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TitleFilm Noir and the Cinema of Paranoia
ISBN 139780748630318
CategoryArts - Film
File Size1.3 MB
Total Pages209
Document Text Contents
Page 1






‘In Film Noir and the Cinema of Paranoia, Dixon displays a true cinephile’s
fascination with the gunslingers and femmes fatales of film noir, and
the dark, uneasy world they inhabit. Wide-ranging and packed with
compelling detail, this work will be an invaluable addition to the
bookshelves of fans, academics and completists alike.’
Mikita Brottman, Maryland Institute College of Art, author of The
Solitary Vice

‘Wheeler Winston Dixon is the intrepid sleuth of cinema studies, tracking
down film noir in places where most of us never thought to look, seeing
through the aliases and disguises – horror noir, western noir, musical noir,
and more – that have kept its infinite variety in the shadows until now.
His timely, spirited book is a boon for film scholars, general readers, and
movie buffs alike.’
David Sterritt, Columbia University

Film Noir and the Cinema of Paranoia is an overview of twentieth- and
twenty-first-century noir and fatalist film practice from 1945 onwards.
The book demonstrates the ways in which American cinema has
inculcated a climate of fear in our daily lives, as reinforced by television
in the 1950s, and later by videocassettes, the web, and the Internet, to
create the present hypersurveillant atmosphere in which no one can
avoid the barrage of images that continually assault our senses. The book
begins with the return of American soldiers from World War II, ‘liberated’
from war in the Pacific by the newly created atomic bomb. ‘The Bomb’
will come to rule American consciousness through much of the 1950s
and 1960s and then, in a newer, more small-scale way, become a fixture
of terrorist hardware in the post-paranoid era of the twenty-first century.
Film Noir and the Cinema of Paranoia is constructed in six chapters, each
highlighting a particular ‘raising of the cinematic stakes’ in the creation of
a completely immersible universe of images.

Wheeler Winston Dixon is the James Ryan Endowed Professor of Film
Studies, Professor of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln and,
with Gwendolyn Audrey Foster, Editor-in-Chief of the Quarterly Review of
Film and Video.

ISBN: 978 0 7486 2400 3
Edinburgh University Press
22 George Square,
Edinburgh, EH8 9LF

Cover Design: Barrie Tullett
Cover Image: Diana Dors in J. Lee Thompson’s Yield to the Night (1956)
Collection of the author



Page 2

Film Noir and the Cinema of Paranoia

Page 104

Naturally, Harry is nothing of the sort, and soon the ‘games’ start up
again, with even more violent and despairing consequences, until Tom,
Dick, and Harry finally vanish from the penthouse forever, having com-
pletely destroyed any sense of safety and/or security Bruce and Barbara
may once have had. There’s no real explanation for their actions; they
simply destroy people’s lives, and then move on. It’s what they do. And
they’ll be back again, to visit another penthouse, and terrorize more ‘inno-
cent’ and defenseless victims . . . perhaps even you.

The film has a total of five characters, and was shot by Collinson when
he was just twenty-eight years old, on a single set, for a budget of roughly
$100,000, in a brief three-week shoot. The cinematography by veteran
Arthur Lavis seeks out as many unsettling angles as possible, and the cool
color scheme of the vacant flat foregrounds the characters in the sordid
drama in sharp relief. While the film was a solid commercial success when
first released, most critics despised it as a gratuitous exercise in sadism and
violence, although it now looks tame by twenty-first-century standards. Yet
Roger Ebert, writing in the Chicago Sun Times, got the point of the film

Ebert described The Penthouse as a ‘pretty good shocker . . . successful
ones are rare. It’s a relief to find one that’s made with skill and a certain
amount of intelligence.’ He continued, ‘this isn’t an evil movie, and it’s not
an example of the pornography of violence . . . When I interviewed
[Collinson] a couple of months ago, he said he was trying, purely and
simply, to tell an exciting story. He did not believe in “message” movies, he
said.’ Perhaps, and yet The Penthouse stands out as a prescient thriller with
a disquieting message, whether Collinson intended it or not (and I very
much think he did). The home is no longer a place of safety, but rather a
zone where ‘push in’ robbers can rape and pillage with impunity.

Explaining their motivations to Barbara and Bruce, Tom delivers a long,
hypnotic monologue, likening the psychotic pair to miniature, pet alliga-
tors (a brief fad, believe it or not, during the period) that have been flushed
into London’s vast, dark sewage system when their owners can no longer
control them. Stuck in the sewers, these alligators never see light, grow to
enormous proportions, become blind and albino from lack of sun, and only
occasionally emerge to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting city dweller who
chances to cross their paths. ‘We’re like those poor little tiny alligators,’
Tom tells the imprisoned couple. ‘We didn’t want to be flushed into the
sewers, but we were. And we can’t help it if we’re alligators.’

