Nature’s Fury Blogathon: 🐜 Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) Melanie Daniels as Metaphor: Wanton With Wings-“What are you? I think you’re the cause of all this, I think you’re evil!”

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The clever & cheeky Barry of Cinematic Catharsis has summoned this great and powerful idea for a Summer Blogathon! Whether it’s the weather, or giant mutant bugs, blood hungry sharks, large animals run amok, or the elements gone awry–Nature’s Fury can be seen in so many fascinating and awe inspiring feature films and those lovable B movie trends that showcase the natural world in chaos. I immediately thought of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds as it is a film that has stayed burned in my mind since I first saw it as a child. Certain scenes will never lose their power to terrify.

And in celebration of this event, I’ve actually written a song and made a film/music mash up to tribute Tippi Hedren in The Birds, with a montage from the film featuring my song Calling Palundra

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“The Birds expresses nature and what it can do, and the dangers of nature. Because there’s no doubt that if the birds did decide, you know, with the millions that they are, to go for everybody’s eyes, then we’d have H.G.Wells Kingdom of the Blind on our hands.”-Alfred Hitchcock

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“Why are they doing this? They said when you got here, the whole thing started. Who are you? What are You? Where did you come from? I think you’re the cause of all this… I think you’re evil EVIL!” Actress Doreen Lang playing the hysterical mother in the diner!

This tribute video features my special song written just for this blogathon…. Here’s Melanie Daniels & the birds– with my piano vocal accompaniment, ‘Calling Palundra’

The children’s song “Risseldy Rosseldy” heard at the school when the crows began to unite as a gang is the Americanization of an old Scottish folk song called “Wee Cooper O’Fife”

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Image courtesy of: Jürgen Müller’s colorful Movies of the ’60s

On it’s face The Birds can be taken literally as a cautionary tale about the natural world fighting back against the insensitivity & downright barbaric treatment of nature’s children and the environment at the hands of humankind. Is it a tale of simple unmitigated revenge against the town for the killing of a pigeon? Or is there something more nefarious & psycho-sexual at work? Once you peel back the top layer of the visual narrative there are multi metaphors at work.

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From Dark Romance: SEXUALITY IN THE HORROR FILM by David J. Hogan- “Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) is probably the ultimate expression of this sort of nameless dread. It is a film that cheerfully defies description: it is horror, it is science fiction, it is black comedy, it is a scathing look at our mores and manners. It is a highly sexual film, but in a perversely negativistic way.”

Before the release of The Birds in 1963, Tippi Hedren made the cover of Look Magazine with the heading “Hitchcock’s new Grace Kelly”.

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Tippi Hedren in Marnie (1964) What Grace Kelly had in pristine beauty and sophistication, Hedren possesses an undertow of sensuality that pulls you into that gorgeous mystique.

As with Hitchcock’s other, worldly beautiful blonde subject — the strong willed socialite Lisa Carol Fremont (Grace Kelly) in Rear Window (1954) The Birds features the stunning Tippi Hedren as the coy, confident and a bit manipulative Melanie Daniels a San Fransisco socialite who descends upon Bodega Bay with a similar uncompromising will. Stiff, stolid and cocky Lawyer Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) meets Melanie in a pet shop where the two share shallow, faintly romantic barbs and repartee. Mitch is shopping for a pair of love birds for his sister Cathy’s eleventh birthday and Mitch pretends in a condescending manner to mistake her for the clerk.  Melanie goes along with the mistaken identity as a way to flirt until his slightly mean-spirited joke backfires when she accidentally let’s a canary loose and while it lands in an ashtray Mitch throws his hat on it and places it back in it’s cage smugly saying “Back in your gilded cage Melanie Daniels.” revealing that he not only knew who she was from the very beginning and has quite a snotty preconceived notion about this socialite whom he appears to judge as running with a ‘wild’ crowd and is amoral. He manages to make a bit of a fool out of Melanie. The contrast between the flirty glib and calculating Melanie Daniels and the less interesting, judgemental and arrogant Mitch Brenner kicks off a chemistry that really isn’t as vital to the story as what the two personalities represent. 

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As Melanie is about to enter Davidson’s Pet Shop, she hears and sees a tremendous gathering of Seagulls in the sky. It is a foreboding moment of things to come…
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From the opening of The Birds, devoid of any musical lead-in or further soundtrack, all natural noise of bird sounds are what underscore the films visual story. The Seagulls in San Fransisco are many and loud this afternoon as Melanie takes notice…
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Melanie enters the shop as Alfred Hitchcock exits, giving the customary cameo walking two dogs that happen to be his own white terriers Geoffrey and Stanley!
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Tippi Hedren, Hitchcock’s new beautiful blonde to supplant the other object of his affections/fixation… Grace Kelly.
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Melanie (Tippi Hedren) has come to pick up the Mynah bird that she has ordered, but the shipment is late. She remarks to pet shop owner Mrs. MacGruder (the lovable Ruth McDevitt) “Hello Mrs. MacGruder have you ever seen so many gulls? What do you suppose it is?” Mrs. MacGruder supposes, “Well There must be a storm at sea that drives them inland you know.”

