| Nick Carter, Master Detective | Phantom Raiders
| Cat People | I Walked with a Zombie
| Days of Glory | Experiment Perilous
| Canyon Passage | Out of the Past
| Berlin Express | Easy Living
| Stars in My Crown | The Flame and the Arrow
| Appointment in Honduras | Stranger on Horseback
| Wichita | Great Day in the Morning
| Night of the Demon | The Fearmakers
Short films: Harnessed Rhythm | The Grand Bounce
| The Boss Didn't Say Good Morning | The King Without a Crown
| The Man in the Barn | The Magic Alphabet
Television: Cool and Lam |
The Gunsmith | Break Out
| Night Call
Classic Film and Television Home Page (with many articles on directors)
| Television Western Articles
Jacques Tourneur is the son of pioneer French director Maurice Tourneur.
There is an excellent book length study of his work, Chris Fujiwara's
Jacques Tourneur, the Cinema of Nightfall (1998).
Common subjects in the films of Jacques Tourneur:
- Centers of American political power (Washington D.C. after Civil War: The Man in the Barn,
Panama Canal Zone: Phantom Raiders,
whites moving into Native American land: Canyon Passage,
American headquarters of occupied Germany in Frankfurt: Berlin Express,
center of cattle industry: Wichita,
slave vs free state: Great Day in the Morning, Washington D.C.: The Fearmakers,
California town and election for mayor: Cool and Lam)
- Symbolic locales of power (Paris during French Revolution: The King Without a Crown,
French Court: The Face Behind the Mask,
airplane factory: Nick Carter, Master Detective,
slave statue in courtyard: I Walked with a Zombie,
Brandenburg Gate: Berlin Express,
Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument: The Fearmakers)
- Evils of bombing (new war planes: Nick Carter, Master Detective, devastated Germany: Berlin Express,
Ban the Bomb, possible Soviet attack on Washington D.C.: The Fearmakers)
- Attempted coups against democracy, strongly condemned (Neo-Nazis: Berlin Express, Appointment in Honduras,
rich try to subvert rule of law: Stranger on Horseback,
rich men try to take over city: Wichita, Communists using modern publicity: The Fearmakers)
related (arbitrarily imprisoned Man in the Iron Mask helps lead to judge and jury trials: The Face Behind the Mask,
Lincoln assassination: The Man in the Barn)
- Divided countries (Germany after World War II: Berlin Express, US Civil War: Great Day in the Morning)
- Communities with new and unusual rules (airplane factory: Nick Carter, Master Detective,
island: I Walked with a Zombie, partisans: Days of Glory, occupied Germany: Berlin Express, town: Stars in My Crown,
town with mobs of cowboys: Wichita,
frontier town caught up in US Civil War: Great Day in the Morning)
- Hero flees across country (The Man in the Barn, Out of the Past, Appointment in Honduras,
finale: Stranger on Horseback,
finale: Great Day in the Morning, Nightfall) related (desert journey cross country: Timbuktu)
- Hero lives in someone else's home (hero moves in with new wife: Cat People,
heroine moves in with partisans: Days of Glory,
hero and heroine stay with Devine on trip: Canyon Passage,
hero stays in villain's mansion: Out of the Past,
hero takes over Burr's room: Great Day in the Morning,
hero rents room: The Fearmakers,
hero and heroine in emir's palace: Timbuktu)
- Tracking characters (Nick Carter, Master Detective, Out of the Past, Berlin Express,
villains track hero: Stranger on Horseback, Nightfall, following suspect: Cool and Lam)
- Country churches (Out of the Past, Stars in My Crown, Great Day in the Morning, Nightfall)
- Clergymen support social change, non-violently (minister against KKK: Stars in My Crown,
priest against war: Great Day in the Morning,
Moslem holy man wants peaceful transition from colonialism: Timbuktu)
related (Wyatt Earp tries to be non-lethal in cleaning up town: Wichita,
private eye hero non-violent in investigation: Cool and Lam)
- Sympathetic clergymen preaching in saloons (minister: Stars in My Crown, priest: Great Day in the Morning)
- Non-stereotyped black characters (waitress: Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie,
porter: Experiment Perilous,
jazz club: Out of the Past, football player: Easy Living,
Stars in My Crown, butler: Wichita)
- Non-stereotyped mute characters (Out of the Past, The Flame and the Arrow)
- Northern people in tropical countries (Phantom Raiders, The Magic Alphabet,
I Walked with a Zombie, Out of the Past, Appointment in Honduras, Timbuktu)
- Small towns under siege from sinister forces (Russian village occupied by Nazis: Days of Glory,
attack on rule of law: Canyon Passage,
gangsters: Out of the Past,
Lombardy town occupied by invaders: The Flame and the Arrow,
race hatred, KKK: Stars in My Crown, attack on law: Stranger on Horseback,
cowboy mobs: Wichita, Civil War, war mongering: Great Day in the Morning,
crooked gamblers try to destroy reform candidate: Cool and Lam)
- Russian soldiers (Days of Glory, Berlin Express)
- Upper middle class vs middle class conflicts (boss vs hero: The Boss Didn't Say Good Morning,
prince vs minister: The King Without a Crown,
Tom Conway vs Kent Smith: Cat People,
Tom Conway vs James Ellison: I Walked with a Zombie,
Zachary Scott vs Glenn Ford: Appointment in Honduras,
rich family vs banker: Stranger on Horseback,
rich men vs Joel McCrea: Wichita,
Robert Stack vs others: Great Day in the Morning,
Dana Andrews vs colleagues, kindergarten teacher: Night of the Demon,
Dana Andrews vs Dick Foran: The Fearmakers,
Don Burnett vs Keith Larsen: The Gunsmith,
doctor vs private eye hero: Cool and Lam)
- Women's labor (Madame Curie: Romance of Radium,
radio operator, switchboard: Phantom Raiders,
engineering shop, designer, pet store, waitress: Cat People,
nurse: I Walked with a Zombie,
women partisans: Days of Glory,
nurse, maid, governess: Experiment Perilous,
lunch room cook: Out of the Past,
secretary: Berlin Express,
women's low-paid work in athletics, coaches' wives, interior design: Easy Living,
minister's wife works in church: Stars in My Crown,
gunsmith: Stranger on Horseback,
woman manages saloon, accounting: Great Day in the Morning, fashion: Nightfall,
secretary: The Fearmakers,
detective, newspaperwoman, secretary, nightclub: Cool and Lam,
indentured servant: The Bound Women, housekeeper, phone company: Night Call)
- Hero changes career (engineer to saboteur: Days of Glory, private eye to gas station owner: Out of the Past,
WWII vs post-war jobs: Berlin Express,
football player to assistant coach: Easy Living, businessman to marshal: Wichita,
would-be engineer to smuggler: Timbuktu,
painter to ranger: The Gunsmith)
related (fear of job loss: The Boss Didn't Say Good Morning)
- Ruinous gambling (The Grand Bounce, Canyon Passage, roulette: Out of the Past,
hero not a gambling man: Wichita, Great Day in the Morning)
- Secret sources of money to bad guys (Northern money to Burr: Great Day in the Morning, Communist clients of polling firm: The Fearmakers)
- Alternate, primitive economic systems (number of minks in coat: The Grand Bounce,
bags of gold: Canyon Passage, people sell possessions on street: Berlin Express,
private eye fees, tax fraud: Out of the Past, coaching jobs offered: Easy Living,
church collections and visiting show, simple will: Stars in My Crown,
keeping all land transactions under $500 to avoid government scrutiny, political patronage: Stranger on Horseback,
mining claims traded: Great Day in the Morning,
cult members pay money to leader: Night of the Demon)
- Deceit over shipped items (diamond shipped by mail: The Jonker Diamond,
peacemaker sent to conference: Berlin Express,
rifles: Great Day in the Morning,
parchment passed inside documents: Night of the Demon, arms: Timbuktu)
related (shipping clerk hero: The Boss Didn't Say Good Morning)
- Ineffective, disorganized private eyes (Phantom Raiders, Out of the Past)
related (ineffective Union officers: Great Day in the Morning)
- Publicity and its dark side (The Leopard Man, Easy Living,
medicine show tries to bribe minister to promote it: Stars in My Crown)
- Trees (forest: Days of Glory, forest: Canyon Passage,
Out of the Past, forest: The Flame and the Arrow,
jungle: Appointment in Honduras, vegetation: Stranger on Horseback, forest: Great Day in the Morning,
Nightfall, forest: Night of the Demon, New York state forest: The Gunsmith)
- People walk through tall vegetation (sugar cane: I Walked with a Zombie, cattails: Days of Glory,
forest brush at end: Out of the Past) related (heroine sits among cattails by pool: The Flame and the Arrow)
- Mountains (The Rainbow Pass, plane landing at start: Nick Carter, Master Detective, Canyon Passage, Out of the Past,
mountain pass with fight: The Flame and the Arrow,
background: Stranger on Horseback, Great Day in the Morning, Nightfall)
- Flowing water (hero builds and destroys dam: Days of Glory, emptying aquariums, water pouring over train tracks: Experiment Perilous,
waterfalls, rain in water trough: Canyon Passage,
heroine and gentle stream, the Kid and rapids: Out of the Past,
stream and pool, wineskin squirting wine, fountain: The Flame and the Arrow,
pump and horse trough, shot bottle and glass squirting liquid: Stranger on Horseback,
mountain stream at start, waterfall at end: Great Day in the Morning,
bridge dams: Night of the Demon, Lake Champlain: The Gunsmith)
related (swimming pool: Cat People, fountain: The Leopard Man, beer vats: Berlin Express,
hero swimming in pond: Stranger on Horseback, fountain in palace: Timbuktu)
- Small bridges (train: Experiment Perilous, Stars in My Crown, Night of the Demon)
- Gates (leaving Paris: The King Without a Crown,
island fortress: The Face Behind the Mask,
airport: Nick Carter, Master Detective, estate: I Walked with a Zombie, villain's mansion: Out of the Past,
French government offices: Berlin Express, castle gate: The Flame and the Arrow,
villain's ranch: Stranger on Horseback,
Karswell's estate, British Museum: Night of the Demon,
city gate at end: Timbuktu, cemetery: Night Call)
- Murals inside (airplane murals in office: Nick Carter, Master Detective,
panther screen, ship designs on wall: Cat People,
elephant murals in saloon: Great Day in the Morning,
bus station murals: Nightfall) related (walls full of aquariums: Experiment Perilous)
- Elevated platform views of cities (Frankfurt: Berlin Express, Los Angeles: Nightfall)
- Locales that are both inside and outside (canopy outside Alice's apartment: Cat People,
courtyard, cantina porches: I Walked with a Zombie,
awning covered walkways of the sidewalk, entrance way to the cantina, theater lobby, covered porches, street cigar stand, balcony: Out of the Past,
train station: Berlin Express,
covered porches and walkways: Stars in My Crown,
tunnel-like arches in town, tunnel to ruins: The Flame and the Arrow,
porticos: Stranger on Horseback,
porticos on saloon, bank, buildings, construction sites: Wichita,
portico of saloon: Great Day in the Morning,
news stand: Nightfall,
Savoy Hotel portico, train station portico: Night of the Demon,
passageways in town: Timbuktu,
house porch and portico: Night Call)
- Areas in pits (basement swimming pool: Cat People, underground monastery: Days of Glory,
saloon: Canyon Passage,
SF backyard: Out of the Past,
beer vat: Berlin Express,
gold pit concealed by ashes: Great Day in the Morning,
fashion salon: Nightfall) related (tunnel from POW camp: Break Out)
- Outdoor staircases (SF backyard: Out of the Past, Montmartre: Berlin Express,
ramp in football stadium: Easy Living, ship deck: Appointment in Honduras,
fashion salon: Nightfall)
- Locker rooms (boxer after match: The Grand Bounce, factory: Nick Carter, Master Detective,
swimming pool: Cat People, pro football: Easy Living, bus station lockers: Nightfall)
- Swinging furniture (rocking chair: Great Day in the Morning)
- Vertical clouds (pillar of black smoke: Nick Carter, Master Detective,
tall clouds around demon: Night of the Demon)
- Paper passed among groups of people (bad check: The Grand Bounce,
invoice, letter: The Boss Didn't Say Good Morning,
abdication document: The King Without a Crown,
letter condemning prisoner, message scratched on silver plate: The Face Behind the Mask,
stolen blueprints: Nick Carter, Master Detective,
fortune cookie message: Phantom Raiders,
captured enemy documents: Days of Glory,
sister's diary: Experiment Perilous,
tax records: Out of the Past,
pigeon message, message on train: Berlin Express,
will: Stars in My Crown,
deeds to gold claims: Great Day in the Morning,
parchment with runes: Night of the Demon,
newspaper files, confession: Cool and Lam,
mail: Night Call)
- Burning paper or film (bad check burned at end: The Grand Bounce,
burned films: Nick Carter, Master Detective,
villain burns financial documents in fireplace: Out of the Past,
newspaper, parchment in fireplace: Night of the Demon)
related (burning fragments of explosion that fly over heroes: Days of Glory)
- Cut objects (diamond cutters: The Jonker Diamond,
airplane bolts, plane comes apart: Nick Carter, Master Detective,
money with knives thrown at it: Phantom Raiders,
torn sketch, robe, broken sword cane: Cat People,
brioche: I Walked with a Zombie, tree chopped down, log split to planks: Canyon Passage,
pin and doctor: Stars in My Crown,
long pole: The Flame and the Arrow,
sliced bags of rice at wedding: Wichita,
electrical pole broken in two: Night of the Demon,
tin cup split by tomahawk: The Gunsmith,
pitchfork with tine broken off: Break Out,
phone line: Night Call)
- Tossed items (towels: The Rainbow Pass,
silver plate with message: The Face Behind the Mask,
knives: Phantom Raiders,
sketches in zoo: Cat People, liquid thrown at soldier: Days of Glory,
fishing line: Out of the Past, football: Easy Living,
caps, rocks in pass: The Flame and the Arrow,
water thrown at judge: Stranger on Horseback,
ads, money in brawl, water thrown on wrestlers, rice after wedding: Wichita,
hero throws ink at bad guy: Cool and Lam,
tomahawk, bag: The Gunsmith, dirt thrown by hero at pursuers: Break Out)
- Code messages (wartime: Days of Glory, sign language, guarded phone conversation: Out of the Past,
pigeon message: Berlin Express,
book written in code, runes: Night of the Demon)
- Wind (in trees over bus stop: Cat People, wind in branches: Days of Glory,
nets blow on beach: Out of the Past,
wind passes will to boy: Stars in My Crown,
rising wind blows plants: Appointment in Honduras,
wind in grass: Great Day in the Morning, wind storm: Night of the Demon,
wind blows phone line in cemetery: Night Call)
- Women surrounded by designer dresses (heroine as fashion designer: Cat People,
woman painted in dress designed by husband: Experiment Perilous,
heroine and closet: Easy Living, dress shop: Great Day in the Morning, fashion salon: Nightfall,
heroine painted in fancy gown: The Gunsmith)
- Music in the streets (organ grinder: Cat People, ballad singer: I Walked with a Zombie,
Hoagy Carmichael singing: Canyon Passage,
medicine show: Stars in My Crown,
band at speech: Wichita, kids singing: Great Day in the Morning)
- Groups of non-professional people make music (partisans: Days of Glory, "Cherry Ripe" sung before seance: Night of the Demon)
- Villains use whips on people in public streets (Stars in My Crown, Great Day in the Morning)
related (heroine's riding crop: Stranger on Horseback, The Bound Women, Break Out)
- Men with brooms (zookeeper: Cat People, man sweeping sidewalk: Stranger on Horseback, Bat Masterson in print shop: Wichita)
- Magic shows for children (Stars in My Crown, Night of the Demon)
related (Hoagy Carmichael's card tricks: Canyon Passage, mind reading act: Berlin Express)
- Ruins (monastery: Days of Glory, hero's burned store: Canyon Passage, Germany after the war: Berlin Express,
Roman ruins: The Flame and the Arrow, Stonehenge: Night of the Demon)
- Statues (horse statue: Harnessed Rhythm, god: The Rainbow Pass,
King John, in restaurant window, in museum: Cat People, slave and arrows: I Walked with a Zombie,
studio, museum, statue in home: Experiment Perilous,
Apollo and lyre: The Flame and the Arrow,
Lincoln Memorial: The Fearmakers)
- Signs (The B Man, sign on gates, plant mottos: Nick Carter, Master Detective,
The B Man: Phantom Raiders,
anti-litter at zoo, restaurant: Cat People,
sign on truck with leopard: The Leopard Man,
sign on captured guerilla: Days of Glory,
garage, neon sign on stairs: Out of the Past, train cars: Berlin Express, poster of hero: Easy Living,
on medicine man's wagon: Stars in My Crown,
tavern sign painted on building: The Flame and the Arrow,
Bannerman's name on everything in town, animal signs: Stranger on Horseback,
"Everything Goes in Wichita" on city limit and banner, ban on guns, animal signs: Wichita,
town, saloons, protest banners: Great Day in the Morning, Savoy hotel: Night of the Demon,
office door of heroes, newspaper office, nightclub: Cool and Lam,
cemetery, headstone: Night Call)
- Symbols over doors (horseshoe put up over door of new cabin: Canyon Passage,
cross carved over palace door: The Flame and the Arrow)
- Newspaper stories (reporters and diamond: The Jonker Diamond, heroine as hero: Nick Carter, Master Detective,
article about heroine: Experiment Perilous, hero accused of crimes: Out of the Past,
reporters at start: Berlin Express, hero and football: Easy Living,
hero in town paper: Wichita, hero arrives at conference: Night of the Demon,
news articles used to research detective work: Cool and Lam)
related (radio news stories: The Grand Bounce)
- Narrated drama that requires imagination (Chinese theater: The Rainbow Pass, ballerina recreates ballet: Days of Glory)
related (King John: Cat People,
woman's death recounted: Experiment Perilous, hero's lying story about Kathie's departure: Out of the Past,
hero tells story of detective novel, Ball's fantasy of going to nightclub, old games, movies of hero: Easy Living,
Marshal describes villain's past, witness describe crime: Stranger on Horseback,
story about preacher: Wichita, heroine tells about her past: Night Call)
- Family meals (breakfast: The Boss Didn't Say Good Morning, The Magic Alphabet, I Walked with a Zombie,
Devine's family: Canyon Passage, Stars in My Crown)
- Women cook (wife serves breakfast: The Boss Didn't Say Good Morning, partisans: Days of Glory,
lunch counter, mother: Out of the Past, Jeff Donnell: Easy Living,
wife: Stars in My Crown,
heroine makes picnic food: Wichita, homemade ice cream: Night of the Demon,
housekeeper and food trays: Night Call)
- Making toast (Out of the Past, Easy Living) related (husband butters toast: The Boss Didn't Say Good Morning)
- Eggs (Easy Living, Great Day in the Morning, housekeeper bring eggs in bag: Night Call)
- Soup (talk about chicken gumbo: Cat People, Days of Glory, soup given by family: Stars in My Crown,
Great Day in the Morning)
- Sandwiches (lunch counter: Out of the Past, train: Berlin Express, Sonny Tufts makes sandwich: Easy Living,
hero wants a sandwich and milk: Night of the Demon, Bertha eats, wants Donald to eat to save money: Cool and Lam)
- Apples (basket of apples given to Native Americans: Canyon Passage,
apple used by doctor for illustration, wife uses apple-peeling machine: Stars in My Crown, hero eats apple: Stranger on Horseback)
- Grapes (in fruit bowl: The Face Behind the Mask,
painting of grapes outside tavern: The Flame and the Arrow, villain eats grapes: Stranger on Horseback)
- Desserts (at restaurant: Cat People, cake: Stars in My Crown, cake at dinner, pie at picnic: Wichita)
- A pro athlete and his girlfriends (boxer: The Grand Bounce, football player: Easy Living)
- Gang enforcers (the "pressure boys" collect debts: The Grand Bounce, Out of the Past)
- Characters with secrets or hidden lives (hero at start: Nick Carter, Master Detective,
family: I Walked with a Zombie, hero: Out of the Past,
agents, peace activist: Berlin Express, KKK members: Stars in My Crown,
hero: Appointment in Honduras, Union officers: Great Day in the Morning, hero, insurance investigator: Nightfall,
client using pseudonym, wife: Cool and Lam,
POWs hiding under pseudonyms: Break Out)
- Romantic triangles (Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie, Days of Glory, Experiment Perilous, Canyon Passage,
Out of the Past, Easy Living, The Flame and the Arrow, Anne of the Indies, Appointment in Honduras,
Stranger on Horseback, Great Day in the Morning, Nightfall, Timbuktu, The Gunsmith)
- W-patterns of romantic rivalries: see articles on films for details (Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie,
Days of Glory, Canyon Passage, Out of the Past, Easy Living, The Flame and the Arrow,
Great Day in the Morning)
- Sinister clowns (Berlin Express, Night of the Demon) related (hero disguised as clown: The Flame and the Arrow)
- Heroes adopting boys as sons (at end: Experiment Perilous,
the Kid: Out of the Past, Stars in My Crown, Great Day in the Morning)
heroes being kind to little boys (football player and young fans: Easy Living,
hero and Mexican boys: Stranger on Horseback) related (hero mentors 16-year-old partisan: Days of Glory)
- Fathers and sons (The Jonker Diamond, The Boss Didn't Say Good Morning,
French king and twin sons: The Face Behind the Mask,
Devine and boys: Canyon Passage, The Flame and the Arrow,
Mexican family, villains: Stranger on Horseback)
- Hero-worship (employee and boss: The Boss Didn't Say Good Morning, hero and peacemaker: Berlin Express,
Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp: Wichita, kid and hero: Great Day in the Morning,
Don Burnett and Keith Larson: The Gunsmith)
- Bland good guy rivals with official positions (Sheriff: Out of the Past, Army Captain: Great Day in the Morning)
- Rivals magnanimous to heroes at end (Out of the Past, Great Day in the Morning)
- Women who shoot guns (Russian sniper: Days of Glory, femme fatale: Out of the Past,
heroine: Stranger on Horseback) related (woman warrior in play: The Rainbow Pass)
- Opening airplane journeys (Nick Carter, Master Detective, Night of the Demon, The Fearmakers)
- Shipboard settings (The Man in the Barn, small boat: The Face Behind the Mask,
Nick Carter, Master Detective, Phantom Raiders,
I Walked with a Zombie, bad events: Experiment Perilous,
Anne of the Indies, Appointment in Honduras, canoe: The Gunsmith) related (ship builders: Cat People)
- Trains (opening: Experiment Perilous, blown up in war: Days of Glory,
Berlin Express, football team: Easy Living, Stars in My Crown, railroad comes to town: Wichita)
- Scientific advances with major consequences (radioactivity: Romance of Radium,
new airplanes: Nick Carter, Master Detective, vitamins: The Magic Alphabet, railroad comes to town: Wichita)
- Medical mysteries, and doctors confident about false ideas (The Man in the Barn, The Magic Alphabet,
I Walked with a Zombie, Stars in My Crown)
- Mysteries with scientific or technical aspects (mystery of sheep killing: Killer-Dog, mystery of phone calls: Night Call)
- Sick or injured characters (Killer-Dog, injured girl: The Grand Bounce,
man who was ill as child, ill Dauphin, aunt: The King Without a Crown,
The Man in the Barn,
blueprints hidden under bandages: Nick Carter, Master Detective,
The Magic Alphabet, I Walked with a Zombie,
Experiment Perilous, shot villain: Out of the Past, dizzy spells: Easy Living,
typhoid epidemic: Stars in My Crown,
hero at start: The Flame and the Arrow, malaria: Appointment in Honduras,
hero: Great Day in the Morning, beaten hero: Nightfall, catatonic patient: Night of the Demon,
attacks of weakness: The Fearmakers, injured POW: Break Out,
invalid: Night Call)
- X-Rays (Romance of Radium, Nick Carter, Master Detective)
- Health-giving substances (radium: Romance of Radium, vitamins: The Magic Alphabet,
herbs for apothecary: The Flame and the Arrow, quinine: Appointment in Honduras,
river water: Break Out.
