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 night club 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, he appears to have no use for women at all.

At 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 to be 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 SUBVERTS SUSPENSE!

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 imbued his work from the point of view of 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 within 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 manor.

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 he 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)

WARNING SPOILERS:

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 instillation’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 cutting 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 uses 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 of his boss, Phillip Vandamm, seems to be bubbling with a refined sensibility, romantically fixated Vandamm (James Mason), a communist spy being hunted by the CIA. For a 1950s film, Leonard’s immaculate fashion sense and his fastidious swagger is 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. 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 direction shows a “progressive perspective for its time but so brief that it doesn’t fully register with most viewers. Much later, Laundau acknowledged that he played Leonard as a homosexual, albeit subtly.”

From the opening of Strangers on a Train (1951), Hitchcock frames the entrance way to the story with a close shot on 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 his tie that his mother gave him. It is a garish accoutrement 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 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 pick up. 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 over her son. As Bruno tells his mother, he wants his nails to look right.

The 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 point 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’s 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 in 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 stand 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 perpetuates 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 of 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.’ Therefor the Bates house itself with it’s 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, 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 his 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 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 the 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. Danver’s ( 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 love sick sapphic with an unnourished desire for her dead mistress, Rebecca. Manderley itself is like a hollow mistress that consumes those inside it’s 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 story telling, all the attentions she used to lavish on her beloved mistress, running her bath, brushing her hair, admiring the finery of her monogrammed pillow cases. 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 (Naugthon 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 positive 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 we’re not interested. When they follow the maid to her cramped room, Charter’s 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 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.

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

Quote of the Day! (1952) if you want to play with matches that’s your business

SCANDAL SHEET (1952)

Directed by Phil Karlson with a screenplay by Ted Sherdeman, Eugene Ling and James Poe. Based on the novel by Sam Fuller. With a score by the prolific George Dunning and gritty cinematography by Burnett Guffey (All the Kings Men 1949, From Here to Eternity 1953, Birdman of Alcatraz 1962, Bonnie and Clyde 1967).

Broderick Crawford is the new editor Mark Chapman of a New York newspaper who manages to grow the circulation of the ailing paper. But he sacrifices morality when it comes to increasing the range of his audience. He winds up turning the newspaper into a trashy tabloid rag, “pandering to the passions of the base moron.” John Derek plays top reporter Steve McCleary and Harry Morgan is wonderful as a wise cracking photographer Biddle, both who are chasing down a sensational front page grabber about a lurid murder. At the center is a Lonely Hearts Club dance sponsored by Chapman’s wife (Rosemary DeCamp) whom he deserted years ago. When Charlotte Grant (DeCamp) threatens to cause Chapman trouble in a fit of rage he accidentally kills her. He stages her death to look like she slipped in the bathtub, hitting her head on the faucet. McCleary senses something isn’t right and convinces the cops that it’s a case of murder. In order to avoid getting caught Chapman must plan to kill again to cover his tracks, so he enlists McCleary hoping to divert his attentions away from the truth. The film also co-stars Donna Reed as McCleary’s more traditional colleague, Henry O’Neill, and a cast of great character actors.

Biddle: “You know that wasn’t a bad looking dame. Too bad the guy used an axe on her head. Spoiled some pretty pictures for me.”

Steve McCleary “Very rare items. Pictures of a dame with her mouth shut.”

CLASH BY NIGHT (1952)

Directed by Fritz Lang with a screenplay by Alfred Hayes based on the play by Clifford Odet. The film stars Barbara Stanwyck as Mae Doyle D’Amato, Paul Douglas as Jerry D’Amato Robert Ryan as the volcanic Earl Pfeiffer, Marilyn Monroe as Peggy, J. Carrol Naish as Uncle Vince.

Clash By Night is a moody piece of noir with Barbara Stanwyck playing the world weary and cynical Mae Doyle, who returns home to her fishing community after her disillusionment living in the city. “Home is where you come when you run out of places.” Fisherman Paul Douglas is the kindhearted lug who winds up falling for Mae though he knows she’s filled with a fiery discontentment. Once Jerry introduces Mae to his friend Earl, an alienated woman-hater, the sexual tension develops. Earl spends his time getting drunk and obsessing about his stripper wife. At first Mae feels an instant aversion toward the gruff misogynist. Escaping the gravitational pull by the sexual attraction she feels with the dangerous Earl pushes her closer to marrying the clueless Jerry who is confounded by his sudden good fortune. Unfortunately this does not keep Earl away from Mae as he pursues her, who is by now disenchanted with playing the dutiful housewife and mother. Stanwyck is powerful as the unfaithful but guilt-ridden Mae. The film co-stars Marilyn Monroe as Peggy who idolizes Mae’s independent streak. J. Carrol Naish plays Paul Douglas’ no good Uncle Vince who mooches off his nephew. More of a dark Soap Opera than noir for it’s lack of crime, the film’s moodiness and gloomy edginess holds for me a place for Clash By Night in the noir cannon.