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Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) enters the pet shop and approaches Melanie asking for help in purchasing lovebirds for his kid sister
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Melanie is attracted to this handsome yet smug and polished smart ass in a suit, so she plays along pretending to be the clerk and continues to help him, giving completely ridiculous answers to his snide questions as he grills her about ornithology. The louse!
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Mitch –“I wonder if you could help me?” Melanie –“what?” Mitch –“I said I wonder if you could help me” Melanie “Just what is it you’re looking for sir?” Mitch “Lovebirds…” Melanie “Lovebirds Sir?” Mitch “Well I understand there’s different varieties is that true?” Melanie “Oh Yes there are” Mitch “Well uh these are for my sister for her birthday, and see uh as she’s only gonna be eleven, I wouldn’t want a pair of birds that were… too demonstrative.” Melanie “I understand completely” Mitch “At the same time, I wouldn’t want them to be too aloof either.” Melanie “No of course not” Mitch “Do you happen to have a pair of birds that are… just friendly?…aren’t those love birds? Melanie “no those are red birds” Mitch “Aren’t they called strawberry finches?” Melanie “oh we call them that too…Oh now here we are love birds” Mitch “those are canaries…Doesn’t this make you feel awful?’ Melanie “Doesn’t what make me feel..?” Mitch “Having all these poor little innocent creatures caged up like that” Melanie “Well we can’t just let them fly around the shop you know” Mitch “No I guess not, is there an ornithological reason for keeping them in separate cages?” Melanie “Well certainly it’s to protect the species” Mitch “Yes I expect that’s important especially during the molting season” Melanie “Hhm that’s a particularly dangerous time” Mitch “are they molting now?” Melanie “some of them are.” Mitch “how can you tell?” Melanie “well they give a sort of tang dog expression” Mitch “yes I see well what about the love birds?” Melanie “Are you sure you wouldn’t like to see a canary? We have some very nice canaries this week” Mitch “Alright, alright may I see it please? (he holds out his hand)”
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An ornithology lesson. These are strawberry finches not ‘red birds’

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Melanie tries to hold a canary to show Mitch, but the little yellow bird flies out of her grip and starts fluttering all around the shop.

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Mitch utters this insult at Melanie… “Back in your gilded cage, Melanie Daniels!” The louse!!!
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Melanie feels a sting… realizing that she has been made a fool of by this cocky fella she doesn’t even know but she wants to know him…
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Melanie “What did you say?” Mitch “I was merely drawing a parallel Miss Daniels” Melanie “How did you know my name?” Mitch “A little birdy told me” Melanie “Hey wait a minute, I don’t know you” Mitch “Ah, but I know you” Melanie “how?” Mitch “We met in court” Melanie “We never met in court or any place else” Mitch “Oh that’s true let me rephrase, it I saw you in court” Melanie “When?” Mitch “Don’t you remember one of your practical jokes that resulted in the smashing of a plate glass window” Melanie  “I didn’t break that window” Mitch “Yes but your little prank did–Judge should have put you behind bars!” Melanie “What are you a policeman?” Mitch “I may know a little about the law and I’m not too keen on practical jokes” Melanie “Well what do you call your Lovebird story if not a practical joke?” Mitch “Oh I really wanted the Lovebirds” Melanie “Well you knew I didn’t work here, you deliberately…” Mitch interrupts “Right! I recognized you when I came in I just thought you’d like to know what it’s like to be on the other end of a gag, what do you think of that?” Melanie  “I think you’re a louse.” Mitch  “I am, good day Miss Daniels” Melanie “I’m glad you didn’t get your Lovebirds” Mitch “Oh I’ll find something else… see you in court”

Melanie runs after Mitch and catches sight of his license plate number, getting his information from her father’s contacts at the newspaper. She decides to follow him 60 miles up the coast with a pair of Lovebirds to see him at his mother’s home in Bodega Bay where he spends his weekends.

And one of the popular theories is that it’s her driving impulse to seduce Mitch that has sparked the inexplicable terror that takes siege upon the residents of the sleepy little seaside community.

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Once at Bodega Bay, she asks a storekeeper where to find Mitch’s little sister and is given Annie Hayworth’s address, where Melanie proceeds to drive to.

Now it’s time for two thirds of the triad of grasping women to meet each other. The confident socialite stylish and stunning in pursuit of Mitch, and the brooding beautiful woman he left behind who’s sullenness is as palpable as the surrounding sea. Though Annie winds up being a very good person, loves her students, and though she’s in pain and sees Mitch moving into a dynamic relationship with a outre sophisticated blonde, she winds up being a true friend, to the point of ultimately sacrificing her own life.

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Annie in an ironic tone “I guess that’s where everyone meets Mitch.”