heroine's pill bottle: Night Call)
- Nutrition (vitamins: The Magic Alphabet, agriculturalist working on food output: Berlin Express)
- Farmers (Killer-Dog, furrier: The Grand Bounce, bee keeper: Nick Carter, Master Detective, bee keeper: Phantom Raiders,
chickens: The Magic Alphabet,
sugar plantation, chickens: I Walked with a Zombie, fishing resort: Out of the Past, farm community: Stars in My Crown,
planter: Appointment in Honduras, cattle industry: Wichita, cannibal: Great Day in the Morning,
sinister farm family: Night of the Demon, salt transportation: Timbuktu)
- Mining (diamonds: The Jonker Diamond, gold: Canyon Passage, gold: Great Day in the Morning)
- Large machines, sometimes rhythmic (harness cart, horse: Harnessed Rhythm,
early armored ship: The Man in the Barn,
plane: Nick Carter, Master Detective,
radio, machines on ship: Phantom Raiders, revolving door, elevator: Cat People, trains, tanks: Days of Glory,
baskets in department store, fire engine at end: Experiment Perilous,
towing machine, nets: Out of the Past, train: Berlin Express,
boxing machine game: Easy Living,
fan, organ, apple-peeler, yarn holder: Stars in My Crown,
catapult, winch that raises gate: The Flame and the Arrow,
covered motor boat: Appointment in Honduras,
cook wagon, printing press: Wichita, snow plow, weight and fortune: Nightfall,
train at end, elevator, airport luggage conveyor belt: Night of the Demon)
- Suddenly arriving buses (Cat People, bus passes hero on highway: Out of the Past, opening: Nightfall)
related (train arrival contrasted with a horse and buggy: Stars in My Crown, sudden train at end: Night of the Demon)
- Mechanical toys (airplane: The Boss Didn't Say Good Morning, ball-in-the-hole: Nick Carter, Master Detective,
boxers: Easy Living) related (model ships: Cat People)
- Psychologists (Cat People, Experiment Perilous, Night of the Demon)
- Mathematics (plane data: Nick Carter, Master Detective, engineering calculations: Cat People,
troop strengths, sniper statistics: Days of Glory,
good dust weighed in balance: Canyon Passage,
cost of deeds: Stranger on Horseback,
problem on blackboard: Great Day in the Morning, polling statistics: The Fearmakers,
measuring tunnel: Break Out)
- People create images (newsreel camera, diamond cutting plans: The Jonker Diamond,
fogging photographic plates, motion picture photography: Romance of Radium,
blueprints, photography, image projection: Nick Carter, Master Detective,
draftsmen, woman artist: Cat People, gunsight: Days of Glory,
artist and portrait: Experiment Perilous,
photographer, movie projector: Easy Living,
man "draws a picture" with whip on wall: Stars in My Crown,
mute draws on ground: The Flame and the Arrow,
tracing paper: Appointment in Honduras,
shooting letter W on wall: Wichita,
marking up a map, using hand-compass: Great Day in the Morning, artist's desk: Nightfall,
art drawn by hypnotized mental patient: Night of the Demon,
Lieutenant draws map: Timbuktu,
portrait painter, mapmakers: The Gunsmith)
- Communication devices (telegraph: The Jonker Diamond,
radio news: The Grand Bounce,
radio remote control, ship radio, switchboard: Phantom Raiders,
radio use banned: Days of Glory,
telegraph office, police teletype tape: Out of the Past,
ship radio operator: Appointment in Honduras,
Western town without telegraph: Stranger on Horseback,
switchboard operator discussed: Cool and Lam,
strange phone call, switchboard: Night Call)
- Engineer heroes (inventor: Nick Carter, Master Detective, Cat People, Days of Glory,
hero planned to build salt pipeline: Timbuktu)
- Laboratories (physics: Romance of Radium, machine shop: Phantom Raiders, chemistry lab: Night of the Demon)
- Technology-based shops in historical films (blacksmith: The Flame and the Arrow,
gunsmith: Stranger on Horseback, printer, carpentry on new buildings: Wichita,
boat maintenance, gunsmith character: The Gunsmith)
- Gesturing with objects (hand compasses used: Nick Carter, Master Detective, waving T-square: Cat People,
enforcer and oil can: Out of the Past, villain and hand compass: The Flame and the Arrow,
Colonel and hand compass: Great Day in the Morning)
- Women and yarn (wife uses rotating yarn machine: Stars in My Crown,
secretary Elsie Brand knits: Cool and Lam)
Windows and Apertures:
- Animals escape human control (dog: Killer-Dog, horse: Harnessed Rhythm,
panther let out of cage: Cat People, leopard: The Leopard Man,
villain run over by horse-drawn wagons: Great Day in the Morning)
related (jungle animals attack people: Appointment in Honduras,
trained dogs attack POWs: Break Out)
- Sinister cats (Cat People, The Leopard Man,
imaginary tiger under bed: Experiment Perilous, jungle puma: Appointment in Honduras,
Night of the Demon) good cats (at Marshal's: Stranger on Horseback)
- Animal pictures and statues (horse statue: Harnessed Rhythm, villain's bird statuettes: Phantom Raiders,
cats in apartment, cart at zoo, restaurant window, model ship: Cat People,
horse statuettes on mantel: Experiment Perilous,
bird design on villain's tunic: The Flame and the Arrow, signs with buffalo, horse: Stranger on Horseback,
signs with horses, rooster, buffalo: Wichita,
elephants: Great Day in the Morning, medallion with animal carving: Timbuktu)
- Villains linked to animals (villain and birds: Phantom Raiders, cat-woman and panther: Cat People,
the Hawk and falcon: The Flame and the Arrow, Burr and elephants: Great Day in the Morning,
big henchman called gorilla: Cool and Lam)
- People dressed as animals (good guy rebel in bear suit: The Flame and the Arrow)
- Windows showing exterior world, often towns (view from office: Nick Carter, Master Detective,
pet store, restaurant: Cat People, train: Experiment Perilous,
lunch room: Out of the Past,
police headquarters and Paris, train windows: Berlin Express, Ball's office: Easy Living,
bar: Stars in My Crown, gunsmith, widow's home: Stranger on Horseback,
hotel windows overlooking street: Wichita, shot through phone booth: Night of the Demon)
- Apertures (viewing room over surgery: The Grand Bounce,
king enters in jewel-box mirror, funeral seen from window: The Face Behind the Mask,
staircase seen through locker room door: Cat People,
dressing rooms at start: The Leopard Man,
villain sees good guys at rapids through forest: Out of the Past,
camera movement past train windows: Berlin Express,
hero seen from across street through saloon doors: Stranger on Horseback,
forest view, cave: Great Day in the Morning,
through bus windows at start, stakeout and windows: Nightfall,
bar seen through booth opening: Cool and Lam)
- Rooms with glass walls (surgery observation room: The Grand Bounce,
office: The Boss Didn't Say Good Morning,
woman radio operator's office: Phantom Raiders, gas station: Out of the Past)
- Flat Wall Shots
- Corridor Shots
- Overhead shots (peasant in small boat: The Face Behind the Mask,
camera movement past fire truck: Experiment Perilous,
final acrobatics and fight: The Flame and the Arrow)
- Vertical line compositions (Out of the Past, Great Day in the Morning)
- Curved objects (mask: The Face Behind the Mask,
harp, couch: I Walked with a Zombie, horse stall: Timbuktu)
- Geometric worlds (Airport at start, airplane: Nick Carter, Master Detective,
swimming pool, engineering office: Cat People,
spiral staircase: Experiment Perilous,
Farben headquarters, brewery: Berlin Express,
boat at start: Appointment in Honduras,
newsstand and round street corner: Nightfall,
British Museum, suite at Savoy Hotel, bridge at Karswell's, Karswell interior: Night of the Demon,
geometric doors, lattices, floors in palace, tent interior, city gate and minaret: Timbuktu,
bed area, switchboard headset, cemetery: Night Call)
- Lamps used to create compositions (lamp over engineering desk: Cat People,
cantina: Out of the Past, saloon at riot: Wichita,
saloon battle: Great Day in the Morning,
British Museum: Night of the Demon,
lamp on bed table: Night Call)
- Repeated objects (typewriters: The Boss Didn't Say Good Morning,
hives, cars, doors in locker room: Nick Carter, Master Detective,
drafting tables, T-squares and file cabinets in engineering office, circular grillwork in lobbies,
cases in museum, chairs and lockers in locker room: Cat People,
aquariums, curtained booths in restaurant: Experiment Perilous,
lunch room chairs: Out of the Past,
train compartments, bunks in compartments, beer vats: Berlin Express,
football stadium windows and bleachers, practice equipment, secretary's files, train seats: Easy Living,
chairs in ship cabin: Appointment in Honduras,
wash bowls on trail: Wichita,
tables, booths, paintings, bottles, bar stools in restaurant, lockers in bus station: Nightfall,
chairs in British Museum: Night of the Demon,
file cabinets, medallions, executed men, spider cages: Timbuktu,
beds in POW dorm: Break Out)
- Pigeon holes as repeated objects (residence desk: Cat People, radio office in ship: Appointment in Honduras,
Marshal's office: Stranger on Horseback, newspaper office: Wichita)
related (slots in desk at home, office organizer: The Boss Didn't Say Good Morning,
newsstand with sections for papers: Nightfall)
Costumes and Color:
- White ground (white sand during plane landing: Nick Carter, Master Detective, snow-covered cattail marsh: Days of Glory,
snow: Experiment Perilous,
snow: Nightfall, light sand in desert: Timbuktu) related (red ground in desert: Stranger on Horseback)
- Red-and-green color schemes (Portland streets, Devine's house: Canyon Passage,
outdoor scenes: Stranger on Horseback, hero rides into Wichita, bank: Wichita,
Red British uniforms vs green Forest Ranger and vegetation: The Gunsmith)
- Red-and-blue color schemes (red light and blue light on ship's deck: Appointment in Honduras,
Marshal's office, hotel corridor, hero's room at hotel, dinner table and dishes: Stranger on Horseback)
- Neutral color schemes, often with men in brown, symbolizing repressed or controlled worlds (first part: The Flame and the Arrow,
jail cell: Stranger on Horseback,
second half after law comes to town: Wichita)
- White clothes (boxer robe light-colored with black trim: The Grand Bounce,
villain's white coat, doctor, nurse, bandages: Nick Carter, Master Detective,
tropical suits, Naval uniform: Phantom Raiders,
hospital staff at end: Experiment Perilous,
football practice uniforms, fur coat, nurse: Easy Living,
hero's bandages: The Flame and the Arrow,
tropical suit, explorer's outfit, uniforms: Appointment in Honduras, white shirt of judge: Stranger on Horseback,
white shirts of marshal and deputy: Wichita, bath robe: Night of the Demon, trenchcoat: The Fearmakers,
heroine's light clothes and light horse, nightgown, hero's shirt: Timbuktu,
villain's suit: Cool and Lam)
- Men in brilliantly colored clothes, expressing dynamism and action (minstrels at end: The Flame and the Arrow,
hero in blue shirt at end: Stranger on Horseback,
hero in red shirt: Wichita,
green Ranger uniforms: The Gunsmith)
- Men in green (hero's jacket: Canyon Passage, hero's green shirt, apothecary, dancing master: The Flame and the Arrow,
green Ranger uniforms: The Gunsmith)
- Purple dresses (heroine's mother in bank: Wichita, heroine gets picture painted: The Gunsmith)
- Trenchcoats (Kent Smith: Cat People, Dennis O'Keefe: The Leopard Man,
Out of the Past, hero: Easy Living, The Fearmakers)
- Pinstripe suits (hero: Nick Carter, Master Detective, Tom Conway: Cat People,
Dennis O'Keefe: The Leopard Man, black man in club: Out of the Past, Sonny Tufts: Easy Living)
- Leather jackets (ship Captain: Nick Carter, Master Detective, Petrov: Days of Glory,
men in small town, hero, rival: Out of the Past)
related (hero's leather cap and boots: Days of Glory, hero's buckskin coat and chaps: Wichita)
- Briefcases (inventor: Nick Carter, Master Detective, writing case: Experiment Perilous,
hero steals: Out of the Past, hero's: Night of the Demon)
- Mess jackets (waiters: The Leopard Man, waiters: Out of the Past, McGraw's uniform: Berlin Express,
barman: Easy Living, hero's bolero jacket: Great Day in the Morning, waiters at beginning: Nightfall)
- Masks (Iron Mask, masked rowers: The Face Behind the Mask,
Halloween masks, hero sleeps with newspaper photo over face: Night of the Demon)
- Heroes with shirts off (The Flame and the Arrow, hero, Lieutenant: Timbuktu, The Gunsmith,
hero: Break Out)
Nick Carter, Master Detective
Nick Carter, Master Detective (1939) is the first of three
low budget movies MGM made about the veteran sleuth, who appeared
in print since 1886. This one, and its sequel Phantom Raiders
(1940), were both directed by Tourneur; the final one, Sky
Murder (1940), by George B. Seitz. The two Tourneur films
are low budget, but sometimes rich in design. But they do offer new perspectives on some
of Tourneur's perennial themes.
Nick Carter, Master Detective takes place at an airplane
factory. Its high point is some documentary footage, apparently
of a real factory, that is incorporated into the film. I do not
know whether these shots are by Tourneur, or not. But Tourneur
was a prolific director of short documentaries during this period.
And a documentary aspect of a fiction film would perhaps occur
naturally to him. We see the experimental airplanes being built
from their blueprints. Tourneur loves large machines; this film
shows how such machines are created.
There is much talk about how the innovative airplanes there could
change the balance of power in the world. While such ideas are
the standard stock in trade of a million thrillers, they also
anticipate Tourneur's interest in stories about the balance and
nature of world power, such as Berlin Express and The
Fearmakers. Tourneur also made documentary shorts about scientific
discoveries that drastically alter the nature of the world, and
how people live: radioactivity in Romance of Radium, vitamins
in The Magic Alphabet. In all of these films, we are in
a drastically unstable world, one that is about to change in new
and unforeseen ways. For a director who is famed for a light and
delicate touch, he is willing to take on stories of drastic social
change not often seen on the screen.
Nick Carter, Master Detective, Berlin Express and
The Fearmakers also deal with the sinister military applications
of air power. Nick Carter, Master Detective shows the invention
of new war planes; Berlin Express depicts the horrific
results of aerial bombardment; The Fearmakers discusses
the possibility of aerial strikes against cities. These new scientific
horrors are never far from Tourneur's depiction of the 20th Century.
Nick Carter, Master Detective opens with an airplane ride.
It anticipates Night of the Demon and The Fearmakers,
both of which also open with their hero taking a journey by air.
In all of these films, the air journey brings the hero into an
irrational and sinister world, a world in which he is not wanted
by the strange characters who inhabit it. The airplane is signaled
to land by bad guys setting off a huge pillar of black smoke,
striking against the intense white desert of the scenes. This
anticipates the sinister, tall clouds which envelop the demon
in Night of the Demon.
Later, we meet another of Tourneur's doctors. The doctor makes
x-rays, which are shown on screen; they recall the early shot
of a key made in Romance of Radium (1937). The nurse is
also one of several nurse characters in Tourneur.
At one point, Carter tracks the bad guys' car by air plane; a
big white cross has been painted on the car's top, making it highly
visible. If memory serves, a similar gambit appeared in the comic
strip Radio Patrol, early the previous
year, 1938, in the episode "A Gem of a Frame-Up".
Bad guys try to steal the inventor's briefcase, which is full of data
about lab tests of his invention. The hero of Out of the Past
will steal a briefcase full of tax records. The attempt to obtain secret data
also anticipates The Fearmakers, and its secret index used for polling.
A Community: with New Rules
The factory is virtually an entire community. It recalls the town
in Stars in My Crown. The factory is both like and unlike
a conventional modern city, just like the bombed out German cities
in Berlin Express. These films take place in worlds somewhat
like ours, but also full of the unfamiliar. Places operating by
different rules: much of the exposition in both films explicitly
sets forth the new rules these communities live by. The island
in I Walked With a Zombie also operates by a whole series
of rules unfamiliar to us.
In addition to the new, unfamiliar rules, there is also a mystery
plot. Strange events are happening at the factory, and no one
knows how to interpret them, or explain their cause. A world that
is full of difficult to explain events is a Tourneur standard.
In other Tourneur films, this is often linked to medical mysteries:
The Magic Alphabet, I Walked With a Zombie, Stars
in My Crown. Even the term "mystery" is a bit too
clear cut for the events in this film. There is a diffuse sense
of perplexity, a sense that events at the factory are sinister
and hard to grasp. Even when light finally dawns at the end, a
pervasive sense of strangeness persists.
The inventor at the start mentions that he used to be considered crazy -
but now he is a big admired success. This expresses the Tourneur theme of
a universe, in which science moves and makes discoveries in unexpected ways.
Many scientific discoveries seem to come completely out of left field:
see The Magic Alphabet.
There is a "corridor shot" in the parking lot scene.
Tourneur shoots straight down a corridor between two rows of parked
cars. In the background, two more rows of cars are seen on a hill,
towards the top of the image. This makes three "corridors"
in all, in this shot.
The Airport: A Geometric World
The opening airport is one of Tourneur's geometric worlds. The dome
of a building is especially geometric and striking. The plane itself is full
of geometric patterns, both inside and outside. These include a zigzag design
on the plane's nosecone.
The airport has some of Tourneur's beloved gates. The film opens with a car
driving through them: anticipating the opening of Night of the Demon.
The first plane landing takes place in an area covered by white sand.
It makes for a visually startling background. People and objects really stand out over it.
Later, in Days of Glory, the cattail marsh will be covered in snow, making
all the plants stick out against the white ground.
The film is full of Tourneur's white clothes. The villain is always conspicuous
in a dressy white overcoat. There are also a doctor and nurse in white uniforms.
And patients with elaborate white bandages.
Tourneur films often show artists or draftsmen at their work desks.
We first see a man with blueprints at such a desk. He is using a hand-compass
to analyze the blueprint: a similar hand-compass will be used with a map in
Great Day in the Morning.
Towards the end, the bad guys will also have a desk for prints, and will
use similar drafting tools.
We also see cameras used to photograph the prints. And a projector to
cast them on a screen, like a slide.
The detective hero also makes a photograph of a foot print. He matches this up with
an actual shoe. The comparison of image and reality seems suggestive, philosophically.
The manager has murals on his office walls. Such murals show up
regularly in Hollywood offices of big businessmen. They always depict industry or business:
here we see the airplanes manufactured at the factory.
The sabotaged plane comes apart into pieces. It forms one of the cut objects
that run through Tourneur.
Later we learned that the airplane bolts have been sawed through. These are also cut objects.
This film contains one of Tourneur's visual motifs, rows of repeated, identical objects:
Tourneur employs some of these for "corridor shots".
- The hives where the Bee man raises bees.
- The cars in the parking lot.
- The doors in the locker room.
Addison Richards' factory manager anticipates the businessmen
in The Fearmakers. Both he and Nick Carter often seem to
be in matching, three piece suits. Both men have fancy business
offices, too, like those in the later film.
The conception of "detective" here never builds up any
sociological realism. Nick Carter seems to work for some unseen
detective agency. The big selling point of the Nick Carter prose
stories, the detective's mastery of disguise, is nowhere in evidence
in this film. Such a mastery of disguise was reportedly heavily
featured in the early French films about Nick Carter, made by
the pioneering director Victorin Jasset. These include a series
of six short films about Carter, begun in 1908, under the collective
title Nick Carter - Le Roi des détectives (Nick
Carter - The King of Detectives). Jasset later made a second series
about master criminal Zigomar, also brilliant at disguise; in
the second, Zigomar contre Nick Carter (1912), he faced
off against the sleuth. Please see Roy Armes' book French Cinema
(1985) for details. According to Armes, Jasset's films were a
strong influence on Louis Feuillade.
However, the hero's detection in Nick Carter, Master Detective
is always perfectly logical. He finds a clue to show a death was really
murder. He tracks down the method of smuggling the blueprint, through a systematic search for evidence.
This "sound detection" (as prose mystery writers call it) was greatly prized
in that era. These ideas might well be the contribution of the screenwriters.
Still, their presence also shows a commitment to rationality by the director, as well.
Genre: Like a Whodunit, but without a Mystery
Phantom Raiders (1940) is one of the Nick Carter detective
series. This film is not a whodunit: we see the villain right
away, and know all his schemes. Still, it is hardly a film noir.
It is much closer in feel to movie whodunit series like the Falcon
or the Saint. Nor should the word Phantom in the title suggest
to anyone that this is a supernatural drama. It is a strictly
non-supernatural crime story.
The Private Eye and the Villain: links to Out of the Past
The character types anticipate those of Tourneur's later
Out of the Past (1947). The villain in both films is a
smooth, charming, well-dressed gangster, appallingly evil, sneaky
and insidious. In both films he has his tentacles in a lot of
pies. In both, he has managed to corrupt or control a very diverse
bunch of characters, giving him many resources and options for
his evil schemes. And schemes is the operative word: he always
has well organized plans. He also has an elaborate, well furnished
headquarters, where he plots his schemes at ease. This looks like
a well-run business enterprise.
By contrast, the hero of both films is a private eye, and in both,
he is deeply disorganized. He seems to do whatever he pleases
at the spur of the moment, and to have no organized plan or agenda.
In both films, he is a slave to passion, more interested in chasing
after pretty women than doing his job. He is rarely at his regular
office, headquarters or home: instead he seems to be winging it,
living out of a suitcase.
I confess, I find Tourneur's hero and his chaotic business life
deeply annoying. I do not know if this is what Tourneur intended,
or whether it is just my own strong preference for careful business
planning coming to the fore. In any case, Tourneur shows the villain
as being far more effective than the hero at his job. This certainly
suggests some sort of attitude on Tourneur's part. The villain
often seems just plain smarter than the hero in both films as
well. In this comic little detective story, Phantom Raiders,
everything comes out OK for the hero. In the more serious Out
of the Past, things do not work out so well for the hero.
This too is perhaps a commentary from Tourneur.
Both the hero and his assistant seem cast against type. Walter
Pigeon usually played gentlemanly, intelligent, monogamous romantic
heroes. His private eye is written to be the sort of constant
skirt chaser played by George Sanders in the Falcon films. I confess
I enjoy Walter Pigeon more in his regular roles, and found his
character's womanizing and chaotic stupidity here unappealing.
Donald Meek and his Micro-Locale
The best characterization in the film is that of Nick Carter's
assistant, played by Donald Meek. He too is cast against type.
Meek's roles were usually as meek as his name. He is still very
mild mannered here, but he is surprisingly effective as a detective,
often rescuing Nick Carter from his bungling.
Meek raises bees, giving his character an eccentric twist. He is introduced
on the front lawn of his home, which contains bees. Tourneur often preferred
to introduce characters outdoors, in a landscape environment revealing
their personality. This is different from other directors, who
often associate a character with a room. The front yard is one
of Tourneur's micro-landscapes, small, intricately arranged areas
full of color and personality.
The villain's main sinister machine is a radio set in his
ornate office that can send signals to blow up ships at sea. This
is oddly similar to an episode in Louis Feuillade's
Les Vampires (1915 - 1916). Feuillade's machine is a canon,
hidden in a fancy hotel room, that is brought out to blow up ships
in the harbor. In both cases, there is a surrealistic incongruity
between the socially proper office or room, redolent of bourgeois
self-satisfaction, and its hidden engine of destruction. It is
perhaps saying something indirectly about the secret sources of
much wealth, built on a concealed foundation of crime. It also
has the nightmarish incongruity of a dream.
The film's plot falls into Tourneur traditions. In several Tourneur
films, Something Bad is going on. The audience knows this, but
the good characters are either in ignorance or denial. The Bad
activity is often quite destructive. Eventually the Bad activity
can locate itself near water: the sea ships here, the swimming
pool in Cat People, the aquariums in Experiment Perilous.
The Villain and Birds
The villain is one of several Tourneur bad guys associated with animal imagery.
He is obsessed with birds:
- He has a cage with pet birds in his office. He frequently holds and strokes the birds.
- There are bird statuettes on his office shelf. Animal statues run through Tourneur films.
- He has a charity box that seeks donations to help birds and animals.
Paper Passed Around
In Tourneur films, paper is passed from person to person.
In Phantom Raiders, fortune cookies are brought by a waiter, to a group of Chinese diners.
One of the diners in turn shows the message to Nat Pendelton.
The B-Man thinks this is a spy message being passed around.
This is a clever idea on his part, but it doesn't seem to be true.
The fortune cookie message seems to be not relevant to the plot.
Knives and Money: Thrown and Cut Objects
Bad guys throw knives at a piece of paper money attached to a door.
They are just having a bit of fun, as well as keeping their sinister knife skills in practice.
The knives are some of Tourneur's thrown objects.
The bill is perhaps one of Tourneur's cut objects. It indeed gets holes in it,
cut by the knives. But it is not cut in two, like most of the cut objects in Tourneur films.
Later scenes on the ship show large machinery. This is typical
of Tourneur's fondness for huge machines. As usual, these shots
have a pleasant, cheery quality. They come at a moment of good
will in the film.
White Clothes and Characterization
The Panama setting is conveyed by all-white tropical clothes.
The white tropical costumes have strange effects on the
characters. Walter Pigeon looks less suave and socially proper
than he usually does, further changing him from his typical persona.
Also different looking: perennial tough guy Nat Pendelton
is in white tropical clothes throughout the film. I'm used to
seeing Pendelton in 1930's movies, where he played good natured
roughnecks from Brooklyn and the Lower East Side. He seems so
typically urban American, that it is startling to see him dressed
in white tropical clothes for this sort of exotic adventure movie.
He is still playing his traditional American roughneck, however.
Best effect of all: Donald Meek is in black clothes throughout
the movie, the only person on screen not in head to toe white.
This makes his character spectacularly eccentric looking, and
makes him stand out in every scene.
Finale: Composition, and a Corridor Shot
The finale shows some of Tourneur's visual style. One scene shows
both Nick Carter and the ship's young captain in the hold, looking
through bags of cargo. Both men are clad in white, as are nearly
all of the characters in the film. Nick is in a white suit, the
Captain in a white naval uniform. The bags are white as well as
the walls of the ship hold. The two good guys are in an all white
world, remote from daily life. They are on the left side of the
screen, outlined against a white rectangle on the left side of
the ship's set. On the right, is a doorway with a light over it.
The light is geometrically shaped. The two sections of the screen
are in perfect balance.
Later, Tourneur moves his camera 90 degrees, and further down
the hold. Now we are in one of Tourneur's "perspective down
a corridor" shots. The corridor is made by a path through
the bags; it leads to a doorway at the far end.
I have never liked Cat People (1942). The film is an attack
on people who are "different". The film treats anyone
who is different as psychologically disturbed, vicious, and a
threat to others. It states that people who are different need
psychological treatment by psychiatrists. Only people who are
utterly normal or conventional have value, and anything to contribute
to society, according to this movie. The film was made in the
1940's, the era in which Freudian psychology reached its peak
of prestige in the United Sates, and it expresses the hate mongering
of its day against those who are different from others. Watching
it is an unpleasant experience.
The heroine's condition is in some ways a code for being a lesbian.
The film endorses the complete run of prejudice gays and lesbians faced
in that era: the condition is seen both as a sin against religion,
and a mental illness that needs to be treated by a psychiatrist.
This is one of the worst cases of homophobia in 1940's film.
The film evokes other prejudices as well, in its attempt to make
the audience fear the protagonist. The emphasis on her femininity
tries to exploit misogynous fears of women. And making the heroine-villainess
a Serbian immigrant appeals to xenophobes who hate immigrants.
I confess that I am not part of the Val Lewton cult. Many studies
of Tourneur treat his films for Lewton as the high point of his
career, and everything else as some sort of anti-climax. I
Walked With a Zombie is an impressive achievement, but most
of the Lewton films I have seen, whether directed by Tourneur
or others, have just not pleased me. They tend to be cruel, and
full of unpleasant material.
Cat People has the same unpleasant point of view about
women's work, that will reach an extreme in Easy Living.
Once again, the "bad woman" has a glamorous "woman's" profession,
in this case a fashion designer. By contrast, the "good woman" works in an
engineering office. It is not clear exactly what she does: but she takes direction
from the male hero. He is shown doing math calculations, that is, thinking,
and she puts them down on the drafting designs. Like the "good woman" secretary in Easy Living,
she works long into the evening, and does personal services for the men in the
company, in Cat People arranging the hero's wedding banquet.
The point of view in both films is that "woman's labor is good, but only if it
assists men and turns into 24 hour service to them, while full professional careers
for women are evil".
Suspense in the Finale
Cat People has some brilliantly filmed suspense sequences in the finale.
These show Tourneur's visual style, and are impressive - despite what I
think about the film's overall politics.
The sequence in which the rival (Jane Randolph) is stalked by
the cat at night through city streets is famous. The streets are
bounded by strange stone walls, and seem to have stone bridges
over the streets. One suspects that these streets are passing
through the city zoo featured in other parts of the film, but
this is not explicitly made clear in the movie. They are certainly
an unusual piece of architecture, one that is eerie looking. The
sequence reminds one of the opening of Nightfall, in which
the characters move along an urban sidewalk at twilight, just
as the rival here moves down a sidewalk lit by pools of light
from street lights. Both films eventually include a suddenly arriving
city bus. In both films, the bus is photographed parallel to the
plane of the camera. In both, it moves from right to left through
the screen. In both, the camera is outside the bus, and photographs
all the way through the windows on both sides of the bus, to show
us the sidewalk beyond.
The swimming pool sequence is outstanding. It benefits greatly
from Musuraca's photography, showing shimmering shadows reflecting
from the water on the walls. This is a scene virtually constructed
out of light.
The swimming pool is one of Tourneur's area in pits.
The pool is in the basement, and the pool itself makes for a further
The office sequence has eerie looks at its end, of the elevator and revolving doors
left in motion, after whatever is attacking the heroes has left. Both
the elevator and doors can be considered as some of Tourneur's
Kent Smith's sweeping gestures with the T-square, are among the most conspicuous
scenes in Tourneur in which a man gestures with an object.
The Two Men: Costumes and Character
Kent Smith and Tom Conway both have major roles. While Smith is probably "the hero",
Conway's presence is almost as big. The two men are a bit like the middle class vs.
upper middle class men who make contrasting pairs in so many Tourneur films.
Conway's psychiatrist gets the fancy double-breasted and pinstripe suit that was
so prestigious in the 1940's, while Smith is in more casual single-breasted suits.
A doctor like Conway's character would also have prestige denied to men in other professions.
The two men are perhaps characterized by their desserts: Conway gets the gourmet Roquefort
cheese, Smith the All-American apple pie.
Smith does get that other Tourneur favorite, the trench coat. This gives his look pizzazz.
Smith's profession embodies several Tourneur subjects:
- He is an engineer hero.
- He make images at his drafting board.
- He uses mathematics in his work: he gives figures to his co-worker during
the final suspense sequence in the office.
Romantic Triangles: Not Quite a W
Cat People does not quite have the full W-shaped romantic pattern of
some other Tourneur movies. Once again, we have a hero (Kent Smith) who is involved
with two women, one "good", the other "bad" - although the "badness" of cat-woman Irena
is hardly pure or simple. One of these women is in turn involved with another man (Irena with
the psychiatrist). And this man, the psychiatrist, while hardly a crime lord as in other Tourneur,
is of dubious sexual morals and professional ethics, at least (he wants to sleep with
a patient, who is also a married woman). But the second "good" woman is NOT involved with another man, thus failing
to create the full W-shape. However, Cat People is close.
Furthermore, unlike some other Tourneur heroes in the center of this W, Kent Smith
does not adopt a boy, or interface with children.
Animal Pictures and Artists
Cat People is one of Tourneur's movies that are full of pictures and statues of animals:
The hero and both women are image makers, like many Tourneur characters.
The heroine is a dress designer. The hero and Alice make designs for ships at drafting tables
in the engineering office. One of these is put up on the wall like a mural,
at Alice's direction.
- The heroine's apartment is full of cat images, including King John killing a cat,
and a mural-like screen of a panther.
- The push cart at the zoo has animal paintings on front and side, and what looks
like a rooster statue on top.
- The Serbian restaurant has animal statues in its window.
- The model ship in the museum has an animal carved on its prow.
- There is a large Egyptian statue in the museum with an animal head.
Architecture and Props
Both the Serbian restaurant and the pet store have large windows that look out on urban
landscapes: a Tourneur tradition.
The canopy outside Alice's apartment is a locale mixing indoors and outdoors.
There is much more of this in other Tourneur films.
Cat People has many of Tourneur's repeating objects:
Such repeating objects help build compositions.
- Drafting tables, T-squares and file cabinets in the engineering office,
- Circular grillwork in the lobbies of the engineering building, that also make repeated shadows,
- A row of what look like phone booths in the lobby,
- Glass cases in the museum,
- Chairs and lockers in locker room.
Tourneur also likes lamps, to form compositions. The huge lamp over the drafting table in
the final suspense sequence is vivid, with a complex geometric shape.
I Walked with a Zombie
I Walked with a Zombie (1943) shows the full influence
of the Sternberg tradition. As in Josef von Sternberg,
the film is set is an exotic and extravagantly imagined country.
