Felix E. Feist | The Man Who Cheated Himself
| Tomorrow Is Another Day | The Man Behind the Gun
Classic Film and Television Home Page
Felix E. Feist
Felix E. Feist started out doing comedy shorts. Then he graduated
to a few features. Finally, the bottom fell out of feature film
making for him, and he switched over to directing TV in the 1950's and 1960's.
He is a little known director today. I did not at
all enjoy his grim film noir about hitchhiking, The Devil Thumbs a Ride (1948).
The Man Who Cheated Himself
The Man Who Cheated Himself (1950) is a film noir.
The Man Who Cheated Himself has key features of the semi-documentary crime films of the era:
The above characteristics are documented in detail, for a wide variety of films,
at my Chart showing the History of the Semi-Documentary Detective Film.
- Protagonists belonging to some elite government institution: in this case the
San Francisco Police Department (S. F. P. D.).
- Technology used by the institution: in this case ballistics and police radio.
- A finale in a spectacular technical location: in this case Fort Point near the
Golden Gate Bridge.
However, the tone of The Man Who Cheated Himself is quite different from most semi-docs.
The semi-docs usually glorify their Government heroes. The Man Who Cheated Himself
has its lead policeman get corrupted, and try to cover up the crime.
And there are no sinister villains, unlike typical semi-docs.
Cobb's girlfriend is a rich woman, who has inherited money and doesn't work.
She is contrasted with Dall's wife, who works at a job.
This working woman is seen as more virtuous than the heiress.
An Inverted Mystery
The Man Who Cheated Himself is a standard kind of crime fiction, known as an
inverted mystery. In inverted mysteries, first we see the criminal commit the crime,
often covering up the events skillfully. Then we see the detective investigate and uncover the villain's scheme.
The format goes back at least to "The Case of Oscar Brodski" (1910) by R. Austin Freeman.
It is most famous in the TV series Columbo.
In The Man Who Cheated Himself the criminal is played by Lee J. Cobb, the detective by John Dall.
Dall's character differs from Columbo's. Unlike Columbo, Dall has no idea of the criminal's identity
until the end of the film. And therefore, he is not tormenting or taunting the criminal, the way Columbo does.
This is Dall's first case as a newly promoted homicide detective. His motive for his enthusiastic
pursuit of the case seems to be "making good" as a detective. And as a newly married man, he needs the extra pay.
Mystery writer Philip MacDonald contributed to the screenplay.
Such prose mystery novels by MacDonald as
The Rasp (1924) (Chapter 4) and The Link (1930) (last part of Chapter 8)
make a big deal about the corpse having been moved to a new location by the killer.
The good guy detectives eventually deduce this, from evidence.
Similar events happen in The Man Who Cheated Himself:
Dall is also interested in the timetable of the crime. Such timetables play a role in The Link.
- The corpse is also moved in The Man Who Cheated Himself.
- The film contains a clue that helps detective hero Dall figure out this fact: the blood stains in different directions.
The close-up of the ticket in The Man Who Cheated Himself anticipates the close-up of
the identity card in The Man Behind the Gun. Both are small items, that mix printed text
with a small addition that is handwritten.
Architecture in The Man Who Cheated Himself tends to be composed of repeated small modules:
There are also several windows made up of repeated small panes.
- The repeated booths at the Art Deco toll gate.
- The rows of repeated windows on the building with the fire escape ladder.
- The modules in Fort Point.
Modular architecture occurs in the films of directors Fritz Lang,
Edgar G. Ulmer, and Robert Mulligan.
See also the "repeated objects" in the films of Jacques Tourneur.
The outside entrance to the heroine's apartment looks like a small drawbridge.
Inside the apartment is entered through an upper level, and a staircase leading down to the main floor.
The husband's revolving closet is an unusual feature too.
John Dall's suit and the end and fancy topcoat are double-breasted, like those of a 1940's film noir hero.
They give him glamour.
So do his well-shined black leather shoes, which he puts up on his new desk at the start.
By contrast, the square-looking Lee J. Cobb is in single-breasted clothes.
This is a more working class look. It also aligns Cobb to the dull-looking 1950's men styles to come.
Tomorrow Is Another Day
The title Tomorrow Is Another Day (1951) always evokes a film
noir in which Scarlet O'Hara tracks down hired killers in the
back alleys of Atlanta. Unfortunately, no such film exists, although it might be fun...
Instead, the real film Tomorrow Is Another Day seems to have no connection
with Margaret Mitchell's Civil War novel, Gone With the Wind (1936).
