SALIENT MINUS TEN is the new Sci-Fi/Horror short film from award-winning filmmaker Emma Dark, and is a cerebral foray into the darker, more disturbing, side of Science Fiction.
Adam Harper (Alan Austen, Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back) is an average man. And on an average day he suddenly finds himself catapulted into the strangest, reality changing game… A game of time and chance, where the stakes are a matter of life and death.
“Instead of relying on gore or cheap jump scares to get under your skin, this is a film which asks you to think and connect the dots yourself, and you almost feel as though you want to thank it for that.” – Dread Central (4/5* review), http://bit.ly/2on4LJi
SCREENINGS & AWARDS: * Fantoms (REGIONAL PREMIERE – NEWCASTLE UK, Star and Shadow cinema, October 2019) * WINNER ‘Best Actor’ (Alan Austen), WINNER ‘Best Cinematography’ (Philip Bloom), WINNER ‘Best Editing’ (Emma Dark), Nominated ‘Best Short’, ‘Best Music / Sound’ (Eric Elick & Chris Collier), ‘Outstanding Female Filmmaker’ (Emma Dark) – Stormy Weather Horror Fest Summer 2019 * Medusa Underground Film Festival (REGIONAL PREMIERE – NEVADA USA, The Artisan Hotel Boutique, Las Vegas, January 2019) * Black Sunday Film Festival (The Whirled Cinema, December 2018) * International Moving Image Society (01zero-one, October 2018) * WINNER ‘Albert Pyun Inspiration Award’ (Emma Dark), Nominated ‘Best Short Film’, ‘Audience Choice’, ‘Best Cinematography’ (Philip Bloom) – The Yellow Fever Independent Film Festival (NORTHERN IRISH PREMIERE, The Hub, Bangor, October 2018) * Sick Chick Flicks Film Festival (REGIONAL PREMIERE – NORTH CAROLINA USA, The Cary Theater, Cary, September 2018) * Nominated ‘Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy’ – Snake Alley Festival of Film (REGIONAL PREMIERE – IOWA USA, Capitol Theater, Burlington, June 2018) * Rue Morgue Magazine and Unstable Ground’s Little Terrors Monthly Short Film Festival (CANADIAN PREMIERE, Imagine Cinemas Carlton, April 2018) * Nominated ‘Best Horror/Sci-Fi’ – 2nd Annual – Jim Thorpe Independent Film Festival (REGIONAL PREMIERE – PENNSYLVANIA USA (EAST COAST), Mauch Chunk Opera House, April 2018) * WINNER ‘Best Director’ (Emma Dark) – Starburst Magazine’s Media City Film Festival (REGIONAL PREMIERE – GREATER MANCHESTER, The Landing, March 2018) * Billy Chainsaw’s Nova Nights (The Horse Hospital, London, February 2018) * Panic Fest (USA PREMIERE, Screenland Armour Cinema, Kansas City, January 2018) * The Dark Side Magazine’s DarkFest (Genesis Cinema, November 2017) * Nominated ‘Best Short Film’ – The British Horror Film Festival (WORLD PREMIERE, Cineworld Leicester Square, November 2017)
CREDITS: Edited, Produced, Written, and Directed by Emma Dark Original Music by Eric Elick Director of Photography Philip Bloom Sound Design by Chris Collier
Adam Harper – Alan Austen
The Woman – Emma Dark
Commuter/Automaton – Chris Hampshire
Commuter – Beric Read
Commuter – Samantha Oci
For a full list of cast and crew credits and to find out more please visit the following links: IMDb – imdb.com/title/tt5935326 Facebook – facebook.com/SalientMinusTen Twitter – twitter.com/SalientMinusTen
BUY on DVD here > etsy.com/uk/shop/EmmaDarkOfficial
Copyright © 2017 Emma Dark. All Rights Reserved. emmadark.com facebook.com/EmmaDarkOfficial
Just as the word punk existed before the music did, the concept of the rebel outsiders breaking all the rules has existed as long as rules have (probably: I’d bet my PhD on it anyway). One of those iterations surely included the beatniks, at least in the popular imagination. The Party’s Over’s release was delayed for a while due to censorship not of its violence, youthful decadence, matter-of-fact portrayal of homosexuality but – wait for it – for featuring necrophilia. The director Guy Hamilton and producers Jack Hawkins, Peter O’Toole and Anthony Perry demanded their names be removed in protest. It was finally released three years later in 1965 (1966 in the US).