Mae Doyle D’Amato: “What do you want,Joe, my life’s history? Here is is in four words: Big ideas, small results.”

Peggy: “Weren’t you ever in love, Mae?”

Mae Doyle: “Once.”

Peggy: “Where?”

Mae Doyle: “Saint Paul. He was big too, like Jerry. I’ll say one thing. He knew how to handle women.”

Peggy: “Is that what you want from a man?”

Mae Doyle: “Confidence! I want a man to give me confidence. Somebody to fight off the blizzards and floods! Somebody to beat off the world when it tries to swallow you up! Me and my ideas.”

DON’T BOTHER TO KNOCK (1952)

Directed by British horror maestro Roy Ward Baker he brings a taut psychological spring waiting to be uncoiled. With a screen play by Daniel Taradash based on the novel by Charlotte Armstrong. Cinematography by Lucien Ballard (The Killing 1956, The Wild Bunch 1969, The Getaway 1972) who creates closed in frames and a sense of paranoia and claustrophobic dread.

Marilyn Monroe is quite revelatory as Nell Forbes a very disturbed young woman who lives in a fantasy world and is a dangerous psychotic staying in a New York City hotel. Elisha Cook Jr. is the hotel elevator operator who is keeping an eye on his mental patient sister and tries to keep her out of trouble. He recommends that she babysit Jim Backus and Lurene Tuttle’s daughter. This turns out to be a very very bad idea!

In the mean time Richard Widmark is Jed Towers the hard-hearted airline pilot who has just been dumped by his torch singer girlfriend (Anne Bancroft). Towers sees Nell through the window and gets the idea that the two can get together and share a drink. When Nell starts having delusions that Jed is her dead boyfriend, he realizes that something is wrong with this beautiful waif.

Jed Towers: “Are you the girl in 809?”

Nell Forbes: “Why, yes. Who’s this?”

Jed Towers: “I’m the guy in 821. Across the court. Can I ask you a question?”

Nell Forbes: “I don’t know. I suppose so. Are you sure you want me?”

Jed Towers: “Yeah. You’re the one I want, alright. Are you doing anything you couldn’t be doing better with somebody else?”

Nell Forbes: “I guess I’ll have to hang up!”

Jed Towers: “Why? You cant get hurt on the telephone.”

Nell Forbes: “Who are you?”

Jed Towers: “I told you. The man across the way. A lonely soul”

Nell Forbes: “You sound peculiar.”

Jed Towers: “I’m not peculiar. I’m just frustrated. I got a bottle of rye. And as I was saying, what are you doing?”

 

Jed Towers: “You and your wife fight, argue all the time?”

Joe the Bartender: “Some of the time she sleeps.”

THE NARROW MARGIN (1952)

Directed by Richard Fleischer with a screenplay by Earl Felton from a story by Martin Goldsmith and Jack Leonard. With the polished, compelling and claustrophobic cinematography by George E. Diskant. (They Live By Night 1948, On Dangerous Ground 1951).

Charles McGraw plays the tough Det. Sgt. Walter Brown who is assigned to protect a mobster’s widow Marie Windsor as Mrs. Frankie Neall, who is traveling by train from Chicago to Los Angeles, while the vicious assassins try with fervor to take Frankie Neall’s wife out of commission so she can’t testify. Aboard the train is Jacqueline White as Ann Sinclair who Detective Brown fears will be mistaken for mobster’s widow.

The sarcastic Windsor and rough edged McGraw possess there usual grit and there’s a memorable scene where the corpulent actor Paul Maxey is blocking the train’s passageway he comments amiably that “Nobody loves a fat man except his grocer and his tailor.”

Det Sgt Gus Forbes: “What kind of a dish?”

Det Sgt Walter Brown: “Sixty-cent special. Cheap. Flashy. Strictly poison under the gravy.”

Walter Brown: “Sister, I’ve known some pretty hard cases in my time; you make ’em all look like putty. You’re not talking about a sack of gumdrops that’s gonna be smashed – you’re talking about a dame’s life! You may think it’s a funny idea for a woman with a kid to stop a bullet for you, only I’m not laughing!”

Mrs Neall: “Where do you get off, being so superior? Why shouldn’t I take advantage of her – I want to live! If you had to step on someone to get something you wanted real bad, would you think twice about it?”

Walter Brown: “Shut up!”

Mrs Neall:  “In a pig’s eye you would! You’re no different from me.”

Walter Brown: “Shut up!”

Mrs Neall: “Not till I tell you something, you cheap badge-pusher! When we started on this safari, you made it plenty clear I was just a job, and no joy in it, remember?”

Walter Brown: “Yeah, and it still goes, double!”

Mrs Neall: “Okay, keep it that way. I don’t care whether you dreamed up this gag or not; you’re going right along with it, so don’t go soft on me. And once you handed out a line about poor Forbes getting killed, ’cause it was his duty. Well, it’s your duty too! Even if this dame gets murdered.”

Walter Brown: “You make me sick to my stomach.”