Links to Stagecoach
The young hero of Tomorrow Is Another Day has just
been let out of prison after serving a long term for murder, a
murder he committed while in his teens. In this he resembles the
hero of John Ford's Stagecoach (1939),
the Ringo Kid. Both are young men who have had almost no real
experience of the adult world. Although they look grown-up physically,
neither has actually lived in society as a grown-up. Both are
underdeveloped people with little experience in the ways of the
world. Both are outsiders in the often corrupt society around them.
However, Tomorrow Is Another Day is a film noir that
takes place in modern times, while Stagecoach is a Western.
The Ringo Kid at least had plenty of ranching skills that would
help him survive in the society of his day, while the young hero
of Tomorrow Is Another Day is really lost at all levels.
A later Western TV episode has a similar premise:
The Evil That Men Do (Stuart Heisler, 1963), an episode of The Virginian TV series.
This is an outstanding work.
Tomorrow Is Another Day deals with an issue that has gained
in political prominence over the years. While still a child, the
hero killed his father, a man who physically abused both his wife
and children. Today there would be more sympathy for what this
kid did. In the 1950's, abuse was not seen as a political issue.
The young man is treated as a murderer, pure and simple. He is
sentenced to a long prison term, and when he gets out, his status
as an ex-con keeps him from getting a job. Tomorrow Is Another
Day does not explicitly make child abuse a political issue,
either. Yet it shows it as a major life experience for people,
at a time in the 1950's when the subject was rarely discussed in public.
Tomorrow Is Another Day also violates what many
people believe to be the norm of 1950's entertainment: that families
were always happy and untroubled in Hollywood film and television.
It is clearly a glaring counterexample to this idea.
Tomorrow Is Another Day features that staple of film noir, mirrors:
Such mirror shots help give Tomorrow Is Another Day a film noir feel.
- The warden has a mire behind his desk. The hero is seen exiting the warden's office in this mirror.
- The hero is seen in the rear-view mirror in a car.
- A mirror is in the hat shop window.
Tomorrow Is Another Day shows car culture:
The Man Who Cheated Himself is also full of shots of characters in their cars.
It shows a toll booth, where drivers have to stop and pay tolls.
- The hero experiments with high tech windows on a car, after his release from prison.
- A truck carrying numerous cars offers refuge to the hero. This enables some complex shots.
Links to The Man Who Cheated Himself
Tomorrow Is Another Day shares features with Feist's The Man Who Cheated Himself:
- Heroes entering the adult world. In The Man Who Cheated Himself,
Dall is getting married and starting his first case as a homicide detective.
- A woman who somewhat inadvertently kills a man, getting the hero in trouble.
- Dull looking offices for civic authorities: the warden here, the cops in The Man Who Cheated Himself.
- A watch tower at the prison recalls the fort in The Man Who Cheated Himself.
- A hero getting tailed by a tough man in a car.
- Deep focus shots through car windows.
The Man Behind the Gun
The Man Behind the Gun (1952) has one of the most complex
plots of any 1950's Western. In fact, the less you know about
the plot, the more enjoyable the film might be. One of its chief
pleasures is watching its endlessly complex plot unfold.
The film mixes the personal with the political: both the personal relationships
of the characters are important, as well as their connection to
the political drama in which they are caught.
The title The Man Behind the Gun has little relationship
to the movie. It is a generic Western title that could have been
slapped on any film.
Family Life: the Dark Side
The Man Behind the Gun shows skepticism about family life,
again. The relation of the heroine to her boyfriend is troubled,
as is the relationship between the Senator and his sister.
Los Angeles in the 1850's
The setting of The Man Behind the Gun is unusual: Los Angeles
in the 1850's. Los Angeles is already a well-developed city by
this time, but one drastically different from today's metropolis.
Most Westerns take place in a sort of never-never land. They
might describe themselves as being set in Dodge City or Cheyenne,
but little attempt is made to relate these places to the modern
cities of the same name. These cities are just abstract Western
towns, which could be given any name.
By contrast, the Los Angeles
of this movie is recognizably both similar to and different from
the city of today. The geography is the same, the all important
issue of water rights is the same.
But the city also has an entirely different look and feel from today's city.
The sets also do not look like the generic "Western town" sets of so many
movies. Instead, they have a Spanish feel, crossed with an Old
West look. They also look extremely prosperous and bustling. Many
Western towns in the movies have a "primitive" look;
but LA here looks sophisticated, even glamorous, and fairly well
developed and booming. This makes this film as much a historical
drama, as it is any sort of Western.