Joseph M. Newman | Subjects
| Structure and Story Telling | Visual Style
Early short films: Know Your Money | Women in Hiding
| Buyer Beware
| Respect the Law | Coffins on Wheels
| The Luckiest Guy in the World | The Amazing Mr. Nordill
Feature Films: 711 Ocean Drive | Love Nest
| Red Skies of Montana | Pony Soldier
| Dangerous Crossing | The Human Jungle
| This Island Earth
| Death in Small Doses | The Big Circus
| The Lawbreakers | King of the Roaring 20's - The Story of Arnold Rothstein
| Twenty Plus Two | A Thunder of Drums
| The George Raft Story
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: Dear Uncle George | Death of a Cop
| The Gentleman Caller | Body in the Barn
| Misadventure | An Unlocked Window
The Twilight Zone: In Praise of Pip | Black Leather Jackets
The Big Valley: The Way to Kill a Killer
Classic Film and Television Home Page (with many articles on directors)
| Television Western Articles | Color in the Arts
Joseph M. Newman
Joseph M. Newman was an American film director. His films often deal with science and technology, including:
His films often offer detailed looks at how institutions work. This includes US Federal Government organizations.
Although Newman is little known today, his highly personal and observantly detailed films offer rewards for viewers.
- Crime thrillers, in which cops or crooks use technology, such as 711 Ocean Drive, Death in Small Doses,
and many Crime Does Not Pay shorts;
- Pioneer science fiction films, including This Island Earth, one of the first films
about interstellar travel and alien planets;
- Medical dramas about epidemic fighters, Respect the Law and The Way to Kill a Killer;
- Adventure films dealing with technology, such as his look at modern-day forest-fire fighters,
Red Skies of Montana.
Joseph M. Newman: Subjects
Organizations, and how they work:
- How organizations and institutions work, set forth in full
sociological detail (Secret Service, counterfeiters: Know Your Money,
crooked maternity home: Women in Hiding,
used car dealership, police, hospital: Coffins on Wheels,
the modern mob: 711 Ocean Drive, apartment house: Love Nest,
US Forest Service: Red Skies of Montana,
the Cree: Pony Soldier,
police: The Human Jungle,
labs, spaceship, alien planet: This Island Earth,
international crime syndicate: Flight to Hong Kong,
circus, bank: The Big Circus,
police, organized crime: The Lawbreakers,
Rothstein's organization, stockbrokers: King of the Roaring 20's,
Cavalry: A Thunder of Drums,
police, paper: Dear Uncle George,
police: Death of a Cop,
county crime investigators: Body in the Barn,
Army Medical Corps, gambling mob: In Praise of Pip,
aliens: Black Leather Jackets,
cattle ranches: The Way to Kill a Killer)
- How industries or societies work (Native Canadians and the Canadian Government: Pony Soldier,
airlines: Flight to Hong Kong,
trucking: Death in Small Doses,
reporters, press agents: The Big Circus,
civic corruption: King of the Roaring 20's,
Hollywood: The George Raft Story,
race relations: The Way to Kill a Killer)
- US Federal Government organizations, sympathetically presented (Secret Service: Know Your Money,
Pure Food and Drug Act: Triumph Without Drums,
FBI, government lawyer: Love Nest,
US Forest Service: Red Skies of Montana,
Food and Drug Administration: Death in Small Doses,
Library of Congress: Twenty Plus Two)
related (RCMP: Pony Soldier)
- Organizations run on quasi-militaristic lines, often with men in uniform
(Secret Service: Know Your Money, Police: Buyer Beware,
Doctors: Respect the Law,
US Forest Service: Red Skies of Montana,
RCMP: Pony Soldier,
ship: Dangerous Crossing,
police: The Human Jungle,
Aliens: This Island Earth,
Hong Kong police, two airlines: Flight to Hong Kong,
police: King of the Roaring 20's, Cavalry: A Thunder of Drums,
police: Dear Uncle George,
police: Death of a Cop,
gas company: The Gentleman Caller,
Aliens, police, asylum: Black Leather Jackets)
- Military imagery (hero just out of Army: Love Nest, flashback to hero in Army: Twenty Plus Two,
battle scenes in Cuba: The George Raft Story, early depiction of Vietnam war: In Praise of Pip)
- Dysfunctional and failing organizations (crooked maternity home with incompetent doctor: Women in Hiding,
police in high-crime district: The Human Jungle,
Aliens: This Island Earth,
hero's crime ring after being taken over by the Syndicate: Flight to Hong Kong,
circus: The Big Circus,
Cavalry: A Thunder of Drums,
county crime investigators: Body in the Barn,
Aliens: Black Leather Jackets)
- Large areas where many disparate people live together (maternity home: Women in Hiding,
rooming house: Love Nest,
firefighter dormitory: Red Skies of Montana,
Cree camp: Pony Soldier,
ship: Dangerous Crossing, alien research lab: This Island Earth,
rooming house: Death in Small Doses,
circus: The Big Circus,
Hollywood hotel: The George Raft Story,
apartment building: Dear Uncle George,
boarding house: The Gentleman Caller,
mansion with patient and nurses: An Unlocked Window)
- Locations in rural areas and red states in the USA
(Nevada: 711 Ocean Drive, Montana: Red Skies of Montana,
Georgia: This Island Earth, truckers on country roads: Death in Small Doses,
North Dakota: Twenty Plus Two, county in a rural area: Body in the Barn)
- Large ships, planes and spaceships
- High tech worlds - underground (bookie lab, Boulder Dam: 711 Ocean Drive,
rooming house basement: Love Nest, below decks on ship: Dangerous Crossing,
research lab: This Island Earth, basement with gas equipment: Misadventure)
- High tech worlds - NOT underground (Secret Service lab: Know Your Money,
beer factory at finale: The Human Jungle)
- Unusual hi-tech things done with phones (the recording device
used to uncover dialed phone numbers: Know Your Money,
all the things done with phones and gambling: 711 Ocean Drive,
radio network includes bullhorns and loudspeakers for public listening: Red Skies of Montana,
special button on Desk Sergeant's intercom connects to Police Chief's phone: The Human Jungle,
alien television-phone, aliens intercept teletype: This Island Earth,
secret passage in phone booths: King of the Roaring 20's,
tracing phone call: Twenty Plus Two,
prison visiting room with phones: Dear Uncle George,
alien television-phone: Black Leather Jackets)
- Technology temporarily failing (brakes failing: Coffins on Wheels,
lights going out: Love Nest,
lights going out in baggage hold: Dangerous Crossing,
plane controls failing: This Island Earth,
circus machine starts fire: The Big Circus,
section cut out of newspaper in archive: Twenty Plus Two,
gas set to disfunction: The Gentleman Caller,
gas set to leak: Misadventure,
running low on oxygen: An Unlocked Window)
- Fire (maternity home: Women in Hiding,
forest fires: Red Skies of Montana,
Interocitor causes fires, condenser, car, spaceship in thermal barrier: This Island Earth,
grenades burn ships, grenade in room: Flight to Hong Kong,
circus: The Big Circus)
- Heroes interfacing with tech organizations making deliveries
(Love Nest, This Island Earth, Black Leather Jackets)
- Germs (Respect the Law, Black Leather Jackets,
The Way to Kill a Killer)
- Medical workers (Tom Neal as ambulance interne: Money to Loan,
maternity home: Women in Hiding,
epidemic fighters: Respect the Law,
pharmacists: Buyer Beware,
hospital: Coffins on Wheels,
hospital: Red Skies of Montana,
ship's doctor hero, ship's nurse: Dangerous Crossing,
hospital and doctor: Death in Small Doses,
hospital staff: King of the Roaring 20's,
Army Medical Corps: In Praise of Pip,
morgue: Death of a Cop,
ambulance doctor: The Gentleman Caller,
doctor: Body in the Barn,
nurses: An Unlocked Window,
animal epidemic fighters: The Way to Kill a Killer)
- Crime and the pharmaceutical industry (tainted drugs: Buyer Beware,
amphetamines: Death in Small Doses)
- Aliens from outer space infiltrating and preparing to invade Earth (This Island Earth, Black Leather Jackets)
- File cabinets with key information (police Gangster Squad: 711 Ocean Drive,
parachute room: Red Skies of Montana,
unsolved old police cases in file cabinet: The Human Jungle,
murder scene in office, hero's filing system: Twenty Plus Two)
- Newspapers (Freedom of the Press: The Story That Couldn't Be Printed,
newspaper morgue, Library of Congress archives, photostats: Twenty Plus Two)
- Reporters (crime reporters eager for story: The Human Jungle,
interview hero: This Island Earth,
interview and photograph famous novelist heroine at airport: Flight to Hong Kong,
press party at circus: The Big Circus,
crime reporter: The Lawbreakers,
older reporter: Twenty Plus Two,
columnist and publisher: Dear Uncle George,
TV newscaster: An Unlocked Window)
- Maps (wire service lab: 711 Ocean Drive,
US Forest Service: Red Skies of Montana,
Canada's Northwest Territories at film's start: Pony Soldier,
police station walls: The Human Jungle,
on Red Buttons' wall: The Big Circus,
police office: Dear Uncle George,
police office: Death of a Cop,
map marked up on TV: An Unlocked Window)
- Triangulation to locate things (discussed as way to find caller at track: 711 Ocean Drive,
used to locate forest fire: Red Skies of Montana)
- Information sources (Bureau of Missing Persons: Dangerous Crossing,
electronics catalogue, diagram of machine: This Island Earth,
stock market style blackboard showing prices for loot: Flight to Hong Kong)
- Heroes and heroines who quietly have to defy their superiors,
and pursue an independent path (Operator 10: The Amazing Mr. Nordill,
Red Skies of Montana, ship's doctor: Dangerous Crossing,
alien: This Island Earth,
Red Buttons: The Big Circus,
Jack Warden: The Lawbreakers,
Rothstein vs Tammany Hall: King of the Roaring 20's, alien: Black Leather Jackets)
related (bookie in conflict with boss: In Praise of Pip)
- Heroes who are falsely viewed as liars by those around them
(Red Skies of Montana, heroine: Dangerous Crossing,
Victor Mature and lion getting loose: The Big Circus,
neighbor woman accused of murder: Body in the Barn,
Black Leather Jackets) hero correctly viewed as liar (Victor Jory: Death of a Cop)
- Heroes who are expert with technology (Know Your Money, Coffins on Wheels,
711 Ocean Drive, Red Skies of Montana, This Island
Earth, hero knows gas equipment: Misadventure, Black Leather Jackets)
- Heroes who pilot planes (This Island Earth)
related (pilots, heroes as parachute jumpers: Red Skies of Montana,
airline pilots: Flight to Hong Kong,
pilot: Twenty Plus Two)
- Heroes who ride motorcycles (Red Skies of Montana, Black Leather Jackets)
related (motorcycle cops: King of the Roaring 20's,
montage contrasting hero dancing to motorcycle cops: The George Raft Story)
- Government agent heroes undercover as honest working men (delivery man: Know Your Money,
novice truck driver: Death in Small Doses)
- Government inspectors of buildings (Respect the Law, Love Nest) related (gas man: The Gentleman Caller)
- Gangsters who run gambling - often suave, business-like and upper class in
mannerism (711 Ocean Drive, The Lawbreakers, King of the Roaring 20's)
related (grandfatherly-acting Ustick runs crime empire: The Human Jungle,
Casino entertainers: The George Raft Story, bookie: In Praise of Pip)
Perhaps the matron-like counterfeiter of Know Your Money and the
suave aliens of This Island Earth also qualify.