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Annie meets Melanie at car
Annie “Did you drive up from San Fransisco by the coast road?” Melanie “Yes” Annie “Nice drive” Melanie “It’s very beautiful” Annie “Is that where you met Mitch?” Melanie “Yes” Annie “I guess that’s where everyone meets Mitch” Melanie “Now you sound a bit mysterious Miss Hayworth” Annie “Do I, actually I’m an open book I’m afraid , or actually a closed one” She looks down at the cage of Lovebirds Annie “pretty, what are they?” Melanie “Lovebirds” Annie with a pain that stretches deep across her face “I see… good luck Miss Daniels.”

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Melanie rents a boat from Doodles Weaver credited as the boat rental guy.

She starts up the motor and begins to head across the bay just to bring Mitch a ‘practical joke’ present in kind, what else but… a pair of Lovebirds. She has written him a letter which she winds up tearing up, instead placing a card for his sister Cathy presenting the Lovebirds as the originally intended birthday gift for her.

Melanie moves across the bay toward the object of her desire adorned in Edith Head’s glamorous boating attire, a luxurious mink, that stunning green suit and high heels, (yes! it’s a very understated chic outfit for the occasion of man hunting) Tippi’s gorgeous green suit she is seen wearing throughout the film was referred to by multi Academy Award winning fashion designer Edith Head, as “Eau de Nil” or Nile water!

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Tippi-Hedren-Edith Head and the boat ride 1

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Melanie gets out of the motor boat, surrounded by beauty and serenity, the mood, peaceful, the quiet before the storm… she proceeds to sneak into the Brenner farmhouse to leave the Lovebirds for Mitch, or well eh Cathy, yeah Cathy.
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Melanie waits until Mitch is in the barn, sneaks into the house and leaves the cage of Lovebirds in the den, ripping up her original letter to Mitch and instead just placing a birthday card for his little sister Cathy. How cagey.. oops sorry for the pun guys!

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the tranquility and romantic game-play is about to shift, from this moment on…

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Melanie is attacked by a crazed sea gull who swoops down from the cloudy blue sky to put a nice gash in her beautiful head, messing up that very coiffed blonde hair with the faint trickle of blood dripping down her face and a spot on her glove.

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Mitch helps Melanie taking her into the diner to get her wound cleaned up, “That’s the damnedest thing I ever saw, it seemed to swoop down at you deliberately.”

Continue reading “Nature’s Fury Blogathon: 🐜 Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) Melanie Daniels as Metaphor: Wanton With Wings-“What are you? I think you’re the cause of all this, I think you’re evil!””

Robert Siodmak’s The Killers (1946): Brutal Noir- The First 12 Killer Minutes!

Lancaster The Killers

“Noir exploits the oddness of odd settings, as it transforms the mundane quality of familiar ones, in order to create an environment that pulses with intimations of nightmare.”Foster Hirsch, The Dark Side of the Screen

You can read more about this iconic noir masterpiece in The Dark Pages feature issue

Here’s the link below to order a copy of The Dark Pages for yourself or subscribe all year round… so you’ll always get your fill of everything Noir from this sensational publication!

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The Dark Pages Giant Killer Issue

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Produced by Mark Hellinger (The Naked City, Brute Force and The Two Mrs Carrolls Music by Miklós Rózsa; Cinematography by Elwood Bredell (Ghost of Frankenstein 1942, Phantom Lady 1944). Boldly directed by the great Robert Siodmak. The Screenplay is by Anthony Veiller and uncredited co-writers John Huston and Richard Brooks.

The Killers (1946), with it’s doomed hero, flashbacks, and seedy characters is one of the finest in the film noir canon. The film is a gritty dream with carnal fluidity and monochromatic beauty. The Killers is a neo-gangster noir film with a liminal and evocative intensity. Director Robert Siodmak gives the film a violently surreal tone— it’s a stylishly slick, richly colorful black and white film where the players live in a world condemned by shadow. Burt Lancaster plays out the obsession theme with ‘unfaithful women’ leading to his ultimate demise.

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The evocative opening scene is one of the most powerfully ferocious in film noir. It is faithful to Ernest Hemingway’s short story. The determined thrust of the first twelve minutes mesmerizes. It has a villainous and cynical rhythm, paced like shadowy poetry in a dark room with no open windows. The film opens with Miklos Rozsa’s ominous brassy jazz that later becomes the killers motif. Two men drive into a small town, Anywhere, USA. We see them from behind in darkest black silhouette inside the car.

While cars and trains are iconographic means of escape in noir films, the opening sequence of The Killers offers no escape. The two gun men enter the screen in their vehicle veiled by the darkness of the highway road. The vision is more like one of bringing the means of death to this ordinary environment. The peculiar, unsettling gunmen Al and Max (Charles McGraw and William Conrad) are two dark forces invading an ordinary landscape with their malicious and aggressive presence. The dark highway is a typical Hemingway metaphor for the eternal strife, of ‘going nowhere’ and his cycle of ‘heroic fatalism.’ The road is an unfinished trajectory, unpredictable and unknown with no way out but ‘the end.’