Mrs Neall: “Well, use your own sink. And let me know when the target practice starts! “

This is your EverLovin’ Joey, just sayin’ in a noir world– if you play with matches you’re liable to get burned!

Quote of the Day! Pickup on South Street (1953) Shifty as smoke!

One of my favorite film noirs with outstanding performances and dialogue from the entire cast. In particular Ritter shines in this one as Moe Williams the tie-selling wheeler-dealer informant who’s got her heart set on a proper grave stone out on Long Island. Ritter is brilliant with her quicksilver one liners and her poignant lovable puss.

Ritter was nominated for Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in this film!

Directed by Samuel Fuller who reigns in his gritty vision a bit and plays off a more the more interrelationships between the small time crooks, added with a bit of anti-communist sentiment thrown in.

Starring Richard Widmark, Jean Peters who is adorable as Candy in this role, Thelma Ritter, and Willis Bouchey as detective Zara, Richard Kiley, Murvyn Vye. Shelley Winters was the first choice for the role of Candy, but she  dropped out. Then the role was offered to Betty Grable. That did not pan out. Jean Peters did a wonderful job as Candy. With a dynamic music score by Leigh Harline with cinematography by veteran Joe MacDonald.

On a crowded subway, Skip McCoy prince of the cannons, pickpockets Candy’s purse. He nabs her wallet, inadvertently stealing a roll of microfilm containing top secret military and scientific plans that her boyfriend Joey (Richard Kiley– who tells her it’s just a patent for a formula) is really going to pass along to Communist agents.

Candy learns where Skip lives and that he has lifted the wallet from Moe Williams (Thelma Ritter), a police informer. Joey begs Candy to track Skip down at his shack on the water and she attempts and seduce Skip McCoy to recover the film. She fails to get the film back but does however fall in love with him.

Moe Williams – (about Skip) “He’s as shifty as smoke, but I love him.”

Capt. Dan Tiger – “You sold him out for a few bucks.”

Moe Williams – “Oh, look. Some people peddle apples, lamb chops, lumber. I peddle information. Skip ain’t sore, he understands.

Moe Williams: You got any Happy Money?

Candy: Happy Money?

Moe Williams: Yeah, money that’s gonna make me happy.

Moe Williams: I’ve got almost enough to buy both the stone and the plot.

Capt. Dan Tiger: If you lost that kitty, it’s Potter’s Field.

Moe Williams: This I do not think is a very funny joke, Captain Tiger!

Capt. Dan Tiger: I just meant you ought to be careful how you carry your bankroll.

Moe Williams: Look, Tiger, if I was to be buried in Potter’s Field, it would just about kill me.

Skip McCoy: Pack up the pitch with the charge or drive me back to my shack.

Capt. Dan Tiger: I’ll drive you back in a hearse if you don’t get the kink out of your mouth!

This is your EverLovin’ Joey sayin’ I haven’t forgotten my Coded Gay Characters article,

Moe Williams: You got any Happy Money?

Candy: Happy Money?

Moe Williams: Yeah, money that’s gonna make me happy.

Moe Williams: I’ve got almost enough to buy both the stone and the plot.

my concussion really set me back in my writing but I’m trying to catch up and I’ve got a few surprises in my bag if some smooth-operating cannon don’t come by and pick pocket me while I’m on on the train headed to the South Side next week!

Thanks for being patient. And say… Can anyone suggest a logo for my helmet?

Twelve Neglected Characters from Classic Film.

nightmare-alley-edmund-goulding1947
1) The tragically poetic Pete Krumbein in Edmund Goulding’s Nightmare Alley 1947 played by Ian Keith
Franzi
2) The flamboyant Franzi Kartos in Caught 1949 portrayed by Curt Bois ‘darling’
Fred Foss- The Dark Corner 949
3) Stauffer, alias Fred Foss in The Dark Corner 1946-played by the wonderful William Bendix in the white linen suit…
Jan Sterling in Women's Prison -Brenda
4) Good hearted kite hanger, Brenda Martin in Women’s Prison 1955 – the eternal pixie Jan Sterling
Brute Force Jeff Corey Freshman Stack
5) Jeff Corey, as the cringing, cowardly informer ‘Freshman’ Stack in Brute Force 1947
Granny Tucker
6) Beulah Bondi as spiittin’ Granny Tucker in Jean Renoir’s The Southerner 1945 ‘Ah shuckity’
Ma Stone- Jane Darwell, The Devil & Daniel Webster
7) Ma Stone in William Dieterle The Devil and Daniel Webster 1941– the grand Jane Darwell
Wills and Jewel talk at tea-Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte
8) Cecil Kellaway as Harry Wills and Mary Astor as Jewel Mayhew in Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte 1964
Elisha Cook Jr. Jazz wild drummer Cliff-phantom ladyjpg
9) Cliff the jazz sexed drummer in Phantom Lady 1944– the ubiquitous Elisha Cook Jr.
(Ladies in Retirement)
10) Quirky sisters Louisa and Emily Creed in Ladies in Retirement 1941Edith Barrett & Elsa Lanchester
11) The wonderful stoolie Mo whose saving for her headstone and plot out on Long Island played with that razor sharp wit of Thelma Ritter in Pickup on South Street (1953)
12) Jack Oakie as Slob in Jules Dassin’s realism masterpiece Thieves’ Highway (1949)

 

Panic In The Streets:Elia Kazan’s Socio-Noir A Plague of Immigrants

Panic In The Streets – Directed by Elia Kazan who sees the world of film through a Socio-Noir lens.