And yet social rupture was happening at all class levels. Sidney J. Furie’s
long forgotten The Leather Boys (1964) chronicles the outlaw lifestyle of a
group of bikers who operate at the margins of society, with little education

the flip s ide of the 1960s 93

Page 105

or hope for the future. They live for the moment, and are only dimly con-
scious of what may lie over the horizon. Reggie (Colin Campbell) and Dot
(Rita Tushingham) fall in love, or so they think, on a ‘run’ with their fellow
gang members, while Pete (Dudley Sutton), a closeted gay biker, hovers in
the background. Rapidly married, Reggie and Dot find that they have little
in common; Dot spends her money on hairdressers, chips, and pop maga-
zines, while Reggie prefers to work on his bike.

Pete, enamored of Reggie, waits for an opportunity to declare his
passion, while Reggie, completely in the dark about Pete’s sexuality,
watches his marriage to Dot collapse. Shot on location at grimy cafes and
garages, including the Ace Cafe, a popular biker hangout on the North
Circular Road in London, Furie’s film uses black and white CinemaScope
to create an atmosphere of desperation and longing – all of the film’s pro-
tagonists are in a rush to get away, but where? A bike race to Edinburgh
and back is beautifully staged, as the bikers take over the road in an act of
social defiance, but at the race’s end, Reggie and his mates are back
right where they started from, in a working-class world, with no hope of

The film’s final moments are heartbreaking; Pete convinces Reggie to go
away with him, and leave London behind, but at the last minute, Reggie
finally realizes that Pete is in love with him, when Pete arranges a meeting
in a gay bar. Shocked and surprised, Reggie backs out of their planned
‘escape,’ and goes back to Dot; it is the only life he knows, no matter how
dissatisfying it may be. As with all noirs, there is no escape for the protag-
onists of The Leather Boys; for all their energy and movement, they are
essentially going nowhere, stuck in an endless cycle of flight and inevitable
return, repeating the same patterns day after day, their dream of freedom
a momentary illusion.

Perhaps the most nihilist film of the 1960s British new wave is
Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup, centering on a narcissistic fashion pho-
tographer, Thomas (David Hemmings), who accidentally photographs a
murder in progress while shooting snapshots one afternoon in a London
park. As with most of Antonioni’s films, Blowup is an essay in loneliness,
isolation, and emptiness; Thomas is at the top of his profession, but takes
little joy in his work, and spends his free time buying worthless knick-
knacks at antique shops – an enormous airplane propeller, in one case –
while pursuing an empty lifestyle of casual sex, drinking, and drug use,
with a group of disposable ‘friends.’

Jane (Vanessa Redgrave), complicit in the murders, visits Thomas and
tries to get the photos from him, offering sex in exchange for their return.
When Thomas realizes what he has actually ‘seen’ through the lens of his

94 film noir and the cinema of paranoia

Page 208

Strange Days, 146
Strange Illusion (a k a Out of the Night), 38–9
The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, 19, 39
Stranger on the Third Floor, 9
Street of Chance, 30
Strock, Herbert L., 86
Strong, Michael, 120
Stuart, Randy, 68
studios, 5, 14, 16, 26, 27, 56, 63, 82
stylization, 152
suburban life, 71, 90
suicide, 149
A Summer Place, 90
The Sum of All Fears, 159, 167
Sunset Strip curfew riots (1966), 104
supernatural noir, 63
surveillance, 160, 163, 165–6, 167
Survivor [television series], 154
Sutherland, Kiefer, 149
Sutton, Dudley, 94
Swamp Water, 46
The Swan [television program], 154
‘Swinging London,’ 91
‘syndicate’ films, 76

Taba, Richard, 81
The Tall T, 65
Tamblyn, Russ, 98
Targets, 124–8, 125
Tarkington, Booth, 45
Taxi Driver, 131–2
Taylor, Jackie, 98
Taylor, Kent, 98
Technicolor, 48, 51, 79
technology, 163–7
teenagers, 86–9, 147
teen noir, 86–9, 130
television, 27, 30, 35, 59–63, 86, 153–5, 161
television shows, 149, 168; see also by name
The Terror, 124
terrorism, 157, 158–9, 162–7, 168
Terry, Philip, 21
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 133
theatres, 158
They Live By Night, 22–3
They Won’t Believe Me, 32–3
Thief, 73, 74
The Thing From Another World (1951 and 1982),

This Land Is Mine, 46
Thom, Robert, 105
Thompson, Fred Dalton, 166
Thompson, Jim, 139–41

The Getaway, 129, 141
The Grifters, 139
A Hell of a Woman, 140
Now and On Earth, 140

