Jacques Tourneur | Subjects | Structure and Story Telling | Visual Style

Feature Films: They All Come Out | Nick Carter, Master Detective | Phantom Raiders | Cat People | I Walked with a Zombie | Days of Glory | Experiment Perilous | Canyon Passage | Out of the Past | Berlin Express | Easy Living | Stars in My Crown | The Flame and the Arrow | Circle of Danger | Appointment in Honduras | Stranger on Horseback | Wichita | Great Day in the Morning | Nightfall | Night of the Demon | The Fearmakers | Timbuktu

Short films: Harnessed Rhythm | The Grand Bounce | The Boss Didn't Say Good Morning | The King Without a Crown | The Man in the Barn | The Ship That Died | The Magic Alphabet

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Classic Film and Television Home Page (with many articles on directors) | Mathematics and Visual Style | Television Western Articles | Color in the Arts

Jacques Tourneur

Jacques Tourneur is the son of pioneer French director Maurice Tourneur. There is an excellent book length study of his work, Chris Fujiwara's Jacques Tourneur, the Cinema of Nightfall (1998).

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Jacques Tourneur: Subjects

Society: Minorities, non-stereotyped: Economics: People on the Move: Locales: Imagery: Music Making: Food: Characters: Transportation: Science: Animals:

Jacques Tourneur: Structure and Story Telling

Story Telling: Semi-Documentary (Please see my chart Semi-documentary crime films for a list of Semi-documentary films and their key characteristics.):

Jacques Tourneur: Visual Style

The Visual Arts: Architecture: Windows and Apertures: Geometry: Visual Style: Repeated Objects: Color: Color and the Ground: Costumes and Color: Costumes:

They All Come Out

They All Come Out (1939) is Tourneur's first Hollywood feature. It's an absorbing, involving work of story telling. Its humane vision of rehabilitating convicts is truly admirable. I also like the way it emphasizes educating and job-training the convicts. All of this is even more relevant today.

They All Come Out resembles Berlin Express among Tourneur's work. Both give a systematic portrait of a society. The two films are the key examples of the "semi-documentary crime film" in Tourneur's oeuvre.


They All Come Out mixes fictional and documentary elements. In that sense it is a semi-documentary film. However They All Come Out only partially resembles the main group of semi-documentary crime films that Hollywood would make from 1945 to 1961. Differences: But They All Come Out also has the three main characteristics of the semi-documentary crime films:
  1. An elite Government team or agency: The US Federal Prison system is central to They All Come Out.
  2. Advanced technology: the government medical workers and the prison training in machinery in They All Come Out.
  3. A big finale set in some spectacular industrial or technological area: the final battle in the machine shop in They All Come Out.
Please see my chart of semi-documentary crime films, which sets forth these characteristics for many films.

The scriptwriter of They All Come Out is John C. Higgins. He would go on to write some of the classic semi-documentary crime films.


The police and F.B.I. in They All Come Out are quite violent. They stage ferocious gun battles when they try to capture the bank robber gang. The film seems sympathetic to this.

But the main subject of the film, the US Federal Prison system, is completely non-violent in its approach. The prison officials work with endless patience to try to rehabilitate the convicts. They use work, persuasion and science, not force or violence.

Non-violence will be a key theme in Tourneur's later films.


Tourneur's films regularly refer to mathematics. As part of the convict hero's rehabilitation in They All Come Out, the prison officials teach him algebra. And our glimpse of the class shows a triangle on the backboard - so geometry is being taught too.

Also mathematical: when the warden tells the heroine about how little income her crimes have generated - based on mathematical calculation. This is a memorable moment too.


Uniforms are everywhere in They All Come Out: perhaps not surprising in a film full of police and prisons.

I think (but cannot prove statistically) that low budget Hollywood films, like They All Come Out, often stressed fancy uniforms. They were a way to add glamour to the film's "look", without spending much money. Uniforms were much less expensive than fancy sets or big action set-pieces. Often times studio wardrobe departments had uniforms left over from earlier films, that could be used again for almost no cost.

Sharp uniforms include:

Special khaki uniforms are used as a "bribe", to reward prisoners for good behavior. So the concept of sharp uniforms is made explicit in the story of the film. The hero is shown responding positively to his new uniform.

Nick Carter, Master Detective

Nick Carter, Master Detective (1939) is the first of three low budget movies MGM made about the veteran sleuth, who appeared in print since 1886. This one, and its sequel Phantom Raiders (1940), were both directed by Jacques Tourneur; the final one, Sky Murder (1940), by George B. Seitz. The two Tourneur films are low budget, but sometimes rich in design. But they do offer new perspectives on some of Tourneur's perennial themes.


Nick Carter, Master Detective takes place at an airplane factory. Its high point is some documentary footage, apparently of a real factory, that is incorporated into the film. I do not know whether these shots are by Tourneur, or not. But Tourneur was a prolific director of short documentaries during this period. And a documentary aspect of a fiction film would perhaps occur naturally to him. We see the experimental airplanes being built from their blueprints. Tourneur loves large machines; this film shows how such machines are created.

There is much talk about how the innovative airplanes there could change the balance of power in the world. While such ideas are the standard stock in trade of a million thrillers, they also anticipate Tourneur's interest in stories about the balance and nature of world power, such as Berlin Express and The Fearmakers. Tourneur also made documentary shorts about scientific discoveries that drastically alter the nature of the world, and how people live: radioactivity in Romance of Radium, vitamins in The Magic Alphabet. In all of these films, we are in a drastically unstable world, one that is about to change in new and unforeseen ways. For a director who is famed for a light and delicate touch, he is willing to take on stories of drastic social change not often seen on the screen.

Nick Carter, Master Detective, Berlin Express and The Fearmakers also deal with the sinister military applications of air power. Nick Carter, Master Detective shows the invention of new war planes; Berlin Express depicts the horrific results of aerial bombardment; The Fearmakers discusses the possibility of aerial strikes against cities. These new scientific horrors are never far from Tourneur's depiction of the 20th Century.

Nick Carter, Master Detective opens with an airplane ride. It anticipates Night of the Demon and The Fearmakers, both of which also open with their hero taking a journey by air. In all of these films, the air journey brings the hero into an irrational and sinister world, a world in which he is not wanted by the strange characters who inhabit it. The airplane is signaled to land by bad guys setting off a huge pillar of black smoke, striking against the intense white desert of the scenes. This anticipates the sinister, tall clouds which envelop the demon in Night of the Demon.

Later, we meet another of Tourneur's doctors. The doctor makes X-rays, which are shown on screen; they recall the early shot of a key made in Romance of Radium (1937). The nurse is also one of several nurse characters in Tourneur.

At one point, Carter tracks the bad guys' car by air plane; a big white cross has been painted on the car's top, making it highly visible. If memory serves, a similar gambit appeared in the comic strip Radio Patrol, early the previous year, 1938, in the episode "A Gem of a Frame-Up".

Bad guys try to steal the inventor's briefcase, which is full of data about lab tests of his invention. The hero of Out of the Past will steal a briefcase full of tax records. The attempt to obtain secret data also anticipates The Fearmakers, and its secret index used for polling.

A Community: with New Rules

The factory is virtually an entire community. It recalls the town in Stars in My Crown. The factory is both like and unlike a conventional modern city, just like the bombed out German cities in Berlin Express. These films take place in worlds somewhat like ours, but also full of the unfamiliar. Places operating by different rules: much of the exposition in both films explicitly sets forth the new rules these communities live by. The island in I Walked With a Zombie also operates by a whole series of rules unfamiliar to us.


In addition to the new, unfamiliar rules, there is also a mystery plot. Strange events are happening at the factory, and no one knows how to interpret them, or explain their cause. A world that is full of difficult to explain events is a Tourneur standard. In other Tourneur films, this is often linked to medical mysteries: The Magic Alphabet, I Walked With a Zombie, Stars in My Crown. Even the term "mystery" is a bit too clear cut for the events in this film. There is a diffuse sense of perplexity, a sense that events at the factory are sinister and hard to grasp. Even when light finally dawns at the end, a pervasive sense of strangeness persists.

The inventor at the start mentions that he used to be considered crazy - but now he is a big admired success. This expresses the Tourneur theme of a universe, in which science moves and makes discoveries in unexpected ways. Many scientific discoveries seem to come completely out of left field: see The Magic Alphabet.

Corridor Shots

There is a "corridor shot" in the parking lot scene. Tourneur shoots straight down a corridor between two rows of parked cars. In the background, two more rows of cars are seen on a hill, towards the top of the image. This makes three "corridors" in all, in this shot.

The Airport: A Geometric World

The opening airport is one of Tourneur's geometric worlds. The dome of a building is especially geometric and striking. The plane itself is full of geometric patterns, both inside and outside. These include a zigzag design on the plane's nosecone.

The airport has some of Tourneur's beloved gates. The film opens with a car driving through them: anticipating the opening of Night of the Demon.


The first plane landing takes place in an area covered by white sand. It makes for a visually startling background. People and objects really stand out over it. Later, in Days of Glory, the cattail marsh will be covered in snow, making all the plants stick out against the white ground.

The film is full of Tourneur's white clothes. The villain is always conspicuous in a dressy white overcoat. There are also a doctor and nurse in white uniforms. And patients with elaborate white bandages.


Tourneur films often show artists or draftsmen at their work desks. We first see a man with blueprints at such a desk. He is using a hand-compass to analyze the blueprint: a similar hand-compass will be used with a map in Great Day in the Morning.

Towards the end, the bad guys will also have a desk for prints, and will use similar drafting tools.

We also see cameras used to photograph the prints. And a projector to cast them on a screen, like a slide.

The detective hero also makes a photograph of a foot print. He matches this up with an actual shoe. The comparison of image and reality seems suggestive, philosophically.

The manager has murals on his office walls. Such murals show up regularly in Hollywood offices of big businessmen. They always depict industry or business: here we see the airplanes manufactured at the factory.

Cut Objects

The sabotaged plane comes apart into pieces. It forms one of the cut objects that run through Tourneur.

Later we learned that the airplane bolts have been sawed through. These are also cut objects.

Repeated Objects

This film contains one of Tourneur's visual motifs, rows of repeated, identical objects: Tourneur employs some of these for "corridor shots".


Addison Richards' factory manager anticipates the businessmen in The Fearmakers. Both he and Nick Carter often seem to be in matching, three piece suits. Both men have fancy business offices, too, like those in the later film.

Detective and Detection

The conception of "detective" here never builds up any sociological realism. Nick Carter seems to work for some unseen detective agency.

The big selling point of the Nick Carter prose stories, the detective's mastery of disguise, is nowhere in evidence in this film. Such a mastery of disguise was reportedly heavily featured in the early French films about Nick Carter, made by the pioneering director Victorin Jasset. These include a series of six short films about Carter, begun in 1908, under the collective title Nick Carter - Le Roi des détectives (Nick Carter - The King of Detectives). Jasset later made a second series about master criminal Zigomar, also brilliant at disguise; in the second, Zigomar contre Nick Carter (1912), he faced off against the sleuth. Please see Roy Armes' informative book French Cinema (1985) for details. According to Armes, Jasset's films were a strong influence on Louis Feuillade.

However, the hero's detection in Nick Carter, Master Detective is always perfectly logical. He finds a clue to show a death was really murder. He tracks down the method of smuggling the blueprint, through a systematic search for evidence. This "sound detection" (as prose mystery writers call it) was greatly prized in that era. These ideas might well be the contribution of the screenwriters. Still, their presence also shows a commitment to rationality by the director, as well.

Phantom Raiders

Genre: Like a Whodunit, but without a Mystery

Phantom Raiders (1940) is one of the Nick Carter detective series. This film is not a whodunit: we see the villain right away, and know all his schemes. Still, it is hardly a film noir. It is much closer in feel to movie whodunit series like the Falcon or the Saint. Nor should the word Phantom in the title suggest to anyone that this is a supernatural drama. It is a strictly non-supernatural crime story.

The Private Eye and the Villain: links to Out of the Past

The character types anticipate those of Jacques Tourneur's later Out of the Past (1947). The villain in both films is a smooth, charming, well-dressed gangster, appallingly evil, sneaky and insidious. In both films he has his tentacles in a lot of pies. In both, he has managed to corrupt or control a very diverse bunch of characters, giving him many resources and options for his evil schemes. And schemes is the operative word: he always has well organized plans. He also has an elaborate, well furnished headquarters, where he plots his schemes at ease. This looks like a well-run business enterprise.

By contrast, the hero of both films is a private eye, and in both, he is deeply disorganized. He seems to do whatever he pleases at the spur of the moment, and to have no organized plan or agenda. In both films, he is a slave to passion, more interested in chasing after pretty women than doing his job. He is rarely at his regular office, headquarters or home: instead he seems to be winging it, living out of a suitcase.

I confess, I find Tourneur's hero and his chaotic business life deeply annoying. I do not know if this is what Tourneur intended, or whether it is just my own strong preference for careful business planning coming to the fore. In any case, Tourneur shows the villain as being far more effective than the hero at his job. This certainly suggests some sort of attitude on Tourneur's part. The villain often seems just plain smarter than the hero in both films as well. In this comic little detective story, Phantom Raiders, everything comes out OK for the hero. In the more serious Out of the Past, things do not work out so well for the hero. This too is perhaps a commentary from Tourneur.

Both the hero and his assistant seem cast against type. Walter Pigeon usually played gentlemanly, intelligent, monogamous romantic heroes. His private eye is written to be the sort of constant skirt chaser played by George Sanders in the Falcon films. I confess I enjoy Walter Pigeon more in his regular roles, and found his character's womanizing and chaotic stupidity here unappealing.

Donald Meek and his Micro-Locale

The best characterization in the film is that of Nick Carter's assistant, played by Donald Meek. He too is cast against type. Meek's roles were usually as meek as his name. He is still very mild mannered here, but he is surprisingly effective as a detective, often rescuing Nick Carter from his bungling.

Meek raises bees, giving his character an eccentric twist. He is introduced on the front lawn of his home, which contains bees. Tourneur often preferred to introduce characters outdoors, in a landscape environment revealing their personality. This is different from other directors, who often associate a character with a room. The front yard is one of Tourneur's micro-landscapes, small, intricately arranged areas full of color and personality.

Sinister Actions

The villain's main sinister machine is a radio set in his ornate office that can send signals to blow up ships at sea. This is oddly similar to an episode in Louis Feuillade's Les Vampires (1915 - 1916). Feuillade's machine is a canon, hidden in a fancy hotel room, that is brought out to blow up ships in the harbor. In both cases, there is a surrealistic incongruity between the socially proper office or room, redolent of bourgeois self-satisfaction, and its hidden engine of destruction. It is perhaps saying something indirectly about the secret sources of much wealth, built on a concealed foundation of crime. It also has the nightmarish incongruity of a dream.

The film's plot falls into Tourneur traditions. In several Tourneur films, Something Bad is going on. The audience knows this, but the good characters are either in ignorance or denial. The Bad activity is often quite destructive. Eventually the Bad activity can locate itself near water: the sea ships here, the swimming pool in Cat People, the aquariums in Experiment Perilous.

The Villain and Birds

The villain is one of several Tourneur bad guys associated with animal imagery. He is obsessed with birds:

Paper Passed Around

In Tourneur films, paper is passed from person to person. In Phantom Raiders, fortune cookies are brought by a waiter, to a group of Chinese diners. One of the diners in turn shows the message to Nat Pendelton.

The B-Man thinks this is a spy message being passed around. This is a clever idea on his part, but it doesn't seem to be true. The fortune cookie message seems to be not relevant to the plot.

Knives and Money: Thrown and Cut Objects

Bad guys throw knives at a piece of paper money attached to a door. They are just having a bit of fun, as well as keeping their sinister knife skills in practice.

The knives are some of Tourneur's thrown objects.

The bill is perhaps one of Tourneur's cut objects. It indeed gets holes in it, cut by the knives. But it is not cut in two, like most of the cut objects in Tourneur films.


Later scenes on the ship show large machinery. This is typical of Tourneur's fondness for huge machines. As usual, these shots have a pleasant, cheery quality. They come at a moment of good will in the film.

White Clothes and Characterization

The Panama setting is conveyed by all-white tropical clothes. The white tropical costumes have strange effects on the characters. Walter Pigeon looks less suave and socially proper than he usually does, further changing him from his typical persona.

Also different looking: perennial tough guy Nat Pendelton is in white tropical clothes throughout the film. I'm used to seeing Pendelton in 1930's movies, where he played good natured roughnecks from Brooklyn and the Lower East Side. He seems so typically urban American, that it is startling to see him dressed in white tropical clothes for this sort of exotic adventure movie. He is still playing his traditional American roughneck, however.

Best effect of all: Donald Meek is in black clothes throughout the movie, the only person on screen not in head to toe white. This makes his character spectacularly eccentric looking, and makes him stand out in every scene.

Finale: Composition, and a Corridor Shot

The finale shows some of Tourneur's visual style. One scene shows both Nick Carter and the ship's young captain in the hold, looking through bags of cargo. Both men are clad in white, as are nearly all of the characters in the film. Nick is in a white suit, the Captain in a white naval uniform. The bags are white as well as the walls of the ship hold. The two good guys are in an all white world, remote from daily life. They are on the left side of the screen, outlined against a white rectangle on the left side of the ship's set. On the right, is a doorway with a light over it. The light is geometrically shaped. The two sections of the screen are in perfect balance.

Later, Tourneur moves his camera 90 degrees, and further down the hold. Now we are in one of Tourneur's "perspective down a corridor" shots. The corridor is made by a path through the bags; it leads to a doorway at the far end.

Cat People

I have never liked Cat People (1942). The film is an attack on people who are "different". The film treats anyone who is different as psychologically disturbed, vicious, and a threat to others. It states that people who are different need psychological treatment by psychiatrists. Only people who are utterly normal or conventional have value, and anything to contribute to society, according to this movie. The film was made in the 1940's, the era in which Freudian psychology reached its peak of prestige in the United Sates, and it expresses the hate mongering of its day against those who are different from others. Watching it is an unpleasant experience.

The heroine's condition is in some ways a code for being a lesbian. The film endorses the complete run of prejudice gays and lesbians faced in that era: the condition is seen both as a sin against religion, and a mental illness that needs to be treated by a psychiatrist. This is one of the worst cases of homophobia in 1940's film.

The film evokes other prejudices as well, in its attempt to make the audience fear the protagonist. The emphasis on her femininity tries to exploit misogynous fears of women. And making the heroine-villainess a Serbian immigrant appeals to xenophobes who hate immigrants.

I confess that I am not part of the Val Lewton cult. Many studies of Tourneur treat his films for Lewton as the high point of his career, and everything else as some sort of anti-climax. I Walked With a Zombie is an impressive achievement, but most of the Lewton films I have seen, whether directed by Tourneur or others, have just not pleased me. They tend to be cruel, and full of unpleasant material.

Women's Labor

Cat People has the same unpleasant point of view about women's work, that will reach an extreme in Easy Living. Once again, the "bad woman" has a glamorous "woman's" profession, in this case a fashion designer. By contrast, the "good woman" works in an engineering office. It is not clear exactly what she does: but she takes direction from the male hero. He is shown doing math calculations, that is, thinking, and she puts them down on the drafting designs. Like the "good woman" secretary in Easy Living, she works long into the evening, and does personal services for the men in the company, in Cat People arranging the hero's wedding banquet. The point of view in both films is that "woman's labor is good, but only if it assists men and turns into 24 hour service to them, while full professional careers for women are evil".

Suspense in the Finale

Cat People has some brilliantly filmed suspense sequences in the finale. These show Tourneur's visual style, and are impressive - despite what I think about the film's overall politics.

The sequence in which the rival (Jane Randolph) is stalked by the cat at night through city streets is famous. The streets are bounded by strange stone walls, and seem to have stone bridges over the streets. One suspects that these streets are passing through the city zoo featured in other parts of the film, but this is not explicitly made clear in the movie. They are certainly an unusual piece of architecture, one that is eerie looking. The sequence reminds one of the opening of Nightfall, in which the characters move along an urban sidewalk at twilight, just as the rival here moves down a sidewalk lit by pools of light from street lights. Both films eventually include a suddenly arriving city bus. In both films, the bus is photographed parallel to the plane of the camera. In both, it moves from right to left through the screen. In both, the camera is outside the bus, and photographs all the way through the windows on both sides of the bus, to show us the sidewalk beyond.

The swimming pool sequence is outstanding. It benefits greatly from Musuraca's photography, showing shimmering shadows reflecting from the water on the walls. This is a scene virtually constructed out of light.

The swimming pool is one of Tourneur's area in pits. The pool is in the basement, and the pool itself makes for a further deep region.

The office sequence has eerie looks at its end, of the elevator and revolving doors left in motion, after whatever is attacking the heroes has left. Both the elevator and doors can be considered as some of Tourneur's large machines.

Kent Smith's sweeping gestures with the T-square, are among the most conspicuous scenes in Tourneur in which a man gestures with an object.

The Two Men: Costumes and Character

Kent Smith and Tom Conway both have major roles. While Smith is probably "the hero", Conway's presence is almost as big. The two men are a bit like the middle class vs. upper middle class men who make contrasting pairs in so many Tourneur films. Conway's psychiatrist gets the fancy double-breasted and pinstripe suit that was so prestigious in the 1940's, while Smith is in more casual single-breasted suits. A doctor like Conway's character would also have prestige denied to men in other professions. The two men are perhaps characterized by their desserts: Conway gets the gourmet Roquefort cheese, Smith the All-American apple pie.