Noir has it’s socio-political roots in post war Europe, and was strongly influenced by German Expressionism. In America the post-war atmosphere engendered a realism which manifested in the noir film as well as the crime/police drama with a documentary sensibility.

Kazan himself an immigrant is one of the great American directors well known for such seminal films as A Streetcar Named Desire, A Face in The Crowd, On The Waterfront and Boomerang


Starring Richard Widmark as Lt. Cmdr Clinton Reed M.D. naval officer and family man, Paul Douglas (Douglas gave his best performance in Fritz Lang’s Clash By Night, perhaps one of my all time favorite noir films) as Captain Tom Warren. Barbara Bel Geddes as Clint’s wife Nancy (also in a great episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents Lamb to The Slaughter) and the always great Jack Palance as the nefarious Blackie. Also co stars the wonderful Zero Mostel as Raymond Fitch, Blackie’s slovenly flunkie.

Elia Kazan’s sociological perspective reveals to us the human condition in a naturalistic style. His films elucidate the way in which the collective soul reacts to an existing situation. Kazan was part of the movement of the New Realism, which bared witness to the state of paralysis of a post World War II identity and shed light on the stunted psychological elements of that current time.

In Panic In the Streets Kazan’s opening shot, we are plunged into a world of immigrants and trains. The trains cut through the grimy metallic city nightscapes. Here, New Orleans is as mysterious as its inhabitants. New Orleans, the seaport shipping city, is filled with lowlifes and a sense of desolation. Imports/exports, and the working class immigrants who suffer and toil for their daily bread and muddle their way through life in the slums, and row houses, on the streets and in local bars. They are an anonymous, shabby yet tenacious community of otherness existing but not quite persevering. The aggregate disdain for authority and the mistrust of the surrounding influences that form the power structures that control and look upon them as a subservient class.

There is a commanding scene in a diner,Clint stops in for a coffee and the people sitting  at the counter look isolated and sullen. Dirty and sickly and down trodden. They all have cracked faces. There is a photographic quality as if capturing the weathered souls of the Okies in The Grapes of Wrath.

What I call Socio-Noir is present in particular for Panic In the Streets. The film works as much as social commentary as it does dark tale of crime drama, with protagonists, anti-heroes and femme fatales. Panic in The Streets is in keeping with the police documentary moral where the hero, that of Lt Clint Reed M.D. sets out on a righteous path as savior. He is incorruptible and courageous.

Along with the trains cutting through the grungy metallic night in the city and it’s din, the film creates the unwashed environment and the oily screechy noises of movement. struggling people trying to survive. Desperate criminal elements abound amidst the sounds of blaring ship horns coming in to dock. The city is an alive filth stained entity.

There is evidence of Kazan’s attitude crystallized when dialogue towards the end refers to community and what that truly means. Kazan shows us city scapes and panoramic views to evoke how people can be swallowed up by the enormity of urbanization. An urbanized society split by class and race.

The people in these city settings doing their unnamed tediums, rituals, sitting solemnly at bars, sitting outside the building on steps and street corners. These are people outside of society as the cinematography would frame them, Living together, collections of tired faces, ethnicities, class distinctions. The working class, the bureaucrats, the law enforcers and the riffraff feed off the weaker of the herd.

There is an extreme juxtaposition of the clean lily white suburbia that Richard Widmark’s character Lt Reed, lives in, to the filthy environmental mechanisms of the inner city dweller. Reed comes home to a freshly scrubbed house, a refined and virtuous wife in a pristine neighborhood, the idealism of post World War II America. With all the amenities that are afforded the white collar social class.

Even Paul Douglas’ hardened cop Capt Warren, at first feels stand offish about the naval officer Dr Reed invading his territory. There is an obvious hierarchy amongst who serves the community. Questions of rank of the military, and education background amongst the civil servants and professionals.

Captain Warren’s dynamic of feeling threatened by the authority of a possible Naval Academy Elite and the hard working class cop on the beat. The struggle of power between the two coming to terms with working with each other.

Panic In The Streets is less about the pneumonic plague and more about the way people are reacting to each other around the situation. It is the catalyst for them to expose their inner demons, and fears. Mistrusts and paranoia. The need for self preservation. Blackie’s character is a very paranoid personality, that symbolizes the mistrust of a society that would cheat him out of what he perceives to be rightfully his.