The film starts with the fanfare accorded to a production company named Monarch, but quickly switches gears by opening on a guy hanging from a balcony crying for help as a party goes on inside the building. Funky jazz plays on a Victrola while desultory young people smoke, smooch, drink, and mill about. The walls are covered with tennis rackets, beer mats and art. We follow a cigarette from hand to hand, introducing some of our key players until we end on Moise (Oliver Reed) who uses it to light a cigarillo and, swilling beer, wanders over to the balcony to take a butcher’s. He responds by pouring some bevvie over the luckless lad.
An imperious Melina (Louise Sorel) demands that he help the unfortunate. Moise instead calls on Geronimo (Mike Pratt) and the others manage to drag the fellow up. Moise shrugs at Melina, who rises and commands him to drop dead. Moise climbs up on the balcony rail and jumps. Cue screams, a passing look of angst on Melina’s face and then laughter from the crowd as we cut to Ollie hanging from a lamppost, smiling around his cigarillo. He bows and walks on.
Cut to the group as they begin desultory walk over a pre-dawn Albert Bridge as the voice-over by Reed describes the film as the story of these young folk who became ‘for want of a better word…beatniks’. It also clarifies that ‘the film is not an attack on beatniks; the film has been made to show the loneliness and the unhappiness, and the eventual tragedy that can come from a life lived without love for anyone or anything.’ Sure we’re going to cast glamourous young actors and make cool beatnik art studios but the message is this is bad.
Also necrophilia, much more clearly a bad thing.
Like so many films that show youth subcultures, it both glamourises it and oversimplifies it. We’ve already seen Reed as the beatnik artist in Tony Hanock’s The Rebel though he was French there. One of the most fun things here is Reed getting to trot out a series of accents in one brilliant scene as he shows down Melina’s American fiancé who’s come to drag her back to New York. So often Reed was forced to play to type, it’s always good to be reminded how much he could do.
The beatniks lead the hapless fiancé Carson (Clifford David) on a merry chase from studio to pub to café and back again until Nina (Katherine Woodville) takes pity on him. Unlike the dilettante Melina, Nina is a real artist though posh as the day is long (which makes all the difference in the end).
The problem is Melina disappeared after a whale of a party and it takes a while for people to begin to put together their fractured memories of what went on at the party. And what’s up with nervous Philip (Jonathan Burn)? With Nina by his side, Carson fights to find out what’s really going on with his mercurial fiancée in the face of the beatnik hostility, mostly wrangled by Reed’s Moise. In between there’s a lot of vintage footage of swinging Chelsea, gorgeously shot and a lot of beatnik posturing, bad art and slang. There’s even a cameo by Eddie Albert that proves surprisingly tender (yes, that Eddie Albert).
Well worth a watch even if you aren’t the kind of person who would watch Reed in almost anything. C’mon: beatniks in swinging 60s London! Currently streaming on Amazon in the US and I think BFI in the UK.
Episode One of Shoreditch Pictures‘ new online series, Corona Connections, which follows characters during lockdown of the coronavirus epidemic. Magic Moments is the story Harry,(Max Waldron) who calls his Grandma (Patricia Loveland) to wish her a happy birthday and give her a heart-warming surprise. Written & Directed by Ben Wicks Produced by Sarah Culverhouse. Shot entirely on Skype.
God, it’s easy to kill a person!’
