No one ever smoked and brooded and loomed like Robert Mitchum. And he never did it as definitively as he does in Out of the Past, a stylish and devastating noir that was one of a hat-trick of perfect genre pieces directed by Jacques Tourneur in the s along with Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie.
Viewers not enamoured of the actor's somnambulant manner might take the latter title for a description of what it must be like to act alongside Mitchum. But that would be to miss the bitter, internalised hurt and wounded hope he brings to his performance here; just because he's still, that doesn't mean he's not suffering. 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.
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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: "She comes the closest.
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. And we do. 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: "How could I have known that murder can sometimes smell like honeysuckle?
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: she's a psychopath. 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: "I was a little frightened of it.
When she plumped for the former, he shot back: "Then take the part. 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: the rancid Mexican-American border; the way a good detective becomes a bad cop; and a provocation on interracial sexuality. 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: the city officials are corrupt, the night man Dennis Weaver needs a rest home, and the gang that come to the motel to get Susie are one of the first warnings of drugs in American movies. 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. David Thomson. 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: the blinding exteriors dazzle the eye and blur the judgment; shafts of light create a sinister atmosphere as they penetrate the dark interiors through venetian blinds.
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.
Philip French. 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. But the narrative's defiance of our comprehension is part of the film's sensational effect and its remarkable longevity: it means that scenes, characters, moments and quotable lines "She tried to sit on my lap while I was standing up" float up out of the mesmerising stew and into your consciousness like fragments of a dream.
The pay off for Abbott withholding so much from the reader was totally well deserved and made the climax of the book that much more intense. The characters.
Oh the characters. In many ways Elegy side steps dangerously close to a variety of taboo subjects. And then we get to the love triangle aspect of the book. It was both whimsical and well … more like literature at times, but it worked. Elegy is one of those rare books that just ticks all the right boxes. It really was astounding just how utterly perfect it was, and I can not thank Penguin Random House enough for bringing this book to my attention and for Jane Abbott telling this extremely poignant and beautiful tale.
Elegy seriously hits all the right notes and is paced perfectly. Before we start, I just want to say how breathtaking and stunning Elegy was. Thank you so much for your time, Jess, and for reading Elegy. In essence, Elegy is a story about love, not just romantic but in a larger sense. There is a word, fraternitas — brotherly love — which I believe is as much key to the book as any of the romance. The novel is magical realism because, while it draws on well-known myths and legends, and contains an element of fantasy, it remains a very contemporary novel, centering on five young characters whose lives become fatefully entwined when new-girl, Jenny, moves to town.
At least, that was my intention! Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration for and creative process behind Elegy? Was it the characters that first spoke to you or did the narrative come to you fully formed? The inspiration, like most ideas, sprang from a totally unrelated source. I was watching a teen drama with my then fifteen-year-old son, and I remarked how similar all love stories seem to be.
That germinated into the possibility of a single enduring love story, fated to be replayed over and over.
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After that, it was a case of working out who these characters were, not just in their present-day incarnations, but their origins too. Even their names never changed. The mysterious Michael took a little longer to figure out. Then it suddenly became clear. I think the characters very much shaped the story, rather than the other way around. The book is set in the fictional small rural town of Kincasey, Australia. Was it a deliberate choice to set this book in Australia despite the exotic appeal of mythology? Did you find it challenging to set the narrative here? It was very much a deliberate choice, for two reasons: first, why not set a novel that is steeped in ancient classical mythology in Australia?
It seems to work for the Americans. And second, I have a small property in country Victoria, so a lot of my inspiration for the setting came from there. Did anywhere you have visited or people you know find their way into its creation? It was huge fun. Much of the description of the landscape and the farm came from personal observations, but the town and its characters are entirely fictional.
Which made it easier, in many ways, because I could really let myself go, and make these people bigger than the setting itself, so they became caricatures of themselves. I do think country towns worldwide are all much the same, so it was just a matter of magnifying the best as well as the worst to create Kincasey and all its inhabitants. In recent years there has been a surge of mythology based books published.