The story begins one night in the slums, when the ruthless criminal and paranoid Blackie aided by his miscreant cohorts kill Poldi’s illegal immigrant cousin who Blackie believes cheated at cards because he won too much money. Once again the angular rock jawed Jack Palance projects himself as imposing Minotaur who holds sway over his subordinated companions. Within this community there are hierarchical sub structures set up in order for the vicious opportunistic Blackie to maintain survival and control.


What wasn’t known at the time of Poldi’s cousin’s murder was that he was already dying of the plague by the time his body was dumped like garbage.

The next morning on the docks a child shows the cops where the dead body is. Lt Dr Clint Reed of the Public Health Service confirms that the dead man had pneumonic plague. In order to prevent an epidemic of catastrophic proportions, Clint and Capt. Warren, must hunt down the killers, and inoculate anyone who came in contact with them all in the span of 48 hours. This they must struggle with under secrecy, holding the news agency at bay as not to panic the public, chase off the carriers of the plague and thus create chaos in the streets. They are also met with resistance and suspicion by the very community, a melting pot of ethnicity they are trying to help.

We see dock workers and the ships populated by foreigners. We hear a comment made about the dead man being a foreigner after they  bring the body on a gurney through the back hospital entrance. Kazan uses a semi-documentary style, constructing a neo-urban naturalistic environment. Framing the story on a mis en scene proscenium stage. We see real people going about their daily lives, along the fault lines of the surrounding class and ethnic differences in the community.

The two medical examiners are more concerned about where and what to eat for lunch, while there’s a dead man lying on the table. For them it’s business as usual, they show no empathy.

The city has taken a life, and these two medical examiners are just doing a job, while the only thought is about food and getting their needs met as a priority. After discussing the sexy waitress that one has his sights on, one of the guys says that it might take longer, than he expected. Another man comes in and asks “is that the foreigner that they brought in?” Again, emphasis on otherizing this human being.

The examiner named Cleaver orders the less attentive man to get out. He realizes something doesn’t look right with the body. Then Clint Reed is called in to look at slides. Photographs are snapped. He’s asked who else has come in contact with the body? He wants everyone inoculated. The FBI doesn’t have any info on the man. But obviously he was carrying something infectious. He also wants to know if it was the bullet or the infection that killed the foreigner.

Kazan himself a Turkish immigrant used a lot of social commentary on the American Dream, the people who live outside the context of that framework and how foreigners were treated here in the U.S. when after World War II the fear of foreigners was rampant. In Panic in The Streets they carry the plague. They are dirty and suspicious. They represent a dangerous element.

Clint is now sitting around a table of suits. He is relating a tale about a woman in 1924 who was carrying a disease that killed 26 people, who died suddenly and horribly from an outbreak. The disease was found to be pneumonic plague, a pulmonary form of the black death, of the middle ages.

One of the men sitting at the table is asking “who is he” about Lt. Clint Reed. Reed asserts himself with authority in this room of skeptics. “One of the jobs of this department is to keep plagues out of this country. This kind of plague can be spread easily like the common cold. Through sneezing”

“The committee is asking why are you telling us this.” “Because this morning the police found a man who was infected with this disease.” “Our reports show the man died of 2 bullet wounds” “Regardless of what the police surgeon said, he would have died within 12 hours.”

Paul Douglas as Capt. Warren is at the table. He’s arguing that he did die from 2 bullet holes. The mayor and the other men around the table want them to check but Lt Clint Reed tells them that he had the body destroyed. Cremated as not to spread the infection. The men seem outraged. There is a power struggle going on about who is in control of this situation. Panic is very much a film about control.

Everyone has been isolated and inoculated but there’s still one man “The man who killed him” who ever dumped him might be walking around with incipient plague at this moment. Capt. Warren exudes his disdain and is being stubborn, he doesn’t feel that there’s going to be a problem. But Lt. Reed insists “We have 48 hours. If the killer is incubating the plague then time will be running out. before it spreads amongst the city. You’ll have the makings of an epidemic”.

He burned all the dead man’s possessions because they were contaminated too, so they don’t have an identity on this man. The commissioner is saying that the police department can’t be held responsible for it. Captain Warren is highly skeptical and the commissioner only concerned about his own accountability. They can’t find an unnamed man in 48 hours. The commissioner doesn’t believe Dr Reed and acts like he’s making a big deal out of it. He tells the mayor, if you want to believe him then give the story to the press. Then Dr Reed says “I may be an alarmist. but I’ve seen this disease work and it can spread all over the entire country and the result would be worse than anything you could ever imagine”. Reed implores them that the key to the whole thing lies here, now and what they decide to do with the next 48 hours will be crucial. They ask Lt Reed “What can we do?”

Reed says “find this man” and so the plot becomes focused on finding Blackie before he can spread certain catastrophic disease. They all leave saying that they will give Reed their full co operation, but Captain Warren remains behind with his hand on his chin while Lt Reed remains seated at the table.

Warren asks Reed “an Annapolis Man?” he answers NO, Why? Warren says ” no reason” but he’s got a quizzical  look on his face. His question of whether Reed went to the elite military school shows the rift between the two Warren says “now I’d start worrying what you’re going to do when we don’t turn up your boy” mentions again, he doesn’t want him to think he’s one of the sailors in his navy. Again we start to see some kind of class battle, distinction between the two men.

