr. is tall, patrician and easygoing.

When Joe finds a female dancer and show business success, the jilted Caesar unhinged by a jealousy that dare not speak its name even to himself, makes his first mistakes in judgement. The male triangle is completed by Caesar’s worshipful lapdog Otera (George E. Stone) who gazes up at Rico with a rapturous desire that, unlike Rico, he barely bothers to sublimate. Doubly deviant Rico dies for his social and sexual sins, asking in tight close-up and choked up tones, “mother of Mercy, is this the end of Rico?”The famous last words inspired an incisive remark from Robert Warshow on gangster psychology:” Even to himself he is a creature of the imagination” from FILMIC – From Sissies to Secrecy: The Evolution of the Hays Code Queer by Mikayla Mislak

“This is what I get for likin’ a guy too much,” Rico ‘Caesar’ tells himself after he realizes he’s lost, Joe. Joe, who he has referred to as “soft” and a “sissy.” The very pretty Joe (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) has decided to give up the racket, to be a professional nightclub dancer. Robinson wisecracks, “Dancin’ just ain’t my idea of a man’s game.”

Joe is romantically involved with Olga (Glenda Farrell). ‘Caesar’ is not only jealous of Joe’s relationship with Olga, but he also appears to have no use for women at all.

In the end, there is a telling close-up, a well of tears in his eyes, a subtle quiver in his face. Rico cannot shoot Joe, even though he needs to keep him from squealing. The image of Robinson coming head-on with his feelings reveals his struggle with the repressed love for his dancing pal. The scene is very effective when the camera closes in on Robinson, capturing his dewy, wide-eyed stare. Behind the scenes what helped the intensity of the look of longing turned out to be a serendipitous moment when Robinson had to fire a pistol while looking into the camera, and was unable to keep his eyes open, each time he pulled the trigger. Eventually, they had Robinson’s eyes held open with cellophane tape. The effect worked perfectly.

Another interesting point in Little Caesar that hints at his latent homosexuality is a scene that highlights his clumsy fussiness. Rico is trying on a tuxedo and gazing at himself in the mirror. Posturing gleefully as he swishes at his own reflection. In this scene, Rico also becomes caught in his effete sidekick Otero’s (George E. Stone) gaze, who joyfully watches his boss flit for the mirror.

In The Public Enemy (1931) there is a noteworthy scene when Tom (James Cagney) goes to his tailor to get fitted for a suit. It’s a hilariously fidgety few moments for Cagney while the flamboyant tailor fawns over his arm muscles. When the movie was re-released, the sequence wound up on the cutting room floor.

According to Mislak In Howard Hawk’s Scarface (1932), it could be seen as having a gay subtext, as Antonio ‘Tony’ Camonte (Paul Muni) shows a repressed homosexual desire for his best friend Guino Rinaldo played by George Raft. Hawk’s film doesn’t work on a blatant exhibition of violence, instead, Scarface’s subtlety draws on the subliminal impression of his sexual impulses.

Through my readings, it has been noted that there is a coded gayness inferred from the character of Camonte in Scarface. Rather than the repressed sexual desire for his close friend Guino, I catch more a wind of an incestuous desire for his sister Cesca (Ann Dvorak). Camonte hovers over her with an iron will, not allowing her to have any man touch her. She even alludes to his untoward attentions at one point telling him that he loves her more than just a brother. Camonte (Muni) does focus obsessively over his hair and his wardrobe, which Poppi (Kathy Morely) tells him is ‘sweet’. But there are a few references to Guino being queer. He wears a carnation which is a code for being a gay man in film. Camonte says he’d like a carnation too, takes it out of Guino’s lapel, and tells him “Better no one sees you with this.” He also makes a comment about one of the North Side gang members not being taken seriously because he owns a flower shop! Guino doesn’t show any interest in women until nearly close to the end of the picture, when he submits to Camonte’s sister, Cesca.

“The placement of homosexuality or the real possibility of it in an antisocial context is quite natural. Homosexuality when it is invisible is antisocial. The only condition under which homosexuality has ever been socially acceptable has been on the occasion of its voluntary invisibility, when homosexuality were willing to pass for heterosexuals. Obvious homosexual behavior is reflected onscreen as in real life, only in the ‘twilight world’ of misfit conduct. During the brief period of explicit reference to homosexuals in pre-Code films of the early 1930s. Gay characters were psychologically ghettoized by their routine relegations to a fantasy world or an underworld life….

….in addition to strengthening the Code in 1934, Will Hays reacted to criticism by inserting morals clauses in the contracts of performers and compiling a “doom book’ of 117 names of those deemed “unsafe” because of their personal lives. Homosexuality was denied as assiduously off screen as it was on, a literally unspeakable part of the culture. By 1940 even harmless sex-roles farces such as Hal Roach’s Turnabout were considered perilous in some quarters. The film, about a married couple (Carol Landis and John Hubbard) who switch roles by wishing on an Oriental statue, was described by the Catholic Legion of Decency as dealing with ‘subject matter which may provide references dangerous to morality, wholesome concepts of human relationships and the dignity of man.’ ” –Vito Russo


Hitchcock sensed the ambiguous sexuality in Mrs. Danvers (nicknamed Danny) who embodies the forbidding identity of the coded lesbian in 1940s films. As she strides down the halls of Manderley, there is an element of the angry older woman trope, who is vacant of male companionship by choice, with an added streak of dissatisfied longing. She embodies the sterile matron, showing characteristics of an ‘old maid’ attributed to a repressed lesbian.” Rebecca serves as Fontaine’s idealized mother and that Hitchcock’s films present images of ambiguous sexuality that threaten to destabilize the gender identity of the protagonist.” -(Tania Modleski)

Gay Coding in Hitchcock films

Article by Scott Badman & Connie Russell Hosier

“In typical Hitchcock-ian fashion, the “Master of Suspense” often employed in his films subtle references to gay culture, defying conservative attitudes of the late ’50s.”-Scott Badman & Connie Russell Hosier | February 7, 2017- Editor’s note: The following article, like many of Alfred Hitchcock’s films, includes references to sex and violence.

Did Martin Landau play a homosexual in North by Northwest? Did Alfred Hitchcock really show gay sex on-screen in Rope, albeit in an unusual way? Was the whole plot of Rebecca driven by the twisted jealousy of an evil lesbian? And, most surprisingly, did Hitchcock depict a gay marriage way back in 1938’s The Lady Vanishes?”

Alfred Hitchcock was a complicated man, who put a singular stamp on all his films, infusing them with his droll and macabre sense of humor and imbuing his work from the point of view of a satyr. Hitchcock projects his dark and twisted view of the world as at the end of his films there is sort of a perverted release that he leaves us to contemplate. It also appears that he was playful with the use of his gay-coded characters in many of his films.

Nothing Hitchcock did was unintentional, thereby reinforcing proof that there is a gay subtext to many characters in various films. He was very measured in every detail even before the camera captured the scene. But this method of implying a queer pathology and positing queer elements to the narrative. He was ingenious in the way he veiled his ciphers within the cloak of deniability, in order to slip it by the censors in his cheeky manner.

Though Hitchcock would often imbue his pictures with coded gay characters, among scholars it is still speculative as to which side his view fell on. Given that everything Hitchcock constructed was intentional, it’s easy to see why he would be viewed as homophobic, due to his use of stereotypes that eventually led to queerness possibly being as the source of the crimes. But you have to consider that during the time he reigned, it’s a tribute to Hitchcock that he even embraced the complex issue of homosexuality. It shows me that there was a conscious level of understanding.

In his life, Hitchcock surrounded himself with gay culture be it in England or Hollywood, and he worked with many gay writers and actors. Ivor Novello who starred in two of Hitchcock’s silent pictures was good friends with him and Alma. Hitchcock was also friends with Rope stars John Dall and bisexual Farley Granger who played coded gay characters in the film. Granger also had the lead in Strangers on a Train, co-starring Rober Walker who plays another of Hitchcock’s coded gay characters, Bruno. Anthony Perkins who struggled with his sexuality in real life, plays the ambiguous, stammering, Norman Bates in Psycho. According to Jay Poole, Robert Bloch was interested in ‘abnormal psychology’ and was familiar with Freudian theories on sexual identity. His novel was more suggestive of the taboos, in terms of the incestuous relationship with Norman’s mother and his confused sexual identity.

The assessment of ‘camp’ and queerness can be seen as negative. More contemporary audiences might perceive Psycho as more campy than lurid or scary. Norman’s appearance in the fruit cellar might register with audiences as if he’s a big ugly ridiculous drag queen with a knife. The rest of the film is darkly humorous. (Doty cites Danny Peary)

In contrasting these male characters, one representative of sexually suspect psychosis, the other of gendered and sexual normalcy, Hitchcock blurs the lines between them, creating effects that will inform future depictions of American masculinity… While Lila Crane has been read positively as a lesbian character, and also as Carol Clover’s prototype for the ‘final girl” I demonstrate here that Lila is a more ambiguous figure, tied to social repression and the law. […] (Norman’s voyeurism and Lila’s examination of Norman’s room as pornographic) Infusing these pornographic motifs with addition levels of intensity and dread was the increasingly public threat of homosexuality within the Cold War context in which Hitchcock’s related themes gained a new, ominous visibility. What emerges in Psycho is a tripartite monster-voyeurism-homosexuality-pornography.” — (Scott Badman & Connie Russell Hosier)


Saboteur (1942) producer/writer Joan Harrison wrote the screenplay and collaborated with Hitchcock on many projects for both film and television. In the period of the 1940s to the 1950s, movies often conflated homosexuality with unsavory characters like Nazis, communists, and terrorists.

Saboteur stars Robert Cummings as plane mechanic Barry Kane who is framed for the terrorist bombing of a military installation’s aircraft hanger where they manufacture planes. After he sees his friend die in the explosion, police assume that it was Kane who filled the fire extinguisher with gasoline. Kane goes on the run, to try and find the man he suspects is the saboteur, Frank Fry (Norman Lloyd) who is the real murderer who committed the heinous crime.

Kane stumbles onto a secret group of ‘the firm’, 5th columnists who are plotting to sabotage key targets, military planes, ships, and dams. Kane is dropped into the middle of a cabal of dangerous Americans who have infiltrated positions of power in order to carry out their nefarious plan to disrupt the democratic system and cause chaos. Socialite dowager Mrs. Henrietta Sutton (Alma Kruger) is a New York philanthropist who provides cover for the ‘firm’ run by Otto Kruger as the coldly, sinister Tobin. Kane pretends to go along with the group, and in one scene in a taxi with Alan Baxter who plays Mr. Freeman, there is a queer exchange between the two. Freeman tells Kane about his two little children, one of them is a boy, whom he wishes was a girl. He’s letting his son’s hair grow long and hesitates to cut it. Then he shares his reminiscence about his boyhood when he had glorious long blonde curls. Kane tells him to cut his son’s hair and “save yourself some grief.”

Purely by Hitchcockian fate, Kane is thrown together with Pat (Priscilla Lane) who comes to his aid and at one point tries to distract Fry at the top of the Statue of Liberty. The beautiful Pat flirts with Fry in order to stall him until the police get there, but he isn’t the slightest bit interested in her at all. In fact, he seems annoyed by her presence. He’s a slim effete figure, a swishy loner with a serpent-like grin. Theodore Price, in his book ‘Hitchcock and Homosexuality (1992), has no doubt Fry was gay. (Ken Mogg 2008)

Saboteur climax prefigures that of North by Northwest between Thornhill (Cary Grant) and the sinister Leonard (Martin Landau) who is also a gay Hitchcockian figure.

We first hear a remark spoken by socialite Mrs. Sutton (Alma Kruger) when Barry (Kane) is taken to the saboteurs’ New York lair, as Barry enters the upstairs room. Mrs. Sutton is addressing a couple of her male colleagues, whom she reprimands: ‘I have to hover over you like an old hen.’

This is precisely the line Hitchcock uses in Rebecca to characterize the somewhat de-natured estate manager Frank Crawley (Reginald Denny) – nearly all the men in the film are so afflicted – and will be used again in The Paradine Case to characterize the gay Latour (Louis Jourdan).

Frank Crawley is ‘as fussy as an old mother hen’; Latour, we’re told, had been ‘like an old mother hen’ to his beloved master, the blind Colonel Paradine.- Ken Mogg (2008)

In North by Northwest (1959) Martin Landau’s character Leonard, displays an undercurrent of homosexuality, that is subtly implied. He’s a devoted bodyguard whose gaze on his boss, Phillip Vandamm, seems to be bubbling with a refined sensibility, romantically fixated on Vandamm (James Mason), a communist spy being hunted by the CIA. For a 1950s film, Leonard’s immaculate fashion sense and his fastidious swagger are a cue of his being queer. Nearing the climax of North by Northwest, the telling scene set in a mid-century modern house reveals Leonard’s love for Vandamm. Hitchcock even sets up the motive for Leonard shooting the object of his affection, jealousy, and rejection. In a notable line toward the end of the movie, Leonard remarks, “Call it my woman’s intuition” affirming the effete stereotype of a feminine gay man. Vandamm is genuinely flattered (contrary to homosexual panic) by Leonard’s feelings, which hints at his motivation for killing the thing he loves. Vandamm (Mason) tells him in that coldly sober tone of his, “I think you’re jealous. I mean it, and I’m very touched. Very.” As Scott Badman & Connie Russell Hosier point out, Hitchcock’s direction shows a “progressive perspective for its time but so brief that it doesn’t fully register with most viewers. Much later, Landau acknowledged that he played Leonard as a homosexual, albeit subtly.”

From the opening of Strangers on a Train (1951), Hitchcock frames the entranceway to the story with a close shot of the main character’s shoes walking to catch the train. Bruno wears elaborate wing tips with high heels and Guy wears a more toned-down fashionable pair of shoes, which are in opposition to each other and illustrate the contrast between the two main characters.

Robert Walker’s Bruno is a menacing, creepy guy with flashy ties, who positions himself after a chance meeting on a commuter train, to assert his influence over famous tennis player, Guy Haines (Farley Granger). Bruno begins to flatter Guy and insinuate himself by sharing his knowledge of Guy’s personal life. He is very proud of the tie that his mother gave him. It is a garish accouterment dappled with lobsters. Like his silken smoking robe and another tie with the name, Bruno embroidered on it. Bruno also spouts a lot of ‘ideas’ he has in that ever prompted mind of his, when talking about Guy’s upcoming divorce and bigamy scandal, “I’ve got a wonderful theory about that.”

