Just some splendid stills from thrillers (mostly) of the 1940s and 1950s, reproduced from ‘Film Noir’ (Alain Silver, James Ursini, Paul Duncan: Taschen). I love Film Noir. ‘Gilda’ is one of the best and most noirish. Above is Rita Hayworth doing a passive-aggressive musical number/striptease in a club to get back at her boyfriend and her ex-boyfriend for their machinations with each other and with her. As you do.
It’s clear that Carmen Sternwood (Martha Vickers) is meant to be understood as a junkie– she’s seen here so totally off her knockers she doesn’t realise that Arthur Gwynne Geiger is dead at her feet– but despite reading the book and seeing the film repeatedly, to this day I have no idea what on earth she might be getting up to in the “compromising photographs” that could be so bad it eventually leads a number of people to death or ruin. I feel less bad about this fact knowing that the cast and crew (and Raymond Chandler, who wrote the thing) were famously confused. During production the director Howard Hawks asked Chandler why a certain character was murdered and Chandler answered that he was damned if he knew. Hawks also later said of ‘The Big Sleep’:
“The plot didn’t matter at all. All we were trying to do was make every scene entertain. I can’t follow the story. I saw some of it on TV the other night and I’d listen to some of the things he [note: Humphrey Bogart as the private detective Philip Marlowe] would talk about and it had me thoroughly confused.”
The mysterious glowing container from ‘Kiss Me Deadly’ is even semi-jokingly called “the great whatsit” by a character in the film, another example of plot being subordinate to the poetic, existential fatalism and archetypes of Film Noir. Having said that, I highly recommend David Thompson’s intriguing novel ‘Suspects’ to Noir fans. Thompson attempts to fit many of the films and characters mentioned here (plus other Noir classics like ‘Sunset Boulevard’ and neo-Noir such as ‘Chinatown’) into the same coherent timeline and narrative, drawing out the possible relationships between the characters, their histories and their fates beyond the films.