Also, romantic relationships are central. Music and songs are
integrated into the story, as in Sternberg. The respectful inclusion
of black people also recalls Sternberg's films.
The visual style is also deeply Sternbergian. We see Sternberg's
elaborate lateral tracking shots here. Several of these involve
masking elements in front of the characters path of motion, as
when the nurse and Jessica walk through the cane field, masked
by the stalks of sugar cane. The lighting is full of elaborate
shadows used to make complex compositions, in the Sternberg tradition.
Other camera movements are less purely in the Sternberg tradition.
One of the film's finest shows the nurse and wife sneaking out
of the home, on the way to the Voodoo ceremony. First we see the
husband, sitting in the background in his room. As the camera
tracks across the courtyard, we see the brother in the distance,
apparently drinking on the dining porch. Finally we see the two
women hurrying out. They too are in the deep background. Their
motion is synchronized with the motion of Tourneur's camera. They
gradually emerge down a small staircase, and make their way to
the front of the shot. All the time, the camera is steadily moving
from left to right across the courtyard. The fact the that first
two characters seen, the men, are motionless, in the first half
of the shot, while the women seen in the second half are in synchronized
motion, greatly adds to the fascination of the shot. Motion seems
to come out of nowhere. It is part of the beauty and mystery of
motion, the ability of people to move, as part of the physical
Another unusual camera movement: one which tracks the mother,
as she goes upstairs after her confession near the end of the
film. The camera pans through nearly 180 degrees, It keeps turning
and following her as she winds up the three sides of the stairwell.
The Flat Wall Shots
Another type of shot that occurs regularly in the film: a shot
of people against a flat background wall. The wall is often full
of lighting effects. The plane of the camera image is parallel
to the wall, which fills the background of the shot. People are
typically seen in such shots at full length. The most astonishing
shot of this kind shows the nurse at night, against the white
wall of the bedroom. The wall is covered with a huge grid of shadows,
from a set of scrollwork bars. Arnold Böcklin's eerie painting,
The Island of the Dead (1880), hangs on the upper quarter
of the wall, its lower right corner framing the nurse's head at
one point. This shot has remarkable visual qualities. It shows
Tourneur's extraordinary gift for creating mood with shadows.
Later, in Night of the Demon, Tourneur will use similar
shadows from the complex curves of the balustrade, projected against
people and the walls of the Karswell home.
Other flat wall shots include a shot in bright sunlight. The nurse
and the older brother are standing in front of a huge lowered
blind. We can see outlines of trees and vegetation, dimly showing
through the otherwise dazzlingly lit screen.
A third flat wall shot occurs towards the end. The wife is straining
towards the outside gates, and is joined by the younger brother.
The vertical bars of the gate fill the back plane of the screen,
while the two people stand in front of it.
Tourneur gets great mileage in the scenes in the wife's room out
of a harp. The harp has an elaborately curved head. Tourneur is
always moving the harp, so that this curved line plays a prominent
role in his compositions. The curved head line is the only curvilinear
form in a room and screen filled with rectilinear objects. It
is delicate and simple, but it adds a completely different formal
accent to the compositions. Tourneur gets similar use out of the
curved back of the couch on which the nurse sleeps. It too allows
him to introduce slight curves in otherwise rectangular patterns.
I have no idea if Tourneur or the set designers introduced these
props, but Tourneur exploits them to maximum advantage. The curved
lines suggest an element of mystery, a suggestion that the universe
has complexities, and elements not easily understood.
Several Tourneur shots show his interest in "corridors",
stretching deep into the plane of the shot. However, this is only
one element in a Sternbergian mix of devices. Corridor shots are
extremely numerous in the film. They are some of the film's most
beautiful images. As in other Tourneur films, they often involve
porches and porticos, regions on the outside of buildings involving
overhanging eaves and roofs. The family home involves an enormous
series of arched walkways. These stretch around nearly the whole
interior of the courtyard. Tourneur stages much of the film in
them. They include the family dining area. Tourneur and the set
designer show huge visual creativity with these porches. They
are also photographed during many times of day and night; the
variation in the lighting adds to the variety of visual appearance
The cantina in town also has three porches. One shelters the singers;
one is where the couple sit during the day; a third is around
the corner after nightfall. Tourneur stages three separate sets
of corridor shots in these. During this third shot, first the
singer (played by real life Trinidad calypso singer Sir Lancelot),
then the mother, move steadily down this "corridor"
towards the couple at the table. Here one side of the corridor
is the wall of the cantina; the other side is the pillars that
support the overhanging roof. In the background we see the sea.
The paths through the sugar cane can also be considered as corridors.
Tourneur often shoots directly down a path. It gives a long perspective
in the "corridor" style. Tourneur alternates such corridor
shots with Sternberg style lateral tracks with masked foregrounds.
The alternation of corridor shots and Sternbergian tracks give
a rich visual mix to the sequence.
Even the nurse's room is treated as a corridor. Tourneur frequently
shoots down its entire length. The walls of the room form a corridor
effect. The photography emphasizes all the complex horizontal
lines and shadows cast by the louvered doors and windows of the
room. They form a prominent pattern down the whole left hand side
of the room.
Both in the home and the cane field, Tourneur often shows people
hurrying down the corridors. This gives beautiful movement to
the corridor shots. Tourneur sometimes tracks along with the characters,
adding to the visual complexity and force of these shots.
Tourneur used corridor shots systematically in his movies. They
return again and again. They are at the center of his visual style.
These shots are far from formulaic. They in fact show tremendous
variety. Each one looks beautifully hand composed by Tourneur.
Tourneur usually shows a detailed look at the architecture, furniture,
vegetation and lighting down each side of the corridor. All of
these elements are thrown into the visual mix. They are used to
make parts of elaborate, highly organized compositions. Tourneur
often includes ceilings in the compositions as well, plus doorways,
archway tops, lintels, and other upper screen architectural structures
down the corridor. These too are worked into his compositions.
The whole effect can be compositionally extremely elaborate. Tourneur
further adds to the richness of such shots, by sometimes including
camera movement down the corridor.
The island's economy revolves around sugar production. Agriculture
will be a background for many Tourneur films:
There often seems to be a dark side to such farm events. Germany is near starvation
in Berlin Express. The scientists in The Magic Alphabet
are trying to discover vitamins, key nutritional components of
food, without which people are literally starving to death in
Java. The farm family in Night of the Demon is part of
a sinister devil cult. In I Walked with a Zombie, the sugar
work is part of a legacy of slavery.
- Hero Robert Ryan in Berlin Express will be sent to post-war
Germany to revive food production.
- Stars in My Crown takes place in a farm community.
- Donald Meek in Phantom Raiders is a beekeeper.
- Glenn Ford in a planter in Appointment in Honduras
- There is a furrier in The Grand Bounce.
I Walked with a Zombie shows unusual story telling construction.
The film keeps revealing different aspects of its central situation.
It does not have a forward propelling plot; instead, it keeps
showing new perspectives on what happened in the past. It is almost
a "documentary", if one can apply that term to a film
that shows a fantastic and totally non-realistic series of events.
The way Tourneur's camera keeps exploring the sets in new and
interesting ways also adds to the documentary feel.
The narration that describes early parts of the film recalls that
of Rebecca (1940). In both films, it is in the heroine
who narrates. As in that film, much of the commentary is about
the large house the heroine visits, and about how the house allowed
the heroine to experience both love and horror. This emphasis
on a heroine and a house would become a staple of the "gothic"
novels that were so popular in the 1960's, almost all of which
involved the heroine going to live in a wonderful but spooky mansion.
The cover paintings all showed both the woman and the house.
Romantic Triangles: Not Quite a W
I Walked with a Zombie has a complex pattern of relations, that almost,
but not quite, forms the full W shape found in some Tourneur films.
To get a near-W out of I Walked with a Zombie, one has to label
Tom Conway the "hero" of the film. This is plausible, in that the film
seems to endorse his actions, at least to a degree. But he is less clearly
the central character than, say, Robert Mitchum in Out of the Past
or Burt Lancaster in The Flame and the Arrow.
Conway, like other Tourneur heroes, has a relationship with two women:
a good woman (the nurse), and a bad woman (his wife). As in The Flame and the Arrow,
the hero is married to the bad woman, who has committed adultery with
a sinister rival. In I Walked with a Zombie, this is James Ellison.
Unlike other Tourneur films with the full W-pattern, this rival is not
someone sort of evil crime lord. He is a perfectly ordinary man.
The film does condemn his adulterous behavior, though, and he comes to a bad end,
like a traditional movie villain.
Unlike the full Tourneur W-pattern, the Good Gal nurse is not romantically linked
to any other man. She does have a friendship of sorts with the doctor.
The doctor is a blandly respectable, good guy authority figure, like the
sort of male rivals-to-the-hero that other Tourneur Good Gals get involved with.
Only she does not actually have a relationship with him.
Also missing from the W-pattern: unlike other Tourneur films,
hero Conway does not have any sort of relationship with kids.
Days of Glory
Days of Glory (1944) is a thesis or propaganda film glorifying a band of
Russian partisans or guerillas, fighting behind the lines in World War II.
The film was made while the USA and the Soviet Union were military allies against the Nazis.
As a propoganda film, Days of Glory tells its biggest lie right away: that its Soviet
heroes are "free people" battling for their homeland, as the narrator puts it.
They are not: they are living in a Communist dictatorship.
Days of Glory was reportedly Tourneur's first big budget effort, after years of
working on short films and B-movies. However, it is hard to see the money on-screen.
In fact, Days of Glory looks fairly shoddy, compared to much other Tourneur cinema.
And it also seems less inventive and audacious than many of Tourneur's earlier works.
Much of Days of Glory depicts the daily lives and typical activities of
a Soviet guerilla band. The film explores all aspects of their work,
from how they fight to how they prepare their meals and keep their written records.
It is as much a documentary on such subjects, as it is any sort of story
about the personal lives of its characters.
Hollywood made many semi-documentaries in this era.
After 1945, these tended to be crime thrillers, documenting US Government
crime-fighting units. Many of the earlier semi-documentaries, however,
showed US military organizations.
Days of Glory, like Tourneur's later Berlin Express (1948),
can be considered as an off-trail, not-always-typical, example of the semi-documentary
movement. Days of Glory has features recalling the semi-documentaries
of the 1940's:
A big difference between Days of Glory and most semi-docs is the lack of
location filming in Days of Glory. It would have been impractical
to make a Hollywood film on location in the war-torn Soviet Union. However,
Days of Glory really emphasizes its artificial quality by shooting on
studio sets. Another director might have recreated the guerillas' home base and
environment in a California forest, say, and had a more location-oriented film.
- There is an official sounding narrator who explains things,
keeping up a running commentary on the action.
- There is an inside
look at the operations of the Soviet guerillas, which functions much like
the domestic government police agencies and US military units in other semi-docs.
However, such police agencies and military groups tend to be elite units,
while the guerilla group is perhaps a bit more "typical".
- Science plays a role (discussed in detail below).
Science and Technology
Days of Glory is filled with science and technology. In this it
echoes both Tourneur's own films, which are filled with science, and
the semi-documentary genre, which also emphasizes high technology.
Like other Tourneur films, Days of Glory is filled with
As in other Tourneur, the collection and use of mathematical data is shown to be key
to running a real-world enterprise.
- The woman sniper keeps records of how many Nazis she has killed.
These are compared to statistics about other Soviet snipers.
- The all-important code message sent by the partisans is mainly data about troop strengths.
- The interrogation of the captured German soldier concentrates
on troop strength. The hero recognizes that the soldier is lying, because
the hero has his own set of data on the subject, which he uses to show the German's
figures are lies.
The telescopic gunsight used by the sniper at the start is visually fascinating.
The scope produces an image, and oddly links to the many artists in Tourneur who
The partisans get a radio, but are forbidden to use it.
We see the guerillas blowing up a train. Both the train and the explosives
are technology. So are the enemy motorcycles.
The hero narrates his past as an engineer. He describes how in peace-time
he helped build a major dam, and how in war-time he had to destroy it,
to prevent its use by the Nazis. The hero is both one of several engineers
in Tourneur, and another Tourneur protagonist who changes careers.
Relationships and the W-Pattern
Like many Tourneur films, Days of Glory shows its hero torn between two women.
But unlike other Tourneur, in which one woman is a Good Gal and the other is a Bad Gal,
in Days of Glory both women are officially "good". After all, both are Soviet partisans,
a unit which this propaganda film is glorifying. Hence both women have to be certified
The two women have characteristics shared by other Tourneur women rivals:
One might note that Good Gals and Bad Gals are associated with different groups in
different Tourneur films. In Cat People and Easy Living,
the business woman is Good. By contrast, in Great Day in the Morning the dress shop
owner is Good, although the saloon woman is hardly All-Bad, merely sexually loose.
(Another Good Woman with a glamorous career is fashion model Anne Bancroft in Nightfall.)
And as noted, in Days of Glory, both women are Good.
- One is highly competent at business: like the woman office worker in
Cat People, the athletic team secretary in Easy Living,
and Ruth Roman's saloon manager in Great Day in the Morning.
In Days of Glory, we have an extremely competent woman sniper,
who is expert at all aspects of being a partisan. These women are all
subordinate-but-highly-productive insiders in an elaborate professional world containing the hero
(the engineering shop in Cat People, the athletic team in Easy Living,
the saloon in Great Day in the Morning, the partisan band in Days of Glory).
- The other has a glamorous career in a "feminine" profession, and is divorced from daily life:
like the fashion designer Simone Simon in Cat People, the interior designer wife
in Easy Living, the dress shop owner in Great Day in the Morning.
In Days of Glory, we have a ballerina from Moscow, who knows nothing
about any traditional womanly chores, and knows nothing except dancing.
These women are all outsiders to the hero's professional world.
In Tourneur films with the full W-pattern of romantic relationships,
each of the women would themselves be involved with another man. However, this does not
really occur in Days of Glory. A number of men are attracted to the ballerina,
but she does not take any of them seriously: she only has eyes for the hero.
In the W-pattern movies, the hero often has either an adopted son,
or more weakly, is shown being kind to young boys. Days of Glory
takes a middle course: the hero mentors the 16-year-old Mitya, showing
him how to be a guerilla. This is hardly an adopted son, but it is a long-term
mentoring relationship, as well as a military command. However, the hero also seems
to be the organizer and trainer of everyone in the band, not just Mitya.
Days of Glory is a gun-ho war film. It glorifies the actions of its characters.
While they also perform sabotage, much of the film glorifies their killings of German soldiers.
The sniper is tracked in terms of the number of soldiers she has killed,
and one partisan even wishes he were a bomb so that he could blow up German soldiers!
The Nazi regime was so evil, that such attitudes still can be defended.
But the war idea that "the only good enemy is a dead enemy" has troubling aspects.
Tourneur later directed eight episodes of the TV series Northwest Passage,
about the French and Indian War fought in North America (1754-1763). Northwest Passage
has several similarities to Days of Glory:
In Northwest Passage, "the only good enemy is a dead enemy" essentially becomes
"the only good Indian is a dead Indian". Demonizing enemies can easily lead to race hatred and genocide.
This whole side of Tourneur is basically a dark side. It is something to be condemned,
- Both deal with small bands of fighters, who specialize in isolated attacks and raids.
- Both are based in a forest.
- Both celebrate the killing of enemies. In the case of Northwest Passage,
this is mainly the killing of Native Americans, at which the "heroes" rejoice.
- Both units are military, but irregular and not conventional troops.
- Both are allied with more conventional fighting forces elsewhere. Both often operate
independently and in isolation.
- Both units are organized by their leader, a handsome, charismatic young man.
- Both films offer an enthusiastic endorsement of such fighting units and their war activities.
In a society like the United States, in which even today women are not allowed in combat roles,
the Soviet woman sniper was a striking contrast. A similar ultra-tough Russian woman soldier,
played by the great Eve Arden, is the only interesting feature in the otherwise inane comedy
The Doughgirls (James V. Kern, 1944), released the same year as Days of Glory.
Days of Glory came first: it was already in release in January of 1944, before The Doughgirls
was shot in March to May 1944.
Days of Glory shows a group of natives behind enemy lines, that attacks an occupying
military force. In this it anticipates The Flame and the Arrow.
In The Flame and the Arrow, each partisan has a background profession,
typically working class. There is a parallel in Days of Glory,
with one partisan being a blacksmith, one a geology student, one a scholar at Oxford,
one a farmer, the woman sniper a factory worker, and the hero being a former engineer.
These include more intellectual professions than The Flame and the Arrow,
although the latter film does have an apothecary.
The engineer hero's speech about building the dam, makes much of how the dam is good
and to be celebrated, because it is "purely the product of the human mind".
The speech is vague, and never mentions religion. But it does certainly seem
to embrace human reason as the only good. By contrast, Stars in My Crown will take
what seems to be the opposite point of view. In Stars in My Crown, the doctor tries
to establish medical science as the only good, and condemns the preacher's visits to his patients.
The preacher resists, and declares religion also to have value. Other Tourneur films will
suggest that the supernatural is real, and that science should not be skeptical:
see Night of the Demon, and more ambiguously, Cat People.
Days of Glory has a number of "corridor shots". Some are literal:
the film gets mileage out of shots down the monastery corridor that leads to the
Others take place outside. An early shot shows an outdoor "corridor" through trees.
There are also striking shots down a road with the motorcyclists, and down train tracks.
Experiment Perilous (1944) is a thriller, set in 1903 New York City.
The following discussion contains SPOILERS: you should see this thriller before reading anything about it,
here or elsewhere.
Gender Roles - and Their Limitations
Experiment Perilous has a psychologist hero, and contains much discussion of possible
mental illness among the characters. Despite this, it does not appear to me
that any of the characters is actually mentally ill. Or that the subject of Experiment Perilous
is in any way mental illness.
Instead, many of the problems of the characters seem to stem from
traditional gender roles: the way men and women were traditionally supposed to behave
in upper middle class white society.
The heroine is trapped in the upper middle class wife role. She is supposed to be beautifully dressed,
good at pouring tea, and with a few genteel accomplishments like being able to perform
musically at a mediocre level. Otherwise, she is expected to be both passive and without a
brain in her head. This passive attitude is exactly what keeps her in trouble.
A more active woman would have many options: fleeing her home, hiring a private detective,
seeking the help of friends or clergy or even servants.
A similar combination of passivity/thoughtlessness traps the sister.
Together with the idea that she exists to take care of relatives, especially male relatives.
These women don't seem to me to be neurotic, or suffering from emotional disorders.
Instead, they are following traditional gender roles, right into disaster.
Rotten as the husband is, it is not clear that his bad behavior stems from mental illness.
Instead, his relentless desire to control his wife, seems to be a cultural norm.
Laws and custom gave Victorian men absolute control over their wives, and many exercised this control
to harmful extremes. The husband's behavior is nasty, but in many ways it seems to be encouraged
by the society around him.
Tourneur films sometimes contain a negative look at publicity. There are no public relations men in
Experiment Perilous, as there are in The Leopard Man, and no PR campaigns in the modern sense.
But the husband in Experiment Perilous wants his wife to become a famous beauty.
Such women, famous for their looks, were a standard feature of traditional upper class society.
They are to a degree a 1903 equivalent of the modern day celebrity.
The husband doesn't just want to marry a beautiful young woman.
He wants his wife to be on constant wide display, as a trophy he now possesses.
Many Tourneur films contain conflicts between upper middle class men and middle class men.
The two levels are highly distinct, and sharply contrasted by Tourneur.
Experiment Perilous is different. Its two leads are a very wealthy man (the husband)
and an upper middle class man (the doctor hero). The pair are both richer than the typical Tourneur male duo.
However, they are just as contrasted, and just as sharply observed in sociological detail,
as the more typical upper middle class vs middle class pair.
Tourneur films are full of working women. In Experiment Perilous, the doctor is helped
both by the maid at his hotel room, and the nurse at his office. The maid seems to take care of him
almost as much as the housekeeper does the invalid in Night Call.
This despite the fact that the doctor is a healthy man in his 40's, while the housekeeper
in Night Call is caregiver to a very sick elderly patient.
There is also a governess looking after the heroine's child.
The little boy is scared of a tiger under his bed: more of the threatening cat imagery in Tourneur.
A mansion room has horse statuettes on its mantel.
The aquariums turn into some of the flowing water imagery of Tourneur.
The water pouring over the train tracks is also striking.
The path leading to the nursery, through man rooms and doors, is an outstanding corridor.
It leads to some fascinating nested door shots.
The spiral straircase leading up to the nursery is spectacularly geometric.
The hero and villain have a climactic fight there, anticipating the fight in an equally cylindric space,
the vat at the end of Berlin Express.
Tourneur worked in a huge variety of genres, although rarely in
comedy or musicals. Canyon Passage (1946) was his first
major Western. Making Westerns gave Tourneur a chance to work
in color for the first time.
The store is in ruins after the fire. Ruins appear elsewhere in Tourneur:
the bombed cities of 1947 Germany will soon be a major subject of Berlin Express.
The ruins in Canyon Passage are also the result of a disastrous war, between white settlers
and Native Americans.
Canyon Passage ends with the hero's store in ruins, other people dead, and the hero broke
and unable to rebuild. This is an atypically pessimistic ending for a Western.
The ending suggests suggests that war is intransigently destructive,
and that it is not easy to cope with its damage.
The community in Canyon Passage is laid out in an unusual
way for a Western. Instead of a typical Western town, the action
takes place in a series of separate buildings, each one in its
own landscape and grounds. People travel between the buildings
on short, intricately laid-out paths. The justification seems
to be that this is a "pre-town": a pioneer collection
of buildings that have not yet coalesced into a village.
Tourneur has a field day with the complex grounds of the buildings.
Each is a mini-landscape, full of geographical features such as
hills, paths, and sometimes water. Tourneur would include such
micro-landscapes in his later films, such as the gas station grounds
of Out of the Past, and the river and bridge scene in Stars
in My Crown. Tourneur in general was fond of scenes that were
neither purely inside, nor purely outdoors. His micro-landscapes
are full of nature, but they also contain man-made features such
as paths and bridges. They are not nature in its wild state; they
are outdoor regions closely developed for human use. Similarly,
Tourneur loved to film scenes on porches and under porticos, areas
that are outside, but closely connected with buildings. His indoor
scenes often include huge windows that show exterior landscapes
in the background.
Relationships and the W-Pattern
Canyon Passage has the Tourneur "W pattern" of relationships.
The hero is involved with two women, who in turn are each involved with another rival man.
Often in the W-patterns, one of the women is "good", the other "bad".
In Canyon Passage, their are hints of such things, but both women manage
to stay "good". Lucy has some signs of "badness": she is quite a sexpot,
and she is involved with two men at once without any guilt. And her boyfriend Camrose is
a major villain, in the W-pattern tradition of the "bad" gal being romanced by a
villainous man. However, although Camrose is crooked, he is not a gangster or
other usurper of power.
Caroline shows signs of "goodness": she is prim and proper, nostalgic for England,
here a sign of traditional strict standards, and eager for farming and being
settled in one place. She has "family values". She also can come across as prissy.
Her boyfriend is also "good", or at least devoted to the same quiet lifestyle as her.
He is not an official however, unlike some W's.
Some Tourneur W's have the hero with an adopted son, or least children who admire him.
The closest Canyon Passage comes to this, are Andy Devine's two kids,
seen briefly. They hardly hero-worship Andrews though.
The chopped down tree is as carefully cut in two as The Jonker Diamond.
The log split into planks will soon follow, at the cabin raising ceremony.
The saloon has a lowered floor. It resembles the pits in other Tourneur,
with people able to stand up above and watch the fight in the pit below.
The Portland street scenes at the beginning are in red and green.
So are the early scenes at Devine's. There is red dirt out front, surround by
green vegetation. Hero Andrews has a green jacket, Devine has reddish pants,
many of the horses are red.
The town is mainly in brown, with many green trees scattered through it. This gives it
a green-and-brown color scheme in many shots.
Many of the white townspeople are in brown or related neutrals, including Hoagy Carmichael.
The Native Americans are also in brown. This means that many shots default
to a green-and-brown color scheme.
However, when hero Dana Andrews shows up with his green jacket and red horse,
shots can look like they are in green-and-red. The brown clothes and wood buildings can
seem a bit red. The hero's shirt has an odd off-pink or off-red tinge,
which also adds a hint of red to such shots.
Later shots with villain Ward Bond being chased by Native Americans,
feature red autumn foliage. Some shots look mainly red.
Others in this scene mix red and green foliage.
Out of the Past
Themes and Characters from Film Noir
Out of the Past (1947) has many story, character and theme
elements of the film noir movement, but a very different visual
style. The heroine is a femme fatale, who lies to and destroys
the men who love her. There is a mood of doom, a trap that the
hero cannot escape. The hero is an urban male, who tries to escape
from the corruption and tension of the big city into the countryside,
and a more wholesome relationship there, just as in Road House,
On Dangerous Ground, Ride the Pink Horse. There
is a menacing but elegant mobster, with an even more elegant hit
man enforcer working for him. The hero is a private eye. These
are all film noir conventions. The hero is even tracked down at
his gas station by the visiting hit man at the start of the film,
just as in Robert Siodmak's The Killers
(1946). And as in that film, his past where he got involved with
a femme fatale and her mob associates is catching up to him.
Tourneur's hero shows less psychological disintegration than many
noir heroes. His hero will cover up his girl friend's crime, but
otherwise is not especially corrupted himself. This makes him
closer to Welles in Lady From Shanghai,
than to the crooked heroes of Double Indemnity or The
Killers. He is hurt by his past, and needs healing. But he
is not an emotionally disturbed man. His reactions are those of
a "normal" person who has been through a difficult experience.
The style of Out of the Past is Tourneur's own, however.
It does not seem especially close to German Expressionism. There
is not much high contrast photography, with regions of intense
black and white. Instead most of the screen is beautifully lit,
with a range of shadowy grays. Camera angles seem largely to be
head on, with few of the extreme high or low angles of other film
noir directors. Tourneur does sometimes shoot slightly from below,
to make his characters look more imposing, but he rarely takes
this to extremes. There are few mirror shots,
nor do clocks play a major role in the film. By contrast,
there is a creatively filmed staircase at the club.
Tourneur's style shows what Andrew Sarris called his "unyielding
pictorialism". Shot after shot is astonishingly beautiful.
Tourneur has an eye for composition. He knows how to arrange the
elements on the screen so that they make up an exceptionally pretty
picture. Nor does he need to linger over his compositions. He
holds a shot just long enough for the viewer to comfortably absorb
it. Then he cuts to another camera setup, one showing an equally
beautiful composition. Then another. His imagination seems endless.
Some of the scenes show deep focus. We often see directly through
windows, either in or out of a building. This deep focus is associated
with Orson Welles, and is a stylistic
common denominator with films of the 1940's.
Tourneur occasionally experiments with shots a little closer to
Expressionism. An overhead shot of the heroine's apartment turns
into a pan, revealing much of the apartment and its geometry.
However, the camera angle is gentle, and not especially steep.
And the shot is just so pretty, from a compositional point of
view, that it seems more designed to add to the beauty of the
film, and not to be dramatically different.
The opening scenes in the small town show a classic sense of visual
style. Tourneur often creates a corridor on screen. This is a
straight area down which his characters can walk. He shoots this
corridor face on. His camera will be positioned at one end of
the corridor, looking straight down the length of the corridor
towards the other end. So the long axis of the corridor is perpendicular
to the plane of the shot. This creates a renaissance perspective
effect, with the two sides of the corridor gradually converging
on some point in the distance. As in all perspective effects,
these two sides look like slightly tilted planes when projected
onto the flat plane of the screen.
Tourneur makes his corridors out of many things:
Corridor shots are also frequent in the films of John Ford.
For instance, Ford's My Darling Clementine (1946) is filled
with corridor shots down the outside covered porches of the many
buildings in town. It also has indoor corridor style shots along
the lengthy bar.
- The shots of the young boy outdoors have a "corridor" made up of
- A shot down the sidewalk shows the many projecting arcades
and awnings of the buildings.
- When in the diner, the corridor is the narrow long space between
the juke box and the chairs of the diner.
The Opening Scenes: Unofficial Architecture and Machinery
Much of Jacques Tourneur's visual style emphases space. There
are often large empty spaces in his shots: the view through the
windows showing the town at the opening, for example, or the open
spaces in the middle of the apartments. His town scapes tend to
show the empty street in the middle.