Bruno insists on Guy having lunch with him, “sent to my compartment… You see you’ll have to lunch with me.” It is obvious, though Hitchcock is very subtle about broadcasting the cues, that Bruno is wooing Guy. Bruno is very effeminate in his demeanor, you could say that he has a ‘flaming’ air about him, always dropping hints about his sexuality. “My father hates me”, insinuating that he is not the kind of man he expects of him. “I’ve got a theory that you should do everything before you die.” He tells Guy amorously, “I like you, I’d do anything for you.”

Bruno Anthony’s plan is for both men to exchange for each other’s murders. There are several scenes that scream Hitchcock’s gay coding. Initially, when the two men meet each other on the train, Bruno is flirtatious, dressed in ‘flamboyant clothes’, which to gay audiences, is seemingly clear to be a gay pickup. Bruno’s not only attracted to the handsome Guy, but he is in fact stalking him as an ‘object’ to fulfill his needs and be his ‘partner’ in his deranged homoerotic plot.

His mother, Mrs. Anthony (the wonderful character actor Marion Lorne) does Bruno’s nails and dotes on her son. As Bruno tells his mother, he wants his nails to look right.

Homosexuality is not explicitly stated, but there is too strong an import for critics and audiences in the know, to ignore. And, considering Hitchcock’s fascination with homosexual subtexts, it’s not a stretch to read into various scenes this way.

There is also the insinuation that Bruno has some serious mother issues, which is one of Hitchcock’s points of reference for his gay coding, such as his use of it with Norman Bates in his film Psycho. Bruno amuses himself by antagonizing his mother (Marion Lorne) who is completely in the dark about the twisted pathology of her homicidal son.

Bruno has set up a visit from Guy who finds himself talking to the sociopath, who’s been waiting for Guy while lying in bed in his silky pajamas. Is this actually arranged as a bedroom seduction?

Another brief sequence takes place at the end which centers around a carousel, a possible symbol of fluid sexuality, and sexual foreplay. The scene shows Bruno and Guy wrestling with each other, the movements could be read as Bruno really achieving what he wanted, to have sex with Guy. Hitchcock even cut different versions of the movie for Britain and the U.S., toning down the implied homosexuality in the American version — proof positive that he was fully aware of the gay implications in his movies. –(Badman and Hosier)

Hitchcock’s Rope (1948) is based on the play by Patrick Hamilton Rope’s End is perhaps one of the more obvious coded gay films with homosexual subtexts in his canon. Arthur Laurents, who eventually came out of the closet and wrote the screenplay, said during a commentary “What was curious to me was that Rope was obviously about homosexuals. The word was never mentioned. Not by Hitch, not by anyone at Warners. It was referred to as ‘it’. They were going to do a picture about ‘it’, and the actors were ‘it’.” The original British stage play was loosely based on the sensational true crime committed by Chicago students Leopold and Loeb in 1924, who killed a fellow student, just to see if they could get away with a motiveless crime. The script was penned by Arthur Laurents in collaboration with Hume Cronyn and Ben Hecht.

Brandon (John Dall) and Philip (Farley Granger) are entitled, affluent snobs, who are self-aggrandizing psychopaths with a Nietzschean superiority. Hitchcock arranges a taut stage play, around a case of Folie à deux. Brandon and Philip are implied coded lovers, who used the crime of murder to stimulate each other as if it were a sex act. The intellectual discourse they have at the beginning of the picture is overshadowed by the sexual banter that precedes what ultimately will become the act of committing a murder. Rope from the beginning of the picture inaugurates a very feverish sexual undercurrent.

In real life, John Dall was gay but died in 1971 without talking openly about his homosexuality. Farley Granger was bisexual when making the movie and then was in a lifelong gay relationship starting in 1963. Alfred Hitchcock was well aware of the sexual orientations of both actors and was reportedly pleased with what is now called the on-screen “chemistry” between the two.

He coded Brandon and Philip as gay by their “sex scene.” It occurs at the very beginning of the movie, which is also the murder scene. Hitchcock is strongly equating murder with sex. The murder-sex occurs behind curtained windows. The death scream corresponds to the orgasm. Now visible, the murderers Brandon and Philip quickly put the body in a cabinet and go into a postcoital exhaustion. Philip doesn’t even want the light turned on. In an inspired touch, Hitchcock has Brandon light a cigarette, a standard Hollywood indicator for “we just had sex.” – (Badman and Hosier)

The unorthodox murderers throw a dinner party with the victim stuffed inside an antique trunk. The film was initially banned in Chicago and other cities, because of its implied homosexual relationship between the two killers. In 1959, the story was revised as Compulsion directed by Richard Fleischer scripted by Richard Murphy, and based on the novel by Meyer Levin. Compulsion remains closer to the actual true-life crime, and the implicit queer undertones are brought more to the surface, with less of Hitchcock’s cheeky innuendo.

Hitchcock employs many homoerotic symbology and allusions, as the couple reenact the murder, with the director conflating violence and sex. For instance, Brandon gets a bottle of champagne still invigorated by the murder, while Philip the weaker of the murderous pair, is nervous. Brandon fondles the bottle of champagne as the two stands close together very intimately. He grasps the champagne bottle as phallus and flirts with the top of the bottle, yet not releasing the cork. All this is stages as foreplay. Philip finally takes the bottle from Brandon and liberates the cork. They then toast to their victim. Film Critic Robin Wood asserts, in The Murderous Gays: Hitchcock’s Homophobia, that these films could be made as more positive or sensitive to homosexuality rather than “traffic in homophobia” and that it perpetuate the notion that homosexuality leads to violence.

Psycho (1960)

Psycho works as a warped adult fairytale about getting lost and paying for one’s transgressions. Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) is a Phoenix secretary who embezzles forty thousand dollars from her employer’s client and goes on the run. Marion is also shown to be a fallen woman, a sexual deviant herself with no morals, not only is she a thief but she is also having an affair with a married man Sam Loomis, (John Gavin). Driving in torrential rain, she pulls into the Bates Motel, an eerie, remote motel off the beaten path. The motel is run by a ‘queer’ sort of young man, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) who lives up in the brooding house on the hill, under the dominant authority of his cruel and elusive mother. As Poole puts it, Norman “remains locked in a disturbed world, and, as the film progresses, becomes murderously mad.”

Norman Bates: “A boy’s best friend is his mother.”

Norman is not a masculine figure, he is a mama’s boy who does his mother’s bidding. He is continually identified with his mother and, according to Freud and his psychological tunnel vision, would probably have evolved into a homosexual because of his Oedipal desires. Hitchcock perverts Freud’s narrow theory, by making sure the narrative shows Norman to be attracted to women, not men. It is when Norman’s arousal by the female body, that he dresses in frumpy dresses to represent his mother, who then takes over and annihilates the object of Norman’s desire. Many viewers assume that Norman is a repressed homosexual because he dressed in women’s clothing when manifesting his mother’s personality. Cross-dressing was stereotypically associated with homosexuality, however, Hitchcock’s film tries to make it clear that Norman is attracted to women from the very beginning with the seductive Marion. The concept of fluid sexuality was not understood in 1960, so conflating cross-dressing with homosexuality was a commonly misleading view.
Another interesting point that Jay Poole (Queering Hitchcock’s Classic) brings out is how the décor of the house is itself, queer. Referring to what he cites Foucault’s theory of ‘We Other Victorians’ which essentially invokes ‘the image of the imperial prude.’ Therefore the Bates house itself with its provincial Victorian style from a queer perspective represents the constraints of Victorian sexual expectations, which is — we do not speak of sex, and any relations are to remain between a heterosexual married couple in the privacy of their own bedroom. Norman is surrounded by this oppressive atmosphere and tries to fight his impulses and his carnal desires. He does this by dwelling in his mother’s house, hoping that she will control the voyeuristic, dirty lustful desire he is having about Marion.

Norman Bates: “People never really run away from anything. The rain didn’t last long, did it? You know what I think? I think that we’re all in our private traps, clamped in them, and none of us can ever get out. We scratch and we claw, but only at the air, only at each other, and for all of it, we never budge an inch.”

Marion Crane: “Sometimes we deliberately step into those traps.”

Norman Bates: “I was born in mine. I don’t mind it anymore.”

Psycho, is the first of Hitchcock’s films to break tradition from his usual cultured mystery/suspense tropes. He decided to present this narrative using a pallet of B&W to set up a different tonality. Without the use of the vivid colors that he often used with cinematographer Robert Burks. Psycho deals with a more graphic, monochromatic, psycho-sexual sickness. A sickness that erupts in unprecedented perversity and violence for the director. Hitchcock also kills off his heroine in the first 20 minutes of the film. Psycho, will forever be known for ‘the shower scene.’

It also brings to the screen one of THE most hauntingly intense scenes that will remain in the collective consciousness, for what it lacks in vivid bloodshed, it possesses an uncomfortable voyeuristic gaze that brings us into Norman’s mind with the twists and turns, it assaults us, because of its deeper brutality, a more queasy feeling of psychic angst and inverts our gaze, as Marion stares back at us with her lifeless eyes.

“It’s not like my mother is a maniac or a raving thing. She just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven’t you?”

In the 1950s into 1960 was a time when Americans were seeking out the American ideal, and cultural conformity. It was also a time when many audiences did not explore alternative sexualities and would have conflated homosexuality with a deviant and dangerous personality. Poole suggests “Hitchcock queers the image of sexual purity but reinforces naturalized heterosexuality as the film progresses… Hitchcock utilizes the Freudian explanation of homosexual development in his explanation of Norman’s development as a psychopathic killer despite Norman’s apparent heterosexual orientation.”

Hitchcock believed he made the perfect choice in casting Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates, the homicidal misfit who put on a dress and wig to embody his cruel mother. Norman became a serial killer with a fixation on his castrating mother because she dominated his life and turned him into a monster. Perkin’s himself soft-spoken, androgynous, even perhaps a slightly effete actor. Alfred Hitchcock envisioned another gay character whose inherent corrupted humanity stems from their conflict of being queer. By queer, it can refer to the process of shattering normalcy and vision from the perspective of a heternormative lens. Psycho takes the audience into a place of dis-ease, where seemingly ordinary people are capable of monstrous acts. If Hitchcock’s film is subverting the value of 1950s America, and the transgressive content of Psycho breaks from societal norms, then it can be read as a ‘queer’ film.

[voiceover in police custody, as Norman is thinking]” It’s sad, when a mother has to speak the words that condemn her own son. But I couldn’t allow them to believe that I would commit murder. They’ll put him away now, as I should have years ago. He was always bad, and in the end he intended to tell them I killed those girls and that man… as if I could do anything but just sit and stare, like one of his stuffed birds. They know I can’t move a finger, and I won’t. I’ll just sit here and be quiet, just in case they do… suspect me. They’re probably watching me. Well, let them. Let them see what kind of a person I am. I’m not even going to swat that fly. I hope they are watching… they’ll see. They’ll see and they’ll know, and they’ll say, “Why, she wouldn’t even harm a fly…”

As ‘Judith Butler’ Gender scholar, and ‘Hall’ speak of gender as performance, Hitchcock was clear in the way he developed Stephano and Bloch’s central characters in Psycho. In the final scene, the murderer is revealed and his inner monologues keep hidden, the source of a disturbed, untroubled ‘victim’ of faulty psychological development.’ The opening montage sets the scene for the dark thing that takes place inside ordinary towns and inside the minds of ordinary people. (source: Poole)

Psycho was a vehicle that queered what the public had come to expect from Hitchcock films, and,much like its real-life inspiration (Ed Gein), it queered the notion that America was a place where ‘normal,’ was defined as a quiet, safe, small town life, free from the darkness that lurds in modest roadside motels… With Psycho, Hitchcock abetted by Stefano’s script, would shock audiences with sexual innuendo, apparent nudity coupled with a sadistic stabbing scene. Perhaps most shocking of all, he would leave audiences wondering what might lie below the surface of family, friends neighbors and themselves.” (Jay Poole)

Rebecca (1940), was not one of Hitchcock’s favorite films at all. Adapted from the Gothic novel by Daphne du Maurier, the sick soul here is a menacing lesbian. The formidable Mrs. Danvers ( played by the equally formidable Judith Anderson) is the head Matron of Manderley, living in the shadows of the former Mrs. de Winter. She is a lovesick sapphic with an unnourished desire for her dead mistress, Rebecca. Manderley itself is like a hollow mistress that consumes those inside its ominous hallways. ‘Danny’ resents the new Mrs. de Winter and in one revelatory scene taunts her (Joan Fontaine) trying to drive her to suicide through her cruel torments. She parades Rebecca’s lingerie with a lustful smirk on her diabolical face, running her hands under the sheer, delicate fabric as if she were fondling Rebecca herself.

Mrs. Danvers’ jealousy of Maxime de Winters’ new bride is driven by obsession, a lesbian-coded manifestation, one of jealousy and sexual desire. For Joan Fontaine’s character, Danvers reenacts through storytelling, all the attention she used to lavish on her beloved mistress, running her bath, brushing her hair, admiring the finery of her monogrammed pillowcases. Though Rebecca is only seen as the painting of an alluring woman her ghost haunts Manderley and the new Mrs. de Winter.

In Hollywood movies of the 1940s, coded lesbian characters were far less common than coded gay men. Portrayals of lesbians might define them as dangerous and threatening, as is the case with Mrs. Danvers. Mrs. Danvers implies that she had been married. This allowed Hitchcock’s deniability against Judith Anderson’s lesbianism But Mrs. Danver’s eventual demise is brought about by her inability to accept Rebecca’s death or allow anyone to replace her love. And so her desire consumes her literally, in fire.

The Lady Vanishes (1938)

When I first saw Charters (Basil Radford) and Caldicott (Naughton Wayne) in The Lady Vanishes my radar went off like a firehouse siren during the scene where they are both sitting up together in a small bed, one wearing the pajama tops and the other wearing the bottoms, (giving the appearance of both being naked in bed. It was such a marvelous coded moment and I knew they were a loving married gay couple. I found it so refreshing to see the British comedy duo playing a cheeky proper English couple who are cricket fanatics trying to get back to London while the Hitchcockian espionage is happening under their noses.

I enjoyed their farcical vignette about a pair of golfers, the one comedic entry in an otherwise moody collection of ghost stories- Dead of Night (1945) which like The Lady Vanishes, also stars Michael Redgrave.

