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Top 10 film noir | Film | The Guardian
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Retrieved 6 February Archived from the original on 16 August The New York Times: Is a satanic cult to blame for the murder of two Texas teens? Retrieved November 13, Retrieved November 14, Oh, and shooting him. It may not be any surprise that when Jeff catches up with the fugitive femme fatale, there is a crackle of attraction between them.
The seductive skill of the movie lies in its masterful evocation of that sensual, fatalistic bleakness crucial to noir. From Nicholas Musuraca's chiaroscuro cinematography "It was so dark on set, you didn't know who else was there half the time," said Greer to Roy Webb's plangent score and the guarded, electrifying performances, it's nothing short of a noir masterclass. But the sharpened splinters of dialogue also bear the mark of Cain — James M Cain, that is, the legendary author of noir landmarks The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity, who performed vital but uncredited rewrites.
According to Mitchum's biographer, Lee Server, it was Cain who expunged Kathie of any traces of lovability. To which Jeff shoots back: Cameron Crowe called Double Indemnity "flawless film-making". Woody Allen declared it "the greatest movie ever made". Even if you can't go along with that, there can be no disputing that it is the finest film noir of all time, though it was made in , before the term film noir was even coined.
Adapting James M Cain's novella about a straight-arrow insurance salesman tempted into murder by a duplicitous housewife, genre-hopping director Billy Wilder recruited Raymond Chandler as co-writer. Chandler, said Wilder, "was a mess, but he could write a beautiful sentence". Noir's visual style, which had its roots in German expressionism, was forged here, though Wilder insisted that he was going for a "newsreel" effect.
Fred MacMurray, who had specialised largely in comedy until that point, was an inspired choice to play the big dope Walter Neff, who narrates the sorry mess in flashback, and wonders: But the ace in the hole is Barbara Stanwyck as Phyllis Dietrichson, a vision of amorality in a "honey of an anklet" and a platinum wig. She can lower her sunglasses and make it look like the last word in predatory desire. And she's not just a vamp: There are few shots in cinema as bone-chilling as the closeup on Stanwyck's face as Neff dispatches Phyllis's husband in the back seat of a car.
Stanwyck had been reluctant to take the role, confessing: When she plumped for the former, he shot back: In the novel Badge of Evil by Whit Masterson — the source material for this movie — the hero is an American man who has been married to a Mexican woman for nine years. It was Orson Welles who flipped the racial mix, and made the marriage brand new. Welles intended a story of three frontiers: To be sure, it's a recognisable Charlton Heston in makeup as Mike Vargas, with Janet Leigh as Susie — but in , that bond disturbed a lot of viewers.
Moreover, the overtone of honeymoon is a wicked setup for threats of rape. Will the horrendous border scum get to Susie before Mike? If you doubt that suggestiveness, just notice how the car bomb explodes as the honeymooners are ready to enjoy their first kiss on US soil. This is a crime picture in which coitus interruptus has to be listed with all the other charges. Metaphorically and cinematically, it's a picture about crossing over — in one sumptuous camera setup we track the characters over the border.
That shot is famous, but it's no richer than the single setup in a cramped motel suite that proves how Hank Quinlan Welles himself plants dynamite on the man he intends to frame. These scenes were a way for Welles to say, "I'm as good as ever", but they are also crucial to the uneasiness that runs through the picture and the gloating panorama of an unwholesome society. The aura of crime has seeped into every cell of ordinary behaviour: Not least, of course, Quinlan — a sheriff gone to hell on candy bars. So evil is not just a "touch".
It is criminality in the blood. Marlene Dietrich's Tanya watches over this doom like a witch or prophet, a bleak reminder that there is no hope. Fifty years later, that border is still an open wound. The movie ends equally unforgettably with the line, "Forget it Jake, it's Chinatown! Behind the angst-ridden noirs of the 40s and 50s lie the social and political tensions of the second world war and the postwar decade. Similarly, Chinatown was conceived, written, produced and released in the troubled period that included the last years of the Vietnam war, Watergate, and Nixon's fraught second term in the White House.
But it retained its freshness, vitality and timelessness by being set so immaculately in an earlier period — Los Angeles in the long, hot summer of — and it deals with the scandals of that era, those touching on the complex politics of water in the arid west. While gathering divorce evidence on behalf of a suspicious wife, Gittes Nicholson is sucked into a world beyond his comprehension involving municipal corruption, sexual transgression and the power of old money.
He encounters the rich, ruthless capitalist Noah Cross John Huston and his estranged daughter, the beautiful Evelyn Mulwray Faye Dunaway , whose husband, head of the Los Angeles Water and Power Board, dies under mysterious circumstances. In his screenplay, Robert Towne develops two dominant metaphors; the first centres on water. During a period of drought someone is dumping water from local reservoirs, and it becomes clear that this most precious of human resources is being manipulated by land speculators in their own interests.
The name of Evelyn's husband, Hollis Mulwray, evokes William Mullholland, the Los Angeles engineer responsible in the 20s for the deals that, in the old western phrase, "made water flow uphill in search of the money". The name Noah Cross suggests the protective Old Testament patriarch played in the blockbuster The Bible by John Huston , but here reprised in a less benevolent mode as a self-righteous plutocrat who has harnessed the flood in his own interests.
The other metaphor is that of Chinatown, an inscrutable place that outsiders either stand back from or misread in a way that demonstrates the futility of good intentions. Jake worked in Chinatown during his days in the LAPD and, at the end of the picture, returns there in a bid for redemption that turns out to be an act of tragic pointlessness. He's in every scene, frequently with the camera just behind him. We see and experience everything from his point of view, with Polanski composing every frame, dictating each camera movement. The movie captures the city in a summer heatwave: Jerry Goldsmith's superb score uses strings and percussion during moments of suspense and a distant, and bluesy trumpet for elegiac, contemplative scenes.
Above all there is Nicholson's Gittes, a cocky, confident operator losing his social moorings and ending up as the proverbial drowning man reaching out for straws. The "big sleep" of the title is of course death, but the action in Howard Hawks's classic hardboiled thriller from , taken from the Raymond Chandler novel, often looks like the sleep of reason bringing forth monsters.
Only the fiercest concentration will keep you on top of the head-spinning plot, and in fact the plot reportedly defeated its stars and director while they were actually shooting, cutting, reshooting and arguing about it. An explanatory scene was removed and replaced with one showing the leads flirting in a restaurant.
Plot transparency was sacrificed in favour of the film's sexual mood music and making its female star, Lauren Bacall, every bit as compelling as she could be. The fact that Hawks moreover had to be relatively coy about the pornography and drugs makes the proceedings look even more occult and mysterious.
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But the narrative's defiance of our comprehension is part of the film's sensational effect and its remarkable longevity: The noir fused pulp detective fiction with the enigmatic form of German expressionism and The Big Sleep is an almost surrealist refinement of the noir genre. Bogart is Philip Marlowe, a private detective called in by an ageing sensualist when his pretty, tearaway daughter is being blackmailed.
Yet Marlowe is enamoured of her sister: She was 20 years old and Bogart, her husband, was 44 but looking older — unwell, and battling with a drinking problem. Nowadays, discussing the presence or absence of "chemistry" between stars has become a critical commonplace. Bogart and Bacall virtually invented the subject with their droll, laconic dialogue. There is a palpable charge in the air. Bacall ventilates the male atmosphere of the film, which is otherwise heavy, gloomy and dark: