A Movie Day: Quint on Fritz Lang’s CLASH BY NIGHT (1952)! Home is where you come when you’ve run out of places.
Published at: June 15, 2008, 4:31 p.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge and plowing through the hundreds of DVDs I own for movies I haven’t seen. Each day I’ll talk about a film I haven’t previously seen and each film will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
I don’t know if you guys saw the talkback on THE ASPHALT JUNGLE yesterday, but I’ve been throwing myself off of a horrible sleep schedule that I’ve been fighting since my trip to Romania. I’ve been getting up later and later, hence the reason for the articles posting later and later in the day. I decided to stay up about 24 hours and swing myself over to a more regular schedule and as a result I went to bed around 4pm and slept a good 12 hours.
I was able to watch yesterday’s movie, CLASH BY NIGHT, yesterday and now I’m writing it up. You’ll also see SCARLET STREET post later today.
CLASH BY NIGHT, Fritz Lang’s 1952 drama, is included in Warner Brother’s Film Noir Classics Collection (v2) although it doesn’t have many of the trademarks of the noir genre.
For instance there is no crime involved in the story… it’s also an RKO Picture, a studio not as well known for noir, although they did produce many of Val Lewton’s noiry horror titles (which we’ll get into later down the line).
But the reason for its inclusion in the Noir set is first and foremost Barbara Stanwyck’s superbly aging femme fatale turn as Mae in the flick. She belongs in a hard case private dick movie and you get the feeling that perhaps Mae’s past did include people like Sam Spade. Considering that, casting Stanwyck in this role was a stroke of genius. She brings along that baggage from her noir work like DOUBLE INDEMNITY.
The flick is set in a West Coast fishing village, a small town dedicated to fisherman and canneries. Mae returns home, still beautiful, but getting older. You get the impression that the world has chewed her up and spit her out.
She saunters back into her hometown and into the lives of her kind-of-a-bastard brother (played by Keith Andes), his girlfriend (played by Marilyn Monroe, the year before she became an icon with the double-shot of HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE and GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES), a local swinger named Earl (the always great Robert Ryan) and a local fisherman named Jerry (an outstanding turn by Paul Douglas). Jerry’s a bear of a man, with a heart bigger than it should be.
He falls for Mae and she for him in a very guarded sense. She thinks he’s too good for her and he can’t believe what the hell he’s hearing… he’s no looker, he’s not all that smart, but he’s kind and good through and through. That’s what scares her. She’s attracted to dangerous men and always hurts the good guys.
The sexual tension between Stanwyck and Robert Ryan is thick in the film. He really is a bastard, he hates women just as much as he loves them. Robert Ryan is Earl, Jerry’s best friend, and he continues to make moves after Jerry and Mae are married, sensing that something in Stanwyck is turned on by it.
Paul Douglas steals this film. Other than a turn in 1951’s ANGELS IN THE OUTFIELD (a film I saw as a kid, but don’t remember much about), I’m totally unfamiliar with him as an actor, but I get an Ernest Borgnine vibe off of him. Not mean EMPEROR OF THE NORTH POLE Borgnine, but the sweet and soft version he doesn’t get to play too often… a little dumb, but with a big heart and even bigger personality. Douglas is in a film featuring in this article… don’t know when we’ll get to it, but it’s an Ealing comedy called THE MAGGIE. Can’t wait to see him work again after this one.
Stanwyck is unbelievable in this movie. She’s four hundred different things at once. She’s a manipulator, she’s the puppet, she’s longing for real, true love, she’s a seductress of other men, she’s tired of life and she’s invigorated by life. She’s always moving. Her performance is multi-layered and fascinating. Just watch how she uses body language in this movie and what her eyes tell you.
Alfred Hayes (screenwriter), adapting Clifford Odets’ play, gives her film noir dialogue, but in this melodrama setting. Her words are like bullets out of a machine gun, spurting poetically out of her mouth in quick bursts.
Monroe is luminous in the film, even more beautiful and care-free likable than in yesterday’s AMAD: THE ASPHALT JUNGLE. She has a little more to do here and… well, she is in a swimsuit at one point, so there’s that, too. However, I did notice that they looped a lot of her lines, so maybe that means she wasn’t very good on the first run at it.
Lang’s direction is great… a lot of interesting camerawork here. Long takes, moving camera. The black and white photography isn’t very dark, or at least not as dark as Lang’s previous entries, like METROPOLIS or M, but he does use the camera to tell the story just as much as the actors and dialogue and the cinematography is sharp.
Overall, a great surprise of a drama. I hope you guys dug it as much as I did.