Hitchcock excelled at getting fine performances from his supporting cast members. They usually are finely honed characterizations portrayed by perfectly cast actors, fascinating and funny, imbued with his dry British humor. Charters and Caldicott are wonderful examples. Played by Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne, two fine stage actors who reprised these characters in subsequent movies and BBC radio programs, Charters and Caldicott follow a long tradition of comedy duos of older men in British Music Hall, vaudeville and stage performances. Most audiences of the time, especially British audiences, would have interpreted their relationship simply as one between eccentric, middle-aged bachelors. (Badman and Hosier)

Though there are so many elements of the duo that is ambiguous, Hitchcock imbues Charters and Caldicott with an affection and closeness that reads like a positively coded gay pairing. The two aren’t played as stereotypically flamboyant or campy. Later in the movie, Charters and Caldicott are heroic in facing down danger, during an onslaught of gunfire by fascist spies.

Charters and Caldicott are stranded at the only hotel in a tiny alpine village. The desk clerk informs them that they must share the maid’s room. When they meet the voluptuous Germanic blonde, they glance at each other with an expression that appears to be saying they’re not interested. When they follow the maid to her cramped room, Charter cracks “It’s a pity they couldn’t have given us one each” which could be interpreted as each having their own woman, to have a bit of a romp with. But Charters clarifies himself by saying he meant two rooms. One for the maid and one for them. A mainstream audience could read their conduct as two heterosexual British gentlemen, but if you read between the lines, it is suggested that they have no interest in women. In another scene when the maid enters their shared room without knocking, both men act startled by the intrusion. Caldicott moves in a way that conjures up the role of a protective mate. Once she leaves, Caldicott locks the door.

A master of queering the screen, Hitchcock plays with sexuality using his skillful methods of innuendo and artful suggestiveness — In an already masterful way of blurring the lines of reality and adeptly flirting with transgression, Hitchcock’s milieus are perfect playgrounds for coded gay characters.

CODED FILM NOIR THEORY “The Labrynth, Fate & Alienation”

Why and who are these gay characters in film noir? They magnify images of sexual “deviance” prevalent in the genre.

Noir characters already break from traditional roles of domesticity and the American family. In the noir world there is no safety, only walking outside a dangerous dividing line. There is no sense of community nor structures of virtue, only transgressions or immorality which comes with the prize of struggle or retribution for subverting the rules, causing others pain or just being in the right place at the wrong time.

Noir anti-heroes and ‘bad girls’ are alienated outsiders living on the fringe, much the way gay people are ‘unseen’ their entire lives. The coded character fits right into the paradigm of the ’other’ in a society that either doesn’t see them at all or condemns them when they do. To be coded is to be made virtually, invisible.

Because noir characters can be lost souls, unhappily married, angry, and filled with untamed desires, they are usually flawed and stray from convention. They may fall into a life of crime or commit some unintended illegal act, they can become misdirected and self-hating, wrongly accused, in a deadfall by their obsessions, and ultimately persecuted. They often wander into a labyrinth of fatalistic traps.

Within those parameters, there creeps another kind of subversion to traditional society. The noir film is the perfect environment, ripe for characters who don’t walk a ‘straight-line.’ They are the outsiders who seem different, in the cinematic landscape… they are.

It’s natural that in the murky, dark, and invisible spaces of noir, coded queer characters would find a sanctuary. To be queer is to live in the shadows, and learn to hide. And in the time that noir reigned most coded gay characters were framed as perverse, dangerous, pathetic, lonely or psychopaths.

Ben Gazzara in Jack Garfein’s The Strange One (1957)

In horror films, they would be monstrous, menacing, and not ‘normal’. In the realm of film noir, the unorthodox monstrous queer appears human, yet threatens ordinary spaces, like the queer monster of the horror genre. By their deviance, they embody the ‘other’ as they somehow disrupt the narrative with their avant-garde presence. Coded noir characters intrude on heteronormative relationships. The coded character is often quirky, off-kilter, austere, and at times, sinister.

In Leave Her to Heaven 1945, Gene Tierney departs from her usual essence of kindness and class, giving rise to one of the most chilling cold-blooded villains of film noir. Aside from her terrifying sociopathic nature, I find an unspoken expression of queerness. Ellen Berent has a wild spirit that will not be dominated by anyone or anything. She also has a desire to dominate. On the surface, she fixates on Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde), but at the core of her disruptive eroticization of supremacy, is not only her father complex that borders on incestuous, there is an element of Ellen’s embodiment of masculine impulses and desire.

Ellen Berent objectifies Richard in the same way coded male noir characters, such as several of Clifton Webb’s roles. He aestheticizes the object of his gaze, for instance, Gene Tierney in Laura.

When I see Ellen Berent I am struck by the way she rides her horse, with a power between her legs to stride with unabashed primacy. She is not like other noir women, there is a masculinization of her character. She also does not want her baby and is driven by murderous compulsions to remove any obstacle that stands in her way. Even if that means throwing herself down the stairs in an haute pair of house slippers. She is strong-willed and does not fit the role of the domesticated, tamed woman of the 1940s. Leave Her to Heaven’s narrative is more of a formulation of the psycho-sexual than heterosexual romance thriller and Ellen Berent will not settle for being a heterosexually subjugated woman.

The noir film offers a divergence from the unswerving road, and what you find on the path, getting through the story, is a territory that accommodates the unspoken queer figure.

At times coded queers are villains, whelked shadows who have deeply complex motivations rooted in narcissistic pathologies, like Peter Lorre’s Cairo in The Maltese Falcon, Robert Walker’s sociopathic Bruno in Strangers on a Train, and Clifton Webb’s effete viper, Waldo in Laura. Other times they serve to thwart or hinder solving the mystery or altogether threaten heterosexual relationships. “In most instances, gays function as both villains and frustrations of the heterosexual development, as do the femmes fatales.” (Hirsch-Darker Side of the Screen)

In Otto Preminger’s LAURA, Waldo Lydecker always operates with subterfuge to keep McPherson and Laura apart. In fact, he manages to disrupt all of Laura’s romantic relationships, even with Shelby (Vincent Price) another effete character in the film who is basically a money-grubbing ‘stud’ who is willing to sell himself to the highest bidder, who, being Judith Anderson, who knows what he is, but wants him anyway.

Examples are FAREWELL MY SWEET 1945 — all Lindsay Marriott (Douglas Walton) does is lead Marlowe to be a murder suspect; Martha threatens Laurel (Gloria Grahame) and Dix’s (Humphrey Bogart) relationship IN A LONELY PLACE 1950 when she ‘sows the seeds of doubt’ in Laurel’s mind that Dix is a homicidal sadist. Nicholas Ray insinuates Martha into scenes to cause interference and leave Laurel with impressions of Dix, which eventually lead to the love, romance, and trust devolving quickly.

Edward Dmytryk’s Walk on the Wild Side (1962) shows the madame of the brothel, Jo (Barbara Stanwyck) always maneuvering to keep her best ‘girl’ Hallie (Capucine) away from Dove (Laurence Harvey).

One of the central themes that run through film noir, is how the hero’s family life, or solo life, and sexual dalliances are side lines from their main source of work. The two are mutually exclusive, though they interconnect at given points of the plot. When his job is to apprehend the criminal while trying to maintain his affair with his mistress and keep his marriage to his ‘good’ wife together at the same time, or keep some sanity to his regular routine. In film noir, there is no good outcome for him and the object of his desire. Film noir creates anxiety around the structure of the protagonist trying to balance his private family life and his separate encounter with sexual desire. All the responsibilities of working and solving problems in an orderly way go right out the window, as he becomes distracted by his emotional upheaval, and his secondary world is kept secret. This is part of what influences him. If the noir hero is a loner or in distress, he too is often sidelined by the being in the right place at the wrong time trope. And if he’s got a ‘Femme Fatale steering the course, he’s bound to get lost within the noir labyrinth. Sometimes, inside the metaphorical puzzle, is a queer sort of character looking to confound them on their pathway out.

Film noir, however, tends to collapse these two worlds into each other. The hero’s work becomes sexual -McPherson falls in love with the woman whose “death” he is investigating; looking after Gilda becomes Johnny’s job; a brothel in Walk On the Wild Side is actually a place of sexual labor; and Joe in Sunset Boulevard (1950) is employed virtually as a stud. The women are involved in the plot not just as a “love-interest” but as agents and enemies – as Brigid in The Maltese Falcon when she uses her charms to trick Spade and attempt to acquire the Falcon; Cora permeates the cafe with her potent sexuality in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946). Similarly, gay men introduce a permanent sexual potential into the world of work. They are unsettling to the puritan (non-sexual) safety of the instrumental world. (Foster Hirsch)

Coded Gay Characters can exhibit their queer bent through their physical surrounds, e.g. luxury and a collection of beautiful objects.

Gloria Swanson and William Holden in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard 1950. Norma lives in decaying opulence.

Places of luxury, are a milieu for the coded queer lifestyle–the Amado Mio nightclub in GILDA (1946), the hothouse opening of The Big Sleep (1946), the penthouse apartment in ROPE (1948), Alexander Scourby’s palatial mansion in The Big Heat 1953 and Waldo’s opulent apartment in LAURA (1944).

Waldo Lydecker in Preminger’s Laura (1944) is a classically waspish, fussily dressed queen, with rococo and Orientalist tastes in the decorative arts and played by the virtually “out” Webb; yet he shows only contempt for men and is obsessed with Laura, even saying in voice over that he is the only man who really knew her. (Dyer)

George Macready as Ballin (Gilda 1946) is a glacial impervious presence, often photographed in silhouette as a near shadow, shown in luxurious feminine dressing gowns that reflect his moral laxity and indolent lifestyle. Shot in a brilliant cold black and white, also stamped Macready as one of the screen’s most hateful villains. -(From Wheeler Winston Dixon- Film Noir and the Cinema of Paranoia.)

In ROPE (1948) Brandon and Phillip’s apartment seems curiously abnormal as it iconographically conveys the sensibility of infertile luxury, differing from the comfortable normalcy of the family home.

The ‘queer’ association with the luxury milieu works differently for lesbian characters. Mostly, they are shown as working within the rich environment, usually as the housekeeper, Judith Anderson as the imposing Mrs. Danvers in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940), Ruth Gillette as Martha the masseuse who idolizes Gloria Grahame in In a Lonely Place, or the matriarchal madam of the ‘cat house’, Barbara Stanwyck’s Jo Frances. These environments are a bit more hazy in defining the character’s lesbianism. It is specified by the head woman in Rebecca and Jo as monarch of the brothels creating a setting that satisfies men’s carnal desires.

Lesbians play with masculine power in film noir, but not as much as femme fatales weaponizing their femininity. As women with jobs that aren’t delegated as wives, mothers, or mistresses. They inhabit the world with self-supportive dominion, and because they are women they can intersect or convene with other women, essentially stalling the efforts of the male hero in both critical and sexual domains. A few films bring to mind encounters with varying degrees of complexity between the lesbian and the male protagonist and the roadblocks they can put up. In A Lonely Place, Martha insinuates herself between Laurel and Dix in order to poison their relationship. In Rebecca, Mrs. Danvers tries to sabotage Mr. De Winter’s new marriage by trying to make his new wife commit suicide. And Barbara Stanwyck uses violent tactics to try and keep Hallie away from Dove.

There is an element of shared iconography between the decor chosen by gay men and the sense of glamour that the femme fatale wants to project. Preminger’s LAURA (1944) is a prime example of this, discernment. Desirable women in film noir are identified with an obsession with beautiful things and the importance of her self-presentation. Gene Tierney’s character Laura is an absolutely identifiable figure of captivating elegance. Any of the men in her life, before McPherson, are nearly aligned with her allure and her tastes, by association, they can be seen as feminine, weak, queer, or deviant because they are not performing maleness. Clifton Webb’s Waldo, is the coded homosexual and a depraved villain in the picture, while Vincent Price’s Shelby is a glorified gigolo, weak and being seen as wanting the same things as women, and could also possibly be coded as gay.

Shelby’s only interest in women is to obtain their wealth and status, collect decorative objects like jewels, and live a life of self-indulgence. He too is not interested in Laura in terms of hetero-male/female romance. The criterion for normalcy in the men that satellite around Laura is only seen through Dana Andrews’ detective, McPherson. He is an outsider to this opulent lifestyle, a regular ‘guy’ who is not in tune with luxury or high society. The only thing he is drawn to as the object of his desire, at first a ghost, a vague idea of Laura he imagines through her painting. And then the real feminine, alluring representation of Laura literally steps into his life, in the flesh.

The ideological pairing of male homosexuality with luxury and decadence (with connotations of impotence and sterility) is of a piece with the acceptable linking of women with luxury (women as expensive things to win and keep, women as bearers of their husbands’ wealth) and decadence (women as beings without sexuality save for the presence of men). The feeling that gay men are like women yet not women produces the “perverse” tone of this mode of iconographic representation. (Dyer)

Opulence and finery are all images related iconographically to the luxury milieu. Clifton Webb’s portrayal of Waldo Lydecker in Otto Preminger’s noir dream LAURA 1944, is the epitome of this. The opening sequence captures all the boundaries of a room filled with impeccably arranged, fastidious objects d’art, that immediately signifies a milieu of luxury and perhaps decadence. It is eventually revealed that he has a fixation with dressing himself in fine apparel, consuming the best wines, spreading gossip like a spiteful, meddling old biddy, and of course his discriminating taste in the arts, all bring it home. He is the consummate coded gay character, linked to a queer-luxury.

Gay men and femme fatales (though Laura’s seductive and enigmatic yes, technically isn’t a conniving or lethal femme fatale, just an indirect catalyst for danger) share a distinguishable admiration for the iconography of ornamentation. It is the reason that the film LAURA works so well in signifying this representation of looping women with luxury, and appearances.

The ideological pairing of male homosexuality with luxury and decadence (with connotations of impotence and sterility) is of a piece with the acceptable linking of women with luxury (women as expensive things to win and keep, women as bearers of their husbands’ wealth) and decadence (women as beings without sexuality save for the presence of men). The feeling that gay men are like women yet not women produces the “perverse” tone of this mode of iconographic representation. (Dyer)

In the time of the Code in Hollywood script writing and movie making the ever-public face they gave to queers became negative propaganda that permeated the screen. In particular the nature of film noir which already showed a world outside the boundaries of ordinariness offered up a glimpse of gay life that existed outside the realm of security. Additionally, queers weren’t shown to have an intimate grasp of the heteronormative ceremony, the strong father figure, and the supportive ‘good wife’, all concurring to create the traditional home, family, and children. One of the ways film noir stretched the conventional vision of womanhood (which became an iconic representation of shattering the myth of uniformly submissive women) is the symbol of the femme fatale. Like the coded gay man, she is driven by her own desires for aestheticism and control over her primacy.