Smith does get that other Tourneur favorite, the trench coat. This gives his look pizzazz.

Smith's profession embodies several Tourneur subjects:

Romantic Triangles: Not Quite a W

Cat People does not quite have the full W-shaped romantic pattern of some other Tourneur movies. Once again, we have a hero (Kent Smith) who is involved with two women, one "good", the other "bad" - although the "badness" of cat-woman Irena is hardly pure or simple. One of these women is in turn involved with another man (Irena with the psychiatrist). And this man, the psychiatrist, while hardly a crime lord as in other Tourneur, is of dubious sexual morals and professional ethics, at least (he wants to sleep with a patient, who is also a married woman). But the second "good" woman is NOT involved with another man, thus failing to create the full W-shape. However, Cat People is close.

Furthermore, unlike some other Tourneur heroes in the center of this W, Kent Smith does not adopt a boy, or interface with children.

Animal Pictures and Artists

Cat People is one of Tourneur's movies that are full of pictures and statues of animals: The hero and both women are image makers, like many Tourneur characters. The heroine is a dress designer. The hero and Alice make designs for ships at drafting tables in the engineering office. One of these is put up on the wall like a mural, at Alice's direction.

Architecture and Props

Both the Serbian restaurant and the pet store have large windows that look out on urban landscapes: a Tourneur tradition.

The canopy outside Alice's apartment is a locale mixing indoors and outdoors. There is much more of this in other Tourneur films.

Cat People has many of Tourneur's repeating objects:

Such repeating objects help build compositions.

Tourneur also likes lamps, to form compositions. The huge lamp over the drafting table in the final suspense sequence is vivid, with a complex geometric shape.

I Walked with a Zombie

I Walked with a Zombie (1943) shows the full influence of the Sternberg tradition. As in Josef von Sternberg, the film is set is an exotic and extravagantly imagined country. Also, romantic relationships are central. Music and songs are integrated into the story, as in Sternberg. The respectful inclusion of black people also recalls Sternberg's films.

Camera Movement

The visual style is also deeply Sternbergian. We see Sternberg's elaborate lateral tracking shots here. Several of these involve masking elements in front of the characters path of motion, as when the nurse and Jessica walk through the cane field, masked by the stalks of sugar cane. The lighting is full of elaborate shadows used to make complex compositions, in the Sternberg tradition.

Other camera movements are less purely in the Sternberg tradition. One of the film's finest shows the nurse and wife sneaking out of the home, on the way to the Voodoo ceremony. First we see the husband, sitting in the background in his room. As the camera tracks across the courtyard, we see the brother in the distance, apparently drinking on the dining porch. Finally we see the two women hurrying out. They too are in the deep background. Their motion is synchronized with the motion of Tourneur's camera. They gradually emerge down a small staircase, and make their way to the front of the shot. All the time, the camera is steadily moving from left to right across the courtyard. The fact the that first two characters seen, the men, are motionless, in the first half of the shot, while the women seen in the second half are in synchronized motion, greatly adds to the fascination of the shot. Motion seems to come out of nowhere. It is part of the beauty and mystery of motion, the ability of people to move, as part of the physical universe.

Another unusual camera movement: one which tracks the mother, as she goes upstairs after her confession near the end of the film. The camera pans through nearly 180 degrees, It keeps turning and following her as she winds up the three sides of the stairwell.

The Flat Wall Shots

Another type of shot that occurs regularly in the film: a shot of people against a flat background wall. The wall is often full of lighting effects. The plane of the camera image is parallel to the wall, which fills the background of the shot. People are typically seen in such shots at full length. The most astonishing shot of this kind shows the nurse at night, against the white wall of the bedroom. The wall is covered with a huge grid of shadows, from a set of scrollwork bars. Arnold Böcklin's eerie painting, The Island of the Dead (1880), hangs on the upper quarter of the wall, its lower right corner framing the nurse's head at one point. This shot has remarkable visual qualities. It shows Tourneur's extraordinary gift for creating mood with shadows. Later, in Night of the Demon, Tourneur will use similar shadows from the complex curves of the balustrade, projected against people and the walls of the Karswell home.

Other flat wall shots include a shot in bright sunlight. The nurse and the older brother are standing in front of a huge lowered blind. We can see outlines of trees and vegetation, dimly showing through the otherwise dazzlingly lit screen.

A third flat wall shot occurs towards the end. The wife is straining towards the outside gates, and is joined by the younger brother. The vertical bars of the gate fill the back plane of the screen, while the two people stand in front of it.

Tourneur gets great mileage in the scenes in the wife's room out of a harp. The harp has an elaborately curved head. Tourneur is always moving the harp, so that this curved line plays a prominent role in his compositions. The curved head line is the only curvilinear form in a room and screen filled with rectilinear objects. It is delicate and simple, but it adds a completely different formal accent to the compositions. Tourneur gets similar use out of the curved back of the couch on which the nurse sleeps. It too allows him to introduce slight curves in otherwise rectangular patterns. I have no idea if Tourneur or the set designers introduced these props, but Tourneur exploits them to maximum advantage. The curved lines suggest an element of mystery, a suggestion that the universe has complexities, and elements not easily understood.

Corridor Shots

Several Tourneur shots show his interest in "corridors", stretching deep into the plane of the shot. However, this is only one element in a Sternbergian mix of devices. Corridor shots are extremely numerous in the film. They are some of the film's most beautiful images. As in other Tourneur films, they often involve porches and porticos, regions on the outside of buildings involving overhanging eaves and roofs. The family home involves an enormous series of arched walkways. These stretch around nearly the whole interior of the courtyard. Tourneur stages much of the film in them. They include the family dining area. Tourneur and the set designer show huge visual creativity with these porches. They are also photographed during many times of day and night; the variation in the lighting adds to the variety of visual appearance they present.

The cantina in town also has three porches. One shelters the singers; one is where the couple sit during the day; a third is around the corner after nightfall. Tourneur stages three separate sets of corridor shots in these. During this third shot, first the singer (played by real life Trinidad calypso singer Sir Lancelot), then the mother, move steadily down this "corridor" towards the couple at the table. Here one side of the corridor is the wall of the cantina; the other side is the pillars that support the overhanging roof. In the background we see the sea.

The paths through the sugar cane can also be considered as corridors. Tourneur often shoots directly down a path. It gives a long perspective in the "corridor" style. Tourneur alternates such corridor shots with Sternberg style lateral tracks with masked foregrounds. The alternation of corridor shots and Sternbergian tracks give a rich visual mix to the sequence.

Even the nurse's room is treated as a corridor. Tourneur frequently shoots down its entire length. The walls of the room form a corridor effect. The photography emphasizes all the complex horizontal lines and shadows cast by the louvered doors and windows of the room. They form a prominent pattern down the whole left hand side of the room.

Both in the home and the cane field, Tourneur often shows people hurrying down the corridors. This gives beautiful movement to the corridor shots. Tourneur sometimes tracks along with the characters, adding to the visual complexity and force of these shots.

Tourneur used corridor shots systematically in his movies. They return again and again. They are at the center of his visual style. These shots are far from formulaic. They in fact show tremendous variety. Each one looks beautifully hand composed by Tourneur. Tourneur usually shows a detailed look at the architecture, furniture, vegetation and lighting down each side of the corridor. All of these elements are thrown into the visual mix. They are used to make parts of elaborate, highly organized compositions. Tourneur often includes ceilings in the compositions as well, plus doorways, archway tops, lintels, and other upper screen architectural structures down the corridor. These too are worked into his compositions. The whole effect can be compositionally extremely elaborate. Tourneur further adds to the richness of such shots, by sometimes including camera movement down the corridor.


The island's economy revolves around sugar production. Agriculture will be a background for many Tourneur films: There often seems to be a dark side to such farm events. Germany is near starvation in Berlin Express. The scientists in The Magic Alphabet are trying to discover vitamins, key nutritional components of food, without which people are literally starving to death in Java. The farm family in Night of the Demon is part of a sinister devil cult. In I Walked with a Zombie, the sugar work is part of a legacy of slavery.

Story Structure

I Walked with a Zombie shows unusual story telling construction. The film keeps revealing different aspects of its central situation. It does not have a forward propelling plot; instead, it keeps showing new perspectives on what happened in the past. It is almost a "documentary", if one can apply that term to a film that shows a fantastic and totally non-realistic series of events. The way Tourneur's camera keeps exploring the sets in new and interesting ways also adds to the documentary feel.

The narration that describes early parts of the film recalls that of Rebecca (1940). In both films, it is in the heroine who narrates. As in that film, much of the commentary is about the large house the heroine visits, and about how the house allowed the heroine to experience both love and horror. This emphasis on a heroine and a house would become a staple of the "gothic" novels that were so popular in the 1960's, almost all of which involved the heroine going to live in a wonderful but spooky mansion. The cover paintings all showed both the woman and the house.

Romantic Triangles: Not Quite a W

I Walked with a Zombie has a complex pattern of relations, that almost, but not quite, forms the full W shape found in some Tourneur films.

To get a near-W out of I Walked with a Zombie, one has to label Tom Conway the "hero" of the film. This is plausible, in that the film seems to endorse his actions, at least to a degree. But he is less clearly the central character than, say, Robert Mitchum in Out of the Past or Burt Lancaster in The Flame and the Arrow.

Conway, like other Tourneur heroes, has a relationship with two women: a good woman (the nurse), and a bad woman (his wife). As in The Flame and the Arrow, the hero is married to the bad woman, who has committed adultery with a sinister rival. In I Walked with a Zombie, this is James Ellison. Unlike other Tourneur films with the full W-pattern, this rival is not someone sort of evil crime lord. He is a perfectly ordinary man. The film does condemn his adulterous behavior, though, and he comes to a bad end, like a traditional movie villain.

Unlike the full Tourneur W-pattern, the Good Gal nurse is not romantically linked to any other man. She does have a friendship of sorts with the doctor. The doctor is a blandly respectable, good guy authority figure, like the sort of male rivals-to-the-hero that other Tourneur Good Gals get involved with. Only she does not actually have a relationship with him.

Also missing from the W-pattern: unlike other Tourneur films, hero Conway does not have any sort of relationship with kids.

Days of Glory

Days of Glory (1944) is a thesis or propaganda film glorifying a band of Russian partisans or guerillas, fighting behind the lines in World War II. The film was made while the USA and the Soviet Union were military allies against the Nazis.

As a propaganda film, Days of Glory tells its biggest lie right away: that its Soviet heroes are "free people" battling for their homeland, as the narrator puts it. They are not: they are living in a Communist dictatorship.

Days of Glory was reportedly Tourneur's first big budget effort, after years of working on short films and B-movies. However, it is hard to see the money on-screen. In fact, Days of Glory looks fairly shoddy, compared to much other Tourneur cinema. And it also seems less inventive and audacious than many of Tourneur's earlier works.

Semi-Documentary Film

Much of Days of Glory depicts the daily lives and typical activities of a Soviet guerilla band. The film explores all aspects of their work, from how they fight to how they prepare their meals and keep their written records. It is as much a documentary on such subjects, as it is any sort of story about the personal lives of its characters.

Hollywood made many semi-documentaries in this era. After 1945, these tended to be crime thrillers, documenting US Government crime-fighting units. Many of the earlier semi-documentaries, however, showed US military organizations.

Days of Glory, like Tourneur's later Berlin Express (1948), can be considered as an off-trail, not-always-typical, example of the semi-documentary movement. Days of Glory has features recalling the semi-documentaries of the 1940's:

A big difference between Days of Glory and most semi-docs is the lack of location filming in Days of Glory. It would have been impractical to make a Hollywood film on location in the war-torn Soviet Union. However, Days of Glory really emphasizes its artificial quality by shooting on studio sets. Another director might have recreated the guerillas' home base and environment in a California forest, say, and had a more location-oriented film.

Science and Technology

Days of Glory is filled with science and technology. In this it echoes both Tourneur's own films, which are filled with science, and the semi-documentary genre, which also emphasizes high technology.

Like other Tourneur films, Days of Glory is filled with mathematical data:

As in other Tourneur, the collection and use of mathematical data is shown to be key to running a real-world enterprise.

The telescopic gunsight used by the sniper at the start is visually fascinating. The scope produces an image, and oddly links to the many artists in Tourneur who create images.

The partisans get a radio, but are forbidden to use it.

We see the guerillas blowing up a train. Both the train and the explosives are technology. So are the enemy motorcycles.

The hero narrates his past as an engineer. He describes how in peace-time he helped build a major dam, and how in war-time he had to destroy it, to prevent its use by the Nazis. The hero is both one of several engineers in Tourneur, and another Tourneur protagonist who changes careers.

Relationships and the W-Pattern

Like many Tourneur films, Days of Glory shows its hero torn between two women. But unlike other Tourneur, in which one woman is a Good Gal and the other is a Bad Gal, in Days of Glory both women are officially "good". After all, both are Soviet partisans, a unit which this propaganda film is glorifying. Hence both women have to be certified as "good".

The two women have characteristics shared by other Tourneur women rivals:

One might note that Good Gals and Bad Gals are associated with different groups in different Tourneur films. In Cat People and Easy Living, the business woman is Good. By contrast, in Great Day in the Morning the dress shop owner is Good, although the saloon woman is hardly All-Bad, merely sexually loose. (Another Good Woman with a glamorous career is fashion model Anne Bancroft in Nightfall.) And as noted, in Days of Glory, both women are Good.

In Tourneur films with the full W-pattern of romantic relationships, each of the women would themselves be involved with another man. However, this does not really occur in Days of Glory. A number of men are attracted to the ballerina, but she does not take any of them seriously: she only has eyes for the hero.

In the W-pattern movies, the hero often has either an adopted son, or more weakly, is shown being kind to young boys. Days of Glory takes a middle course: the hero mentors the 16-year-old Mitya, showing him how to be a guerilla. This is hardly an adopted son, but it is a long-term mentoring relationship, as well as a military command. However, the hero also seems to be the organizer and trainer of everyone in the band, not just Mitya.


Days of Glory is a gun-ho war film. It glorifies the actions of its characters. While they also perform sabotage, much of the film glorifies their killings of German soldiers. The sniper is tracked in terms of the number of soldiers she has killed, and one partisan even wishes he were a bomb so that he could blow up German soldiers!

The Nazi regime was so evil, that such attitudes still can be defended. But the war idea that "the only good enemy is a dead enemy" has troubling aspects. Tourneur later directed eight episodes of the TV series Northwest Passage, about the French and Indian War fought in North America (1754-1763). Northwest Passage has several similarities to Days of Glory:

In Northwest Passage, "the only good enemy is a dead enemy" essentially becomes "the only good Indian is a dead Indian". Demonizing enemies can easily lead to race hatred and genocide. This whole side of Tourneur is basically a dark side. It is something to be condemned, not celebrated.

In a society like the United States, in which even today women are not allowed in combat roles, the Soviet woman sniper was a striking contrast. A similar ultra-tough Russian woman soldier, played by the great Eve Arden, is the only interesting feature in the otherwise inane comedy The Doughgirls (James V. Kern, 1944), released the same year as Days of Glory. Days of Glory came first: it was already in release in January of 1944, before The Doughgirls was shot in March to May 1944.


Days of Glory shows a group of natives behind enemy lines, that attacks an occupying military force. In this it anticipates The Flame and the Arrow.

In The Flame and the Arrow, each partisan has a background profession, typically working class. There is a parallel in Days of Glory, with one partisan being a blacksmith, one a geology student, one a scholar at Oxford, one a farmer, the woman sniper a factory worker, and the hero being a former engineer. These include more intellectual professions than The Flame and the Arrow, although the latter film does have an apothecary.


The engineer hero's speech about building the dam, makes much of how the dam is good and to be celebrated, because it is "purely the product of the human mind".

The speech is vague, and never mentions religion. But it does certainly seem to embrace human reason as the only good. By contrast, Stars in My Crown will take what seems to be the opposite point of view. In Stars in My Crown, the doctor tries to establish medical science as the only good, and condemns the preacher's visits to his patients. The preacher resists, and declares religion also to have value. Other Tourneur films will suggest that the supernatural is real, and that science should not be skeptical: see Night of the Demon, and more ambiguously, Cat People.

Corridor Shots

Days of Glory has a number of "corridor shots". Some are literal: the film gets mileage out of shots down the monastery corridor that leads to the sleeping chambers.

Others take place outside. An early shot shows an outdoor "corridor" through trees.

There are also striking shots down a road with the motorcyclists, and down train tracks.

Experiment Perilous

Experiment Perilous (1944) is a thriller, set in 1903 New York City. The following discussion contains SPOILERS: you should see this thriller before reading anything about it, here or elsewhere.

Gender Roles - and Their Limitations

Experiment Perilous has a psychologist hero, and contains much discussion of possible mental illness among the characters. Despite this, it does not appear to me that any of the characters is actually mentally ill. Or that the subject of Experiment Perilous is in any way mental illness.

Instead, many of the problems of the characters seem to stem from traditional gender roles: the way men and women were traditionally supposed to behave in upper middle class white society.

The heroine is trapped in the upper middle class wife role. She is supposed to be beautifully dressed, good at pouring tea, and with a few genteel accomplishments like being able to perform musically at a mediocre level. Otherwise, she is expected to be both passive and without a brain in her head. This passive attitude is exactly what keeps her in trouble. A more active woman would have many options: fleeing her home, hiring a private detective, seeking the help of friends or clergy or even servants.

A similar combination of passivity/thoughtlessness traps the sister. Together with the idea that she exists to take care of relatives, especially male relatives.

These women don't seem to me to be neurotic, or suffering from emotional disorders. Instead, they are following traditional gender roles, right into disaster.

Rotten as the husband is, it is not clear that his bad behavior stems from mental illness. Instead, his relentless desire to control his wife, seems to be a cultural norm. Laws and custom gave Victorian men absolute control over their wives, and many exercised this control to harmful extremes. The husband's behavior is nasty, but in many ways it seems to be encouraged by the society around him.


Tourneur films sometimes contain a negative look at publicity. There are no public relations men in Experiment Perilous, as there are in The Leopard Man, and no PR campaigns in the modern sense. But the husband in Experiment Perilous wants his wife to become a famous beauty. Such women, famous for their looks, were a standard feature of traditional upper class society. They are to a degree a 1903 equivalent of the modern day celebrity.

The husband doesn't just want to marry a beautiful young woman. He wants his wife to be on constant wide display, as a trophy he now possesses.


Many Tourneur films contain conflicts between upper middle class men and middle class men. The two levels are highly distinct, and sharply contrasted by Tourneur.

Experiment Perilous is different. Its two leads are a very wealthy man (the husband) and an upper middle class man (the doctor hero). The pair are both richer than the typical Tourneur male duo. However, they are just as contrasted, and just as sharply observed in sociological detail, as the more typical upper middle class vs middle class pair.

Woman's Labor

Tourneur films are full of working women. In Experiment Perilous, the doctor is helped both by the maid at his hotel room, and the nurse at his office. The maid seems to take care of him almost as much as the housekeeper does the invalid in Night Call. This despite the fact that the doctor is a healthy man in his 40's, while the housekeeper in Night Call is caregiver to a very sick elderly patient.

There is also a governess looking after the heroine's child.


The little boy is scared of a tiger under his bed: more of the threatening cat imagery in Tourneur.

A mansion room has horse statuettes on its mantel.

The aquariums turn into some of the flowing water imagery of Tourneur. The water pouring over the train tracks is also striking.

Corridor Shots

The path leading to the nursery, through main rooms and doors, is an outstanding corridor. It leads to some fascinating nested door shots.

Geometric Worlds

The spiral staircase leading up to the nursery is spectacularly geometric. The hero and villain have a climactic fight there, anticipating the fight in an equally cylindric space, the vat at the end of Berlin Express.

Canyon Passage

Tourneur worked in a huge variety of genres, although rarely in comedy or musicals. Canyon Passage (1946) was his first major Western. Making Westerns gave Tourneur a chance to work in color for the first time.


The store is in ruins after the fire. Ruins appear elsewhere in Tourneur: the bombed cities of 1947 Germany will soon be a major subject of Berlin Express. The ruins in Canyon Passage are also the result of a disastrous war, between white settlers and Native Americans.

Canyon Passage ends with the hero's store in ruins, other people dead, and the hero broke and unable to rebuild. This is an atypically pessimistic ending for a Western. The ending suggests suggests that war is intransigently destructive, and that it is not easy to cope with its damage.

The Micro-Landscapes

The community in Canyon Passage is laid out in an unusual way for a Western. Instead of a typical Western town, the action takes place in a series of separate buildings, each one in its own landscape and grounds. People travel between the buildings on short, intricately laid-out paths. The justification seems to be that this is a "pre-town": a pioneer collection of buildings that have not yet coalesced into a village.

Tourneur has a field day with the complex grounds of the buildings. Each is a mini-landscape, full of geographical features such as hills, paths, and sometimes water. Tourneur would include such micro-landscapes in his later films, such as the gas station grounds of Out of the Past, and the river and bridge scene in Stars in My Crown. Tourneur in general was fond of scenes that were neither purely inside, nor purely outdoors. His micro-landscapes are full of nature, but they also contain man-made features such as paths and bridges. They are not nature in its wild state; they are outdoor regions closely developed for human use. Similarly, Tourneur loved to film scenes on porches and under porticos, areas that are outside, but closely connected with buildings. His indoor scenes often include huge windows that show exterior landscapes in the background.