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coming from the dark

We see the two walking onto the street silhouetted in shadow. We know they are trouble. They enter a diner reminiscent of Edward Hopper’s 1942 painting ‘Nighthawks.’ Perhaps this American Diner scene influenced scavenger hunting director Quentin Tarantino for his Pulp Fiction in 1994.

The men ask about a man they’re looking for, ‘the Swede.’ They make no effort to hide their malevolence. They revel in belligerence as they demean and degrade the men in the small town diner. Al and Max begin to psychologically torture George (Harry Hayden) who works the counter and Nick the boy at the end of the counter. They exude an offensive egotism and a cruel antisocial spirit as they barrage the men with perverse assaults.

The Killers 1946 diner

George: “What’ll it be, gentlemen?”
Max: “I don’t  know. What you want to eat, Al?”
Al: “I don’t know what I want to eat.”
 Max: “I’ll have the roast pork tenderloin with apple sauce and mashed potatoes.”
 George: “That’s not ready yet.”
 Max: “Then what’s it on the card for?”
 George: “Well, that’s on the dinner. You can have that at six o’clock. That clock is ten minutes fast. The dinner isn’t ready yet.”
 Max: “Never mind the clock. What have you got to eat?”

The conversation is absurd and meaningless. It is just a mechanism to bully these townsmen. They continue to harass George asking “you got anything to drink?” George tells them “I can give you beer, soda or ginger ale.” Al: “I said you got anything to drink?” George submits a quiet “no.” Max says “this is a hot town, whatta you call it?” George: “Brentwood.” Al turns to Max “you ever hear of Brentwood?” Max shakes his head no. Al asks George “what do you do for nights?”

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Max takes a deep breath and groans “They eat the dinner, they all come here and eat The Big Dinner.” The outsider mocks the small town conformity of eating whatever is served. George looks downward murmuring “that’s right” and Al says “you’re a pretty bright boy aren’t you?” He uses “boy” to demean. George mutters “sure” and Al snaps back “well you’re not!”

Al now shouts to the young man at the end of the counter“hey you, what’s your name?” he looks earnestly at Al and says “Adams. Nick Adams.” Al says, “Another bright boy.” There is sadism at work here, almost subconsciously homophobic/homoerotic in the way they are using the term “boy” to subvert these bystanders’ manhood. Max says, “town’s full of bright boys.”

The cook comes out from the kitchen bringing the plates. ”One ham and one bacon and” George starts to serve the men the food and asks “which one is yours?” Al says “Don’t you remember bright boy?” the continued use of this phrase truly begins to tear at the layers of our nerve endings. George starts laughing and Max says “What are you laughing at?” “nothing.”

“You see something funny?” “No.” “Then don’t laugh.” “Alright.” Again Max says ”He thinks it’s alright.” Al says “Oh, he’s a thinker.” It’s an antisocial backlash to an intellectual society that would perceive Al and Max as outcasts. This is where a noir film begins to break the molds of Hollywood civilized society. The two intruders have trespassed into an ordinarily quiet community to shatter it’s sense of security. It is the death of humanism in film language.

Max and Al tie up Nick and the cook in the kitchen. “I’ll tell ya what’s gonna happen, we’re gonna kill the Swede, you know big Swede, works over at the filling station.” He lights a cigarette. George says, “You mean Pete Lund?” Max takes the cigarette out of his mouth and the smoke enervates George’s face, “If that’s what he calls himself… Comes in every night at 6 o’clock don’t he?”

Georges asks “what are you gonna kill him for? What did Pete Lund ever do to you?” Max replies,”He never had a chance to do anything to us he never even seen us.” The conversation is so matter of fact that it’s chillingly absurd. Again George asks, “What are you gonna kill him for?” Max smirks “We’re killing him for a friend.” Al pokes his head through the sliding window to the kitchen “shut up you talk too much” but Max says ”I gotta keep bright boy amused don’t I?”

When George explains that ‘the Swede’ never comes in after 6pm, the killers head to the station where he works. George unties the men in the kitchen. Nick leaves to warn ‘Swedes,’ jumping fences on his way to the rooming house.

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At the rooming house, Pete (Lancaster) is on his bed in almost complete darkness, face hidden in the shadows, his body’s repose in stark contrast to the backdrop of the frenetic orchestration by Rozsa. Nick enters and urgently warns him about the two dangerous men. Nick asks, “Why’d do they want to kill ya?” He replies: “There’s nothing I can do about it. I did something wrong. Once. Thanks for coming.” His tone is soft and fatalistic.

Nick offers “I can tell you what they’re like?” Swede replies “I don’t wanna know what they’re like… thanks for coming.” ”Don’t you wanna go and see the police?” “No that wouldn’t do any good.” Nick asks “Isn’t there something I could do?” “There ain’t anything to do.” “Couldn’t you get out of town?” He answers “No… I’m through with all that running around.”