As the flawed hero navigates the film noir labyrinth, he is not just clawing his way toward release from whatever trial he is undergoing but trying to find redemption in a dark fatalistic journey with a visually seductive yet deceptively dangerous woman at his heels. And sometimes in the midst of all the subterfuge, misdirection, retribution, and fatal attractions, the coded gay character may use his feminine wiles abstractly to derail the hero’s efforts, by strategically monopolizing the woman, luring her with shady temptations of ‘faintly eroticized arts of fashion, jewelry, savoir-fair, and scents.’ (Dyer)

(G)Aping Women; Or, When A Man Plays The Fetish by Laura Hinton

The male fetish must necessarily bear his own contradictions, hinting at its glamorous masquerade. So, linked to notions of feminine duplicity, the man who plays the fetish is the ultimate coquette: a narcissistic perfectionist who also undermines the Hollywood masculine ideal by hinting at erotic ambiguity and bisexuality. Through the crisis of cultural masculinity that ensues, the figure of the male fetish mirrors the visual ironies of the female spectator.

Glenn Ford and George Macready are unspoken bisexual lovers in Charles Vidor’s noir classic Gilda (1946)

Clifton Webb’s effete superiority asserts gay ownership of Gene Tierney in Otto Preminger’s noir masterpiece Laura (1944).


By virtue of Clifton Webb’s affectation as the eternal pretentious poseur, both his characterizations in two of the most notable film noirs, Laura 1944 and The Dark Corner 1946 put him at the head of the class of coded gay characters! One could say he is the veiled poster, Queen. Waldo is a maniacal character imagined by Vera Caspary in her novel.

Of all the menacing coded gay male characters, the most notable is Clifton Webb’s personification of Waldo who exposes his eroticism through the idealization of his muse, Laura. She is merely part of the collection of his objets d’art, his beautiful things, it lacks the heterosexual romance.

Director Otto Preminger and uncredited cinematographer Lucien Ballard imbue this dream-like story with an extraordinary monochromatic ambiance. Laura is partly about Detective Mark McPherson’s (Dana Andrews) fascination with a beguiling portrait. McPherson falls under Laura’s spell, initially in love with a dead woman only to find that she’s actually alive.

McPherson is intoxicated by the essence of Laura, he has just finished walking around her apartment, taking a private romantic journey in her space. It is perhaps one of the iconic scenes in the film. He falls asleep while drinking his glass of booze, under the painting of Laura. He then awakens from the dream and Laura, like an apparition walks in, very much alive. The dream becomes reality.

But there is a murdered woman, who was shot to death in Laura’s apartment. The victim was meant to be Laura. As the story unwinds, it is told from the beginning through Waldo Lydecker’s narration, and his intensely proprietary fixation with Laura Hunt, his ideal work of art. The film opens with Waldo’s line “I shall never forget the weekend Laura died.” Waldo opens the picture and brings it to its conclusion. “I, Waldo Lydecker, was the only one who really knew her…”

So much of the set design by Thomas Little (Day the Earth Stood Still, All About Eve) is an elegant chamber piece, with sumptuous furnishings and the trappings of affluence. Designer Little, fashions a very cluttered frame with swanky objects and a focus on the details of luxury and opulence. The set brought high society to film noir. This is to inform us that there is no ordinary world, McPherson himself is already an outsider because he is an ‘everyman.’

In particular, Waldo’s apartment and Laura’s as well, reveal a closed society, an elitist collection of snobs and users. The film poses quite a few examples of noir iconography, the portrait of Laura, the use of clocks, and luxury. We are immersed in high society and Waldo is the flamboyant queen bee of the hive. Also buzzing around Laura is another questionable character, Shelby Carpenter, who is engaged to Laura, but takes expensive gifts from the wealthy Ann Treadwell (the commanding Judith Anderson), Shelby is merely a gigolo, and Ann is satisfied to own him in the same way Waldo thinks of Laura, as an aesthetic possessions. Waldo refers to Shelby, “Laura, wouldn’t have thrown her life away on a male beauty in distress.”

Another iconic scene from the film illustrates the stark contrast between Lydecker and McPherson. Waldo sits in his tub, naked with his typewriter unfazed by McPherson in his drab trenchcoat. McPherson says, “Nice little place you have here, Mr. Lydecker.” “It’s lavish but I call it home.” Waldo is a pretentious dandy who is now pitted against the ordinary everyman. McPherson is the outsider from Waldo’s decadent lifestyle, it’s McPherson who symbolizes ‘normalcy’, the solitary noir hero, signaling that Waldo Lydecker is the opposite.

No one in the film is an ordinary person, they are all flawed, privileged, and greedy, and someone is a murderer. Laura, while not a typified femme fatale, has an unattainable seductive aura, while she is actually, a good person. Waldo, angry and frustrated by his repressed homosexuality feels threatened whenever Laura is drawn to a handsome, masculine man. Yet Shelby too, is less manly and more concerned with appearances, and personal wealth. There is a reflection of shallowness and posh style about him but, like many coded characters, he lacks any physical, sexual passion for Laura, Ann, or any of his non-sexual love interests. Vincent Price had often been considered a metrosexual actor.

Waldo Lydecker’s witty heartlessness is first rammed down our throats with his line, “I should be sincerely sorry to see my neighbors’ children devoured by wolves,” “I don’t use a pen. I write with a goose quill dipped in venom.” “In my case, self-absorption is completely justified. I have never discovered any other subject quite so worthy of my attention.”- a line that calls attention to his childish behavior and discernible sexual “unnaturalness.”

Waldo Lydecker sees Laura as a beautiful possession. To him, she is a conquest, a personal triumph that he has sculpted, as Pygmalion molded Galatea. He is the architect of his protégé‘s cultivation. Waldo is an ‘acid etched’ (Hedda Hopper) viper. In one of his arrogant soliloquies in a restored scene, “She was quick to seize upon anything that would improve her mind or her appearance… deferred to my judgment or taste. I taught her what clothes were more becoming to her. Through me, she met everyone.” “You are the best of me.” He flourishes through Laura’s femininity, she is not part of him, it is he, the repressed homosexual that has become part of her.

Laura is his ideal woman, elegant, sophisticated, and ultimately a vision of perfection. In his account of Laura’s transformation, he enlightens Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) about Laura’s quite ordinary beginnings, and how it is he who is responsible for turning her into his glamorous trophy, an appendage of his, rather like his walking stick and white carnation (iconographic queer symbols).

Waldo attempts to manipulate Laura, tossing out his catty, egotistical barbs and flaming acuity, for instance, “I cannot stand these morons any longer. If you don’t come with me this instance, I shall run amok!” “I’m not kind, I’m vicious, that’s the secret of my charm.” and “This is about to assume fabulous aspects.”

First Waldo goes on a mission to destroy Laura’s relationship with Shelby (Vincent Price). He exposes the affair Shelby is having with fashion model Diana Redfern. He shows her the cigarette case that Laura gave him, that Waldo found in a pawn shop. But his possessiveness causes him to lose Laura’s friendship, as she tells him that his plan backfired. “I’m close to despising you” And when Waldo feels threatened by McPherson, he goes on the attack, commenting that he and Laura would have a “disgustingly earthy relationship” Once Laura shows up very much alive and in the flesh, he accuses her of only liking masculine men. Laura is not vulnerable to Waldo’s acid tongue. She accuses him, “You’re the one who follows the same pattern.” Essentially exposing his obsessive self-indulgence in beauty.

While Waldo is determined to control Laura, her self-determination strikes back “You forced me to give you my word. I never have been and I never will be bound by anything I don’t do of my own free will.” Laura’s mesmerizing power which links her to being a femme fatale will ultimately be Waldo’s undoing.

In Henry Hathaway’s The Dark Corner (1946), Webb manifests a variant of his character Waldo Lydecker. Here he plays Hardy Cathcart, another effete aesthete obsessed with his beautiful wife Mari (Cathy Downs). Without the sexual relationship, Hardy co-opts Mari’s beauty. Unable to share her with anyone, her beauty is his fetish and in order to keep her, he is driven to commit murder.

As a goose quill dipped in venom is Waldo Lydecker’s anthem in Laura, then so is this Hardy Cathcart’s queer decree, “As long as I’m amusing, you’ll forgive me”, Is surely the queer’s credo. (Richard Dyer)

Hardy Cathcart has a psycho-sexually grotesque obsession with his wife Mari played by Cathy Downs. In fact, his icy preoccupation with owning fine things in particular his wife, who bares a striking resemblance to a rare painting, presents Webb’s character as a collector indeed. He entraps his wife in a marriage as the ultimate ill-fated ‘object’.

The Dark Corner revisits the embodiment of Waldo Lydecker. Hardy Cathcart is an art dealer who surrounds himself with the companionship of old wealthy women, and a blonde gigolo, Tony Jardine. Jardine in a scheme with Cathcart, sets out to blackmail these vulnerable women, once he has proof (love letters) of their dalliances. Cathcart introduces himself to us at a party he has thrown for the wife of an Austrian critic. He reveals his throat-cutting wit as he whispers to Jardine, “She always looks like she’s been out in the rain, feeding poultry.”

Hardy “I found the portrait long before I met Mari, and I worshiped it. When I did meet her it was as if I’d always known her. And wanted her.”

Party Guest “Oh how romantic”

Hardy “If you prefer to be maudlin about it. Perhaps.”

This is perhaps one of the pithiest descriptions of Hardy Cathcart-“A queer cocktail of snobbery misogyny and unkindness masquerading as wit, his remark, ‘I never confuse business with sentiment-unless it’s extremely profitable, of course.’is Wildean in its pacing.” (Dyer) Cathcart possesses, and I do mean possesses a portrait (similar to the iconography of Laura’s portrait) by the artist Raphael, which resembles his wife. Consumed by the mythology he has constructed around the painting, as it represents a manufactured romance for him, he keeps it in his vault to preserve it. He tells his guests he is waiting to replace the frame, but in reality, he has the painting as much as a representation of ownership of his wife, locked away from other people’s gaze.

During a dinner party, as an egoist Cathcart reveals his prize painting to his guests, telling them how much he’s worshipped it until he met his Mari, the very incarnation of the painting. In the same way that Wilde’s The Portrait of Dorian Gray, wished to make beauty permanent, our noir villain replaced his ‘crypto-queer’ (Dyer) fixation on the Raphael and now sees its reflection in Mari. For Cathcart, Mari is the personification of a fine work of art, his psycho-sexual neurosis causes him to commit murder when he believes Mari is being stolen from him. Mari has told her lover, Jardine, that Cathcart gives her everything but it is not enough for her. Mari suggests that she does not have a sexual relationship with her husband. This vague interpretation coaxes the question of Cathcart’s sexuality. Now Cathcart must destroy the obstacle between him and Mari, which leads him to find a patsy to frame the murder on… enter Mark Stevens as Bradford Galt.

The Dark Corner revolves around Cathcart’s irrational jealousy and ultimately his retribution for Mari’s infidelity with the handsome Jardine. Like similar queer film noir villains, Waldo (Laura), Ballin (Gilda), and Hardy, while they appear to have fundamental relationships with women: they aestheticize them without really desiring them sexually/romantically.

Cathcart reveals an insight into his dreadful desire to his guests when he forbiddingly says aloud, “The enjoyment of art is the only remaining ecstasy that is neither immoral nor illegal.”

One of the coded cues in The Dark Corner, is Hardy Cathcart’s fastidious dress, his sharp tongue, and his ruthless conversationalist who is aroused by his own verbal cruelty, a baroque temperament, and as Dyer notes, a cruel streak disguised as wit.

Mark Stevens plays the noir’s isolated hero Bradford Galt who’s back into a dark corner, while unknown to him is the who, why, and how he is being set him up for a frame. But he doesn’t know Cathcart is behind the murder, he just knows some anonymous killer is setting a trap for him to get blamed for Jardine’s murder. Bradford Galt is an iconic noir figure whose existential anxiety creates the no-way-out trope.

Helping him is his devoted secretary Lucille Ball as Kathleen Stewart. The Dark Corner is perhaps one of the most richly developed film noirs in the canon, of alienated, wrong-man tropes. There are so many vital scenes, with contributions by great character actors, like William Bendix, Cathcart’s torpedo, nicknamed White Suit by Galt.

Here’s one way out!

Claude Rains plays a similar coded queer scoundrel Victor ‘Grandy’ Grandison in Michael Curtiz’s The Unsuspected (1947).

Grandy-[to an arguing Althea and Oliver] “I think you better excuse me. I detest scenes not of my own making. You know, the more I see of marriage, the more thankful I am to be the last of a long line of bachelors.”

Grandy Grandison (Claude Rains) in The Unsuspected is a variation of Clifton Webb’s two iconic villains. Webb is cunningly witty and brilliant, and Dyer makes the comparison of Grandison being more similar to George Macready in Gilda — Macready’s personification of Ballin. All three characters, Rains, Macready, and Webb share the seal of a fastidious rogue. ‘Grandy’ is also ‘mockingly perverse – the standard signs of homosexuality in film noir, as well as elitist, powerful and cruel.’ (Richard Dyer)

Claude Rains stars as a coded gay character in Michael Curtiz’s The Unsuspected (1947). The film opens with Victor Grandi Grandison’s (Claude Rains’) secretary being murdered and made to look like a suicide. Grandison is a sophisticated radio mystery host who is conspiring to get his wealthy young charge Matilde’s (Joan Caufield) inheritance. He has been living off her wealth since she was a child. ‘Grandi’ in addition to being a sauve radio personality specializing in gruesome true-life crimes, is an art collector, a writer, and an understated misogynist. “I think you better excuse me, I detest scenes not of my own making. “ Very reminiscent of some of the barbs Clifton Webb has pricked his targets with, as a coded noir queen. Grandy has a melodious way of speaking, (which Rains possessed throughout his career) “You know the more I see of marriage the more thankful I am to be the last of a long line of bachelors” There are no women In his life, and he ikes to spend money on niceties and himself.

I agree with Dyer in that the universal dynamic shared by these cinematic-coded queer men, is their relationship to women, and the formulation of women in film noir itself, they (femme fatales) are as threatening as the queer man. ‘Grandy’ is a murderous opportunist, while not the Epicurean deity that Webb’s characters see themselves as ‘Grandy’ likes his comforts. He is a successful mystery radio host who conceives of artful plots to get his charge Matilda (Joan Caulfield ) out of the way so he can gain access to her inheritance/fortune.

