“People have funny things swimming around inside them.”
In the film Clash By Night Mae Doyle (Barbara Stanwyck) returns home after a ten-year absence to a small coastal fishing town in California. Her brother, Joe, doesn’t ask too many questions–he can tell that she’s down on her luck. Mae arrives with just a single suitcase and a large chip on her shoulder about life and men.
Joe’s boss, Jerry D’Amato, shows interest in Mae. Jerry is a very solid character. He owns a fishing boat, and he takes care of his demented father and irresponsible Uncle Vince. Mae marries Jerry–making it clear that she does not love him–but that the relationship offers her security. After a year of marriage and a baby, Mae, who has long been attracted to Jerry’s sleazy friend, Earl Pfeiffer (Robert Ryan), breaks out of her housewife routine and begins an affair with Earl.
Clash by Night is film noir, but it has soap opera tones too. The thing that prevents one from reaching for the nearest hankie is the performance of Barbara Stanwyck as hard-as-nails Mae Doyle D’Amato. Although her dilemma is clear–security vs. excitement, Stanwyck’s hard-edged speeches eliminate the need for tears. It’s difficult to feel sorry for her husband, Jerry. He’s a good, decent man, and obviously out-of-his depth with Mae, and he goes into the marriage knowing she doesn’t love him. Jerry is the sort of man other men like to make fun of–probably because they can never be as solid and reliable as he is. Jerry seems emasculated and this is largely due to Uncle Vince–an opportunist who blatantly uses Jerry.
Mae’s attraction to Earl–even though he’s exactly the sort of man she’s trying to avoid–adds interest to the plot. Also, Marilyn Monroe stars as Peggy, the tomboy sweetheart of Joe Doyle. She works in the cannery, and the cannery represents the sum total of the career opportunities in town. Peg sympathizes with Mae, and it’s curious to see a very young Monroe in the role of a tomboy and without that carefully developed blonde bombshell role.
Clash by Night is directed by Fritz Lang. It was filmed in Monterey, and fans of Barbara Stanwyck will find the film well worth watching for its strong characters and excellent acting.
“One way or another we all work for our vice.”
When criminal mastermind, the physically unprepossessing Doc (Sam Jaffe) is released from jail, he has a plan for a crime caper. Unfortunately Doc doesn’t have the necessary funds to fund the venture, so he approaches petty criminal and bookie Cobbie (Mark Lawrence) in his lair with the plan. Cobbie doesn’t have the capital either, so he suggests they approach lawyer Alonzo Emmerich (Louis Calhern) for the $50,000. Emmerich is eager to join in the deal. He has a number of problems of his own. He’s broke, has a bed-ridden bore of a wife, and a nubile young mistress (Marilyn Monroe).
The plan is to hire a hooligan, a driver and a box man for the robbery of a jeweler’s shop. So the plan is immediately two-tiered–one level is composed of the men who actually take the risks (and get the smaller share of the loot), and the second level is composed of the men with the money and the connections. The Asphalt Jungle represents the world as a rotten place with layers of criminality, with the weak preying on the weaker. A crooked policeman, Lt. Ditrich, regularly leans on Cobbie. In turn, Ditrich’s boss isn’t fussy about getting results and considers beating people up an acceptable means of behaviour. None of the characters represent any sort of moral core. They survive, and sometimes they help each other out, but The Asphalt Jungle is an ugly, cruel and corrupt place.
The Asphalt Jungle succeeds so well due to strong characterizations. Lawyer Emmerich is corrupt and ready to bail out into a new life in Mexico. His Achilles’ heel is the lovely and no doubt expensive Angela Phinlay (a very young Marilyn Monroe). Dix Handley (Sterling Hayden) is hired as the hooligan–he’s a farm boy whose nasty little gambling habit is his weakness. Dix does have some sort of code of behaviour, but it’s been corrupted along the way, and he’s almost lost touch with that side of himself. He dreams of making the one big score that will allow him to go home again. Doc may be brilliant, but even he has his little weaknesses. The Asphalt Jungle is one of the best crime caper films ever made, and I recommend it highly to all film noir fans. If you like film noir to be gritty and hard-boiled, then you really don’t want to miss this one. DVD extras include the trailer, an introduction to the film from director John Huston, and comments from cast member, James Whitmore.
“You’re a gal with a lot of variations.”
In Don’t Bother to Knock, when an affluent society couple staying in a large New York hotel mention to bellhop, Eddie (Elisha Cook Jr.) that they need a babysitter for their daughter, Bunny, he suggests his niece, Nell (Marilyn Monroe). Nell arrives at Room 809 and she looks neat, and clean, but there’s something about her distracted manner that should ring alarm bells for any parent. Unfortunately, Mr. And Mrs. Jones float off for the evening leaving Nell in charge of Bunny while they attend a dinner in one of the hotel’s dining rooms.
Lounge singer Lyn Leslie (Anne Bancroft) is performing her usual evening routine when her beau, airline pilot, Jeb Towers (Richard Widmark) arrives. Lyn has decided to break up with Jeb because he’s cold, and he doesn’t “have an understanding heart.” Frustrated and irritated, Jeb goes back upstairs to his hotel room. Once in his room, Jeb spots Nell across the way, and on an impulse, he decides to call her and invite himself over.
The role of Nell allows Marilyn Monroe to really show her talent as an actress. She’s just amazing in this role, and if you haven’t seen the film, watching Monroe’s facial expressions will give you new respect for her talents. Jeb imagines he’s hit the jackpot when he finds this beautiful, lonely woman. When he sets eyes on Nell, he tells her, “you might have been a droopy looking job,” and as far as he’s concerned, he’s there in a hotel room with a beautiful stranger to have a no-strings attached evening. Ironically, Jeb finds himself involved up to his neck. Loaded with great one-liners, the film grows increasingly tenser as Nell unravels before Jeb’s eyes. Marilyn Monroe fans will love this film, and Widmark fans will be also pleased with his performance. Widmark does an excellent job of playing the irritated lover who wants to step on the rebound into another romance, but instead he has a pivotal experience of his lifetime. From director Roy Ward Baker.