Tourneur's approach here is architectural. But Tourneur does not
concentrate on what might be called "official" architecture,
such as buildings and rooms, unlike many directors with an architectural
approach - such as Fritz Lang. Instead,
Tourneur especially loves unofficial architecture, such as the
projecting awnings of buildings. The opening, defining shot of
this sequence shows the visiting hit man looking up at the projecting
covered area of the gas station. This covered region is beautifully
symmetrical. It is seen from the side, and forms a classic piece
of Renaissance perspective. Its two sided view is emphasized by
having the name "Jeff Bailey" appear on both sides,
the name being the focus of the hit man's and the viewer's attention.
The names are positioned to gently underscore the geometry of
Other examples of unofficial architecture: the awning covered
walkways of the sidewalk. The chairs along the dining counter.
Each revolving chair is positioned in another direction: some
are parallel to the counter, others perpendicular, making a beautiful
mathematical effect. Later, in the canteen sequence that introduces
the heroine of the film, she walks down a complex entrance way
to the cantina. This is not one unified passageway. Instead, it
is a whole succession of transition zones, each with its own geometry
and architectural features. It is a composite area, an example
of "unofficial" architecture made up of bits and pieces
of small areas. In Berlin Express, Tourneur will show many
shots of sheds at the train station, and awning covered areas
for the passengers to walk. He will also lead us through many
unusual passages in the bombed out city of Frankfurt. All of these
perspective corridors are made up of non-primary architecture.
Many of these features are constructed in an industrial style,
out of industrial materials. They do not look like the gilded
homes of the rich. Instead, the train sheds and gas station awnings
look like factory components or industrial constructions. Even
the lunch counter has a metallic feel. Tourneur loved machines.
His characters are always happy and at peace when they are near
machinery. Machines often play a major role in his compositions.
The hit man and the boy are framed against the giant towing machine
in the gas station. Its tow lines and projecting metal arms form
a beautiful composition enveloping the two men. Many of Tourneur's
street scenes involve cars, usually positioned perpendicularly
to the line of vision. These are as carefully arranged as the
revolving chairs in the diner. The best known still from Nick
Carter, Master Detective (1939) shows the characters with
a gleaming airplane, its surface full of complex patterns of rivets.
Tourneur loved such machines for the complex compositions they
could make. But they also give the characters a sense of peace
and joy. The machines seem like gigantic pets, something his characters
can play with, fool around over, and be happy. Their great complexity
suggests that they are mentally and intellectually fulfilling
to the characters who work with them. This is very different from
Fritz Lang, whose machines tend to be sinister devices controlling
the lives of his characters.
There is more architecture that bridges indoors and outdoors:
Tourneur's shots are not all architecture or machinery, however.
Instead, they tend to be balanced, and made up out of disparate
elements. This balance adds beauty to the composition. It also
suggests Aristotle's dictum of "moderation in all things".
For example, the key shot of Jeff Bailey's covered areaway at
the gas station also shows trees growing behind it in the distance.
The shot of the covered sidewalk areas positions this on the left
corner of the screen. It is balanced by an open section on the
right, showing a building, trees and sky.
- The movie theater has a lobby open to the air.
- A cigar stand is located outside, right on a city street,
like the newsstand in Nightfall.
- Buildings have elaborate porches and porticos.
- Lawyer Eels has a balcony.
Vertical Line Compositions
There are other elements of Tourneur's style. He liked tall pillars
or straight lines near the middle of his compositions. In town,
these were often formed by telephone poles sticking up. In the
diner, the door pillar has a similar function. At the mountain
lake, the great boles of trees serve similarly. There is only
one such tall line per shot, and it tends to be somewhere near
the middle of the frame. The shots in town tend to underline this
vertical, by having it match up exactly with the perspective of
the shot. For example, the telephone pole is positioned so that
it exactly aligns with similar vertical lines of the house behind
it. The two sides of the screen separated by the pole each fade
away in a slight perspective effect, on either side of the pole.
The door pillar at the diner shows a similar exactitude in the
perspective effect of the shot.
When the mob hit-man tracks down the Kid at the end, he sees the Kid from above,
through a gap in the forest. Soon the hit-man sees the hero through another gap.
Such gaps used in film staging can be termed apertures,
openings through which we see scenes. They sometimes show up in
other Tourneur films: there are forest apertures in Great Day in the Morning.
Out of the Past has many of Tourneur's favorite locations:
- Mountains make beautiful compositions in the background,
in the Tourneur style.
- The tropical scenes, especially those outside the cottage
shared by Mitchum and Greer, recall those in I Walked With
a Zombie (1943). Both show lush vegetation arranged into complex
patterns of composition.
- Wind moves the nets on the beach: another of
Tourneur's large machines. Wind will soon blow the femme fatale's hair
on the same beach.
- The hero is seen through the elaborate gates at the villain's mansion.
- The back yard the hero passes through in San Francisco,
contains an outdoor staircase and is built in the form of a pit.
- Flowing water appears twice near the end: a gently flowing brook encircling the heroine,
complex rapids for the Kid.
- The heroine, hero and rival move through tall vegetation
near the end: here forest brush.
- The small town of Bridgeport seems to be a big fishing resort. This perhaps
links to the farming communities elsewhere in Tourneur.
Links to Great Day in the Morning
Out of the Past has links to the later Great Day in the Morning. Both have
mercenary, morally ambiguous "heroes" who get involved
in dangerous situations, out of greed: this is established in Mitchum's first
interview with Douglas, where he turns down the job before Douglas lures him back with
a big bucks fee.
Both have the hero romantically involved with a good gal and a bad gal. In both, the hero faces
a good guy rival for the good gal - and a crime lord rival for the bad gal. This is the same complex
However, there is a big difference between the "bad gals". In Out of the Past, the femme fatale is evil,
pure and simple. The only thing "bad" about the bad gal in Great Day in the Morning is that
she's a saloon hostess, and hence a "loose woman". Otherwise, she is a wonderful human being.
Both films have crime lord villains with sinister possessive attitudes toward their girlfriends.
Both heroes face blandly handsome, good guy rivals with not-real-important US Government official positions,
and a life of conventional but strict and disciplined rectitude. Both rivals are genuinely supportive of the heroine.
Both rivals make magnanimous gestures at the end, letting the hero go rather than turning him
in to the authorities.
Both have the heroes unofficially adopting young boys, to whom they become very close.
The relationship is acknowledged as being closer than that to the heroine, in Out of the Past.
Links to Days of Glory
Out of the Past also has links to Days of Glory, mainly in the use of violence (SPOILERS):
Both films also have secret or oblique messages. In Days of Glory, the partisans are forbidden to send radio messages,
because the Nazis might be listening in; in Out of the Past, the villains can't talk clearly on the phone,
because the operators might be listening. So people develop obliquely worded or coded messages instead.
- Both have women who repeatedly shoot men with guns: the Russian sniper in Days of Glory,
the femme fatale in Out of the Past. Both are highly effective.
- In both, the most innocent character is forced to kill a villain who is menacing the good guys:
the ballerina shoots the Nazi soldier in Days of Glory, the Kid kills the mob enforcer in Out of the Past.
Both films show romantic couples having dates in the woods.
Both films also have shots of women cooking. In both, the meals are extremely simple and plain.
Leather jackets in Out of the Past are worn by many men in the small town: the hero at
the start, his rival Jim, and many of the men hanging around at the Sheriff's office during the
manhunt near the finale. By contrast, suits and dressy long coats are associated with people
in the city. This "small town" semantics is a different meaning assigned to leather jackets than in any other film I've seen.
1930's actors mostly wore leather jackets as part of a working class profession, such as cab drivers or fishermen.
In the 1940's, leather jackets became a fashion craze for men. They are often worn in late 1940's films
by young men who don't want to be all dressed up in suits.
The hero of Out of the Past looks great in his jacket.
But as soon as he is contacted by the sinister mob enforcer, the hero stops wearing it, and he is never seen in his jacket again.
It's a symbol of his separation from the life of the town.
The dressiest man in the film is the black man in the night club. He is wearing a pinstripe suit, always the
ne plus ultra of forties style. This recalls the hero's pinstripe suit in Nick Carter, Master Detective.
It is an interesting social commentary to have a black man be the best dressed.
Mess jackets are worn by waiters. These anticipate Charles McGraw's Army uniform in Berlin Express,
and the hero's bolero jacket in Great Day in the Morning. Mess jackets are not that common in American film.
The hero wears one in The Tiger of Eschnapur (Fritz Lang, 1958).
Berlin Express (1948) is a spy thriller. None of the leads
in the film is a spy; rather, it is about good people who are
hemmed in and attacked by evil spies.
Influences on the Film
The film has a German setting, and one of the characters is a spy who wears a clown suit
and entertains in a music hall. In this it recalls Fritz Lang's
Spione (1928). The film has a finale in the basement of
a ruined German brewery, as in Lang's M (1931).
The plot of the film recalls Sternberg's Shanghai Express (1932),
with characters of all nationalities and politics making an intrigue-filled
train journey through a war torn country. Both films have a scene
where obstacles stop the train.
The mind-reader stage show section of the film resembles
Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps (1935).
The film has features recalling the semi-documentaries
of the 1940's:
- There is an official sounding narrator who explains things,
keeping up a running commentary on the action.
- There is much location filming in real life great cities.
- There is an inside
look at the operations of the French police and the authorities
of the American Occupation in Germany, which functions much like
the domestic government police agencies in other semi-docs.
- Science plays a role, with the hero being an agricultural expert.
- The finale in the brewery recalls the industrial site finales of many semi-docs.
I found the politics of Berlin Express to be a bit confusing.
The noble hero of the film is a peacemaker, played by Paul Lukas.
He worked as part of the anti-Hitler underground, and his campaign
to reunify Germany is sponsored by the US State Department. This
gives him an admirable background to which few could object. Is
he a representative of a real life political movement of the era?
He is opposed by a fanatic German underground, the villains of
the movie, whose politics are never made clear. Are these Neo-Nazis?
One might guess so, but this is never spelled out by the film.
Most critical commentators on the film declare these are Neo-Nazis,
but do not give any hard evidence. Or could they be Communists?
This is also a possibility.
Berlin Express shows a great deal of skepticism about the Soviets,
suggesting that it is their own hostile attitude
which is the main stumbling block with peace with the West. Still,
the film does yearn for such East-West peace. This makes the politics
of the film apparently largely in accord with liberal but non-Communist
thinking of the time.
I am not sure that I am accurately representing
the politics of this movie. One problem with the film: no one
ever seems to talk about democratic government, which to me is
at the center of all good politics.
If the contemporary, post-war politics of Berlin Express
seem vague and confusing, its anti-war politics stand out with vivid brilliance.
Few films have ever shown the devastation caused by war with such force
and clarity as Berlin Express. On wishes everyone could see this
film's fearsome demonstration of where war-mongering leads.
Berlin Express gives a powerful account of how Hitler's pro-war policies,
once so popular with Germans, reduced his country to rubble.
Charles McGraw is plainly delighted to be playing a good guy;
most of his other film roles during this period were of monstrous
villains. He is also glamorized, as a Colonel in charge of US
Army intelligence in Frankfurt.
Of all the main characters in this film, only hero Robert Ryan
and Russian officer Maxim turn out to be what and whom they originally
seem to be. This is typical of many of Tourneur's films. The characters
in Nightfall also turn out to have multiple identities.
Even when Tourneur's people are not lurking under false identities,
their initial impressions are deceiving. The islanders in I
Walked With a Zombie have a huge, hidden past, that only gradually
comes out in the course of the film. The bad guys in Stars
in My Crown are hiding under KKK hoods, and we also learn
a lot of strange things about the villains in The Fearmakers
and Night of the Demon. It is hard to be sure of what or
who any Tourneur character really is. The surface version of the
character seems to be just as "real" as the hidden depths.
The hero of Nightfall says towards the end that he prefers
his new name of Jim to his old, real name, giving a hint that
he likes his new identity better than his original one. And in
I Walked With a Zombie, telling what any character's "real"
personality is, is a futile enterprise.
Berlin Express shares imagery with the later Nightfall.
Both feature extensive location shooting. Both are city films,
containing massive panoramas of urban areas. Both go to crowded
transportation centers, train stations in the earlier film, bus
stations in the latter, and both have major scenes of train or
bus travel, respectively. Both have characters lurking under false
identities. Both have a hero, a heroine he meets in the course
of the story, and a benevolent older male who can be seen as a
father figure, and who has official connections.
The vats of beer at the end remind one of the aquariums in
Tourneur films often have objects shipped under deceptive stratagems.
In Berlin Express, it is not an object which is shipped, but the peacemaker.
He is being "shipped" to Berlin, to attend the conference.
And deceptive actions are taken to conceal the way he is being shipped,
in the Tourneur manner.
That Tourneur image, paper passed from person to person,
includes the pigeon message at the start, and the paper with similar information
passed in the train.
Visual Style: Links to Sternberg
Tourneur's visual style here has a good deal in common with Josef von Sternberg's.
Everything in Berlin Express is visually beautiful, just
as in Sternberg. Both directors focus on elaborate compositions.
The compositions in both are highly complex. The directors are
the opposite of minimalists: every shot is loaded with complex
series of lines and curves. Both directors employ complex regions
of light and shadow to aid in their composition.
Both use regions of elaborate background texture. Tourneur here is always shooting
against walls covered with complex wall papers or moldings or
grillwork, for instance. This means that certain regions of the
screen will have a complex texture; other regions of the composition
will have a different but just as elaborate texture. This is quite
different from an architectural director such as Fritz Lang,
who will emphasize the pure geometry of his rooms in his compositions.
Both Sternberg and Tourneur also like to mask the foreground of
the screen with complex patterns. In Berlin Express
this is mainly ornamental grillwork, which seems to be everywhere
in Germany, and France, too, according to this film! Sternberg,
by contrast, liked East Asian bead curtains and netting, which would
probably have looked out of place in Frankfurt! All in all, both
Sternberg and Tourneur seem part of a Pictorialist film tradition.
Deep Space Views of Cities
Berlin Express continues Tourneur's interest in shots which
show deep space. The shots at the French police headquarters,
for instance, have deep focus shots of Paris visible through their
windows. One of the police goes out on to a balcony, and the shot
follows him and expands to a whole panorama of Paris, with the
Seine and buildings on the opposite bank. This is very beautiful.
The technique is similar to the lunch counter scenes in Out
of the Past, which showed the town through its plate glass
Similarly, the wide open plaza near Berlin's Brandenburg
Gate at the finale recalls the open streets of the mountain town
at the start of Out of the Past. There are also some large
scale panoramas of Los Angeles city streets in Nightfall.
One dramatic panorama shot of Frankfurt is taken from some sort
of elevated platform, on which a man is standing. This recalls
the street scene near the bus station in Nightfall, which
is also taken from some sort of elevated pedestrian walkway. In
neither film, does Tourneur actually show us the walkway, or have
an establishing shot depicting it from a reverse angle. He simply
uses the walkway as his platform for a dramatic view. Both shots
have a pedestrian standing on them, in the foreground.
The opening Paris scenes are full of Tourneur's "corridor"
shots. Here, these are long perspective views, straight down Parisian
streets. These give strong pictorial views of Paris. The two rows
of buildings on each side of the shot, form the walls of the "corridor".
One striking shot shows a perspective view down a Montmartre street.
Then a 90 degree pan reveals another long perspective view, this
time through a gate and into the courtyard of a Parisian police
Tourneur shoots straight down the corridor with the dressing rooms,
backstage at the night club.
When the film gets to Berlin at the end, there are shots outside
showing buildings near the station, in the "corridor" format.
This is followed by a "corridor" shot straight down the Autobahn (highway).
The best sequence in Berlin Express is the train journey
from Paris to Frankfurt, near the start of the film. This sequence
is one of Tourneur's "micro-landscapes". It shows us
the car in which the main characters live in enormous detail,
both from within and without the car and train. There are many
perspective shots, both down the train's central aisle, and along
the outside of the train. These form Tourneur "corridor shots".
Tourneur likes to shoot through windows, and the train sequence
has shots both looking out from the train through windows to the outside,
and looking in to the train through windows from outdoors.
The shot, introducing all of the characters, shows us each one
through the windows of various compartments on the train. It somewhat
recalls the shots through train windows near the opening of Clarence Brown's
Possessed (1931). The compartments are some of Tourneur's
repeating modules. So are the bunks within the compartments,
which are featured prominently in this shot.
(The beer vats at the end are also repeating modules).
The train sequence is densely written. It introduces us to most
of the characters of the film. It shows the pattern of nationalities
intersecting on occupied Germany - American, British, French,
Russian and German - and their complex political interactions
and history. It shows the mechanism of life and work in occupied
Germany. It sets up the main aspects of the spy plot. And the
micro-landscape sets this against a spatial organization and floor
plan on the train. All of this makes this sequence rich and delightful.
The sequence conveys much of the romance and excitement of train
Tourneur shoots from every possible perspective on the train.
He has shots from outside the train, looking into the compartments,
from in the compartments, looking in the train, from the corridor,
looking into the compartments, the reverse, etc. Tourneur shows
a Fritz Lang like exhaustivity, exploiting his set for every possible
direction of view. Most of the shots are dramatically just right.
They vividly convey the mood of that part of the story. When the
mood of the story shifts, Tourneur comes up with the right camera
position for it, too.
Tourneur rarely shoots from a high or a
low angle, unlike many other film noir directors, however. The
use of an elevated angle is restricted to the shots immediately
following the murder, where it helps to underscore the surprise
of the situation. Even here, the camera is not too high. There
is also a dramatic excuse for such an angle; the army officer
in charge is bending down to the ground.
Both the I.G. Farben headquarters and the brewery near the end are
geometric environments. The brewery emphasizes rounded barrels,
and there are circular handles on the wall. Everything in sight is a geometric form.
The spherical crystal ball carried in the night club act also seems strikingly geometric.
Easy Living (1949) is about a professional football
player facing health and career problems. It is an uneven, lesser film,
marred by some sexist attitudes and scenes.
Careers and Publicity
The hero is one of several Tourneur men, who undergo drastic
career changes. The hero of Days of Glory used to be an engineer
who built things - but the war has made him a saboteur who blows things up.
The hero of Out of the Past has gone from private eye to gas station owner.
In all of these cases, the heroes have undergone a loss of status,
and moved from a fascinating profession, to a far less agreeable one.
Easy Living, like The Leopard Man, also looks at the dark side of
publicity. The team's public relations man and owner have built up the hero's
reputation, making him a star. The film shows how evanescent this is, how it can all
change in the twinkling of an eye. The poster that features the hero's photo
is an ironical symbol of this. It keeps recurring in ever more sinister ways
through the film.
Easy Living is rich in a kind of episode that runs through Tourneur:
a narrator evokes a world for a listener or spectator. This seems to begin
in Tourneur with The Rainbow Pass, a look at the conventions of traditional
Chinese theater. In Days of Glory, a ballerina evokes the world of
the ballet, for a young man from the provinces who has never seen it.
There are a number of such episodes in Easy Living:
The boxing machine game also enables a symbolic version of the relationship between
the hero and his best friend. (The boxing game is also an example of Tourneur's
large machines, and of the mechanical toys that run through his films.)
- The hero tells about the events of a mystery novel, Happy Homicide.
This is a spoof of tough private eye books.
- Ball describes a fantasy of the hero taking her out dancing to a nightclub.
- Old football games are described by a coach and his wife at a party.
- The team owner uses motion pictures, to create a narrative about how the hero
played over the season. The movies, projected in a small room, recall the slide
projector used by the bad guys in Nick Carter, Master Detective. This scene
seems to turn the hero into an object, someone whose life story is now under
control by someone else. The movies are also much more concrete, and less purely
imaginative, that the verbal narratives about the mystery novel or night club.
Characters and Relationships
One can more-or-less see a similar pattern of characters and relationships in
Easy Living, as the one found in Out of the Past and Great Day in the Morning.
It's not a close or perfect fit. Here are the correspondences:
This pattern of relationships might be called a W. We have the hero in the center, two (or three) women attached to him,
and rival men in turn attached to the women.
- An imperfect hero (Victor Mature). Still, the hero of Easy Living is not morally compromised,
the way those in Out of the Past and Great Day in the Morning are.
- A "bad gal" involved with the hero: here the hero's wife (Lizabeth Scott).
- In Out of the Past and Great Day in the Morning, the bad gal is also involved with a sinister crime lord.
In Easy Living, the bad gal is involved with a repulsive, morally corrupt rich man, but he is not a criminal.
- The "good gal", also involved with the hero. Easy Living has two different good gals. One is the secretary (Lucille Ball),
with whom the hero has a romantic-but-platonic relationship.
- The other good gal is the sweet young housewife (played by Jeff Donnell, a beautiful woman with a man's first name).
She is crazy about the hero, in a purely platonic, innocent way, but doesn't have a romantic relationship with him.
Her character is not as central as Ball's.
- But Donnell is married, and her husband (Sonny Tufts) is a major character in the film.
He has much in common with the "good guy rivals" in Out of the Past and Great Day in the Morning,
who are in love with those film's "good gals".
All of these men are big, blandly good-looking men. All are strongly self-disciplined models of rectitude.
In this, they form a contrast with the imperfect hero. The rivals in Out of the Past and Great Day in the Morning
are government officials, of a fairly low level but still responsible kind. In the sports-world of Easy Living,
Sonny Tufts becomes not a government official, but a coach, which is a sports-world authority figure equivalent.
One difference: Sonny Tufts is friendly with the hero of Easy Living, unlike the rivals in
Out of the Past and Great Day in the Morning. And unlike them, he is not locked in a romantic rivalry with the hero:
he regards his marriage to Jeff Donnell as 100% secure.
- The heroes of Out of the Past and Great Day in the Morning unofficially adopt orphaned boys, to whom
they are deeply attached. The hero of Easy Living is shown repeatedly with crowds of young boys who
are fans of his football hero. But the hero never develops any sort of personal relationship with any of them.
Sexism and Women's Labor
Easy Living shows the tremendous amount of unpaid or low paid labor women were
expected to do, to keep athletics - and presumably other businesses - going in 1949:
The film seems to accept this as the Way Things Should Be. Good women (Ball, Donnell) support this system, bad women (Scott)
do not. This sure seems sexist. However, Easy Living also does not conceal this social system. At the very least,
the film offers an eye-opening alternative, to the right wing lies that say women lived pampered lives in the 1950's.
- Coach's wives were supposed to work full time, unpaid, to support their husbands' careers.
- Lucille Ball's "team secretary" has to travel everywhere with the football team, look after athletes day and night,
fish drunken players out of bars. And all for a secretary's status and wages.
I'm trying to imagine Jeff Donnell working full time unpaid as a coach's wife, and raising a new baby! The mind reels.
Where will she find time to do all this? The film never explores this issue.
Easy Living also suggests that success in glamorous female professions such as modeling or interior design,
depends entirely on the backing of rich sugar daddies. If women don't sleep with such men, they are not going to have "careers".
I have no idea if this is true. Still, it too offers an unusual look at the behind-the-scenes economics of the era.
The finale is a sexist disaster. I don't have the heart to analyze it in any detail.
Tourneur films sometimes contrast an upper middle class man with a middle class man.
Easy Living does not directly do this. But the two parties near the start, one showing the wife's
upper crust clients and associates, the other the husband's sports buddies, have an upper middle class vs middle class feel.
The people at the sports party seem very middle class, in conventional suits.
They are properly dressed by middle class standards, but lack all glamour.
The people at the wife's party have more expensive and sophisticated clothes, and a hint of decadence.
They are definitely representatives of a higher social class.
Commentators on the IMDb point out how much less affluent pro football players were in 1949.
The athletes in 1949's Easy Living represent a modest, purely middle class world.
Flat Wall shots
In the bar, Ball and the hero are photographed against a wall full of parallel lines.
This is a classic Tourneur "flat wall shot".
The hero of Easy Living, like those of Out of the Past and The Fearmakers,
wears a trenchcoat. All three men look great. But the films also have an ironical or
mocking aspect. The trenchcoat conveys an image of glamorized, tough masculinity.
But in reality, all three men are deeply troubled, and facing weaknesses and career
Stars in My Crown
Stars in My Crown (1950) is the sort of serious "family
film" that was popular in the 1940's. These usually starred
a family, a small kid who was a gifted actor, and had a small
town or rural setting. Usually, these films were serious, even
soap opera-ish in tone, as the characters confronted a whole series
of problems and serious issues. One thinks of:
Stars in My Crown recalls the first half of John Ford's Young Mr.
Lincoln (1939). Both take place in a richly depicted 19th
Century town somewhere in the heartland; in both the hero has
to stand up and try to prevent a lynching. Stars in My Crown tries to
recreate a way of life in a past era. In this it recalls the films
of John Ford, who specialized in recreating
ancient lifestyles and traditions. The musical interludes here
also seem Ford-like, with music used to evoke a different time
- Allan Dwan's Driftwood (1947),
in which the characters fought the same sort of serious diseases as in this film.
- Clarence Brown's Intruder in the Dust (1949),
which also looked at racial hatred in America.
Stars in My Crown contains a ferocious attack on racism.
It is one of the boldest of the post-war films, that supported
the growing Civil Rights movement of the time.
This film is like Out of the Past, in that it shows evil
forces laying siege to people in small towns. Both towns are idyllic
places, filled with small businesses and homes. In both towns
people love to fish, something that is treated as a source of
friendship between grown-ups and kids. But the gangsters of the
one film, and the typhoid and race hatred in the other, threaten
to destroy the possibilities of harmony.
The minister's activities against the Klan are explicitly non-violent.
He refuse to wear a gun to the confrontation, and forbids his allies in Hale's family to use guns.
Hale's family defies him and show up armed. They are impressed and startled
by the preacher's effectiveness using non-violent means.
Hale's family are likely impressed with several aspects of the minister and his religion:
- His support for racial equality.
- His commitment to important but unpopular ideas,
and willingness to stand up for them in the most forceful and public way.
- His support for the poorest people in society.
- His personal courage.
- The practical effectiveness of his religion and his non-violence.
Living Where One Works
People in Stars in My Crown tend to live where they work.
The minister and his wife, Famous, the doctors, and the farm family
of Alan Hale, all have combined work-living quarters associated
with them. Tourneur spends a good deal of time exploring these
There are a huge number of films that depict the Roman Catholic
Church. There are far fewer that show Protestantism, Orthodox
Christianity, or Judaism. Partly this is due to the nature of
Roman Catholic religious observance, itself. Roman Catholicism,
like Buddhism and the religion of ancient Greece, is oriented
towards pious religious activities. The devout of these faiths
express their feelings through rituals, activities and stories.
Consequently, these faiths have produced a huge body of art, music,
storytelling and drama, all of which reflects their religious
ideals. This has been true for thousands of years. The heritage
of religious art these faiths have created is truly staggering.
When film was invented, it was a natural extension to express
the sort of religious ideas in film that had previously found
outlets in sacred music and painting.
Stars in My Crown is one of the few sympathetic depictions
of Protestant religion on the screen. The preacher hero of the
film is a wholly good person.
The depiction of Protestantism in this film has formal similarities
to the many depictions of Catholicism in the movies. The film
emphasizes religious activities, and interweaves these with daily
life. Three activities are especially high-lighted in the film:
preaching, hymn singing, and visiting the sick. This focus on
kinds of religious observance is typical of Catholic movies. Some
of the specific activities are deeply Protestant, especially preaching
and hymns. It is as if the filmmakers have taken the formal
structure of Catholic movies, and merged it with the content
of Protestant practice.
The film emphasizes the idea in the proverb "The Lord helps those who help themselves."
The minister gives a mini-sermon on this subject.
It stresses the importance of practical action.
The good people in the film are always working and trying to do something in the real world:
the preacher, his wife, Hale's family, the doctor.
"Stars in My Crown" is a hymn tune. It is sung over
the opening credits of the film, and recurs throughout the movie.
It is an emotionally powerful work. The use of a musical refrain
in an otherwise non-musical film is a basic element of the Sternberg
tradition in filmmaking. It is one that Tourneur follows with
great effectiveness. The text of "Stars in My Crown" is by the Presbyterian writer
Eliza E. Hewitt; the music is by John R. Sweney, who also wrote the music
for the hymn "Beulah Land", within text by Methodist writer Edgar Page Stites.
Both Hewitt and Sweney were based in or near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Hewitt and Sweney had ties with Methodist hymn writer Fanny Crosby.
In the book, there are indications that the church is Methodist:
the church building is written up in The Southern Methodist Review.
There are brief references to the other churches in town, which are Baptist
and Presbyterian. The book doesn't emphasize denominationalism aspects,
and the film omits any mention of them entirely.
Visual Style: Corridors and Porticos
Stars in My Crown is a film that is rich in visual beauty.