The noir classic Detour (1945) impressed most of my students with the wildest femme fatale they saw all semester. Ann Savage, to borrow a line from Peter and Dud, Savage by name plays a part completely Savage by nature. Her Vera completely terrifies the itinerant musician Al (played by Tom Neal) as well as scarring for life the bookie Charles Haskell, Jr. (Edmund MacDonald). Al just wants to get to Los Angeles for a reunion with his gal Sue, but when Haskell unexpectedly kicks the bucket and Al gets mistaken for him things begin to go south. When a passing moment of kindness leads him to pick up a hitch-hiker, Savage’s Vera knows he’s not Haskell and blackmails the hapless schmoe into a scheme to make her rich. If they don’t kill each other first.
The film is told in flashbacks from Al’s point of view, from his first shambolic appearance to the improbable end. Filmed on the cheap, Edgar G. Ulmer gets the most mileage out of smoke, mirrors, cheap sets, and budget dialogue. If you remember nothing else, I guarantee you Ann Savage’s turn as Vera will be seared on your eyeballs. Also the strange plot holes (more about that shortly) which begin to make you wonder how much of the story has been (inexpertly) revised by Al.
The 1992 remake in some ways is even stranger. Weirdly riffing on the relationship of fathers and sons, Tom Neal’s part is reprised by his son, who shares a striking resemblance with his dad, but not the sense of aggrieved every man. It starts out in black and white and like van Sant’s Psycho mostly reproduces the original film. It’s got its fans but I’ve not made my way through it yet. It has interesting moments: the first flashback is when the film changes to colour. Some of the added material has to do with Sue’s life in Los Angeles.
The ending of the film is changed to be more in line with the original novel—that’s right, there is a source novel. Martin H. Goldsmith’s 1939 novel of the same name tells more or less the same story. This Detour had a very different fate from the movie. I tracked down a copy of the 2013 Black Curtain edition which is frills-free even of original publication information and mostly typo free, except for one persistent repeated one. The font is big to give it a novel-length page count (145) but it’s really more of a novella.
I’m always interested in the ways novels get adapted to film. What’s interesting about the novel is how much more noir it feels than the film and how awful all the characters are—and none of them are on to themselves except maybe Vera. She doesn’t get a chance to speak for herself. Chapters alternate between Al and Sue. Al is originally Alexander Roth, changed to the generic Al Roberts in the film. Roth surely chosen for the point of someone waxing wroth, as Groucho might say.
Everybody in this novel is very angry, too. Alex is a lot more of a jerk than the hapless innocent the film makes him. Picked up hitching, he’s asked where he’s from but says Detroit instead of New York. ‘I don’t know why I said that; there was really no call to lie. Maybe I was so accustomed to lying it had become a habit, I don’ know. But that’s me all over. For the life of me, I can’t figure myself out.’ He is indeed in pursuit of his Sue, whom he idealises ridiculously, in the same way he disparages women in general. ‘If there is any worse spot than for a man to find himself a slave to a woman’s whims I’d like to know about it.’ Of course this is when he’s dealing with Vera, but as he concludes, ‘All women are dangerous.’
‘What makes it so tough is you never can be sure what a woman will do. At one moment she’s calm and everything is velvet; then in a flash, it all explodes sky-high and she’s got it in for you. And when she’s got it in for you, brother, look out. There are never any halfway measures. A woman loves or she hates. Pity and all the feelings in between she’s never heard of.’ Alex pities himself more than anybody else, even when he’s murdering someone.
While there’s still some uncertainty about Haskell’s death, there’s no lame attempt to make Vera’s death accidental as with the ridiculous scene in the film. His loathing just wells up. ‘She was the type of woman I have always despised: the kind who knows all the answers and makes no bones about being hard-boiled. Even though I know just how women are underneath, I still prefer them to have that phony sweetness in their manner.’ Alex prefers lies.
The big difference in the novel is Sue. The second chapter catches up with her in California—right after a date rape. She’s full of tears and recriminations, mostly aimed at herself. ‘When a man gets finished, he’s through; his appetite’s been satisfied, except now he wants a plate of ham and eggs. We girls are quite another story. We have emotions and what not. We feel things. Any woman will know what I’m talking about. So I felt terrible.’