Outside in the hallway, a reporter starts snooping, but they brush him off. Shades of trouble to come about the right of the press to full disclosure and the responsibility these people have to the public’s safety. What is good for them. Again we see a paradigm of hierarchy at work.

At the police station Mostel’s character Fitch who is no stranger to the police is being questioned. He says “You can’t do this to me I’m a US citizen, I got rights.” Here again is the assertion of the foreigner being alien and the paranoia of the American people that their rights will be taken away by the people in positions of power, the U.S. Government and most especially the foreign element.

They shove the photo of the dead guy at Fitch. He says he hasn’t seen that guy. “Where were you last night”? “I was visiting my mother in law she was wrestling semi finalist”, Cop interrupts “Where were you fat boy? I think you’re a constitutional liar” Again, the patriotic ethnocentric zeitgeist  is evoked during the exchange.

Capt.Warren is back at the morgue with Lt Reed~ they think he might have been Armenian, Czech or mixed blood. Reed tells them to notify the immigration authorities immediately. They find traces of rust, fish and shrimp on him which shows that he might have come in on a boat. Warren still annoyed at Reed, says “unless he walked through a fish market, bought 5 pounds of shrimp and brushed against a freshly painted fire escape.” Warren is still so resistant to help Reed, and doesn’t want his company or input at all. Reed insists that Warren get inoculated like everyone else.

Reed gets to assert his manliness by making Warren take his shot, because he told the commissioner, and Warren just got through telling the other cop in the room why the boys had to take their shots when they were complaining and Warren barks “because the commissioner said so” Reed says ” roll it up” makes him roll up his sleeves. Again, the film asserts that control is an underlying issue at play. The dynamic between these two men going head to head is building and you can tell that Warren comes across like a strong willed Bull Mastif but we sense that he is a decent man with principals of his own. “Half the two bit criminals in town are in the precinct. Sneak thieves, wife beaters and pick pockets. It isn’t going to work though”. Reed gets mad. “Why are you doing it this way then if it isn’t going to work? Warren tells him that he’s rounding up all the usual suspects because it’s the only way he can make progress in finding the dead man’s identity. Warren then accuses Reed of making this case a big issue jut to make a name for himself.

Reed asks Warren to come have coffee across the street. Now in the diner. “Look Captain do you have a family, are you married?” “No, my wife died 8 years ago”. We start to get a closer look inside this man Warren.Kazan loves to build his characters, to unfold them like an artichoke heart, peeling away the layers, until we see the core. Reed is trying to appeal to Warren’s human side, the family man.

“The doctors said it was neuralgia but it was a brain tumor.”This reveals a bit more of the picture as to Warren’s mistrust of doctors. Reed replies “You don’t think much of me as a doctor do you”Warren shoots back “you keep asking questions you finally get answers. NO.” So we see Warren not only has a dislike for military snobs, but a mistrust of doctors as well. Reed’s just a plain working class slob, a cop who is trying to sort through the trash of human debris that he comes across. Warren again says “Civil Service, you get a pension, what do you make?” Reed says it runs about the same as a police

Captain. Warren frowns, he looks like he took a hit.”Look this man obviously came off a boat, he was obviously smuggled into the country. They probably don’t want to talk to the police, they’ve been coming the docks and the streets but no one is talking”.”Maybe they want to talk to their mothers” Warren says, then Reed “Offer them a reward, promise them immunity for information. Bring in another set of experts from Washington to help me out. Well you could use it.” “You’ll never see the day” says Warren glaring proudly. Reed gets frustrated. “I’m not gonna wait til the facts penetrate that thick skull of yours, there just isn’t that much time”

Now at a dingy laundromat Fitch runs, up to a woman, his wife, who says “Blackie makes you tag around like a dog on a leash. He’s a big goon.” “He pays me.” Fitch asks if his bags are packed. She says “why don’t you stand up to him sometime? Why don’t you tell him off.”He says “Angie will you shut up! Why don’t you go inside.” She says she doesn’t want to be alone with that big Ape Blackie,

Fitch calls out “he’s coming down the stairs.” He doesn’t want Angie hanging around. He doesn’t like a smart cracking dame. He yells at her to get away from the washing machines. Fitch keeps insisting to Blackie that they should leave the city, they’re picking everybody up. He wants to know why Poldi hasn’t shown.Fitch tells him”He’s got a date with a dame”. Concerned Blackie says “Where’d he get the doe? You know I got a hunch about him. They’re not gonna pick me up. You see those machines. That’s business. Legitimate even. they aint gonna pick up a legitimate business man.”

Blackie begins to rant. Argues, Fitch tells him that they’re picking up legitimates. “They’re picking everybody up. “Why, why are they picking everybody up Fitch why? You don’t know. You got a high school education you’re a smart fella. This guy Kolchak (the dead man) is just a floater. He gets off a boat, gets very unsocial, even pulls a knife that he’s gonna use on Poldi. So they turn the town upside down for one crumb. They got every cop in town huffin and puffin, trying to find out who he is. Why are they doing it?”