Shot after shot shows Tourneur's attempt to create visually pleasing
compositions. These try to convey the idyllic life of the small
Tourneur's approach to composition in Stars in My Crown
recalls that of Out of the Past. Many shots, both outdoors
and inside, show the "corridor" approach of that earlier
film. The opening shots of Stars in My Crown show the small
town in ways that recall the small town opening of Out of the
Past. Once again, Tourneur favors covered porches and walkways,
through which he creates deep focus shots stressing perspective.
An interior shot of a bar here recalls the lunch room sequence
of Out of the Past. Tourneur shoots down two corridors
in the bar: one between two lines of people down to the minister
in the back of the bar; a second shot down the bar counter itself.
This second shot also shows the "outdoor town seen through
the large window" approach of the lunch room scenes in the
When Tourneur gets to the minister's home, he creates a shot down
the minister's back porch. Once again, this is a straight on perspective
shot under a covered portico. It also faces directly on a large
window showing the outside world.
There is a deep perspective shot showing the arrival of the minister
down a long corridor-like road at Alan Hale's farm.
Another outdoor corridor shows Chloroform retreating down a gap between two buildings
in the bullwhip sequence.
In addition to their pictorial possibilities, the corridor approach
is often very informative to the audience. It shows them a great
deal of a scene, all in one well organized, easy to comprehend
shot. We see everything from the foreground to the background,
all nicely laid out and easy to understand. Often times, the corridor
passes through many different layers of background. For example,
Tourneur can create a corridor showing three rooms of a house.
The first room will be in the foreground, then another room will
be seen through open doors in the center of the shot; then distant
doors in the background of the shot will show a third room. Not
only is the shot visually complex and beautiful, but it shows
us the entire floor plan of the set, in one easy to take in view.
The fact that Tourneur favors corridors and porticos as the structural
principles of his shots, does not explain their beauty. His compositions
are often exquisitely gorgeous.
Visual Style: Composition
One of the best shots in the film has nothing to do with a corridor
approach. This is the introductory shout outside Famous' home.
It opens with a composition framed by trees. These form slanting
verticals on both sides of the screen, while the fence in front
of the home forms equally slanting horizontals. Tourneur liked
such strong straight lines. Later, the characters move down the
road, and Tourneur pans to the left. The camera comes to a rest
on another composition, that is also very beautiful. This one
has Famous' head a little above the log fence, while John the
child is backgrounded against the fence. Also, in the background
right, Chloroform is standing, with trees making a series of three
vertical lines in a giant V around him. Meanwhile, Famous' fishing
pole males a tilted cross around him, the most powerful lines
in the composition. It is a remarkably composed image. The fact
that Famous, John and Chloroform are all gentle, good people adds
to the appeal of the image.
Other shots involve the road, and an equally angular bridge. The
road and the fence turn sharply to the left, making a contrasting
set of verticals. Tourneur shoots the whole fishing scene with
a widely contrasting series of shots. He is as exhaustive as Fritz Lang,
in trying to find every interesting image possible in a
scene, then staging the scene around it.
Flat Wall Shots
When Chloroform is trapped in the alley by the man with the whip,
Chloroform is filmed against a flat white wall. The wall has vertical strips of wood,
adding to its compositional interest.
The church finale also has shots close to the "flat wall" approach. We see the doors of the church
in two shots that are almost parallel to the doors and their surrounding wall.
One shot is fairly close to the doors and the hats on the wall surrounding them.
The other camera set-up is further back, showing much of the rear wall of the church.
Soon, we also see the front of the church and the preacher, in shots also fairly close to
the "flat wall" approach.
Tourneur's fondness for machinery shows up in the fan used
by the wife. It is a unique figure of visual style, something
that I've never seen in other films or real life. It reminds one
a bit of the machinery in Sternberg's films, whose rhythmic repetition
makes both temporal patterns and visual compositions.
The wife uses other rhythmic machines: the apple-peeler in the kitchen,
and the rotating device with the yarn she uses while keeping vigil over her son.
The organ the wife plays is also a Tourneur "large machine". The film emphasizes its
mechanical aspect, showing people working the bellows.
The town train is contrasted with a horse and buggy being driven through the streets.
The train makes an arrival, a bit like the suddenly arriving busses in
Cat People and the opening of Nightfall.
The Flame and the Arrow
The Flame and the Arrow (1950) is a swashbuckler, starring the
spectacularly acrobatic Burt Lancaster.
Characters and Relationships
The Flame and the Arrow has the W-pattern of character
relationships found in several other Tourneur films:
The sympathetic mute Piccolo recalls the mute Kid in Out of the Past.
- A hero involved with a Good Woman and a Bad Woman.
In The Flame and the Arrow, the hero is unhappily married
to the Bad Woman, as in Easy Living.
- The Bad Woman in several Tourneur films is involved with a evil crime lord.
The Medieval equivalent is found in The Flame and the Arrow,
a sinister aristocrat who is a dictator in power after an invasion.
- The Good Woman is also part of a triangle, being once again in love
with a blandly handsome, socially correct government official. This man is
ultimately far less likable that the Good Guy rivals in other Tourneur W-patterns, though.
He is also not a member of a democratically elected government,
but rather a local pre-invasion aristocrat: making him less sympathetic.
- Like other Tourneur heroes, the one in The Flame and the Arrow is
a loving father figure to a young boy. But unlike other such boys, this one is
NOT adopted. He is the hero's biological son.
The villain is known as The Hawk, and The Flame and the Arrow is
full of bird imagery. This imagery sometimes resembles a bit the cat imagery in
The good guys also use birds: they shoo trained buzzards into flight, to make it look as if
the hero has been killed and the buzzards are circling.
- We have a sinister character, the Hawk, associated with an
animal of prey, like the "cat-woman and the panther" in Cat People.
- When the villain appears, most ordinary birds are scared: also like the heroine of
Cat People, who induces panic and terror in birds and animals. There is nothing supernatural
about this in The Flame and the Arrow however: it is because the villain carries
a fierce falcon who hunts ordinary birds.
- The Hawk has a bird design on his tunic, the way the cat-woman is associated
with cat pictures.
There is a trained bear with the minstrels at the end, on a chain like the leopard in
The Leopard Man. Bears are fairly close biological relatives to that Tourneur subject, cats.
One of the rebels disguises himself in a bear costume. This recalls humans allegedly turning into cats
in Cat People. The bear suit also can be considered a form of animal statue,
also a Tourneur tradition.
Science and Technology
Its Medieval setting means there is less technology in The Flame and the Arrow
than other Tourneur pictures. Still, the catapult is one of Tourneur's
large machines. So perhaps is the winch, which raises the castle gate at the end.
The villain uses a hand compass while pouring over documents, and gestures with it.
He echoes other Tourneur heroes who gesture with instruments.
Similar hand compasses are used for gesturing in Nick Carter, Master Detective
and Great Day in the Morning.
The life-giving substances that play a big role in some Tourneur,
find a small scale equivalent in the healing herbs the hero gives to the apothecary.
The hero is a Tourneur injured character, treated by the apothecary
at the start.
Tourneur films often have sympathetic image creators. The mute good guy
Piccolo draws on the ground to convey information.
The wineskin punctured by the arrow at the start, with the wine flowing out,
recall the shattered aquariums with gushing water in Experiment Perilous.
Later, there will be more flowing water, with the stream emptying into the pool.
There is also a town fountain, seen briefly at the start and end of the film.
Architecture: Indoors and Outdoors
Many Tourneur films have regions which combine the inside and outdoors.
In modern-day and Western films, these are often covered porches or sidewalk porticos.
In the Medieval The Flame and the Arrow, the equivalent might be the tunnel-like arches
in the town. These recall a bit the tunnel-like entrance to the cantina in Out of the Past.
There is also a tunnel to the ruins in the woods.
As several commentators have noted, The Flame and the Arrow has
plot and situation similarities to The Adventures of Robin Hood
(William Keighley, Michael Curtiz, 1938).
There is an occupying power oppressing a medieval country, located in a
formidable castle; a band of outlaws resisting them in a forest, a hero who
is an archer, and an upper class heroine from the castle who goes to live with the
outlaw band. Both films are elaborately shot in color.
The use of minstrels to infiltrate a bad man's castle recalls
The Three Musketeers (Allan Dwan, 1939).
Working Men and Politics
Quite a few swashbucklers stress the aristocratic origins or destiny of their heroes.
Robin Hood is the Earl of Nottingham, for example. The Flame and the Arrow
will have none of this. Its heroes are exclusively working class, with their professions
emphasized: apothecary, blacksmith, animal skinner, chimney sweeper. The hero is a hunter.
And its upper class aristocrats are uniformly depraved. One suspects that this reflects the
Communist politics of its soon-to-be blacklisted screenwriter, Waldo Salt.
However, there are plenty of people gainfully employed in the rest of Tourneur.
He tends to show their occupations in detail.
At the end, the rebels start the fight for liberation from the warlord. They are soon joined by other groups.
One suspects a political allegory in these groups:
The Adventures of Robin Hood and Zorro films have sympathetic priest characters,
who give their blessings to the hero's rebel activities. These too are absent in
The Flame and the Arrow. Religion is largely absent from the world of the film.
Religion is briefly associated with the aristocrats: a cross is carved over the outside door of the palace;
towards the end, the aristocrats plan to go to church.
- The players join in. This shows artists supporting a revolution. Also, these men fight because they see
the rebels-disguised-as-players attacked, and they feel solidarity towards fellow players.
This solidarity between groups of similar workers is perhaps a labor union allegory.
- The rebels release the prisoners, who join the fight.
- Bakers from the palace kitchen join. They use their bread baking paddles as weapons.
This suggests the working class joining the struggle.
Near the start, the hero invoked mountain law, justifying his shooting of the falcon.
The dictator Hawk rejects this claim. The Hawk explicitly says he knows this law -
but he disregards it. This sets forth what will later be a major theme in Wichita:
the rule of law, and the efforts of evil rich men to subvert it, doing as they will.
In Berlin Express, clown make-up was used as a disguise by both
good guys and bad guys. In The Flame and the Arrow, it is used to
conceal the identity of good guys. It will return in Night of the Demon,
not as a disguise, but as a piece of sinister imagery.
Such Tourneur horror films as Cat People and Night of the Demon
show a great concern over devil-worship. But in the comic The Flame and the Arrow,
the entertainers dressed as devils turn out to be good guys. They use their
flame-blowing as part of the armed battle at the end.
The sword duel with the Marchese in the finale, begins with a look down corridors of the palace.
The camera moves forward, going through a door from one room to another.
At the start, the film is in dull neutral colors. Both the hero and most of the sympathetic workers
in town are in brown.
The town buildings are virtually denuded of color, and so its the ugly castle.
The town building exteriors are mainly gray; so is the blacksmith shop's interior.
The hero's costume is mainly brown. But underneath it, he wears a green shirt.
The shirt is hardly visible: only a little of it peeks out at the neck and at the sleeves.
Still, it is enough to make the hero technically have a green-and-brown costume - which recalls
Errol Flynn's green-and-brown outfit in The Adventures of Robin Hood.
Flynn's Robin Hood showed far more green, however.
When the hero is getting the arrow pulled out of his back, his tunic is off, and we see
him in his green shirt. The apothecary treating the hero is also largely in green.
This scene shows Tourneur's interest in heroes in green. Later, the hero is in green
when he surrenders to the Hawk in exchange for the hostages.
Several of the poor kids in town are in more colorful clothes. Still, these colors are dark and muted.
The hero's son is mainly in brown like his father. He has a red shirt peeking out, just as his father has a hard-to-see green shirt.
Among the adult men, mainly the aristocrats show any color, notably the Marchese in his gold tunic.
The Hawk in dark red velvet, and the dancing master and boy in green and blue, also show color.
But all of this color seems dark, stiff and formal. It is color, but of a highly controlled,
formal, stuffy, aristocratic kind.
The Hawk has a dark red table at his palace. It largely matches his dark red velvet cloak.
But the minstrels at the end let color loose. They bring color to working people, and also
have the most uninhibited color in the film. Color seems to represent the possibilities of life,
either absent among the poor good guys at the start, or rigidly controlled by evil upper classes.
At last it is set free.
The hero at the end is mainly in red, with yellow and gold also playing a role. He even wears a red clown-nose.
He anticipates the hero of Wichita and his red shirt.
Some of the characters are in a mix of red, blue and white:
- Aline MacMahon.
- Piccolo is his minstrel's costume disguise at the end.
- A Jester, at the end.
When first seen, the Hawk is in chain mail, covering most of his body. He also wears a matching silver helmet.
The chain mail is suggestive:
Towards the end, the aristocratic heroine is in a silver dress and red cloak. This echoes
the villain's outfit earlier.
- It convey military goals: the Hawk is dressed for armed combat. The Hawk is in fact a military warlord who has conquered the region.
- It suggests wealth and class status: only the aristocracy can afford such clothes.
- It suggests the Hawk does not like to be touched or have his body exposed, and has it carefully covered.
It makes him look separated from other people.
When treated for the wound, the hero becomes a Tourneur man with his shirt off.
Soon he is swathed in white bandages, becoming a Tourneur character in white clothes.
The hero is shirtless again, after his fake hanging.
Appointment in Honduras
Nature and Technology
Appointment in Honduras (1953) is an adventure thriller,
set in 1910 Honduras. It is like Phantom Raiders and I
Walked With a Zombie, in being a film set in a tropical Caribbean
country. Tourneur shows Honduras, as lush, stormy and full of
vegetation, like the Mexican scenes in Out of the Past.
The jungle shots are full of Tourneur's beloved trees. There are
some scary scenes with a jungle puma, reminding us that Tourneur
directed Cat People, The Leopard Man, Night of
the Demon, all cat thrillers. However, nature is regularly
on the attack here, with everything from bats to insects to alligators
going after our jungle expedition.
The hero also succumbs to an attack of malaria, recalling the
many medical scenes in Tourneur films. He initially dismisses
any suggestion that he take quinine to prevent malaria, a bit
of an echo perhaps of the arrogance of medical researchers in
other Tourneur films. Eventually he takes it, and recovers. This
recalls the health-giving substances in Romance of Radium,
and The Magic Alphabet.
The covered motor boat used by the dictator's troops recalls the
other "large machines" in Tourneur's films.
The tracing paper used by the hero to copy the map is visually
striking. It is perhaps related to the see-through screens and
windows in Tourneur films. In the days before copying machines
came into widespread use in the 1970's, tracing paper, like carbon
paper and mimeograph machines, was one of the few devices that
could make multiple copies of documents. It played an important
role in the circulation of knowledge in human society. Tourneur
sometimes has imagery related to such subjects: see the way radium
fogs photographic plates in The Romance of Radium. One
also thinks of the hero's creation of drawings at his artist's
desk in Nightfall, and Anne Bancroft's portfolio of modeling
photos in that same film, as well as the draftsmen in Cat People,
and the blueprints in Nick Carter, Master Detective.
The film deals with an attempt by a small group of people to thwart
an anti-democratic takeover of the country. In this, it is like
Berlin Express and The Fearmakers. The hero is also
tracked by organized groups of bad guys, and has to flee before
them cross country, like the heroes of Nightfall and Out
of the Past. However, these parallels play out better in brief
summaries like this, than they do in the film. The difference
has to do with complexities of form and content. The discussions
of history and politics are very rich in Berlin Express,
and thin to near non-existence in Appointment in Honduras.
Similarly, Appointment in Honduras has little of the plot
complexities and intricacies of Nightfall and Out of
the Past. Chris Fujiwara's description of Appointment in
Honduras as paradoxically at once well-made but trivial seems
The film is full of ambiguity, somewhat in the way of other Tourneur
films. The hero seems like a villain at first. Indeed, I was disgusted
with him on first viewing. The forces he unleashes on ship seem
as mean as the bad guys in Nightfall. But eventually, he
becomes the film's noble hero. A second viewing shows plenty of
hints that his character can be read that way, right from the
start: he orders the convicts not to use violence, and they disobey
him. Still, the violence he enables against innocent people is
really offensive. It is hard to forgive or forget the killing
of the radio operator, or the ship's watchman. All of this strikes
one as less pure ambiguity, and more plain scrambled scripting.
Still, this is consistent with the way Tourneur characters gradually
reveal hidden personalities.
Similarly, the treatment of the rich guy. He has the structural
position of the Bad Guy, and is played by an actor who specialized
in odious rich men, Zachary Scott - see Mildred Pierce.
However, Scott's character never actually does anything wrong
in the course of the film. Nothing he does can possibly justify
his being taken hostage. Nor is there any justification for his
wife dumping him, and having an affair with the hero. Are we supposed
to hate this guy because he's rich? Or is there a deliberate ambiguity
here? Or is this all just scrambled, again? It is hard to say.
Appointment in Honduras is a film in which the "hero"
enables the killing of innocent people during what seems like
an unprovoked attack, and who commits adultery. And a film in
which the apparent "villain", however snarling, and
unlikable in personality, never commits a single bad action. This
is just plain strange. It is deliberate, and of artistic significance?
Just a mixed-up script? And how did this script ever get past
the censors, anyway? This was in an era in which movie heroes
never even killed the bad guys, usually rounding them up and turning
them over to the law: an expression of belief in the rule of law
in a democratic society that seems politically deeply admirable,
If the rich guy is indeed a villain, the way his wife comes to
aid and ally herself with the hero anticipates Night of the
Demon, and Mrs. Karswell's warning the hero about her evil
husband. It also recalls Out of the Past, and the way the
femme fatale kept oscillating between the hero and villain, and
the triangles in Nightfall and I Walked with a Zombie.
Zachary Scott can be seen as a member of the upper middle classes,
and planter Glenn Ford as an upstart member of the lower middle
classes. Scott sneers at Ford's manners to the Captain in the
opening sequence. Such conflicts between two levels of men in
business will recur in Night of the Demon and The Fearmakers.
However, in those films it is the upper middle class Dana Andrews
who is the hero, with the villains being the upstart lower middle
class characters. This film reverses the approach.
There are no mysteries for the hero or the audience to solve.
But the bad guys are regularly confused about the hero's goals,
speculating he is looking for a treasure. This ties in with Tourneur's
theme, of the difficulty of uncovering truth.
Visual Style: The Ship
The ship at the beginning is unusually small. Its deck and rooms
are close to being one of Tourneur's micro-locales. They are beautifully
colored, with a mix of red, light blues and greens. The whole
effect is like a 1920's film in two-color Technicolor. Famed art
director Charles D. Hall does a fascinating job with the ship's
rooms. They are full of rectilinear bunks and boxes. It is one
of Tourneur's "geometric worlds". The gently sloping
ceilings, giving the rooms trapezoidal outlines, contributes to
the geometric effect: one is always reminded that one is in a
non-conventionally shaped space, but a space still ruled by mathematical
patterns. I have no idea what the multi-colored objects in pigeonholes
are, in the radio operator's room. But they are visually rich
and delightful. The pigeonholes are repeating geometric units.
So are the many chairs in the cabin where the heroine is playing
cards. These remind one of the chairs in the dining counter, at
the start of Out of the Past.
The film opens on a "corridor shot" down the deck. The
deck set is fairly short, and we do not get as deep a perspective
as in some of Tourneur's corridor shots. The deck contains two
outdoor staircases, anticipating the fashion show micro-locale
in Nightfall. The angle of the upper staircase is echoed
by the angles of the backs of two deck chairs. Both the chairs
and the cabin doors are the repeating units Tourneur likes in
his shots. Red light is coming out of the doors, while blue light
fills the rest of the deck - a color harmony that will persist
in the shipboard opening. We also see an octagonal region on the
floor near a lifeboat. The lifeboat will be a major visual motif
throughout the whole first half of the film. It gets introduced
here before any of the human characters.
Later, at the climax of the ship sequence, Tourneur will switch
to a "flat wall shot" of the deck, with the plane of
his image parallel to the wall of the deck. Tourneur will dramatically
move his camera backwards and forwards, always keeping it parallel
to the deck wall. This preserves the flat wall shot approach,
yet makes for some striking camera movements.
The whole ship seems old, and very remote from anything in modern
times, or other movies. The various cabins and rooms remind one
a bit of the train in Berlin Express.
The sympathetic radio operator lives and works in the same room
on ship, like many Tourneur characters, with his desk right next
to the box containing his bed. The radio room seems like the brain
center of the ship: it is full of papers and maps, and is the
place where information flows in and out of the ship. In the second
visit to the cabin, Tourneur will switch to a moderately elevated
angle. This allows one to have an overhead view of the operator's
use of the telegraph, and of the hero's making a trace of the
map. Such an elevated angle is a bit unusual for Tourneur. It
recalls a similar gently elevated angle in the heroine's apartment
in Out of the Past. And as in that previous film, the shot
turns into a camera movement, exploring the radio operator's cabin
as a whole. In Appointment in Honduras, the angle is linked
to exposition: Tourneur needs the angle to give the audience a
better view of the action.
We first see the village from an elevated point of view, spread
out as a panorama below. This is a typical Tourneur cityscape,
here applied to a very small community.
The hero wears white throughout the picture - first a white tropical
suit, then a white explorer's outfit. This recalls the white tropical
clothes in Phantom Raiders, and the hero's white coat in
The Fearmakers. Later on, the dictator at the palace and
his generals will all be in white tropical uniforms, with touches
The scenes of the rising wind blowing the tropical vegetation
are beautiful. They anticipate the wind storm in Night of the Demon.
Stranger on Horseback
Stranger on Horseback (1955) is a Western, about a circuit judge who comes to a
remote Western town.
I urge everyone to see this fine film, before reading further. The less you know
in advance about its plot, the better. The following discussion tries to avoid spoilers,
but the film will certainly be most enjoyable if you approach it with little foreknowledge.
Stranger on Horseback has an unusual structure. It begins with 50 minutes of
serious drama, mainly in or near the town. Then it has a 15 minute finale full of action and suspense,
set in the countryside. The finale brings in such familiar Tourneur subjects as a hero
fleeing across the countryside, and people tracking a character, in this case the hero.
It also has some of the mountain background scenery Tourneur loves.
Stranger on Horseback is unusually short for a 1950's feature film with major stars, just 65 minutes.
This is closer to a B-movie of the 1930's or 1940's, or one of the compact TV dramas of the late 1950's.
However, both its length and structure seem just right, while watching the film.
Several Tourneur films are set in centers of American political power or
symbolic locales of power. Stranger on Horseback is not quite set in
either: it is in just a typical early frontier Western town. But what is going on there
is indeed an archetypal American story: the birth of the rule of law. This makes it
symbolic of a key issue in American life, and one central to how political power
is exercised in the United States.
The contrast between the wealthy Bannerman family that rules the town, and the
ordinary people, is sometimes framed in ways that recall the class conflict
in The Flame and the Arrow:
Where the banker fits into the political picture is ambiguous. He is a lick-spittle
devotee of the Bannermans, and wants to marry the young Bannerman heroine.
This means he can be read as "capitalism in the service of the rich attacking democracy".
But this picture is complicated by a number of factors. Unlike other Bannermans or their allies,
he does nothing to subvert the rule of law or protect young Tom. In fact, the
banker never does anything bad or anti-democratic throughout the picture. He also
seems personally sympathetic, the most "normal" person in the town. The way he is
constantly mistreated by the arrogant Bannermans also builds audience sympathy.
In some ways, he too can be seen as a member of a working profession,
in partial opposition to the illicit rule of the rich. The rich family and the banker
can also been seen as examples of the upper middle class versus middle class conflicts that
run through Tourneur.
- The Bannermans are repeatedly compared to royalty: something that is an anathema
in the democratic American political system. This suggests the Bannermans are like the
sinister occupying aristocrats that are exploiting the citizens in The Flame and the Arrow.
- Just as the workers who revolted in The Flame and the Arrow mainly
belonged to working professions such as a blacksmith, chimney sweep or apothecary,
so do some of the regular people opposing the Bannermans in Stranger on Horseback.
The witnesses are gunsmiths, with a shop that looks for all the world like a medieval
craft shop. And the victim liked to braid rawhide, also a craft. The judge himself
is a working professional, as is the Marshal.
Stranger on Horseback goes beyond the class conflict of The Flame and the Arrow.
We gradually learn that the Bannermans do not simply embody the illicit rule of
wealth and power, bad as that is. The Bannermans are also oppressors of Mexicans
and women. They are full-scale instigators of the sinister schemes of racial and sexual
oppression that have played such a monstrous role in history.
The ranch owned by the rich family recalls the housing complex owned by the wealthy
planters in I Walked with a Zombie. Both are wealthy people who have an
exploitative relationship to the poorer people around them.
Tourneur films are full of medical mysteries, which stress the hero's extreme
difficulties and uncertainties as he struggles to uncover truth. The mystery in
Stranger on Horseback is not at all medical. But it puts its hero through the same
difficult process of making his way through radical uncertainty, and a slow difficult
effort to uncover facts.
The hero has to persuade a wide range of people to speak up, and tell what they know.
His sheer presence as a social dissenter has a powerful effect. Many were formerly
convinced that they were in a society where truth would always be covered up and concealed.
His dissenting attitude shows them that such social pressure is not in fact universal,
that there are alternatives. They go from discouraged, reluctant "going along" with this
vicious consensus of lying, to a new hope in speaking up and truth telling.
There are also characters who permanently stonewall the hero, refusing to give him
information. John Carradine and the saloon barman are examples.
Tourneur films often have characters who tell about events that are not shown on-screen;
they often vividly evoke a story or world for their listener, and the film audience.
These witness accounts of the crime in Stranger on Horseback seem related to these episodes.
So does the Marshal's account of town events long past.
On the other hand, one could argue that in any mystery film, eye-witness testimony
will take such form, and that this is hardly unique to Tourneur. Still, it fits in
with Tourneur traditions.
Stranger on Horseback has a romantic triangle of sorts, with the hero, the heroine,
and the heroine's banker suitor. However, this is downplayed compared to the strong
triangles in other Tourneur. The heroine treats the banker with contempt,
right from the start. And the banker himself regularly acts skeptical about his chances
of ever marrying the heroine.
There is no Tourneur W of relations. Specifically, there is no rivalry between a
good gal and bad gal for the hero's affections. The heroine of Stranger on Horseback
combines in one person elements of the good gal and bad gal.
Tourneur films with the W-pattern often have the hero adopting a young boy,
or at least being friendly to a young kid. There is a brief element of this in the scene
where the hero is kind to the little Mexican kid.
The town is full of Tourneur's beloved porticos. We see a corridor shot down these covered
walkways right away. Other corridor shots down them recur through the picture,
sometimes as "establishing shots" setting up an overall view of a scene.
The town has no telegraph - perhaps deliberately, as it keeps outside powers
from knowledge of and influence on the town. One has to send a rider to a town
47 miles away with a message. This recalls the enforced radio silence in
Days of Glory.
The town boss keeps all land transactions under $500, the legal threshold
that would submit them to federal authority. We hear costs of several transactions:
a very simple example of the mathematics data that sometimes appears in Tourneur.
It is also an example of the strange, "primitive" economic systems that occur
regularly in Tourneur films.
The gunsmith is an example of the technology-based shop that tends to show up in
Tourneur's historical films.
The heroine is one of a number of Tourneur women who shoot guns.
She playfully shoots at objects held up by her cousin Tom. This anticipates the way
Buddy Ebsen in The Gunsmith enjoys having the hero throw tomahawks at objects
on his head (an even nuttier scene). Tom holds up a glass of wine, then a bottle:
when shot, the wine gushes out, like the wineskin pierced by an arrow in The Flame and the Arrow.
A later comedy scene revolves around a horse trough with pump, in the town.
Water is thrown at the hero, one of many tossed objects in Tourneur.
Stranger on Horseback was made in Ansco Color, a strange and probably "inferior"
color process. Chris Fujiwara's book says that Tourneur hated the results.
Stranger on Horseback looks like something out of the silent era.
Many of the images remind one of the old two-color Technicolor films.
Stranger on Horseback also reminds one of early hand-tinted silent films.
I think the results are quite beautiful. However, I am not competent to judge
whether the current DVD print reflects exactly what the film looked like in 1955.
Many outdoors scenes are designed in red-and-green:
All of these scenes take advantage of the green vegetation, as part of their color scheme.
Red-and-green are complementary colors, and red-and-green is thus frequently seen in films.
It also was the combination in many two-color movies of the pre-1935 era.
- The opening, when the judge rides into town.
- The courtyard at the Bannerman ranch.
- A shot of the hero on his red horse, with a green tree in the background.
- The nature shots when the judge goes swimming.
- At the widow's we have a combined exterior (shot through some large Tourneur windows) and
an interior, both in the color scheme.
- The finale outside.
The ground is red in some of these desert scenes, at the film's opening and close.