A merciful violin plays while Swede remains resigned to the dark bed. His large hands rub his face. We hear the squeaking of a door downstairs as it opens slowly then shuts. The Swede turns his head looking slightly worried for the first time. He leans up in the bed, the light from outside hitting his face, as Al and Max mount the staircase that leads to his room.

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The Swede listens like a trapped animal. He does not betray any fear, only a gloomy resignation that his life is about to end. It is not death that he ponders, memories and another enemy. Cinematographer Elwood Bredell switches between closeups of Lancaster’s face and the door, then suddenly the two men come in blasting. From pitch black begins a light show, arcing like electricity striking a void. The canon fire gunshots pound into a field of blackness. The killers walking up the stairs acts as foreplay and the gunfire like violent intercourse… White hot flashes of light break grave blackness. The last image we see as it fades to black is Lancaster’s hand falling limp by the bedpost. The last words we hear are Swede uttering “Charleston was right, Charleston was right.”

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This is where the powerful prolog ends and Hemingway’s story leaves us with no explanation as to the reason for Swede’s murder, nor insight into why he acquiesces to his death by not trying to elude the killers and his fate. From this moment on Veiller’s screenplay starts to expose the back story to the killing.

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Look at the killer chemistry between Lancaster & Gardner… I’d get shot up in the dark for either one…!

This has been a killer post! Your Everlovin’ Joey

The Narrow Margin: Nobody likes a fat man

The Narrow Margin (1952) Directed by Richard Fleischer and starring Charles McGraw as the sandy graveled  voice Detective Sgt. Walter Brown who’s reluctantly been chosen to escort a mob widow to the grand jury hearing in Los Angeles by train.

In the process of picking up Mrs.Frankie Neal, in Chicago, Walter’s partner is shot and killed in the darkly lit stairwell by a mysterious assassin played by Peter Virgo as the ruthless Densel, who wears a fur trimmed coat.  This only causes Walter to further resent the woman he’s been charged to protect, and see to it that she makes it to the trial to testify against the mob.

This noir film has a lot of familiar elements, gangster noir, the train ride, detective drama as the die hard cop fends off the criminal elements that surround them, and the wrong man/woman theme. The mobsters, Vincent Yost, Densel and Joseph Kemp want to get hold of a valuable list of names that Frankie’s widow will bring to trial.Yost tries to bribe Det. Brown, but he’s an honest cop who can’t be taken in.

Narrow Margin also stars Marie Windsor as Mrs Frankie Neal widow andJaqueline White as Ann Sinclair, a classy woman and mother who’s traveling on the train with her little boy Tommy and nanny.

Ann gets caught in the cross hairs of the intrigue when the gangsters mistakenly take Ann for Frankie’s widow. The majority of the film takes place on the train heading for Los Angeles. Don Beddoe plays Det. Sgt. Gus Forbes, “the fat man” who keeps getting in the way of Detective Walter Brown. He repeats the adage ” Nobody likes a fat man” as he lumbers his way through the narrow passage ways of the train en route to L.A.

Frankie’s widow is an obnoxious loud mouthed dame, who doesn’t want to play by the rules and blasts her record player even after Walter warns her to hide out in the train compartment that the thugs think is empty. Marie Windsor reminds me a bit of the wonderfully quirky Ileana Douglas (Goodfellas, Six Feet Under, Cape Fear 1991). Douglas is the granddaughter of the great actor Melvyn Douglas.

Walter: Sister I’ve known some pretty hard cases in my time, you make em all look like putty. You’re not talkin’ about a sack of gum drops gonna get smashed. You’re talkin’ about a dame’s life.You make think it’s funny for a woman with a kid to stop a bullet for ya, but I’m not laughing.

Frankie’s widow: Really well I don’t care, she got twins, you talk like you’d rather I got the bullet who’s side are you on anyhow?

Walter: Listen Jingle Jaw nothin’s happened to you yet has it?

Frankie’s widow: No, well it better not.

Walter: Well then shut up!

The Killers (1946): Brutal Noir- A green silk hankerchief with golden harps

The Killers (1946) is the quintessential existentialist film. Based on Ernest Hemingway’s 1920’s short story who was immersed in the pre war existentialism of that time period, that fostered tales of crimes and violence. As the two French critics Raymond Borde and Etienne Chaumeton remark in their fantastic read and seminal work A Panorama of American Film Noir 1941-153 the killer’s gunmen walking into the diner in Brentwood N.J. and begin complaining about the menu predates the dark Absurdism of the existential movement of playwrights like Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett.

It reminds me of how great directors like Quentin Tarantino pay homage to films like The Killers in Pulp Fiction, or the work of Samuel Fuller who didn’t hold back on the vicious realism that was ground breaking in it’s day.

According to Electric Sheep blog “the first twelve minutes of The Killers (1946) is a faithful (almost word for word) adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s much-anthologized short story. Two hit men enter a diner (shot to look like Edward Hopper’s painting Nighthawks – itself apparently inspired by Hemingway’s story) typical Hemingway heroic fatalism.”

