Saturday, September 19, 2020

Movie Reviews: Clash By Night

Clash by Night
directed by Fritz Lang
A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26
This was one of the first movies in which Marilyn Monroe received top billing, although to be honest the camera was more interested in her beauty and physical attributes than in her acting. 
That said she did a decent job with her role and held her own with the other more experienced actors and actresses. This great film noir is something that could and should be remade, not because it was done poorly the first time but because like many great movies it has some timeless truths that ought to be revisited for the modern generation. 
On the other hand, although the basic realities about male and female behavior, needs and goals haven't really changed all that much since the 50s, what we think about them, how we react to them, and what we're allowed in polite society to say about them have drastically changed.
A director remaking this story today might feel entitled to or even be compelled to drape the story with feminist ideology or even change the dynamics of the story to a more simplistic good and evil morality play which would certainly ruin the film's entire point. People are mixes of good and evil. They always have been and always will be. And though it may appear otherwise at times, this mix is not related to someone's race, ethnicity, religion, sex, or sexual identity. 
Men and women often want slightly different things from each other but sometimes individuals of either gender don't know what the hell they want. In that case confusion and bitterness can occur. People can and do get hurt.
Mae Doyle (Barbara Stanwyck) is a California born woman who has spent the past decade or so being a "good time girl" on the East Coast. I think it was New York but it's not important. The film doesn't spell out EXACTLY what Mae did but the subtext is rather obvious. Mae's last "friend" just passed away and left her some money, but his wife and family successfully sued to get that money back. 
And now Mae is too old to play in that game any more. So she returns to her home town, a dumpy fishing village. Her brother Joe (Keith Andes) is not too happy to see her, both because he is judgmental about her life choices AND because he doesn't want her setting a bad example for his young girlfriend Peggy (Monroe).
One man who is happy to see her is Jerry D'Amato (Paul Douglas). Jerry is an older man who rarely has a bad word to say about anyone. Jerry is a nice guy, perhaps even a shy guy. Jerry thinks that all problems can be solved with love or hard work. Jerry's a fisherman. He's not super successful, super exciting, or super ambitious but he can offer security to the woman he loves. Against her better judgment, Mae marries Jerry and soon bears his child.
Jerry's best friend is the tall, intense, and direct film projectionist Earl Pfeiffer (Robert Ryan). Earl's marriage is breaking up. Earl has a low opinion of women in general and of Mae in particular. Cynical and bitter, it's an open question as to whether Earl is seeing things as they are or attempting to protect himself from ever being hurt romantically again. When someone accuses him of disliking women he responds, "Throw six women up to the ceiling. The one that stays up there is the one I like!"
Earl and Mae snipe, snarl, and sneer at each other. But they also seem to be spending more time together, especially once Earl's divorce is complete...
This movie's look is amazing. Even if the story is not your cup of tea, the constant mention of the rising temperatures, the crashing sea waves, the night skies, and the shadows all combine to give this movie a stark feeling of quiet desperation. Most of the characters have a lot going on under the surface. The men and women both speak in occasionally melodramatic tough guy/tough gal dialogue. There are no weak people here.
Ryan and Stanwyck were on opposite sides of the political spectrum. A former Marine, Ryan supported the ACLU, became a pacifist, stood against the House Un-American Activities Committee, and opposed racial discrimination in Hollywood. 
Stanwyck was a right-wing Republican who vociferously supported the House Un-American Activities Committee, was a fan of noted nutjob Ayn Rand, and seems to have held the belief that if she could overcome poverty then so could everyone else. Stanwyck was undergoing a divorce when she made this film. I don't know if Ryan's and Stanwyck's differing politics or life events informed their work in this film but they were dynamite together here. If you haven't seen it already be sure to check out Lang's Human Desire.
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