Singer Sue goes to Hollywood to break into the films but ends up waiting tables. In the film she gets a moment of that on the phone with Al. In the novel we see a lot more of her life. She really has an ambition to get into the pictures, but is hesitating to give in to the casting couch. Her weary dissection of Hollywood’s shabby reality still can’t dim her dream. Sue hopes the B-actor Raoul will give her leg up instead of getting a leg over.
Angry with herself, she finally gets even more angry at Raoul’s obliviousness. He thinks he gave her a swell time and asks for another date. At first she tries to find the easiest way to slip out of any commitment, but his cocksure attitude – flourishing his fountain pen to write in his address book – tips her anger over the edge and she tells him he’s been a terrible lover. ‘There was a jubilance in me for the first time in ages. I watched him flinch and I knew I had struck home, into the most vulnerable spot in the man’s armour.’ She is pleased he’s so deflated and talks of it as a way to ‘avenge poor Alex’ too.
It would give more sympathy to her character if Goldsmith didn’t make plain that she is everything that Alex thinks of women: duplicitous, vengeful, cruel and above all, an actor. When Haskell’s death is reported as Alex’s, Sue performs grief styles she has seen in films, trying to convince herself she feels something other than relief. All it really does is boost her confidence that she can make it in Hollywood after all.
And Alex? ‘I wasn’t sorry she was dead; just sorry it was me who killed her.’ Nothing is as he claims, except maybe this. The original film had to soften the ending a bit. The remake is closer to the book. The twists and turns match Alex’s own thoughts: ‘God or fate or some mysterious force can put the finger on you or on me for no good reason at all.’ Not getting caught; it’s the same as not being guilty for him as long as he can keep wondering about that fateful day Haskell picked him up on the road. ‘Well, sometimes I want to curse and sometimes I want to cry.’
When I’m not thinking about grifters, I’m probably thinking about heists. There’s a good bit of overlap in the miscreants involved in each, I’m sure. Are we talking fiction or non-fiction? I hesitate to call it reality. Does anything seem real right now?
With news that there’s was another big art theft this week, we can guess that people are taking advantage of the distracted state of the world under pandemic. Old Masters worth $12 Million looted from Oxford: some fancy paint there. But will the thieves earn that much? Probably not:
While unauthenticated works can easily make their way through the open market, that’s not the case for known pieces of art. As soon as stolen works are listed for sale, authorities will seize them. Thus some art criminals turn to the black market, where stolen works fetch a far lower price than their actual worth.
Likewise the theft the other day that nabbed a Van Gogh. You can’t help but wonder if a specific collector was making use of the lockdown time to acquire something he’d been wanting for a while. I love how the staff are reported to be “shocked and unbelievably annoyed” as one might expect. Capitalising on the prurient interest, the news site leads to another heist, jewels this time. There have always been those who were not willing to wait for the things they want.
This of course puts me in mind of Jean-Pierre Melville’s influential Le Cercle Rouge (1970) with a mustachioed Alain Delon, a surprisingly seedy Yves Montand as the alcoholic ex-cop with some very unbelievable DTs, and André Bourvil as the dogged Captain Mattei. I like to imagine a string of cosy mysteries with Mattei and his cats. The (alas, out of print) Criterion edition of the film includes interviews and footage of the Stetson-hatted Melville as well as an essay by John Woo talking about his influence. With its Gallic languor and genesis from a Buddhist quote, the film offers a heist that is doomed before it ever starts.
The American take on the heist is often much more triumphant. This week my students are watching Kansas City Confidential (1952) which offers a more mundane bank heist but with some innovative differences: none of the heisters (is that a word?) know each other and they’ve all worn masks, so they can’t identify each other. They were brought together by a Mister Big, who has set up an elaborate gig, sending them all to Mexico to wait out the heat.