Relationships and the W-Pattern

Canyon Passage has the Tourneur "W pattern" of relationships. The hero is involved with two women, who in turn are each involved with another rival man.

Often in the W-patterns, one of the women is "good", the other "bad". In Canyon Passage, their are hints of such things, but both women manage to stay "good". Lucy has some signs of "badness": she is quite a sexpot, and she is involved with two men at once without any guilt. And her boyfriend Camrose is a major villain, in the W-pattern tradition of the "bad" gal being romanced by a villainous man. However, although Camrose is crooked, he is not a gangster or other usurper of power.

Caroline shows signs of "goodness": she is prim and proper, nostalgic for England, here a sign of traditional strict standards, and eager for farming and being settled in one place. She has "family values". She also can come across as prissy. Her boyfriend is also "good", or at least devoted to the same quiet lifestyle as her. He is not an official however, unlike some W's.

Some Tourneur W's have the hero with an adopted son, or least children who admire him. The closest Canyon Passage comes to this, are Andy Devine's two kids, seen briefly. They hardly hero-worship Andrews though.

Cut Items

The chopped down tree is as carefully cut in two as The Jonker Diamond. The log split into planks will soon follow, at the cabin raising ceremony.


The saloon has a lowered floor. It resembles the pits in other Tourneur, with people able to stand up above and watch the fight in the pit below.


The Portland street scenes at the beginning are in red and green.

So are the early scenes at Devine's. There is red dirt out front, surround by green vegetation. Hero Andrews has a green jacket, Devine has reddish pants, many of the horses are red.

The town is mainly in brown, with many green trees scattered through it. This gives it a green-and-brown color scheme in many shots. Many of the white townspeople are in brown or related neutrals, including Hoagy Carmichael. The Native Americans are also in brown. This means that many shots default to a green-and-brown color scheme.

However, when hero Dana Andrews shows up with his green jacket and red horse, shots can look like they are in green-and-red. The brown clothes and wood buildings can seem a bit red. The hero's shirt has an odd off-pink or off-red tinge, which also adds a hint of red to such shots.

Later shots with villain Ward Bond being chased by Native Americans, feature red autumn foliage. Some shots look mainly red. Others in this scene mix red and green foliage.

Out of the Past

Themes and Characters from Film Noir

Out of the Past (1947) has many story, character and theme elements of the film noir movement, but a very different visual style. The heroine is a femme fatale, who lies to and destroys the men who love her. There is a mood of doom, a trap that the hero cannot escape. The hero is an urban male, who tries to escape from the corruption and tension of the big city into the countryside, and a more wholesome relationship there, just as in Road House, On Dangerous Ground, Ride the Pink Horse. There is a menacing but elegant mobster, with an even more elegant hit man enforcer working for him. The hero is a private eye. These are all film noir conventions. The hero is even tracked down at his gas station by the visiting hit man at the start of the film, just as in Robert Siodmak's The Killers (1946). And as in that film, his past where he got involved with a femme fatale and her mob associates is catching up to him.

Tourneur's hero shows less psychological disintegration than many noir heroes. His hero will cover up his girl friend's crime, but otherwise is not especially corrupted himself. This makes him closer to Welles in Lady From Shanghai, than to the crooked heroes of Double Indemnity or The Killers. He is hurt by his past, and needs healing. But he is not an emotionally disturbed man. His reactions are those of a "normal" person who has been through a difficult experience.

Visual Style

The style of Out of the Past is Tourneur's own, however. It does not seem especially close to German Expressionism. There is not much high contrast photography, with regions of intense black and white. Instead most of the screen is beautifully lit, with a range of shadowy grays. Camera angles seem largely to be head on, with few of the extreme high or low angles of other film noir directors. Tourneur does sometimes shoot slightly from below, to make his characters look more imposing, but he rarely takes this to extremes. There are few mirror shots, nor do clocks play a major role in the film. By contrast, there is a creatively filmed staircase at the club.

Tourneur's style shows what Andrew Sarris called his "unyielding pictorialism". Shot after shot is astonishingly beautiful. Tourneur has an eye for composition. He knows how to arrange the elements on the screen so that they make up an exceptionally pretty picture. Nor does he need to linger over his compositions. He holds a shot just long enough for the viewer to comfortably absorb it. Then he cuts to another camera setup, one showing an equally beautiful composition. Then another. His imagination seems endless.

Some of the scenes show deep focus. We often see directly through windows, either in or out of a building. This deep focus is associated with Orson Welles, and is a stylistic common denominator with films of the 1940's.

Camera Movement

Tourneur occasionally experiments with shots a little closer to Expressionism. An overhead shot of the heroine's apartment turns into a pan, revealing much of the apartment and its geometry. However, the camera angle is gentle, and not especially steep. And the shot is just so pretty, from a compositional point of view, that it seems more designed to add to the beauty of the film, and not to be dramatically different.

Corridor Shots

The opening scenes in the small town show a classic sense of visual style. Tourneur often creates a corridor on screen. This is a straight area down which his characters can walk. He shoots this corridor face on. His camera will be positioned at one end of the corridor, looking straight down the length of the corridor towards the other end. So the long axis of the corridor is perpendicular to the plane of the shot. This creates a renaissance perspective effect, with the two sides of the corridor gradually converging on some point in the distance. As in all perspective effects, these two sides look like slightly tilted planes when projected onto the flat plane of the screen.

Tourneur makes his corridors out of many things:

Corridor shots are also frequent in the films of John Ford. For instance, Ford's My Darling Clementine (1946) is filled with corridor shots down the outside covered porches of the many buildings in town. It also has indoor corridor style shots along the lengthy bar.

The Opening Scenes: Unofficial Architecture and Machinery

Much of Jacques Tourneur's visual style emphases space. There are often large empty spaces in his shots: the view through the windows showing the town at the opening, for example, or the open spaces in the middle of the apartments. His town scapes tend to show the empty street in the middle.

Tourneur's approach here is architectural. But Tourneur does not concentrate on what might be called "official" architecture, such as buildings and rooms, unlike many directors with an architectural approach - such as Fritz Lang. Instead, Tourneur especially loves unofficial architecture, such as the projecting awnings of buildings. The opening, defining shot of this sequence shows the visiting hit man looking up at the projecting covered area of the gas station. This covered region is beautifully symmetrical. It is seen from the side, and forms a classic piece of Renaissance perspective. Its two sided view is emphasized by having the name "Jeff Bailey" appear on both sides, the name being the focus of the hit man's and the viewer's attention. The names are positioned to gently underscore the geometry of the areaway.

Other examples of unofficial architecture: the awning covered walkways of the sidewalk. The chairs along the dining counter. Each revolving chair is positioned in another direction: some are parallel to the counter, others perpendicular, making a beautiful mathematical effect. Later, in the canteen sequence that introduces the heroine of the film, she walks down a complex entrance way to the cantina. This is not one unified passageway. Instead, it is a whole succession of transition zones, each with its own geometry and architectural features. It is a composite area, an example of "unofficial" architecture made up of bits and pieces of small areas. In Berlin Express, Tourneur will show many shots of sheds at the train station, and awning covered areas for the passengers to walk. He will also lead us through many unusual passages in the bombed out city of Frankfurt. All of these perspective corridors are made up of non-primary architecture.

Many of these features are constructed in an industrial style, out of industrial materials. They do not look like the gilded homes of the rich. Instead, the train sheds and gas station awnings look like factory components or industrial constructions. Even the lunch counter has a metallic feel. Tourneur loved machines. His characters are always happy and at peace when they are near machinery. Machines often play a major role in his compositions. The hit man and the boy are framed against the giant towing machine in the gas station. Its tow lines and projecting metal arms form a beautiful composition enveloping the two men. Many of Tourneur's street scenes involve cars, usually positioned perpendicularly to the line of vision. These are as carefully arranged as the revolving chairs in the diner. The best known still from Nick Carter, Master Detective (1939) shows the characters with a gleaming airplane, its surface full of complex patterns of rivets. Tourneur loved such machines for the complex compositions they could make. But they also give the characters a sense of peace and joy. The machines seem like gigantic pets, something his characters can play with, fool around over, and be happy. Their great complexity suggests that they are mentally and intellectually fulfilling to the characters who work with them. This is very different from Fritz Lang, whose machines tend to be sinister devices controlling the lives of his characters.

There is more architecture that bridges indoors and outdoors:

Tourneur's shots are not all architecture or machinery, however. Instead, they tend to be balanced, and made up out of disparate elements. This balance adds beauty to the composition. It also suggests Aristotle's dictum of "moderation in all things". For example, the key shot of Jeff Bailey's covered areaway at the gas station also shows trees growing behind it in the distance. The shot of the covered sidewalk areas positions this on the left corner of the screen. It is balanced by an open section on the right, showing a building, trees and sky.

Vertical Line Compositions

There are other elements of Tourneur's style. He liked tall pillars or straight lines near the middle of his compositions. In town, these were often formed by telephone poles sticking up. In the diner, the door pillar has a similar function. At the mountain lake, the great boles of trees serve similarly. There is only one such tall line per shot, and it tends to be somewhere near the middle of the frame. The shots in town tend to underline this vertical, by having it match up exactly with the perspective of the shot. For example, the telephone pole is positioned so that it exactly aligns with similar vertical lines of the house behind it. The two sides of the screen separated by the pole each fade away in a slight perspective effect, on either side of the pole. The door pillar at the diner shows a similar exactitude in the perspective effect of the shot.


When the mob hit-man tracks down the Kid at the end, he sees the Kid from above, through a gap in the forest. Soon the hit-man sees the hero through another gap. Such gaps used in film staging can be termed apertures, openings through which we see scenes. They sometimes show up in other Tourneur films: there are forest apertures in Great Day in the Morning.


Out of the Past has many of Tourneur's favorite locations:

Links to Great Day in the Morning

Out of the Past has links to the later Great Day in the Morning. Both have mercenary, morally ambiguous "heroes" who get involved in dangerous situations, out of greed: this is established in Mitchum's first interview with Douglas, where he turns down the job before Douglas lures him back with a big bucks fee.

Both have the hero romantically involved with a good gal and a bad gal. In both, the hero faces a good guy rival for the good gal - and a crime lord rival for the bad gal. This is the same complex romantic pattern.

However, there is a big difference between the "bad gals". In Out of the Past, the femme fatale is evil, pure and simple. The only thing "bad" about the bad gal in Great Day in the Morning is that she's a saloon hostess, and hence a "loose woman". Otherwise, she is a wonderful human being.

Both films have crime lord villains with sinister possessive attitudes toward their girlfriends.

Both heroes face blandly handsome, good guy rivals with not-real-important US Government official positions, and a life of conventional but strict and disciplined rectitude. Both rivals are genuinely supportive of the heroine. Both rivals make magnanimous gestures at the end, letting the hero go rather than turning him in to the authorities.

Both have the heroes unofficially adopting young boys, to whom they become very close. The relationship is acknowledged as being closer than that to the heroine, in Out of the Past.

Links to Days of Glory

Out of the Past also has links to Days of Glory, mainly in the use of violence (SPOILERS): Both films also have secret or oblique messages. In Days of Glory, the partisans are forbidden to send radio messages, because the Nazis might be listening in; in Out of the Past, the villains can't talk clearly on the phone, because the operators might be listening. So people develop obliquely worded or coded messages instead.

Both films show romantic couples having dates in the woods.

Both films also have shots of women cooking. In both, the meals are extremely simple and plain.


Leather jackets in Out of the Past are worn by many men in the small town: the hero at the start, his rival Jim, and many of the men hanging around at the Sheriff's office during the manhunt near the finale. By contrast, suits and dressy long coats are associated with people in the city. This "small town" semantics is a different meaning assigned to leather jackets than in any other film I've seen. 1930's actors mostly wore leather jackets as part of a working class profession, such as cab drivers or fishermen. In the 1940's, leather jackets became a fashion craze for men. They are often worn in late 1940's films by young men who don't want to be all dressed up in suits.

The hero of Out of the Past looks great in his jacket. But as soon as he is contacted by the sinister mob enforcer, the hero stops wearing it, and he is never seen in his jacket again. It's a symbol of his separation from the life of the town.

The dressiest man in the film is the black man in the night club. He is wearing a pinstripe suit, always the ne plus ultra of forties style. This recalls the hero's pinstripe suit in Nick Carter, Master Detective. It is an interesting social commentary to have a black man be the best dressed.

Mess jackets are worn by waiters. These anticipate Charles McGraw's Army uniform in Berlin Express, and the hero's bolero jacket in Great Day in the Morning. Mess jackets are not that common in American film. The hero wears one in The Tiger of Eschnapur (Fritz Lang, 1958).

Berlin Express

Berlin Express (1948) is a spy thriller. None of the leads in the film is a spy; rather, it is about good people who are hemmed in and attacked by evil spies.

Influences on the Film

The film has a German setting, and one of the characters is a spy who wears a clown suit and entertains in a music hall. In this it recalls Fritz Lang's Spione (1928). The film has a finale in the basement of a ruined German brewery, as in Lang's M (1931).

The plot of the film recalls Sternberg's Shanghai Express (1932), with characters of all nationalities and politics making an intrigue-filled train journey through a war torn country. Both films have a scene where obstacles stop the train.

The mind-reader stage show section of the film resembles Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps (1935).

A Semi-Documentary

The film has features recalling the semi-documentaries of the 1940's:


I found the politics of Berlin Express to be a bit confusing. The noble hero of the film is a peacemaker, played by Paul Lukas. He worked as part of the anti-Hitler underground, and his campaign to reunify Germany is sponsored by the US State Department. This gives him an admirable background to which few could object. Is he a representative of a real life political movement of the era?

He is opposed by a fanatic German underground, the villains of the movie, whose politics are never made clear. Are these Neo-Nazis? One might guess so, but this is never spelled out by the film. Most critical commentators on the film declare these are Neo-Nazis, but do not give any hard evidence. Or could they be Communists? This is also a possibility.

Berlin Express shows a great deal of skepticism about the Soviets, suggesting that it is their own hostile attitude which is the main stumbling block with peace with the West. Still, the film does yearn for such East-West peace. This makes the politics of the film apparently largely in accord with liberal but non-Communist thinking of the time.

I am not sure that I am accurately representing the politics of this movie. One problem with the film: no one ever seems to talk about democratic government, which to me is at the center of all good politics.


If the contemporary, post-war politics of Berlin Express seem vague and confusing, its anti-war politics stand out with vivid brilliance. Few films have ever shown the devastation caused by war with such force and clarity as Berlin Express. On wishes everyone could see this film's fearsome demonstration of where war-mongering leads. Berlin Express gives a powerful account of how Hitler's pro-war policies, once so popular with Germans, reduced his country to rubble.


Charles McGraw is plainly delighted to be playing a good guy; most of his other film roles during this period were of monstrous villains. He is also glamorized, as a Colonel in charge of US Army intelligence in Frankfurt.

Of all the main characters in this film, only hero Robert Ryan and Russian officer Maxim turn out to be what and whom they originally seem to be. This is typical of many of Tourneur's films. The characters in Nightfall also turn out to have multiple identities. Even when Tourneur's people are not lurking under false identities, their initial impressions are deceiving. The islanders in I Walked With a Zombie have a huge, hidden past, that only gradually comes out in the course of the film. The bad guys in Stars in My Crown are hiding under KKK hoods, and we also learn a lot of strange things about the villains in The Fearmakers and Night of the Demon. It is hard to be sure of what or who any Tourneur character really is. The surface version of the character seems to be just as "real" as the hidden depths. The hero of Nightfall says towards the end that he prefers his new name of Jim to his old, real name, giving a hint that he likes his new identity better than his original one. And in I Walked With a Zombie, telling what any character's "real" personality is, is a futile enterprise.

Berlin Express shares imagery with the later Nightfall. Both feature extensive location shooting. Both are city films, containing massive panoramas of urban areas. Both go to crowded transportation centers, train stations in the earlier film, bus stations in the latter, and both have major scenes of train or bus travel, respectively. Both have characters lurking under false identities. Both have a hero, a heroine he meets in the course of the story, and a benevolent older male who can be seen as a father figure, and who has official connections.


The vats of beer at the end remind one of the aquariums in Experiment Perilous.

Tourneur films often have objects shipped under deceptive stratagems. In Berlin Express, it is not an object which is shipped, but the peacemaker. He is being "shipped" to Berlin, to attend the conference. And deceptive actions are taken to conceal the way he is being shipped, in the Tourneur manner.

That Tourneur image, paper passed from person to person, includes the pigeon message at the start, and the paper with similar information passed in the train.

Visual Style: Links to Sternberg

Tourneur's visual style here has a good deal in common with Josef von Sternberg's. Everything in Berlin Express is visually beautiful, just as in Sternberg. Both directors focus on elaborate compositions. The compositions in both are highly complex. The directors are the opposite of minimalists: every shot is loaded with complex series of lines and curves. Both directors employ complex regions of light and shadow to aid in their composition.

Both use regions of elaborate background texture. Tourneur here is always shooting against walls covered with complex wall papers or moldings or grillwork, for instance. This means that certain regions of the screen will have a complex texture; other regions of the composition will have a different but just as elaborate texture. This is quite different from an architectural director such as Fritz Lang, who will emphasize the pure geometry of his rooms in his compositions.

Both Sternberg and Tourneur also like to mask the foreground of the screen with complex patterns. In Berlin Express this is mainly ornamental grillwork, which seems to be everywhere in Germany, and France, too, according to this film! Sternberg, by contrast, liked East Asian bead curtains and netting, which would probably have looked out of place in Frankfurt! All in all, both Sternberg and Tourneur seem part of a Pictorialist film tradition.

Deep Space Views of Cities

Berlin Express continues Tourneur's interest in shots which show deep space. The shots at the French police headquarters, for instance, have deep focus shots of Paris visible through their windows. One of the police goes out on to a balcony, and the shot follows him and expands to a whole panorama of Paris, with the Seine and buildings on the opposite bank. This is very beautiful. The technique is similar to the lunch counter scenes in Out of the Past, which showed the town through its plate glass windows.

Similarly, the wide open plaza near Berlin's Brandenburg Gate at the finale recalls the open streets of the mountain town at the start of Out of the Past. There are also some large scale panoramas of Los Angeles city streets in Nightfall.

One dramatic panorama shot of Frankfurt is taken from some sort of elevated platform, on which a man is standing. This recalls the street scene near the bus station in Nightfall, which is also taken from some sort of elevated pedestrian walkway. In neither film, does Tourneur actually show us the walkway, or have an establishing shot depicting it from a reverse angle. He simply uses the walkway as his platform for a dramatic view. Both shots have a pedestrian standing on them, in the foreground.

Corridor Shots

The opening Paris scenes are full of Tourneur's "corridor" shots. Here, these are long perspective views, straight down Parisian streets. These give strong pictorial views of Paris. The two rows of buildings on each side of the shot, form the walls of the "corridor".

One striking shot shows a perspective view down a Montmartre street. Then a 90 degree pan reveals another long perspective view, this time through a gate and into the courtyard of a Parisian police station.

Tourneur shoots straight down the corridor with the dressing rooms, backstage at the night club.

When the film gets to Berlin at the end, there are shots outside showing buildings near the station, in the "corridor" format. This is followed by a "corridor" shot straight down the Autobahn (highway).

The Train

The best sequence in Berlin Express is the train journey from Paris to Frankfurt, near the start of the film. This sequence is one of Tourneur's "micro-landscapes". It shows us the car in which the main characters live in enormous detail, both from within and without the car and train. There are many perspective shots, both down the train's central aisle, and along the outside of the train. These form Tourneur "corridor shots".

Tourneur likes to shoot through windows, and the train sequence has shots both looking out from the train through windows to the outside, and looking in to the train through windows from outdoors.

The shot, introducing all of the characters, shows us each one through the windows of various compartments on the train. It somewhat recalls the shots through train windows near the opening of Clarence Brown's Possessed (1931). The compartments are some of Tourneur's repeating modules. So are the bunks within the compartments, which are featured prominently in this shot. (The beer vats at the end are also repeating modules).

The train sequence is densely written. It introduces us to most of the characters of the film. It shows the pattern of nationalities intersecting on occupied Germany - American, British, French, Russian and German - and their complex political interactions and history. It shows the mechanism of life and work in occupied Germany. It sets up the main aspects of the spy plot. And the micro-landscape sets this against a spatial organization and floor plan on the train. All of this makes this sequence rich and delightful. The sequence conveys much of the romance and excitement of train travel.

Tourneur shoots from every possible perspective on the train. He has shots from outside the train, looking into the compartments, from in the compartments, looking in the train, from the corridor, looking into the compartments, the reverse, etc. Tourneur shows a Fritz Lang like exhaustivity, exploiting his set for every possible direction of view. Most of the shots are dramatically just right. They vividly convey the mood of that part of the story. When the mood of the story shifts, Tourneur comes up with the right camera position for it, too.

Tourneur rarely shoots from a high or a low angle, unlike many other film noir directors, however. The use of an elevated angle is restricted to the shots immediately following the murder, where it helps to underscore the surprise of the situation. Even here, the camera is not too high. There is also a dramatic excuse for such an angle; the army officer in charge is bending down to the ground.

Geometric Worlds

Both the I.G. Farben headquarters and the brewery near the end are geometric environments. The brewery emphasizes rounded barrels, and there are circular handles on the wall. Everything in sight is a geometric form.

The spherical crystal ball carried in the night club act also seems strikingly geometric.