Film noir is built around anxiety over masculinity and normalcy. The film’s anti-heroes lack the virtues of typically ‘normal’ men. Most film noir heroes are alienated outsiders who are adrift in the world without the safety of marriage and this at times opens up the door for questions about their sexuality. For instance, Humphrey Bogart in Dead Reckoning (1947), Lee Van Cleef and Earl Holliman in The Big Combo (1955), MacMurray and Robinson in Double Indemnity (1944), and Glenn Ford in Gilda (1944). Because there isn’t a secure notion of masculinity and normalcy in the heroes, there have to be other elements of it in the rest of the film. It is the hyper-femininity and overtly sexual women that undermines the hero’s sense of self in film noir.

In Farrow’s The Big Clock (1947), Charles Laughton plays a neurotic tyrant obsessed with the synchronization of all things,  a “mechanized harmony.” George Macready plays his effete toady-“It is interesting to note that Charles Laughton’s portrayal of Janoth carries the same homosexual undertone as many of his other roles. His relationship with Steve Hagen is not overtly sexual, but the staging and interaction of the characters create an innuendo. Obviously, in 1947 only the suggestion was possible.” -Alain Silver & James Ursini Film Noir Reader

There are instances when we can see the effeteness of a coded character either as male queerness or the performative art of being a ‘Queen’. Lesbians can intimidate noir heroes as they have their own physical entryway to women and can be seen as rivals. But the anti-hero doesn’t feel threatened by a queer woman, she has no real authority whereas the femininity of queer men does. By performing femininity, are coded gay characters of the 1940s film noir challenging ideas of femininity or are they supporting gender norms of the time? Is the hyper-female constructed by straight men or queer men? Queerness in film noir shows us that femininity does not have the same boundaries as womanhood. It can also establish femininity as a threat in film noir.

In film noir, the coded gay man will often have an insidious bond, (like Clifton Webb’s similarly condescending Hardy and Waldo) with the femme fatale woman who creates a conduit through her femininity. The coded lesbian is ultimately thwarted by her masculine alienation from femininity. Both male and female queers emphasize excessive undomesticated and unordinary femininity as the source of the complications for the film noir hero.

Queer men can perform femininity in excess, it is almost a burlesque-style distortion. The effeminate aesthetic employs a method of trickery like the femme fatale, they can obfuscate the plans of the hero. There are certain archetypal designations for some of the film noir heroes who are obstructed by their dominant pathology and the interference of persuasive outside influences, for instance, the ‘weakness’ of Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) in Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity (1944).

Personally, though there are conflicting theories about the homosexual subtext between Neff and Barton Keyes, I personally do not read any underlying coded behavior between the two men. Yet….

It is asserted that the cigar-and-cigarette-lighting scenes between Neff and Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) in Wilder’s film are vaguely homoerotic. There is a repeated motif where Keyes cannot light his cigarette, and Neff lights it for him. It could be perceived as an intimate moment, as Neff is lighting the cigarette in Keye’s mouth. These exchanges have been interpreted as subtly romantic.

In the final scene, Neff tells Keyes about not seeing his involvement in the murder scheme: “You were too close to it. Keyes: “Closer than that”, Neff: “I love you too…” Is it meant to be seen as casual yet deep love for each other? It has been read that the playful banter between Neff and Keyes is not just a reflection of years of friendship or a father/son relationship, but a close relationship that has existed for years. In one scene Neff remembers a time when Keyes helped him with a problem, “I could have kissed you at that moment.” One of the theories about the existence of a homosexual subtext is the speculation that co-writer Raymond Chandler was a repressed homosexual.

Humphrey Bogart’s character Rip Murdock is ‘perplexed’ in Dead Reckoning (1947) implied intimate friendship = homosexual love for his dead pal Johnny Darke. In The Big Combo (1955) Lee Van Cleef as Fante and Earl Holliman as Mingo are ‘obsessive’ coded gay lovers, if you listen closely, in the scene where Mingo cuts his hand, Mingo calls Fante, honey. I thought I heard him say the same thing, but after listening to the spot several times, he might call him “Fanny“, still an affectionate way to address his buddy. Either way, for me, their relationship is unmistakably coded. Both sleep in the same room like a married couple, performing heterosexuality through their tough guy exterior. It is suggested through the veiled intimate communication, they are in a homosexual relationship.“Don’t leave me, Fante.”

Mingo [Upon being offered a sandwich by Fante] I couldn’t swallow any more salami

In director Kubrick’s heist film The Killing 1956, Jay C. Flippen’s character Marv Unger remains the least defined, particularly due to the delicacy of the queer subtext of his unrequited love with Johnny.

A scene takes place between Johnny and Marv in which Marv embraces Johnny revealing his feelings for Johnny are made less subtle. Due to movies in the 1950s, it’s imperative that Johnny’s character perform his masculinity. Johnny treats Marv’s show of affection as something of a warmhearted gesture. Johnny’s dismissal leads directly to Marv’s drunken fit later on during the robbery. Although Marv’s role in the heist is not crucial, his intoxication signals the downfall of the operation.

There are many queers to be found in film noir. Just consider, Brute Force, Gilda, Farewell, My Lovely, In a Lonely Place, Laura, The Maltese Falcon, The Dark Corner, Strangers on a Train, The Big Combo, The Killing, and cross-pollinated genres of noir and mystery thrillers such as Hitchcock’s Rebecca, Rope, and Val Lewton’s The Seventh Victim (1943) Lewton’s horror films have elements of film noir, he consistently employed the themes of ‘otherness’ in his work, coded gay characters were prevalent in films like Cat People (1942), The Ghost Ship (1943) and Bedlam (1946). Films that illustrate unorthodox characters, who, though veiled in innuendo, were splendidly revealed as queer.

Comparatively, the femme fatale and the coded queer character share the principle of anxiety and frustration around their sexual satisfaction. They both exhibit sexual desire that cannot be stated. The prevalent theory is that coded queer characters like the femme fatales are excessively sexual individuals who cannot fulfill their physical impulses therefore they project a twisted erotic aggressiveness. Consider the character of Martha, Laurel’s masseuse, In a Lonely Place, as she grasps Laurel’s back in a sexual, fleshly way, giving the message that seems like something more for Martha. A moment that is often recalled about the film. It’s an example of the coded lesbian’s frustrated desire, here, for Laurel to turn against Dix, as the camera frames her looming large over Laurel’s naked body, Martha acts out her intense libidinous endeavor to come between the femme fatale and the film’s tragically conflicted anti-hero.

“How do you know about anything until you try it?-Amy (Bacall)

from Jose Arroyo film professor at University of Warwick England – Coding Lesbianism in Young Man with a Horn (Michael Curtiz, USA, 1950)

Bacall’s thoughts on Doris are a favourite moment in the film. Bacall’s lit so only half her face is showing: ‘Jo’s interesting isn’t she? So simple and uncomplicated. It must be wonderful to wake up in the morning and know just which door you’re going to go through’. Amy/Bacall is constantly contrasted with Jo/Doris: Amy’s not so simple, her identity is at least dual, and yet to be discovered by Ricky and maybe herself.
When Kirk/ Ricky starts to get involved with Bacall/Amy, Doris/ Jo comes to warn him, ‘She’s a strange girl, and you’ve never known anyone like her before…inside, way inside, she’s all mixed up’; ‘precisely what I told him myself but he wouldn’t take no for an answer’ says Bacall/Amy as she enters the picture. It’s too late they’re married

But it’s not just the contrast to Jo/Day, or all that the characters speak about her being ‘mixed up’ and ‘strange’. There’s her apartment, even, actually especially, after Kirk/Ricky marries Bacall/Amy. We’re shown how female-centric the house is, and not just because her florid cockatoo is called Louise. Look at the number of statues that are female Grecian figures, the painting inside and outside her bathroom door that are naked women bathing, even her paintings are of women.”


Director and writer Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s All About Eve has been referred to as the “bitchiest film ever made!” it has become a solid premier Hollywood classic as well as a cult classic, for superb acting, its illustrious dialogue, and adept insights, not the least, emanating from the grand dame herself. Bette Davis made a comeback with this picture in 1950 and is considered one of the Greatest Performances of All Time. About the director, Davis said, “He resurrected me from the dead.” Mankiewicz considered a womanizing homophobe, which might be the motivating factor in why he made Eve a sapphic villain, who shares with Addison DeWitt (George Sanders) the honors of being malicious, predatory queers. Mankiewicz acknowledged that he wrote Eve as a lesbian and apparently coached Baxter in her role to insinuate this.

Bette Davis plays an aging theatrical star who is stalked by a waif-like poppet, Eve Harrington, a girl from a small town in anywhere USA who is a pathological opportunist. Eve backstabs her way to the top. In many ways, she is a sexual animal whenever it suits her scheme. There is an undertow of hero-worship, although it is mostly feigned to gain access to Margo’s inner circle. Within her sycophantic devotion, there are traces of a sexual attraction toward Margo. Perhaps a ‘single white female’ dynamic, where Eve slowly subsumes Margo’s entire life. There are many queer cues delivered by way of cagey dialogue and suggestive scene setups.

Eve has a ‘queer’ obsession with Margo, having followed her all around the country waiting in the dark parts of the theater, studying her with an odd intensity. Once Eve gains entrance into Margo’s world, she refers to her time spent with the newly adopted Eve, with sarcastic sentimentality as their, “honeymoon.”

Robert J. Corber, a professor and novelist about The Cold War and homosexuality, states the fundamental theme in All About Eve centers around defending heterosexuality, upholding traditional patriarchal marriage, and depicting the homosexual as a bereft predator. The film’s two heterosexual couples of Bill (Gary Merrill) and Margo (Bette Davis), and Karen (Celeste Holm) and Lloyd (Hugh Marlowe) are contrasted against the empty and loveless life of Eve (and Addison). Eve attempts to break up both couples during the course of the film to no success.(Jeff Saporito who asks the question Is Eve in “All About Eve” a lesbian villain seen through Cold War-era homophobic paranoia)

Thelma Ritter as Birdie, is the only one who sees Eve for what she is, and she tries to warn Margo, but everyone is initially enchanted by the little bird with the broken wing. Our first signal about Eve’s queer infatuation as a she-wolf in sheep’s clothing is hinted at by Birdie’s sharp instincts which pierce the cunning girl’s facade. Margo: She thinks only of me, doesn’t she?
 Birdie: Well, let’s say she thinks only about you.

As the presence of Eve begins to reveal itself as nefarious, Margo confronts her with swift verbal blows. Margo: Eve would take my clothes off… tuck me in, wouldn’t you Eve?
 Eve: If you’d like.
 Margo sharply: I wouldn’t like.

There is an obscure moment in the film when Eve is with Karen (Celeste Holm) who has also temporarily fallen under Eve’s spell. While in Margo’s bedroom during the infamous ‘bumpy’ party, Karen promises Eve a favor and the cunning Eve places a kiss on her cheek. Though brief, there is an undercurrent of sexual flirtation. In the end, Eve shows herself to be incapable of love, except for herself and what she wants. She is a sad, predatory loner, whose sexuality is questionable and except for outward appearances, she goes where the wind blows. Margo, when she is thoroughly potted, does make a suggestion about Eve’s sexuality, because of what she comes to see as Eve’s pseudo flattery and the peculiar devotion to her.

Margot to Eve- “Nice speech, Eve. But I wouldn’t worry too much about your heart. You can always put that award where your heart ought to be.”

In the closing scene, Eve has won the Sarah Siddon’s award, alone, returns home, and finds a young woman sleeping in her apartment, similar in appearance to Eve at the opening of the film. The world of All About Eve has come full circle, Eve, smoking like Margo and greeting sycophants on her doorstep. The stray, Phoebe (Barbara Bates) tells Eve that it’s time for her to go home, but Eve lying on her couch with languid, seductive body language, tells her “You won’t get home til all hours.”

Eve is lured in by an aspiring young actress, and the cycle of predatory stalking continues. Enamored by the attention she receives from this pretty young thing is that she is the Diva now, and can relate to someone whose only sexuality is the desire to step on bodies to be adored and hear the applause. (Saporito-) She does, at one point in the film, speak to the power of applause. She lies to Addison about being in love with Lloyd — but only so much as he can write great plays for her. Being beloved by an audience is the pinnacle of desire for Eve, something that exists outside the boundaries of sexual pursuit. Eve actually shows a natural ‘desire’ for the companionship of the fan who flatters her by, wanting to see how she lives. The lateness of the hour, it is implied that Eve makes a pass at her.

George Sanders has always summoned up a catty, effete sensibility. As Addison DeWitt, he is in his element. The character of the theater critic as cold-blooded as a shark systematically looking for its next kill, has its roots in Waldo Lydecker who also excels in weaponizing his wit.

He’s an effete dandy whose relationships with women are proprietary rather than romantic. He escorts aspiring actress Miss Caswell (Marilyn to Margo’s infamous bumpy night only to paw her off to some producers. With a beautiful woman on his arm he is able to distract from his homosexuality. He sees himself in Eve recognizing their otherness, which manifests itself in their cold and calculating manipulation of those around them. Like Eve, he too is incapable of love.- (From Indie Wire)

Another example of this obstructionist coded lesbian personification is that of Barbara Stanwyck’s Jo in Walk on the Wild Side (1962). Stanwyck always has a stance that is proud and strong-shouldered in her androgynous tailored suits, she invades each scene with an omnipotent swagger. The hint of her sexual desire comes in the form of this statement, “Sometimes I’ve waited years for what I’ve wanted.” Not unlike Theo’s response to Eleanor’s question what are you afraid of, Theo answers, “Of what I want.”

There is an underlying sexual tension in one scene where Jo is backlit by the light, emanating from the window in Hallie’s room. The beautiful gazelle, Hallie is in repose on her bed expressing an ennui and languid frustration with her existence.

Jo summarizes her erotic longing by uttering softly, yet assertively, “Can any man love a woman for herself, give her the beauty of life without the reek of lust?”

Lindsay in (the adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s novel Farewell, My Lovely), Farewell, My Sweet (1944) becomes animated when he is near women’s clothes and perfume. The character of Lindsay Marriott (Douglas Walton) in Farewell My Sweet 1944 is discrete in the way it conveys sexuality through his affinity for jewelry as such, the ring on his little finger, the emphasis on his fine clothes, the soft silk cravat he fondles while he talks with Marlowe (Dick Powell) and his being intoxicated by perfume, like Cairo (Peter Lorre) in The Maltese Falcon.