- Crooks who use brainy schemes to make money (hero: The Amazing Mr. Nordill,
hero: 711 Ocean Drive, Arnold Rothstein: King of the Roaring 20's)
- Rich man and a poor man who asks for help with his work
(David Janssen and Mickey Rooney: King of the Roaring 20's,
George Kennedy and Barry Nelson: Misadventure,
Peter Breck and Martin Landau: The Way to Kill a Killer)
related (hero helps Gorshin, Benny Siegel: The George Raft Story)
- Older men whose talents are sadly dismissed by society (reporter: Twenty Plus Two,
actor hero: The George Raft Story)
- Aging men trying to cope with demands of their job (Police Captain Harrison: The Human Jungle,
truckers: Death in Small Doses)
- Women who succeed in male-dominated professions (respected Cree elder White Moon: Pony Soldier,
scientist: This Island Earth,
novelist: Flight to Hong Kong,
public relations: The Big Circus)
- Unwed mothers and their problems (crooked maternity home preys on unwed pregnant women: Women in Hiding,
Abandoned, missing woman: Twenty Plus Two)
- Innocent teenagers and kids in grave danger (Buyer Beware, Coffins on Wheels,
missing girl: Twenty Plus Two, young Peter Brown as policeman: Death of a Cop,
back-story about hero's son: Misadventure,
In Praise of Pip)
- Disappearing husbands (heroine's: Dangerous Crossing, neighbor woman's: Body in the Barn)
- Mysterious secondary characters who appear
(Frank Fay: Love Nest, This Island Earth,
Jacques Aubuchon: Twenty Plus Two, aliens: Black Leather Jackets)
- Characters who make wry comments on events (hero, Jack Paar as lawyer: Love Nest,
lab assistant: This Island Earth,
hero's friend and assistant Boris: Flight to Hong Kong,
crime reporter: The Lawbreakers,
agent Herschel Bernardi: The George Raft Story)
- Pets (Richard Boone's raccoon Henry: Red Skies of Montana,
lab cat Neutron: This Island Earth,
elephants, monkeys: The Big Circus,
cat: An Unlocked Window)
Joseph M. Newman: Structure and Story Telling
- Faithful adaptations of well-known writers (Bret Harte: The Outcasts of Poker Flat,
Garnett Weston: Pony Soldier,
John Dickson Carr: Dangerous Crossing,
Raymond F. Jones: This Island Earth,
Jonreed Lauritzen: Kiss of Fire,
Arthur L. Davis: Death in Small Doses,
Frank Gruber: Twenty Plus Two,
Kenneth Fearing: Three Wives Too Many,
Margaret Millar: Beast in View,
Veronica Parker Johns: The Gentleman Caller,
Ethel Lina White: An Unlocked Window,
Richard Deming: The Second Wife)
- Real life people and events (Alfred Nobel and the Nobel Prize: The Story of Alfred Nobel,
John Peter Zengler and Freedom of the Press: The Story That Couldn't Be Printed,
lion tamer Clyde Beatty: Cat College,
Pure Food and Drug Act: Triumph Without Drums,
Harold Russell: Diary of a Sergeant,
Everett Nordill the counterfeiter: The Amazing Mr. Nordill,
Mann Gulch fire of 1949: Red Skies of Montana,
true story of government agent: Death in Small Doses,
real reporters mentioned or appear: The Big Circus,
Arnold Rothstein: King of the Roaring 20's,
George Raft: The George Raft Story,
Sitting Bull: The Death of Sitting Bull,
massacre: The Massacre at Wounded Knee)
- Films that perhaps influenced Newman films (The Naked City, Twelve O'Clock High: The Human Jungle,
The Quiet Man in bedroom door scene, Crime Does Not Pay series and policeman talking to viewer,
The Lady from Shanghai and foot chases in San Francisco and Hong Kong: Flight to Hong Kong)
- Music numbers (dance hall: Red Skies of Montana,
live jazz music at night spot: Twenty Plus Two,
full musical film: The George Raft Story,
couple dance at fiesta: The Way to Kill a Killer)
Semi-Documentary (Please see my chart Semi-documentary crime films
for a list of Semi-documentary films and their key characteristics.):
- Heroes played by character actors, rather than big stars
(Clinton Sundberg, Leon Ames: The Amazing Mr. Nordill,
711 Ocean Drive, Jeff Morrow as alien: This Island Earth, Jack Warden: The Lawbreakers,
Victor Jory: Death of a Cop, Roddy McDowall: The Gentleman Caller, Lillian Gish: Body in the Barn,
In Praise of Pip, Lee Kinsolving: Black Leather Jackets, Martin Landau: The Way to Kill a Killer)
- Fierce supporting performances by Chuck Connors (The Human Jungle, Death in Small Doses)
- Semi-Documentary films (Know Your Money, Respect the Law,
711 Ocean Drive, Red Skies of Montana, The Human Jungle, Death in Small Doses)
- Films using some semi-documentary techniques or approaches (This Island Earth, The Lawbreakers)
Joseph M. Newman: Visual Style
- Long take camera movements, with intricate staging (improved wire service lab: 711 Ocean Drive,
many shots: Love Nest,
dormitory, dance hall, parachute room, Hunter's confrontation: Red Skies of Montana,
opening at dock, cabin, heroine crosses dining room: Dangerous Crossing,
crates in hero's lab, scenes at alien lab: This Island Earth,
first look at Mama Lin's nightclub: Flight to Hong Kong,
stockbroker scene, Mickey Rooney leaves restaurant: King of the Roaring 20's,
credits: The George Raft Story)
- Vertical camera movements (up telephone pole, tree: Red Skies of Montana,
up circus ladder: The Big Circus)
- Lateral camera movements (down police meeting: The Human Jungle)
- Depth staging (diner, hero leaves police interrogation: 711 Ocean Drive,
jail: Love Nest,
Widmark appears after fire, Richard Boone with news at dance: Red Skies of Montana,
Lieutenant enters hero's living room, Circle Room, bar with reporter, people seen from phone booth: Twenty Plus Two,
stakeout, view from window: Death of a Cop,
house seen in background outside: An Unlocked Window,
alien machine seen through doorway: Black Leather Jackets)
- Panoramas, filled with buildings (711 Ocean Drive, Red Skies of Montana)
- Corridors, filled with technology (phone company, Boulder Dam: 711 Ocean Drive,
stockbroker office with hidden passage: King of the Roaring 20's,
kitchen: The Gentleman Caller,
basement staircase with gas equipment: Misadventure,
house of mirrors: In Praise of Pip)
- Other corridors or corridor-like regions (ship decks: Dangerous Crossing,
police station: The Human Jungle,
upstairs hallway at rooming house: Death in Small Doses,
trailers, railroad cars: The Big Circus,
train station corridors: The Lawbreakers,
portico at stable: King of the Roaring 20's,
long narrow bar, airplane aisle: Twenty Plus Two, alley outside theater: The George Raft Story)
- Outdoor staircases (police headquarters: 711 Ocean Drive, apartment building: Love Nest,
porch steps, ladder to parachute training stand, power-line pole: Red Skies of Montana,
gangplank, deck staircases: Dangerous Crossing, airport tower, airplane steps: This Island Earth,
chase in San Francisco: Flight to Hong Kong,
steps outside rooming house: Death in Small Doses,
casino entrance steps: King of the Roaring 20's,
front steps of hero's house: Twenty Plus Two,
apartment building, subway: The George Raft Story,
front steps seen from window: Death of a Cop)
- Bridges (Jeffrey Hunter drives over bridges: Red Skies of Montana,
hero and heroine flee over small footbridge: This Island Earth)
related (bridge over assembly line in beer factory: The Human Jungle,
plank from dock to small boat: Flight to Hong Kong,
crossing Niagara Falls on tightrope: The Big Circus)
- Washrooms (phone repairmen: 711 Ocean Drive,
Forest Service bunkhouse: Red Skies of Montana,
cabin bathroom: Dangerous Crossing,
bathroom with shower: Misadventure)
- Circular architecture (drive-in, roads, Boulder Dam: 711 Ocean Drive,
spaceship well with plane, control room, door, tubes, alien planet elevator, towers, control room: This Island Earth,
dance floor at Mama Lin's nightclub: Flight to Hong Kong,
circus rings: The Big Circus,
fences and horse trailer: King of the Roaring 20's,
curving bar: Twenty Plus Two,
ferris wheel: In Praise of Pip,
curved road where murder takes place: An Unlocked Window)
- Repeating large near-square panels of windows (front door of rooming house: Death in Small Doses,
the open window with two panels: An Unlocked Window)
- Transparent containers for people (tubes on spaceship: This Island Earth,
oxygen tent: An Unlocked Window)
related (fishing net with man trapped in it: Flight to Hong Kong)
- Mirrors (dressing room mirror: The Human Jungle,
Amy's room, hero's room, rooming house front hall: Death in Small Doses,
ceiling in morgue: Death of a Cop,
house of mirrors: In Praise of Pip)
Costumes and Color:
- Circular light fixtures (hanging lights in wire service lab: 711 Ocean Drive,
on ceilings of ship: Dangerous Crossing,
Interocitor dials, atom-like alien device: This Island Earth,
rings of light on train depot ceiling: The Lawbreakers,
flashback: Twenty Plus Two, opening shot at nightclub: The George Raft Story)
related (many lightbulbs on dressing room mirror: The Human Jungle,
light show of circular lights seen by driver under the influence at start: Death in Small Doses,
spherical streetlights, light on hero's motorcycle: Black Leather Jackets)
- Colored lights (light bulbs outside dance hall, lamp in parachute room: Red Skies of Montana,
rays, light beams, Interocitor, lamps, atom-like alien device: This Island Earth)
- Lights on control panels (elevator: Dangerous Crossing,
Interocitor: This Island Earth)
- Flashing lights (outside Police Chief's window: The Human Jungle)
- Red clothes for men (RCMP uniforms, Standing Bear's headdress: Pony Soldier,
hero's helmet: This Island Earth,
Martin Landau's reddish-brown jacket: The Way to Kill a Killer)
- Light-colored or white encasing clothes (lab coats in Secret Service lab: Know Your Money,
parachute jump suits: Red Skies of Montana,
Standing Bear's buckskins: Pony Soldier,
husband's trenchcoat: Dangerous Crossing,
white trenchcoat, flight suit: This Island Earth,
trenchcoat worn by friend in danger at docks: Flight to Hong Kong,
Chuck Connors in white gown as hospital patient: Death in Small Doses,
gas company uniform overall: Misadventure,
patient in bed: An Unlocked Window,
moving men, asylum internes: Black Leather Jackets)
- Light-colored suits (Chuck Connors when first seen, Lamont Johnson in finale: The Human Jungle,
hero, tennis star: Flight to Hong Kong,
Peter Graves at start: Death in Small Doses)
- Leather jackets, worn by unexpectedly brainy characters (hero undercover as delivery man: Know Your Money,
hero: 711 Ocean Drive,
Jeffrey Hunter, Richard Boone: Red Skies of Montana,
Chuck Connors: Death in Small Doses, hero, aliens: Black Leather Jackets)
- Briefly seen characters in leather jackets (Barry Nelson after switching clothes: The Luckiest Guy in the World,
man in credits: Love Nest,
taxi driver at start: The Human Jungle,
policeman at end: Death in Small Doses,
pilot: Twenty Plus Two,
villain Richard Jaeckel: Death of a Cop, workman: The Gentleman Caller)
related (motorcycle cop uniforms: King of the Roaring 20's)
- Pinstripe suits (hero: Know Your Money,
hero: 711 Ocean Drive,
hero as stockbroker, Robert Ellenstein, stockbroker, speakeasy bouncers: King of the Roaring 20's,
gangsters and actors playing gangsters: The George Raft Story)
- Sports coats for hero dressing down (hero working at lab: This Island Earth,
hero undercover as trucker: Death in Small Doses)
- ID badges (phone repairman hero: 711 Ocean Drive,
Jeffrey Hunter and his father's ID bracelets: Red Skies of Montana,
police badge: The Human Jungle,
hero's police badge: Death of a Cop)
Crime Does Not Pay: Know Your Money
A Semi-documentary ancestor
Know Your Money (1940) is a short film, part of the Crime
Does Not Pay series. Newman directed quite a few episodes
of Crime Does Not Pay, in the early days of his career
before he graduated to making feature-length films.
Crime Does Not Pay seems ancestral to the whole genre of
semi-documentary films, that would appear after 1945. John C.
Higgins, the scriptwriter of the pioneering T-Men (Anthony Mann,
1947) and other semi-docs, was also one of the scriptwriters on
the Crime Does Not Pay series.
Comparison with T-Men
Know Your Money is like the later T-Men, in that
it is a portrait of the US Secret Service battling a counterfeiting
gang, made with the official cooperation of the Secret Service,
and showing high-tech work by the Secret Service. Know Your
Money is unlike the later T-Men, in that it is a low-key
work, without the fervid melodrama of the later film.
In T-Men, Secret Service agents go undercover as crooks,
and infiltrate the gang. By contrast, in Know Your Money
an agent takes on an undercover role - but not as a crook. Instead,
he plays an honest working man making a delivery at one of the
gang's fronts. This seems typical of pre-1945 undercover work:
playing an honest character, rather than impersonating a crook.
Such "honest" undercover roles were typical of comic
book detectives of the 1930's and early 1940's, for example.
Know Your Money shows the interest in technology that runs
through many of Newman's films. Among the characteristics that
will appear later in Newman:
- Both the Secret Service agents, and many of the counterfeiters,
are experts on technology.
- The Secret Service labs are a whole, high-tech world.
- The Secret Service does unusual things with phone technology,
as the climax of the movie: using a hidden Dictaphone to discover
which numbers are called.
How Organizations Work: Counterfeiters - and the Secret Service
Like many Newman films, Know Your Money gives an inside
picture in how organizations work, in full sociological detail.
It shows every aspect of how the counterfeiting gang is organized,
from the engraver to the printer, to the distributors of the money.
And the film also shows much about the operations of the Secret
Service: how its labs work, how it trails suspects, how it does
undercover work, how it alerts the public about counterfeit money.
Both portraits are quiet, un-melodramatic, and rich in informative
detail: all Newman traditions.
Gangsters in later Newman films are often shown as posing as upper
middle class businessmen, suave and socially proper. We get a
variation on this in Know Your Money. One of the women
who passes the counterfeit money, acts as if she were a highly
respectable matron, almost but not quite a Society figure. And
the tobacco shop in the film also seems to be a respectable business,
although it is far more lower middle class than the smooth acting
"country club type gangsters" in later Newman.
The hero, Secret Service agent Evans, is dressed in one of the
most spectacular pinstripe suits of the early noir era. The double-breasted
suit looks not so much tailored as constructed. One can see why
men would take to such suits like wildfire in the 1940's, after
a decade of grim looking male garb in the Depression.
In his undercover role, the hero wears a leather jacket. Such
jackets were mainly restricted to professions in the pre World War II era:
here the hero is pretending to be a delivery man. It will
still be a few years until men can wear leather jackets, just
as a fashion option. Later, good guy Jeffrey Hunter will be in
a leather jacket riding his motorcycle in Red Skies of Montana.
Crime Does Not Pay: Women in Hiding
Women in Hiding (1940) is an expose about crooked maternity homes that prey on pregnant women "in trouble".
It is a real horror story, as the crooked doctors who run the home do everything possible
to ruin the lives of the pregnant women and their babies.
In real life in 1940, unmarried pregnant women faced huge negative social condemnation.
Many did have their babies in secret.
In Women in Hiding, the pregnant women all claim to be married, giving various flimsy-sounding reasons
why they have to keep this secret. This allows Women in Hiding to evade the censor,
and technically avoid the taboo subject of unmarried pregnancy.
None of these reasons sounds remotely believable or realistic.
However, even within the film plot of Women in Hiding, the viewer suspects
these women are lying, and are actually unmarried pregnant women in trouble.
Their stories sound unbelievable, and exactly like the sort of cover story
a pregnant unmarried woman in 1940 might give to a doctor.
Consequently Women in Hiding plays like a film about unmarried pregnant women,
even if this is not how the women in the movie actually describe themselves.
One suspects this whole two-layered approach is deliberately intended by the filmmakers.
It allows them to make a film about "women in trouble", yet evade the censor.
How Organizations Work: The Crooked Maternity Home
The operation of the crooked maternity home is shown in detail. It is one of the
organizations that run through Newman's work. The crooked doctor is charge of operations
is colossally incompetent: one of the most horrifying things about the place.
This leads the home to being one of Newman's failed organizations.
The medical workers in the home also run through Newman films.
A Building Where People Live Together
The maternity home is one of many Newman buildings where many disparate people live.
Many such Newman buildings are fairly benign, but the one in Women in Hiding
is frightening and sinister.
It anticipates another sinister place where a group of people live,
the alien research center in This Island Earth.
The maternity home does not look like a hospital, despite having an operating room.
Instead, it looks something like a mansion with many bedrooms.
In this it also resembles the research center in This Island Earth.
It also looks a bit like the mansion where sinister events take place in An Unlocked Window.
Crime Does Not Pay: Buyer Beware
Buyer Beware (1940) is an expose, about how crooks who steal merchandise
fence it through "respectable" businesses, here a small drug store.
While we learn how the process of such fencing works, the focus of Buyer Beware
is less on the typical Newman theme of how an organization like a drug store works as a whole. Instead,
Buyer Beware concentrates on how greed can lead a business, step by step,
into the deepest levels of corruption. In this, Buyer Beware resembles Respect the Law
to come. In both films, businesses start by making rational-sounding decisions to save some money
by breaking the law or dealing with criminals - and in both films, this leads to nightmarish,
Buyer Beware shows government labs, and how they are used to detect crime.
Buyer Beware contains what is now known as a "recall": the police call back tainted drugs.
Apparently, in 1940, there were no systematic procedures for a recall, as there are today.
An announcement is simply broadcast on the radio. Furthermore, while today government agents would
seize suspected drugs or food, in 1940 each drugstore is left to test the drugs on their own. The test
is shown on screen, and is an interesting bit of science. One wonders if Buyer Beware played a
small role in helping legislators see the need for more systematic recall procedures.
Buyer Beware shows crooks disguising the appearance of a truck. Such scenes later
became a commonplace in TV shows. I don't know whether Buyer Beware was the first
film to include such scenes. It's a clever idea, and the first person to use it deserves credit.
Like other Newman films, members of organizations are uniformed, to reflect their profession.
The white-uniformed pharmacists recall the medical workers in other Newman films.
Buyer Beware is full of spiffy police dress uniforms. Ralph Byrd, best known for playing
comic strip policeman Dick Tracy in numerous movies and serials, makes a strong impression in a
brief role. He plays the cop who shoots out the crooks' truck tire. Byrd looks great in his uniform. His
hand-raising gesture, ordering the crooks to stop, is a strong image.
One policeman not in uniform is Hugh Beaumont, perhaps best known as the dad on Leave It To Beaver.
Beaumont plays a plain clothes officer, as he will in Railroaded!
(Anthony Mann, 1947).
Crime Does Not Pay: Respect the Law
A Medical Semi-documentary ancestor
Respect the Law (1941) is a short film, part of the Crime
Does Not Pay series. Its wholesome title gives little clue that it is Newman's
most nightmarish film, dealing with an epidemic of bubonic plague spreading from
docks into an American city. It anticipates later semi-docs dealing with similar
themes, such as Panic in the Streets (Elia Kazan, 1950).
