Thursday, July 8, 2010

She's not worth it

Among those films noir which include a femme fatale, there are two broad categories. The ones for whom you would gladly go to the electric chair: Stanwyck in Double Indemnity, Kathleen Turner in Body Heat, Jane Greer as the woman in the white dress in Out of the Past. Then there's the ones who aren't: Ann Savage in Detour, Faith Domergue in Where Danger Lives, and Audrey Totter in Tension (1949).

She's greedy, faithless, manipulative and not very bright. But the great thing about manipulators, is they're often the easiest to manipulate, as demonstrated in this scene with detective Barry Sullivan. This has got to be one of the strangest interrogation techniques ever. Did we ever try this in Iraq?

Another remarkable aspect of this movie, especially as it originated at MGM is the normal human scale of the homes and furnishings. This is a recognizable post-war middle-class America, without the chintz and furbelows usually found in studio pictures of the 40s.

I suppose the strange thing about noir as a genre is that although the people creating the films did not know they were contributing to a genre, they are often reading from the same page in terms of design, light and overall mood. And once again, the film boasts the trope of the innocent man doing things a guilty man would do.

One last observation. Loews Theaters, the parent company of MGM, primarily owned large profitable downtown theaters. The postwar diaspora to the suburbs was more harmful to Loews than any other chain. Could this film's jaundiced view of the suburbs be influenced by the company's sympathy for the big city and its big theaters?

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