Evidence of the inside joke is made when Marlowe expects his friend, Moose Mallory ( Mike Mazurky), and asks the lift man if his visitor is sober. He comments, yes with a satirical aside, “smells really nice.” That’s when Marlowe smells Marriott’s perfume spreading through his office. Men in harmony with perfume is a coded gay cue. It can be said that there’s a tinge of homosexuality in the character of Jules Amthor played by Otto Kruger as the conveyance of perfume is carried through when Marlowe smells the ‘carnation’ from Amthor’s dead body.

Douglas Walton as the perfume-wearing Lyndsay Marriot and Otto Kruger as the effete Jules Amthor in Murder, My Sweet (1944)

In Brute Force(1947), the sadistic repressed homosexual Capt. Munsey played by Hume Cronyn, wields his phallic truncheon, as he homoerotically inflicts pain on Sam Levene. Similarly, Paul Henreid’s character, the cold-blooded Commandant Paul Vogel in Rope of Sand (1949) reflects a repressed gay hostility toward Burt Lancaster who plays Mike Davis. Vogel beats Davis with phallic weapons, while he’s dangling naked. The coded and repressed sexuality of the veiled characters in these noir examples, show a neurotic and explosive failure of their true sexual desires, which diverges from the sexual identity of the noir hero. In The Maltese Falcon, we have Cairo (Lorre) and Gutman (Greenstreet) to illustrate the contrast between Spade (Bogart) and how far removed he is from their deviant sexuality.

Director Charle’s Vidor’s GILDA is one of the most iconic post war film noirs. A tainted love triangle between Gilda (Rita Hayworth) a nightclub chanteuse with a shady past, Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford) one of noir’s wandering outsiders who works as a manager of a Buenos Aires casino, and his boss, Ballin Mundson (George Macready), sadistic owner of the casino who was in a sadomasochistic relationship with Johnny, and then competes with him for Gilda’s affections out of jealous revenge.

The film questions the adequacy of male sexuality which is guaranteed by the end, as the hero’s adequacy is taken for granted and not verified by the visual narrative. Noir heroes possess physical prowess unless they are shown as relentlessly damaged as Johnny Farrell. The impression we are left with is coded gay characters, whose perversion and malice are reflected on the screen as destructive as much as the femmes fatales and hyper-sexual obsessives.

The threat of the femme fatale and her conspirator in femininity, the male queer, equivocates that sick sexuality with all its dire misapprehension which makes femininity more threatening.

And though it brings into question, the hero’s own sexuality, he is shielded from the presumption of reciprocal desire for the queer character, as he is a product of Hollywood’s underwritten moral value system, which allows them to be seen as wholly male.

In film noir, this also perpetuates straight male privilege and gendered superiority. Essentially most all the time, the film noir hero is set apart from the coded gay character, leaving his sexual adequacy unchallenged. But it is this scrutiny brought about by the sexual cipher that might aim to displace the hero’s self-certainty about his own sexuality. Coded gay characters can actually challenge the hero in a divergent way from the femme fatale. She dares his sense of security, while the ‘queer’ figure could undermine his male uncertainty. For example, Johnny (Glenn Ford) in Gilda symbolically returns Ballin’s key and thus begins his journey eventually moving away from Ballin’s queer control, his own weakness, and his association with criminality. He crosses over to the sphere of heterosexual purity, symbolic of a healthy sexual identity with unchallenged accessibility to women.

One of the most notable examples of circumventing the censor by a mile is Gilda who presented Rita Hayworth as erotic. Rudolph Mate’s black and white cinematography Jean Louis’ gowns, Jack Cole’s choreography, and Charles Vidor’s direction were all aimed at deifying Rita as the woman straight men would go crazy for. And not only straight men:


REFERENCE* Focus on Film, No. 10 (Summer 72), John Kobal refers to an interview about the film Gilda with Glenn Ford in which Ford says Johnny and Ballin’s homosexuality was deliberate, “Of course, we knew their relationship was homosexual.”

In director Charles Vidor’s classic film noir Gilda (1946) Johnny Farrell who bares the trademark of the usually defeated soul, lives on the outskirts of normalcy, an ordinariness that film noir anti-heroes lack. For much of the beginning of Gilda, Johnny, and Ballin agree that no matter what happens, there must be ‘no women’ in their lives to interfere with their self-possession and their gambling enterprise.

In Argentina, Johnny Farrell is a small-time gambler who gets into trouble one night, is held at gunpoint, and is rescued by the mysterious Ballin, a nightclub owner and millionaire who saves him from danger with his cane that doubles as a very sharp pointed sword. Johnny becomes immersed in Ballin’s world and it isn’t a leap to understand how he might wind up in a homosexual affair with a powerful man like Ballin Munsdon (George Macready). Johnny does exude the essence of a gigolo who will grab what he can get. Ballin is a man who can take care of Johnny and surround him with luxuries and a lifestyle he fast becomes enamored with. Johnny would be better categorized as bisexual.

The antihero in Gilda, Johnny (Glenn Ford) is involved in an implicitly homosexual bond with Ballin (George Macready). As Ballin reminds Johnny that there are three of them in the relationship that will never be separated referring to Johnny, Ballin and Ballin’s phallic/sadistic cane uses as a weapon.

This factor intrudes on Johnny’s romantic attraction to Gilda (Rita Hayworth) projecting uncertainty around the hero/femme fatale trope of other film noirs. There’s a compelling homosexual relationship present, connecting Johnny and Ballin, the queer cues are evident with stereotypical iconography to perceptibly inform us about their implicit sexual relationship. Johnny was actually one of Ballin’s ‘pick ups’ as he takes him in, not because he is a generous man but owing to how ‘appealing’ he finds Johnny who acts like a male prostitute. And the gaze that is held between the two men is telling. Johnny remarks to Ballin, “You must lead a gay life.” 

Ballin gives Johnny a key to his place and he lets himself in and starts combing his hair and washing up, staring at himself in the mirror, an insinuation it is the start of an intimate relationship with Ballin.

And while film noir anti-heroes aren’t known for their abiding decency or undying virtue, to inject ‘deviance’ into the plot is quite a daring maneuver for 1946. If you read between the lines, which historians, scholars, and those of us who usually read the quiet subtleties under each scene, you see their relationship as a queer one. This element of the antihero having a homosexual relationship makes this film noir stand out quite a bit. As noir, it has all the criteria of the genre, yet the love triangle isn’t between a man and two women, the trope is inverted. One film critic offered this, “Surely Ford’s character is the most ambiguous leading man ever.”

George Macready plays the Teutonic casino owner Ballin Mundson, who puts handsome gambler Johnny Farrell on the payroll as one of his bodyguards and eventually gives him the job of watching over his new wife Gilda, who was once involved with Johnny.

Until a little further in the film, Johnny is ecstatic that the Ballin has returned after being away for some time. He acts like a man who has missed his lover.

Johnny follows Ballin up the elaborate staircase in order to meet his new acquisition, his showpiece, his wife, Gilda.

Then he hears Gilda’s voice, and Ballin says, “Quite a surprise to hear a woman singing in my house, eh Johnny?” Ballin sardonically jabs at Johnny who in kind replies, “Yes-quite a surprise” sounding bewildered.

Ballin introduces Gilda (Rita Hayworth) his new wife, like a beautiful new possession, pleasing to the eye, and an appealing ornament for Johnny to take in, (not realizing that Johnny and Gilda have already had a connection in the past.) Johnny reacts with pure jealousy. It could be read as Johnny resenting Gilda because their romance had failed. Perhaps he got involved in a homosexual relationship with Ballin because he’s been turned off to women, since Gilda.

Once Johnny is faced with Ballin and Gilda’s marriage, his conflict is ignited, a mixture of desire and jealousy for both of them. You can read the intense intimacy when the two men light the other’s cigarette and stare into each other’s eyes. Ballin tells Johnny, “As you know when I buy something, I want it immediately!” Gilda baits Johnny, “You’re looking very beautiful tonight” he answers, “You look very pretty in your bedgown.” Even Gilda is cognizant of the similarities in the style Ballin selected for both her and Johnny.

Johnny assumes the two have consummated their marriage, and that Gilda has now broken up his relationship with Ballin. Yet, Ballin and Gilda never display any charisma imagined in a new relationship, any expressed sexual intimacy or romantic affection. Ballin merely shows her off as his new jewel, telling her that he likes to feed her appetite with nice things. This queer chemistry is reminiscent of other coded noir characters who distort ownership of a beautiful woman as an ‘object.’ For example, Waldo molding his new protégé and fixating on Laura as the ideal woman in Laura (1944), Hardy’s worship of Mari’s beauty as permanent as a painting, and his pathological road to destructive obsession in The Dark Corner (1946).

Ballin too, utilizes Gilda not as a man whose heart is spirited away by love, he merely sees Gilda as another of his properties. What is missing here, is the typified Hollywood film noir romance. The close-up of two lovers enraptured in each other’s arms, underscored with sweeping orchestrations, and Chiaroscuro converging as sexual foreplay. The close association with the unsavory attraction to these beautiful noir femmes goes to the ‘deviance’ that was built into coded queer film noir, where aestheticizing their attractions to alluring women betrays their villainy and their twisted hetero/homo erotic objectification.

RITA HAYWORTH & GLENN FORD Film ‘GILDA’ (1946) Directed By CHARLES VIDOR14 February 1946 CTM42030 Allstar/Cinetext/COLUMBIA

Queers generally in film noir are not evil just because homosexuality is abnormal or wrong. Nor is it even only because they are ‘like’ women, something which is abhorrent either because they are like the sex they are not supposed to be like or because women being on the whole fatales then so must be any man like them. Queers are also evil because the aesthetic gives them an access to women that excludes and threatens the normal male. On the one hand, the very feeling for the aesthetic is coded as feminine in the culture on the other hand its asexuality allows queers a closeness to women uncomplicated by heterosexual lust.-(Dyer)

Ballin is at the root of the illicit and decadent culture (i.e.homosexuality), an ominous specter who haunts Gilda and Johnny and is present at intimate moments but hidden in the lurking shadows. For example, the way Charles Vidor and Rudolph Maté frame the sequence where Ballin appears as an ink-black negative figure, an invisible menace left of the screen after he catches Johnny and Gilda together and tells them he won’t lose a wife, as if she is a valuable ‘object.’

In several scenes when Gilda embraces Johnny, the moments are fractured when she becomes aware of his being there when the supposedly dead Ballin, like an apparition, manifests offscreen as the camera cuts to the Venetian blinds of Ballin’s office door slowly close. Gilda is terrified, that their tormentor is still alive and was not killed in the plane exploding. The gay panic remains dominant over their relationship. The camera uses the iconography of the noir ‘portrait’ of Ballin, on the wall, much like Laura, Rebecca, and Mari in The Dark Corner, to signify these provocative characters still prevail.

When Johnny brings Gilda home to Ballin at five in the morning, Gilda gives Ballin an excuse that she’s been swimming. Once Gilda leaves, the lighting frames Ballin in silhouette as a looming shadowy figure to the right of the screen while Johnny stands in the light submissively listening to the ‘bad father’ who interrogates his pretty protégé about his mastery of swimming, which is coded language for sex.

Ballin asks the question, “Did you teach her to swim, Johnny?”, Johnny answers antagonistically “I taught her everything she knows…”

But even after Ballin’s supposed death, Johnny and Gilda get married, and it is clear that they have not slept together yet.

Rudolph Mate’s cinematic ‘labyrinthine’ (Dyer) constructs of Gilda, have beforehand focused on Ballin’s primacy, in addition to the symbology through the use of his phallic cane (knife), which he calls “my little friend.” A sadomasochistic weapon, alluding to his arousal from brutality and “other strong emotions.”

If Gilda is to be seen as one of the more penetrable coded film noirs, then it might be said that one of the overarching implications is, while film noir separates sick sexuality from the hero, Gilda places him somewhere in the middle of wicked queerness and sadomasochism, and the subtext froths with anxiety from the homo-erotic implications.

The iconic femme fatale’s sultry battle cry that Gilda sings “Put The Blame On Mame”, is an ambiguous way to call out men who condemn women’s sexuality at the root of their trials and troubles. It implies that even though Gilda might have been portrayed as wild initially, she is an atypical femme fatale and that there is something more pathological driving Johnny’s violence toward her.

Johnny struts around Gilda with a forced machismo as he attempts to assume Ballin’s villainous sadism, but lacks the fervor until he is able to access the images from his dominant/submissive relationship with Ballin. We witness Johnny’s surrender, figuratively as he kneels on the floor in front of Ballin’s bodyguard in Ballin’s ominous office after he tries to steal money from the casino.

THE MALTESE FALCON (1941) directed by John Huston, is in the film noir canon of detective stories with the central hero, private investigator Sam Spade, on a mission to find a stolen treasure, a jewel-encrusted statue of a falcon that has been stolen. Spade eventually meets Joel Cairo who uses every form of misdirection to put Spade off the track of the missing bird. In Dashiell Hammett’s novel, the character of Cairo was explicitly gay. In John Huston’s film version, Cairo is reduced to a perfumed fairy with delicate lace handkerchiefs and a fragility that is a caricature of sissyhood . Mary Astor’s vicious Brigid O’Shaughnessy insinuates his sexuality by mentioning some trouble that Cairo had with, “that young boy in Istanbul.”

Huston could not risk placing an openly gay character in his screenplay or film. The Hays Code pressured Huston to subject Cairo to distasteful stereotyping and visual cues that coded his personality. Not only that, but it was essential to the Production Code that they show Cairo as an immoral villain. It was only when the stereotypical gay character was revealed as corrupt, wicked, threatening, and ultimately condemned by the law, were the censors content.

With the presence of Humphrey Bogart and the personification of Hammitt’s tough private detective, the film’s ambiance sets off a tone of hypermasculinity. But fixed against that gendered trope is Joel Cairo whose effeminacy stands out in bold contrast, through his voice, body language, and his overall impression of unmanliness. Cairo possesses a phallic cane that he takes with him everywhere, caressing it, suggestively with his expressive hands with long fingernails.