How Organizations Work: Epidemic Fighters
Through all its melodrama, Respect the Law manages to explain how doctors, police,
and city officials might fight an epidemic. It gives an overview of a whole disease-fighting
set of institutions.
The doctors in Respect the Law are the scientifically skilled heroes that
run through Newman. And like other Newman heroes, they have special "uniforms":
the head to toe "plague suits" they wear to guard against infection. This is the earliest
I've seen such suits in any film. One associates them with much later "virus hunter" films,
such as the TV series The Burning Zone (1996-1997).
In Praise of Government Regulation: An Anti-Libertarian Film
Respect the Law is one of the most pro-government regulation films ever made.
It is a fierce attack on the modern Libertarian idea that everything will be just swell
if government leaves Big Business alone.
The businessman here looks like every image of a distinguished WASP rich businessman
ever seen in a movie or magazine advertisement. And he starts out by giving a speech against
government bureaucrats and regulators that sounds like every Republican campaign speech of the last 25 years.
Then everything starts slowly to go wrong...
Respect the Law reminds one of the first Superman comic book story,
Revolution in San Monte (1938), written by Jerry Siegel, art by Joe Shuster.
In both, big businessmen get their noses rubbed (by the heroes) in the horrible consequences of their business actions.
Crime Does Not Pay: Coffins on Wheels
Coffins on Wheels (1941) is a short film, part of the Crime
Does Not Pay series. It deal with crooks who sell dangerous used cars
to unsuspecting customers. The film is unpleasant to watch: one keeps waiting
for something awful to happen to the innocent kids who bought one of the cars.
Innocent teenagers and kids in grave danger, will return in In Praise of Pip.
The screenwriter of Coffins on Wheels, Howard Dimsdale, later was one of the three
writers on A Lady Without Passport (1950), directed by Joseph H. Lewis.
Both films center on crooked
organizations that sell things to innocent victims, that hurt the victims.
High Tech Organizations
The film contains three different organizations, all high tech:
The various high tech gimmicks shown in the police lab are the main positive appeal
of Coffins on Wheels. Otherwise it is just too grim to be any fun.
- The crooked used car dealership, and its body shop that disguises unsafe cars.
- The investigating police, and their crime lab.
- The hospital where the victims wind up.
The detailed look at how the crooked car dealership functions as an institution,
is in the Newman tradition.
Crime Does Not Pay: The Luckiest Guy in the World
The Luckiest Guy in the World (1947) is the last final entry of the long running
Crime Does Not Pay series. It is different from Newman's earlier entries:
it focuses on an individual, non-professional guy who commits a crime, whereas
Newman's earlier Crime Does Not Pay shorts mainly look at detectives
or government agents battling organized crime.
Links to Later Newman Films
The Luckiest Guy in the World somewhat startlingly resembles the
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour episode Misadventure (1964), made 17 years later.
The Luckiest Guy in the World anticipates 711 Ocean Drive, in that both:
- Star Barry Nelson.
- Have Nelson, who typically played light leading men, starring as breezy, audacious crooks.
- Involve a dangerous gas leak in the basement of a home.
The Luckiest Guy in the World has some distant similarities to the comedy
- Have crooked protagonists who scheme to get ahead.
- Involve gambling.
However The Luckiest Guy in the World is about a crook, while
Love Nest is a comedy whose hero is a law-abiding honest guy.
- Both center on a young married man with financial problems that worry him.
- Both show the man at home.
- Both star a handsome young actor who mainly appeared in genial comedy:
Barry Nelson in The Luckiest Guy in the World, William Lundigan in Love Nest.
Barry Nelson is mainly in a sharp suit, which he wears to his job: he is a white collar, middle class salesman.
But at one point, he switches clothes with a man in a leather jacket. Nelson becomes a Newman hero in a leather jacket,
although he is not working class, unlike many such Newman characters. Nelson definitely looks working class,
though, in the jacket.
The Passing Parade: The Amazing Mr. Nordill
The Amazing Mr. Nordill (1947) is an entry in the long running
The Passing Parade series. It is a simple, comic anecdote.
It tells the story of real-life counterfeiter Everett Nordill.
He anticipates the protagonists of 711 Ocean Drive and Arnold Rothstein in King of the Roaring 20's
in being a crook who uses brainy schemes to make money.
Operator 10 has to pursue an independent path to capture Everett Nordill.
It is perhaps going to far to say that Operator 10 has to "defy" his organization,
the way that many Newman heroes do. But he does perform in an a way counter to their organizational culture.
711 Ocean Drive
A Semi-documentary - and a Gangster Film
711 Ocean Drive (1950) crosses the gangster film, and the
semi-documentary tradition. Most semi-docs
have policemen heroes. Here, however, the protagonist is gangster
Edmund O'Brien. As in many other gangster films since the 1930's,
we get the complete story of his rise and fall in gangland. Most
movie gangsters succeed because they are tougher and better fighters
than other people. O'Brien's character is unique in gang film
history in that his success is caused by his technological skills.
He is an expert on telephones and electronics, and this enables
him to create wire services for bookie operations, a lucrative
gangland business. This technological background is typical of
the semi-docs, rather than gangster films. Semi-docs typically
showed police and detectives who were experts in advanced technology,
and who regularly used it in their cases. Here it is the crook
protagonist who is technological whiz, instead. Edmund O'Brien
often played intellectuals, and men of great intelligence, so
he is believable in the role of a tech whiz. His policeman character
had used radio tracking devices the previous year in White
Heat, so he is a natural in this role.
The film has other semi-doc features, as well. Its title is in
the numerical address tradition of such works as Henry Hathaway's
Call Northside 777 and Phil Karlson's 99 River Street.
More importantly, the film has a finale set against a photogenic,
industrial environment, a key feature of most semi-docs. Here
we go to Boulder Dam, on the Nevada - Arizona border. This is
a truly spectacular site, and the film provides a whole mini-documentary
about this Art Deco landmark.
O'Brien climbs a huge staircase in the Dam at the end, just like
the villains in such earlier semi-docs as Jules Dassin's
The Naked City (1948), and Raoul Walsh's
White Heat (1949). Many semi-docs have an urban industrial
location. By contrast, this film resembles Newman's Red Skies
of Montana (1952), in that its technology is located in a
rural area out West.
The sections of 711 Ocean Drive that most resemble semi-docs
are the opening half hour, which shows O'Brien's skill with telephones,
and the eleven minute finale at Boulder Dam. By contrast, most
of the film's middle is a fairly traditional gangster movie, with
O'Brien and other gangsters all scheming for control of the wire
service empire. In my opinion, the semi-doc opening and close
are much better than the gangster film middle of this movie. The
gangland sections are particularly cold, with all the characters
being unsympathetic monsters. There is no one to root for here.
Aspects of the phone technology used in 711 Ocean Drive
recall "A Date to Die" (1942), a prose mystery short story by Fredric Brown.
"A Date to Die" is available in Brown's collection Before She Kills.
The technology in "A Date to Die" and 711 Ocean Drive are not exactly identical, though.
How Organizations Work: The Modern Mob
Another personal feature for Newman is the treatment of the gangland
empire here. One of Newman's signature subjects, is a systematic
look at how some organization works. Here it is organized crime.
711 Ocean Drive is one of the first films to suggest that
the modern mob was organizing itself along big business lines.
The gangsters here are well dressed men who meet in a luxurious
boardroom. They dress and act like big businessmen, not traditional
movie crooks. They are just as murderous as traditional gangsters,
maybe even more so, but they now act like businessmen, at least
in their manners, offices and conversation. Suave, refined acting
gangster Don Porter epitomizes this approach here. Unlike O'Brien,
who has risen from a working class background, and whose suits
are expensive but flashy, Porter looks as if he were born and
bred in a country club. Porter's suits are in relentless good
taste, as is his menacing conversation. He skillfully conveys
the sense that he embodies upper class meanness - he reminds one
of polished but ruthless business executives, the sort of men
who shut down plants and put people out of work. Don Porter will
repeat his characterization in John Cromwell's
The Racket (1951). Not just Porter, but all the gang members
we meet look like upper crust WASP's, the kinds of people
who have been running non-gang big businesses in America for decades.
They are the kind of ruthless overlords most Americans instinctively
fear and loathe - almost all of us have had unpleasant experiences
on the job with this sort of corporate elite. So the menace they
convey as upper class executives is carefully blended with the
menace they embody as gangsters, to create a very sinister combination.
Newman will repeat this WASP characterization of gangland in The
Another feature that anticipates Newman's The Lawbreakers:
the detailed look at the financial aspects of the bookie business.
Both films give an in-depth look at the financial aspects of the
underworld, and its gambling enterprise. They are unusually realistic
in this regard. Both films are almost sociological studies of
this universe. As in Newman's other sociological films, there
are many levels in the gangland society studied. We get to
understand its dynamic as an organization.
The way O'Brien is a lone hero, fighting for success in a
hostile world, is typical of many Newman films. Also Newman-like
is the way this world is so heavily oriented towards technology.
O'Brien starts out the film as a phone company repairman, in a leather
jacket. The dialogue emphasizes how brainy and technologically skilled he is.
This combination, of a leather jacketed working class look unexpectedly
concealing major brainpower, also appears in the undercover Secret Service
operative in Know Your Money and the aliens masquerading as bikers
in Black Leather Jackets.
Edmund O'Brien is a character actor, not a leading man, and the
film has tried not to have any flashier looking men around to
compete with him. Aside from Don Porter, all the other gangsters
and cops in the film are older men. Newman would work with a similarly
gifted character actor, Jack Warden, in The Lawbreakers.
The woman at the beginning who wants to marry O'Brien is full
of pathos. O'Brien's rejection of her dreams is brutal. She is
beautiful, somewhat working class, and a woman who is clearly
trying her best. Later, in Dangerous Crossing, Newman will
include another woman who is trying unsuccessfully to get married.
The heroine of that later film will have her husband disappear
on her honeymoon. Much is made in 711 Ocean Drive of O'Brien's
disinterest in marriage. It is seen as a character flaw. By contrast,
the good guy heroes of both Red Skies of Montana and The
Lawbreakers will be married.
Visual Style: Use of Architecture
Panoramas. The exteriors in 711 Ocean Drive show Newman's fondness
for wide, open panoramas. We see broad vistas on city streets
in Los Angeles in the beginning, and equally broad views of Boulder
Dam at the end. We also go to a ball park parking lot. There are
also large interior panoramas at the gas works.
The finale stresses the architecture of Boulder Dam. Newman is
an architecturally oriented director.
It is noticeable how crowded and rich in visual detail many of
the Boulder Dam shots are. They show a rich profusion of buildings,
architectural features and machinery of all kinds. Large groups
of people are often surging through them as well. Many of the
shots are designed as panoramas, and show very long views with
large groups of machines. The director is not afraid of one building
overlapping another, or just giving us a glimpse of one machine
or building peeping out in the background from behind some obstruction.
This is very different from the approach of Antonioni,
for example, who tends to build his compositions so that each
building or feature has a broad, uninterrupted expanse of the
3D Effects: Height. Many of the outdoor scenes have a 3D quality. Newman often stages
Boulder Dam shots from a great height. Sometimes these shots represent
police at one level looking down on O'Brien far below at the Dam;
other times, Newman has simply moved his camera high up. In all
cases, the use of height adds a third dimension to the shot.
3D Effects: Circular Architecture. Other
aspects add a three dimensional quality, through the use of rounded
The circles all add a 3D effect; one can imagine
traveling along these rounded paths, moving in more than one dimension
through the image.
- The buildings at Boulder Dam are polygonal, almost rounded, in the
Art Deco style. We always therefore see corners of
the buildings, which have a 3D shape.
- Earlier in the film, Newman shot a scene at a outdoor drive-in
that is circular in the best Southern California style. This building
too contributed a spectacular 3D effect. The drive-in added circular
forms to Newman's compositions.
- At Boulder Dam, the road leading
to the dam is also circular. Newman features this curving road
prominently in several of his compositions.
- Some of the corridors
within the Dam have rounded, arching tops; these too add circles
to the image.
Outdoor Staircases. When O'Brien leaves police headquarters, he goes
down their long outdoor staircase. This is filmed in two shots, broken
by a close-up of his ID badge. The second shot includes a pan, following him down
the lower part of the staircase. Love Nest will include numerous shots
staged on the apartment buildings outdoor staircases, often including camera movement.
Corridors. Throughout the film, O'Brien is associated with long corridors
full of high tech machinery. When he is introduced, he is standing
in such a corridor in the telephone company. The corridor stretches
away into the distance. It is filled with line-switching equipment.
At the end of the film, O'Brien is in similar long corridors,
deep in the heart of Boulder Dam. The camera always establishes
deep perspective looks down such corridors. They are typically
empty of other humans, just O'Brien and the machinery. They often
look somewhat dark and underground. The bookie office where O'Brien
does much of his work is also deep in the heart of a building.
Like the corridors, the bookie office is completely windowless.
O'Brien does not own any of these locations. He always looks somewhat
lost, a solitary worker trying to cope with a vast high tech institution.
The finale has a fairly long expository piece, in which the guide
tells the tourists facts about the Dam while they are in a corridor
far below the surface. Such institutional corridors were commonly
shown in semi-documentary films. They often tend to be in public
places or institutions: police stations, train depots, hospitals,
orphanages. These great corridors are places where the public
interfaces with the institutions. In some ways, these locales
are less photogenic and far less unique in style or visual appearance
than the rest of the Dam. But they still are featured prominently
here, as they typically are in the semi-doc tradition. Such corridors
tend to be very "convincing" to the viewers: the viewer
can easily imagine himself or herself as actually present in some
institution, when they see ordinary members of the public, like
themselves, walking in such corridors. They help viewers imagine
they are actually present in the locales shown in the film. They
are sort of half-way houses, drawing viewers into the unique,
spectacular institutions shown in the semi-docs. That is its role
here: the corridor is the first shot inside the Dam itself. It
is the viewer's introduction to the Dam's interior.
Love Nest (1951) is a mild little comedy. Judged as entertainment, this
inoffensive film is not one of Newman's better works. Watching a young couple
trying to run an apartment building in New York City is just not that interesting.
The film does have a good-natured quality, that is sweet and relaxing, however.
One can link Love Nest to some Newman traditions:
The wry comments made by the hero and Jack Paar, anticipate the humorous observations
made by the lab assistant in This Island Earth and the crime reporter in The Lawbreakers.
- The apartment house is one of Newman's institutions, and once again,
we see how this institution is organized and operated, in detail.
- Government inspectors examine the building, just as they did at the docks in Respect the Law.
- Government agents include Jack Paar's government lawyer, and the FBI man.
- The hero and heroine live underground, in the basement apartment, and the
building's technology such as fuse boxes is centered there.
- The mysterious tenant who shows up (Frank Fay), anticipates the mysterious
motorcyclists who move into the neighborhood in Black Leather Jackets.
- Both the hero and the Marilyn Monroe character are recently discharged from
the Army, echoing the militaristic world one often sees in Newman films. The hero plays his opening
scenes in Army uniform, and his later work clothes at the apartment have a uniform feel, with
fancy pockets on the shirt and trousers.
- The credits list the director's name, just as the hero encounters a man in a black leather jacket.
Camera Movement and Long Takes
Love Nest is rich in long take camera movements. As Newman himself points out in his delightful
DVD commentary, he often filmed scenes in long take "two-shots", rather than cutting back and forth between the characters.