This recalls the white ground in some of Tourneur's black-and-white films.
A number of interiors are vibrantly blue-and-red:
In addition, the saloon interior is blue-and-orange-ish wood tones.
Blue-and-orange are complementary colors, and also common as a color scheme in film.
In some ways, one wonders if some of the blue-and-red should really be seen as a variation
on blue-and-orange. But it is really hard to describe the Marshal's office in this way:
it looks firmly blue-and-red. The red at the Marshal's is not a pure red, though: it does
have touches of orange.
- The Marshal's office.
- The hotel corridor, and the hero's room at the hotel.
- The dinner table and its dishes in the second scene at the gunsmith - although
this is mixed with other colors in the room.
Most of both the blue-and-red and red-and-green scenes have costumes carefully
coordinated to match these colors.
The very dark blue suit of the hero sometimes seems
like part of a blue-and-red or blue-and-orange scheme. But often it just seems like
a neutral, almost black tone.
The nasty son Tom is in white shirt and very dark blue trousers throughout, looking very neutral.
He is matched up against the films most neutral set, the jail cell.
The likable banker is also in a color outside these schemes, being in a gray suit.
This helps make him the most normal looking character among the townspeople.
In Tourneur's next film Wichita, hero Joel McCrea starts out in a brilliant red shirt,
then shifts into a neutral white shirt part way through when he becomes a government official.
Stranger on Horseback reverses this process. For much of the film, judge McCrea is
in a similar white shirt, expressing his official role. But towards the end, he bursts out
into a blue shirt for the suspense-action finale. In both films, brilliantly
colored clothes are worn by the hero in action scenes, white shirts when he is soberly
practicing his profession.
Wichita (1955) is a Western, set in the Kansas city during its
wild frontier days.
Wichita resembles Tourneur's previous film Stranger on Horseback
in several ways:
However, Wichita is a more "normal" film than Stranger on Horseback.
Wichita has "normal" color photography, with the images looking natural
and realistic, unlike the surreally strange-looking Stranger on Horseback.
This does not prevent Wichita having a rich, eye-popping color design.
Wichita is also a full-length feature film, unlike the very short Stranger on Horseback,
and looks as if it has a bigger budget than Stranger on Horseback, too.
- Both are Westerns starring Joel McCrea.
- In both McCrea plays good guy authority figures who try to establish the rule of law
in Western towns where the rich, powerful citizens are trying to subvert it.
- Both are unusual among Westerns in that the cowboys shown are mainly evil rowdies.
- Both have the hero romancing a young woman relative of a sinister town boss.
- Both films are in dazzling color.
- And both are rousing entertainments that are recommended viewing experiences.
Wichita has one of Tourneur's most appealing characters, in young Bat Masterson.
This is an idealistic portrait of a young writer: Masterson is working as a
reporter and assistant printer in this frontier town. He anticipates another likable
artist's portrait: Aldo Ray's artist in Nightfall. Both men
show artists as people of value, and worthy of admiration.
Wichita embodies several key Tourneur political themes.
Many Tourneur films are set in centers of American political power.
As the film stresses, Wichita, Kansas is the center of the
American cattle industry. It is the railroad center to which all Western USA
cattle are shipped. This is explicitly set forth, and underscored, by the
big public speech early in the film.
The same speech talks about how cattle and beef are feeding America.
Wichita is about farming and food production, another key
Wichita is about an attempted coup against democracy,
also a key Tourneur subject. The hero makes a strong distinction between
the wealthy men of the town, and the elected officials. He only regards the second
group as legitimate leaders. Soon, these wealthy men are trying to control the mayor.
And worse, some of them put in motion an assassination attempt against the town marshal.
The marshal hero is an embodiment of democracy, being appointed by and representing
elected officials. The rich men instead want a city run by their fiat, not the rule of law,
and not under the control of the electorate.
Wichita shows a conflict between "business" and democracy. It depicts business
as attempting to undermine and destroy fragile democratic institutions in the new city of Wichita.
The film only uses the word "business", never "capitalism", and the film never mentions
alternative economic systems like socialism or anarcho-syndicalism. Still,
it is clear that the film is actually talking about capitalism, as a way of life.
The cowboys who regularly run amok in Wichita are an example of Tourneur
small towns under siege from sinister forces.
The well-to-do men keep black servants. The rich men are part of a system of white supremacy.
Black people in Tourneur are usually dignified and non-stereotyped.
The black butler in Wichita is dignified, well spoken, hard working
and honest. There is not the slightest trace of comedy relief. However,
he is also subservient, which can be seen either as simple realism - no one
would employ a militant as a butler - or as a concession to white racists
in the audience. Still, the very first shot of a businessman's home features
the black butler prominently, serving at table. The business culture,
viewed with skepticism in Wichita, is seen to have white supremacy as a key element.
The Marshal's use of force is non-lethal, until the final shoot-outs. He does use
violence, but his level of non-lethal force is consistent with his job as a
policeman in a democratic society. The dialogue repeatedly underscores his avoidance
In Wichita, we see the familiar Tourneur conflict between the
upper middle class vs middle class characters. The hero is not a poor man, or working class.
He has 2,460 dollars, a huge sum in that era, and plans to open a small business.
He is a pure example of a middle class man. He runs up against the well-to-do men
who want to run the town. These men are conspicuously upper middle class,
with an ostentatious show of wealth in a dinner in one of their homes. However,
these men are not quite shown as oligarchs, or as wealthy as Rockefeller.
Like many Tourneur characters, they are upper middle class, not upper class.
They come purely from a business culture, have social dealings with everyone,
not just their own kind, and work for their money and careers.
Earp is a another Tourneur hero who changes career. His initial plan is to
open a business. But he gets talked into being town marshal instead.
The heroine makes food for the picnic. What could be more conventional? But
this heroine soon makes a startling speech about how 90% of the cooking in the country is done by women.
It recognizes that cooking is an institution, something done on an organized basis.
In this it recalls the organized cooking among the partisans in Days of Glory.
Wichita differs from several Tourneur films, in that there are no "primitive"
or alternative means of exchange. All the businesses run on US dollars, including cattle, railroads,
buffalo hunting and saloons. We see a bank and money. Everything in Wichita
is part of modern capitalism.
Both Bat Masterson and Earp do get involved with disputes with big shots, who feel they
can give the heroes orders. The heroes have to clarify who they are actually working for.
Wichita condemns gambling. It is part of the sinister vice world at Keno House.
The hero is explicitly "not a gambling man". Tourneur films are consistently anti-gambling.
The scene with the little boy at the window, recalls the fate of the little girl in
The Leopard Man. It also very much recalls a similar scene in
Bombs Over Burma (Joseph H. Lewis, 1942).
Wichita differs from several Tourneur films, in that there are no
romantic rivalries or triangles. The hero and heroine have a romance, and that is that.
Neither the hero nor heroine is the slightest bit mercenary, either.
The advent of the railroad promises huge change to Wichita. Tourneur liked to document
such influential new technologies.
We also see the printing press. Unlike the many image creating devices
in Tourneur, the press seems to create only text: newspapers, advertisements, signs.
The press can be considered one of Tourneur's likable, large machines.
The cook wagon at the start, might also be considered a "large machine". It is full of equipment.
The saloon, the bank and other town buildings have Tourneur's beloved porticos.
During the wild night, Tourneur sometimes shoots straight down these to create his
The heroine's house also has a portico. A major scene takes place there near the end.
Next to the bank is a building under construction. Along with the porticos,
such construction sites also are areas that combine indoors and outdoors.
Tourneur films often have windows showing the outside world. Often these
are large. The hotel windows overlooking the street in Wichita are somewhat in this mode,
but they are smaller, and less omnipresent in the hotel scenes. We only get views through
them, when a character is explicitly looking out a window.
The Keno saloon has elaborate chandeliers, each full of identical lamps.
These form both lamps used for composition and repeating objects.
The newspaper office has a wall of pigeon holes, like the radio operator's cabin
in Appointment in Honduras. It also has a set of filing cabinets with very small drawers.
The wash bowls used by the trail hands near the start, are also repeating objects.
Storytelling is through signs, as in some other Tourneur movies. The city limits says
"Everything Goes in Wichita", soon seen also on stagecoaches, and a banner across the main street.
This is eventually replaced with a notice about guns.
When the hero and heroine have their first walk in the street, they pass by
three signs featuring animals: a poster about a horse auction, a sign with a rooster, and
a saloon ad for Buffalo Lager. (These anticipate a bit all the elephant images in
Great Day in the Morning. A similar Buffalo Lager sign appeared in Stranger on Horseback,
along with a picture of a horse in front of a livery stable.) The animal signs are part of the town:
the old, pre-Earp wild-and-wooly town. By contrast, the good guys produce only text,
from the printing press. They never create any sort of images.
There are also numerous signs all over the buildings. One of the last conversations
in the film takes place under a sign reading "Wichita".
Color: The First Half
The hero's brilliant red shirt and scarf is at the center of the first half of the film's
bright color. Some of the scenes are in red-and-green:
When Bat and the hero walk down the town street early on, a building in the back
is blue with yellow trim. This combines with the hero's red shirt to make a primary color triad:
red-yellow-blue. Early, the Texas House sign was also blue-and-yellow, making a similar triad with
the hero's red shirt.
- The hero rides into Wichita, on a red horse, with green trees in the background.
A man is carrying a red roulette wheel, and there are flashes of red in other men's clothes
in the crowd.
- A building is green with red trim, later.
- The bank exterior is a warm red-orange brick, with green door and window.
- The bank interior is mainly neutral-to-reddish wood. But there are also some green curtains,
as well as many touches of red, such as red pictures or red frames.
Color: The Second Half
Earp is sworn in as Marshal half-way through Wichita. From this point on,
the vibrant color schemes of the film's first half nearly disappear.
Most of the male characters are in brown: the arrested cowboys, their boss, the town businessmen.
The Mayor is in black, symbolizing his authority. Peter Graves is in brown,
with a contrasting beige or grayish leather vest - his beige-gray gives him a unique color and look,
within the film. Brown, black, gray: these are all earth tones.
Most of the buildings and interiors we see are also in neutrals or earth tones.
The morning after the arrest, when the Marshal takes down the banner, we see
unpainted raw wood in a background wall, a distinctive anti-color image.
The Marshal's job is symbolized by his off-white shirt. Soon, when Bat is deputized,
he is in a similar look of white dress shirt and string tie. The white clothes
that run through Tourneur serve in Wichita as indicators of the Law.
Both men wear them with brown pants, in keeping with all the brown in the film's second half.
There is a feeling that having "law and order" come to Wichita - symbolized by
the moment the marshal is sworn in - has de-saturized the colors. In some ways.
this is an impressive stylistic achievement. The whole look of the film changes,
in a twinkling of an eye.
But there also is a feeling that potential has been lost. Color is part of the joy of life:
and now it has fled.
There are some exceptions:
- The heroine wears a blue skirt to the picnic, and uses a blue
picnic cloth. Later, when she returns from the picnic, the scene is multi-colored,
with some red leaves and green vegetation. However, these colors, while real, are more muted
and delicate than the blinding tones of the film's first half.
- The heroine's mother soon has a conversation with the father, in which she and the walls
are in bright color.
- One shot also shows the bright colored walls of the town exteriors: when the Marshal
is locking up the jail after the arrests, the doors are a bright shade of orange.
These recall the film's first half.
- So a bit does the outside of the Texas saloon at night, with its glowing colored windows.
- The final shoot-out in the town street, again shows the brilliantly colored buildings.
So does a preparatory shot, showing Buchanan walking under the porticos. These shots
feel like full-scale returns to the bright decor of the first half.
- One of the last shots has two townsmen talking peacefully under a sign saying "Wichita".
This has a yellow wall and green vegetation.
Great Day in the Morning
Great Day in the Morning (1956) is a Western, set just before the US Civil War.
In some ways, it is a Western version of Casablanca, with the hero
running a night-spot in a town tense with intrigue due to the start of a war.
He's even given a bit of flip, evasive dialogue when asked about his past, just
like Bogart in Casablanca. The hero also starts off by trying to stay neutral
in the war, like Rick in Casablanca.
Action and Politics
Several Tourneur films take place in "centers of political power". Colorado is
hardly a center - but debates about whether a state would support the North or South
in the coming conflict were of burning importance in this era. This conflict is
prominent in Great Day in the Morning.
Just as Germany was divided in Berlin Express, so is the US coming apart into North and South in
Great Day in the Morning. People try to kill the peacemaker and unifier (Paul Lukas) in
Berlin Express; in Great Day in the Morning, a man who speaks out against the war
in the name of brotherhood is whipped in the street by war mongers. Tourneur seems to be showing the evils of war fever.
Perhaps he is hoping viewers will remember, and not get caught up in real life wars in the future.
The way the Union Colonel is prepared to sacrifice the townspeople casually as cannon fodder till his
regular troops arrive, also adds a sinister touch. It is one of several anti-war points made by the film.
The gold claims are another kind of Tourneur "pieces of paper", that get transferred
from character to character. Here they are part of the economy, as in The Grand Bounce.
References to Lincoln recall The Man in the Barn.
Several more sinister activities are promoted by characters as substitutes for religion:
It is likely that Tourneur views such
activities as doubtful. By contrast, the priest is one of the film's most sympathetic characters.
He ultimately stands in deep opposition to the war effort.
- The war-mongering Union Colonel is contemptuous of the way Lincoln prays for peace -
and wishes Lincoln would start the Civil War instead. Soon, rifles will be shipped to the town:
in boxes marked "Bibles".
- The hero talks about selling the gold mining claims in metaphors of a religious revival.
Great Day in the Morning recalls Canyon Passage, in that both are Westerns set in
remote, isolated communities, filled with gold mining and where ruinous gambling changes the characters' lives.
Both have violence between whites and Native Americans. Both communities are about to undergo a
major collapse: fighting with Native Americans in Canyon Passage, the Civil War breaking out in
Great Day in the Morning.
Robert Stack has always been an exceptionally patrician actor, at least before his change-of-image role
on The Untouchables (1959). There are no explicit upper class signifiers in his role in
Great Day in the Morning. Still, he seems far more refined and upper class than anyone else
in the film. His bolero style jacket is unusually elegant for a Western hero. He perhaps is
another of Tourneur's "upper middle class males, contrasted with more lower middle class co-stars".
The heroine who owns a dress shop anticipates Anne Bancroft in Nightfall,
who is a model. Both are seen surrounded by glamorous dresses.
The villain is associated with an animal: not cats, as in much of Tourneur,
but elephants. He will eventually be trampled by horse-drawn wagons in the street: more
Tourneur animals who are out of control.
The saloon waiter was a frontier cannibal, once. This is an odd, comic variation
on the Tourneur theme of nutrition.
As in I Walked with a Zombie and Berlin Express, several characters are harboring dark secrets.
However, we perhaps expect that the hero has a hidden mission regarding the war,
but he does not. He does show up in town after learning secret information about the gold -
but purely out of personal greed. This recalls a bit the secret message that triggers the plot
of Berlin Express.
Romantic triangles are everywhere in Great Day in the Morning. The hero is involved
with two women; each in turn is involved with another man.
Flat Wall shots
The saloons both have striking fronts, outside in the street. We see characters
photographed against these fronts, nearly straight on. The one saloon has murals on its facade,
the other windows covered with geometric patterns. There are also murals inside the saloon.
The shoot out-inside the Circus Tent saloon starts with a flat wall shot, showing the front wall
of the saloon. In the foreground, there are lamps hanging from the ceiling. They too are parallel
to the plane of the shot. But they are much closer, and offer an intriguing variation on the pure flat wall
shots that run through Tourneur. This composition is excellent.
When the hero and the dress-seller have their late night talk in her home, they are shot flat
against a wall covered with regularly dotted wall paper. They look as if they are floating against
a sea of color. Two brightly colored circular orange plaques are also on the flat wall,
behind the heroine. It is a strikingly abstract composition.
A striking shot shows the hero spread out on his quilt. The quilt pattern forms a background
behind the hero, something akin to a flat wall shot.
Later, when the hero is injured and brought back to the bed and its quilt, Tourneur stages a
pure "flat wall" shot, showing the events parallel to the back wall of the bedroom. This sequence
also contains a closer two-shot of the woman and boy, which is also parallel to the same wall.
Several confrontations stage people on both sides of the frame, separated by a classic Tourneur
"corridor shot" down the space between them:
The saloon has one of Tourneur's beloved porticos, over the sidewalk.
The film contains a shot straight down this covered sidewalk, under the portico.
- When the hero and kid begin discussing the first gun lesson, we see them talking
on opposite sides of the frame, with a perspective corridor down the street between them.
- The two rival women have their big confrontation upstairs in the hotel part of the saloon.
A hotel corridor stretches out between them. Some Tourneur "corridor shots" are based on actual corridors of buildings!
- When the Northern troops stand off the wagons trapped inside the barn,
Tourneur shoots straight down the street, in a typical "corridor shot". The troops are on the left,
the barn with the rebels on the right, the street corridor is between.
The film's most unusual corridor shot is the long take in the Free State saloon. Captain Kirby
is trying to organize the fanatic volunteers, into something like the regular Army. The shot begins
with a classic Tourneur "flat wall" shot, showing the front interior wall of the saloon. The shot does have
a bit more non-wall space at the bottom (showing tables and chairs) than do several other Tourneur flat wall
compositions. The shot runs a long time, and has some simple camera movement, adjusting position a bit,
without affecting the overall composition much. Towards the end, Sgt. Masterson starts organizing the troops.
He forms the rag-tag volunteers into line, herding them into a straight military line down the left hand side
of the image. When he is done, we suddenly see the image is now in the form of a perfect Tourneur "corridor shot".
The line of troops on the left forms the corridor; Captain Kirby is on the right; and we see a perspective corridor
shot of the saloon between them. The whole shot is quite remarkable: we see a "corridor shot" being built
and arranged, right before our eyes!
In his book on Tourneur, Chris Fujiwara shows how the cutting and polishing of the diamond in The Jonker Diamond
is a metaphor for Tourneur making a film. In Great Day in the Morning, this long take is also a
demonstration of how Tourneur constructs a composition.
Vertical Line compositions
The first gun lesson is staged in a forest clearing. A dead tree stands as an upright pole near the center
of the frame. It is balanced by other evergreens that forms almost pure vertical lines.
The shot recalls other Tourneur films with such vertical line compositions, such as
Out of the Past.
Tourneur includes more compositions with vertical trees, in the finale showing Union troops riding through the woods.
Great Day in the Morning opens with a mountain stream and closes with a waterfall.
Flowing water is a Tourneur specialty.
The cave at the end is used to mask and frame the action. Such masking was a signature of
Tourneur's father, Maurice Tourneur. One wonders if this is a
deliberate homage. Earlier, the first gun lesson is also seen through a small four-sided opening in the forest.
Wind blowing the grasses is also a motif in the opening. Wind is a Tourneur image.
Great Day in the Morning has a pit, smaller than those in other Tourneur films.
It is filled with ashes to disguise the gold strike there.
We have another country church, a Tourneur motif, once again made of white wood in a traditional style.
The forceful, good guy priest recalls the minister hero of Stars in My Crown.
Signs and Labels
Signs are throughout. They begin with information about Denver. They go on to
banners carried in a street demonstration. There is also a blackboard covered with a math
The boxes of rifles labeled "Bibles" are full of irony. Tourneur will soon have more
mislabeled crates in Timbuktu. As far back as The Jonker Diamond, Tourneur showed
valuable cargo being sent through the mail in a deceptively casual manner.
Tourneur films are full of men drawing at desks and work tables. The Union Colonel is shown
drawing straight lines on a piece of paper on his desk. The desk looks
like a small version of an artist's drafting board, covered with different sheets of paper. Dialogue here and in a later
scene, suggests he is drawing a map of troop movements - although we never get a good close-up look at the map
ourselves. The Colonel also uses drafting tools, such as a hand-compass he gestures with.
Ordinary People Terrorized by Crooks
Nightfall (1956) is a thriller. It belongs to
the once popular genre in which good, ordinary people are terrorized
by a gang of crooks. Other films in this small genre include:
These films tend to be rather plotless, consisting
of a series of incidents in which helpless ordinary people are
attacked by criminals. Despite the prestige and talent of the
directors associated with such films, I have never liked most of them,
or the genre. Such films have always seemed to me to be devoid
of entertainment value. Watching favorite actors get brutalized
by thugs has always made me cringe. However, to be honest, I have
tended to bail out on such films in the middle. I did make it
all the way through Nightfall, however, although it is
one of the gloomiest of the lot. It is not really clear to me
that such movies are examples of film noir, as is sometimes claimed.
They tend to take place in an everyday world, that seems remote
from the slick urban jungle of earlier film noir.
- Andrew L. Stone's The Night Holds Terror (1955),
- William Wyler's The Desperate Hours (1955),
- Budd Boetticher's The Killer Is Loose (1956),
- Phil Karlson's Key Witness (1960),
- Blake Edwards' Experiment in Terror (1962),
- J. Lee Thompson's Cape Fear (1962).
The heroes of such movies are always exemplars of middle class
life styles. Everything is done to underline how ordinary and
conventional they are. This often includes putting the men in
such films in as ordinary and unspectacular suits as can be found.
Here hero Aldo Ray is de-glamorized, wearing a typical 1950's
suit and tie. Jeffrey Hunter will sport a similarly square look
in Key Witness. Only towards the end of the movie does
Ray get in clothes that are a bit more glamorous, a shiny black
air force jacket. Ray also suffers from a terrible haircut, designed
to make him look square. I kept thinking he should sue the wardrobe
department. Tourneur does frequently shoot so that Ray's huge,
muscular back is emphasized. Ray is an extremely macho looking
actor. But the main use the film seems to make of this, is to
show that even someone as tough as Ray is shows little chance
against these monstrous crooks. Ray gets little chance to unroll
the dynamism that made his supporting performances in George Cukor's
Pat and Mike (1952) and Raoul Walsh's
The Naked and the Dead (1958) so entertaining.
One might note, that for a director who is often accused of a
lack of force, that Tourneur's heroes are often the toughest,
most macho actors on screen. Even Tourneur's more gentlemanly
actors, such as Tom Conway, James Ellison, Dana Andrews, Glenn
Ford and Joel McCrea, are very macho performers. And Tourneur
is very comfortable with tough guy actors like Robert Mitchum,
Kirk Douglas, Robert Ryan and Burt Lancaster. Tourneur often makes
these men play characters with intellectual depth, such as Ray's
artist here, or Ryan's agricultural expert in Berlin Express,
as well as the many doctors in Tourneur films.
Much better than the grim scenes with the criminals, are the happy
scenes in which Ray encounters love interest Anne Bancroft and
good guy investigator James Gregory. Anne Bancroft is making her
film debut here. We all owe this film a big debt of gratitude
for bringing Anne Bancroft to the screen.
Elements in Nightfall recall Tourneur's earlier Out
of the Past. In both films, criminals spend much time hounding
the protagonist, tracking him down and making demands on him.
He flees all over the country, and builds a new life under an
assumed name. Both contain extensive flashbacks, telling the story
out of conventional chronological order. Both films contrast the
city, with sections that take place against beautiful, remote
mountain scenery. There are also extensive scenes in urban apartments
in both films, including three different apartments here. A beautiful
shot of a country church near the end of the film, balanced with
the vertical trunks of trees in winter, recalls the visual style
of Out of the Past. It also recalls the church in Stars
in My Crown.
The artist hero works where he lives, a recurring Tourneur theme.
His artist's desk recalls the draftsmen in Cat People,
the tracing paper on the map desk in Appointment in Honduras,
and all the blueprints used by the workers in Nick Carter,
Master Detective (1939).
A triangle involving the hero, his doctor friend, and his friend's
young wife recalls I Walked with a Zombie. It is a fairly
minor element of this picture, though.
The large snow plow machine at the end of this film is unusual
in that it is purely sinister. Usually Tourneur's huge machines
are friendly, like a pet. This sequence bears some resemblance
to the nightmare plowing scene in Anthony Mann's
Border Incident (1949), surely one of the most horrifying
scenes in the movies. Even in this grim Tourneur finale, however,
there is something pretty about the visual patterns made by the
snow plow's machinery.
There are numerous clocks, mirrors and staircases in this film,
all traditional symbols of film noir. There were also many clock
shots in Berlin Express, another Tourneur film noir. In
David Goodis' original 1947 novel, the hero is afflicted with
traumatic amnesia, from which he recovers at the end: a noir plot
gambit if there ever was one. All of this is eliminated in the
movie, perhaps to make the hero be more like a regular, ordinary
The film's opening titles are printed over a beautiful LA cityscape.
It shows a forking road at night, with the lights of the building
signs forming white patterns against the blackness. It is a beautiful
composition. There are three buildings, one on the left, one on
the right and one in the middle, that all reach exactly the same
height on the screen. This gives a beautiful effect of harmony.
Signs on the far left tower far above these, as does a white circle
floating above the middle building (or tower). It is a beautiful
pattern in white and black. It reminds one of the cityscapes,
often nocturnal, found in the work of Ozu.
Micro-Locales: The Newsstand
Tourneur has some of his intriguing micro-locales here. Some of
them are more urban than most of these mini-landscapes in Tourneur.
The film opens on an urban sidewalk that contains a newsstand.
This fascinating micro-locale consists of the exterior
of the restaurant, on Hollywood Boulevard. This street scene area
has an outdoor newsstand along one of its walls.
This is one of many building exteriors in Tourneur that are full of complex
projections, within which the characters wander. The overhead
of the newsstand forms an area that is both inside and outside,
a Tourneur tradition.
Tourneur has some "flat wall" shots, with Ray photographed directly against the newsstand,
with the stand forming the entire back of the shot, parallel to
the plane of the camera.
He also achieves shots at a 90 degree
angle to this, with the sidewalk under the newsstand canopy forming
a classic Tourneur corridor.
Also very intriguing: the rounded
corner of the restaurant building. Ray walks along this curve,
and it is also prominently featured in other shots. It is a most
intriguing piece of architecture, one typical of the complexity
of Tourneur's exteriors. It is one of Tourneur's "geometric environments".
This scene includes the arrival of a city bus.
Tourneur photographs Ray through the front and back
side windows of the moving bus. It is an intriguing piece of photographic
Micro-Locales: The Fashion Show
Later, an outdoor fashion show will be staged in
an interesting area just outside a building, with staircases and
balconies overlooking the site of the show. The fashion show is
one of the livelier sequences in the movie. The way the show's
announcer keeps describing the color of the gowns on view, in
this black and white movie, makes an odd touch. The fashion show
has elements of ritual, that recall the ceremonies in I Walked
with a Zombie. This scene shows Anne Bancroft's talent, as
she performs with human warmth in a mild suspense scene. This
is the sort of light hearted suspense typical of Hitchcock's more
comic thrillers. Aldo Ray also gets to make beautiful music here,
in the sequence's comic finale, where he shows his dynamic self.
If more scenes had this sort of spirit, Nightfall would
be a lot more fun. The opening dinner with Bancroft and Ray also
has a little of the same warmth, especially when the two characters
discuss their work. This is another expression of joy in the film.
Judging by the credits, the fashion show takes place at a real
Beverly Hills haute couture salon. We see some corridor shots
in front of this building at the show's start. The building has
a 50's modernist style architecture, anticipating some corridor
shots in front of modernist buildings in The Fearmakers.
The show itself is full of beautiful lateral tracking shots, which
move along with the models to and fro along the outdoor sidewalk
serving as a runway. These shots are full of beautiful trees and
shrubs, a favorite Tourneur subject. One shot of the bad guys
films them through a spiky, modernist steel sculpture, a sinister
touch. Later, when the hero and heroine have moved up to street
level at the end of the sequence, there are more camera movements
parallel to the sidewalk and the characters' path. These too involve
beautiful trees. Everything in the whole fashion sequence is visually
There are also some striking shots of outdoor staircases at the
show. One shot with both Bancroft and Ray has a staircase making
a strong diagonal from the upper left corner; this diagonal is
continued by a hedge in the lower right. Counterpoised to this,
is the opposite diagonal, a gently series of steps on which Bancroft
and Ray stand. Both characters look pleasingly glamorous and romantic
here, with Bancroft in a spectacular gown. This other diagonal
is underscored by a series of banisters moving up from the lower
left corner of the screen. This is a delightfully composed shot.
The X of the two diagonals gives it a dynamic quality.
A second inventive staircase shot shows Ray and Bancroft running
up an outdoor staircase. Behind them, we see a deep focus panorama
of the fashion show. When the two heroes run around a huge, visually
obstructing concrete pillar, Tourneur tracks to the right, bringing
them back in view along the next stage of the staircase. This
is a richly complex shot.