According to Harry Benshoff — Monsters in the Closet, Peter Lorre even more than the other, seemed to embody the ‘swishy, neurotic, homosexual foreigner as attested by his roles as the ringlet-haired spy’ in Alfred Hitchcock’s Secret Agent (1936) or ‘the perfumed Egyptian’ Joel Cairo in The Maltese Falcon (1941) Lorre, like many of these actors managed to make a career out of suggesting both racial and sexual otherness and this was noted even at the time of his films’ initial releases. A Time magazine review of Mad Love in 1935 notes this queer appeal directly, even comparing Lorre’s acting skills to those of another homosexual coded actor: “Lorre, perfectly cast, uses the technique popularized by Charles Laughton of suggesting the most unspeakable obsession by the roll of a protuberant eyeball, lips set flat in his cretinous, ellipsoidal face.”

Peter Lorre’s Joel Cairo in The Maltese Falcon like Marriott in Farewell, My Sweet {Lovely} (1944) is introduced into the story by his gardenia perfume. Lee Patrick who plays Sam Spade’s secretary Effie, hands Sam, Cairo’s calling card which is infused with his scent. Perfume not only signals a feminine conveyance but it is also something that becomes pervasive in the atmosphere. Like being queer is invisible, so is perfume. As Dyer says, it “can’t be seen or touched or therefore controlled, it’s a typically female piece of indirection of a piece with seduction manipulation deceit and the other strategies of fatality.” (Source: Sophie Cleghorn The Hollywood Production Code of 1930 and LGBT Characters -The Maltese Falcon)

Three of the consummate noir heavies are Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, and Francis L. Sullivan. Their style is distinctive and they are unique in appearance. It could be said that all three have a sinister and odd sexuality that reeks of corruption. In Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre play homosexuals who come across as, decadent orchids living in a world of perfume and finery, as when Cairo hands Sam’s secretary Effie, with the gardenia-scented calling card. For decades the film could not be shown on U.S. television because of the implications that Cairo was a homosexual.

Including Elisha Cook Jr. as Greenstreet’s elflike bodyguard, they are a trio of queers. Gutman (Greenstreet) has that refined taste for finer things, he has effete mannerisms and style of speech. At one point he places his hand on Sam’s leg and allows it to linger a bit too long.

Enter Mr. Cairo introduced by whimsical flutes and mirthful clarinets…

Peter Lorre as Joel Cairo is swarthy, small in stature, wildly feverish, and apprehensive. In counterbalance, Greenstreet’s Kasper Gutman is a cosmopolitan, composed gentleman who projects his well-known undercurrent of cynical venom and malevolence. And Elisha Cook Jr. as Wilmer is practically invisible except for his full-length tweed coat and guns bigger than he is, he’s Gutman’s little sidekick.

Greenstreet’s bodyguard Wilmer (Elisha Cook Jr.) who is Gutman’s unspoken young queer sidekick. Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) continually ridicules the elfin trenchcoat-wearing Wilmer, referring to him as ‘gunsel’. The origin of the nickname stems from the early 1900s, when tramps and convicts used the German word for ‘little goose’ or gosling. By the mid-1920s it became a nickname referring to a sneaky person, and by the 1930s it came to mean petty gangster or hoodlum.

Gunsel is also a derivation of a Yiddish term (originally a German dialect) ‘gunsel’. Pronounced faygelah, the word faigle or ‘little bird’ is commonly used as an offensive variation to describe homosexuality. Wilmar’s sexuality is brought to light by Sam’s derisive putdown, and the use of the word gunsel, and is not a mistake in Huston’s carefully drawn script, it is a debasing word whose hidden meaning describes a young inexperienced boy companion, which Wilmar is to Gutman. When Gutman tells Wilmar, “I’m sorry indeed to lose you. But I want you to know I couldn’t be fonder of you if you were my own son. But, well, if you lose a son, it’s possible to get another. There’s only one Maltese Falcon. “ it brings to the fore, the suggestion of their relationship.

An “underground” term that refers to a person who is either a “fall guy” or a “stool pigeon”, in which case Spade is making both a direct and an indirect reference to Wilmer’s character.-IMBd trivia

In one of the most revealing lines in The Maltese Falcon -Sam Spade aggressively confronts Cairo- ‘‘When you’re slapped, you’ll take it and like it.” Cairo pouts-“Look what you did to my shirt.”

Christmas Holiday (1944) Gene Kelly as an Oedipally psycho killer -that’s Queer!

CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY is based on the screenplay by W. Somerset Maugham, the novel by Herman J. Mankiewicz, and the underrated Robert Siodmak who directed some of the most powerful film noirs of the 1940s- Phantom Lady 1944, The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry 1945, The Spiral Staircase 1946, The Dark Mirror 1946 and The Killers 1946.

Robert Siodmak’s 1944 Christmas Holiday is considered a very ‘dark film starring Deanna Durbin and Gene Kelly who has always been associated with light storylines. On the surface, the story involves noir tropes of the fallen woman, the impulse toward wickedness, and a noir labyrinth that leads to a grim conclusion. Christmas Holiday showcases murder, incest, Oedipal conflict, and repressed homosexuality implied by Robert Manette’s (Kelly’s) effeminate portrayal, and obsession with his clothes and appearance. He also distances himself from the heterosexual chemistry lacking in his relationship with his wife played by Durbin. Robert and Abigail radiate a sterile romance that is deadened by his fixation with his mother and the void that is his masculinity. The stereotypical overbearing mother archetype is associated with men turning queer, and Robert Manette fits that suggestion. The film also stars Gail Sondergaard as Robert Manette’s domineering mother, who brings that signature artfully subdued menace (The Letter 1940, The Spider Woman Strikes Back 1946).

It’s Christmas Eve and Army Lt. Charles Mason’s (Dean Harens) flight to San Francisco is forced to land in New Orleans. He spends a lonely Christmas there after receiving a telegram from his fiancée Mona that she has married another guy. Lt. Mason is heartbroken after being dumped and stranded by the bad weather. He winds up at a nightclub/brothel run by the amiable Valerie De Merode (Gladys George) where he meets sultry singer/escort Deanna Durbin, named Jackie Lamont. Richard Whorf plays reporter Simon Fenimore who first introduces Jackie to Lt. Mason. Simon tells Jackie- “Isn’t that the way things always seem to happen? You’re getting along on a flight and suddenly boom! you have to make a forced landing.”

Jackie asks Lt. Mason if he’ll take her to midnight mass, where she begins to break down. Jackie begins to relate her story told in flashback of how she wound up feeling so despondent. Her real name is Abigail Martin/Mannette from Vermont. She tells him how she fell in love and married Robert Mannette a charming but troubled gambler with an Oedipal complex who is ruled over by his domineering and overly protective mother (Gail Sondergaard).

Jackie/Abigail tells Lt. Mason “He was so gay, so charming, so different.”

The newlyweds spend six months in bliss until Robert’s weakness and violent tendencies lead him to be arrested for the murder of his bookie.

Overnight their life changes. Robert comes home with an unexplained wad of cash and blood on his trousers, which his mother quickly burns in the incinerator out back, telling Abigail it’s her old dress she’s tired of. Lying to protect her son, all the time knowing he’s done something horrible, she even sews the stolen cash inside the seams of the curtains. But Abigail burns the money before the police come with their search warrant.

Abigail calmly- “I burnt the money mother.” Mrs. Mannette-“Abigail I swear to you by all my love for him and for you that Robert did not kill Teddy Jordan.” Abigail-“You know, and I know mother… that he did.” Mrs. Mannette turns on Abigail maniacally –“Are you going to turn against him too. From the day you married him, I think now from the day you met him, you closed your eyes to what it was all about, to what he was all about. Selfishly just so you could be happy. He needed your strength that’s why I let him marry you. And all you gave him back was his own weakness!”

Abigail tells Mrs. Mannette, “I love Robert” Mrs. Mannette- “No you don’t. It’s I who love him and keep on loving him.”

The film has that creepily sinister Siodmak atmosphere with its dark spaces and psycho-sexual narrative. Sondergaard hovers over the house like a lurking spider knitting a web of preservation for her queer son.

In Jules Dassin’s Night and the City, Francis L. Sullivan has Greenstreet’s menacing bulk. As the jealous nightclub owner, Nosseross. He has bought and paid for his beautiful wife, but Helen despises his touch. He is photographed from a low angle that emphasizes his enormous frame, while lit from below casting ominous shadows across his face. Looking like some caged beast, he is observed frequently throughout the bar-like windows of his office. His gaze, focused on his wife doesn’t manage to conceal an effeminate streak, much like Sidney Greenstreet’s imposing form in The Maltese Falcon. Nosseross surrounded by a flock of beauties seems to care less.

FRANCIS L. SULLIVAN & GOOGIE WITHERS Character(s): Philip Nosseross, Helen Nosseross Film ‘NIGHT AND THE CITY’ (1950) Directed By JULES DASSIN 01 April 1950 CTW88957 Allstar/Cinetext/20TH CENTURY FOX

Phil Nosseross –“You don’t know what you’re getting into.”

Helen Nosseross-“I know what I’m getting out of.”

Francis L. Sullivan plays Nosseross the sinister nightclub owner estranged from the greedy Helen (Googie Withers). Night and the City (1950) paints a grimy picture of the London Underworld. A film directed by one of my favorite auteurs, Jules Dassin, who creates a lasting impression with his visual elements, Night and the City, from his period of films before the witch-hunting days of HUAC and Dassin was blacklisted, leaving the US, and settling down in England. Night and the City (1950) is one of the quintessential film noirs with haunting, grimy, often sweaty, brutal scenes with a bleak nihilist ending.

Shot by Mutz Greenbaum (So Evil, My Love 1948) who worked with Fritz Lang, Robert Siodmak, and Karl Freund, all immigrants who fled Nazi-occupied Europe and came to work in Hollywood. “a graphic showcase of the style at its most extreme”(Glenn Erickson) Richard Widmark, a notable noir fixture plays Harry Fabian, Nosseross’ club tout, a petty thief, a misfit and a worthless hustler, who is the antithesis of Skip McCoy in Sam Fuller’s similarly quintessential noir masterpiece Pickup on South Street (1953). The screenplay was penned by Jo Eisinger who adapted E. An Ellington’s story Gilda (1946). Night and the City also co-stars the miscast Gene Tierney as Fabian’s girlfriend Mary, who puts up with his worthless, unscrupulous schemes. He’s always stealing money from her, scurrying around the streets and hangouts of the underworld. Fabian is like a sewer rat scavenging for the next big thing.

In Night and the City, Hugh Marlowe plays Gene Tierney’s male friend Adam, who has a non-masculine breeziness about him. Adam Dunne is the true coded gay character of the film. His voice is very lyrical and he has a certain prance in the way he moves. Burning a boiling pot of pasta, bubbling over in his cluttered apartment, “You’re just in time to enjoy the most ‘heavenly’ spaghetti dinner”. Adam’s embedded stereotypical creative achievement – he designs toys and music boxes. Fabulous!

He doesn’t assert himself with Mary, and shows no male prowess in order to get her to turn her affections toward him, instead of the wretched Fabian. Adam comes across as merely Mary’s good, guy friend.

Greco-Roman Wrestling in Jules Dassin’s Night and the City (1950) Sweaty naked men perform homosocial behavior and Ancient Greek homoerotic physical contact.

In A Lonely Place, Laurel’s masseuse Martha has a tacitly intimate relationship with Laurel (Gloria Grahame). She kneads her flesh with an erotic vigor, calling Laurel “angel.” The uncredited Ruth Gillette as Martha portrays the stereotypical butch who conveys to us an intimidating character. Martha covets her time with Laurel. “These heavy hints of butchness and the tactile intimacy of their reactions with women make them seem formidable rivals to men. Literally, they do threaten the male protagonists.”-(Dyer)

Burnett Guffy’s camera work shoots Martha from a low angle, which frames Martha as overpowering Laurel, eclipsed by shadows across her face painting her as sinister, in other words, a queer version of the monstrous feminine. Martha continues to maneuver her hands all over Laurel’s body, wanting to get her away from Dix, intimating that he is violent and responsible for the missing girl, ‘They’ve still not found that check room girl.’ Laurel becomes indigent and denies Martha’s overtures, telling her, I’ll get out ‘angel’ But you’ll beg me to come back when you’re in trouble. You will, angel because you don’t have anybody else.”

Threatening the heterosexual union…

IN A LONELY PLACE 1950, Martha sows seeds of doubt in Laurel’s mind. Narratively, Martha appears, amidst two potent scenes. At the nightclub where Laurel and Dix are paranoid and both feel they’re under scrutiny and when Sylvia blurts out that Laurel has seen the police again without telling Dix. The scenes with Martha suggest that she is a link in the chain of the couple’s gradual separation. 1962’s WALK ON THE WILD SIDE shows Jo keeping Hally and Dove apart. In LAURA Waldo always devious, tries to impede McPherson and Laura getting together, and in fact any man who has eyes for Laura, ultimately Waldo emerges as the fetishizing gay villain.


Yet again, the problem of male self identity is exacerbated by its apparent resolution. For this conspicuous discharge situates the male couple between the representational poles of homoeroticism and homophobia, in love with their self-displays and at odds with their implications. Caught inside convention of male bonding, outside of racist, heterosexist norms, the buddy politic can only implode.

The cinematic male bond might best be described as an unresolvable process that reproduces freeze frames on the order of the last image in George Roy Hill’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)This famous image of disastrous ejaculatory excess — Paul Newman and Robert Redford rung toward the camera, shooting and being shot, dying and dead—exemplifies the paradox of the buddy formula. Built on the bankability of two male stars. The buddy film negotiates crises of masculine identity centered on questions of class, race and sexual orientation by affirming dominant cultural and institutional apparati. The dominant masculine context and accompanying identity crises are hardly new. The textual strategies by which men form intimate partnerships have evolved, though from what Joan Mellen calls ‘an adolescent bonding of young males (Mellen 1977) in early cowboy serials, the war movie What Price Glory 1926, and the romantic adventure Beau Geste 1939, to more sophisticated mechanisms by which homosexuality is repressed.

Howard Hawk’s homosocial film, Only Angel’s Have Wings (1939) is set in a volatile environment where there is sure to be mutual support, male bonding, and undying friendship. Cary Grant plays Geoff Carter who runs an air freight company in a remote South American trading port. Geoff has to make tough decisions about sending his pilots out on dangerous flights. Thomas Mitchell is perfectly gruff as Kid Dabb, Geoff’s best friend who is brave to the end. Like the classical Hollywood war film, intimate male affections between apparent heterosexual men, and fraternal friendship, when put in proximity to each other, will flourish. Within male institutions, this is seen as acceptable, though some of the connotations could lead to being read as homo-erotic.