These shots regularly move the camera, to follow characters around the room, through doors, or up and
down staircases. Newman's staging is natural, graceful, and unobtrusive. His characters' movements seem
realistic and natural in the context of the film's action. And the camera is always moving to where it
gives the audience the best view of the actors.
The movements tend to have a start-and-stop quality. The camera will be still, for a piece of dialogue or bit of business.
Then the characters will suddenly move, and the camera will swing around with them, to get a good view
of their new location. The camera will then stop for a while, again, while another bit of business is played out.
None of the camera moves are as extreme or as elaborate, as those of Max Ophuls,
say. Still, some of the movements ultimately become fairly complex. Shots in the couple's basement
apartment often go on for long takes, while the camera swings
around, peers through doorways, moves from room to room etc. One of the longest shots is the one where the lights fail:
it moves through many different actions, settings, and rooms of the basement.
And both the indoor and outdoor staircases
are treated with complex shots that follow the characters' motions.
The jail scene is shot in one long take. The camera moves and adjusts to show different views.
There is some depth staging.
Red Skies of Montana
The Semi-Doc Tradition
Red Skies of Montana (1952) deals with firefighters who
try to stop forest fires from raging out of control in the contemporary
West. Aside from its Western locations, the film has little to
do with the traditions of the Western. The film is very
close to the conventions of the semi-documentary
film noir. As in the semi-docs, we have a heroic government institution
organized on militaristic lines, in this case, the US Forest Service.
Parts of the film are narrated by an official sounding voice.
Much of the film is shot on authentic locations. The government
institution uses the latest high tech equipment and devices in
its work, in this case, a range of fire fighting devices, parachutes,
planes, helicopters, radios and walkie talkies to do its work.
All of these devices and techniques are presented to the viewers
in documentary fashion, so we get an inside look at this branch
of government service. The work is full of danger and suspense.
All of these things are features of the semi-doc film noir.
There are some obvious differences between Red Skies of Montana
and a true film noir. First, this film is in color, not black
and white. Second, there are no crime elements in this film. There
are no bad guys or crooks, and no one goes undercover to infiltrate
their criminal enterprises. Consequently, it is clear that this
movie is not a film noir in any sense of the word. Still, its
techniques and subject matter draw heavily on the traditions of
Also noir like are some of the emotions of the main characters.
Richard Widmark's firefighter gets amnesia after a terrible blaze,
and he is tormented by what he is afraid he might have done during
this blackout. Amnesia is a perennial film noir theme, showing
up in Street of Chance, Spellbound, Somewhere
in the Night, and so on - there are probably others, but I
can't remember! Widmark's amnesia is the central subject of this
movie. His tormented anguish is typical of the emotionally disturbed
characters he often played in noir movies. Noir often let men
experience intense feelings that were otherwise taboo in the macho
culture. After all, these are macho men. They parachute into forest
fires and risk their lives. So they are allowed to let their feelings
erupt all over the screen.
Jeffrey Hunter's young firefighter is also obsessed: he suspects
that Widmark might have caused his father's death. Both characters'
obsession is typical of what Alain Silver has defined as the main
feelings of film noir, alienation and obsession.
This film is written by Harry Kleiner, who also did Widmark's
earlier semi-doc, William Keighley's
The Street With No Name (1948). Both films have a great
number of uniformed men in them.
Once again, the Hunter character is in a leather bomber jacket, just like the younger hero Mark
Stevens in The Street With No Name. This time the jacket might or might not be part of
Hunter's Forest Service uniform. The firefighter leader (Richard Boone)
is also in a pilot's leather jacket, one darker and of somewhat different style and shape.
Hunter also rides a motorcycle in Red Skies of Montana.
He is one of the few "good" heroes in American
film to be a cyclist; the next year, The Wild One (1953)
would suggest that motorcyclists were an anti-social group of
rebels, an image Hollywood has promoted ever since. Before that
film, motorcyclists were largely sympathetic. For example, the
kind young man who gives the priest a motorcycle ride in Robert
Bresson's Diary of a Country Priest (1950) represents all
of the good possibilities of life. And motorcycles were regularly
ridden by young heroes in British mystery novels of the 1920's,
such as Freeman Wills Crofts' The
Pit-Prop Syndicate (1921).
The first half of Red Skies of Montana treats what happened in the fire as a mystery.
During this first half, Hunter is in clothes like the other men:
his Forest Service uniform, or civilian suits and ties. But as soon as the truth is revealed,
Hunter immediately becomes a disbeliever. And bitter opponent of the hero.
Hunter's appearance immediately changes as well: he becomes a leather jacketed biker.
He looks highly menacing, aggressively riding his motorcycle, dressed in leather.
This is not really a "good guy" look: it is more an avenging angel or
The first scene of Hunter on his bike, after the truth comes out, shows
Hunter riding through various scenes in Montana. These include several different bridges.
The bridge shots are visually striking.
The firefighters' Radio Station is at the center of a high tech communications network.
This includes radio in planes, portable walkie-talkies and phones.
Men in airplanes use bullhorns to address men on the ground below.
It also includes loudspeakers, so that people back home in offices can sit and listen
to the conversations transmitted through the communication system.
The lights strung up outside the dance hall, have colored light bulbs.
The room with the hanging parachutes, has a blue desk lamp
at its far end, near the file cabinets.
Visual Style: The Outdoor Scenes
The film is notable for what may be defined as "open backgrounds
that stretch away into the distance". For example, there
are scenes that show the main street of the Montana town, and
other scenes at airports. We see buildings, cars, roads, that
extend far into the distance in all directions. Each is clearly
photographed. There seems to be a fairly regular progression of
equipment at all distances, near, middle and far. Together these
make up an elaborate panorama, a stage set containing large numbers
of relevant, discrete objects at all ranges and distances. Similarly,
there are many such shots at the Forest Service's camp. These
too have buildings and equipment at all distances and directions,
all relevant to the plot and subject matter of the film. Such
elaborate outdoor constructions seem unusual in film. They resemble
the Environmental Art of the 1960's. They seem more like art constructs,
than the mere location shooting of much film. Another outdoor
scene in this style: the parachute school, where people are trained
to get out of parachutes stuck in trees.
Most of the actual action is staged in the relative foreground.
This is not the "depth staging" of much film noir, with
tiny figures performing key actions at great distances from the
camera. It is unclear if the color photography would allow such
Some of the indoor scenes use similar staging, especially those
which take place in very large rooms. The scenes in the parachute
room are gems of this style. We see all sorts of snow white parachutes
hanging from the ceiling, through which the characters slowly
segue. These shots are unique, and are among the visual high points
of the film.
Perhaps by accident, many of the shots emphasize verticals. The
outdoor scenes are full of tall trees. Both the outdoor and indoor
parachute scenes have the parachutes being straight white vertical
Several of the firefighter buildings have porch steps in front.
The parachute training constructions have ladders leading up to their tops.
The men climb power line poles during the night rescue sequence.
Such a scene recalls
Bad Guy (Edward L. Cahn, 1937) and
Manpower (Raoul Walsh, 1941).
Camera Movement and Long Takes
A number of long take camera movements shots introduce large crowded rooms full of people.
Such shots are Newman favorites:
Key scenes are shot in the room with the hanging parachutes, and the file cabinets containing evidence.
Widmark gets closer to the truth in these scenes.
(File cabinets also contain important evidence in the mystery movie Twenty Plus Two,
and dramatic events take place in the room containing them.)
Key shots in this room include:
- The dormitory where the sleeping firefighters are awakened at the start.
- The dance hall. This anticipates the shot of the night club early on in
Twenty Plus Two, and the classic opening credits of The George Raft Story,
with their elaborate long take showing the dance hall. The dance hall shot in
Red Skies of Montana includes the musicians, like other such Newman shots.
- The mess hall, with the men standing in line getting food. This take is quite brief.
It starts out a bit like the others, then gets stopped and interrupted.
The crowd waiting for the landing airplane contains a camera movement
of a different type. This is a long, propulsive movement in a straight line,
down a row of people waiting for information. Such geometrically pure,
straight line camera movements are frequently seen in directors other than Newman.
- Both scenes of Widmark moving forward through the hanging white parachutes contain complex camera movement.
These shots take Widmark to a place where he will discover truth.
- The end of the first scene is a long take, showing Widmark and Hunter in a dramatic conversation.
There is less actual camera movement in this shot.
- When Widmark moves back again through the parachutes in the second scene, there is also
a briefer camera movement. Plus some static shots where he discovers the truth.
The scene outside the Federal Building in Missoula, Montana,
also contains a camera movement involving the crowd waiting for the results of a hearing inside.
After Jeffrey Hunter gets evidence at the fire scene, he returns to the Forest Service camp
to confront Richard Boone. Hunter enters two different buildings; his moves inside each building
are each shot in a single fairly long take:
- In the first building, Hunter is all alone, and the camera shows him moving through various rooms.
- In the second building, Hunter encounters Boone, and their scene is played out in a single take.
This shot continues briefly after Hunter leaves, showing Boone now alone.
Vertical Camera Movement
There are vertical camera movements, following men climbing straight up poles or trees:
Allan Dwan frequently included vertical camera moves following men climbing,
including star Douglas Fairbanks in the 1910's.
- The scene with the power line repair has a number of simple, brief shots
following men climbing the telephone poles.
- The film's climax has Widmark climbing a tree. The camera follows him up in a sustained, vigorous shot.
Newman likes to have characters appear at the back of a set, and gradually move forward:
- Widmark's appearance after the opening fire. This scene is broken up
into a series of takes. As a whole, they have Widmark moving from the
back of the burned-out forrest to the front. Widmark had been presumed dead,
and this scene shows his unexpected survival after the deadly blaze.
- Richard Boone's entrance to the dance, bearing knowledge about the hearing.
Boone is first seen not-too-deeply, in a shot that moves over to the left.
But a cut then sets him up at the far back of the hall, and then has him move forward.
This second shot is in the Newman tradition of back-of-set-to-front.
Pony Soldier (1952) is a Western.
How Organizations Work: the Cree
Many Joseph M. Newman films show how an organization work. Pony Soldier gives a detailed look
at the Cree, the Native Canadian tribe at the center of the picture.
We see their elaborate debates, their councils, and their decision making processes.
We also learn a little about the RCMP: the Mounties. This ties in with Newman's interest in
One interesting aspect: The respect shown a woman elder among the Cree.
White Moon's ideas are listened to, and influence policy.
She is one of several women in Newman films, who succeed in
mainly male-dominated roles or professions.
Newman films often show a protagonist who has to defy authority figures, and pursue
an independent path. Pony Soldier offers a variation on this.
Both the Mountie hero and Standing Bear are leaders themselves, and neither is
working in opposition to authority figures. But both do defy powerful elements in their society
who want to engage in violence rather than negotiation.
Kneeling Down Before Technology
Pony Soldier contains on of the key images in a Joseph M. Newman film.
The Cree see a steamship for the first time. They are awed, and kneel down in wonder.
We see hundreds of people kneeling down before technological progress.
This image symbolizes the awe and reverence Newman feels before technology.
Science and technology are key and central in Newman's vision of the world.
Communication and Information
Standing Bear shoots an arrow across a long distance, to alert the Mountie hero of his presence.
This arrow is being used for long-distance communication. It resembles a bit
the phone technology that is so important in Newman's modern-day films.
Pony Soldier opens with a huge map of Canada's Northwest Territories,
on the Mountie headquarters wall.
Costumes and Color: Red, White and Black
Both the hero and Standing Bear are dressed in a mixture of red, white and black.
Their clothes are spectacular, and share a common color scheme, one that really stands out on screen.
Both men are social leaders; both are highly responsible and idealistic.
Their similarly colored clothes suggests their unique leadership positions,
marked off from the rest of their societies. The common colors also suggest
shared interests and abilities among these two social leaders.
Both men's costumes have small touches of other colors. There are small bits of gold
on the hero's Mountie uniform; Standing Bear's costume has touches of blue.
Both men are examples of Newman heroes in red clothes: The Mountie's scarlet tunic,
the partly red headdress of Standing Bear.
Standing Bear is in pale buckskins that reach from neck to toe.
He thus becomes one of Newman's men in light-colored encasing clothes.
More distantly, he relates to all the men in leather jackets in Newman films.
These are typically unexpectedly brainy characters, and Standing Bear
certainly has plenty of smarts.
Mystery and a Doubted Protagonist
Dangerous Crossing (1953) is a mystery that takes place
aboard an ocean liner. A woman's husband disappears, and everyone
on ship assumes she's crazy and that her husband never existed.
The film is in the tradition of a series of melodramas about sinister
conspiracies to make women seem irrational: one thinks of George Cukor's
Gaslight (1944), Jacques Tourneur's
Experiment Perilous (1944) and Douglas Sirk's
Sleep, My Love (1948). All of these films are gripping
works of storytelling. Dangerous Crossing differs from
all of these films in that it contains elements of genuine mystery.
The audience is baffled throughout by what is going on. By contrast,
in the three previous works, the audience has a good understanding
of all the sinister forces at work throughout most of the picture.
Dangerous Crossing has a brilliantly constructed plot, courtesy mystery
great John Dickson Carr: it is based on
Carr's much-admired radio play Cabin B-13 (1943).
Cabin B-13 is available in Carr's collection The Door to Doom.
Just as no one believed hero Richard Widmark in Red Skies of
Montana, so here no one believes the heroine Jeanne Crain.
Both are up against an entire community of doubters.
A High Tech World
The shipboard world of this film resembles the fire-fighting universe
of Red Skies of Montana:
The complex series of lighted buttons on the elevators look high-tech.
- Both are isolated universes, involving much high technology equipment.
- The men in both worlds are uniformed,
and are part of a quasi-militarized unit.
Camera Movement and Long Takes
Dangerous Crossing opens with a crane shot. First the camera
is high above a passageway leading to a ship, during the closing
credit titles. Then the camera lowers down, till it reaches ground
level. It is now behind a cart full of suitcases. It slowly penetrates
through this and several other layers of passengers and equipment,
till it eventually finds the heroine, streaming through masses
of moving people. This is a crane shot that might be found in
the works of Mizoguchi. It is inventively
staged, with the motions of the various layers of people through
the passage offered in counterpoint to the movement of the camera
Later, on ship, the entrance of the heroine and their new husband
into their cabin is staged as a single long take. The take involves
both complex camera movement and staging. It mixes long shots
and close-ups, with the characters moving all over the cabin,
sitting on the bed, rising, and so on. It is not clear why Newman
is doing this. But it does give the whole shot a "special"
quality. This scene will be the couple's only in the cabin, and
in retrospect it will take on some of the qualities of a myth.
So Newman's special staging of this scene adds force to this plot
The heroine runs into a crowded ballroom/dining room full of dancers. Camera movements
follow her complex movement through the crowd. One shot has her moving through seated diners.
Another shot follows her as she makes her way through dancers.
The ship officer uniforms are some of the spiffiest and dressiest in Newman's films.
The clothes really look authoritative.
There is a contrast between the uniformed officers, and the suit worn in the
opening scenes by missing husband Carl Betz.
Betz is later wrapped in a dressy trenchcoat. This is one of the
light-colored enclosing wraps favored by Newman men.
The Human Jungle
The Human Jungle (1954) is one of Newman's poorest films.
Its big problem: it is full of offensive ideas on policing.
The film seems to be rarely shown, seen, studied or written about.
Which is understandable, considering its offensive social commentary.
The Human Jungle starts out with some virtues. The Human Jungle has:
All of this could have made The Human Jungle a respectable police procedural.
- A decent enough basic framework, showing cops investigating a prostitute's murder.
