Comment permalink

'The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of . . .'

It was 1941 and the term Film Noir as applicable to film had yet to be coined but this dimly lit, visually deliberate, character study starring Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor as the definitive Private Eye/Femme Fatale duo, laid quite a blueprint for such things. So perfect was the pitch and so evocative it was of all things that would soon become Noir, that in 1955 while writing Panorama du Film Noir Américain, the seminal treatise of the sub-genre, that authors Raymond Borde and Etienne Chaumeton dubbed it the original Film Noir. This was not by any means the first adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's calculating detective novel, but as many have said, Noir is not to be looked upon as a genre per se, but as a style. And what style we see here. Humphrey Bogart is quite possibly the most cool-as-ice he has ever been as detective Sam Spade, which by all accounts is saying quite a bit. Drawn into a tangled web of secrets and lies by accomplices attempting to work both ends against the middle you get the undeniable suspicion that Sam Spade will be able to fend off anything that comes his way. He is cocky and shifty, even when he may not be in the know, and every conversation he has is like watching Han Solo taunt Greedo even as the gun is square in his chest. For all intents and purposes, Spade does not really care as to what outcome the clues may lead him, as long as his own tainted morality is satisfied, and as long as the money is right. For all intents and purposes, Sam Spade is Film Noir. First-time director John Huston adamantly planned every scene, every bit of dialogue quite deliberately and intentionally, sketching out the shot by shot details for every single scene. He was very serious about making sure that everything blended into the most perfect of compositions, dialogue and character and performance all harmonizing and complimenting each other in a carefully orchestrated dance. Director of Photography Arthur Edeson utilized strange and experimental camera angles to draw the characters and their actions into the audience's psyche. They would be photographed at times from nearly floor level so they towered in the frame seemingly more than human, or the camera would lock upon them so tight, so as to see every nuance, every emotion in their face. And best of all, to build tension they would utilize long, drawn out shots, letting the actions of the performers as clues to their intentions, rather than camera shots themselves, rewarding the repeat viewer with the obvious easter eggs if they know where to look for them. It is a fatalistic film, a cynical film, but what else would you expect? While everyone may get what is coming to them, we are left with a feeling that the bad deeds of evil persons cannot be stopped, just merely redirected, or at best contained.