Easy Living

Easy Living (1949) is about a professional football player facing health and career problems. It is an uneven, lesser film, marred by some sexist attitudes and scenes.

Career Change

The hero is one of several Tourneur men, who undergo drastic career changes. The hero of Days of Glory used to be an engineer who built things - but the war has made him a saboteur who blows things up. The hero of Out of the Past has gone from private eye to gas station owner. In all of these cases, the heroes have undergone a loss of status, and moved from a fascinating profession, to a far less agreeable one.


Easy Living, like The Leopard Man, looks at the dark side of publicity. The team's public relations man and owner have built up the hero's reputation, making him a star. The film shows how evanescent this is, how it can all change in the twinkling of an eye. The poster that features the hero's photo is an ironical symbol of this. It keeps recurring in ever more sinister ways through the film.

Narrated Worlds

Easy Living is rich in a kind of episode that runs through Tourneur: a narrator evokes a world for a listener or spectator. This seems to begin in Tourneur with The Rainbow Pass, a look at the conventions of traditional Chinese theater. In Days of Glory, a ballerina evokes the world of the ballet, for a young man from the provinces who has never seen it.

There are a number of such episodes in Easy Living:

The boxing machine game also enables a symbolic version of the relationship between the hero and his best friend. (The boxing game is also an example of Tourneur's large machines, and of the mechanical toys that run through his films.)

Characters and Relationships

One can more-or-less see a similar pattern of characters and relationships in Easy Living, as the one found in Out of the Past and Great Day in the Morning. It's not a close or perfect fit. Here are the correspondences: This pattern of relationships might be called a W. We have the hero in the center, two (or three) women attached to him, and rival men in turn attached to the women.

Sexism and Women's Labor

Easy Living shows the tremendous amount of unpaid or low paid labor women were expected to do, to keep athletics - and presumably other businesses - going in 1949: The film seems to accept this as the Way Things Should Be. Good women (Ball, Donnell) support this system, bad women (Scott) do not. This sure seems sexist. However, Easy Living also does not conceal this social system. At the very least, the film offers an eye-opening alternative, to the right wing lies that say women lived pampered lives in the 1950's.

I'm trying to imagine Jeff Donnell working full time unpaid as a coach's wife, and raising a new baby! The mind reels. Where will she find time to do all this? The film never explores this issue.

Easy Living also suggests that success in glamorous female professions such as modeling or interior design, depends entirely on the backing of rich sugar daddies. If women don't sleep with such men, they are not going to have "careers". I have no idea if this was true in 1949. Still, it too offers an unusual look at the behind-the-scenes economics of the era.

The finale is a sexist disaster. I don't have the heart to analyze it in any detail.


Tourneur films sometimes contrast an upper middle class man with a middle class man. Easy Living does not directly do this. But the two parties near the start, one showing the wife's upper crust clients and associates, the other the husband's sports buddies, have an upper middle class vs middle class feel. The people at the sports party seem very middle class, in conventional suits. They are properly dressed by middle class standards, but lack all glamour. The people at the wife's party have more expensive and sophisticated clothes, and a hint of decadence. They are definitely representatives of a higher social class.

Commentators on the IMDb point out how much less affluent pro football players were in 1949. The athletes in 1949's Easy Living represent a modest, purely middle class world.

Flat Wall shots

In the bar, Ball and the hero are photographed against a wall full of parallel lines. This is a classic Tourneur "flat wall shot".


The hero of Easy Living, like those of Out of the Past and The Fearmakers, wears a trenchcoat. All three men look great. But the films also have an ironical or mocking aspect. The trenchcoat conveys an image of glamorized, tough masculinity. But in reality, all three men are deeply troubled, and facing weaknesses and career challenges.

Stars in My Crown

Film Traditions

Stars in My Crown (1950) is the sort of serious "family film" that was popular in the 1940's. These usually starred a family, a small kid who was a gifted actor, and had a small town or rural setting. Usually, these films were serious, even soap opera-ish in tone, as the characters confronted a whole series of problems and serious issues. One thinks of: Stars in My Crown recalls the first half of John Ford's Young Mr. Lincoln (1939). Both take place in a richly depicted 19th Century town somewhere in the heartland; in both the hero has to stand up and try to prevent a lynching. Stars in My Crown tries to recreate a way of life in a past era. In this it recalls the films of John Ford, who specialized in recreating ancient lifestyles and traditions. The musical interludes here also seem Ford-like, with music used to evoke a different time and place.


Stars in My Crown contains a ferocious attack on racism. It is one of the boldest of the post-war films, that supported the growing Civil Rights movement of the time.

This film is like Out of the Past, in that it shows evil forces laying siege to people in small towns. Both towns are idyllic places, filled with small businesses and homes. In both towns people love to fish, something that is treated as a source of friendship between grown-ups and kids. But the gangsters of the one film, and the typhoid and race hatred in the other, threaten to destroy the possibilities of harmony.


The minister's activities against the Klan are explicitly non-violent. He refuse to wear a gun to the confrontation, and forbids his allies in Hale's family to use guns. Hale's family defies him and show up armed. They are impressed and startled by the preacher's effectiveness using non-violent means.

Hale's family are likely impressed with several aspects of the minister and his religion:

Living Where One Works

People in Stars in My Crown tend to live where they work. The minister and his wife, Famous, the doctors, and the farm family of Alan Hale, all have combined work-living quarters associated with them. Tourneur spends a good deal of time exploring these places.


There are a huge number of films that depict the Roman Catholic Church. There are far fewer that show Protestantism, Orthodox Christianity, or Judaism. Partly this is due to the nature of Roman Catholic religious observance, itself. Roman Catholicism, like Buddhism and the religion of ancient Greece, is oriented towards pious religious activities. The devout of these faiths express their feelings through rituals, activities and stories. Consequently, these faiths have produced a huge body of art, music, storytelling and drama, all of which reflects their religious ideals. This has been true for thousands of years. The heritage of religious art these faiths have created is truly staggering. When film was invented, it was a natural extension to express the sort of religious ideas in film that had previously found outlets in sacred music and painting.

Stars in My Crown is one of the few sympathetic depictions of Protestant religion on the screen. The preacher hero of the film is a wholly good person.

The depiction of Protestantism in this film has formal similarities to the many depictions of Catholicism in the movies. The film emphasizes religious activities, and interweaves these with daily life. Three activities are especially high-lighted in the film: preaching, hymn singing, and visiting the sick. This focus on kinds of religious observance is typical of Catholic movies. Some of the specific activities are deeply Protestant, especially preaching and hymns. It is as if the filmmakers have taken the formal structure of Catholic movies, and merged it with the content of Protestant practice.

The film emphasizes the idea in the proverb "The Lord helps those who help themselves." The minister gives a mini-sermon on this subject. It stresses the importance of practical action. The good people in the film are always working and trying to do something in the real world: the preacher, his wife, Hale's family, the doctor.

"Stars in My Crown" is a hymn tune. It is sung over the opening credits of the film, and recurs throughout the movie. It is an emotionally powerful work. The use of a musical refrain in an otherwise non-musical film is a basic element of the Sternberg tradition in filmmaking. It is one that Tourneur follows with great effectiveness. The text of "Stars in My Crown" is by the Presbyterian writer Eliza E. Hewitt; the music is by John R. Sweney, who also wrote the music for the hymn "Beulah Land", within text by Methodist writer Edgar Page Stites. Both Hewitt and Sweney were based in or near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Hewitt and Sweney had ties with Methodist hymn writer Fanny Crosby.

In the book, there are indications that the church is Methodist: the church building is written up in The Southern Methodist Review. There are brief references to the other churches in town, which are Baptist and Presbyterian. The book doesn't emphasize denominationalism aspects, and the film omits any mention of them entirely.

Visual Style: Corridors and Porticos

Stars in My Crown is a film that is rich in visual beauty. Shot after shot shows Tourneur's attempt to create visually pleasing compositions. These try to convey the idyllic life of the small town.

Tourneur's approach to composition in Stars in My Crown recalls that of Out of the Past. Many shots, both outdoors and inside, show the "corridor" approach of that earlier film. The opening shots of Stars in My Crown show the small town in ways that recall the small town opening of Out of the Past. Once again, Tourneur favors covered porches and walkways, through which he creates deep focus shots stressing perspective.

An interior shot of a bar here recalls the lunch room sequence of Out of the Past. Tourneur shoots down two corridors in the bar: one between two lines of people down to the minister in the back of the bar; a second shot down the bar counter itself. This second shot also shows the "outdoor town seen through the large window" approach of the lunch room scenes in the earlier film.

When Tourneur gets to the minister's home, he creates a shot down the minister's back porch. Once again, this is a straight on perspective shot under a covered portico. It also faces directly on a large window showing the outside world.

There is a deep perspective shot showing the arrival of the minister down a long corridor-like road at Alan Hale's farm.

Another outdoor corridor shows Chloroform retreating down a gap between two buildings in the bullwhip sequence.

In addition to their pictorial possibilities, the corridor approach is often very informative to the audience. It shows them a great deal of a scene, all in one well organized, easy to comprehend shot. We see everything from the foreground to the background, all nicely laid out and easy to understand. Often times, the corridor passes through many different layers of background. For example, Tourneur can create a corridor showing three rooms of a house. The first room will be in the foreground, then another room will be seen through open doors in the center of the shot; then distant doors in the background of the shot will show a third room. Not only is the shot visually complex and beautiful, but it shows us the entire floor plan of the set, in one easy to take in view.

The fact that Tourneur favors corridors and porticos as the structural principles of his shots, does not explain their beauty. His compositions are often exquisitely gorgeous.

Visual Style: Composition

One of the best shots in the film has nothing to do with a corridor approach. This is the introductory shout outside Famous' home. It opens with a composition framed by trees. These form slanting verticals on both sides of the screen, while the fence in front of the home forms equally slanting horizontals. Tourneur liked such strong straight lines. Later, the characters move down the road, and Tourneur pans to the left. The camera comes to a rest on another composition, that is also very beautiful. This one has Famous' head a little above the log fence, while John the child is backgrounded against the fence. Also, in the background right, Chloroform is standing, with trees making a series of three vertical lines in a giant V around him. Meanwhile, Famous' fishing pole males a tilted cross around him, the most powerful lines in the composition. It is a remarkably composed image. The fact that Famous, John and Chloroform are all gentle, good people adds to the appeal of the image.

Other shots involve the road, and an equally angular bridge. The road and the fence turn sharply to the left, making a contrasting set of verticals. Tourneur shoots the whole fishing scene with a widely contrasting series of shots. He is as exhaustive as Fritz Lang, in trying to find every interesting image possible in a scene, then staging the scene around it.

Flat Wall Shots

When Chloroform is trapped in the alley by the man with the whip, Chloroform is filmed against a flat white wall. The wall has vertical strips of wood, adding to its compositional interest.

The church finale also has shots close to the "flat wall" approach. We see the doors of the church in two shots that are almost parallel to the doors and their surrounding wall. One shot is fairly close to the doors and the hats on the wall surrounding them. The other camera set-up is further back, showing much of the rear wall of the church. Soon, we also see the front of the church and the preacher, in shots also fairly close to the "flat wall" approach.


Tourneur's fondness for machinery shows up in the fan used by the wife. It is a unique figure of visual style, something that I've never seen in other films or real life. It reminds one a bit of the machinery in Sternberg's films, whose rhythmic repetition makes both temporal patterns and visual compositions.

The wife uses other rhythmic machines: the apple-peeler in the kitchen, and the rotating device with the yarn she uses while keeping vigil over her son.

The organ the wife plays is also a Tourneur "large machine". The film emphasizes its mechanical aspect, showing people working the bellows.

The town train is contrasted with a horse and buggy being driven through the streets. The train makes an arrival, a bit like the suddenly arriving busses in Cat People and the opening of Nightfall.

The Flame and the Arrow

The Flame and the Arrow (1950) is a swashbuckler, starring the spectacularly acrobatic Burt Lancaster.

Characters and Relationships

The Flame and the Arrow has the W-pattern of character relationships found in several other Tourneur films: The sympathetic mute Piccolo recalls the mute Kid in Out of the Past.


The villain is known as The Hawk, and The Flame and the Arrow is full of bird imagery. This imagery sometimes resembles a bit the cat imagery in Cat People: The good guys also use birds: they shoo trained buzzards into flight, to make it look as if the hero has been killed and the buzzards are circling.


There is a trained bear with the minstrels at the end, on a chain like the leopard in The Leopard Man. Bears are fairly close biological relatives to that Tourneur subject, cats.

One of the rebels disguises himself in a bear costume. This recalls humans allegedly turning into cats in Cat People. The bear suit also can be considered a form of animal statue, also a Tourneur tradition.

Science and Technology

Its Medieval setting means there is less technology in The Flame and the Arrow than other Tourneur pictures. Still, the catapult is one of Tourneur's large machines. So perhaps is the winch, which raises the castle gate at the end.

The villain uses a hand compass while pouring over documents, and gestures with it. He echoes other Tourneur heroes who gesture with instruments. Similar hand compasses are used for gesturing in Nick Carter, Master Detective and Great Day in the Morning.

The life-giving substances that play a big role in some Tourneur, find a small scale equivalent in the healing herbs the hero gives to the apothecary.

The hero is a Tourneur injured character, treated by the apothecary at the start.

Tourneur films often have sympathetic image creators. The mute good guy Piccolo draws on the ground to convey information.

Flowing Liquid

The wineskin punctured by the arrow at the start, with the wine flowing out, recall the shattered aquariums with gushing water in Experiment Perilous.

Later, there will be more flowing water, with the stream emptying into the pool.

There is also a town fountain, seen briefly at the start and end of the film.

Architecture: Indoors and Outdoors

Many Tourneur films have regions which combine the inside and outdoors. In modern-day and Western films, these are often covered porches or sidewalk porticos. In the Medieval The Flame and the Arrow, the equivalent might be the tunnel-like arches in the town. These recall a bit the tunnel-like entrance to the cantina in Out of the Past. There is also a tunnel to the ruins in the woods.


As several commentators have noted, The Flame and the Arrow has plot and situation similarities to The Adventures of Robin Hood (William Keighley, Michael Curtiz, 1938) There is: The use of minstrels to infiltrate a bad man's castle recalls The Three Musketeers (Allan Dwan, 1939).

Working Men and Politics

Quite a few swashbucklers stress the aristocratic origins or destiny of their heroes. Robin Hood is the Earl of Nottingham, for example. The Flame and the Arrow will have none of this. Its heroes are exclusively working class, with their professions emphasized: apothecary, blacksmith, animal skinner, chimney sweeper. The hero is a hunter. And its upper class aristocrats are uniformly depraved. One suspects that this reflects the Communist politics of its soon-to-be blacklisted screenwriter, Waldo Salt.

However, there are plenty of people gainfully employed in the rest of Tourneur. He tends to show their occupations in detail.

At the end, the rebels start the fight for liberation from the warlord. They are soon joined by other groups. One suspects a political allegory in these groups:

The Adventures of Robin Hood and Zorro films have sympathetic priest characters, who give their blessings to the hero's rebel activities. These too are absent in The Flame and the Arrow. Religion is largely absent from the world of the film. Religion is briefly associated with the aristocrats: a cross is carved over the outside door of the palace; towards the end, the aristocrats plan to go to church.

Near the start, the hero invoked mountain law, justifying his shooting of the falcon. The dictator Hawk rejects this claim. The Hawk explicitly says he knows this law - but he disregards it. This sets forth what will later be a major theme in Wichita: the rule of law, and the efforts of evil rich men to subvert it, doing as they will.


In Berlin Express, clown make-up was used as a disguise by both good guys and bad guys. In The Flame and the Arrow, it is used to conceal the identity of good guys. It will return in Night of the Demon, not as a disguise, but as a piece of sinister imagery.

Such Tourneur horror films as Cat People and Night of the Demon show a great concern over devil-worship. But in the comic The Flame and the Arrow, the entertainers dressed as devils turn out to be good guys. They use their flame-blowing as part of the armed battle at the end.


The sword duel with the Marchese in the finale, begins with a look down corridors of the palace. The camera moves forward, going through a door from one room to another.


At the start, the film is in dull neutral colors. Both the hero and most of the sympathetic workers in town are in brown.

The town buildings are virtually denuded of color, and so its the ugly castle. The town building exteriors are mainly gray; so is the blacksmith shop's interior.

The hero's costume is mainly brown. But underneath it, he wears a green shirt. The shirt is hardly visible: only a little of it peeks out at the neck and at the sleeves. Still, it is enough to make the hero technically have a green-and-brown costume - which recalls Errol Flynn's green-and-brown outfit in The Adventures of Robin Hood. Flynn's Robin Hood showed far more green, however.

When the hero is getting the arrow pulled out of his back, his tunic is off, and we see him in his green shirt. The apothecary treating the hero is also largely in green. This scene shows Tourneur's interest in heroes in green. Later, the hero is in green when he surrenders to the Hawk in exchange for the hostages.

Several of the poor kids in town are in more colorful clothes. Still, these colors are dark and muted. The hero's son is mainly in brown like his father. He has a red shirt peeking out, just as his father has a hard-to-see green shirt.

Among the adult men, mainly the aristocrats show any color, notably the Marchese in his gold tunic. The Hawk in dark red velvet, and the dancing master and boy in green and blue, also show color. But all of this color seems dark, stiff and formal. It is color, but of a highly controlled, formal, stuffy, aristocratic kind.

The Hawk has a dark red table at his palace. It largely matches his dark red velvet cloak.

But the minstrels at the end let color loose. They bring color to working people, and also have the most uninhibited color in the film. Color seems to represent the possibilities of life, either absent among the poor good guys at the start, or rigidly controlled by evil upper classes. At last it is set free.

The hero at the end is mainly in red, with yellow and gold also playing a role. He even wears a red clown-nose. He anticipates the hero of Wichita and his red shirt.

Some of the characters are in a mix of red, blue and white:


When first seen, the Hawk is in chain mail, covering most of his body. He also wears a matching silver helmet. The chain mail is suggestive: Towards the end, the aristocratic heroine is in a silver dress and red cloak. This echoes the villain's outfit earlier.

When treated for the wound, the hero becomes a Tourneur man with his shirt off. Soon he is swathed in white bandages, becoming a Tourneur character in white clothes. The hero is shirtless again, after his fake hanging.

Circle of Danger

Circle of Danger (1951) is a minor Tourneur film. Both script and direction are on the thin side. However some scenes of the picture have charm, and interesting aspects.

Circle of Danger is written by the well-known mystery writer Philip MacDonald.

Links to Tourneur Films

Circle of Danger recalls I Walked With a Zombie: Both have a protagonist who comes to an island, and learns about the ways of life of people who live there.

Circle of Danger recalls Night of the Demon: Both:

The way the mother raises bees, recalls Bartholomew the Bee Man in Nick Carter, Master Detective and Phantom Raiders.

Appointment in Honduras

Nature and Technology

Appointment in Honduras (1953) is an adventure thriller, set in 1910 Honduras. It is like Phantom Raiders and I Walked With a Zombie, in being a film set in a tropical Caribbean country. Tourneur shows Honduras, as lush, stormy and full of vegetation, like the Mexican scenes in Out of the Past. The jungle shots are full of Tourneur's beloved trees. There are some scary scenes with a jungle puma, reminding us that Tourneur directed Cat People, The Leopard Man, Night of the Demon, all cat thrillers. However, nature is regularly on the attack here, with everything from bats to insects to alligators going after our jungle expedition.

The hero also succumbs to an attack of malaria, recalling the many medical scenes in Tourneur films. He initially dismisses any suggestion that he take quinine to prevent malaria, a bit of an echo perhaps of the arrogance of medical researchers in other Tourneur films. Eventually he takes it, and recovers. This recalls the health-giving substances in Romance of Radium, and The Magic Alphabet.

The covered motor boat used by the dictator's troops recalls the other "large machines" in Tourneur's films.

The tracing paper used by the hero to copy the map is visually striking. It is perhaps related to the see-through screens and windows in Tourneur films. In the days before copying machines came into widespread use in the 1970's, tracing paper, like carbon paper and mimeograph machines, was one of the few devices that could make multiple copies of documents. It played an important role in the circulation of knowledge in human society. Tourneur sometimes has imagery related to such subjects: see the way radium fogs photographic plates in The Romance of Radium. One also thinks of the hero's creation of drawings at his artist's desk in Nightfall, and Anne Bancroft's portfolio of modeling photos in that same film, as well as the draftsmen in Cat People, and the blueprints in Nick Carter, Master Detective.


The film deals with an attempt by a small group of people to thwart an anti-democratic takeover of the country. In this, it is like Berlin Express and The Fearmakers. The hero is also tracked by organized groups of bad guys, and has to flee before them cross country, like the heroes of Nightfall and Out of the Past. However, these parallels play out better in brief summaries like this, than they do in the film. The difference has to do with complexities of form and content. The discussions of history and politics are very rich in Berlin Express, and thin to near non-existence in Appointment in Honduras. Similarly, Appointment in Honduras has little of the plot complexities and intricacies of Nightfall and Out of the Past. Chris Fujiwara's description of Appointment in Honduras as paradoxically at once well-made but trivial seems accurate.