Fitch says he doesn’t know. “Well I’ll figure it out for you. I got a hunch he brung something in. I got a hunch he brung something in and they’re looking for it.” Blackie’s alienation is beginning to grow, he suspects he is being cheated out of something big, that rightfully should be his. This man is filled with Egomania. Classic anti-social behavior. He continues his rant.

“Only he aint got it, and you know why. Cause friend Poldi’s got it.” Fitch comes back at him “Poldi do you think he’d do something like that. He’s his cousin aint he. (the dead man) “I told you I had a hunch about that guy.” Blackie snorts back. Fitch sweating says “look Poldi is a nice guy he wouldn’t do something like that.”

Poldi is trying to put something over on me, I saved his life and that’s how he repays me. There’s paranoia growing in this man Blackie, big dark and brooding. He tells Fitch there’s one thing he don’t like, Fitch says “sure Blackie” “it’s somebody trying to put something over on me. I never liked it”

Now there is a long shot of Blackie sitting at the counter, framed by the landscape, the atmosphere of alienation. He is in black a quiet powder ceg and Fitch l in the backdrop going out the door looking so small and insignificant. The shot frames how the power is manifested by Palance’s character and Mostel is just a perifery character powerless and subordinate. Again we hear train whistles. Trains, symbolize the ever changing movement, the transients of urban city life. We now see Blackie all alone in the cluttered unattractive room.  Sitting alone. A man with thoughts on his mind, Paranoid, greedy and angry.

A Sea plane lands. We see the Nile Queen. The captain of the Nile Queen denies that the man could have been on his ship. “I’m not calling you a liar, I’m calling you a fool. Most of your crew will be dead.” The captain won’t listen. Warren and Clint look over the people on board. They look away. There’s almost 200 “rats” on the ship. He yells “see, you might be carrying plague.” Rats possibly a double entendre.

The captain yells for the men to get back to work. but the crew says they want to hear what Clint Reed has to say. “Never mind what he says.” But the crew resist and fights ensue. Chaos. “Break out the weapons. You’re inciting my men to mutiny. I’m the master here.” Again the prevailing hegemony in this film is exposed yet again. An Asian man says, one of the cooks is down with fever. “Right now I want to put everyone in quarantine.” They inoculate them. “They got on in Iran. They just dumped him over the side.”

Another Asian cabin boy brings the men food. “They ever talk about anything else. They want a shish kabob. He asks what it is. “Lamb on a stick, some of the Greek and Armenian restaurants serve it.” Warren hoped they had a lead to the eats place where the illegal immigrants who got smuggled on board would have gone to get food. Athena Cafe they’ve covered 11 joints and no luck.

At the Athena Cafe, the diner owner’s wife says to her husband in the back kitchen, about Kolchak that Poldi brought him. She says  he was contagious but tell Warren and Reed that we know nothin. “I got a headache”. Although the man wants to tell them who Kolchak was, he does not.

Warren and Reed get into the car. Blackie comes up along the street. A midget tells him they found Poldi. He gives the little man money and rubs his head like a child. Blackie goes inside, Fitch says “I found him.” Blackie says what’s that smell. Have you been trying that stuff on your head again Fitch? Blackie takes a piece of food, asks if it’s  been touched yet. Ironically Blackie’s paranoia extends to his being a germaphobe as well. The food had been touched by a foreigner.

Now it’s nighttime and the cops find a very sick person in the emergency, a high fever case.  The cops call out to Captain and Reed. Another woman sick fever case. The Athena owner’s wife. They run up the stairs of the tenement, it’s too late- she is dead. They have to quarantine the whole apartment. “Dr put down on death certificate tentative pneumonia. that’ll have to do for now. Clothes will have to be burned”. All of a sudden the Greek owner comes in and calls for Rita. asks for his wife. Reed looks disturbed. “Where is she.” “What you do. I can’t let you go in there”. “Your wife is dead” “She can’t be, you lie. She said she just don’t feel good.”

“Remember me Matharis. We showed you a picture. If you told us the truth the chance your wife alive.” “Poldi brought him. Kolchak. Gloria Hotel. Find Poldi” They run down the stairs. Tell the police to get a list of people in the food place. Nobody in or out and then they speed away to the

Gloria Hotel, the reporter Neff hears them and  goes after them. They ask to be taken to Poldi’s room.
Neff confronts them. Why wasn’t this story released to the press? “I figure you guys running around town, he probably had small pox or cholera” Reed reasons with him. Tells him it’s plague. “We can’t let you have the story.” “With the chance of an epidemic. You guys are crazy. You’ve wasted a day. I represent the public. No two bit civil servant.” Reed says “There’s a chance we can contain it.” Warren tells the cop to take Neff into custody, and luckily finds out the editor doesn’t have the story yet,Reed asks the police officers on the scene if Neff can make trouble, they said Warren would be lucky to get a job mopping floors.