Micro-Locales: The Bus Station
The bus station forms a third outstanding micro-locale. We see
a spectacular Los Angeles city landscape, that includes the bus
station, along the right hand side of the long city street that
makes up the "corridor" of the shot. This is one of
Tourneur's largest corridor shots. We are at an elevated platform
of some sort in the foreground; James Gregory maintains his surveillance
of Ray from up here; meanwhile, we see Ray crossing the street
below, with the huge cityscape receding to infinity in the background.
He soon turns at a right angle, and starts along the street to
the bus station, as the shot ends. It is very fine!
Once inside the bus station, Tourneur finds a whole series of
corridor shots, taken from:
These all lead to long perspective views, with the shots' "corridors" reaching
out to distant doorways within the bus station.
- The shoe shine stand,
- The weight and
- The ticket booth.
One spectacular shot combines the "flat wall" and "corridor"
approaches in Tourneur. This shot contains murals on a large,
interior bus station wall (the flat wall portion of the shot,
photographed head on, as usual), with a row of lockers on the
right side of the shot. The lockers form a deep perspective view.
They form one half of a Tourneur corridor, the right hand half,
and they lead to distant doors. However, there is no matching
left hand part of the corridor, as there typically would be in
a corridor shot. Instead, the whole left part of the image is
taken up by the flat wall shot of the giant murals. It is a beautiful
and striking image, one that creatively combines two of Tourneur's
Micro-Locales: The Stakeout
There is also a "corridor" shot, in the nocturnal sequence
showing Gregory staking out Ray's apartment. The "corridor"
stretches down Gregory's apartment, all the way to a back window,
through which we can see Ray's apartment across the way.
The sections for different papers form modules in the newsstand. The newsstand is like a giant version
of the pigeonhole slots, that run through Tourneur films.
The restaurant is full of repeating items: tables, booths, hanging bottles, paintings, bar stools.
Almost as modular: the waiters, who are identically uniformed.
The waiters wear the mess jackets often seen in Tourneur.
The lockers in the bus station are repeating modules.
Night of the Demon
Night of the Demon (1957) is one of Tourneur's most vivid
I am not a believer in the supernatural, while Tourneur is. However,
Tourneur does not present much of anything positive about the
supernatural in Night of the Demon. All of the devil-cultists
we see in the film seem to be purely evil. They are terrible human
beings, and out to exploit others. Much more innocent are the
briefly seen medium and his wife, the only decent characters involved
with anything supernatural in the movie. Similarly, the Voodoo
celebrants in I Walked With a Zombie seem innocent. However,
nothing good comes out of Voodoo in this film - the consequences
are purely disastrous for everyone.
It is a cliché to compare Night of the Demon with
the early horror films Tourneur made with Val Lewton. The mother
here recalls the mother in I Walked With a Zombie. Both
play a far more independent role than one might expect, with hidden
depths to their characters. They are not the simple, supportive
figures one is used to in the works of other directors.
The cat sequence here also recalls Cat People.
A British Film
Night of the Demon was shot in Britain. It is full of locales
that express a strong British atmosphere: Stonehenge, a Stately
Home, the Savoy Hotel, the British Museum, an old-fashioned British
farm house, Heathrow Airport, Scotland Yard, British lecture halls.
The whole effect reminds one of John Ford,
always a strong influence on Tourneur's movies. Ford's films are
full of ethnographic depictions of a time and place. Ford constantly
seeks out locations and activities that express the traditions
and rituals of a society. Tourneur includes some of these too.
The fete at the country home is a traditional party for the village
children. The farm house and its denizens evoke traditional farm
life. They are almost a sinister parody of the tradition Irish
farms Ford showed in The Quiet Man (1952). The seance is
treated as an English folk ritual. Just as Ford includes traditional
music in his pictures to evoke other societies, here Tourneur
has the seance members sing a traditional English song, "Cherry
Ripe", as part of the ritual ("The spirits like it,"
one of the members declares confidently.) Even the ambulance bell
at the end is a traditional British sound, very different from
the sirens used in the United States. There is even a close-up
of the bell.
Oddly enough, the least British member of the cast is the heroine.
She is an English woman, but she has few specifically British
traits. Her job of kindergarten teacher is one common to many
countries. Her home is not especially English. She is first seen
on a plane from the US to Britain, and her nationality seems indeterminate.
She represents universal human values throughout the picture,
not someone specifically English. One recalls the nurse in I
Walked With a Zombie, who also is independent of the island
society. Anne Bancroft's sophisticated fashion model in Nightfall
also seems independent of the North Woods setting of many of the
Many other Tourneur films are set in a different society. One
thinks of the island in I Walked With a Zombie, the Southwest
in The Leopard Man, the 19th Century community in Stars
in My Crown, and the many small towns in Tourneur.
Characters, Masks and Costumes
Masks are used as imagery throughout the film. Karswell is made
up as a clown at the party, and there are shock cuts to kids wearing
Halloween masks, too. He recalls the villainous spy dressed as
a clown in Berlin Express. Dana Andrews is first seen while
sleeping, a newspaper with his photograph over his face. This
is a strange image. It perhaps suggest that his public persona
as a famed scientist has eclipsed any real feelings or unconscious
ideas his sleeping mind might hold. We also seem him getting dressed
and grooming himself in his suite. Later, his spiffy suit is damaged
by the cat: another image contrasting his public image with private
fantasy and horror.
Throughout his career, Dana Andrews often played men who were
very well dressed, but whose surface charm hid serious character
flaws. His smooth looking characters were downright duplicitous
in Otto Preminger's Fallen Angel, Daisy Kenyon and
Where the Sidewalk Ends, and in Fritz Lang's
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt. He is not a crook here. But
his polished, upper middle class exterior is viewed with skepticism
by Tourneur. Andrews often played men whose power and authority
came from their upper class middle class position. This position
comes from their professions: Andrews plays a famed psychologist
here, a newscaster and author in Lang's While the City Sleeps,
a tycoon in Daisy Kenyon. But this professional standing
is symbolized by Andrews' elegant clothes: he is always dressed
at the height of upper middle class good taste. On the screen,
his social standing seems to come from his appearance. Tourneur
suggests that Andrews is using his position to cover up insights
into the supernatural unearthed by less upper class characters:
the kindergarten teacher, Andrews' less famous colleagues at the
conference. His beautiful suits symbolize his social power, a
power used to hide and suppress the truth.
The schoolteacher and the colleagues are also middle class, but
from its lower reaches. A subtext of the film is a hidden battle
between the upper middle classes and the lower middle classes.
This will return in the conflict between Andrews and Dick Foran,
who represent two styles of 1950's businessmen in The Fearmakers.
In some ways, Karswell's devil cult here is a "going business
concern", just like Foran's empire in The Fearmakers.
Both films pit Andrews' upper middle class gatekeeper against
these lower middle class upstarts who've made it big financially.
In both films, these upstarts are crooks, who have succeeded through
sinister schemes. But there is also a bit of sympathy with them,
as Andrews' character looks like an old money establishment figure
who is trying to keep them out of the country club.
Andrews' polished clothes and appearance makes him irresistible
to women: he always gets the girl in his films. His directors
do everything they can to glamorize him, and fully display this
side of his characters to add romance and glamour to their films.
But they also suggest that there is something false about such
glamour. It can be used to depict Andrews as a polished crook,
or to suggest that his social authority is illegitimate and based
on image alone, as Tourneur does here, or as Lang hints in While
the City Sleeps.
Night of the Demon shows activities related to folk culture.
The magic show Karswell puts on is similar to the one in
Stars in My Crown. Both have the magician on a platform,
both are public performances that enable public festivities in a small town,
both have the audience full of kids, both center on the magician pulling
positive objects out of kids' faces: coins in Stars in My Crown,
candy and pet animals in Night of the Demon.
But both magic shows, however seemingly innocent, have a dark side.
The magician is frightening to the boy hero of Stars in My Crown.
Worse, both magic shows are immediately followed by sinister disasters:
the boy comes down with the disastrous plague during the show in
Stars in My Crown, and we get the frightening windstorm raised up by Karswell in
Night of the Demon.
The sceance in Night of the Demon is begun by the members singing the
traditional song "Cherry Ripe". This tune was actually sung at many real life
British sceances. The scene recalls another group of non-professionals sitting
around at night and entertaining themselves with a song: the partisans in
Days of Glory. These scenes invoke folk traditions of group sing-alongs.
The popularity of folk music was nearing its peak in 1957 in the USA, and families
frequently conducted such folk music sing-alongs in their homes.
The singing of "Cherry Ripe" is delightful. It is sure to please folk music fans such as myself.
But there is also perhaps some special pleading going on. In real life, I disapprove
of sciences and the supernatural as much as Dana Andrews in the movie. But
people like me are lured into enjoying and valuing the sceance, by treating it
as a delightful folk ritual, filled with traditional music and customs. It is that -
but its also a full scale endorsement of the supernatural.
Complex shots of trees are everywhere in Night of the Demon.
They are frequently associated with the supernatural in the film.
Tourneur loves including trees in his compositions. Their complex
forms are often blended with man made structures, to produce elaborate
compositions. Trees frequently appeared in Out of the Past
and Nightfall, too.
The first shot of Harrington's car speeding down a road at night,
is filmed from behind a series of trees. Some of the tree trunks
stand straight up; other smaller branches are on diagonals. The
complex of strong, thick verticals and gentle diagonals makes
a strikingly composed image. The far left of the shot includes
a strangely bushy tree, with some horizontals, too. Tourneur gradually
turns this shot into a pan along the road. Later, when Harrington
is leaving the Karswell home, and presumably retracing his steps,
Tourneur includes this same shot again: only it is reversed from
right to left. The inclusion of both a shot and its mirror image
reverse seems like a highly unusual film technique. I cannot recall
anything like it in other films. It produces an echoing effect.
It also makes the world of the film seem more geometrical, and
more like a self-enclosed world containing the characters. It
also allows Tourneur not to "waste" what must have been
a very hard shot to set up, compose and light. (Most of the reverse
printing I recall from films is due to technical reasons. Much
of Roy Del Ruth's The Babe Ruth Story
(1948) was reverse printed, to make the right-handed actor William
Bendix look like the left-handed ball player Babe Ruth he was
portraying. But these shots were only printed once in the film.
There were no echoing effects, as there would be in Night of
The windstorm is a striking episode. It links shots of Dana Andrews,
to those of the wind blowing in the trees. The later shots of
the kids fleeing from the windstorm anticipates sequences in Hitchcock's
The Birds (1963).
There are more curvilinear forms in Night of the Demon
than I recall in most Tourneur films. The overhead shots of the
British Museum are especially striking. They recall the circular
gambling hall in Sternberg's The Shanghai Gesture (1941).
Andrews soon moves to a second room, one with reading desks. This
is full of circular lamps on high stands, and circular pillars.
The regular array of high lamps and trapezoidal desk lamps makes
one feel one is in a world of geometric art. Such regular repetition
of geometric forms will show up elsewhere in Night of the Demon,
as well. Tourneur has three shots that show these. One is a high
overhead angle, used just once as an introduction to the room.
Next, comes an eye-level view, which is repeated many times. There
is also a "corridor shot", with a path down the left
of the screen, and a sea of lamps and tables on the right. Later
in the sequence, Tourneur shows some complex balustrades, covered
with grillwork full of geometric forms. These too convey the effect
that one is standing in a large "environment" of geometric
art. Andrews is framed against these balustrades. Andrews is often
associated with complex geometric forms in the picture.
Andrews' suite at the Savoy is full of curved forms. There are
curtains, and an arch over the window. There are tables, lamps,
chairs and sofas. All of these make up a complex, "geometric
environment" for the hero and his friends. Tourneur regularly
makes graceful compositions out of these. The heads of his characters
are often associated with the curving curtains in the background
of the image.
More semi-circles include the repeated arches in the corridors
in the Savoy Hotel. And the complex fire screen, against which
the parchment tries to fight.
The bridge outside Karswell's house is also associated with Andrews.
The bridge goes over a repeating series of semicircular arches.
Like the lamps at the British museum, such repeating forms takes
us into a "geometric" world. The bridge is itself a
highly obtuse triangle, adding to the geometric effect. It recalls
the bridge sequences in Stars in My Crown. The flowing
water, falling over a series a dams below the bridge, recalls
the emptying aquariums in Experiment Perilous. Tourneur
shows this bridge as the final stop in a pan through the countryside.
Pans are frequent in Night of the Demon. From the bridge,
one can see the grounds of the Karswell home in the distance.
The countryside and grounds together make up one of Tourneur's
most complex micro-locales, an elaborate landscape in which much
of the film's action takes place. We see the gates of Karswell's
estate; earlier we saw the gates of the British Museum. These
recall the gates of the estate in I Walked With a Zombie,
and the grilled gates of the French government offices in Berlin
The balustrade in the Karswell home is full of curves. It is shown
during the telephone conversation, in which Mrs. Karswell informs
the heroine about Hobart's knowledge of how the curse can be lifted.
Such a convoluted way of revealing new layers of knowledge is
typical of Tourneur's mystery plots, which reveal layer after
layer of truth.
Curves here seem to be related to scenes in which the hero has
supernatural experiences. And scenes in which the hero learns
something about the nature of the curse being invoked.
Another shot with repeating geometric forms, is the first overhead
interior view of the Karswell house. There are checkerboard patterns
on the floor, of three different sizes; a series of four cylindrical
pillars; and a round chandelier, with repeated light fixtures
sticking up from it, along its sides. This too seems like a whole
environment made up of repeated geometric forms.
Several shots in the film are in Tourneur's "corridor"
style: long perspective looks down either an indoor corridor,
or an outside path. The opening shots of the road at night include
some long straight looks down the road, as well as lateral views.
These shots are extremely eerie. We also get corridor shots into
At the airport, Tourneur repeatedly shoots down the long central
passage of the airport. This is a complex piece of architecture,
containing the vast terminal. Tourneur varies this shot in several
ways. First we see a straightforward look down the passage. Next
we see Andrews exit through a door in another room - also somewhat
of a corridor shot - followed by a 90 degree pan by Tourneur,
which comes to rest down the long corridor again. Later, Tourneur
adds a telephone booth into the mix. He shoots both outside the
booth down the long terminal; then from inside the booth, through
its glass walls. This last shot seems especially eerie. It combines
the small space inside the booth with vast vistas. It perhaps
suggests that we are surrounded by complex environments and forces
at all times. These airport scenes recall the bus terminal in
At the end of the British Museum sequence, Karswell walks down
a rectilinear corridor, like a long box. Tourneur has the image
waver here, to convey a "supernatural" effect. This
is one of several associations of corridor shots and the supernatural
in the picture.
At the Savoy Hotel, Tourneur has one of his beloved porticos at
the front entrance. He uses this for a corridor shot, in his typical
manner. Soon, another corridor shot goes the exact opposite direction
through the portico. Immediately following, inside the Savoy,
Tourneur shoots down a series of hotel corridors. These are surrounded
by a series of rounded arches, which repeat for a perspective
effect. The shots are dramatically striking. They convey a sense
of being trapped in an infinite, purely geometric world. A sense
of supernatural menace is strong here.
The scene in the farmhouse is in Tourneur's "corridor"
style. First Tourneur shoots directly down one side of a table,
which is aligned with the walls of the farm house. Then Tourneur
gradually moves his camera so it is aligned with the other side
of the table.
During the brief telephone conversation between Mrs. Karswell
and the heroine, both are shown in corridor shots. The first shot
of the Karswell home is horizontal; it shows a series of rooms
receding into infinity. A similar shot shows a series of rooms
in the heroine's home. A second shot of the Karswell home is quite
different, but also a corridor shot. This shoots through the arch,
and up the staircase behind it. It too is a very deep perspective
view. Early in the film, the first shot of Karswell and his mother
had also been a deep perspective view through several rooms of
the Karswell house.
The shot of the ambulance going down the road, opens with a corridor
shot of the street, framed between two rows of trees. Trees are
everywhere in this film. As in the opening shots, these involve
a moving camera traveling down the corridor. These shots are not
supernatural, but they still convey a great sense of danger and
alarm, underscored by the ambulance bell. When the body gets to
the lecture hall, there is a long perspective shot with Andrews
lecturing in the background, and the body in the foreground.
The finale of Night of the Demon concerns trains, recalling
Berlin Express. The finale also has many corridor shots:
in the train station (recalling the airport at the beginning),
along the portico covered platforms, in the corridors of the trains
themselves, and finally, along the tracks. This is the most systematic
use of corridor shots in the picture. The long corridors here
once again convey a strong sense of the supernatural, that one
has wandered into a strange, geometric world far removed from
Tourneur frequently shoots through windows. We see a conversation
at Scotland Yard through a window, and the windstorm through windows
at the Karswell estate.
The chemist's inner room is seen through windows. Its symmetrical
large glass windows, and shelves filled with technical bric-a-brac,
recall the gas station at the start of Out of the Past.
Links to Nick Carter, Master Detective
The scene where Karswell introduces himself to the hero at the British Museum
has an ancestor in Nick Carter, Master Detective. There, Donald Meek
introduces himself to the hero. In both films, the
newcomer surprises the hero, by unexpectedly knowing the hero's name.
In both films, the newcomer also hands the hero one of his business cards.
Several scenes contain imagery one associates with Tourneur.
The book is written in a secret code. This links to coded messages
elsewhere in Tourneur. The runes also seem like a sort of code.
Dana Andrews' white robe and towel are more of Tourneur's white clothes.
The accident at the start cuts the power line pole in two. Tourneur's films
are full of cut objects, such as the diamond cutting in The Jonker Diamond,
the puffy breakfast bread that is cut open in I Walked with a Zombie,
or the pins cut by the doctor in Stars in My Crown. This electric pole
is much bigger than any of the other cut objects.
As a rock formation, Stonehenge looks a bit like the rocks at the base
of the rapids in Out of the Past. The Snakes and Ladders game also
looks a bit like the same rapids in Out of the Past.
The insane man has made a drawing under hypnosis. Tourneur films are full
The hero wants to get a sandwich and a glass of milk. Tourneur films are full
of very simple meals. We see a sandwich made at the lunch counter in
Out of the Past, and Robert Ryan wants a sandwich on the train in Berlin Express.
The partisans in Days of Glory subsist on simple meals: soup and bread.
The mother has made homemade ice-cream. Tourneur films sometimes feature women
cooking. The mother here is not actually shown making the ice-cream,
but she is dishing it out.
Book to Film: Politics
The Fearmakers (1958) turns an anti-Nazi World War II era
novel into an anti-Communist Cold War era movie. Such a transformation
is perhaps unique in book to screen adaptations. Darwin Teilhet's
The Fear Makers (1945) was a popular mystery suspense novel,
written during the war.
Once the movie gets to the public opinion agency office, it closely
follows the events of the book. The whole story of how our hero
lost the agency while he was in the service, and its transformation
into something new and sinister, is taken directly from the novel.
The book shows us more of the employees of the agency, and its
work in actual operation. One suspects that the ultra-low-budget
nature of this movie prevented this. The film is restricted to
a handful of sets. It loses the opportunity to show us the business
as a whole, and its numerous employees.
In the novel, the agency was conducting Nazi-inspired hate campaigns
among the general public. These were "whispering campaigns"
in which large numbers of operatives spread anti-war effort and
racist ideology among the American people. All of this seems entirely
lost in the movie, aside from one brief scene in which Andrews
wanders into a room where operatives are making racial references.
Among other things, it makes the title nonsensical. The Nazi agents
were actually spreading fear among the public, causing them to
hate and fear minority groups. Nothing like this is occurring
in the film. The book also had sympathetic minority characters,
both black and Jewish, among the least stereotyped of any in 1940's
mystery fiction. These too have been deleted in the movie.
By contrast, the film centers on the idea that phony, slanted
or biased opinion polls could have a sinister influence on elections,
media and business. Such polls can be used to get TV shows canceled
and elect crooked politicians to office. This is an interesting
idea. Considered purely as a practical scheme that might actually
work in real life, it sounds more plausible than the whispering
campaigns of the novel.
The Evils of Bombs
The film is different from almost all anti-Communist movies in
that the Communists are not running the whole show. The agency
in the movie will work for anybody. They are hiring themselves
out to promote Communist front groups like the "Ban the Bomb"
organization in the movie. But they also work for crooked politicians
who are not ideological. The agency seems to be a bunch of apolitical
crooks who will offer their services to any bidder. They are not
themselves Communist, even though they are in the pay of Communists.
The film's treatment of politics is almost as ambiguous as the
maybe supernatural, maybe not elements of Tourneur's early horror
films. The hero condemns and rejects the "Ban the Bomb"
group because of its Communist sympathies. But its organization's
leader makes a passionate speech about the evils of military-based
science, a speech that is never refuted by anyone in the film.
One suspects that Tourneur has much sympathy with the horror expressed
over the bomb, even though he has little sympathy for Communism.
Hero Dana Andrews also makes an anti-war statement in the film.
Similarly, Berlin Express is one of the few films to show
the devastation wrought by bombs in World War II. Both films
suggest armed struggles going on, with a chilling speech about
a possible Soviet attack on Washington in The Fearmakers.
Locales of Power
Both Berlin Express and The Fearmakers show
areas of American power: Berlin Express took place partly
at the American headquarters of occupied Germany in Frankfurt,
while The Fearmakers occurs in Washington D.C.
Both Berlin Express and The Fearmakers have finales in public locales of great
historical resonance: Berlin Express in a plaza near the
Brandenburg Gate, The Fearmakers in front of the Lincoln
Memorial, with the Washington Monument in the background. These
areas are political examples of Tourneur's micro-landscapes. Both
locales involve both automotive vehicles, and characters who move
on foot. The movements of both vehicles and pedestrians is carefully
staged to create geometric patterns. These patterns are both visually
interesting, and suggestive of political attitudes and commentary.
Phantom Raiders also took place in an area of American
power, being set near the Panama Canal Zone. Both I Walked
with a Zombie and Stars in My Crown take place in communities
showing the legacy of slavery. History is very much alive and
omnipresent in these locales.
Characters and Class
Dana Andrews and Dick Foran are contrasting types. Andrews seems
to be the epitome of the well groomed, sophisticated executive.
One can imagine him running a large New York City corporation.
This is a type Andrews often played in films, and quite convincingly
too, for example in his Fritz Lang pictures
such as While the City Sleeps (1956). By contrast, Foran
seems to embody the glad handing, genial, hail-fellow-well-met
approach of 1950's business organizations and civic boosters.
Both of these are archetypes of the 1950's business man. But they
rarely collide in a single movie, as they do here. There is a
bit of a class distinction. Andrews embodies the ideals of the
upper middle classes, while Foran exemplifies middle class business
practices. Foran looks very prosperous however, and he exudes
money and success - he is definitely not on the poor side.
The distinction also applies to their speech mannerisms. Foran
is running off at the mouth, expressing a steady stream of sales-like
patter, while Andrews restricts himself to a few well chosen
executive utterances. The feel of class conflict between the two
men is silently integrated into their other conflicts in the movie.
The contrast between the men recalls the two very different brothers
in I Walked with a Zombie, the aristocratic, moody Tom
Conway and the middle class acting James Ellison. In both films,
the conflict between the two men is a major center of the plot.
In many films, the hero wears the darkest colored suit, making
him stand out and look authoritative. Here, however, Andrews wears
the lightest colored suit. This also makes him stand out, and
look different from everybody else. His clothes have an upper
middle class elegance that the other businessmen's suits do not.
Andrews regularly wears a white trenchcoat, as well. This looks
terrific. It recalls both the white clothes worn in Phantom Raiders,
and the hero's darker colored trenchcoat in Out of the Past.
Andrews' character is explicitly homeless: his frustrated
attempts to find a place to stay in the housing-scarce Washington
of the era are part of the plot. In this he resembles many other
Tourneur detective heroes, who are homeless and baseless, while
they take on a villain who has a well defined base of operations.
The hero's perennial attacks of weakness link him to the
ill hero of Easy Living.
There are two of Tourneur's corridor shots in the finale. One
is a still life that shows no people, merely the ringing phone
on the desk. The lower half of the image is a corridor. On the
left is a chair, on the right is the desk, seen in full perspective.
There is a corridor of space between the desk and the chair. At
the back of this corridor are some fireplace implements. The whole
upper half of the image is blank, except for the ringing telephone.
Tourneur has the phone framed, placing it in front of what seems
to be a small frame sitting on the mantle. The phone is nearly
in the exact geometric center of the shot. This fact, and the
fact it is in solitary splendor in the upper half of the image,
calls great attention to it. The whole shot is beautifully composed:
the desk, the phone, the chair, the horizontal grid of lines on
the back wall, the fireplace tongs, a vertical line on the left
of the image, all form a beautiful, harmonious whole. The shot
is one of the key images of the movie. Soon we will see the dying
man played by Mel Tormé dragging himself along the ground,
trying to answer the ringing phone. It is a visually powerful
piece of melodrama. Tormé's entrance is at the bottom of the frame,
an unusual position.
There is also a corridor shot, showing all the characters leaving
the office building. The left side of the shot is the front of
the building; the right side, a railing. As is often the case
in Tourneur corridor shots, we see the ceiling of this outdoor
entranceway. The building is charming in a modern, 1950's style;
its surface is broken up into several striking geometric regions.
The whole effect is of a geometrical abstraction, with trapezoidal
and rectangular regions creating a soft image in the tradition
of Mondrian and Constructivism, but gentler and more refined in
Tourneur's personal visual style. It is interesting to see Tourneur
incorporating this sort of modern building into his corridors;
many of the shots in previous movies had dealt with older and
more traditional architecture.
Flat Wall Shots
There are also "flat wall shots" in The Fearmakers.
The scene where Andrews tries to persuade the heroine to give
him the key takes place parallel to the back wall of his office.
This is mainly taken up by a large bookcase. Once again, we see
two characters at full length, against a wall filled with unusual
This scene starts out with Andrews trying to use his
executive rank to get the key from the secretary. This does not
work; he then pleads with her to help him, as part of the mystery
plot. The tone changes from someone giving someone an order, to
a relationship among equals. Tourneur changes the staging as the
story develops. First Andrews is seated above the heroine, in
a giving dictation pose; then when he asks for help they move
to an equal level.
Timbuktu (1959) is an adventure film, set in the desert.
It is another Tourneur film about "Northern people in tropical countries".
Timbuktu is a minor movie. It has too much war material, and too much violence.
It is most entertaining in its middle third, where the three main characters engage in one of
Tourneur's romantic triangles. The film also has some good visual style.
The light-colored desert sands are repeatedly used to highlight
dark-colored clothes and horses framed against them.
Links to Northwest Passage: Wild Country and Maps
The characters are at remote forts in a fairly wild country, recalling
the television series Northwest Passage on which Tourneur worked.
Also like The Gunsmith in Northwest Passage: a Lieutenant is ordered to create a map,
to be used for military purposes. Unlike most of the other image makers in Tourneur,
we don't actually see him working on the map. We do see the finished product.
Links to Days of Glory: The Hero and Engineering
Like Days of Glory, Timbuktu has a World War II background.
Also like Days of Glory, Timbuktu has a hero who used to concentrate on engineering work,
but who is now involved in World War II activities. The hero of Days of Glory
blew up the bridge he built; the hero of Timbuktu had to give up his plans
to build a pipe carrying salt. Both are examples of Tourneur heroes who change careers.
Salt transportation relates, in a general way, to the farming
that is so important in Tourneur: salt is something people eat.
The young Lieutenant who gets executed by the bad guy in Timbuktu, recalls the young
partisan executed by the Nazis in Days of Glory.
The hero of Timbuktu climbs down a building side to the heroine's balcony.
This recalls Burt Lancaster's acrobat hero in The Flame and the Arrow.
Timbuktu is very careful to treat most of its different political and religious groups
respectfully. The French, the Sudanese people, and the Moslem holy man are all viewed
with sympathy and respect. The respectful, dignified treatment of Islam,
is consistent with Tourneur's enthusiasm for religion in general, something that runs
through his films.
Evil in Timbuktu is largely restricted to an aristocrat (played by John Dehner),
who wants to bring back the absolute monarchy practiced by his ancestors.
In this he recalls the rotten aristocrats of The Flame and the Arrow,
who oppress the peasants and the workers.
The politics of Timbuktu is undoubtedly over-simplified.
But however naive, Timbuktu applies the same beliefs Tourneur advocated elsewhere
among Europeans, to this Third World situation. If The Flame and the Arrow
showed dictatorial aristocrats were bad in Europe, Timbuktu depicts them as bad in the Sudan.
If Stars in My Crown glorifies a Protestant Christian preacher who advocates racial equality, through non-violent means,
Timbuktu praises a Moslem holy man who is a non-violent independence advocate.