Hey, Lee Van Cleef and Jack Elam! A gum-chomping Neville Brand. Jack Payne stars as a down-on-his-luck but amply-medalled vet (hey, this is #noir after all) who finds himself the fall guy when his delivery van appears to be the getaway vehicle. If the lazy cops won’t crack the case, he’ll go to Mexico and sort it out. Yes, some unfortunate brown-face: ironically African-American actor Dona Drake had an interesting career passing as Latina (hint, filmmakers: a great story to be done there).
Colleen Gray shows up as the innocent daughter of Mister Big who’s studying for the bar (of course) but takes a liking to Payne’s ex-con (who’s pretending to be Elam’s characters – it’s easier to follow in the film) and has no idea what her father’s been up to. Cue some sneaking around by everyone, some really terribly choreographed fist fights and not enough Van Cleef glowering. It’s entertaining nonetheless. I look forward to my students’ comments on it.
Are you planning a heist for the lockdown? Watch a few films to see where they always go awry. And wear a mask – it’s a good idea even if you’re not pulling a needlessly complicated heist.
Like so many films noir, Possessed begins after most things have happened then backtracks to find out how we got there. A surprisingly unglamorous and decidedly untethered Joan Crawford wanders down the empty roads of early morning Los Angeles. When a tram driver stops to let her on, she can only ask for David. She’s eventually picked up and taken to a hospital where a kindly doctor recognises that her catatonic state is due to trauma and works to unlock the story from her shattered mind.
Eventually we make it back to a house by a lake and Van Heflin. It is my own shortcoming that I can never take him seriously because I always hear Jasper from the Simpsons demanding that a barber, ‘Gimme a Van Helfin.’ Fortunately he’s not particularly sympathetic here. The script by by Ranald MacDougall and Silvia Richards, based upon a story by Rita Weiman gives him a few terrific lines like ‘My liver rushes in where angels fear to tread’ and the telling ‘‘If you don’t leave me alone I’ll wind up kicking babies.’
The basic plot line is full of fun twists: Crawford’s Louise in love with Van Helfin’s David but he’s bored with her. She is a nurse to a wealthy woman with paranoid fantasies who commits suicide—or does she? Her husband, Raymond Massey, falls for the nurse, but his college co-ed daughter, Geraldine Brooks, believes her mother’s accusation that the nurse bumped her off to get with her father, and storms off back to campus. At the wedding she meets David and he cheers her right up. But has Louise only married Massey to try to make David jealous?
It’s almost as if caring for the mentally unstable woman unlocks Louise’s own mental breakdown. The film tries to foster a positive attitude toward mental health, with the doctor’s sympathy and criticism of the word ‘insane.’ When a worried Louise visits a physician to see if there’s really something wrong with her, he’s at pains to say that addressing these problems will head off a worse situation—the very one she fears.
However, Louise allows fear to take the reins and there’s some really effective scenes where what is real and what is imagined is hard for the viewer to determine. A terrific sequence focuses on the sounds around her as a part of the unsettling pathology, from the ticking of the clock to the pattering of the rain. The Franz Waxman soundtrack is quiet effective too, much of it resting on a repeated use of Schumann’s Carnaval. When violence erupts we’re never sure if it’s real or not, but it has a surprisingly brutal impact.
Crawford won a lot of (sometimes grudging) praise for this role. She manages to make poor Louise both sympathetic and dangerous. Well worth a watch.
Here’s something that quite startled me not that long ago, from a eulogy given in Washington Cathedral for a remarkable American. The speaker was recalling a capacity John McCain had, for what she called …a stoic silence that was once the mark of an American man. So why should that startle me? Well, I suppose to begin with, because the words reminded me of traits I grew up with, that I imagined were long gone out of fashion. But it was the next thought that really pulled me up. What audience nowadays, I wondered, would understand where that temperament for stoicism – not to mention silence – came from? It can be a shock, realizing how far over the hill you are. But still, it set me thinking about where I first came across that mark of an American man (and of American women too, let’s be clear about that). Where? Well, where else? Like most Europeans of my vintage, everything I grew up thinking I knew about Americans, I’d learned at the movies. I was an impressionable age, I admit. But I marveled at a certain kind of American I found there. More than that, it’s clear to me now that in those postwar years, movie audiences everywhere were marveling along with me.