Jeffrey Sconce: “Classical Hollywood war films had always clebreated homosocial bonds between military men. Love scenes and even passionate kisses were shared between (ostensibly heterosexual) men in films such as Wings (1927), Test Pilot (1938) and Only Angels Have Wings (1939).

There are many film noirs where there are intimate friendships and male homosocial harmony. It can be seen in noir that features soldiers leaving for the war, or ready to leave the service. Humphrey Bogart in Dead Reckoning (1947), Crossfire (1947), and The Blue Dalia (1946).

The films deal with male bonding that joins soldiers together through Hollywood’s post-WWII era, telling of men who have been away from women for a long clip. It is not uncommon for film noir, to showcase a mostly all-male group. And not just war-related noir films, but prison noir and police procedural noir, and crime dramas The Big Combo, Brute Force (1947), and The Big Heat (1953). The intense relationship between the two men can be seen between Van Heflin and Robert Taylor in Johnny Eager (1941).

The look of intimacy and the post-sex cigarette. Alexander Scourbey and his bodyguard in The Big Heat 1953

Johnny Eager 1947- Jeff is very eager for Johnny!

Van Heflin plays poet Jeff Hartnett who is hopelessly devoted to his friend, cold-blooded gangster, Johnny Eager (Robert Taylor). Eager pretends to be on parole working as a cab driver. Hartnett seems more than loyal, he appears to be in love with Eager. When Eager can’t give up his criminal racketeering and his womanizing, it breaks Hartnett’s heart, he spirals downward and become a hopeless alcoholic.

Lana Turner plays Lisbeth Bard the step-daughter of the district attorney, it complicates Johnny’s plans. He’s attracted to Lizbeth but she is also a way to get his permit to open his dog racing track and his racketeering. Lisbeth is madly in love with Johnny but Hartnett wants him all to himself, and always seems antagonized whenever she’s around.

“Johnny I was gonna sing the whole beautiful opera about poor old Lou Rankin and those two impetuous Moletti brothers may their souls rest in cement. I was gonna be the troubadore of all the eager folks on this Johnny, and then I was gonna blow my brains out.” Johnny– “You were gonna do that to me just for dusting you across the mouth?” Hartnett crying….. “No I just suddenly got a stomach full of myself. And all of us sitting and listening to that little girl and not doing anything about it. Somebody’s got to, I said to myself and I thought it’d be me and the way to do it would be to turn the key on Johnny Eager. Turn it and Break it off. But you know something. You stopped me. Right out there you paraded by the grand stand. She’d only eat her heart out a little longer with you in the death cell. I haven’t got the nerve to blow my brains out. You have the money to pay one of your assassins to do it for me. No it’s just like you said Johnny, you’re the boss. You’ve got everybody over a barrell.”

At the end of the picture, there is a very telling image of Van Heflin as Jeff Hartnett embracing Johnny (Robert Taylor)

There’s an intense relationship in Dead Reckoning (1947), cued by phrases from Bogart about his best friend Johnny (William Prince), “He was laughing, tough and lonesome.” and he informs Lizabeth Scott, “I loved him more than you.”

The potential homosexuality in the coded gay characters of intimate male friendship in film noir could be put into the context of the era, which serves as an example of deviant male-male relationships rather than healthy non-sexual friendships. Bogart’s Rip bares a deep contrast from coded effete noir characters, on the surface he is placed within the structure of healthy, intimate male friendships, or the homo-social relationship seen in many more exclusively male pictures. In film noir, the hero learns to trust no one, but if he had to, it would be another man.

Dead Reckoning (1947) is one of the clearest cases, with Rip (Humphrey Bogart) spending the whole film trying to find out what happened to his army buddy, Johnny. Given the dialogue Rip uses, perhaps the narrative has not done a good enough job avoiding the undercurrent of repressed homosexuality, but at its source is an approved physically intimate male bonding familiar to male/male pictures that is not ‘sexual.’ It isn’t a stretch to imagine that there is more than just one way to interpret their relationship or at least Rip’s feelings for Johnny.

The film opens with Rip and Johnny sharing a sleeping compartment on a train. Johnny changes his clothes in front of Rip. It is later on, when he describes his vision of Johnny with the hauntingly evocative comment, “tough, laughing and lonesome.” He feels a kindredship with his friend, and the alienation indicated by the word lonesome might be read as the identification of his own loneliness.

Humphrey Bogart and William Prince in Dead Reckoning (1947)

Edger Ulmer’s Ruthless (1948) stars Louis Hayward and Zachary Scott one of the consummate cinematic cads. In Ulmer’s film, in particular, he relays a reptilian aura. In flashback, we are meant to see his childhood growing up with a heartless unemotional mother and a useless gambler of a father who has been thrown out of the house. Horace has no place to go but has been taken in by a wonderful family. He almost marries their daughter Martha (Diana Lynn) but doesn’t see the value in keeping her around if he cannot benefit from her status and her limited finances. He then goes around with Martha Vickers, a socialite, as he works his way up the ladder in the world of finance.

When he leaves Martha (Diana Lynn) who expects Horace to marry her, he warns her that though he loves her, he needs to reject her and find someone with money. And that he’ll never be good to any woman. His only voracious appetite, no more of a compulsion, is to gain wealth and power. Horace spends more time in the company of affluent men. First, he manipulates Martha’s father into paying for an education at Harvard. Then he smoothly talks his way into the millionaire’s firm on Wall Street.

In a not-so-subtle way, Ruthless follows along the lines of Citizen Kane (1941) with Scott playing a similar character, unrivaled in his merciless grab for power, walking on the backs of others to get there. Like Kane, he rises to great heights of success while coming from a troubled childhood.

In reflecting on the coded queer theory of triangulation, in which two men compete for the love of a woman, all the while they are desiring each other. Horace has either stolen or tried to steal Vic’s girlfriends. But Horace is not interested in love, he merely uses women to get close to their family fortunes and their influential fathers to advance his career. Horace is an opportunist and even with his devilishly charming good looks, he is merely collecting women as assets.

In the beginning of the film, Vic (Hayward) arrives after he is summoned to Horace’s (Scott) palatial mansion under the guise that Horace wants to make amends for past transgressions. There is a very intense moment when the two men look at each other as if they were old lovers. Horace looks at Vic with longing he says to Vic- “I waited and everybody else came but you.” Vic-” I meant to be here on time, but I took the wrong boat.” All of this wouldn’t have meant very much if you had held out on me. Maybe you have. Isn’t taking the wrong road one of those mistakes that happens when you want to, subconsciously.” Vic,– “Sorry I haven’t analyzed myself these days.”

In the end, Horace begs Vic, “Vic I need you, You’re the only friend I have.” After all the cutthroat things Horace has done, including stabbing Vic in the back by stealing his girl, Horace hasn’t changed. He even causes the man who gave him his start, to commit suicide after he wouldn’t give him a loan to save his reputable firm. Vic has always been loyal to him and says he loves him. The two have an undying devotion to each other. That is to say that there is, ‘something else there.’

Ruthless (1948) is about the rise of a millionaire, with a possible gay subtext. The two main male protagonists seem more interested in each other than with women. There is a more to the extent of the ‘queer’ deepness below the surface of this (quasi melodrama) I call Melo-noir. We could say he’s a lady’s man, but being a bachelor at times is a coded way of saying, he’s not interested in women. In 1949 one way to get passed the censors is to place Horace on the screen with beautiful women. Horace might be pursuing the same types of half-hearted courtships and what lies behind it is not a romance is merely access to more money.

The one person in his life that seems to be the one constant shimmer of light, whom he needs by his side, is Vic. Horace erupts in one scene, “I don’t want to be a man!”

Film noir is a landscape that opens up the way for coded gay characters to wander. The labyrinth can lead to universal destiny, alienation, the malicious, the greedy, the hungry for love, or that invisible presence of the coded gay figure. Either way, hidden in noir shadows can be a ‘queer’ sort, who can only be seen when you read between the lines.

As films moved into the 1950s Sconce notes they “progressed and the cultural image of the male homosexual shifted from pansy stereotype to the more menacing ‘invisible’ homosexual-one who could or did pass for straight-intense homosocial buddy relationships (both on screen and in real life) became more and more suspect. A kiss between men was no longer a sign of fraternal friendship, but now a sign of potential sexual perversity. This cultural anxiety over the border between male homosocial and male homosexual desire- was a central concern.”

Hume Cronyn as the sadistic Capt. Munsey in Jules Dassin’s prison noir Brute Force (1947)

Paul Henried and Burt Lancaster in William Dieterle’s Rope of Sand 1949.

House of Bamboo (1955) In the mid-1950s, Sam Fuller directed a noir remake in color of 1948’s The Street With No Name starring Richard Widmark. The film is lensed by the original cinematographer Joe MacDonald (The Dark Corner, My Darling Clementine, Niagara, The Sand Pebbles.) House of Bamboo stars Robert Ryan as the unstable Sandy Dawson, imposing and elegant, impeccably stylish with the swagger of a gentleman but the heart of a violent gangland boss. In Tokyo, Dawson heads a big operation. These cold-blooded gang members are ex-soldier pals of Dawson who makes a fortune out of robbing American munitions trains. Robert Stack plays Army Sargeant Eddie Kenner who poses as a thug and infiltrates the gang to get close to Dawson in order to find out what happened to his friend who was killed during one of the heists.

Usually, Fuller’s aesthetic is often raw and vulgar, though here the subtext of Dawson’s repressed sexuality is coded as one tough guy looking for another to be his close friend. Dawson forms a homoerotic fixation on Eddie. When Eddie gets romantically involved with his dead pal’s wife Mariko (Shirley Yamaguchi) Dawson tries to sabotage it, which lends even more weight to his repressed desire for Eddie. Dawson also indulges himself with finery and is fastidious with his clothing, surrounding himself with young servant boys.

The film also stars Cameron Mitchell as Griff who becomes threatened and jealous of Dawson and Eddie’s relationship, having been Dawson’s ‘Ichiban’ his ‘favorite lieutenant’… which adds even more ambiguous tension to the plot. Griff –“But ever since you saved this guy’s neck, you’ve been acting funny, well I know what you’re trying to do, but you’re not going to get away with it, cuz I won’t let you”. When Sandy Dawson mistakenly suspects Griff of being the fink in his gang he murders him in a very intimate place, a bathtub, then holds his head in a loving way.

Cinematographer Keighley’s retake, House of Bamboo symbolizes the passage from the highly stylized noir of 1948’s, The Street With No Name which stars Richard Widmark as the sadistic Alec Stiles. Sam Fuller’s House of Bamboo showcases a more realistic touch of neo-noir in the 1950s. In the original version, Alec Stiles (Widmark) shows a much more subdued, nearly hinted-at attraction to Marc Stevens, the FBI agent undercover trying to bust up Stiles’s criminal ring. The earlier film has a fainter tinge of queerness than the remake.

Richard Widmark and Mark Stevens in The Street With No Name (1948)

Touch of Evil (1958) A stark, perverse story of murder-‘I don’t call it dirty. Look at the record, our record, partner.’ ‘Huh?’

Touch of Evil is directed by Orson Welles. It’s a ‘stark, perverse story of murder, kidnapping, and police corruption in a Mexican border town.’ One of the highlights of this grimly nihilistic festival of evil is the appearance of Marlene Dietrich as Tanya, Quinlan’s old friend.

Charlton Heston plays Mexican Narcotics officer Mike Vargas, who has to delay his honeymoon with Susan (Janet Leigh) in order to investigate the death of an American millionaire, killed by a car bomb on the Mexican-US border. He is also hunting down a narcotics syndicate run by the Grandi family, Uncle Joe Grandi (Akim Tamiroff). Police Captain Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles at his bravura and bluster ) is a corrupt detective who is in charge of the US side of the border. He and his pal Pete Menzies (Joseph Calleia) plant evidence to frame a Mexican boy Manolo Sanchez for the crime. Vargas soon realizes how corrupt Quinlan is, and seeks to expose him by looking for the evidence. Meanwhile, the Grandis terrorize Vargas’ wife in her hotel room.

Mercedes McCambridge credited as a hoodlum or perhaps butch greaser?, only appears in the film because she was having lunch with Orson Welles who convinced her to film one scene.

He had her wear a leather jacket, cut her hair himself, slick it back like a dyke, and had her character say the sinister line, “I wanna watch.” when Janet Leigh is savagely assaulted and set up as a drug addict in her hotel room. As a representation of a sadistic butch lesbian, I wouldn’t consider McCambridge’s character as coded but rather observable as the stereotypical predatory, sapphic, monster queer. Her role in Johnny Guitar (1954) as Emma Small takes hold of the screen as a coded lesbian. Her voice as the demon in William Friedkin’s The Exorcist 1973 brings it to a whole new level of scary queer. “Your father sucks *lollypops* in hell Father Karris’ and ‘it’s a fine day for an exorcism, don’t you think?”

Pete Menzies worships his buddy Hank Quinlan, they are inseparable friends. Dazzled by the mythology of Quinlan’s tough exterior, he is mesmerized by Quinlan’s supernatural game leg that tingles with intuition. Quinlan took a bullet for Pete, and now he reveres his friend as a savior. But there is more than just hero-worship between the two men. Pete is drawn to Quinlan. Calleia as Pete, exudes a latent homo-eroticism that indicates the subtly of Pete and Quinlan’s relationship. With sycophantic exuberance, Pete admires Quinlan when he sets up the frame for Sanchez. Eventually, Pete turns on his partner, and they both wind up shooting each other. Pete Menzies: “All these years you’ve been playing me for a sucker. Faking evidence.” Quinlan: “Aiding justice, partner.”

Quinlan: “You’ve been gettin’ kinda chummy – you and that Mexican. Does that explain that thing you’re carrying around now? What’s it called? That thing you’re wearing.”
Pete Menzies: “What I’m wearing?”
Quinlan: “Sure. That halo.”
Pete Menzies: “Halo?”
Quinlan “it looks real pretty on you Pete. Pretty soon you’ll be flapping your wings like an angel.”

Coming Up Chapter 4!

4 thoughts on “Chapter 3 – Queers and Dykes in the Dark: Classic, Noir & Horror Cinema’s Coded Gay Characters:

  1. What a marvelous post! It’s taken me 2 weeks to read through carefuly as work has been in the way, but I loved every nugget of information here. Especially the Dark Corner. Such a sublime film! What a gift this is, Joey! Looking forward to chapter 4.

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