Finished Twilight’s Last Gleaming, and observing how often in this period Burt played in looser narratives that basically amount to ensemble pieces, and this whilst still being perceived as a box-office powerhouse and not because he needed to (as might be the case with Cattle Annie and Little Britches, say). And by this I don’t mean all-star pony shows like Judgment at Nuremberg or even Airport, but films like The Scalphunters, The Hallellujah Trail, Ulzana’s Raid. He’s a central character but he’s not the whole show like he was in Elmer Gantry or even The Train. These are more expansive more inclusive narratives. The other observation is how often they are direct commentaries on then current US politics, The Vietnam War (this one, Ulzana’s Raid), racism (The Scalphunters, Valdez is Coming) incipient fascism at the highest levels of government (Seven Days in May, Executive Action). It is a point of view of cinema as the US’s national theatre, there to spark a discussion of current ideas, though in Burt’s case to increasingly diminishing audiences. The other observations, on the film itself: a) has there been any other film with this much split-screen? b) The film believes that merely telling the truth and having it circulated is enough to create social change. Does anyone believe that now?
In a Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray, USA, 1950)
I’ve heard people don’t like film noir. Perhaps it’s the fervour of a fanatic for the genre that prevents me from understanding how that could possibly be. How could you not love a murderous Stanwyck in angora and anklet; Rita Hayworth throwing herself and the ‘putting the blame attitude’ right on men’s faces with wild abandon; or Linda Fiorentino checking out the goods in The Last Seduction; how could you not like the swooney romanticism behind Mitchum’s ‘Baby I Don’t Care’; or Burt Lancaster’s beautiful face encased in shadows, resigned to die because he once loved a woman?
In Shadow of a Doubt, Joseph Cotten says, ‘the world is hell. What does it matter what happens in it?’ before the film itself shows us how it does indeed matter. Film noirs are films about light, its uses and meanings, expressing through the various ways light obscures. In noirs, there’s a wonderful mixture of the sad resignation to existential realities indicated by the shadows and a will to burn through them and bring light – or at leas the kind of sensuous excitement that makes life livable – via sex, desire, romance, nightclubs, music – and burn through them fast, maybe to an early death. It’s a genre where representations usually forbidden could find a place (it’s where most gays figured in classical Hollywood outside of comedy).
Today my favourite is Nick Ray’s In a Lonely Place. ‘I was born when I met you; I died when you left me; for two weeks, I lived whilst you loved me’. Hadda Brooks singing ‘I Hand’t Anyone Til You’. Gloria Grahame, worldy-wise, delectable, possibly bisexual, and not quite ready to be killed yet. Humphrey Bogart as the innocent man who is nonetheless all too capable of killing and could all too easily have been guilty. And that apartment court-yard that symbolises the possibilities of meeting and the impossibility of finding a meaningful connection. It’s so beautiful