This premise recalls an outstanding film, not by Newman, The Naked City (1948).
- A not-bad cast, playing the various cops and crooks.
- A well-filmed finale in a beer factory.
But The Human Jungle makes a disastrous veer into preaching terrible ideas about policing:
The police captain has a mandate to whip a failing precinct into shape.
This recalls the war film, Twelve O'Clock High (1950),
where a new General has to whip a dysfunctional bombing unit into shape.
Unfortunately, the police captain's ideas about improving policing are really, really bad.
- The police captain hero urges his officers to rough up suspects when they arrest them.
Yes, The Human Jungle advocates police brutality.
- The police captain is opposed to the public being offended, when a cop accidentally
shoots and kills an innocent bystander. The captain thinks such shootings are no big deal.
- The police captain uses a woman as bait to trap a killer - without informing the woman or getting her consent.
This puts the woman's life in danger.
The Semi-Documentary Tradition
The Human Jungle shows conventions of the semi-documentary
film noir. These include:
A difference from a standard semi-doc. Many semi-docs have an elite crime fighting unit.
By contrast The Human Jungle has a failed, dysfunctional precinct of cops.
Such failure is consistent with Newman's long-standing interest in failed organizations.
- A government crime-fighting team as protagonists.
- Technology: here a microphone embedded in a wall by the cops.
- A finale in visually spectacular industrial area: here a beer factory.
This Island Earth
A Key Science Fiction Film on Outer Space
This Island Earth (1955) is one of the best of the 1950's
science fiction films. It is important in that it shows spaceships,
and an advanced civilization on another planet outside of our
solar system. These features perhaps helped pave the way for Forbidden
Planet (Fred Wilcox, 1956) the next
year. These are among the more sophisticated science fiction films
of the era, in terms of the sf concepts they embody. As has often
been noted, Forbidden Planet is a main ancestor of Star
This Island Earth also looks back at The Day the Earth
Stood Still (Robert Wise, 1951). Both deal with advanced aliens
who come to Earth in flying saucer shaped spaceships. In both,
we see the interior of the ships, which is a triumph of modernistic
design (but otherwise, very different looking in the two films.)
Both have scenes in which Earth scientists are assembled from
nations and cultures all over the globe - underscoring that science
is a global affair, and that humans are facing alien beings who
form a common challenge to all of humanity. In both, the aliens
are played by "sophisticated", upper crust actors.
Imagery from this film will recur in Russell Mulcahy's music video,
Video Killed the Radio Star (1979). This is one of the
most famous of all music videos.
This Island Earth is fairly closely based on a novel by Raymond F. Jones.
Hollywood has produced surprisingly few credited adaptations of books or stories
by real, genuine science fiction writers, other than pioneer authors
Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, and the recent spate of Philip K. Dick films.
The film shows many common features with Newman's semi-docs:
- There is a hero who specializes in high technology, just as in
711 Ocean Drive. Both men are absolute whizzes with electronic
- Much is made of the alien television-phone device,
just as the hero of 711 Ocean Drive was an expert on telephones.
(Such television-phones seem to have entered the science fiction
film with Fritz Lang's Metropolis
(1926), and been much used since.)
- Instead of showing us Boulder Dam, a high tech world, as did the finale of 711 Ocean Drive,
here we go to an entire high tech planet. There is a sense in
both films of being engulfed in technology. One is entirely surrounded
by a huge high tech environment.
- The hero is good at flying planes, and later rides in a giant spaceship. These recall the
ocean liner in Dangerous Crossing.
- The aliens' secret Earth lab is located in rural Georgia. Newman's films often seem
to be set in rural areas and red states, even though semi-docs
as a whole are an overwhelmingly blue state phenomenon, usually
focusing on big cities such as New York, Boston, Chicago, Los
Angeles and San Francisco in blue states.
- The aliens' secret Earth lab has its facilities underground, like Boulder Dam in
711 Ocean Drive, and the below deck regions of the ocean
liner in Dangerous Crossing.
How Organizations Work: Labs, Spaceships and Planets
Newman shows us in a systematic way how these technological worlds
work - the hero's plane, hero's lab, the alien's Earth lab, the
spaceship, the alien planet. This is in keeping with his expositions
of how institutions work. The alien way of life gets the full
Newman sociological treatment.
The aliens' home planet is dysfunctional, and heading for disaster.
This recalls other Newman worlds, such as the burned out forests
in Red Skies of Montana, and the non-functioning Cavalry
unit in A Thunder of Drums.
The main alien has to defy his superiors, like
many other Newman characters trapped in failing organizations.
Links to Red Skies of Montana
This Island Earth shows similarities to Red Skies of Montana:
- Both films are full of fire. Fire in This Island Earth is produced by the Interocitor beams,
by the heroes in their lab through their tests on machinery, and by the thermal barrier through which the spaceship moves.
- Both films are full of planes and flying.
- Both take place in high tech work areas.
- Both work areas have pet animals who live in them, a raccoon in Red Skies of Montana, a cat in This Island Earth.
- Jeffrey Hunter drives over numerous bridges in Red Skies of Montana,
the hero and heroine briefly flee over a small footbridge in This Island Earth.
Many of the science fiction lights are in bright color. These includes lamps,
rays, beams of light, small lights on the Interocitor dials, and the atom-like sign used by the aliens.
Newman likes circular architecture. The spaceship is full of it:
The circular architecture continues when we reach the alien planet:
- The first scene inside the spaceship, shows a circular well-like area in which the plane is parked.
This locale also includes a green sphere.
- The control room is round, and has a circular platform in the middle.
- A door is in a curved wall, and is itself curved: highly unusual.
- The tubes are cylindrical.
- The "stellar scope" view-screen is circular.
- The spaceship descends underground through a nearly circular hole.
- There are round towers.
- A cone-shaped elevator reaches from the landed spaceship to the ground.
- The interior with the top government figure called The Monitor, has another of those
round platforms and nearly round walls, recalling the "control room" on the spaceship.
Camera Movement and Long Takes
When the Interocitor boxes first arrive in the lab, Newman uses a long take camera movement.
First we get a panorama of the lab. Then the camera moves in to the hero and his assistant,
for an intricately staged scene. The assistant emerges from behind crates; the hero enters the shot from the right.
As a shot of a room full of crates, it recalls the finale of
Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941).
Some of the shots in the alien's elegant lab building are long takes:
- The first shot of the dinner. This starts out by looking through a group of candles. It moves around the table,
showing the various dinner guests.
- When the heroes leave at the end of the dinner, a camera moves around the table again, in reverse direction
from before. This too includes some "through the candles" compositions.
- Immediately following, a complex long take follows the characters moving through the lobby and into the elevator.
This then moves back to pick up on alien security agent Brack (Lance Fuller).
The preceding long take at dinner also ended on Brack.
- The shot in the basement lab where the hero notices then moves the lead shield, is also a bit longish,
though less complex than the dinner shots.
The hero gets to wear a wide variety of spiffy costumes.
He wears some of the sharpest suits seen in what was an otherwise
dull era of men's clothes, the mid-1950's. His white trenchcoat
is totally cool. He also gets to don a flight suit over his suit,
at the start of the film.
The hero is mainly dressed in shades
of gray and white, throughout the film. In the 1970's and 1980's,
gray was established as the dressiest color for men, especially
for business suits. It is not clear if it had the same connotation
in the 1950's, but it looks very good here. The style and color
of the hero's gray suits resembles those worn by Gregory Peck
in Designing Woman (Vincente Minnelli, 1957).
These contrast with the hero's bright red helmet, which
he wears as a pilot. The film throughout makes good use of accents
of very bright, pure color.
Once on board the spaceship, the aliens wear uniforms. The aliens are one of many
organizations in Newman who are organized on quasi-militaristic lines,
and who wear uniforms. Soon the human hero and heroine are in the uniforms too.
The Hero - and Howard Hughes
As an inventor, pilot of advanced planes, man with government
contracts, glamour figure and celebrity popular with the press,
the hero of this film bears some resemblance to Howard Hughes.
The way leading lady Faith Domergue was associated with Hughes
in real life also underscores this. However, such glamorous scientists
were also a figure common in prose science fiction, and in such
1950's science fiction comic books as Mystery in Space
and Strange Adventures. The Hughes
resemblance could be just a coincidence. There also could be general
similarities between the way many sf novels and comics of the
era depicted technological research, and the real life aviation
industry of which Hughes was a part. In any case, unlike Max Ophuls'
Caught (1949), this film steers away from any depiction
of Hughes' sleazy personal life or emotional issues. The hero
here is noble and pure - and the film is probably better for it.
Death in Small Doses
Death in Small Doses (1957) is a crime thriller. It has links to the
semi-documentary school, a tradition that had
largely vanished by 1957 among films made for theaters:
However, Death in Small Doses is not in the full paradigm of the semi-documentary film,
as seen at its peak in the 1945-1954 era:
- The hero works for a federal government institution: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
- The film opens at the FDA.
- The hero undertakes an undercover assignment for the FDA.
- Science and technology plays a role in the crimes (the illegal use of amphetamines by truck drivers).
Death in Small Doses does continue Joseph M. Newman traditions,
by having medical workers play a role. The hospital scene is absorbing.
- The scenes at the FDA are brief, and show us almost nothing
about that institution. The FDA virtually disappears from the plot after the first five minutes.
- The crime involves science, but there is little use of science by the government agent hero.
- The finale is NOT at an industrial area, as in a typical semi-doc.
- The hero's undercover assignment is as an honest working man (a novice truck driver).
By contrast, in typical semi-docs, the hero's undercover role is to pretend to be a criminal.
However Death in Small Doses does recall Newman's early Know Your Money (1940),
whose Secret Service hero also goes undercover as an honest worker (a delivery man).
Death in Small Doses offers a frightening look at the consequences of amphetamine use:
the heart attacks, the personality changes, and finally the psychotic breakdowns.
All of these consequences are based in science.
The hero FDA agent (Peter Graves) is determined, but bland, low key
and has a polished but emotionless persona while on the job. This was not an uncommon depiction
of federal agents: See the TV series The FBI, for example.
The hero's lack of obvious emotions or personality makes him less interesting as a dramatic character.
Death in Small Doses was made at a time when most Americans regarded
the US Government with patriotic respect. Today, when right-wing radicals constantly demonize
the federal government, a film like Death in Small Doses is refreshing in the respect
it shows towards its hero and his accomplishments.
Newman earlier made Triumph Without Drums (1941) a short film about the passage of the
Pure Food and Drug Act. This led to the founding of the Food and Drug Administration.
Chuck Connors plays one of the amphetamine addicts in the film, a truck driver who is always revved-up.
His character is unusual. In some ways, he's a hipster: he has a fast line of patter,
and is always talking a bit like the beat characters in films like High School Confidential
(Jack Arnold, 1958). But Connors is not a "counter-cultural" figure, and he does not
represent or advocate some beat, beatnik or hippie alternative to suburban American life.
He's a working class man, a truck driver, and his big goal is to get together with
some gorgeous woman and hang out at a lively night spot for truckers. This sort of combination
of "working class man" and "hipster" is unusual in American cinema, maybe unique.
The Working Class and its Problems
In general, the truck drivers, gas station owners and other men in Death in Small Doses
are extremely working class in appearance. They look like the guys who might come to your
working class Uncle Joe's poker night. They are definitely not counter-cultural.
Many also look aging or older. They are older and tougher than many of the "young handsome heroes"
that often populate Hollywood cinema.
Death in Small Doses shows how hard it is for the often aging, overworked truck drivers to
do their assigned jobs. It serves as a follow-up to They Drive by Night (Raoul Walsh, 1940),
which looked at the difficulties faced by truck drivers in the previous generation.
An Industry, Not an Organization
Many Joseph M. Newman films look inside an organization, giving us a detailed view of its operation.
Death in Small Doses differs in that it looks at an industry, truckers and related business,
rather than any one single organization. The truckers, gas station owners, trucker cafes, rooming house for truckers, etc.
shown all do business with each other, and are part of the trucking industry, but they are not a single organization.
Later, we meet a crooked representative of the pharmaceutical industry, who is supplying the amphetamines.
Organizations in Newman films are often failing. The trucking industry representatives shown in
Death in Small Doses are often revealed to have serious problems with amphetamine abuse.
Amphetamines in Real Life
The opening conversation at the FDA shocks the hero, by informing him how widespread
amphetamine usage is in real life. I was shocked too. A look at the Wikipedia offers some back-up
statistics. It says that amphetamines were widely used in World War II (1939-1945) by both sides.
British troops reportedly consumed 72 million tablets, and 35 million were manufactured for the German military.
US truckers reportedly did use amphetamines extensively, till President Reagan instituted mandatory drug testing
for truck drivers in the 1980's.
Hollywood's censorship, the Production Code, kept drug abuse off the screen during most of the
Studio Era. The Man with the Golden Arm (Otto Preminger, 1955) defied the Code and depicted the problems of
heroin addition. Death in Small Doses, made just two years later, is likely
one of the first films to depict amphetamine abuse, despite the fact that it was reportedly common
in real life.
The hero is in a really sharp suit while being "himself" at the FDA. There is a tradition
of Feds being well-dressed in the movies. But he dresses down
through the rest of the film, in his undercover role. He is first seen in his new character
wearing a sport coat: something much less dressy than a suit.
Chuck Connors, rather than the hero, gets the leather jacket in the movie.
Connors is a truck driver, but also a man with an unusual line of vigorous "hipster" patter.
He is certainly not especially smart in his job performance or lifestyle choices.
But his verbal fluency perhaps makes him one of Newman's
"unexpectedly brainy characters wearing leather jackets".
The last new character seen in the film, is a policeman wearing a uniform leather jacket.
The Big Circus
The Big Circus (1959) mixes comedy, drama and suspense, in its backstage look at a traveling circus.
How Organizations Work: The Circus and a Bank
Like many Joseph M. Newman films, The Big Circus gives us inside looks at how organizations work:
The section dealing with reporters attending a press party at the circus, is an inside look
at a profession. It is not as detailed as the views of the circus and the bank -
but it does feature similar concrete looks at the details of how a profession works.
Newman has a long-time interest in reporters, who appear in several of his films.
- A circus is shown, with details of financing, publicity, travel, set-up and employee relations spelled out.
- The bank that is funding the circus has details of its operation shown,
with a board meeting, financial decisions and how they are arrived at, liaison officers,
reports on profitability. These go far beyond what might be covered in a typical non-Newman movie.
We also get a look at how press agents operate, and interface with reporters.
Unlike several Newman films, the organizations in The Big Circus are non-militaristic.
The circus band wears uniforms, though.
Many organizations in Newman films are failing.
In The Big Circus the circus is on the brink of failure.
It has financial problems right from the start, and its situation gets worse and worse
throughout the film. The relentless insistence on these problems can be unpleasant to watch.
Especially difficult to see is Peter Lorre's breakdown, over his concerns he lacks a future.
Circuses as a whole are depicted as a failing industry in The Big Circus.
No solutions are offered to this problem.
The Big Circus includes some typical Newman ways individuals get in trouble with groups:
- Red Buttons has to defy his superiors at the bank, to keep the circus open.
- Rhonda Fleming has to defy her boss Victor Mature, to perform her job as press agent.
- Victor Mature is falsely accused of lying about the lion getting loose.
He is accused twice before his vindication: first by the reporters, then by the press agent.
Such false accusations often get the accused in big trouble in Newman films.
- Red Buttons is falsely accused, when people believe his machine failed and set fire to the circus.
Buttons is not viewed as a liar however, but merely as incompetent.