Of course, that certain kind of American wasn’t only to be found in the films we call noir nowadays (and didn’t then). But I do think especially in those. Explore those classic films noirs and you’ll see how that hallmark American manner once played out onscreen, for the generation our eulogist had in mind. Buy a ticket and you’ll be watching ground-breaking cinema – and not only American cinema either – but we’ll come to that. Because you won’t fail to notice, wherever those classic period noirs hail from, they have the manner at their fingertips. For now, let’s stay with the stoic silences.
As for instance when Los Angeles Detective Sergeant Walter Brown (Charles McGraw), follows his partner down a Chicago tenement stair in The Narrow Margin (Director Richard Fleischer, 1952). The two detectives are escorting a witness back to testify before a Los Angeles grand jury. She’s the widow of mobster, a target and she knows it. As do the two LA policemen sent to protect her. Sure enough, Brown’s partner is gunned down on the tenement stair, his slayer escapes, and – as a small crowd gathers – the Detective Sergeant hustles his charge to a waiting cab, Brown leaves a bystander to call in the murder of his partner to city police. Not until he’s in the back of the cab with the widow, bound for Chicago’s Union Station, does he start reflecting on what just happened. Gravel shuffles the anger in McGraw’s voice. He tells himself he shouldn’t have let the older, slower man go first down the stair. Then remembers that the news will need breaking to the dead man’s wife. It’s about all the detective registers before he switches back to the present problem – how to get himself and his witness aboard their train to LA.
Don’t misunderstand me. The back-of-the-taxi scene is no cheap shot about a tough cop doing what a cop must do. For one thing, the cab’s other passenger (Marie Windsor, none better) doesn’t reach for her feminine side any more than does Detective Sergeant Brown. But more to the point, screenwriter (Earl Felton) and director knew just as well as their performers, that audiences would have been startled if they did. By 1952 a generation of men and women had grown unaccustomed to voicing their own emotions. It was a behaviour currently out of style. And as in life, so in the movies. Which begs the question, how come was it out of style?
Now an admission. I’m a lifelong museum hound. A sucker for history that’s new to me or that I’m not expecting. And since I’m a relative newcomer to American history, the museums that tell it are apt to pack more surprises for me than the average. So you’ll understand that, on my first visit to the Minnesota History Center Saint Paul, a sign pointing to a gallery on the third floor was irresistible. It said: Minnesota’s Greatest Generation. Now, then. You tell me. Which generation might that be? Me, I guessed at pioneer tales of the mid-West. Or of harnessing the giant Mississippi (thrilling – there are no rivers at all in the country I’m writing from, or even a year-round stream). So I licked my lips, kid in a candy store, and took the stair to find out. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The story the gallery has to tell is strictly twentieth century.
It’s not hard to see why. For Minnesota, its greatest generation was born in the shadow of the Great War, and raised in the pit of the Great Depression. It was the generation in its teens through the New Deal and the Dust Bowl years. Then, when the hardest of times had just begun easing, it learned for the first time where Pearl Harbor was. So it upped and migrated to find war production work, or got sent to fight across oceans. And four years later, those that returned were braced for A-bombs, the Cold War and Korea. Any one of those upheavals would have left its mark. The women and the men we’re talking about had run the gamut by the time they reached their thirties. In the year The Narrow Margin released, Marie Windsor was aged thirty-three. Richard Fleischer, thirty-six. McGraw was thirty-eight and had served a wartime spell in the army. All were veterans of the early twentieth century. They’d lived the pick-yourself-up-and-dust-yourself-off of the times, and understood at first-hand where the closed, tight-lipped manner came from. Certainly they knew how to play it. In that scene in the cab, they hit the character notes of noir right off the center of the bat.
Of course, it was never only Minnesota’s greatest generation. Neither was it uniquely American. That string of early-twentieth century catastrophes had put a generation through the same grinder worldwide. No surprise then, that as they came to navigate the early years of Cold War, cinema audiences everywhere could relate to those elemental notes of film noir. They needed no introduction to bleak, ungilded motives. Or to dark, inconvenient truths. Watching them play out onscreen in a new, spare brand of film-making was simply powerful, subversive, satisfying.