Timbuktu is probably out of touch with the complex historical realities of
such very complicated subjects as French Colonialism, Sudan and Mali history, and North African history.
A film that set forth these in full complexity would likely last ninety hours,
not ninety minutes like Timbuktu. Timbuktu is just an adventure movie,
and no one should regard it as a scholarly study.
The palace is full of the geometric designs typically found in Islamic Art.
There are complexly carved doors. Numerous screens and windows organized into geometric patterns.
And if the mansion in Night of the Demon had a checkerboard floor,
a palace room floor has a more complex hexagonal design in black-and-white.
The tent interior in the last third, is also geometric. It has a circular opening at its top,
and a cylindrical pole in its center.
The city gate, with it circular windows and circular arch, and minaret at the end are full of geometric forms.
The overhead shots down the minaret stairs are especially good.
A horse's stall has a curved railing on top, with repeated posts below.
It recalls the curved harp through which Tourneur shoots in I Walked with a Zombie.
Some shots down covered city streets or passageways are beautiful. They are examples of Tourneur's
corridor shots. They are also examples of elaborate compositions, which use the
geometric patterns of the architecture.
Tourneur likes repeated units in his compositions. Example: the series of filing cabinets
in the Colonel's office.
The medallions are also seen in multiple quantities.
But most of the repeating units in Timbuktu are unfortunately linked to the torture scenes:
Repeating units tend to highlight scenes. In Timbuktu, they highlight sequences
that are already too prominent!
- Numerous bodies are staked out in identical patterns, in the sand.
- The tarantulas come out of a series of identical cages.
Timbuktu has the animal imagery that runs through Tourneur, but sometimes in more simplified form:
- The medallions have what look like buffalos on them: an example of animal sculpture.
- The tarantulas resemble in some ways, the harmful animals that attack men in other Tourneur.
However, unlike other Tourneur, they do not escape from human control. Instead,
they are always under the full control of the emir.
Harnessed Rhythm (1936) is a short film about harness racing
in Kentucky. It is the most educational film I have ever seen
about horses, and how they run. It explains the different gaits
of horses. It shows through regular, slow motion and stop motion
photography, exactly how horses run. Each gait involves a different
set of positions of the horse's legs. It also shows how horses
are trained to do such things. Many of Tourneur's short films
are educational. This one is the most visually direct in its educational
technique: it shows in detail something it wants the viewer to
The horses here resemble a bit the "large machines"
that run through Tourneur's work. Just as those machines often
resemble large pet animals, so are the horses here the pets of
the heroine. The harness cart attached to the horse is an actual
machine. Most importantly, the steady running of the horse sets
up a rhythm, that is similar to the rhythmic repeated motions
of some of Tourneur's machines, such as the fan in Stars in
My Crown and the snow plow at the end of Nightfall.
At the end, the horse loses its cart and driver, and runs on the
track alone. This is a bit like other Tourneur films in which
animals escape from human control: the dog who goes off on mysterious
nocturnal adventures in Killer-Dog, the leopard that escapes
in The Leopard Man.
The Grand Bounce
The Grand Bounce (1937) is an enjoyable little short film,
about a $1,000 check that is no good. It is a fiction film, but
with no dialogue: its silent film footage is narrated by comic
Pete Smith, in the manner of his other "Pete Smith Specialties".
The film mixes comedy - a somewhat atypical genre for Tourneur
- with some eerie atmosphere.
The check's progress from person to person anticipates the sinister
parchment in Night of the Demon. Both also wind up with
a similar fate. It also recalls somewhat the message on the pigeon
at the beginning of Berlin Express, another piece of paper
that makes a circuit of different people. That Berlin Express
segment is also a silent film with narrator.
The film's ultra-complicated plot reminds one of the complexities
of Tourneur's feature film plots. And character types who appear
in them also show up here: gangsters, enforcers (Out of the Past), doctors,
a pro athlete and his girlfriends (Easy Living).
Most of the characters in this film are sure the
check is good, and base their actions on this premise the viewers
know is false: this is another example of Tourneur's deluded characters.
The characters here are of many different social classes, all
mixed together: another Tourneur tradition.
Mirrors are everywhere:
Aside from the furrier, these mirrors reflect little. The final mirror at the boxer's is especially noticeable
for having nothing in it. This is in complete contradiction to the Hollywood tradition of
complex "mirror shots", ingeniously arranged to show action and make compositions.
One notes that while the mirror at the furrier's is three-way, only one reflection is produced in the shot in
The Grand Bounce. This is very simple, compared to most other films with three-way mirrors.
- An octagonal mirror on the wall in the hero's room.
- A full length mirror at the furriers, in which a woman sees herself in her new mink coat.
- Behind the bar at the casino.
- At the boxer's home.
While the check is worthless, it stimulates an astonishing amount of economic activity.
Just getting money circulating does a lot of good to society.
In this The Grand Bounce anticipates The Inside Story (Allan Dwan, 1948).
While The Inside Story is explicitly designed to teach economics,
it is unclear if The Grand Bounce has any didactic intent.
Certainly nothing explicit is said about economics in The Grand Bounce.
Tourneur films sometimes look at primitive economic systems.
The narrator's account of how many minks are in a coat is perhaps a crude example of this.
The Boss Didn't Say Good Morning
Careers and Business
The Boss Didn't Say Good Morning (1937) shows an office worker,
who becomes afraid he is due to be fired, after the boss refuses to return his morning greeting.
Some Tourneur films such as Easy Living and The Fearmakers
have men battling career-threatening or career-destroying situations.
The hero of The Fearmakers works in an office that is even more hostile
and frightening than the one in The Boss Didn't Say Good Morning.
A number of Tourneur films show primitive economic systems.
The Boss Didn't Say Good Morning is just the opposite.
It shows modern day, standard business tools: invoices, credit systems,
all in a conventional modern day business office.
The hero's mortgage is mentioned, and we see timecards punched, also conventional and modern.
The boss is upper middle class, the hero is more middle class (despite a very snazzy house).
Upper middle class vs middle class conflicts conflicts are a Tourneur subject.
The hero of The Boss Didn't Say Good Morning does not actually know for sure
what is going on, with his career situation or his boss.
He is trapped in one of Tourneur's ambiguous mysteries.
Like other Tourneur mysteries, this one is eventually solved - but as always,
it is a long journey through ambiguous situations till he learns the truth.
Like many other Tourneur mysteries, the one in The Boss Didn't Say Good Morning
turns out to have medical aspects, although this is far from obvious in its early stages.
SPOILER. The boss' stomach problems are the cause of his grouchiness.
Typewriters and Men Typists
The film has a strange opening, a "fantasy" sequence, of sorts.
It shows a letter being composed to all bosses, a high level missive being composed
to be sent to every boss in the country, or on Earth.
The letter is typewritten, and we see a room full of men, all typing away.
Their many typewriters are example of the repeated objects in Tourneur.
Groups of men all working at what is elsewhere "woman's work" such as typewriters or switchboards,
are frequent in police thrillers. These police tend to be uniformed, serious, and highly disciplined looking.
The scene in The Boss Didn't Say Good Morning has something of the same feel.
These men seem high-powered, and on an important mission. But they are in business clothes,
Later we see the hero's desk at home, which has repeated slots for correspondence.
These approach the pigeonholes, which are a specialized subcategory of
the repeated objects in Tourneur. When we last see the hero at work, at the film's end,
he has some sort of office object on his desk, also with repeated slots
This is another Tourneur film showing people eating breakfast.
Tourneur likes "light" foods. The hero butters what seems to be a piece of toast.
Boys and Papers
Tourneur films frequently show men and their sons, or young boys they are more-or-less adopting
as son-figures. The hero of The Boss Didn't Say Good Morning has a son of whom he is very proud.
In addition, young males are everywhere: there is an office boy at work, and
later, caddies help the hero with his golf.
Tourneur films are full of pieces of paper that get passed from one person to another.
Here the passing often involves boys. The office boy gives the hero an invoice.
Later, the hero gives his son a letter to mail. Both invoice and letter play a key role in the plot.
Non-Standard Tourneur Imagery
The Boss Didn't Say Good Morning contains images that are a bit different from standard Tourneur imagery:
- Tourneur rooms often have large windows showing the outside world.
The office in The Boss Didn't Say Good Morning instead has plate glass walls looking from a hallway
into the office.
- Tourneur often shows substances with health-giving properties, such as vitamins or medical drugs.
The Boss Didn't Say Good Morning talks about exercise (a golf game) providing health, rather than a substance.
- We have already mentioned the modern-day business tools in The Boss Didn't Say Good Morning,
rather that the primitive economic systems in other Tourneur.
- The wife serves up a breakfast she has just cooked, but she is not actually one of the
women shown cooking in other Tourneur.
- Tourneur often shows women's labour outside the home, but the office and
golf club in The Boss Didn't Say Good Morning are staffed entirely by males.
- Tourneur often shows people creating images. The Boss Didn't Say Good Morning
opens with men creating a typewritten letter. We see the letter, but it is actually all text,
not strictly speaking an image - although it is shown in concrete visual form.
The King Without a Crown
The King Without a Crown (1937) is a short film, that examines if the Dauphin died
during the French Revolution, as most historians say, or perhaps escaped to the United States.
It is one of Tourneur's less interesting shorts. The subject is a dubious historical thesis:
according to the Wikipedia,
DNA tests prove that the Dauphin did indeed die in 1795, as most historians believe.
Worse, the subject is an insignificant one, in that royalty has little value or influence on our lives.
The film is trivial in subject matter compared to powerhouse educational shorts Tourneur made like
Harnessed Rhythm, Romance of Radium, The Magic Alphabet.
The King Without a Crown shows a center of political power:
Paris during the French Revolution. We see potent political symbols of the French state:
The king and the guillotine. Unlike later Tourneur films which show such political centers,
these symbols are not linked to an analysis of politics or society.
The Tourneur subject of illness is present:
The abdication document is one of the pieces of paper passed from one person to another
that run through Tourneur films.
- A man talks about how his childhood illness
gave him amnesia and wiped out his childhood memories;
- A boy who is apparently the Dauphin gets sick and dies;
- A woman is shown on her deathbed.
The characters in The King Without a Crown anticipate (in a general way)
those in Experiment Perilous. These correspondences are far from close, however:
Prince de Joinville's debate with minister Eleazar Williams is linked to the
upper middle class vs middle class conflicts between male characters in Tourneur.
It is not a pure example:
Prince de Joinville is a fully upper class man, rather than the upper middle class men most typical of Tourneur.
However, his business-like clothing and demeanor suggest the upper middle class rather than royalty.
- A young boy in danger.
- A man in the same family, who is powerful, has an agenda, a smooth talker but who might not be telling the truth
or have the boy's interests at heart: Prince de Joinville in The King Without a Crown,
Nick Bederaux (Paul Lukas) in Experiment Perilous.
- The boy's kind-hearted, loving but powerless and ineffectual mother.
- An old, ill woman in the family who is seeking the truth, but who might be being lied to by the above man:
the Duchesse of Angouleme in The King Without a Crown, Cissie in Experiment Perilous.
- A man, something of an outsider, who has a noble profession and a heroic manner:
missionary minister Eleazar Williams in The King Without a Crown, doctor Bailey (George Brent) in Experiment Perilous.
The Man in the Barn
The Man in the Barn (1937) is a short film, that looks
at whether John Wilkes Booth really died shortly after shooting
Abraham Lincoln in 1865. Booth's flight after the crime is shown: he is one of
several Tourneur characters who flee cross country.
A doctor is called on to study a corpse, and determine whether or not
it is Booth. This is an early example of the medical mysteries
that run through Tourneur. Like other such mysteries, it is filled with
ambiguity. The doctor, like so many later doctors in Tourneur, is
confronted with a seemingly unsolvable puzzle. Evidence points both ways,
and coming to any conclusion is very difficult.
The Man in the Barn also deals with a center of political power:
here Washington DC, right at the end of the Civil War. Tourneur will return
to Washington in The Fearmakers. That film will have a scene
in front of the Lincoln Memorial.
The shipboard sequence anticipates Appointment in Honduras.
It is set against a large metal background on deck, that looms up
behind the characters, like the cabin on the ship in Appointment in Honduras.
This ship is an early armored warship: an instance of Tourneur's interest in
The Magic Alphabet
The Magic Alphabet (1942) is a short film directed by Tourneur,
which dramatizes the real life story of the discovery of vitamins.
It is part of the documentary series The Passing Parade.
The Magic Alphabet shares subject matter with later Tourneur
films. First, the film deals with doctors battling mysterious
illnesses which they barely understand or control. A major part
of the film shows the original discovery of vitamins. Here, Dr.
Christiaan Eijkman (1858-1930) is trying to understand the causes
of beriberi, a disease which is causing numerous people in Java
to sicken and die. These sections strongly anticipate the Tourneur
films I Walked with a Zombie and Stars in My Crown.
In all of these films, the illnesses which grip patients are horrible,
and their causes are not understood. Not only do doctors have
to treat patients with these illnesses, but they also are carrying
on research to try to understand their causes. They desperately
pit their intellects and their training against dimly understood
medical disasters. In all the films, the doctor and other heroes
operate in a shadowy world, in which they face a lone battle against
This point of view is underscored by the frame sequence of The
Magic Alphabet. The film opens with three different stories,
showing modern day Americans coming down with mysterious diseases.
As in later Tourneur films, these diseases lead to a sort of living
death for the patients. At the film's end, we revisit these three
highly dramatic stories, and learn how a lack of vitamins is the
cause. Tourneur leaves these three subplots hanging through the
entire film, increasing the sense of a mysterious medical calamity
overwhelming his characters. The secretary who gets sick here
loses her job, just as Victor Mature will in Easy Living.
The imagery in The Magic Bullet is close to I Walked
with a Zombie of the following year. There are people in sick
rooms, hushed and tropical, and bodies being carried on litters.
Even the prominence given to chickens here anticipates the later
film. Chickens are a historically accurate part of the real Eijkman's
research. Family groups sitting around tables having meals are
also a key image in both pictures; they show up again in Stars
in My Crown. Dr. Eijkman was played by the young Stephen McNally,
who made several short films during this period.
Other Tourneur films have similar subjects. In Easy Living,
apparently healthy football player Victor Mature is stricken with
a major illness. It changes his entire life, and the course of
the film. Hollywood movies rarely showed men who were so afflicted.
The hero of Appointment in Honduras collapses due to malaria.
The hero of The Fearmakers also has attacks of weakness.
In Experiment Perilous, doctor George Brent has to come
to the aid of patient Hedy Lamarr, and her mysterious problems.
And Night of the Demon can be interpreted as a scientist
battling a mysterious calamity that he does not understand, although
here the calamity is supernatural, not medical. There is also
a doctor character in Nightfall, who comes to a terrible
end. The hero of Nightfall is also severely beaten, and
needs medical attention, provided by the heroine. A medical crisis
is at the center of such shorts as The Grand Bounce and
Romance of Radium.
In most of the films, the medical researchers show arrogance and
hubris. The problems facing their patients are deeper than their
conceptions of them. In The Magic Alphabet, the doctor
is sure beriberi is caused by a microbe, the main model in medical
science of the day for the cause of diseases. This is not true.
He keeps on futilely researching this while people are dying all
around him. Only a chance intervention by outsiders shows him
the error of this idea. Medical researchers in I Walked with
a Zombie and Stars in My Crown will show similar false
ideas and false confidence. So will psychologist Dana Andrews
in Night of the Demon.
Both Sternberg and Ford, directors who influenced Tourneur, depicted
illness in their films. The troubles in Josef von Sternberg's
Blonde Venus (1932) begin with the husband's life threatening
illness. However, he is mainly sick off screen, and this film
does not especially resemble Tourneur's. However, John Ford's
approach is close to Tourneur. Ford's Arrowsmith (1931)
is a whole film about medical researchers, including an epidemic,
and The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936) has similar scenes
in its climax. The prisoners in Ford's movie anticipate those
involved with the medical research in The Magic Bullet.
Another epidemic occurs in Ford's Doctor Bull (1933). The
young boy who has trouble walking in Ford's How Green Was My
Valley (1941) resembles the one in The Magic Bullet.
There is also the alcoholic doctor in Stagecoach (1939),
the equally troubled Doc Halliday in Ford's My Darling Clementine
(1946), and Anne Bancroft's gutsy doctor in Seven Women
(1966). Like Tourneur, Ford sets his physicians in remote and
often tropical areas. Many of Ford's doctors are as fallible as
Tourneur's. However, Ford's doctors do not seem beset by the almost
metaphysical doubts of Tourneur's. It is the ignorance and helplessness
of Tourneur's heroes in the face of the unknown that troubles them.
The Magic Alphabet shares a tropical setting with
other Tourneur films. All of these works show people from Northern
countries living in tropical areas: Panama in Phantom Raiders,
a Caribbean island in I Walked with a Zombie, Mexico in
Out of the Past. Tourneur has rich atmosphere, depicting
life in all of these countries.
The emphasis on scientists trying to provide proper food and nutrition
for the public returns in Berlin Express, whose hero Robert
Ryan is an agriculturist trying to feed the starving Germans after
World War II.
Cool and Lam
Cool and Lam (1958) is a pilot for a television series that was never made.
It features the private eye team of Bertha Cool and Donald Lam,
stars of a long series of popular detective novels by Erle Stanley Gardner.
Cool and Lam is based on one of the novels, Turn On the Heat (1940).
It is a delightful film, with strong story telling. Unfortunately, though,
it has a much simpler visual style than Tourneur's best theatrical features.
Erle Stanley Gardner introduces the show. It is fascinating to see this major author.
His appearance adds a documentary dimension to Cool and Lam, like many of
Tourneur's early short films. Like some of them, it mixes documentary and narrative elements.
Cool and Lam is full of key Tourneur subjects.
It takes place near a center of American political power:
a California town and its highly contested election for mayor.
(While the characters are from this town, most of the action actually occurs
in neighboring cities.) Major characters are the reform candidate for Mayor,
and the crooked gambling interests opposed to him.
This is one of Tourneur's small towns under siege from sinister forces:
the gamblers who are trying to run it, and subvert its election.
Working women are prominent: private eye heroine Bertha Cool,
her secretary Elsie Brand (a series character in the novels),
a sympathetic newspaperwoman,
various women who work at one of the gamblers' clubs.
Cool and Lam is unusually rich in female characters, and non-stereotyped ones.
Both Gardner and Tourneur have a long-term interest in and sympathy for
Tourneur likes conflicts between upper middle class vs middle class men.
The candidate for Mayor is an upper middle class man; private eye hero
Donald Lam seems barely middle class, although he does wear a suit and tie,
that symbol of middle class work and life. However, there is only a little
conflict between these two characters, unlike the antagonisms in other
Tourneur likes characters with secrets or hidden lives. In Cool and Lam,
this includes the client, who employs Cool & Lam under a pseudonym, and the wife.
Newspaper articles are used in the detective's research.
The detective follows a suspect: an example of the tracking in Tourneur films.
Donald Lam works entirely non-violently, during his whole investigation.
Bad guys use violence, but Donald's vigorous investigation never uses guns or fisticuffs.
(He does throw ink at a bad guy to escape from him, one of Tourneur's thrown objects.)
Dialogue does not mention this non-violent approach, and it is not made explicit.
Private eye Donald Lam is highly effective at his work. He makes a complete contrast with the
ineffective private eye heroes of Phantom Raiders and Out of the Past.
Paper: Passed from One Person to Another
Tourneur films often have paper passed from one person to another.
In Cool and Lam this includes;
The huge newspaper files handed from the newspaperwoman to Donald Lam.
- The written confession, at the end.
Signs are common in Cool and Lam.
The big henchman is called a gorilla. This is a simple example of the
animal imagery linked to villains in Tourneur.
In both the novels and the film Cool and Lam, Bertha is relentlessly cheap,
and is always trying to get Donald to save money. In Cool and Lam,
this takes the form of her asking Donald to sleep in his car and pack sandwiches
on his trip, to avoid paying for hotels and restaurants. Bertha's cheapness
and greed come right out of Erle Stanley Gardner. But the sandwiches seem
like Tourneur imagery: they run through his films.
Later, we see Bertha herself eating a sandwich at her desk. It is a comic moment,
reflecting on her own tight-fisted view towards money.
The bar is seen through the doorway of the booth.
Northwest Passage: The Gunsmith
The Gunsmith (1958) is an episode of the television series Northwest Passage.
Although it was the third episode to be broadcast, there are signs it
might be the series pilot. It introduces a major series character, Langdon Towne.
Tourneur had worked with the star of Northwest Passage, Keith Larsen,
when Larsen played the supporting role of Bat Masterson in Wichita (1955).
Tourneur would direct multiple episodes of Northwest Passage,
apparently eight all told. The Gunsmith and two others were re-edited
into a feature film, Forest Rangers, and it is in this form that I've seen them.
The Gunsmith forms the first third of Forest Rangers, that is,
around the first 25 minutes of the film. Most of the other episodes of
Northwest Passage I've seen are not any good at all.
Forest Rangers is full of racism against Native Americans. It is
one of the most racist Westerns of the 1950's, an era in which
many progressive, pro-Native American Westerns were in fact being made -
although not by Tourneur! Forest Rangers also suffers from extreme violence,
and lurid treatment of its female characters. As a whole Forest Rangers
is pretty dismal, and I considered leaving it out entirely from this Tourneur study.
Meeting the Characters
The Gunsmith has an interesting 15 minute passage, in which we get
introduced to the three main characters. This begins after a brief prologue,
with the first iris shot opening on Buddy Ebsen. It lasts through a scene
showing the men sleeping outdoors at night. This sequence is full of
It takes place in the forest-and-water environment familiar in Tourneur.
The canoes are miniature versions of Tourneur's ships.
Major Roger Roberts (Keith Larsen) and Langdon Towne (Don Burnett) are perhaps examples of the
middle class vs. upper middle class pair that run through Tourneur.
Much is made of Towne's Harvard background.
Langdon Towne is also one of Tourneur's sympathetic artist characters. He is a
portrait painter, and we see him at work at his easel: one of many Tourneur
characters at work producing images. Towne is also a map-maker.
We see one of his fine maps, showing the Lake Champlain setting of
Northwest Passage. This map was produced based on rough sketches researched and drawn
by explorer Roberts. So both men are in fact image makers. They also are collaborators of sorts,
one of the few such collaborators on image-making in Tourneur.
The collaboration indicates another aspect of the Roger Roberts - Langdon Towne
relationship: it has homoerotic undertones. It is perhaps the most striking
gay male relationship in Tourneur.
The relationship has dominance-and-submission aspects. Roberts tries to control Towne.
This is modified in ways that soften what could have been hard-edged. The control has
a playful side: both men see it as a game. And Towne's upper class status gives him
protection and options: he could easily leave the relationship at any time he wants to.
The fifteen minute sequence, in which the men meet and develop their relationship,
if full of inventive detail, not spoiled here.
There are aspects of that Tourneur theme hero worship, in the way Langdon Towne
comes to regard Roger Roberts.
Major Roberts' relationship with his Sergeant (Buddy Ebsen), also has dominance aspects.
The Sergeant enjoys having Major Roberts throw a tomahawk at him (I am not making this up!).
This recalls the way the bully in Stars in My Crown ultimately enjoys having his whip turned on him
by the hero Joel McCrea, and tripped into the mud.
The tomahawk is one of many thrown items in Tourneur. And the tin cup it splits is one
of Tourneur's cut objects. (There is also a tossed bag, in another scene.)
There is a triangle relationship: both Langdon Towne and Roger Roberts are attracted to the same woman.
However, unlike most Tourneur triangles, this one seems perfunctory. It mainly seems like
an excuse for the men to have a rivalry relationship.
Costumes and Color
The men wear the spectacular Forest Ranger uniforms, copied directly from the feature film
version of Northwest Passage (1940). However, leads Keith Larsen and Don Burnett
are much fitter than Spencer Tracy in the original film. Both men are examples of the hunks
that TV producers of the 1950's favored as Western leads.
One suspects that the green color of the uniforms has been made brighter for the TV series:
it often looks fairly neutral or forest green in the original movie, but it is boldly green in Tourneur's TV episodes.
The green Forest Ranger uniforms often match the lush green vegetation. They also make a
contrasting color harmony with the red uniforms of the British troops.
Color looks ravishing throughout The Gunsmith.
Keith Larsen is introduced with his shirt off, a common sight for 1950's Western TV leading men.
It also recalls Burt Lancaster's shirtless scene in The Flame and the Arrow.
Tourneur often employed macho leading men in his films. When Larsen is next seen in his
Forest Ranger uniform, it emphasizes the "getting dressed up" quality of his uniform.
Northwest Passage: Break Out
Break Out (1958) is an episode of the television series Northwest Passage.
It deals with an attempted escape from a POW camp. Although the series takes place in the 18th Century,
Break Out has the feel of a World War II POW escape movie, such as Stalag 17
(Billy Wilder, 1953).
The POW heros hide their identities and ranks under pseudonyms.
This perhaps relates to Tourneur heroes in other films who have secrets or hidden lives.
Often however in these other films, such heroes' secrets are also initially hidden from the viewer.
Break Out is simpler: the viewer always knows all about who the POWs really are.
The hidden identities have an eerie effect. We have a whole cast of men who are concealing their names.
Break Out has an injured character, who is sick in his bed for much of the show.
Sick and injured people are a major Tourneur theme.
A life-giving substance, also a Tourneur theme, is part of this subject:
his fellow prisoners reduce his fever through the use of river water.
We see a detailed progression of the prisoner's illness, through many stages.
Illness and injury are often complex in Tourneur, rather than simple.
SPOILER. Here, the injured man is deliberately
getting his treatment withheld, by the monstrous people who run the camp.
We only learn this mid-show: it is a new complication in the situation.
Other Tourneur films have medical mysteries: here their is hidden information
not about the injury itself, but its lack of treatment.
The hero uses mathematics to measure distances and progress in digging the tunnel.
Much suspense ensues over the hero's attempt to get a pitchfork, and then to break off one
of its tines. The breaking is staged with visual interest, in a picturesque tree stump.
The hero throws dirt at his attackers, in an attempt to escape.
The clouds of black dirt are visually interesting.
The Twilight Zone: Night Call
Night Call (1964) is Tourneur's only episode of the television series The Twilight Zone.
Night Call shows Tourneur's interest in woman's work: the three on-screen characters are all female,
and two of them are shown at work.
The mail the housekeeper gives the heroine is perhaps a simple example of the paper passed around
Technology and Mystery
Night Call is perhaps mainly a supernatural tale. But screen writer Richard Matheson sometimes fused
supernatural and science fiction elements, and there are technological aspects to Night Call,
especially the use of telephones.
Tourneur himself is interested in communication devices, such as phones and switchboards.
Like other Tourneur films, there is a mystery, that only yields after very detailed, multi-stage investigation.
This mystery has both technological and supernatural elements. Like other Tourneur mysteries,
it is frighteningly hard for the characters to solve. They need to go through many stages, and experience failure along the way.
The technological aspects are perhaps analogous to the medical mystery in so much of Tourneur.
Links to Experiment Perilous
Night Call shares imagery with the opening of Experiment Perilous:
- An older woman with health problems.
- A "traditional American" setting.
- Telephone or telegraph poles and wires.
- Rain storms.
- A housekeeper or maid that takes care of the protagonist.
The telephone line is one of the many cut objects in Tourneur. The shot of it hanging on the grave is one of the best
images in Night Call. It is constantly swinging a little, presumably in the wind: wind being a Tourneur motif.
The bed area is one of Tourneur's geometric worlds. The bed frame is made up of repeated rounded shapes.
The table contains both a clock and a telephone, made up out of rounded geometric forms.
There is another of Tourneur's geometric lamps. And a bedspread with lines and squares.
Nearby is the heroine's wheelchair, with a patterned afghan back made up of zig-zag chevron shapes.
This chair is moved into other locations as well, throughout the show.
The cemetery has aspects of a geometric world, especially in the shot of the telephone pole and the grave.
The cemetery is full of tombstones, each in a different pure geometric shape.
The switchboard operator's headset is full of geometric forms.
The house has a porch with a small portico over part of it. Neither of these Tourneur motifs play any role in the story.
The house has no grass or separate lawn outside, just dirt. This gives it an aspect of the ruins in other Tourneur.
The cemetery is entered by a gateway between two posts, although there are no actual gates.
It has a sign. Gates and signs are common Tourneur motifs.
Flat Wall Shots
The camera shows the heroine and her whole bed, parallel to the screen frame, at a climactic moment.
It is an intriguing variation on a Tourneur "flat wall shot".