From what I’ve understood about Hemingway, the debate still rages on as to whether or not Hemingway was guilty of being a misogynist. Here is a decent essay about this question that tries to think about it critically and not write from a place of subjectivity or take a defensive stance. http://thequatrain.org/?p=285

The Killers (1946) the original version scripted by Hemingway himself, was produced by Mark Hellinger (The Naked City, Brute Force and The Two Mrs Carrolls– 3 of my favorite films,) and once again boldly directed by the great Robert Siodmak. With the rise of Nazism Siodmak left Germany for Paris and then for Hollywood. He’s singularly responsible for a great deal of the noir films that are so memorable.

In my opinion Siodmak’s film is a meatier piece of work that rendered a more brutal impression than the 1964 version directed by Don Siegel.

Perhaps due to it’s more neo-gangster noir style it gave it a liminal and evocative intensity. Siodmak’s Killers has a more violently surreal tone, than the stylishly slick and richly colorful pulpy Siegel version.The effective black and white environment of the 1946 Killers once again sets the stage for the players to live in a world that is condemned by shadow. While I love Siegel’s version, it does seem brighter and the world more aired out than usually frames noir desolation.

Although I’m a huge fan of Angie Dickenson and she was incredibly lush and provocative in the role of Sheila, Ava Gardner’s Kitty Collins was a more subtly carnal as the temptress who becomes Swede’s downfall. Siodmak’s version gives us the noir police investigation, there is a pervasive Machiavellian cruelty, and the characters have more stratum to their persona’s. John Cassavettes is more icy while Burt Lancaster’s Swede is a very sympathetic yet imperfect man, that fatalistic heroism.

Burt Lancaster plays Ole “Swede” Andersen ex boxer and con, Ava Gardner is Kitty Collins, Edmond O’Brien is  Jim Reardon insurance investigator, Albert Dekker is Big Jim Colfax (Dr. Cyclops) criminal mastermind and Virginia Christine is Lily Harmon Lubinsky (she cameos in the ’64 version as the blind secretary).

Sam Levene is Lt. Sam Lubinsky Swede’s old childhood friend and Charles McGraw( The Narrow Margin) is Al the killer and William Conrad (Cannon tv series)is Max the other killer. The Killers also casts Jeff Corey as “Blinky” Franklin (The Outer Limits O.B.I.T.episode) one of Big Jim’s criminal lackies with a “monkey on his back” implying that he has a drug addiction. And Vince Barnett as Swede’s devoted and world weary petty thief Charleston.

The film opens with Miklos Rozsa’s ominous brassy jazz score that later becomes the killers motif, as the two men drive into a small American town, anywhere USA,  we see them from behind in darkest black silhouette in the car. Then a long view of them walking onto the scene still surrounded in shadow, we know they are trouble. The opening scene of The Killers is perhaps one of the most powerfully ferocious I’ve seen from a 1940’s film.

The two men enter Henry’s Diner William Conrad’s Max and McGraw’s Al, are The Killers, who begin to psychologically torture George who works the counter and Nick Adams the boy at the end of the counter. They exude an obnoxious egotism. A cruel anti social spirit as they barrage the men in the diner with verbal assaults, having a somewhat perverse quality which begins with the menu.

George: What’ll it be, gentlemen?
Max: I don’t know. Whatta you want to eat, Al?
Al: I don’t know what I want to eat.
Max: I’ll have the roast pork tenderloin with apple sauce and mashed potatoes.
George: That’s not ready yet.
Max: Then what’s it on the card for?
George: Well, that’s on the dinner. You can have that at six o’clock. That clock is ten minutes fast. The dinner isn’t ready yet.
Max: Never mind the clock. What have you got to eat?
George: Well, I can give you any kind of sandwiches: bacon and eggs, liver and bacon, ham and eggs, steak…
Al: I’ll have the chicken croquettes with the cream sauce and the green peas and the mashed potatoes.
Max: Everything we want is on the dinner.

They continue to harass George, asking for alcohol, “Al: You got anything to drink? George tells them “I can give you beer, soda or ginger ale. Al: I said you got anything to drink?”George submits a quiet “no.”Max says “this is a hot town, whatta you call it?”George”Brentwood” Al turns to Max “You ever hear of Brentwood?” Max shakes his head no and then Al asks George “What do you do for nights?”Max takes in a deep breath and groans out “They eat for dinner, they all come here and eat The Big Dinner” George looks downward and murmurs  “that’s right”and Al says

“You’re a pretty bright boy aren’t you”, meanwhile George is a grown middle aged man. The term “boy” is designed  to demean him. George mutters “sure” and Al snaps back “Well you’re not!”