And not only at the time. On Vienna’s Ringstrasse there’s a theater still showing The Third Man several times every week. Nearby is a small, private museum, dedicated to the movie and its making, and to a tainted postwar decade that the movie exposes, but that the city on the whole likes to forget. Despite its American co-producer (David O. Selznick) and American leads (Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles) The Third Man is of course a British movie, nominated for two Academy Awards (Best Director, Best Editor) and taking one home (Robert Krasker for Best Cinematography). Meaning that already by 1949 a British film could be fluent and even majestic in the elements of noir. Stoic silences included. (Personally, I can forget the accents and hear Trevor Howard’s Military Police Major Calloway and Charles McGraw’s Detective Sergeant Brown as interchangeable. Try it!). In fact by then, film makers were exploring the new vocabulary from Argentina to Japan and stops in between. Demonstration, I think, that film noir was distilling a spirit of the times that knew no borders. In Hollywood it had been distilled by a perfect storm of home-grown and immigrant talent, technique, and limited resources; then bottled in new patterns of narrative and character, mood and setting, technique, tone and more. Which of all those elements sparked for audiences in Buenos Aires or Tokyo, I couldn’t say. The draw for me remains what it was from the first: watching a Detective Sergeant and a hoodlum’s widow wrapped in a terse exchange in the back of a cab, considering their latest calamity with quiet intensity. That kind of quiet was everywhere in those Eisenhower years, recognizable whichever continent you were on.
It seems like some small miracle to me now. How, out of a world gone sour, that remarkable generation went on to create film noir in its own image. Movies peopled with an unforgettable cast of slick grifters, seen-it-all survivors, racketeers, the opulent, the decent and the corrupt, whose moral compass – when they bring one along – is all their own work, men and women both. All photographed in shadows and camera-angles that still make magic, and dresses that can be to die for. And yet. What about those stoic silences?
I mean, can modern audiences still relate to them? You’d have to ask. But I really do hope so. Because in my adored films noirs, that self-contained cool is a quality those survivors always kept in their locker; one indispensable part of the thrilling, subversive whole. Insolence, of course, is always on hand. Also pragmatic, resilient and smart. Even that certain hardboiled uprightness, when absolutely necessary. All the above are the natural elements of classic film noir, where you’ll find them written, directed, played and caught on camera with complete conviction. How else? They were qualities lived and learned the hard way, over three spectacularly daunting decades.
About the Author
Janet Roger is an historical fiction author, writing literary crime. She trained in archaeology, history and Eng. Lit. and has a special interest in the early Cold War.
Janet Roger’s Shamus Dust: Hard Winter, Cold War, Cool Murder is a Chandleresque private-eye fiction, set in 1947 post-war London. Published in 2019 it won the Beverly Hills Book Award for Crime Fiction, was made Book of the Year by Fully Booked, and listed in NB Magazine’s Top Ten. She is a contributor to The Rap Sheet, CrimeReads, Suspense Magazine and to Mystery Readers Journal. Shamus Dust has garnered very many five-star reviews, from some of the best-read magazines and award-winning writers in crime fiction. Check out her recent interviews with Deborah Kalb, In Reference to Murder, NB Magazine, Women Writers, Women’s Books – among others.
You can find her on:
‘Let’s go sit and hate a bunch of people.’
Among the pantheon of terrific women in noir, Gloria Beatty manages to stand out. Debbie Downer got nothing on her. From the first page of the novel we know her fate: Robert Syverten remembers shooting her on the pier as his sentence is read out in court. The book moves back and forth in time but Gloria’s doomed hateful spite never relents.
McCoy’s novel was published in 1935 in the depths of the Great Depression. The two of them have both drifted to California to get in the pictures: Gloria as an actor, Robert as a director. While there’s something almost child-like about Robert’s obsession with the movies, Gloria sees the industry as an avenue to power – and one from which she has been unjustly barred. They meet by accident but strike up a conversation.