The heroine makes a striking feminist speech, about people regarding her as competent in her work.
She is a woman doing what was mainly a man's profession in 1959, public relations work.
The circus rings are examples of the circular architecture in Newman films. At one point, a circular cage
for the lions is built up in one of the rings.
Newman films often feature corridor-like regions. In The Big Circus,
these include the long, narrow train cars, and the similarly long, narrow circus trailers that serve as offices.
The tightrope over Niagara Falls is an unusual variation on the bridges in Newman films.
Both during the credits, and at the finale, there is a long take view of the circus as a whole.
These shots are from an overhead angle, showing a procession moving around the edge of the circus arena.
These shots contain no camera movement. They are long lasting.
A camera movement is shot through booths on the circus midway. It shows characters
walking down the midway, past booth after booth. The camera moves along with the characters.
There are vertical camera movements, following people up ladders to the aerialists' perch.
Several scenes are in color schemes of "red-orange and blue". These are complementary colors,
and hence go together. For instance, the circus stands have very broad red-orange and white stripes, while the seats are blue.
During the big parade at the start, some of the horses and elephants have been dyed colors.
The Lawbreakers (1961) is one of Joseph M. Newman's most obscure
movies. It is not listed in Leonard Maltin's 2001 Movie & Video Guide,
or in Andrew Sarris' The American Cinema (1968).
Aside from leads Jack Warden and Vera Miles, its cast consists
of obscure but talented character actors. The Lawbreakers
was reportedly originally made for TV, which might explain this
obscurity. It is clearly a version of some sort of an episode of the TV crime series
The Asphalt Jungle called The Lady and the Lawyer (April 9, 1961).
Whether the movie is an expanded version of this episode, or whether the TV episode
is a chopped-down version of the movie, or whether the movie was a pilot for the series,
I don't know.
How Organizations Work: The Police and Organized Crime
The Lawbreakers is part of the revival of the gangster
film around 1960. Like Samuel Fuller's
Underworld U.S.A. (1961), The Lawbreakers suggests
that organized crime is infiltrating American life, and masquerading
as a respectable part of the community. The gangsters here look
and dress like leading citizens of the community, and employ highly
respectable front men to launder money and conduct business. In
both films they have fancy, respectable business offices, and
wear decent looking suits. All of the gangsters here are non-ethnic
looking white people. Some have Irish sounding names, but otherwise
this is one of the least ethnic looks at organized crime in Hollywood
history. These are men who could blend into any city's 1960 business
The Lawbreakers is structured to give equal time to the
police and to the gang members. Lead policeman is Jack Warden,
a crusading cop who is head of his city's Homicide Division. The
gangsters are involved in the collection and processing of money
from the numbers racket. As in Fuller's film, the suggestion is
that huge amounts of money are flowing in from such activities,
enabling the underworld to make itself look and feel like any
other American business, at least on the surface.
The Lawbreakers is far less interested in melodrama, than
in explaining the mechanisms by which its two main institutions,
the police and organized crime, operate. Scene after scene methodically
explores the nature of these organizations. Emphasis is given
to the different sort of positions the two groups contain, and
how the men in those positions interact. We get a complete look
at the internal business of such groups. There is an unusually
complete portrait of the inner workings of the police, showing
how different branches of the police cooperate with each other,
deal with rivalries for promotion, and deal with each other and
the press on a workaday level. The conduct of cases is explored
in depth. The police here have to cope with a corrupt Commissioner
who is in the pay of organized crime. The whole effect is virtually
a sociological study, an anthropological look inside an American
Many of the scenes in the film are talky, but it is interesting
and informative talk. Newman establish a mood of what Andrew Sarris
called "contemplative calm", designed to get the viewers
to meditate on the sociological study unreeling before them. When
melodramatic actions eventually do occur, they are enmeshed within
a grid of information and characterization of the various groups
in the film. Newman's other films have often systematically explored
the internal workings of some institution: the firefighters of
Red Skies of Montana, the ship's officers and crew of Dangerous
Crossing. Like the leads of both of those films, Jack Warden
here has to defy his superiors, pursuing a genuinely independent
path within these institutions. These are not single acts of defiance;
instead all the heroes have to follow an independent direction
through the entire course of the film. These men are self starters,
people who have the courage to act systematically on their own
convictions, without much encouragement from society. They concentrate
more on working hard on their own actions; they are less interested
in grand scenes of defiance with their superiors. Instead they
tend to quietly go their own way, employing reason and persuasion
with their skeptical superiors to allow them room to operate.
The Racket showed the personal lives and homes of its cops.
One sequence in The Lawbreakers shows Jack Warden's family
life. This too is structured to give an inside look at the relationships
within this institution. It has plenty of warmth and friendliness.
But it is oddly similar in tone to the look at life inside the
The calm, methodical tone here perhaps relates the film to the
semi-documentary tradition, a tradition
often invoked by Newman's other films. However, unlike other semi-docs,
there is little emphasis on location photography, undercover cops,
or high technology. Nor do the mobsters here have the frightening
tone of those in Anthony Mann's semi-documentary
films, for instance.
There is a finale at a train depot, in the semi-doc tradition.
Even here, we see more of the interior of the passenger depot,
and less of the industrial areas supporting trains, on which earlier
semi-docs would have concentrated.
Among semi-docs, this film is perhaps closest to John Cromwell's
The Racket (1951), a film that also looks inside both police
and the mob, and which also deals with both police corruption
and the attempt of organized crime to present a respectable front.
The Racket also contained newspapermen interacting with
the police, just as in The Lawbreakers.
It is unusual to see Vera Miles in the role of a villainess. She
was extremely convincing in her roles as a good woman in Alfred Hitchcock's
films. She is surprisingly successful here, playing a film noir femme fatale.
(SPOILERS) Sound technology plays a role in The Lawbreakers:
All of this is fairly simple and conventional, but pleasant.
- The police "Communications" division, a room filled with rows of radio sets
manned by officers.
- The tape recorders in the lawyer's office.
- The police radio played by the Commissioner, filled with coded calls.
The film's most unusual piece of technology is the automatic door lock in the car.
Its significance only gradually becomes apparent. It too is fairly simple.
Far and away the best part of The Lawbreakers visually is the finale in the train station.
This is filled with looks at corridor-like regions in the station. These "corridors" tend to be
more regions between pillars or other dividing markers, than actual building corridors
in the strict sense of the word. While these corridors are not Newman "corridors filled with technology",
two of the corridors are lined with lockers, which give a similar visual interest.
One of the locker filled "corridors" slopes downwards, and is marked by a step-like border element,
further adding to its enjoyable complexity.
Newman typically shoots from below. This shows the train station ceiling.
The ceiling is full of rings of lights, which produce fascinating geometric patterns in the shots.
I have never seen anything like these rings of lights in other films.
I don't know if this train scene is shot on location, or is a studio set.
King of the Roaring 20's - The Story of Arnold Rothstein
King of the Roaring 20's - The Story of Arnold Rothstein (1961) is a gangster film.
It is a biopic about a notorious real-life gang leader, gambling czar
Joseph M. Newman had made films about organized gambling before: 711 Ocean Drive, The Lawbreakers.
Newman favored portraits of gangsters who were suave, tastefully dressed and sophisticated,
who impersonated members of the upper middle classes. This film's version of
Arnold Rothstein fits that to a T. Rothstein is always quiet, well-spoken and
beautifully dressed in very good suits. He looks and acts more like a corporate Vice-President of Finance
than a stereotypical gangster. His suits do have more flair and sheer stylishness, though,
that do the restrained tastefulness of the mob lawyer's apparel in The Lawbreakers.
Science and Technology
King of the Roaring 20's differs from much of Newman's work in that it has
little to do with science or technology. It also has simple looking sets, and little
location photography, mainly in simple locales. All of this plays away from Newman's strengths,
as revealed in his other films.
The hospital staff at the end, are brief examples of the medical workers that run through Newman.
Newman liked underground areas full of technology. The crap game near the end, deep under Broadway,
is certainly underground - even if it contains little technology. We see a steep, long
set of stairs in the background, conveying how deep this basement is.
How an Organization Works: Organized Gambling, Civic Corruption
We see a little of how Rothstein's crooked financial empire works: the inside look at how he staffs
and swindles his own casino is pretty interesting. But there are less such inside looks
at his business than one might think. Newman's skill at showing "how organizations work",
is thus under-employed.
Much of King of the Roaring 20's shows how crooks like Newman interface
with New York's corrupt Tammany Hall administration, and the corrupt cops they employ.
This, to a degree, can be seen as "how organizations work". Both this material, and the looks
inside Rothstein's own activities, are done in Newman's typical low key, methodical style.
An Organization: The Stockbroker's
One of the film's best sequences shows Rothstein running a stockbroker's firm.
Satirically, this looks just like one of his bookie joints, a room of men on phones luring customers out
of their money, on stocks that are mainly gambles.
This room has a secret passage, something
fairly common in mobster films of the era, such as Joseph H. Lewis'
The Big Combo (1955) and Samuel Fuller's Underworld U.S.A. (1961).
The secret passages are linked to the phone booths: phones are often involved with innovative or unusual technology in Newman.
The scenes with the stockbrokers are shot in two fairly long takes, the first of which shows elaborate camera movement.
The stockbrokers are all well-dressed, like Rothstein himself, and are also Rothstein-like in their
glib articulateness and skill at manipulating money. Rothstein's employees throughout the film,
such as Lenny, are drastically different from the Tammany Hall culture around him,
and more like Rothstein himself.
The room with the stockbroker's is shaped like a corridor, although it is not actually any
sort of hall or corridor. Like some corridors in Newman, it is filled with technology:
the telephone booths along one wall, desks with phones elsewhere.
The hero wears one of the film's best pinstripe suits in this scene.
Andrew Sarris in The American Cinema pointed out the intelligence conveyed by
Newman's leading actors, and cited David Janssen in King of the Roaring 20's as an example.
Like Edmund O'Brien's lead in 711 Ocean Drive, Rothstein rises to the top of the gambling racket
through brain power.
Rothstein is also a Newman hero who adopts an isolated path in an institution.
He plays against the grain of the Tammany Hall system, going his own way and subverting their direction.
The relationship between the powerful, successful Rothstein, and the poor character
(Mickey Rooney) who asks him for help with his life work, anticipates a bit the relationship
between Peter Breck and Martin Landau in The Way to Kill a Killer.
There is a bit of gangster movie power fantasy, in the scene where the tough looking
motorcycle cops are eager to do Rothstein's bidding.
The cops echo the motorcycle riding heroes of other Newman films. While they are not
in black leather jackets, their dressy police uniforms do include huge black leather boots
and gauntlets. They also wear intimidating looking sunglasses. These fancy clothes anticipate
the outfits worn by the cyclists in Newman's Black Leather Jackets. The men enjoy functioning
as a team. One slaps the other on the back at the end. They also enjoy assisting Rothstein with his schemes.
Rothstein's chauffeur is also in a uniform in this scene. It also includes Lenny (Robert Ellenstein)
luring Rothstein away from his wife. Lenny works for Rothstein, and in some ways is his double,
being equally well-tailored and suave. Lenny's clothes are a bit more flashy than Rothstein's.
Lenny enjoys taking part in Rothstein's more insidious schemes,
such as looting his own casino. Ellenstein is mainly a TV actor: this is a rare film role.
The motorcycle cop scene has a tiny bit of the circular architecture found
elsewhere in Newman:
The stables have a corridor outside, formed by a covered portico. This corridor
lacks the technology often found in Newman corridors.
- The cops drive around rounded corners, with fencing along the corners also forming curves.
- The horse trailer has a semi-circular top.
Later the casino has an outdoor staircase, a bit smaller than some in other Newman films.
We see the hero go up it, in a camera movement that first takes him between two cars.
Twenty Plus Two
Twenty Plus Two (1961) is a detective story. It stars David Janssen as the investigator.
Janssen was best known to the public at this time as the lead of the TV series
Richard Diamond, Private Detective (1957-1960).
Twenty Plus Two also is in the tradition of Blake Edwards'
popular and influential TV private eye show Peter Gunn (1958-1961):
However, the hero of Twenty Plus Two is more intense and emotional than the laid back,
super cool Peter Gunn. The hero of Twenty Plus Two has unresolved emotional issues,
with both his old girlfriend and his profession. David Janssen appropriately plays the hero
with an undercurrent of neurotic emotionalism, different from
the patented cool Craig Stevens brought to Peter Gunn.
- It has an extremely well-dressed lead, who wears elegant upper middle class Kennedy-era suits.
- The jazz score has an insistent repeating figure, recalling the famous Peter Gunn Theme.
- The hero visits a night spot (near the film's start) where live jazz music is performed.
These were the favorite haunts of Peter Gunn.
- The hero has a policeman friend, who is articulate and sardonic in his observations.
Like Lt. Jacoby in Peter Gunn, the policeman in Twenty Plus Two has a Lieutenant's rank.
(The policeman is played by Mort Mills, a TV actor who often played villains.
Here he gets a chance to play a good guy in a spiffy suit and a pleasing line of comic patter.
Elements of Mills' trademark sneering sarcasm survive, giving his policeman a bit of an edge.)
- Twenty Plus Two opens with a dramatic crime, then introduces its sleuth hero in the next,
lower key scene. This was a common plot construction in Peter Gunn.
Another difference: both of the hero's girlfriends in Twenty Plus Two have dialogue
telling the hero how handsome he is. Such dialogue is not standard in Hollywood films.
David Janssen is a good-looking man, but he is not actually as handsome as this dialogue suggests.
Perhaps the film is trying to make the hero more like Peter Gunn, who is indeed very handsome.
The hero of Twenty Plus Two is an investigator who looks for missing heirs.
As the hero himself points out, he is not a private eye. Still, the hero seems very close
in feel to the private investigators so popular at the time.
Twenty Plus Two seems like a low budget film. It consists almost entirely of scenes in which
Janssen talks with other characters. These are usually interior scenes, on sets that recall the TV shows of the era.
Often times, these scenes have Janssen talking with a single other character, all by themselves in an otherwise empty set.
There is almost no action, few exteriors, and not much visual spectacle.
Twenty Plus Two does not look "sleazy". The sets try to convey an upscale look, of prosperous settings.
Hero Janssen's character is a success at his work, and his Los Angeles house is a pleasant example of
upper middle class interior design of the era. The spiffy Janssen wears well-tailored Kennedy-style suits,
and most of the people he meets are chic-but-menacing.
Scriptwriter Frank Gruber is a well-known mystery novelist.
Twenty Plus Two shows a kind of mystery plot structure common in his books:
we learn about characters from the distant past, and try to match up their identities and actions with
characters of today.
The North Dakota finale recalls that Gruber sometimes wrote about the Middle West:
The Fourth Letter (1947) is set in Iowa.
The young bellboy is played entertainingly by Robert Gruber. One suspects this is a relative of Frank Gruber,
getting to play a small role. Similarly, the airplane stewardess is David Janssen's sister Teri Janssen.
Twenty Plus Two contains a number of subjects that run through Joseph M. Newman's work.
Most importantly, it deals with young people in danger. The plot centers on the search for a
woman teenager who disappeared. Eventually, we learn of the genuinely serious difficulties which she encountered.
This material is thoughtful, and has a feminist dimension.
On a lighter note, Jacques Pleschette (Jacques Aubuchon) is the sort of
mysterious secondary character who appears that run through Newman films.
Like some of the others, Pleschette is a smooth talker with a gift of gab.