Al now shouts to the young man at the end of the counter “hey you what’s your name?” he looks earnestly at Al and says “Adams, Nick Adams.” Al says, “another bright boy.” There is an emerging sadism at work here, almost subconsciously homophobic/homo erotic, in the way they are using the terminology of “boy” working to subvert these bystanders’ manhood. Max says, “Town’s full of bright boys”

The cook comes out from the kitchen bringing the plates of ” one ham and one bacon and” George starts to serve the men the food and asks “which one is yours?”Al says “Don’t you remember bright boy?” the continued use of this phrase truly begins to flay the layers of our nerve endings. George starts laughing and Max says “What are you laughing at?” “nothing” “You see something funny?” “no” “Then don’t laugh” “alright” again Max says ” He thinks it’s alright” Al says “Oh, he’s a thinker” Here we see the anti social backlash to an intellectual society that would perceive them as outcasts. The term “thinker” is used pejoratively as is “boy.” This is where the film begins to break the molds of the Hollywood window dressing of a civilized society, when two intruders trespass on an ordinarily quiet community and shatter it’s sense of security. It is the death of humanism in film language.

Max and Al proceed to tie up Nick Adams and the cook in the kitchen. They further taunt George who asks “what’s this all about?” Max “I’ll tell ya what’s gonna happen, we’re gonna kill a Swede, you know big Swede, works over at the filling station” he lights a cigarette. George says, “you mean Pete Lund?” As Max takes the cigarette out of his mouth the smoke enervates in George’s face, “If that’s what he calls himself’, comes in every night at 6 o’clock don’t he?” Georges asks “What are you gonna kill him for? what did Pete Lund ever do to you?” Max replies,” he never had a chance to do anything to us he never even seen us.” The conversation is so matter of fact that it’s almost chillingly absurd. Again George asks, “what are you gonna kill him for?” and Max smirks “we’re killing him for a friend.” Al pokes his head in from the sliding panel window to the kitchen “shut up you talk too much” but Max says ” I gotta keep bright boy amused don’t I?”

Once the killers believe what George tells them, that Swede isn’t coming into the diner for his supper because it’s passed 6pm, they go to Swede’s boarding house. George unties the two men in the kitchen who have been bound up with dish rags, and Nick jumps over fences trying to head off the killers and warn Swede that they’re coming for him. Nick bursts into Swede’s room.

At first we only see the obscured figure of a man lying on his bed, only from the neck down to his feet. We do not yet see the figure clearly. Swede is framed in shadow.Nick tells him about the men at Henry’s Diner, they were going to shoot him when he came in for supper.”George thought I oughta come over and tell ya” out of breath Nick is panting , and we still only hear Lancaster’s substantial voice in a whispering tone “There’s nothing I can do about it” Nick says ” don’t you even wanna know what they’re like?” “I don’t wanna know what they’re like, thanks for coming” Don’t you wanna go and see the police?” “No that wouldn’t do any good” Swede tells Nick he’s sick of running and “I did something wrong (pause) once, thanks for coming” he ends very solemnly. Nick leaves. The last words we hear Swede utter are “Charleston was right, Charleston was right.”

Now we see Swede’s face just staring and waiting. Sitting up, as the killers come bursting into the room, blasts of light from the gun spray, we are left looking at Swede’s hand lying limp against the side of the bed, surrounded in shadow once again, he is dead.

The Killers relies a lot on the noir mechanism of the flashback. At times there are flashbacks within flashbacks.

We’re now at the police station with Nick and Sam the cook giving their statements. We see a silk scarf with harps among his effects. Swede left a death benefit life insurance policy for $2,500 that goes to a woman in Atlantic City. The case is now being investigated by an insurance detective for the Atlantic Casualty and Insurance Company. Edmond O’Brien plays Reardon, who refuses to drop the case even after his boss insists that it’s not financially worth the company’s time. But Reardon wants to know what happened to this man who had “8 slugs in him, nearly tore him in half.”

Reardon goes to the hotel in Atlantic City and talks to the old chamber maid, Queenie, who is the beneficiary of Swede’s death benefit. She tells Reardon that at least he could be buried in consecrated ground and Reardon asked why she thought it was a suicide.

Queenie tells him in flashback how she was working that night and came into Swede’s room to clean, and he was visibly disturbed, smashing and stomping the furniture crying out “She’s gone, she’s gone!” Queenie asks “who’s gone mister?” He picks up a chair and breaks the window and tries to jump out, but Queenie grabs him and tells him” for the sake of God, you’ll burn in hell for all time” and stops him from killing himself. The death benefit was his way of paying thanks for her kindness.

Reardon embarks on a journey to get the bell to ring in his head, about why the green silk handkerchief with the golden harps is on the tip of his mind.His boss says that claims are piling up and he’s off running around with a 2 for a nickle shooting, but Reardon wants to know why 2 professionals put the blast on a filling station attendant, a nobody. He also notices his hands, scarring which indicate that Swede had been a boxer at one time.