The film is full of ambiguity, somewhat in the way of other Tourneur films. The hero seems like a villain at first. Indeed, I was disgusted with him on first viewing. The forces he unleashes on ship seem as mean as the bad guys in Nightfall. But eventually, he becomes the film's noble hero. A second viewing shows plenty of hints that his character can be read that way, right from the start: he orders the convicts not to use violence, and they disobey him. Still, the violence he enables against innocent people is really offensive. It is hard to forgive or forget the killing of the radio operator, or the ship's watchman. All of this strikes one as less pure ambiguity, and more plain scrambled scripting. Still, this is consistent with the way Tourneur characters gradually reveal hidden personalities.

Similarly, the treatment of the rich guy. He has the structural position of the Bad Guy, and is played by an actor who specialized in odious rich men, Zachary Scott - see Mildred Pierce. However, Scott's character never actually does anything wrong in the course of the film. Nothing he does can possibly justify his being taken hostage. Nor is there any justification for his wife dumping him, and having an affair with the hero. Are we supposed to hate this guy because he's rich? Or is there a deliberate ambiguity here? Or is this all just scrambled, again? It is hard to say. Appointment in Honduras is a film in which the "hero" enables the killing of innocent people during what seems like an unprovoked attack, and who commits adultery. And a film in which the apparent "villain", however snarling, and unlikable in personality, never commits a single bad action. This is just plain strange. It is deliberate, and of artistic significance? Just a mixed-up script? And how did this script ever get past the censors, anyway? This was in an era in which movie heroes never even killed the bad guys, usually rounding them up and turning them over to the law: an expression of belief in the rule of law in a democratic society that seems politically deeply admirable, to me.

If the rich guy is indeed a villain, the way his wife comes to aid and ally herself with the hero anticipates Night of the Demon, and Mrs. Karswell's warning the hero about her evil husband. It also recalls Out of the Past, and the way the femme fatale kept oscillating between the hero and villain, and the triangles in Nightfall and I Walked with a Zombie.

Zachary Scott can be seen as a member of the upper middle classes, and planter Glenn Ford as an upstart member of the lower middle classes. Scott sneers at Ford's manners to the Captain in the opening sequence. Such conflicts between two levels of men in business will recur in Night of the Demon and The Fearmakers. However, in those films it is the upper middle class Dana Andrews who is the hero, with the villains being the upstart lower middle class characters. This film reverses the approach.

There are no mysteries for the hero or the audience to solve. But the bad guys are regularly confused about the hero's goals, speculating he is looking for a treasure. This ties in with Tourneur's theme, of the difficulty of uncovering truth.

Visual Style: The Ship

The ship at the beginning is unusually small. Its deck and rooms are close to being one of Tourneur's micro-locales. They are beautifully colored, with a mix of red, light blues and greens. The whole effect is like a 1920's film in two-color Technicolor. Famed art director Charles D. Hall does a fascinating job with the ship's rooms. They are full of rectilinear bunks and boxes. It is one of Tourneur's "geometric worlds". The gently sloping ceilings, giving the rooms trapezoidal outlines, contributes to the geometric effect: one is always reminded that one is in a non-conventionally shaped space, but a space still ruled by mathematical patterns. I have no idea what the multi-colored objects in pigeonholes are, in the radio operator's room. But they are visually rich and delightful. The pigeonholes are repeating geometric units. So are the many chairs in the cabin where the heroine is playing cards. These remind one of the chairs in the dining counter, at the start of Out of the Past.

The film opens on a "corridor shot" down the deck. The deck set is fairly short, and we do not get as deep a perspective as in some of Tourneur's corridor shots. The deck contains two outdoor staircases, anticipating the fashion show micro-locale in Nightfall. The angle of the upper staircase is echoed by the angles of the backs of two deck chairs. Both the chairs and the cabin doors are the repeating units Tourneur likes in his shots. Red light is coming out of the doors, while blue light fills the rest of the deck - a color harmony that will persist in the shipboard opening. We also see an octagonal region on the floor near a lifeboat. The lifeboat will be a major visual motif throughout the whole first half of the film. It gets introduced here before any of the human characters.

Later, at the climax of the ship sequence, Tourneur will switch to a "flat wall shot" of the deck, with the plane of his image parallel to the wall of the deck. Tourneur will dramatically move his camera backwards and forwards, always keeping it parallel to the deck wall. This preserves the flat wall shot approach, yet makes for some striking camera movements.

The whole ship seems old, and very remote from anything in modern times, or other movies. The various cabins and rooms remind one a bit of the train in Berlin Express.

The sympathetic radio operator lives and works in the same room on ship, like many Tourneur characters, with his desk right next to the box containing his bed. The radio room seems like the brain center of the ship: it is full of papers and maps, and is the place where information flows in and out of the ship. In the second visit to the cabin, Tourneur will switch to a moderately elevated angle. This allows one to have an overhead view of the operator's use of the telegraph, and of the hero's making a trace of the map. Such an elevated angle is a bit unusual for Tourneur. It recalls a similar gently elevated angle in the heroine's apartment in Out of the Past. And as in that previous film, the shot turns into a camera movement, exploring the radio operator's cabin as a whole. In Appointment in Honduras, the angle is linked to exposition: Tourneur needs the angle to give the audience a better view of the action.

Visual Style

We first see the village from an elevated point of view, spread out as a panorama below. This is a typical Tourneur cityscape, here applied to a very small community.

The hero wears white throughout the picture - first a white tropical suit, then a white explorer's outfit. This recalls the white tropical clothes in Phantom Raiders, and the hero's white coat in The Fearmakers. Later on, the dictator at the palace and his generals will all be in white tropical uniforms, with touches of red.

The scenes of the rising wind blowing the tropical vegetation are beautiful. They anticipate the wind storm in Night of the Demon.

Stranger on Horseback

Stranger on Horseback (1955) is a Western, about a circuit judge who comes to a remote Western town.

I urge everyone to see this fine film, before reading further. The less you know in advance about its plot, the better. The following discussion tries to avoid spoilers, but the film will certainly be most enjoyable if you approach it with little foreknowledge.


Stranger on Horseback has an unusual structure. It begins with 50 minutes of serious drama, mainly in or near the town. Then it has a 15 minute finale full of action and suspense, set in the countryside. The finale brings in such familiar Tourneur subjects as a hero fleeing across the countryside, and people tracking a character, in this case the hero. It also has some of the mountain background scenery Tourneur loves.

Stranger on Horseback is unusually short for a 1950's feature film with major stars, just 65 minutes. This is closer to a B-movie of the 1930's or 1940's, or one of the compact TV dramas of the late 1950's. However, both its length and structure seem just right, while watching the film.


Several Tourneur films are set in centers of American political power or symbolic locales of power. Stranger on Horseback is not quite set in either: it is in just a typical early frontier Western town. But what is going on there is indeed an archetypal American story: the birth of the rule of law. This makes it symbolic of a key issue in American life, and one central to how political power is exercised in the United States.

The contrast between the wealthy Bannerman family that rules the town, and the ordinary people, is sometimes framed in ways that recall the class conflict in The Flame and the Arrow:

Where the banker fits into the political picture is ambiguous. He is a lick-spittle devotee of the Bannermans, and wants to marry the young Bannerman heroine. This means he can be read as "capitalism in the service of the rich attacking democracy". But this picture is complicated by a number of factors. Unlike other Bannermans or their allies, he does nothing to subvert the rule of law or protect young Tom. In fact, the banker never does anything bad or anti-democratic throughout the picture. He also seems personally sympathetic, the most "normal" person in the town. The way he is constantly mistreated by the arrogant Bannermans also builds audience sympathy. In some ways, he too can be seen as a member of a working profession, in partial opposition to the illicit rule of the rich. The rich family and the banker can also been seen as examples of the upper middle class versus middle class conflicts that run through Tourneur.

Stranger on Horseback goes beyond the class conflict of The Flame and the Arrow. We gradually learn that the Bannermans do not simply embody the illicit rule of wealth and power, bad as that is. The Bannermans are also oppressors of Mexicans and women. They are full-scale instigators of the sinister schemes of racial and sexual oppression that have played such a monstrous role in history.

The ranch owned by the rich family recalls the housing complex owned by the wealthy planters in I Walked with a Zombie. Both are wealthy people who have an exploitative relationship to the poorer people around them.


Tourneur films are full of medical mysteries, which stress the hero's extreme difficulties and uncertainties as he struggles to uncover truth. The mystery in Stranger on Horseback is not at all medical. But it puts its hero through the same difficult process of making his way through radical uncertainty, and a slow difficult effort to uncover facts.

The hero has to persuade a wide range of people to speak up, and tell what they know. His sheer presence as a social dissenter has a powerful effect. Many were formerly convinced that they were in a society where truth would always be covered up and concealed. His dissenting attitude shows them that such social pressure is not in fact universal, that there are alternatives. They go from discouraged, reluctant "going along" with this vicious consensus of lying, to a new hope in speaking up and truth telling.

There are also characters who permanently stonewall the hero, refusing to give him information. John Carradine and the saloon barman are examples.

Tourneur films often have characters who tell about events that are not shown on-screen; they often vividly evoke a story or world for their listener, and the film audience. These witness accounts of the crime in Stranger on Horseback seem related to these episodes. So does the Marshal's account of town events long past. On the other hand, one could argue that in any mystery film, eye-witness testimony will take such form, and that this is hardly unique to Tourneur. Still, it fits in with Tourneur traditions.

Romantic Triangles

Stranger on Horseback has a romantic triangle of sorts, with the hero, the heroine, and the heroine's banker suitor. However, this is downplayed compared to the strong triangles in other Tourneur. The heroine treats the banker with contempt, right from the start. And the banker himself regularly acts skeptical about his chances of ever marrying the heroine.

There is no Tourneur W of relations. Specifically, there is no rivalry between a good gal and bad gal for the hero's affections. The heroine of Stranger on Horseback combines in one person elements of the good gal and bad gal.

Tourneur films with the W-pattern often have the hero adopting a young boy, or at least being friendly to a young kid. There is a brief element of this in the scene where the hero is kind to the little Mexican kid.


The town is full of Tourneur's beloved porticos. We see a corridor shot down these covered walkways right away. Other corridor shots down them recur through the picture, sometimes as "establishing shots" setting up an overall view of a scene.


The town has no telegraph - perhaps deliberately, as it keeps outside powers from knowledge of and influence on the town. One has to send a rider to a town 47 miles away with a message. This recalls the enforced radio silence in Days of Glory.

The town boss keeps all land transactions under $500, the legal threshold that would submit them to federal authority. We hear costs of several transactions: a very simple example of the mathematics data that sometimes appears in Tourneur. It is also an example of the strange, "primitive" economic systems that occur regularly in Tourneur films.

The gunsmith is an example of the technology-based shop that tends to show up in Tourneur's historical films.

Flowing Liquid

The heroine is one of a number of Tourneur women who shoot guns. She playfully shoots at objects held up by her cousin Tom. This anticipates the way Buddy Ebsen in The Gunsmith enjoys having the hero throw tomahawks at objects on his head (an even nuttier scene). Tom holds up a glass of wine, then a bottle: when shot, the wine gushes out, like the wineskin pierced by an arrow in The Flame and the Arrow.

A later comedy scene revolves around a horse trough with pump, in the town. Water is thrown at the hero, one of many tossed objects in Tourneur.


Stranger on Horseback was made in Ansco Color, a strange and probably "inferior" color process. Chris Fujiwara's book says that Tourneur hated the results.

Stranger on Horseback looks like something out of the silent era. Many of the images remind one of the old two-color Technicolor films. Stranger on Horseback also reminds one of early hand-tinted silent films. I think the results are quite beautiful. However, I am not competent to judge whether the current DVD print reflects exactly what the film looked like in 1955.

Many outdoors scenes are designed in red-and-green:

All of these scenes take advantage of the green vegetation, as part of their color scheme. Red-and-green are complementary colors, and red-and-green is thus frequently seen in films. It also was the combination in many two-color movies of the pre-1935 era.

The ground is red in some of these desert scenes, at the film's opening and close. This recalls the white ground in some of Tourneur's black-and-white films.

A number of interiors are vibrantly blue-and-red:

In addition, the saloon interior is blue-and-orange-ish wood tones. Blue-and-orange are complementary colors, and also common as a color scheme in film. In some ways, one wonders if some of the blue-and-red should really be seen as a variation on blue-and-orange. But it is really hard to describe the Marshal's office in this way: it looks firmly blue-and-red. The red at the Marshal's is not a pure red, though: it does have touches of orange.

Most of both the blue-and-red and red-and-green scenes have costumes carefully coordinated to match these colors.

The very dark blue suit of the hero sometimes seems like part of a blue-and-red or blue-and-orange scheme. But often it just seems like a neutral, almost black tone.

The nasty son Tom is in white shirt and very dark blue trousers throughout, looking very neutral. He is matched up against the films most neutral set, the jail cell.

The likable banker is also in a color outside these schemes, being in a gray suit. This helps make him the most normal looking character among the townspeople.

In Tourneur's next film Wichita, hero Joel McCrea starts out in a brilliant red shirt, then shifts into a neutral white shirt part way through when he becomes a government official. Stranger on Horseback reverses this process. For much of the film, judge McCrea is in a similar white shirt, expressing his official role. But towards the end, he bursts out into a blue shirt for the suspense-action finale. In both films, brilliantly colored clothes are worn by the hero in action scenes, white shirts when he is soberly practicing his profession.


Wichita (1955) is a Western, set in the Kansas city during its wild frontier days.

Wichita resembles Tourneur's previous film Stranger on Horseback in several ways:

However, Wichita is a more "normal" film than Stranger on Horseback. Wichita has "normal" color photography, with the images looking natural and realistic, unlike the surreally strange-looking Stranger on Horseback. This does not prevent Wichita having a rich, eye-popping color design. Wichita is also a full-length feature film, unlike the very short Stranger on Horseback, and looks as if it has a bigger budget than Stranger on Horseback, too.

Bat Masterson

Wichita has one of Tourneur's most appealing characters, in young Bat Masterson. This is an idealistic portrait of a young writer: Masterson is working as a reporter and assistant printer in this frontier town. He anticipates another likable artist's portrait: Aldo Ray's artist in Nightfall. Both men show artists as people of value, and worthy of admiration.


Wichita embodies several key Tourneur political themes.

Many Tourneur films are set in centers of American political power. As the film stresses, Wichita, Kansas is the center of the American cattle industry. It is the railroad center to which all Western USA cattle are shipped. This is explicitly set forth, and underscored, by the big public speech early in the film.

The same speech talks about how cattle and beef are feeding America. Wichita is about farming and food production, another key Tourneur subject.

Wichita is about an attempted coup against democracy, also a key Tourneur subject. The hero makes a strong distinction between the wealthy men of the town, and the elected officials. He only regards the second group as legitimate leaders. Soon, these wealthy men are trying to control the mayor. And worse, some of them put in motion an assassination attempt against the town marshal. The marshal hero is an embodiment of democracy, being appointed by and representing elected officials. The rich men instead want a city run by their fiat, not the rule of law, and not under the control of the electorate.

Wichita shows a conflict between "business" and democracy. It depicts business as attempting to undermine and destroy fragile democratic institutions in the new city of Wichita. The film only uses the word "business", never "capitalism", and the film never mentions alternative economic systems like socialism or anarcho-syndicalism. Still, it is clear that the film is actually talking about capitalism, as a way of life.

The cowboys who regularly run amok in Wichita are an example of Tourneur small towns under siege from sinister forces.

The well-to-do men keep black servants. The rich men are part of a system of white supremacy. Black people in Tourneur are usually dignified and non-stereotyped. The black butler in Wichita is dignified, well spoken, hard working and honest. There is not the slightest trace of comedy relief. However, he is also subservient, which can be seen either as simple realism - no one would employ a militant as a butler - or as a concession to white racists in the audience. Still, the very first shot of a businessman's home features the black butler prominently, serving at table. The business culture, viewed with skepticism in Wichita, is seen to have white supremacy as a key element.

The Marshal's use of force is non-lethal, until the final shoot-outs. He does use violence, but his level of non-lethal force is consistent with his job as a policeman in a democratic society. The dialogue repeatedly underscores his avoidance of killing.


In Wichita, we see the familiar Tourneur conflict between the upper middle class vs middle class characters. The hero is not a poor man, or working class. He has 2,460 dollars, a huge sum in that era, and plans to open a small business. He is a pure example of a middle class man. He runs up against the well-to-do men who want to run the town. These men are conspicuously upper middle class, with an ostentatious show of wealth in a dinner in one of their homes. However, these men are not quite shown as oligarchs, or as wealthy as Rockefeller. Like many Tourneur characters, they are upper middle class, not upper class. They come purely from a business culture, have social dealings with everyone, not just their own kind, and work for their money and careers.

Earp is a another Tourneur hero who changes career. His initial plan is to open a business. But he gets talked into being town marshal instead.

The heroine makes food for the picnic. What could be more conventional? But this heroine soon makes a startling speech about how 90% of the cooking in the country is done by women. It recognizes that cooking is an institution, something done on an organized basis. In this it recalls the organized cooking among the partisans in Days of Glory.

Wichita differs from several Tourneur films, in that there are no "primitive" or alternative means of exchange. All the businesses run on US dollars, including cattle, railroads, buffalo hunting and saloons. We see a bank and money. Everything in Wichita is part of modern capitalism.

Both Bat Masterson and Earp do get involved with disputes with big shots, who feel they can give the heroes orders. The heroes have to clarify who they are actually working for.

Wichita condemns gambling. It is part of the sinister vice world at Keno House. The hero is explicitly "not a gambling man". Tourneur films are consistently anti-gambling.

The Child

The scene with the little boy at the window, recalls the fate of the little girl in The Leopard Man. It also very much recalls a similar scene in Bombs Over Burma (Joseph H. Lewis, 1942).


Wichita differs from several Tourneur films, in that there are no romantic rivalries or triangles. The hero and heroine have a romance, and that is that. Neither the hero nor heroine is the slightest bit mercenary, either.


The advent of the railroad promises huge change to Wichita. Tourneur liked to document such influential new technologies.

We also see the printing press. Unlike the many image creating devices in Tourneur, the press seems to create only text: newspapers, advertisements, signs. The press can be considered one of Tourneur's likable, large machines.

The cook wagon at the start, might also be considered a "large machine". It is full of equipment.


The saloon, the bank and other town buildings have Tourneur's beloved porticos. During the wild night, Tourneur sometimes shoots straight down these to create his corridor shots.

The heroine's house also has a portico. A major scene takes place there near the end.

Next to the bank is a building under construction. Along with the porticos, such construction sites also are areas that combine indoors and outdoors.

Tourneur films often have windows showing the outside world. Often these are large. The hotel windows overlooking the street in Wichita are somewhat in this mode, but they are smaller, and less omnipresent in the hotel scenes. We only get views through them, when a character is explicitly looking out a window.

Repeating Objects

The Keno saloon has elaborate chandeliers, each full of identical lamps. These form both lamps used for composition and repeating objects.

The newspaper office has a wall of pigeon holes, like the radio operator's cabin in Appointment in Honduras. It also has a set of filing cabinets with very small drawers.

The wash bowls used by the trail hands near the start, are also repeating objects.


Storytelling is through signs, as in some other Tourneur movies. The city limits says "Everything Goes in Wichita", soon seen also on stagecoaches, and a banner across the main street. This is eventually replaced with a notice about guns.

When the hero and heroine have their first walk in the street, they pass by three signs featuring animals: a poster about a horse auction, a sign with a rooster, and a saloon ad for Buffalo Lager. (These anticipate a bit all the elephant images in Great Day in the Morning. A similar Buffalo Lager sign appeared in Stranger on Horseback, along with a picture of a horse in front of a livery stable.) The animal signs are part of the town: the old, pre-Earp wild-and-wooly town. By contrast, the good guys produce only text, from the printing press. They never create any sort of images.

There are also numerous signs all over the buildings. One of the last conversations in the film takes place under a sign reading "Wichita".

Color: The First Half

The hero's brilliant red shirt and scarf is at the center of the first half of the film's bright color. Some of the scenes are in red-and-green: When Bat and the hero walk down the town street early on, a building in the back is blue with yellow trim. This combines with the hero's red shirt to make a primary color triad: red-yellow-blue. Early, the Texas House sign was also blue-and-yellow, making a similar triad with the hero's red shirt.

Color: The Second Half

Earp is sworn in as Marshal half-way through Wichita. From this point on, the vibrant color schemes of the film's first half nearly disappear. Most of the male characters are in brown: the arrested cowboys, their boss, the town businessmen. The Mayor is in black, symbolizing his authority. Peter Graves is in brown, with a contrasting beige or grayish leather vest - his beige-gray gives him a unique color and look, within the film. Brown, black, gray: these are all earth tones. Most of the buildings and interiors we see are also in neutrals or earth tones. The morning after the arrest, when the Marshal takes down the banner, we see unpainted raw wood in a background wall, a distinctive anti-color image.

The Marshal's job is symbolized by his off-white shirt. Soon, when Bat is deputized, he is in a similar look of white dress shirt and string tie. The white clothes that run through Tourneur serve in Wichita as indicators of the Law. Both men wear them with brown pants, in keeping with all the brown in the film's second half.

There is a feeling that having "law and order" come to Wichita - symbolized by the moment the marshal is sworn in - has de-saturized the colors. In some ways. this is an impressive stylistic achievement. The whole look of the film changes, in a twinkling of an eye.

But there also is a feeling that potential has been lost. Color is part of the joy of life: and now it has fled.

There are some exceptions:

Great Day in the Morning

Great Day in the Morning (1956) is a Western, set just before the US Civil War.