What do you think it is that draws reader and authors alike to these stories time and time again? What is it that draws you in and fascinates you so much? Such a great question! I also studied Ancient History and Latin at school. I love the complexities of ancient religions, the attempts by people trying to make sense of their world. So all those years of fascination went into the writing of Elegy, although I do admit to the deliberate twisting of some stories! And perhaps, knowingly or not, others feel the same passion, which is why we keep returning — in literature and in films — to these tales.
So, so many! And if you could be any one of them, even for just a day, whom would you choose and why? Definitely, and huge spoiler alert here! Prometheus is my all time favourite, because he sacrificed so much for humankind, and was made to endure such a terrible punishment. It was his nobility, in the face of the rather petulant Olympians, which always struck a chord with me. I think in some ways, I was subconsciously trying to right or write the wrongs done to these two. But if I had to choose a single mythical character to be for just a day, it would be Heracles, who is embodied by Gabe in the book, because he was the ultimate hero — though also not without his flaws.
Elegy is a high stake book for a number of reasons. Not only are most of the characters in their teens dealing with everything that comes along with high school angst; but there are also a lot of serious issues and matters spotlighted: true love, family dynamics and matters, adultery, alcoholism, individuality vs. Were you conscious of all of these themes when writing, or did they slip into the story unnoticed? A bit of both, I think. Some of it was very much a conscious effort, especially the family dynamics of the Websters and the Lawsons, and also the relationships within the school, and the bullying.
These were either unconscious workings, or they came later, as a way to provide snippets of back story without clubbing the reader over the head with it. Was this a deliberate choice? And how did you jungle the timing of each crumb and every reveal? Was it a natural progression or something that snuck in with each draft revision?
I wrote the first draft of Elegy in eight weeks a lot of early mornings! In the original draft, the whole thing was in first person, five different voices, and it was a total nightmare.
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So that had to be changed. Definitely an evolution of ideas and scenes, some of which remained in the final draft while others were unceremoniously cut. Thanks for chatting with us here at The Never Ending Bookshelf. And thanks so much for asking such wonderful questions! What happens when fairytales get the romantic suspense treatment? A cross-genre mash-up with enchanting results! Physiotherapist Bella Tompkins just wants to do her job in order to pay off her debts.
A grumpy client is the least of her problems. In the land of Fantasia, Esmerelda — Fairy Godmother Enforcer — and Rumpelstiltskin are working frantically to make sure that their beastly charge gets his fairytale ending.
By Jennifer Robison
It should be a simple task, but nothing is ever as it seems on the Fairy Isle, where dark forces are rising, the consequences are dire, and Esmerelda has only an accident-prone fairy and an untrustworthy imp for help. With the stakes rising ever higher, can Gabe and Bella get it together to save both their happy ending and the world? It appears that Shannon Curtis has answered my prayers and turned her much loved fairytale novella, Enamoured , into a Once Upon A Crime series! Once again Esmerelda and Rumplestiltskin are back working together trying to keep their current fairytale on track.
But Rumplestilskin is hiding something from Esmerelda, and there are darker forces at play this time that might just cost them everything they are currently fighting for. What follows is a quirky and darker fairytale then the first novella, that will be sure to sweep you off your feet in next to no time. Not to mention leaving you reeling by the end of the book — I so wish it was longer! Although technically not their story, Esmerelda and Rumplestilksin do kind of steal the limelight in this narrative.
Please let there be more Shannon Curtis! August 16, August 13, 1 Comment. And the angel is getting impatient for results. April 28, 2 Comments. July 25, July 30, Leave a comment. April 18, April 16, 1 Comment. September 13, November 3, Leave a comment. Oh Elegy … where do I start? September 12, September 9, Leave a comment. And Lastly, what are you working on now? May 17, May 17, Leave a comment.