Pleschette, who is highly articulate with formal, old-fashioned manner of speaking,
recalls a bit such characters as Kasper Gutman in The Maltese Falcon (1930)
by Dashiell Hammett, and Nero Wolfe by Rex Stout.
Somewhat unexpectedly, there is a flashback to when the hero was in the Army.
This recalls the hero of Love Nest, who is just out of the service. Both men wear sharp uniforms
in some scenes, and are more commonly seen in civilian clothes in most of the film.
Military service was universal among American men in this era, due to the draft.
And since the USA was at peace in 1961, such service was not too controversial politically.
The finale of Twenty Plus Two is in a farm in North Dakota: one of many locations
in rural areas of red states that run through Newman.
How an Organization Works
The hero is self-employed, and does not really have an organization. Unlike some other Newman films,
there is no organization that gets an in-depth portrait throughout the whole running time of Twenty Plus Two.
We do get a detailed look at the techniques the hero uses in his work of hunting missing heirs:
the newspapers, files, phone calls, government contacts, private investigators, interviewing witnesses and experts.
It is not an organization, but it is a business looked at with Newman's regular low key
examination of detail.
A few organizations are treated in passing:
- The fan mail handling service the first victim runs.
- The making of Brad Dexter's movie.
- A newspaper "morgue" (its files of old newspapers).
- The small airplane and its pilot.
- The night club for servicemen.
Science and Technology
Twenty Plus Two only occasionally has anything to do with science or technology.
Most notable: the brief scenes at the airport. We meet another of Newman's pilot characters.
The pilot is also wearing that Newman favorite, a leather jacket. Like many such leather jacket wearing men
in Newman, the pilot is skilled and intelligent.
The hero makes lots of long distance phone calls. But unlike other Newman films,
nothing too unusual is done with phone technology. He does have an operator trace a call.
The tracing is unusually detailed for a film, going through more than one step,
and resulting in more information than is typical in movies.
A photostat is made of an old newspaper photograph. The photostat is then mailed.
This is a key piece of information technology, showing how information is copied and distributed.
We also get a look inside a newspaper "morgue", and a look at how it stores its backlog of old newspapers.
Later, we hear about the Library of Congress, and its duplicate collection of newspaper files, also used by the heroes.
It is a good example of the central role the Library of Congress has always played in preserving and distributing
information in the United States.
We learn about the hero's own extensive newspaper files. And the murder room at the fan mail service has filing cabinets,
which contain information relevant to the crime.
Writer Frank Gruber earlier looked at a newspaper morgue in
the TV show Two and Two Make Six (1958), an episode of 77 Sunset Strip.
Please see my list of Newspaper Morgues in Mysteries.
Agnes Moorehead's vigorous denunciation of ESP as drivel, is consistent with the "scientific world view".
It is in keeping with that era's respect for science and disdain for the pseudo-scientific.
Later, when a woman ascribes her ideas to "intuition", likely meaning the "female intuition" concept
popular at the time, the hero demurs. He doesn't believe in intuition. Like the dismissal of ESP,
this is an attack on a paranormal concept. It shows the hero's commitment to the "scientific world view".
There is a slow camera movement along the facade of the building housing the fan letter service.
This facade looks a bit like some of the huge buildings at Boulder Dam in 711 Ocean Drive.
The Circle Room night spot is mainly rectilinear, despite its name. Its bar does
seem to be slightly curved, forming a huge circular arc.
The flashback begins and ends, with a look at circular light fixtures. These are replaced
by a curved Japanese lantern.
We see the front of the hero's suburban house. The front steps are prominent,
another of Newman's outdoor staircases.
Both the bar with the reporter, and the airplane aisle, can be seen as examples of Newman's corridors.
A number of scenes have some fairly mild depth staging. These often employ a Newman staging,
in which people first appear at the back of the set, then move forward to the front:
- The Lieutenant enters the hero's living room from the door at the back of the set.
He then moves forward into the living room.
- The hero's girlfriend is seen across the crowded night spot the Circle Room.
Her table is at the back of the image. In a different shot, she crosses the room, accompanied by a moving camera.
- The hero enters from the far back of the long narrow bar where the alcoholic
newspaperman is sitting. The hero then walks from the far back to the front.
Brad Dexter has fun as the comically unpleasant movie actor. He conveys a smarmy, narcissistic image.
His character is clearly trying to promote himself: there is a hilarious series of "glamour photos" of him
on the wall of the fan mail service. He is also in sports clothes that seem "inappropriately casual",
and which are contrasted with the hero's polished suits.
Brad Dexter usually does a memorable job with his bad guy roles. The man who Andrew Sarris
once referred to as "villainous Brad Dexter" tends to liven up any picture in which he appears.
Dexter's Hollywood actor likes to pick up flashy-but-cheap women for superficial affairs.
The Hollywood protagonist of The George Raft Story will also exhibit such behavior,
something not endorsed by the director or the films. Raft likes longer term liaisons than
Dexter's star, however.
A Thunder of Drums
How an Organization Works: The US Cavalry
A Thunder of Drums (1961) is a grim Western. Unlike 1950's
Westerns, which depict a glamorized, escapist West in full color,
this film tries to show how dismal and miserable the West was.
It is especially structured to show all the bad aspects of Cavalry
life. We are at a small, isolated troop outpost in Arizona. The
commander (Richard Boone) is a disillusioned sour-ball, the troops
are getting killed off like flies by marauders, funerals are common,
the troop's uniforms are full of holes and in rags, and the lack
of women leads to endless squabbling over the few around. The
commander even has trouble keeping his payroll going. Such mundane
financial matters are almost never mentioned in other Westerns,
which tend to show people floating around the West with no visible
means of support. Here we get a complete inside look at a Cavalry
post and how it functions as a practical institution. Such a sociological
study of an institution is a Newman trademark.
After an opening section setting forth many of these problems,
the film sends a fresh young Lieutenant to join the troop. He
is one of Newman's fish out of water, a typical Newman "man
who has trouble fitting into a militarized, uniformed organization".
He is played by George Hamilton, who often played rich, polished
young men who were born with a silver spoon in their mouths: see
Vincente Minnelli's Home From the Hill
I cannot say that I like A Thunder of Drums very much.
Its grimness lacks entertainment value. Also, an expose of organizational
problems in the 1870's US Cavalry lacks much current relevancy
or interest. The film also seems poor in terms of storytelling
and visual style.
Production Design: The 1950's Western Style
The look of the film is closer to 1950's Westerns, than it is
to such later exposes of the West as Robert Altman's McCabe
and Mrs. Miller (1971). Later Westerns tend to show the grinding
poverty of the real old West, with everybody living in complete
squalor. There does not even seem to be any color in later post
1970 Westerns, often times. A Thunder of Drums at least
has the relatively glamorous fort and brightly colored costumes
typical of the 1950's Western. It concentrates more on problems
in the Cavalry than on the poverty of the West.
The George Raft Story
A Musical Bio-Pic
The George Raft Story (1961) is a bio-pic about real life actor-dancer George Raft.
It has many dance numbers, and can also be considered a musical.
Gangster film elements are also woven into the story, although The George Raft Story
is not primarily a gangster film.
While no masterpiece, The George Raft Story is a lot of fun.
Commenters often suggest that The George Raft Story is not especially
realistic as a biography of George Raft. And certainly star Ray Danton doesn't much resemble the
real George Raft in personality. However, my own feeling about this is "who cares?".
The George Raft Story is a fun movie. Why not just enjoy it on its own terms?
Ray Danton was often cast as villains, rather than as a hero.
Even in his breakthrough lead in Budd Boetticher's
The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond (1960), he played a glamorous but vicious gangster.
The George Raft Story resembles The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond,
both being period pieces where Danton is cast as a skilled dancer
against a background of Prohibition era mobsters. Ray Danton
is even dressed the same way in both films, oscillating between
sharp three-piece suits and gangster-style glamorous tuxedos.
But the George Raft character is mainly a good guy, unlike Legs Diamond.
Raft is a bit too much of a love em and leave em ladies man.
But otherwise he is mainly a sympathetic figure.
The George Raft Story was one of my Mother's favorite movies.
She loved Danton's performance, and his many dance numbers.
She asked me to find other Danton musicals - and I discovered that there don't
seem to be any. In an ideal world, The George Raft Story would
have been the start of a long series of dance films for the handsome,
gifted dancer Danton. But Hollywood almost entirely stopped making
original musicals around this time. The George Raft Story is
one of the last films in a nearly extinct genre.
How Hollywood Works
The George Raft Story is full of scenes showing how Hollywood works,
as a business. We see producers, directors, agents, films being shot, publicity.
Newman films often show in detail how an organization works.
The George Raft Story is a little different, in that it depicts a whole industry,
Hollywood, instead of a single organization.
Still, it has that Newman emphasis on low key, interesting detail, revealing
how a business runs. None of the Hollywood detail is especially new or shocking.
But it is quite enjoyable to watch.
SPOILER. One amusing scene has the hero's suspenseful meeting with gang leader Al Capone,
turn into a conversation about Hollywood filmmaking! This underscores in a humorous way,
how inside looks at how Hollywood works, are a main structural feature of
The George Raft Story.
Newman Character Types
Newman films sometimes have poor characters asking rich ones for help.
The Gorshin character eventually becomes a figure somewhat like this.
The hero winds up offering Gorshin a most welcome job. However, Gorshin
is not as poor or as pathetic as some of these figures in other Newman films.
The hero also helps out mobster Benny Siegel, when he asks for a very large loan.
This has part of the Newman paradigm: a man asking a rich figure for big help.
However, gangster Siegel is really remote from the poor, powerless men who need help
in more typical Newman films.
Newman films sometimes have characters who offer humorous comments
on the action around them. In The George Raft Story, this
role is sometimes assigned to agent Herschel Bernardi. His remarks about the huge
Hollywood mansion the hero buys are a gem.
The girlfriend lives in a New York City building with large outdoor steps,
a Newman favorite. They recall the front steps of the rooming house in Love Nest.
The hero makes a spectacular jump down them, in an action scene.
A maneuver staged on subway steps involves another outdoor staircase.
The alley outside the Chicago theater forms one of Newman's long corridors.
The Hollywood hotel where the hero first stays, is one of Newman's
buildings with many disparate residents.
There is only a little about technology in The George Raft Story.
We see sound and light equipment on the Hollywood sets.
A montage contrast motorcycle cops to the hero's dancing, an interesting effect.
The comedians make jokes about planes and trains.
Camera Movement and Long Takes
The credits are shown over a fine long-take camera movement sequence.
The intricate sequence shows people in a night club. We see dancing patrons, and the hero
moving through the crowd.
The comedians' act also involves long takes. These shots are mainly static, though,
without much camera movement.
Low-level mob figure Frank Gorshin is first seen in a pinstripe suit. Other
minor mob types in pinstripes soon follow.
SPOILER. But hero Ray Danton is NOT at first in pinstripes, instead wearing dressy three-piece suits in solid colors.
In a coup of visual style, the hero is first seen in pinstripes later on, when he is playing
a gangster in a Hollywood movie. This suggests that a gangster image is being artificially
imposed on the hero, as part of his Hollywood persona.
The pinstripe suit the hero wears for his movie role is really loud, and conspicuously striped.
It looks good. But it is much more emphatic than the pinstripes earlier worn by Gorshin,
which were actually quite tasteful and business-like.
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: Dear Uncle George
Dear Uncle George (1963) was the first episode Newman directed of the TV series,
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.
The hero's refreshingly non-stereotyped Asian secretary, shows the rise of Integration
in TV casting of the early 1960's. Actress Alicia Li does a good job. Unfortunately,
she seems to have had a very brief acting career.
How Organizations Work: The Police and the Paper
Dear Uncle George contains a bit of Newman's interest in organizations.
The interactions between the about-to-retire policeman and his eager beaver young subordinate
are comic, but also have an edge. They dramatize internal workings of the police.
They are simpler than the elaborate portraits of organizations in other Newman films, though.
Like several Newman organizations, the police in Dear Uncle George have a quasi-militaristic feel,
with the subordinate regularly calling his superior "sir".
Similarly, we learn a bit about the columnist hero, his efficient secretary and his publisher.
This too is less elaborate than in some Newman movies. Newspaper people run through Newman's work.
The apartment building is another Newman large area where disparate people live.
The lady across the way who witnesses things plays a role in the plot.
We also learn a little bit about how the apartment is run as an organization,
with the superintendent and his relations with tenants.
The most striking set shows a prison facility where prisoners and their visitors talk.
It essentially consists of phone booths, in which the visitor and the convict
talk over telephones. It is another of Newman's innovative uses of phone technology.
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: Death of a Cop
Death of a Cop (1963) was the second episode Newman directed of the TV series,
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.
Death of a Cop has good dialogue. The script is by the talented
Leigh Brackett. Characterization is in-depth.
Scenes have a complex progression, with much of interest said by characters along the way.
Victor Jory is another of the character actor, non-star leads in a Newman film.
He is effortlessly convincing in his characterization.
Peter Brown had just spent four years as the deputy on the excellent Western TV series Lawman.
His role as a young policeman in Death of a Cop is a variation on this. His ability
to suggest a young but professional law enforcer makes his character believable.
The villains include character actor Rex Holman. Holman's ability to suggest
decadent villains was honed in major Western series like Lawman and The Rifleman.
He was memorable in:
Organizations: The Police
The heroes are policemen. We get a detailed look at their organization. The police have
some features of Newman organizations:
The hero's police badge is perhaps a variant on the ID tags in other Newman films.
- They are organized on quasi-militaristic lines, with ranks and chains of authority.
- The hero winds up defying his superiors, and pursuing an independent path.
- The organization is not dysfunctional, unlike several Newman organizations,
but it does fail to apprehend the killers.
- The hero is suspected of lying by his superior. However, unlike other such Newman characters,
the hero actually is lying and the charges are correct.
The bottling plant run by the crooks is as second organization. But its organizational aspects are not
emphasized or explored.
The hero uses a map to reconstruct the movements of another policeman.
Maps run through Newman films.
We don't see reporters, but press coverage is discussed by the cops and crooks towards the end.
The opening stakeout has some simple depth staging, with people seen in the background.
The shots looking down into the street from an upstairs window also show
some simple depth staging. These shots include that Newman favorite, an outdoor staircase.
An odd shot looking up into a ceiling mirror or reflector in the morgue, can perhaps be seen
as a kind of depth staging. Mainly however, this is an off-trail mirror shot.
A character had a son who dies in Korea. This anticipates Newman's In Praise of Pip,
which is likely the first American fiction TV show to depict casualties from the Vietnam War.
A patrolman near the end is black (Hari Rhodes). This shows the rise in Integration in casting
in the early 1960's. The TV series Naked City had a bigger role for a black policeman (Terry Carter) in
the episode C3H5(NO3)3 (William A. Graham, 1961).
Young Peter Brown really looks like a cop. Despite his youth and good looks, he is instantly identifiable
as a policeman. In part this is the square looking hat he and the other cops are wearing.
Even by 1963, hats for men were becoming passe, and were being restricted to a few professions like the police.
Brown's severe dark suit and tie also make him look like a policeman. Brown is often the man
in the darkest suit on screen, making him stand out. Costume designer Burton Miller does a good job,
in providing all of the cast with convincing looking suits that suggest their exact role within the police or mob.
It is villain Richard Jaeckel who gets that Newman standby, the leather jacket.
Jaeckel's character is a bit working class - his official job is a working class function
at the bottling plant. But he is mainly a hoodlum, not any sort of honest working man.
And unlike other "working men in leather jackets" in Newman, he is not especially brainy.