In some ways, it is a Western version of Casablanca, with the hero running a night-spot in a town tense with intrigue due to the start of a war. He's even given a bit of flip, evasive dialogue when asked about his past, just like Bogart in Casablanca. The hero also starts off by trying to stay neutral in the war, like Rick in Casablanca.

Action and Politics

Several Tourneur films take place in "centers of political power". Colorado is hardly a center - but debates about whether a state would support the North or South in the coming conflict were of burning importance in this era. This conflict is prominent in Great Day in the Morning.

Just as Germany was divided in Berlin Express, so is the US coming apart into North and South in Great Day in the Morning. People try to kill the peacemaker and unifier (Paul Lukas) in Berlin Express; in Great Day in the Morning, a man who speaks out against the war in the name of brotherhood is whipped in the street by war mongers. Tourneur seems to be showing the evils of war fever. Perhaps he is hoping viewers will remember, and not get caught up in real life wars in the future.

The way the Union Colonel is prepared to sacrifice the townspeople casually as cannon fodder till his regular troops arrive, also adds a sinister touch. It is one of several anti-war points made by the film.

The gold claims are another kind of Tourneur "pieces of paper", that get transferred from character to character. Here they are part of the economy, as in The Grand Bounce.

References to Lincoln recall The Man in the Barn.

Several more sinister activities are promoted by characters as substitutes for religion:

It is likely that Tourneur views such activities as doubtful. By contrast, the priest is one of the film's most sympathetic characters. He ultimately stands in deep opposition to the war effort.

Great Day in the Morning recalls Canyon Passage, in that both are Westerns set in remote, isolated communities, filled with gold mining and where ruinous gambling changes the characters' lives. Both have violence between whites and Native Americans. Both communities are about to undergo a major collapse: fighting with Native Americans in Canyon Passage, the Civil War breaking out in Great Day in the Morning.


Robert Stack has always been an exceptionally patrician actor, at least before his change-of-image role on The Untouchables (1959). There are no explicit upper class signifiers in his role in Great Day in the Morning. Still, he seems far more refined and upper class than anyone else in the film. His bolero style jacket is unusually elegant for a Western hero. He perhaps is another of Tourneur's "upper middle class males, contrasted with more lower middle class co-stars".

The heroine who owns a dress shop anticipates Anne Bancroft in Nightfall, who is a model. Both are seen surrounded by glamorous dresses.

The villain is associated with an animal: not cats, as in much of Tourneur, but elephants. He will eventually be trampled by horse-drawn wagons in the street: more Tourneur animals who are out of control.

The saloon waiter was a frontier cannibal, once. This is an odd, comic variation on the Tourneur theme of nutrition.

As in I Walked with a Zombie and Berlin Express, several characters are harboring dark secrets. However, we perhaps expect that the hero has a hidden mission regarding the war, but he does not. He does show up in town after learning secret information about the gold - but purely out of personal greed. This recalls a bit the secret message that triggers the plot of Berlin Express.

Romantic triangles are everywhere in Great Day in the Morning. The hero is involved with two women; each in turn is involved with another man.

Flat Wall shots

The saloons both have striking fronts, outside in the street. We see characters photographed against these fronts, nearly straight on. The one saloon has murals on its facade, the other windows covered with geometric patterns. There are also murals inside the saloon.

The shoot out-inside the Circus Tent saloon starts with a flat wall shot, showing the front wall of the saloon. In the foreground, there are lamps hanging from the ceiling. They too are parallel to the plane of the shot. But they are much closer, and offer an intriguing variation on the pure flat wall shots that run through Tourneur. This composition is excellent.

When the hero and the dress-seller have their late night talk in her home, they are shot flat against a wall covered with regularly dotted wall paper. They look as if they are floating against a sea of color. Two brightly colored circular orange plaques are also on the flat wall, behind the heroine. It is a strikingly abstract composition.

A striking shot shows the hero spread out on his quilt. The quilt pattern forms a background behind the hero, something akin to a flat wall shot.

Later, when the hero is injured and brought back to the bed and its quilt, Tourneur stages a pure "flat wall" shot, showing the events parallel to the back wall of the bedroom. This sequence also contains a closer two-shot of the woman and boy, which is also parallel to the same wall.

Corridor shots

Several confrontations stage people on both sides of the frame, separated by a classic Tourneur "corridor shot" down the space between them: The saloon has one of Tourneur's beloved porticos, over the sidewalk. The film contains a shot straight down this covered sidewalk, under the portico.

The film's most unusual corridor shot is the long take in the Free State saloon. Captain Kirby is trying to organize the fanatic volunteers, into something like the regular Army. The shot begins with a classic Tourneur "flat wall" shot, showing the front interior wall of the saloon. The shot does have a bit more non-wall space at the bottom (showing tables and chairs) than do several other Tourneur flat wall compositions. The shot runs a long time, and has some simple camera movement, adjusting position a bit, without affecting the overall composition much. Towards the end, Sgt. Masterson starts organizing the troops. He forms the rag-tag volunteers into line, herding them into a straight military line down the left hand side of the image. When he is done, we suddenly see the image is now in the form of a perfect Tourneur "corridor shot". The line of troops on the left forms the corridor; Captain Kirby is on the right; and we see a perspective corridor shot of the saloon between them. The whole shot is quite remarkable: we see a "corridor shot" being built and arranged, right before our eyes!

In his book on Tourneur, Chris Fujiwara shows how the cutting and polishing of the diamond in The Jonker Diamond is a metaphor for Tourneur making a film. In Great Day in the Morning, this long take is also a demonstration of how Tourneur constructs a composition.

Vertical Line compositions

The first gun lesson is staged in a forest clearing. A dead tree stands as an upright pole near the center of the frame. It is balanced by other evergreens that forms almost pure vertical lines. The shot recalls other Tourneur films with such vertical line compositions, such as Out of the Past.

Tourneur includes more compositions with vertical trees, in the finale showing Union troops riding through the woods.


Great Day in the Morning opens with a mountain stream and closes with a waterfall. Flowing water is a Tourneur specialty.

The cave at the end is used to mask and frame the action. Such masking was a signature of Tourneur's father, Maurice Tourneur. One wonders if this is a deliberate homage. Earlier, the first gun lesson is also seen through a small four-sided opening in the forest.

Wind blowing the grasses is also a motif in the opening. Wind is a Tourneur image.

Great Day in the Morning has a pit, smaller than those in other Tourneur films. It is filled with ashes to disguise the gold strike there.

We have another country church, a Tourneur motif, once again made of white wood in a traditional style. The forceful, good guy priest recalls the minister hero of Stars in My Crown.

Signs and Labels

Signs are throughout. They begin with information about Denver. They go on to banners carried in a street demonstration. There is also a blackboard covered with a math problem.

The boxes of rifles labeled "Bibles" are full of irony. Tourneur will soon have more mislabeled crates in Timbuktu. As far back as The Jonker Diamond, Tourneur showed valuable cargo being sent through the mail in a deceptively casual manner.


Tourneur films are full of men drawing at desks and work tables. The Union Colonel is shown drawing straight lines on a piece of paper on his desk. The desk looks like a small version of an artist's drafting board, covered with different sheets of paper. Dialogue here and in a later scene, suggests he is drawing a map of troop movements - although we never get a good close-up look at the map ourselves. The Colonel also uses drafting tools, such as a hand-compass he gestures with.


Ordinary People Terrorized by Crooks

Nightfall (1956) is a thriller. It belongs to the once popular genre in which good, ordinary people are terrorized by a gang of crooks. Other films in this small genre include: These films tend to be rather plotless, consisting of a series of incidents in which helpless ordinary people are attacked by criminals. Despite the prestige and talent of the directors associated with such films, I have never liked most of them, or the genre. Such films have always seemed to me to be devoid of entertainment value. Watching favorite actors get brutalized by thugs has always made me cringe. However, to be honest, I have tended to bail out on such films in the middle. I did make it all the way through Nightfall, however, although it is one of the gloomiest of the lot. It is not really clear to me that such movies are examples of film noir, as is sometimes claimed. They tend to take place in an everyday world, that seems remote from the slick urban jungle of earlier film noir.

The Hero

The heroes of such movies are always exemplars of middle class life styles. Everything is done to underline how ordinary and conventional they are. This often includes putting the men in such films in as ordinary and unspectacular suits as can be found. Here hero Aldo Ray is de-glamorized, wearing a typical 1950's suit and tie. Jeffrey Hunter will sport a similarly square look in Key Witness. Only towards the end of the movie does Ray get in clothes that are a bit more glamorous, a shiny black air force jacket. Ray also suffers from a terrible haircut, designed to make him look square. I kept thinking he should sue the wardrobe department. Tourneur does frequently shoot so that Ray's huge, muscular back is emphasized. Ray is an extremely macho looking actor. But the main use the film seems to make of this, is to show that even someone as tough as Ray is shows little chance against these monstrous crooks. Ray gets little chance to unroll the dynamism that made his supporting performances in George Cukor's Pat and Mike (1952) and Raoul Walsh's The Naked and the Dead (1958) so entertaining.

One might note, that for a director who is often accused of a lack of force, that Tourneur's heroes are often the toughest, most macho actors on screen. Even Tourneur's more gentlemanly actors, such as Tom Conway, James Ellison, Dana Andrews, Glenn Ford and Joel McCrea, are very macho performers. And Tourneur is very comfortable with tough guy actors like Robert Mitchum, Kirk Douglas, Robert Ryan and Burt Lancaster. Tourneur often makes these men play characters with intellectual depth, such as Ray's artist here, or Ryan's agricultural expert in Berlin Express, as well as the many doctors in Tourneur films.

The Heroine

Much better than the grim scenes with the criminals, are the happy scenes in which Ray encounters love interest Anne Bancroft and good guy investigator James Gregory. Anne Bancroft is making her film debut here. We all owe this film a big debt of gratitude for bringing Anne Bancroft to the screen.


Elements in Nightfall recall Tourneur's earlier Out of the Past. In both films, criminals spend much time hounding the protagonist, tracking him down and making demands on him. He flees all over the country, and builds a new life under an assumed name. Both contain extensive flashbacks, telling the story out of conventional chronological order. Both films contrast the city, with sections that take place against beautiful, remote mountain scenery. There are also extensive scenes in urban apartments in both films, including three different apartments here. A beautiful shot of a country church near the end of the film, balanced with the vertical trunks of trees in winter, recalls the visual style of Out of the Past. It also recalls the church in Stars in My Crown.

The artist hero works where he lives, a recurring Tourneur theme. His artist's desk recalls the draftsmen in Cat People, the tracing paper on the map desk in Appointment in Honduras, and all the blueprints used by the workers in Nick Carter, Master Detective (1939).

A triangle involving the hero, his doctor friend, and his friend's young wife recalls I Walked with a Zombie. It is a fairly minor element of this picture, though.

The large snow plow machine at the end of this film is unusual in that it is purely sinister. Usually Tourneur's huge machines are friendly, like a pet. This sequence bears some resemblance to the nightmare plowing scene in Anthony Mann's Border Incident (1949), surely one of the most horrifying scenes in the movies. Even in this grim Tourneur finale, however, there is something pretty about the visual patterns made by the snow plow's machinery.

There are numerous clocks, mirrors and staircases in this film, all traditional symbols of film noir. There were also many clock shots in Berlin Express, another Tourneur film noir. In David Goodis' original 1947 novel, the hero is afflicted with traumatic amnesia, from which he recovers at the end: a noir plot gambit if there ever was one. All of this is eliminated in the movie, perhaps to make the hero be more like a regular, ordinary person.

The Titles

The film's opening titles are printed over a beautiful LA cityscape. It shows a forking road at night, with the lights of the building signs forming white patterns against the blackness. It is a beautiful composition. There are three buildings, one on the left, one on the right and one in the middle, that all reach exactly the same height on the screen. This gives a beautiful effect of harmony. Signs on the far left tower far above these, as does a white circle floating above the middle building (or tower). It is a beautiful pattern in white and black. It reminds one of the cityscapes, often nocturnal, found in the work of Ozu.

Micro-Locales: The Newsstand

Tourneur has some of his intriguing micro-locales here. Some of them are more urban than most of these mini-landscapes in Tourneur. The film opens on an urban sidewalk that contains a newsstand. This fascinating micro-locale consists of the exterior of the restaurant, on Hollywood Boulevard. This street scene area has an outdoor newsstand along one of its walls.

This is one of many building exteriors in Tourneur that are full of complex projections, within which the characters wander. The overhead of the newsstand forms an area that is both inside and outside, a Tourneur tradition.

Tourneur has some "flat wall" shots, with Ray photographed directly against the newsstand, with the stand forming the entire back of the shot, parallel to the plane of the camera.

He also achieves shots at a 90 degree angle to this, with the sidewalk under the newsstand canopy forming a classic Tourneur corridor.

Also very intriguing: the rounded corner of the restaurant building. Ray walks along this curve, and it is also prominently featured in other shots. It is a most intriguing piece of architecture, one typical of the complexity of Tourneur's exteriors. It is one of Tourneur's "geometric environments".

This scene includes the arrival of a city bus. Tourneur photographs Ray through the front and back side windows of the moving bus. It is an intriguing piece of photographic imagery.

Micro-Locales: The Fashion Show

Later, an outdoor fashion show will be staged in an interesting area just outside a building, with staircases and balconies overlooking the site of the show. The fashion show is one of the livelier sequences in the movie. The way the show's announcer keeps describing the color of the gowns on view, in this black and white movie, makes an odd touch. The fashion show has elements of ritual, that recall the ceremonies in I Walked with a Zombie. This scene shows Anne Bancroft's talent, as she performs with human warmth in a mild suspense scene. This is the sort of light hearted suspense typical of Hitchcock's more comic thrillers. Aldo Ray also gets to make beautiful music here, in the sequence's comic finale, where he shows his dynamic self. If more scenes had this sort of spirit, Nightfall would be a lot more fun. The opening dinner with Bancroft and Ray also has a little of the same warmth, especially when the two characters discuss their work. This is another expression of joy in the film.

Judging by the credits, the fashion show takes place at a real Beverly Hills haute couture salon. We see some corridor shots in front of this building at the show's start. The building has a 50's modernist style architecture, anticipating some corridor shots in front of modernist buildings in The Fearmakers. The show itself is full of beautiful lateral tracking shots, which move along with the models to and fro along the outdoor sidewalk serving as a runway. These shots are full of beautiful trees and shrubs, a favorite Tourneur subject. One shot of the bad guys films them through a spiky, modernist steel sculpture, a sinister touch. Later, when the hero and heroine have moved up to street level at the end of the sequence, there are more camera movements parallel to the sidewalk and the characters' path. These too involve beautiful trees. Everything in the whole fashion sequence is visually beautiful.

There are also some striking shots of outdoor staircases at the show. One shot with both Bancroft and Ray has a staircase making a strong diagonal from the upper left corner; this diagonal is continued by a hedge in the lower right. Counterpoised to this, is the opposite diagonal, a gently series of steps on which Bancroft and Ray stand. Both characters look pleasingly glamorous and romantic here, with Bancroft in a spectacular gown. This other diagonal is underscored by a series of banisters moving up from the lower left corner of the screen. This is a delightfully composed shot. The X of the two diagonals gives it a dynamic quality.

A second inventive staircase shot shows Ray and Bancroft running up an outdoor staircase. Behind them, we see a deep focus panorama of the fashion show. When the two heroes run around a huge, visually obstructing concrete pillar, Tourneur tracks to the right, bringing them back in view along the next stage of the staircase. This is a richly complex shot.

Micro-Locales: The Bus Station

The bus station forms a third outstanding micro-locale. We see a spectacular Los Angeles city landscape, that includes the bus station, along the right hand side of the long city street that makes up the "corridor" of the shot. This is one of Tourneur's largest corridor shots. We are at an elevated platform of some sort in the foreground; James Gregory maintains his surveillance of Ray from up here; meanwhile, we see Ray crossing the street below, with the huge cityscape receding to infinity in the background. He soon turns at a right angle, and starts along the street to the bus station, as the shot ends. It is very fine!

Once inside the bus station, Tourneur finds a whole series of corridor shots, taken from:

These all lead to long perspective views, with the shots' "corridors" reaching out to distant doorways within the bus station.

One spectacular shot combines the "flat wall" and "corridor" approaches in Tourneur. This shot contains murals on a large, interior bus station wall (the flat wall portion of the shot, photographed head on, as usual), with a row of lockers on the right side of the shot. The lockers form a deep perspective view. They form one half of a Tourneur corridor, the right hand half, and they lead to distant doors. However, there is no matching left hand part of the corridor, as there typically would be in a corridor shot. Instead, the whole left part of the image is taken up by the flat wall shot of the giant murals. It is a beautiful and striking image, one that creatively combines two of Tourneur's paradigms.

Micro-Locales: The Stakeout

There is also a "corridor" shot, in the nocturnal sequence showing Gregory staking out Ray's apartment. The "corridor" stretches down Gregory's apartment, all the way to a back window, through which we can see Ray's apartment across the way.


The sections for different papers form modules in the newsstand. The newsstand is like a giant version of the pigeonhole slots, that run through Tourneur films.

The restaurant is full of repeating items: tables, booths, hanging bottles, paintings, bar stools. Almost as modular: the waiters, who are identically uniformed. The waiters wear the mess jackets often seen in Tourneur.

The lockers in the bus station are repeating modules.

Night of the Demon

Night of the Demon (1957) is one of Tourneur's most vivid horror films.

I am not a believer in the supernatural, while Tourneur is. However, Tourneur does not present much of anything positive about the supernatural in Night of the Demon. All of the devil-cultists we see in the film seem to be purely evil. They are terrible human beings, and out to exploit others. Much more innocent are the briefly seen medium and his wife, the only decent characters involved with anything supernatural in the movie. Similarly, the Voodoo celebrants in I Walked With a Zombie seem innocent. However, nothing good comes out of Voodoo in this film - the consequences are purely disastrous for everyone.

It is a cliché to compare Night of the Demon with the early horror films Tourneur made with Val Lewton. The mother here recalls the mother in I Walked With a Zombie. Both play a far more independent role than one might expect, with hidden depths to their characters. They are not the simple, supportive figures one is used to in the works of other directors.

The cat sequence here also recalls Cat People.

A British Film

Night of the Demon was shot in Britain. It is full of locales that express a strong British atmosphere: Stonehenge, a Stately Home, the Savoy Hotel, the British Museum, an old-fashioned British farm house, Heathrow Airport, Scotland Yard, British lecture halls. The whole effect reminds one of John Ford, always a strong influence on Tourneur's movies. Ford's films are full of ethnographic depictions of a time and place. Ford constantly seeks out locations and activities that express the traditions and rituals of a society. Tourneur includes some of these too. The fete at the country home is a traditional party for the village children. The farm house and its denizens evoke traditional farm life. They are almost a sinister parody of the tradition Irish farms Ford showed in The Quiet Man (1952). The seance is treated as an English folk ritual. Just as Ford includes traditional music in his pictures to evoke other societies, here Tourneur has the seance members sing a traditional English song, "Cherry Ripe", as part of the ritual ("The spirits like it," one of the members declares confidently.) Even the ambulance bell at the end is a traditional British sound, very different from the sirens used in the United States. There is even a close-up of the bell.

Oddly enough, the least British member of the cast is the heroine. She is an English woman, but she has few specifically British traits. Her job of kindergarten teacher is one common to many countries. Her home is not especially English. She is first seen on a plane from the US to Britain, and her nationality seems indeterminate. She represents universal human values throughout the picture, not someone specifically English. One recalls the nurse in I Walked With a Zombie, who also is independent of the island society. Anne Bancroft's sophisticated fashion model in Nightfall also seems independent of the North Woods setting of many of the characters.

Many other Tourneur films are set in a different society. One thinks of the island in I Walked With a Zombie, the Southwest in The Leopard Man, the 19th Century community in Stars in My Crown, and the many small towns in Tourneur.

Characters, Masks and Costumes

Masks are used as imagery throughout the film. Karswell is made up as a clown at the party, and there are shock cuts to kids wearing Halloween masks, too. He recalls the villainous spy dressed as a clown in Berlin Express. Dana Andrews is first seen while sleeping, a newspaper with his photograph over his face. This is a strange image. It perhaps suggest that his public persona as a famed scientist has eclipsed any real feelings or unconscious ideas his sleeping mind might hold. We also seem him getting dressed and grooming himself in his suite. Later, his spiffy suit is damaged by the cat: another image contrasting his public image with private fantasy and horror.

Throughout his career, Dana Andrews often played men who were very well dressed, but whose surface charm hid serious character flaws. His smooth looking characters were downright duplicitous in Otto Preminger's Fallen Angel, Daisy Kenyon and Where the Sidewalk Ends, and in Fritz Lang's Beyond a Reasonable Doubt. He is not a crook here. But his polished, upper middle class exterior is viewed with skepticism by Tourneur. Andrews often played men whose power and authority came from their upper class middle class position. This position comes from their professions: Andrews plays a famed psychologist here, a newscaster and author in Lang's While the City Sleeps, a tycoon in Daisy Kenyon. But this professional standing is symbolized by Andrews' elegant clothes: he is always dressed at the height of upper middle class good taste. On the screen, his social standing seems to come from his appearance. Tourneur suggests that Andrews is using his position to cover up insights into the supernatural unearthed by less upper class characters: the kindergarten teacher, Andrews' less famous colleagues at the conference. His beautiful suits symbolize his social power, a power used to hide and suppress the truth.