He meets up with Swede’s old boyhood friend from the 12th ward in Philly. Lt Sam Lubinsky who is now married to Swede’s one time girlfriend Lily played by the a young and ever present character actress Virginia Christine who was also in The Killer Is Loose. In The Killers, she is absolutely beautiful as the “nice girl” playing opposite Ava Garner’s femme fatale role as Kitty. Sam joined the police force and Ole Swede started fighting professionally. They always kept in touch, but “when you’re a copper, you’re a copper” and eventually after taking a savage beating in the ring, Swede breaks his knuckles beyond repair and has to stop boxing. Sam winds up putting ” the pinch”on his friend Ole later on.

In a flashback we see Lily and Swede at a party thrown at a swanky hotel by Jake, one of Big Jim Colfax’s men. Lily doesn’t like Jake, he’s got mean eyes. Swede sees Kitty for the first time sitting at a piano. Swede is mesmerized by Kitty. The women share competitive glances. Kitty says, “Jake tells me you’re a fighter” he says “Do you like the fights?” Kitty says “I hate brutality Mr Anderson the idea of 2 men beating each other to a pulp makes me ill.” Lily tells Kitty that she’s seen all Swede’s fights, but Kitty comes back with “oh really, I couldn’t bare to see the man I care about hurt” at that point Lily is finished once Swede remarks how beautiful Kitty is Lily leaves the party.

Lt. Lubinsky tells Reardon that “It seems like I was always in there when he was losing, ever see him fight? He took a lot of punishment.”

Ole’s manager leaves Swede after he isn’t any good as a money making fighter anymore since the bones in his hand are crushed. It’s why he didn’t use his right hand to fight the night he lost the bout to Tiger Lewis. That night his manager says ” no use hanging around here, never did like wakes”

In a flashback within a flashback, Ole starts dating Kitty Collins, Big Jim’s girl. Evidently she shop lifts a diamond pin, Reardon recognizes it as she’s wearing it at a table sitting with a group of thugs who work for Big Jim Colfax. She drops it into a plate of soup, but Reardon stops the waiter, fishes it out and rinses it off in a cup of coffee then tries to take Kitty in, but then “Ole” Swede walks in and winds up taking the rap for her spending 3 years in jail for Kitty’s robbery then he gets released for good behavior.

Kitty’s given him this green silk scarf with golden harps of hers, which he strokes in jail. Swede has a cell mate and friend in a man named Charleston, a petty larceny crook and old time hoodlum who bonds with Swede while in prison. Charleston brings up Jupiter one night. He liked to look at the stars after lights out, he knew their names because he got a book from the prison library.

“You can’t learn any better about stars then by staring” Swede and Charleston staring out the window at the stars, while Swede is stroking the silk scarf Kitty gave him. He asks Charleston is he knows what “harp” means. He says “yeah, angels play ’em” “they mean Irish, Kitty gave me this scarf.” But Kitty hasn’t come to see Swede once while he’s in prison for the robbery she pulled. Swede asks Charleston to look up Kitty when he gets out, because he’s worried about her. But Charleston knows she’s not sick or in trouble. Swede is too much in love to see it.

Later on Charleston relates to Reardon at a pool hall that he was told to bring Swede on the day after his release from jail, because Big Jim is planning a “big set-up.” Also in the room is a thug named Dumb Dumb and Blinky Franklin. Charleston opts out, he only wants easy pickings at his age he’s spent half his life in stir, but Swede seeing Kitty in the room, still Big Jim’s girl, says he’s in. Kitty becomes Swede’s mistress again. We see the glances between the two, and Swede knocks Jim down when he tries to hit Kitty. The two men swear that after the heist, they will even up the score with each other.

The last thing Charleston says to Swede before he leaves the room is “Want a word of advice?, stop listening to golden harps, they’ll land you in a lot of trouble.” We now know what Swede meant by his last words.Charleston leaves the room. Closing the door, hoping Swede will follow, but ” he never showed up, and I never seen the Swede again” We see the character Charleston in flashback standing outside the door. Framed by the shot making the door a principal moment in the film. Charleston staring at the door waiting, looking trapped and small. The door symbolizing the unknown and what lies behind or ahead.

Back at Atlantic Casualty and Insurance Co. Reardon tells his boss the “bell rang” he remembered hearing about it in relationship to a big caper that was pulled on July 20th, 1940 at The Prentiss Hat Company. Armed gunmen got away with quarter of a million of Atlantic’s money. One of the robbers was seen wearing a green scarf with golden harps wrapped around his face like a bandit. Swede was one of the people involved in the heist. Now hiding out under an assumed name, and working at a filling station supposedly hiding all the loot from the Hat Company heist, taken away from the other members of the gang.Who sent the killers to assassinate Swede and did Kitty Collins sign his death warrant?

The Killers, details double crosses of all double crosses, as The Killers go to the sleepy town of Brentwood to even a score with Swede, who didn’t take Charleston’s advice and stop listening to golden harps. In noir films there is often a fetishistic quality to an item or action. I think the scarf is a sexual symbol of Kitty for Swede. It bares her scent, it was a token of her sexuality being made of “real silk” as if her skin. the idea of touching something golden. The scarf acts as surrogate for Kitty’s body, as he strokes it in place of the real thing.