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: The Gentleman Caller
The Gentleman Caller (1964) was the fifth episode Newman directed of the TV series,
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.
The Gentleman Caller is an unexpectedly entertaining hour. It is full of detail.
It also has an expert cast putting over its black comedy and its genteel atmosphere.
SPOILERS. The little-old-lady heroine looks helpless. In many ways she is, small and apparently defenseless.
But throughout the show, many organizations come to her aid:
The implication is that, since the lady is honest, there are a large number of social organizations willing
to intervene on her behalf. This gives her hidden strength and advantage, that crooks don't have.
- The rooming house landlady.
- The ambulance corps.
- The gas company.
- The police.
Each of the organizations is just seen briefly, and none are explored in depth, unlike other Newman works.
But the organizations are vividly sketched. Especially interesting is the gas company.
It has some Newman features:
- Like the police and ambulance doctor here, and many Newman organizations, its members are uniformed.
- The gas man is an unexpectedly brainy member of the working class.
- We learn about the gas company's stock, see one of its trucks, and see it interfacing with the police:
all of which gives detail on how an organization is run.
- The gas company is expert on technology, a key Newman subject.
The Rooming House
The rooming house is another Newman area where diverse people are living together.
The house is quite racially integrated. This is a sign of the racial integration of the 1960's.
It is also another indication that the little-old-lady is a good person, and hence has
broad connections in society.
The Kitchen: A Corridor
The kitchen is one of Newman's corridors filled with technology:
in this case, the cooking equipment. It is shorter than some of the corridors in Newman.
Newman sometimes shoots straight down the kitchen, emphasizing its corridor-like nature.
The rooming house hall is another corridor. It too has a little technology: a phone.
Unlike many Newman films, there is nothing unusual or innovative about the phone technology
in The Gentleman Caller.
Newman likes outdoor staircases. The rooming house has a prominent staircase in its hall.
But this staircase is indoors, not outside.
The Gentleman Caller has sharp men's costumes, from Costume Supervisor Vincent Dee.
Roddy McDowall looks great in Kennedy era suits and dress shirts. This whole Mad Men look is hard to beat.
While at his girlfriend's, he is in a white dress shirt; while calling on the little-old-lady,
he is fully dressed with his suit coat on. This visually underscores the drastically different codes
of behavior in the two locales: Mod at the girlfriend's, old-fashioned and mannerly at the lady's.
The various uniforms worn by organization men are also sharp. Their difference from McDowall's suit
makes the men wearing them seem from a different part of society. They are from organizations, and uniformed;
McDowall is a criminal and on his own.
A workman is briefly seen in that Newman standard, a leather jacket.
This is not the man who would most typically in Newman get such a jacket: the brainy working guy from the gas company.
Instead, the gas man is uniformed.
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: Body in the Barn
Body in the Barn (1964) was the sixth episode Newman directed of the TV series,
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. It is a grim, downbeat work, and not recommended.
Crime Plot and Characters
Body in the Barn stars Lillian Gish. Unfortunately, Gish's character is a nasty,
mean-spirited snoop, and Gish skillfully plays her accordingly. It is not fun to watch.
Body in the Barn is an example of a Newman film starring a character actor.
The neighbor woman (Patricia Cutts) is equally mean in speech. She is a Newman character falsely accused of lying.
The tensions among the neighbors, and the eventual suspicion and accusations of bad behavior and lying,
recall Red Skies of Montana in mood.
SPOILER. The neighbor woman's husband mysteriously disappears, like the husband in Dangerous Crossing.
The two plots are developed differently - but the same character is responsible in both stories.
SPOILER. A miscarriage of justice is at the center of Body in the Barn.
The film stresses that the whole county, as a judicial entity, has failed.
This makes the county, with its police, courts and medical investigators all to blame,
one of Newman's failed organizations.
We see quite a few county officials of various types. But this is not a full-fledged,
in-depth Newman investigation of an organization, of the sort found in other Newman films.
The county is in some unspecified rural area: also a Newman tradition.
The barn is the closest this film comes to having a technological location,
although calling the barn such a tech locale is a stretch.
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: Misadventure
Misadventure (1964) was the eighth episode Newman directed of the TV series,
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.
The two lead characters of Misadventure are selfish, opportunistic and pretty unpleasant people.
Misadventure is not a fun viewing experience as a whole. Individual parts can be witty,
but much of it seems oddly disturbing, even nightmarish. SPOILER. It centers on that at-one-time popular
story subject, "adulterous people who want to kill their spouses, using The Perfect Murder".
I've never liked this premise, and Misadventure doesn't improve my feelings towards it!
SPOILER. I thought it was fairly plausible when early in the show, the sex-crazed heroine lets herself
be seduced by this manipulative stranger. It was less plausible that she'd let him talk her into murder.
Hey: adultery is common, murder is not.
A High Tech World: Underground
Newman films often have regions filled with high technology, often underground.
These can be quite elaborate, like the underground physics laboratory in This Island Earth.
In Misadventure we have something simpler, but analogous:
the basement of the house contains gas equipment; meters, pipes, valves, levers.
These play a key role in the plot.
All we see of this basement is a simple staircase. It has the gas equipment on its right-hand side.
This staircase also serves as one of Newman's corridors filled with technology.
The "house with technology in the basement" recalls Love Nest. The sexy comedy in Misadventure
also somewhat recalls that in Love Nest.
The hero sets up an artificial leak in the gas, near the beginning of Misadventure. This is quickly fixed.
This seems related to the Newman subject of technology temporarily failing.
The heroine at one point says about police labs "The police have all those scientific things."
This is a vague, but highly accurate statement!
Midway through the film, poorer man Barry Nelson pleads with rich man George Kennedy for financial help.
This is one of several scenes in Newman films, of poor men going to the rich for assistance.
As usual, Newman's sympathy is with the poor men. Nelson asks purely for money, whereas in some other films
the poorer man specifically asks for help with his work.
The hero being a "gas man" recalls earlier working class heroes in Newman, such as the phone repairman hero
of 711 Ocean Drive. Like that earlier man, this hero is unexpectedly brainy.
Both men are expert with technology.
SPOILER. Later we learn that the hero is Not What He Seems. This is a bit like the government agents
pretending to be working men in Know Your Money and Death in Small Doses.
However, those agents did it for a good cause; the hero of Misadventure is self-seeking and corrupt.
The hero's background, real goals and nature are mysterious throughout much of Misadventure.
Newman films sometimes have a "mysterious secondary character who runs through them".
The man in Misadventure is equally mysterious, but he differs in being the hero,
not a secondary or supporting character.
SPOILER. The backstory about the hero's son recalls Coffins on Wheels.
Dialogue in Misadventure links it to the hero's lack of money, and George Kennedy's
failure to help him financially. Implicitly, this links the subject to "social class".
The hero's Gas Company uniform is mainly an overall, worn over regular clothes.
Such outer, covering garments are a Newman tradition. In Misadventure, as in earlier Newman films,
they are quite glamorous. The Gas Company uniform is light colored, like earlier Newman garments.
SPOILER. When the hero strips off this working class uniform, revealing an expensive, upper middle class suit
beneath it, it is a startling, highly effective moment. It creates a perverse charge.
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: An Unlocked Window
An Unlocked Window (1965) was the ninth episode Newman directed of the TV series,
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.
An Unlocked Window is something of a prized cult item among horror fans.
They find it especially scary and suspenseful. Unfortunately, I'm am not a horror fan,
and am typically unable to be scared or entertained by horror films.
I didn't respond at all to An Unlocked Window, and don't find it an interesting movie.
Links to This Island Earth
This Island Earth (especially the scenes in the mansion serving as research lab)
mildly anticipates An Unlocked Window in a number of ways:
- Both take place in an isolated mansion in the country. Both mansions are that
Newman standard setting, a building where a disparate group of people live.
- In both a group of technicians have been gathered: scientists in This Island Earth, nurses in An Unlocked Window.
- Both groups of technicians are in danger and working under threat.
- The threateners have the technicians under surveillance.
- The clear plastic tubes the characters enter in This Island Earth resemble a bit
the transparent oxygen tent with John Kerr inside in An Unlocked Window.
- People watch events on the interocitor screen in This Island Earth, on a TV news broadcast in An Unlocked Window.
- Both works contain a lovable cat.
- SPOILER. The threateners seems to be able to broadcast their voices unexpectedly, using the
interocitor in This Island Earth, as a spooky voice in An Unlocked Window.
- SPOILER. The threateners have something odd in their physical appearance:
they are aliens in This Island Earth, and a ???? in An Unlocked Window.
The Short Story
An Unlocked Window is based on a short story "An Unlocked Window" (1926) by Welsh writer Ethel Lina White.
It is a variant of her novel Some Must Watch (1933), filmed as The Spiral Staircase (1945) by
director Robert Siodmak. The short story and novel have much in common.
Both are Old Dark House mysteries with a serial killer preying on women.
"An Unlocked Window" is a good short story. Its ending is fairly similar to that of the TV film version.
However, like most of Ethel Lina White's work, it is set in Britain.
"An Unlocked Window" is in a number of anthologies. The easiest to find is perhaps
English Country House Murders (1989) edited by Thomas Godfrey.
The Twilight Zone: In Praise of Pip
An early work about the Vietnam War
In Praise of Pip (1963) was the first episode Newman directed of the TV series,
The Twilight Zone. On its DVD commentary, actor Bill Mumy says it was the
first American TV series to depict casualties from the Vietnam War. This makes the show
a sociological landmark.
In Praise of Pip contains three separate subplots, which are wildly disparate in
tone and content. One shows Pip in Vietnam; one shows his father as a small-time bookie back in the USA;
and finally, we get a fantasy finale at an amusement park. The Vietnam segments are remarkable
in bringing up a major social issue - but brief. The bookie melodrama is not very interesting.
And the finale is rich in visual spectacle.
The Amusement Park
The finale was shot on location at a real amusement park in Los Angeles (apparently near Santa Monica).
It resembles the end of 711 Ocean Drive, which was also shot at a real location, Boulder Dam. Both locales are
visually spectacular. And in both, Newman pulls out all the stops to make a pictorially splendid
The hero of 711 Ocean Drive was often seen moving down long corridors in Boulder Dam. The house of mirrors
in In Praise of Pip is shot so that it looks as if the characters are in deep, mirrored corridors. They
are surrounded by metal frames, just as the corridors in Boulder Dam seemed full of high tech fixtures.
The ferris wheel is an example of the circular architecture seen in Newman.
How an Organization Works: The Army Medical Corps
While brief, the Vietnam scenes have a similar approach to other Newman films, in that they show
how some organization works. Here, we see the process of how US Army medics treat a wounded soldier. It is
very much a formal, systematic process.
The bookie scenes also explain how a gambling mob works. They bring the hero into conflict with his boss:
a frequent Newman subject.
The lead is played by Jack Klugman. At that time, he was definitely a character actor, rather than a star. Newman
frequently has character performers in leads.
The Twilight Zone: Black Leather Jackets
A Science Fiction film
Black Leather Jackets (1964) was the third episode Newman directed of the TV series,
The Twilight Zone.
The Twilight Zone has routinely been labeled "science fiction", ever since it was first broadcast.
But many of its episodes are actually fantasy or supernatural, not science fiction. Black Leather Jackets
is distinctive in the series in being an actual science fiction show.
Black Leather Jackets resembles the early scenes of Newman's own This Island Earth (1955), in:
Black Leather Jackets also resembles a film Neman did not direct,
I Married a Monster from Outer Space (Gene Fowler, Jr., 1958). Both films:
- Showing high tech aliens clandestinely come to Earth.
- In both films, the aliens are humanoid, and sophisticated in Earth language and ways. This enables them to pass themselves
off as Earthmen.
- In both films, the aliens communicate through TV-telephones, which we see (partly) being assembled.
- Both groups of aliens are highly articulate, and expert at discussing science.
The worst part of Black Leather Jackets is the subplot about bacteriological warfare. This is nightmarish,
and distasteful as a subject of "entertainment". It does reflect Newman traditions, in echoing
Newman's least appetizing film, Respect the Law (1941), a Crime Does Not Pay episode
which shows rats spreading bubonic plague.
- Deal with aliens preparing for an invasion of Earth.
- Treat the aliens as an all-male group, of highly macho, good-looking men.
- Have one alien break ranks, by falling in love with an Earth woman.
- Take place in a "typical" small town.
- Have aliens undercover in the local police, and in control of the local town.
- Have the police in elaborate uniforms.
Black Leather Jackets reflects Newman themes:
- The motorcycle riding aliens reflect other motor cycle riding heroes in Newman.
- So do their leather jackets.
- The alien hero is an expert on science and technology.
- The aliens are a quasi-militaristic group, and they wear a common uniform of biker clothes.
- The aliens are a failing organization, with false ideas about Earth people and evil plans.
- The alien hero quietly rebels against his superiors, sneaking out to visit the heroine.
- First the hero's alien superiors think hero is a liar, refusing to believe his report that humans are good and worth saving.
Then the heroine and her family also accuse the hero of being a liar, when he tells them he is an alien.
It would be interesting to know who did the costumes for The Twilight Zone. The costume
designer is not credited on-screen. And understandably enough, the IMDB has no costume credits either.
The costumes for Black Leather Jackets are some of the spiffiest motorcycle outfits in the history of
the cinema. These guys have really been glamorized to the max.
The Big Valley: The Way to Kill a Killer
The Way to Kill a Killer (1965) was the only episode Newman directed of the TV series,
The Big Valley. It seems to be Newman's final film. It is a quiet, but pleasantly intelligent
work. In its modest way, it explores a lot of interesting topics. The reader is urged to see this
film, before reading further.
How Organizations Work: Cattle Ranches, and Race Relations
The Way to Kill a Killer adheres to Newman's basic approach: a film that shows in methodical
detail how an organization works. Here we look at cattle ranches in the 19th Century American West.
Newman is just as methodical in this Western setting as he is any modern day story. A good deal
of detail is set forth on how both the large Barkley and new, small Montoya cattle raising outfits work.
The struggles of the small start-up Montoya outfit perhaps recall those of the new apartment building
owner couple in Love Nest.
Perhaps more surprisingly, the film also adopts an "organizational" approach to race relations. After
all, the racial system is a social organization, too. The Way to Kill a Killer sets forth its
many complex twists and turns in logical detail. Here the relations are between Anglo whites and
Hispanic Americans. The organizational approach allows for an illuminating film, that reaches
fairly deep into some of the complexities of the race relationship.
The Way to Kill a Killer bears the world view of 1960's exploration into race, reflecting
the national conversation going on during the Civil Rights movement. It includes in its mix white
Liberal Guilt. Frankly, I found this refreshingly realistic. For quite a while discussions in
the USA of 2008 have been controlled by shrill, hard core right wing racism. It is nice to see some different
and more liberal points of view emerge out of the cinematic time machine from 1965.
A Scientific and Medical Drama
The Way to Kill a Killer is in the tradition of Newman's other science-based films.
The Way to Kill a Killer specifically recalls Respect the Law, which also was about
an attempt to control an epidemic. However, it is far from being any sort of retread of the earlier film.
The Way to Kill a Killer is a low budget TV show. It does not have the spectacle of some other Newman works.
It has only two medical workers, not the large crews of scientists seen in some other Newman films.
Nor are there any specialized medical costumes or uniforms. Nick Barkley (Peter Breck) wears the same leather vest he usually
wears in other Big Valley episodes: this might relate to the Newman characters in modern day films who
wear leather jackets.