The schoolteacher and the colleagues are also middle class, but from its lower reaches. A subtext of the film is a hidden battle between the upper middle classes and the lower middle classes. This will return in the conflict between Andrews and Dick Foran, who represent two styles of 1950's businessmen in The Fearmakers. In some ways, Karswell's devil cult here is a "going business concern", just like Foran's empire in The Fearmakers. Both films pit Andrews' upper middle class gatekeeper against these lower middle class upstarts who've made it big financially. In both films, these upstarts are crooks, who have succeeded through sinister schemes. But there is also a bit of sympathy with them, as Andrews' character looks like an old money establishment figure who is trying to keep them out of the country club.

Andrews' polished clothes and appearance makes him irresistible to women: he always gets the girl in his films. His directors do everything they can to glamorize him, and fully display this side of his characters to add romance and glamour to their films. But they also suggest that there is something false about such glamour. It can be used to depict Andrews as a polished crook, or to suggest that his social authority is illegitimate and based on image alone, as Tourneur does here, or as Lang hints in While the City Sleeps.

Folk Culture

Night of the Demon shows activities related to folk culture. The magic show Karswell puts on is similar to the one in Stars in My Crown. Both have the magician on a platform, both are public performances that enable public festivities in a small town, both have the audience full of kids, both center on the magician pulling positive objects out of kids' faces: coins in Stars in My Crown, candy and pet animals in Night of the Demon.

But both magic shows, however seemingly innocent, have a dark side. The magician is frightening to the boy hero of Stars in My Crown. Worse, both magic shows are immediately followed by sinister disasters: the boy comes down with the disastrous plague during the show in Stars in My Crown, and we get the frightening windstorm raised up by Karswell in Night of the Demon.

The sceance in Night of the Demon is begun by the members singing the traditional song "Cherry Ripe". This tune was actually sung at many real life British sceances. The scene recalls another group of non-professionals sitting around at night and entertaining themselves with a song: the partisans in Days of Glory. These scenes invoke folk traditions of group sing-alongs. The popularity of folk music was nearing its peak in 1957 in the USA, and families frequently conducted such folk music sing-alongs in their homes.

The singing of "Cherry Ripe" is delightful. It is sure to please folk music fans such as myself. But there is also perhaps some special pleading going on. In real life, I disapprove of sciences and the supernatural as much as Dana Andrews in the movie. But people like me are lured into enjoying and valuing the sceance, by treating it as a delightful folk ritual, filled with traditional music and customs. It is that - but its also a full scale endorsement of the supernatural.


Complex shots of trees are everywhere in Night of the Demon. They are frequently associated with the supernatural in the film. Tourneur loves including trees in his compositions. Their complex forms are often blended with man made structures, to produce elaborate compositions. Trees frequently appeared in Out of the Past and Nightfall, too.

The first shot of Harrington's car speeding down a road at night, is filmed from behind a series of trees. Some of the tree trunks stand straight up; other smaller branches are on diagonals. The complex of strong, thick verticals and gentle diagonals makes a strikingly composed image. The far left of the shot includes a strangely bushy tree, with some horizontals, too. Tourneur gradually turns this shot into a pan along the road. Later, when Harrington is leaving the Karswell home, and presumably retracing his steps, Tourneur includes this same shot again: only it is reversed from right to left. The inclusion of both a shot and its mirror image reverse seems like a highly unusual film technique. I cannot recall anything like it in other films. It produces an echoing effect. It also makes the world of the film seem more geometrical, and more like a self-enclosed world containing the characters. It also allows Tourneur not to "waste" what must have been a very hard shot to set up, compose and light. (Most of the reverse printing I recall from films is due to technical reasons. Much of Roy Del Ruth's The Babe Ruth Story (1948) was reverse printed, to make the right-handed actor William Bendix look like the left-handed ball player Babe Ruth he was portraying. But these shots were only printed once in the film. There were no echoing effects, as there would be in Night of the Demon.)

The windstorm is a striking episode. It links shots of Dana Andrews, to those of the wind blowing in the trees. The later shots of the kids fleeing from the windstorm anticipates sequences in Hitchcock's The Birds (1963).


There are more curvilinear forms in Night of the Demon than I recall in most Tourneur films. The overhead shots of the British Museum are especially striking. They recall the circular gambling hall in Sternberg's The Shanghai Gesture (1941). Andrews soon moves to a second room, one with reading desks. This is full of circular lamps on high stands, and circular pillars. The regular array of high lamps and trapezoidal desk lamps makes one feel one is in a world of geometric art. Such regular repetition of geometric forms will show up elsewhere in Night of the Demon, as well. Tourneur has three shots that show these. One is a high overhead angle, used just once as an introduction to the room. Next, comes an eye-level view, which is repeated many times. There is also a "corridor shot", with a path down the left of the screen, and a sea of lamps and tables on the right. Later in the sequence, Tourneur shows some complex balustrades, covered with grillwork full of geometric forms. These too convey the effect that one is standing in a large "environment" of geometric art. Andrews is framed against these balustrades. Andrews is often associated with complex geometric forms in the picture.

Andrews' suite at the Savoy is full of curved forms. There are curtains, and an arch over the window. There are tables, lamps, chairs and sofas. All of these make up a complex, "geometric environment" for the hero and his friends. Tourneur regularly makes graceful compositions out of these. The heads of his characters are often associated with the curving curtains in the background of the image.

More semi-circles include the repeated arches in the corridors in the Savoy Hotel. And the complex fire screen, against which the parchment tries to fight.

The bridge outside Karswell's house is also associated with Andrews. The bridge goes over a repeating series of semicircular arches. Like the lamps at the British museum, such repeating forms takes us into a "geometric" world. The bridge is itself a highly obtuse triangle, adding to the geometric effect. It recalls the bridge sequences in Stars in My Crown. The flowing water, falling over a series a dams below the bridge, recalls the emptying aquariums in Experiment Perilous. Tourneur shows this bridge as the final stop in a pan through the countryside. Pans are frequent in Night of the Demon. From the bridge, one can see the grounds of the Karswell home in the distance. The countryside and grounds together make up one of Tourneur's most complex micro-locales, an elaborate landscape in which much of the film's action takes place. We see the gates of Karswell's estate; earlier we saw the gates of the British Museum. These recall the gates of the estate in I Walked With a Zombie, and the grilled gates of the French government offices in Berlin Express.

The balustrade in the Karswell home is full of curves. It is shown during the telephone conversation, in which Mrs. Karswell informs the heroine about Hobart's knowledge of how the curse can be lifted. Such a convoluted way of revealing new layers of knowledge is typical of Tourneur's mystery plots, which reveal layer after layer of truth.

Curves here seem to be related to scenes in which the hero has supernatural experiences. And scenes in which the hero learns something about the nature of the curse being invoked.

Another shot with repeating geometric forms, is the first overhead interior view of the Karswell house. There are checkerboard patterns on the floor, of three different sizes; a series of four cylindrical pillars; and a round chandelier, with repeated light fixtures sticking up from it, along its sides. This too seems like a whole environment made up of repeated geometric forms.

Corridor Shots

Several shots in the film are in Tourneur's "corridor" style: long perspective looks down either an indoor corridor, or an outside path. The opening shots of the road at night include some long straight looks down the road, as well as lateral views. These shots are extremely eerie. We also get corridor shots into Harrington's garage.

At the airport, Tourneur repeatedly shoots down the long central passage of the airport. This is a complex piece of architecture, containing the vast terminal. Tourneur varies this shot in several ways. First we see a straightforward look down the passage. Next we see Andrews exit through a door in another room - also somewhat of a corridor shot - followed by a 90 degree pan by Tourneur, which comes to rest down the long corridor again. Later, Tourneur adds a telephone booth into the mix. He shoots both outside the booth down the long terminal; then from inside the booth, through its glass walls. This last shot seems especially eerie. It combines the small space inside the booth with vast vistas. It perhaps suggests that we are surrounded by complex environments and forces at all times. These airport scenes recall the bus terminal in Nightfall.

At the end of the British Museum sequence, Karswell walks down a rectilinear corridor, like a long box. Tourneur has the image waver here, to convey a "supernatural" effect. This is one of several associations of corridor shots and the supernatural in the picture.

At the Savoy Hotel, Tourneur has one of his beloved porticos at the front entrance. He uses this for a corridor shot, in his typical manner. Soon, another corridor shot goes the exact opposite direction through the portico. Immediately following, inside the Savoy, Tourneur shoots down a series of hotel corridors. These are surrounded by a series of rounded arches, which repeat for a perspective effect. The shots are dramatically striking. They convey a sense of being trapped in an infinite, purely geometric world. A sense of supernatural menace is strong here.

The scene in the farmhouse is in Tourneur's "corridor" style. First Tourneur shoots directly down one side of a table, which is aligned with the walls of the farm house. Then Tourneur gradually moves his camera so it is aligned with the other side of the table.

During the brief telephone conversation between Mrs. Karswell and the heroine, both are shown in corridor shots. The first shot of the Karswell home is horizontal; it shows a series of rooms receding into infinity. A similar shot shows a series of rooms in the heroine's home. A second shot of the Karswell home is quite different, but also a corridor shot. This shoots through the arch, and up the staircase behind it. It too is a very deep perspective view. Early in the film, the first shot of Karswell and his mother had also been a deep perspective view through several rooms of the Karswell house.

The shot of the ambulance going down the road, opens with a corridor shot of the street, framed between two rows of trees. Trees are everywhere in this film. As in the opening shots, these involve a moving camera traveling down the corridor. These shots are not supernatural, but they still convey a great sense of danger and alarm, underscored by the ambulance bell. When the body gets to the lecture hall, there is a long perspective shot with Andrews lecturing in the background, and the body in the foreground.

The finale of Night of the Demon concerns trains, recalling Berlin Express. The finale also has many corridor shots: in the train station (recalling the airport at the beginning), along the portico covered platforms, in the corridors of the trains themselves, and finally, along the tracks. This is the most systematic use of corridor shots in the picture. The long corridors here once again convey a strong sense of the supernatural, that one has wandered into a strange, geometric world far removed from everyday reality.


Tourneur frequently shoots through windows. We see a conversation at Scotland Yard through a window, and the windstorm through windows at the Karswell estate.

The chemist's inner room is seen through windows. Its symmetrical large glass windows, and shelves filled with technical bric-a-brac, recall the gas station at the start of Out of the Past.

Links to Nick Carter, Master Detective

The scene where Karswell introduces himself to the hero at the British Museum has an ancestor in Nick Carter, Master Detective. There, Donald Meek introduces himself to the hero. In both films, the newcomer surprises the hero, by unexpectedly knowing the hero's name. In both films, the newcomer also hands the hero one of his business cards.

Tourneur Imagery

Several scenes contain imagery one associates with Tourneur.

The book is written in a secret code. This links to coded messages elsewhere in Tourneur. The runes also seem like a sort of code.

Dana Andrews' white robe and towel are more of Tourneur's white clothes.

The accident at the start cuts the power line pole in two. Tourneur's films are full of cut objects, such as the diamond cutting in The Jonker Diamond, the puffy breakfast bread that is cut open in I Walked with a Zombie, or the pins cut by the doctor in Stars in My Crown. This electric pole is much bigger than any of the other cut objects.

As a rock formation, Stonehenge looks a bit like the rocks at the base of the rapids in Out of the Past. The Snakes and Ladders game also looks a bit like the same rapids in Out of the Past.

The insane man has made a drawing under hypnosis. Tourneur films are full of drawing.


The hero wants to get a sandwich and a glass of milk. Tourneur films are full of very simple meals. We see a sandwich made at the lunch counter in Out of the Past, and Robert Ryan wants a sandwich on the train in Berlin Express. The partisans in Days of Glory subsist on simple meals: soup and bread.

The mother has made homemade ice-cream. Tourneur films sometimes feature women cooking. The mother here is not actually shown making the ice-cream, but she is dishing it out.

The Fearmakers

Book to Film: Politics

The Fearmakers (1958) turns an anti-Nazi World War II era novel into an anti-Communist Cold War era movie. Such a transformation is perhaps unique in book to screen adaptations. Darwin Teilhet's The Fear Makers (1945) was a popular mystery suspense novel, written during the war.

Once the movie gets to the public opinion agency office, it closely follows the events of the book. The whole story of how our hero lost the agency while he was in the service, and its transformation into something new and sinister, is taken directly from the novel. The book shows us more of the employees of the agency, and its work in actual operation. One suspects that the ultra-low-budget nature of this movie prevented this. The film is restricted to a handful of sets. It loses the opportunity to show us the business as a whole, and its numerous employees.

In the novel, the agency was conducting Nazi-inspired hate campaigns among the general public. These were "whispering campaigns" in which large numbers of operatives spread anti-war effort and racist ideology among the American people. All of this seems entirely lost in the movie, aside from one brief scene in which Andrews wanders into a room where operatives are making racial references. Among other things, it makes the title nonsensical. The Nazi agents were actually spreading fear among the public, causing them to hate and fear minority groups. Nothing like this is occurring in the film. The book also had sympathetic minority characters, both black and Jewish, among the least stereotyped of any in 1940's mystery fiction. These too have been deleted in the movie.

By contrast, the film centers on the idea that phony, slanted or biased opinion polls could have a sinister influence on elections, media and business. Such polls can be used to get TV shows canceled and elect crooked politicians to office. This is an interesting idea. Considered purely as a practical scheme that might actually work in real life, it sounds more plausible than the whispering campaigns of the novel.

The Evils of Bombs

The film is different from almost all anti-Communist movies in that the Communists are not running the whole show. The agency in the movie will work for anybody. They are hiring themselves out to promote Communist front groups like the "Ban the Bomb" organization in the movie. But they also work for crooked politicians who are not ideological. The agency seems to be a bunch of apolitical crooks who will offer their services to any bidder. They are not themselves Communist, even though they are in the pay of Communists.

The film's treatment of politics is almost as ambiguous as the maybe supernatural, maybe not elements of Tourneur's early horror films. The hero condemns and rejects the "Ban the Bomb" group because of its Communist sympathies. But its organization's leader makes a passionate speech about the evils of military-based science, a speech that is never refuted by anyone in the film. One suspects that Tourneur has much sympathy with the horror expressed over the bomb, even though he has little sympathy for Communism. Hero Dana Andrews also makes an anti-war statement in the film. Similarly, Berlin Express is one of the few films to show the devastation wrought by bombs in World War II. Both films suggest armed struggles going on, with a chilling speech about a possible Soviet attack on Washington in The Fearmakers.

Locales of Power

Both Berlin Express and The Fearmakers show areas of American power: Berlin Express took place partly at the American headquarters of occupied Germany in Frankfurt, while The Fearmakers occurs in Washington D.C.

Both Berlin Express and The Fearmakers have finales in public locales of great historical resonance: Berlin Express in a plaza near the Brandenburg Gate, The Fearmakers in front of the Lincoln Memorial, with the Washington Monument in the background. These areas are political examples of Tourneur's micro-landscapes. Both locales involve both automotive vehicles, and characters who move on foot. The movements of both vehicles and pedestrians is carefully staged to create geometric patterns. These patterns are both visually interesting, and suggestive of political attitudes and commentary.

Phantom Raiders also took place in an area of American power, being set near the Panama Canal Zone. Both I Walked with a Zombie and Stars in My Crown take place in communities showing the legacy of slavery. History is very much alive and omnipresent in these locales.

Characters and Class

Dana Andrews and Dick Foran are contrasting types. Andrews seems to be the epitome of the well groomed, sophisticated executive. One can imagine him running a large New York City corporation. This is a type Andrews often played in films, and quite convincingly too, for example in his Fritz Lang pictures such as While the City Sleeps (1956). By contrast, Foran seems to embody the glad handing, genial, hail-fellow-well-met approach of 1950's business organizations and civic boosters. Both of these are archetypes of the 1950's business man. But they rarely collide in a single movie, as they do here. There is a bit of a class distinction. Andrews embodies the ideals of the upper middle classes, while Foran exemplifies middle class business practices. Foran looks very prosperous however, and he exudes money and success - he is definitely not on the poor side. The distinction also applies to their speech mannerisms. Foran is running off at the mouth, expressing a steady stream of sales-like patter, while Andrews restricts himself to a few well chosen executive utterances. The feel of class conflict between the two men is silently integrated into their other conflicts in the movie. The contrast between the men recalls the two very different brothers in I Walked with a Zombie, the aristocratic, moody Tom Conway and the middle class acting James Ellison. In both films, the conflict between the two men is a major center of the plot.

In many films, the hero wears the darkest colored suit, making him stand out and look authoritative. Here, however, Andrews wears the lightest colored suit. This also makes him stand out, and look different from everybody else. His clothes have an upper middle class elegance that the other businessmen's suits do not.

Andrews regularly wears a white trenchcoat, as well. This looks terrific. It recalls both the white clothes worn in Phantom Raiders, and the hero's darker colored trenchcoat in Out of the Past.

Homeless Heroes

Andrews' character is explicitly homeless: his frustrated attempts to find a place to stay in the housing-scarce Washington of the era are part of the plot. In this he resembles many other Tourneur detective heroes, who are homeless and baseless, while they take on a villain who has a well defined base of operations.


The hero's perennial attacks of weakness link him to the ill hero of Easy Living.

Corridor Shots

There are two of Tourneur's corridor shots in the finale. One is a still life that shows no people, merely the ringing phone on the desk. The lower half of the image is a corridor. On the left is a chair, on the right is the desk, seen in full perspective. There is a corridor of space between the desk and the chair. At the back of this corridor are some fireplace implements. The whole upper half of the image is blank, except for the ringing telephone. Tourneur has the phone framed, placing it in front of what seems to be a small frame sitting on the mantle. The phone is nearly in the exact geometric center of the shot. This fact, and the fact it is in solitary splendor in the upper half of the image, calls great attention to it. The whole shot is beautifully composed: the desk, the phone, the chair, the horizontal grid of lines on the back wall, the fireplace tongs, a vertical line on the left of the image, all form a beautiful, harmonious whole. The shot is one of the key images of the movie. Soon we will see the dying man played by Mel Tormé dragging himself along the ground, trying to answer the ringing phone. It is a visually powerful piece of melodrama. Tormé's entrance is at the bottom of the frame, an unusual position.

There is also a corridor shot, showing all the characters leaving the office building. The left side of the shot is the front of the building; the right side, a railing. As is often the case in Tourneur corridor shots, we see the ceiling of this outdoor entranceway. The building is charming in a modern, 1950's style; its surface is broken up into several striking geometric regions. The whole effect is of a geometrical abstraction, with trapezoidal and rectangular regions creating a soft image in the tradition of Mondrian and Constructivism, but gentler and more refined in Tourneur's personal visual style. It is interesting to see Tourneur incorporating this sort of modern building into his corridors; many of the shots in previous movies had dealt with older and more traditional architecture.

Flat Wall Shots

There are also "flat wall shots" in The Fearmakers. The scene where Andrews tries to persuade the heroine to give him the key takes place parallel to the back wall of his office. This is mainly taken up by a large bookcase. Once again, we see two characters at full length, against a wall filled with unusual patterns.

This scene starts out with Andrews trying to use his executive rank to get the key from the secretary. This does not work; he then pleads with her to help him, as part of the mystery plot. The tone changes from someone giving someone an order, to a relationship among equals. Tourneur changes the staging as the story develops. First Andrews is seated above the heroine, in a giving dictation pose; then when he asks for help they move to an equal level.


Timbuktu (1958) is an adventure film, set in the desert. It is another Tourneur film about "Northern people in tropical countries".

Timbuktu is a minor movie. It has too much war material, and too much violence. It is most entertaining in its middle third, where the three main characters engage in one of Tourneur's romantic triangles. The film also has some good visual style.

The light-colored desert sands are repeatedly used to highlight dark-colored clothes and horses framed against them.

Links to Northwest Passage: Wild Country and Maps

The characters are at remote forts in a fairly wild country, recalling the television series Northwest Passage on which Tourneur worked.

Also like The Gunsmith in Northwest Passage: a Lieutenant is ordered to create a map, to be used for military purposes. Unlike most of the other image makers in Tourneur, we don't actually see him working on the map. We do see the finished product.

Links to Days of Glory: The Hero and Engineering

Like Days of Glory, Timbuktu has a World War II background.

Also like Days of Glory, Timbuktu has a hero who used to concentrate on engineering work, but who is now involved in World War II activities. The hero of Days of Glory blew up the bridge he built; the hero of Timbuktu had to give up his plans to build a pipe carrying salt. Both are examples of Tourneur heroes who change careers.

Salt transportation relates, in a general way, to the farming that is so important in Tourneur: salt is something people eat.

The young Lieutenant who gets executed by the bad guy in Timbuktu, recalls the young partisan executed by the Nazis in Days of Glory.


The hero of Timbuktu climbs down a building side to the heroine's balcony. This recalls Burt Lancaster's acrobat hero in The Flame and the Arrow.


Timbuktu is very careful to treat most of its different political and religious groups respectfully. The French, the Sudanese people, and the Moslem holy man are all viewed with sympathy and respect. The respectful, dignified treatment of Islam, is consistent with Tourneur's enthusiasm for religion in general, something that runs through his films.

Evil in Timbuktu is largely restricted to an aristocrat (played by John Dehner), who wants to bring back the absolute monarchy practiced by his ancestors. In this he recalls the rotten aristocrats of The Flame and the Arrow, who oppress the peasants and the workers.