Thompson, J. Lee, 58

thrillers, 45, 58, 59, 63, 75, 77, 93, 108, 115, 138,
146, 160

Tibbs, Casey, 69
Tierney, Gene, 25, 51, 51
Tierney, Lawrence, 20, 22, 40, 75
time-compression effects, 155
A Time for Dying, 69
Tippett, Phil, 147
Todd, Richard, 101, 102
To Hell and Back, 66
The Toolbox Murders (1978 and 2003), 134
Toomey, Regis, 39
Torture Garden, 113
‘torture porn,’ 147–8
Tourneur, Jacques, 19
tracking shots, 76, 95, 112, 113
Travis, Richard, 43
Trevor, Claire, 20, 38
Triumph of the Will, 147
Tully, Montgomery, 56, 63, 146
Tumbleweed, 67
Turner, Lana, 15, 16–17
Turner, Tim, 60
Tushingham, Rita, 91, 94, 109
Tuttle, Frank, 152
20th Century Fox, 11, 30, 46, 70
24 [television series], 149
Two Blondes and a Redhead, 101

UFA, 78
Ulmer, Edgar G., 12, 38
United Artists, 84
Universal, 46, 67, 74, 137
Universal International, 81
Universum Film AG (UFA), 78
unreality, 95
The Usual Suspects, 4, 144

Les Vampires, 30
van Cleef, Lee, 76
Vanishing Point, 121–4, 123
Varnel, Max, 56
Varsi, Diane, 105
vengeance, 64, 119, 133, 142
Verhoeven, Paul, 147
Vernon, John, 119
veterans, 31, 35, 66
V for Vendetta, 147
video games, 161–2, 164, 167
video recordings, 159, 160
video technology, 164–7
Vidor, Charles, 23, 37
violence, 3, 29, 30, 34, 39, 43, 65, 66, 75, 87–8,

89, 90, 92–3, 95, 98, 99, 104, 107, 109, 121,
126, 129–30, 133, 137, 142, 144, 146, 147–
8, 156–7, 158, 167

The Virgin Spring, 133
Vitaphone technology, 158

 197

Page 209

voiceover, 145, 150
von Sternberg, Josef, 85

Wachowski, Larry and Andy, 4, 147, 157
Waggner, George, 85
Wald, Jerry, 70
Walkabout, 108
Walker, Helen, 30
Wallis, Hal, 48
Walsh, J. T., 138
Walsh, M. Emmet, 151
Walsh, Raoul, 65
Ward, Elizabeth, 33
war films, 150
Warner Bros., 38, 43, 44–5, 48, 85, 160
Warrick, Ruth, 41
The Warriors, 130
Watling, Deborah, 60
Watson, Bobby, 83
Wayne, John, 66, 84, 85
‘wealth management,’ 153
Weaving, Hugo, 147
Webb, Jack, 85
Webber, Robert, 115
The Wedding Banquet, 160
Weegee, 144
Wellman, William, 5, 6
Wells, H. G., The Invisible Man, 59
Westbound, 65
westerns, 27, 29, 64–9, 74
Westlake, Donald E., 141
Wexler, Haskell, 2
What Nancy Wanted (a k a The Locket), 53
Wheeler, Lyle, 52
While the City Sleeps, 78
The Whip Hand, 83
Whirlpool, 24, 25
White, E. B., Here Is New York, 157
Whitman, Charles, 126
Whitty, Dame May, 74
wide shots, 74
Wife Swap [television series], 154
Wilcox, Frank, 43
The Wild Angels, 97
Wilde, Cornel, 51, 55, 76
Wilde, Hagar, 41
Wilder, W. Lee, 26
Wild in the Streets, 105
The Wild One, 97
Will, David, 99

William, Warren, 25, 38
Williams, Ben Ames, Leave Her to Heaven, 52
Williams, Grant, 68
Williams, Rex, 43
Wilson, Carey, 16
Wilson, Charles, 44
Wilson, Colin, The Space Vampires, 133
Wilson, Jimmy, 57, 58
Winchester ’73, 64
Winningham, Mare, 146
Winston, Stan, 136
Winters, Shelley, 105
wipes, 108
Wise, Robert, 20
Witney, William, 29
Woman on the Beach, 4, 46, 47–8
women, 5, 6
women directors, 37
Wood, Sam, 4, 48, 50
Woods, James, 130
Woodthorpe, Peter, 116
Woodward, Joanne, 69
Woolrich, Cornell, 30

‘Cocaine’ [short story], 40
wordless films, 73
work ethic, 115
World War II, 1, 31, 41
Wright, T. C., 50
Wright, Tony, 63
writers see musical scores; novels; screenplays;

and by name
Wyler, Richard, 56, 57
Wymark, Patrick, 95
Wynn, Keenan, 120

X-Men: The Last Stand, 157

Yeaworth, Irvin S., 71
Yield to the Night, 58–9
Yordan, Philip, 71, 76
York, Michael, 117
Young, Robert, 32
youth culture, 101
Yulin, Harris, 130
Yuzna, Brian, 144

Zeisler, Alfred, 25, 26
Zimmer, Laurie, 135
Zimmerman, Peter, 165
Zugsmith, Albert, 85

198       

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