According to cinematographer Lee Garmes, "I directed about 60-70 per cent of the picture; we'd start at 9:00 a.m. and some days Hecht [Ben Hecht] was there, some days MacArthur [Charles MacArthur]; they'd start working on the picture at eleven a.m.! So they relied on me. They set the style of how they wanted the dialogue done, and I would direct the whole physical side of it." See more »
A small film but wickedly clever, about illusion and ego.
It's simply directed by a duo of writers who financed themselves, Hecht and MacArthur. Hecht is actually a new introduction for me, but looking through his resume I realize I've seen several of his work (who hasn't?). He really could write, and this beats any of Hitchcock's stuff until Notorious which they wrote together.
If you decide to track this it must be for the weaving of notions, the mellifluous dialogue and clever beats merely icing the cake.
Okay so we have here a snooty intellectual, a lawyer, who looks down from his window on the dumb and deranged riffraff on the street that he now and then defends for amusement, for merely the intellectual challenge of outwitting the law. There's no consequence to it for him, it's all a big show; early in the film, he marvelously performs in front of a grand jury, acquitting a killer.
The film essentially begins when he accidentally kills a scorned girlfriend, setting off the divine farce. It's all so noirish from this point. Anticipating the case, our fool walks around setting alibis, doctoring clues, constructing the story he will present to an audience. Leaving her building, he feels that he may be watched from every window; paranoia creeps in. We watch all this unfold in real time.
This isn't some abstract notion at play, and what separates the truly great films is that they can take it up in its full significance. Namely, that we all carry this intellectual mind constantly trying to plan stories ahead of us, separating self from world. That most of the time we put it to destructive use and only obscure the true world where those things are one.
You'll notice in the film that his constructed story for all its mechanical cleverness is ultimately proved false, the world outwits him. That it was an equally constructed story that acquitted the first killer. That it creates for him, from nothing, so much useless drama and anxiety. And that had he been simply honest, to himself first, he would have been with the woman he loves.
Of course in the film, it's all so this intellectual who thinks himself better will find himself down here in the world of human passions, punished by the gods of noir.
What struck me the most however was the following bit. As he begins to plot his escape story, a hovering self (his 'legal mind') appears next to him, dictating the story. It isn't cinematic to see, because it creates an easy duality: real and not real, madness and sanity on clean sides.. But it is that illusory self separated from the world, and in the separation it plainly shows the human left behind, lapsing into hallucination.
Cornerstones of noir, and we have them here so clearly: hovering mind, fates and hallucination.
When noir proper would roll around, this hovering mind attempting manipulation becomes the elusive fabric of noir world, leaving behind the schmuck to lapse into hallucination. The scene near the end here where the girlfriend appears to him may as well be hallucinated.
Noir Meter: 3/4
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