By now, we have a sense of how foreigners are dirty, mistrustful and alien to us, even when the one cop jokes about liking shish kabob. The foods are unfamiliar. The foreigners don’t trust the Americans, cops ,doctors, and visa versa, This film shows the disconnect and separation of immigrants and the America they live in.

Reed goes home for a bit to get some rest, and is met by his wife. “Don’t come any closer. Another contagion case. Another uniform to be decontaminated.” “You didn’t catch it yourself hon, you look a little beat.” “Yeah I look so good normally.” He blows up at her. He spent the money for the cleaner’s bill on the reward money.” When ever your tired you think I’m scolding.” “I spent it on something for the dept. You can put in a voucher No one has figured how to get money back from the us gov. I have to go out again, Gruffs, Just get me some coffee.” He looks at a piece of furniture being refinished in his yard and taps it. Like this is part of his real life before this filthy mess.This belongs to his clean life.

He didn’t call his wife last night. “It’s a plague case.” “Here in New Orleans? At least they have you, you’ve been through it.””Now look hon, let’s not be little miss sunshine.” “We went thru it in California.” “Whats eating you?” “I’m tired and fed up” “Stick around, just afraid if I lye down I’ll fall asleep. If I fall asleep I’m dead. Just don’t let me fall asleep. Today I took a perfectly nice guy, a cop not particularly bright, but what do I do, I push him around, make a lot of smart cracks about him. And I tell him off all day long. He winds up proving he’s 4 times the man I am. I do the same thing to you. Why do I do that?”

“Capt, Warren meets Reed on the corner. Reed tells the mayor that Warren arrested the reporter Neff on his orders. Someone starts talking about how a woman died last night in their own community. Reed yells, “Community. what community, do you think you’re living in the middle ages.

If they alert the media the man carrying the plague will leave.” All these men in power are only concerned about their portion of the responsibility. “Anybody that leaves here can be in any city within 10 hours. I can leave here today and be in Africa tomorrow and what ever disease I had would go right with me” The mayor says “I know that”~“Well think about it when you’re talking about communities we’re all in the community , the same one.” Reed who is finally smiling asks Warren for a cigarette and says “Take the pack.” He finally sees Reed as a regular guy fighting the same bureaucracy he does. This comment about community, I suspect is Kazan injecting his point of view about the universal ideal of what community truly means into the film.

The chief couldn’t hold Neff, and admits that he agrees with Reed but he couldn’t stop him. They’ll have 4 hours before it hits the papers. and Neff can color the story any way he wants. One of the other cops says he will be in the morning but he has to be honest he’s taking his wife and kids up to the grandmothers they’ll be safer there. Reed says  as he turns away, “well here we go”” Don’t misunderstand he’ll be there, Oh sure he will, never the less here we go, kids are kids.” “Tell you the truth I’m scared to death I want to call Washington and get some help here.”

Next morning, church bells are ringing, and the old woman Poldi’s mother and the midget are walking. The midget brings Poldi’s mama, and introduces her to Blackie. He speaks in his unceous manner “Yes I heard he was sick but I couldn’t find him mama.” “No he’s dying. I’m gonna send for a doctor, neighbors already sent.” “No mama this is my doctor he’s the best. Fitch is helping Poldi drink water. Blackie walks in. I didn’t want to leave Poldi,. I was gonna get ya, but he’s so sick.

A nurse comes in. She yells at Blackie. This man has to go to hospital. Blackie says he aint going. High fever. rapid pulse. The nurse tries to convince Blackies doctor that he need to be in the hospital Fitch says I had an aunt once went in never came out. The doctor says “I know these people, they are very superstitious.” Again otherizing them as alien and strange in their ways.

They start to move Blackie down the stairs when Lt.Clint Reed confronts them saying he wants to talk to Poldi. Blackie violently flings Poldi and the mattress off the stairs as if it were mere garbage and runs away with Fitch as we hear the police sirens closing in.

Kazan proliferates his films with a proto-naturalistic style within the environments he shoots. Richard Widmark displays an inward discontent while Paul Douglas has a more restrained anger and hardboiled everyman quality. This heterogenous chemistry between the two actors  fuels the film and is as potent as their mission to hunt down the plague carrying killers from every coastline dump and cheap rooming house.

Jack Palance, whose strong saturnine looks often putting him in the role as villain is marvelous as the unmerciful Blackie under Kazan’s directing. The verite of the more grittier moments feel as if we are watching the actors up close on a stage. I’m reminded of Street Car and how much I felt like I was in the room with Blanche when Stanley taunts her ruthlessly.

The narrative is sharp and driving and the tautness of the plot at times sensational, is tense during the investigative process when Warren and Reed interview people from the film’s collection of characters some, brutish misogynists,gruff dock laborers, cliched grinning Chinese ship cooks, worn out street dames and superstitious immigrants who are still living outside of the conventions of the American experience.

At the end Reed returns to his home, back in the neat world that he inhabits with his untainted family, to live out the American dream once again.