Gloria’s quick summary of her past includes being orphaned, preyed upon by her uncle, disparaged by her aunt, shacking up with a Syrian who chewed tobacco all the time, and then taking rat poison, but not enough. Movie magazines in the hospital convinced her the good life awaited in Hollywood.
Discouraged with their lack of success the two enter a dance marathon. These brutal contests were the pre-cursors to modern reality television. In the film version, Gig Young’s ruthless MC sums it up, ‘‘They just want to see a little misery out there so they can feel a little better maybe. They’re entitled to that.’ Of course it’s his job to goose up the narratives: mere human suffering isn’t enough. The audience needs to know who to root for.
If their stories weren’t good enough, they’re happy to invent some., including trying to bribe contestants into getting married. The goal of winning seems impossibly far away, so the dancers focus on trying to win sponsorships. That proves difficult for Robert and Gloria as she’s never met a person she didn’t talk down. She comes to blows with James, the partner of the young pregnant woman, Ruby, for trying to persuade her to have an abortion. ‘What’s the sense of having a baby unless you got dough enough to take care of it?’
The floor judge, Rollo, tells Robert, ‘Try to keep Gloria piped down,’ but the truth is as he says, ‘That’s a hard job.’ Tensions get higher for everyone as the show runners amp up the drama. People drop from exhaustion, falling to the floor without warning. ‘Customers at a marathon do not have to be prepared for their excitement. When anything happens they get excited all at once. In that respect a marathon dance is like a bullfight.’ More and more and more,’ Gloria mutters, ‘I wish I were dead.’
‘Isn’t there something I can talk about that won’t remind you that you wish you were dead?’ I asked.
‘No,’ she said.
It’s not enough to have them dancing all but ten minutes out of every two hours. First they have sprints, then it’s the derby. They paint an oval on the floor and make the partners run against each other. The slowest get eliminated. After the notorious arrest, the crowd watching has been swelled by celebrities. Movie star Ruby Keeler fires the first starting gun. If one of the pair falls, the other has to make two laps on their own to count as one.
The dancers grimly fight and the crowd bays for blood. One bright spot for Robert is the elderly woman Mrs Layden, who takes a shine to him and helps get a sponsor for the pair. In the end even she warns him against Gloria’s black downward spiral, though we know it will be too late. ‘Gloria’s not the right kind of girl for you.’
Moral guardians show up to protest, thugs join the celebrities, and charleyhorses, trauma and just plain exhaustion continue to take their toll as the novel grinds to its grim conclusion. ‘This was one day Gloria had no reason to be morbid, but she was more morbid than ever.’ When someone winds up dead, she mutters, ‘I wish it was me.’
Though the novel is more bleak than the 1969 film, it’s not by much. They use the tag line, ‘People are the ultimate spectacle’ which retains a chilling truth. The screenplay by James Poe and Robert E. Thompson lifts a lot of the original dialogue directly from the book. Sydney Pollack directed a fantastic cast most in one big set, some of whom were really playing against type, especially Red Buttons and Gig Young as the ruthless MC. Bruce Dern and Bonnie Bedelia shine as the young pregnant couple and Susannah York has an ethereal fragility. There’s even bonus Michael Conrad and Al Lewis!
Michael Sarrazin captures the dreamy Robert very well. There’s a scene in the novel where he’s spellbound by the touch of a sunbeam that would seem impossible to capture but it’s perfect.
Of course the real star is Jane Fonda as Gloria. On the heels of Barbarella no one could have predicted a bigger transformation. She nails it from the get-go. Supposedly then-husband Roger Vadim talked her into it because he thought it really nailed existentialism. She becomes the dark, hopeless void of existence in the film. Not whining or carping, but embodying the bleak lack of hope that she voices in the novel: ‘I’d be better off dead and so would everybody else. I ruin everything I get around. You said so yourself.’
If you’re in the mood for bleak, this will suit.