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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 »
This is simply directed by a duo of writers who financed themselves. Hecht was a new introduction for me but looking through his resume I realize I've seen several of his work (who hasn't?). He could really write, and this beats any of Hitchcock's stuff until Notorious which they wrote together.
This is a small film but wickedly clever, all about illusion and ego; indeed if you decide to track it down it must be for the weaving of these two notions.
We have a snooty intellectual, a lawyer, who looks down from his window on the dumb riffraff on the street that he now and then defends in court for amusement, for merely the intellectual challenge of outwitting the law. Justice doesn't play a part. It's all a big show; we see him early in court marvelously perform 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 where he will have to face a higher law. 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, master the narrative. 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 for all its mechanical cleverness his constructed story is ultimately proved false; the world itself outwits him. That it creates for him so much useless drama and anxiety out of nothing. And that had he been simply honest, to himself first, he would have been with the woman he loves.
Of course it all happens so this intellectual who thinks himself better, above others and law, 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 ghost 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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