The politics of Timbuktu is undoubtedly over-simplified. But however naive, Timbuktu applies the same beliefs Tourneur advocated elsewhere among Europeans, to this Third World situation:

Timbuktu is probably out of touch with the complex historical realities of such very complicated subjects as French Colonialism, Sudan and Mali history, and North African history. A film that set forth these in full complexity would likely last ninety hours, not ninety minutes like Timbuktu. Timbuktu is just an adventure movie, and no one should regard it as a scholarly study.

Geometric Worlds

The palace is full of the geometric designs typically found in Islamic Art. There are complexly carved doors. Numerous screens and windows organized into geometric patterns. And if the mansion in Night of the Demon had a checkerboard floor, a palace room floor has a more complex hexagonal design in black-and-white.

The tent interior in the last third, is also geometric. It has a circular opening at its top, and a cylindrical pole in its center.

The city gate, with it circular windows and circular arch, and minaret at the end are full of geometric forms. The overhead shots down the minaret stairs are especially good.


A horse's stall has a curved railing on top, with repeated posts below. It recalls the curved harp through which Tourneur shoots in I Walked with a Zombie.

Corridor Shots

Some shots down covered city streets or passageways are beautiful. They are examples of Tourneur's corridor shots. They are also examples of elaborate compositions, which use the geometric patterns of the architecture.

Repeated Units

Tourneur likes repeated units in his compositions. Example: the series of filing cabinets in the Colonel's office.

The medallions are also seen in multiple quantities.

But most of the repeating units in Timbuktu are unfortunately linked to the torture scenes:

Repeating units tend to highlight scenes. In Timbuktu, they highlight sequences that are already too prominent!


Timbuktu has the animal imagery that runs through Tourneur, but sometimes in more simplified form:

Harnessed Rhythm

Harnessed Rhythm (1936) is a short film about harness racing in Kentucky. It is the most educational film I have ever seen about horses, and how they run. It explains the different gaits of horses. It shows through regular, slow motion and stop motion photography, exactly how horses run. Each gait involves a different set of positions of the horse's legs. It also shows how horses are trained to do such things. Many of Tourneur's short films are educational. This one is the most visually direct in its educational technique: it shows in detail something it wants the viewer to understand.

The horses here resemble a bit the "large machines" that run through Tourneur's work. Just as those machines often resemble large pet animals, so are the horses here the pets of the heroine. The harness cart attached to the horse is an actual machine. Most importantly, the steady running of the horse sets up a rhythm, that is similar to the rhythmic repeated motions of some of Tourneur's machines, such as the fan in Stars in My Crown and the snow plow at the end of Nightfall.

At the end, the horse loses its cart and driver, and runs on the track alone. This is a bit like other Tourneur films in which animals escape from human control: the dog who goes off on mysterious nocturnal adventures in Killer-Dog, the leopard that escapes in The Leopard Man.

The Grand Bounce

The Grand Bounce (1937) is an enjoyable little short film, about a $1,000 check that is no good. It is a fiction film, but with no dialogue: its silent film footage is narrated by comic Pete Smith, in the manner of his other "Pete Smith Specialties". The film mixes comedy - a somewhat atypical genre for Tourneur - with some eerie atmosphere.

The check's progress from person to person anticipates the sinister parchment in Night of the Demon. Both also wind up with a similar fate. It also recalls somewhat the message on the pigeon at the beginning of Berlin Express, another piece of paper that makes a circuit of different people. That Berlin Express segment is also a silent film with narrator.

The film's ultra-complicated plot reminds one of the complexities of Tourneur's feature film plots. And character types who appear in them also show up here: gangsters, enforcers (Out of the Past), doctors (many films), a pro athlete and his girlfriends (Easy Living). Most of the characters in this film are sure the check is good, and base their actions on this premise the viewers know is false: this is another example of Tourneur's deluded characters. The characters here are of many different social classes, all mixed together: another Tourneur tradition.


Mirrors are everywhere: Aside from the furrier, these mirrors reflect little. The final mirror at the boxer's is especially noticeable for having nothing in it. This is in complete contradiction to the Hollywood tradition of complex "mirror shots", ingeniously arranged to show action and make compositions. One notes that while the mirror at the furrier's is three-way, only one reflection is produced in the shot in The Grand Bounce. This is very simple, compared to most other films with three-way mirrors.


While the check is worthless, it stimulates an astonishing amount of economic activity. Just getting money circulating does a lot of good to society. In this The Grand Bounce anticipates The Inside Story (Allan Dwan, 1948). While The Inside Story is explicitly designed to teach economics, it is unclear if The Grand Bounce has any didactic intent. Certainly nothing explicit is said about economics in The Grand Bounce.

Tourneur films sometimes look at primitive economic systems. The narrator's account of how many minks are in a coat is perhaps a crude example of this.

The Boss Didn't Say Good Morning

Careers and Business

The Boss Didn't Say Good Morning (1937) shows an office worker, who becomes afraid he is due to be fired, after the boss refuses to return his morning greeting.

Some Tourneur films such as Easy Living and The Fearmakers have men battling career-threatening or career-destroying situations. The hero of The Fearmakers works in an office that is even more hostile and frightening than the one in The Boss Didn't Say Good Morning.

A number of Tourneur films show primitive economic systems. The Boss Didn't Say Good Morning is just the opposite. It shows modern day, standard business tools: invoices, credit systems, all in a conventional modern day business office. The hero's mortgage is mentioned, and we see timecards punched, also conventional and modern.

The boss is upper middle class, the hero is more middle class (despite a very snazzy house). Upper middle class vs middle class conflicts conflicts are a Tourneur subject.


The hero of The Boss Didn't Say Good Morning does not actually know for sure what is going on, with his career situation or his boss. He is trapped in one of Tourneur's ambiguous mysteries. Like other Tourneur mysteries, this one is eventually solved - but as always, it is a long journey through ambiguous situations till he learns the truth.

Like many other Tourneur mysteries, the one in The Boss Didn't Say Good Morning turns out to have medical aspects, although this is far from obvious in its early stages. SPOILER. The boss' stomach problems are the cause of his grouchiness.

Typewriters and Men Typists

The film has a strange opening, a "fantasy" sequence, of sorts. It shows a letter being composed to all bosses, a high level missive being composed to be sent to every boss in the country, or on Earth. The letter is typewritten, and we see a room full of men, all typing away. Their many typewriters are example of the repeated objects in Tourneur.

Groups of men all working at what is elsewhere "woman's work" such as typewriters or switchboards, are frequent in police thrillers. These police tend to be uniformed, serious, and highly disciplined looking. The scene in The Boss Didn't Say Good Morning has something of the same feel. These men seem high-powered, and on an important mission. But they are in business clothes, not uniforms.

Later we see the hero's desk at home, which has repeated slots for correspondence. These approach the pigeonholes, which are a specialized subcategory of the repeated objects in Tourneur. When we last see the hero at work, at the film's end, he has some sort of office object on his desk, also with repeated slots for correspondence.


This is another Tourneur film showing people eating breakfast. Tourneur likes "light" foods. The hero butters what seems to be a piece of toast.

Boys and Papers

Tourneur films frequently show men and their sons, or young boys they are more-or-less adopting as son-figures. The hero of The Boss Didn't Say Good Morning has a son of whom he is very proud.

In addition, young males are everywhere: there is an office boy at work, and later, caddies help the hero with his golf.

Tourneur films are full of pieces of paper that get passed from one person to another. Here the passing often involves boys. The office boy gives the hero an invoice. Later, the hero gives his son a letter to mail. Both invoice and letter play a key role in the plot.

Non-Standard Tourneur Imagery

The Boss Didn't Say Good Morning contains images that are a bit different from standard Tourneur imagery:

The King Without a Crown

The King Without a Crown (1937) is a short film, that examines if the Dauphin died during the French Revolution, as most historians say, or perhaps escaped to the United States. It is one of Tourneur's less interesting shorts:

Tourneur Subjects

The King Without a Crown shows a center of political power: Paris during the French Revolution. We see potent political symbols of the French state: The king and the guillotine. Unlike later Tourneur films which show such political centers, these symbols are not linked to an analysis of politics or society.

The Tourneur subject of illness is present:

The abdication document is one of the pieces of paper passed from one person to another that run through Tourneur films.

Prince de Joinville's debate with minister Eleazar Williams is linked to the upper middle class vs middle class conflicts between male characters in Tourneur. It is not a pure example: Prince de Joinville is a fully upper class man, rather than the upper middle class men most typical of Tourneur. However, his business-like clothing and demeanor suggest the upper middle class rather than royalty.

Links to Experiment Perilous

The characters in The King Without a Crown anticipate (in a general way) those in Experiment Perilous. These correspondences are far from close, however:

The Man in the Barn

The Man in the Barn (1937) is a short film, that looks at whether John Wilkes Booth really died shortly after shooting Abraham Lincoln in 1865. Booth's flight after the crime is shown: he is one of several Tourneur characters who flee cross country.

A doctor is called on to study a corpse, and determine whether or not it is Booth. This is an early example of the medical mysteries that run through Tourneur. Like other such mysteries, it is filled with ambiguity. The doctor, like so many later doctors in Tourneur, is confronted with a seemingly unsolvable puzzle. Evidence points both ways, and coming to any conclusion is very difficult.

The Man in the Barn also deals with a center of political power: here Washington DC, right at the end of the Civil War. Tourneur will return to Washington in The Fearmakers. That film will have a scene in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

The shipboard sequence anticipates Appointment in Honduras. It is set against a large metal background on deck, that looms up behind the characters, like the cabin on the ship in Appointment in Honduras. This ship is an early armored warship: an instance of Tourneur's interest in large machines.

The Ship That Died

A Hard-To-Solve Mystery

The Ship That Died (1938) is a short film, about the famous real-life mystery of the ship Mary Celeste. The Mary Celeste was found mysteriously abandoned by all its crew in 1872; the causes are still debated today.

The puzzle is one of the hard to solve mysteries involving science or technology that run through Tourneur.

Both the initial investigators and the officials at the Gibraltar salvage court fail to trace or explain the missing crew. This relates to other ineffective investigators in Tourneur.

Inaccuracies: Links to Tourneur Imagery?

The Ship That Died has a number or historical inaccuracies about these real-life events. The Wikipedia article on the Mary Celeste emphasizes the inaccuracies in many accounts of the ship. It is unclear in The Ship That Died simply followed an inaccurate previous account of the mystery - or whether The Ship That Died introduced inaccuracies in hopes of making a more dramatic tale.

Notably, some of the inaccuracies in The Ship That Died have links to standard kinds of Tourneur imagery.

The Ship That Died shows food being cooked and the stove still hot when it is boarded. Not true. These scenes link up, perhaps, with the many cooking scenes in other Tourneur films. However, those scenes often show women cooking: whereas no one is seen cooking on the Mary Celeste, whose crew has vanished.

The Ship That Died has a page of explanations being torn out of the ship's log. I can find no real life account the supports this - it seems to be inaccurate. The torn log book does link up with some key types of Tourneur imagery:

The Magic Alphabet

The Magic Alphabet (1942) is a short film directed by Tourneur, which dramatizes the real life story of the discovery of vitamins. It centers on the real scientist Dr. Christiaan Eijkman (1858-1930). It is part of the documentary series The Passing Parade. Dr. Eijkman is played by the young Stephen McNally, who made several short films during this period.

Doctors Battling Illness

The Magic Alphabet shares subject matter with later Tourneur films. First, the film deals with doctors battling mysterious illnesses which they barely understand or control. A major part of the film shows the original discovery of vitamins. Here, Dr. Christiaan Eijkman is trying to understand the causes of beriberi, a disease which is causing numerous people in Java to sicken and die. These sections strongly anticipate the Tourneur films I Walked with a Zombie and Stars in My Crown. In all of these films, the illnesses which grip patients are horrible, and their causes are not understood. Not only do doctors have to treat patients with these illnesses, but they also are carrying on research to try to understand their causes. They desperately pit their intellects and their training against dimly understood medical disasters. In all the films, the doctor and other heroes operate in a shadowy world, in which they face a lone battle against overwhelming odds.

This point of view is underscored by the frame sequence of The Magic Alphabet. The film opens with three different stories, showing modern day Americans coming down with mysterious diseases. As in later Tourneur films, these diseases lead to a sort of living death for the patients. At the film's end, we revisit these three highly dramatic stories, and learn how a lack of vitamins is the cause. Tourneur leaves these three subplots hanging through the entire film, increasing the sense of a mysterious medical calamity overwhelming his characters. The secretary who gets sick here loses her job, just as Victor Mature will in Easy Living.

The imagery in The Magic Bullet is close to I Walked with a Zombie of the following year:

Other Tourneur films have similar subjects. In Easy Living, apparently healthy football player Victor Mature is stricken with a major illness. It changes his entire life, and the course of the film. Hollywood movies rarely showed men who were so afflicted. The hero of Appointment in Honduras collapses due to malaria. The hero of The Fearmakers also has attacks of weakness. In Experiment Perilous, doctor George Brent has to come to the aid of patient Hedy Lamarr, and her mysterious problems. And Night of the Demon can be interpreted as a scientist battling a mysterious calamity that he does not understand, although here the calamity is supernatural, not medical. There is also a doctor character in Nightfall, who comes to a terrible end. The hero of Nightfall is also severely beaten, and needs medical attention, provided by the heroine. A medical crisis is at the center of such shorts as The Grand Bounce and Romance of Radium.

In most of the films, the medical researchers show arrogance and hubris. The problems facing their patients are deeper than their conceptions of them. In The Magic Alphabet, the doctor is sure beriberi is caused by a microbe, the main model in medical science of the day for the cause of diseases. This is not true. He keeps on futilely researching this while people are dying all around him. Only a chance intervention by outsiders shows him the error of this idea. Medical researchers in I Walked with a Zombie and Stars in My Crown will show similar false ideas and false confidence. So will psychologist Dana Andrews in Night of the Demon.

Illness in Sternberg and Ford: A Comparison

Both Sternberg and Ford, directors who influenced Tourneur, depicted illness in their films. The troubles in Josef von Sternberg's Blonde Venus (1932) begin with the husband's life threatening illness. However, he is mainly sick off screen, and this film does not especially resemble Tourneur's.

However, John Ford's approach is close to Tourneur. Ford's Arrowsmith (1931) is a whole film about medical researchers, including an epidemic, and The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936) has similar scenes in its climax. The prisoners in Ford's movie anticipate those involved with the medical research in The Magic Bullet. Another epidemic occurs in Ford's Doctor Bull (1933). The young boy who has trouble walking in Ford's How Green Was My Valley (1941) resembles the one in The Magic Bullet. There is also the alcoholic doctor in Stagecoach (1939), the equally troubled Doc Holliday in Ford's My Darling Clementine (1946), and Anne Bancroft's gutsy doctor in Seven Women (1966).

Like Tourneur, Ford sets his physicians in remote and often tropical areas. Many of Ford's doctors are as fallible as Tourneur's. However, Ford's doctors do not seem beset by the almost metaphysical doubts of Tourneur's. It is the ignorance and helplessness of Tourneur's heroes in the face of the unknown that troubles them.

Northerners in the Tropics

The Magic Alphabet shares a tropical setting with other Tourneur films. All of these works show people from Northern countries living in tropical areas: Panama in Phantom Raiders, a Caribbean island in I Walked with a Zombie, Mexico in Out of the Past. Tourneur has rich atmosphere, depicting life in all of these countries.


The emphasis on scientists trying to provide proper food and nutrition for the public returns in Berlin Express, whose hero Robert Ryan is an agriculturist trying to feed the starving Germans after World War II.

Cool and Lam

Cool and Lam (1958) is a pilot for a television series that was never made. It features the private eye team of Bertha Cool and Donald Lam, stars of a long series of popular detective novels by Erle Stanley Gardner. Cool and Lam is based on one of the novels, Turn On the Heat (1940). It is a delightful film, with strong story telling. Unfortunately, though, it has a much simpler visual style than Tourneur's best theatrical features.

Erle Stanley Gardner introduces the show. It is fascinating to see this major author. His appearance adds a documentary dimension to Cool and Lam, like many of Tourneur's early short films. Like some of them, it mixes documentary and narrative elements.

Tourneur Subjects

Cool and Lam is full of key Tourneur subjects. It takes place near a center of American political power: a California town and its highly contested election for mayor. (While the characters are from this town, most of the action actually occurs in neighboring cities.) Major characters are the reform candidate for Mayor, and the crooked gambling interests opposed to him.

This is one of Tourneur's small towns under siege from sinister forces: the gamblers who are trying to run it, and subvert its election.

Working women are prominent: private eye heroine Bertha Cool, her secretary Elsie Brand (a series character in the novels), a sympathetic newspaperwoman, various women who work at one of the gamblers' clubs. Cool and Lam is unusually rich in female characters, and non-stereotyped ones. Both Gardner and Tourneur have a long-term interest in and sympathy for working women.

Tourneur likes conflicts between upper middle class vs middle class men. The candidate for Mayor is an upper middle class man; private eye hero Donald Lam seems barely middle class, although he does wear a suit and tie, that symbol of middle class work and life. However, there is only a little conflict between these two characters, unlike the antagonisms in other Tourneur films.

Tourneur likes characters with secrets or hidden lives. In Cool and Lam, this includes the client, who employs Cool & Lam under a pseudonym, and the wife.

Newspaper articles are used in the detective's research.

The detective follows a suspect: an example of the tracking in Tourneur films.


Donald Lam works entirely non-violently, during his whole investigation. Bad guys use violence, but Donald's vigorous investigation never uses guns or fisticuffs. (He does throw ink at a bad guy to escape from him, one of Tourneur's thrown objects.) Dialogue does not mention this non-violent approach, and it is not made explicit.

Private eye Donald Lam is highly effective at his work. He makes a complete contrast with the ineffective private eye heroes of Phantom Raiders and Out of the Past.

Paper: Passed from One Person to Another

Tourneur films often have paper passed from one person to another. In Cool and Lam this includes:

Tourneur Imagery

Signs are common in Cool and Lam.

The big henchman is called a gorilla. This is a simple example of the animal imagery linked to villains in Tourneur.

Food: Sandwiches

In both the novels and the film Cool and Lam, Bertha is relentlessly cheap, and is always trying to get Donald to save money. In Cool and Lam, this takes the form of her asking Donald to sleep in his car and pack sandwiches on his trip, to avoid paying for hotels and restaurants. Bertha's cheapness and greed come right out of Erle Stanley Gardner. But the sandwiches seem like Tourneur imagery: they run through his films.

Later, we see Bertha herself eating a sandwich at her desk. It is a comic moment, reflecting on her own tight-fisted view towards money.


The bar is seen through the doorway of the booth.

Northwest Passage: The Gunsmith

The Gunsmith (1958) is an episode of the television series Northwest Passage. Although it was the third episode to be broadcast, there are signs it might be the series pilot. It introduces a major series character, Langdon Towne.

Tourneur had worked with the star of Northwest Passage, Keith Larsen, when Larsen played the supporting role of Bat Masterson in Wichita (1955). Tourneur would direct multiple episodes of Northwest Passage, apparently eight all told. The Gunsmith and two others were re-edited into a feature film, Forest Rangers, and it is in this form that I've seen them. The Gunsmith forms the first third of Forest Rangers, that is, around the first 25 minutes of the film. Most of the other episodes of Northwest Passage I've seen are not any good at all.

Forest Rangers is full of racism against Native Americans. It is one of the most racist Westerns of the 1950's, an era in which many progressive, pro-Native American Westerns were in fact being made - although not by Tourneur! Forest Rangers also suffers from extreme violence, and lurid treatment of its female characters. As a whole Forest Rangers is pretty dismal, and I considered leaving it out entirely from this Tourneur study.

Meeting the Characters

The Gunsmith has an interesting 15 minute passage, in which we get introduced to the three main characters. This begins after a brief prologue, with the first iris shot opening on Buddy Ebsen. It lasts through a scene showing the men sleeping outdoors at night. This sequence is full of Tourneur subjects: The collaboration indicates another aspect of the Roger Roberts - Langdon Towne relationship: it has homoerotic undertones. It is perhaps the most striking gay male relationship in Tourneur.

The relationship has dominance-and-submission aspects. Roberts tries to control Towne. This is modified in ways that soften what could have been hard-edged. The control has a playful side: both men see it as a game. And Towne's upper class status gives him protection and options: he could easily leave the relationship at any time he wants to. The fifteen minute sequence, in which the men meet and develop their relationship, is full of inventive detail, not spoiled here.

There are aspects of that Tourneur theme hero worship, in the way Langdon Towne comes to regard Roger Roberts.

Major Roberts' relationship with his Sergeant (Buddy Ebsen), also has dominance aspects. The Sergeant enjoys having Major Roberts throw a tomahawk at him (I am not making this up!). This recalls the way the bully in Stars in My Crown ultimately enjoys having his whip turned on him by the hero Joel McCrea, and tripped into the mud. The tomahawk is one of many thrown items in Tourneur. And the tin cup it splits is one of Tourneur's cut objects. (There is also a tossed bag, in another scene.)

There is a triangle relationship: both Langdon Towne and Roger Roberts are attracted to the same woman. However, unlike most Tourneur triangles, this one seems perfunctory. It mainly seems like an excuse for the men to have a rivalry relationship.

The later, otherwise mainly dismal episode Surprise Attack has an interesting comedy epilogue. In this, Towne presents his rear to Roberts to kick, in front of the whole troop. This is a ritual dominance scene. (The not-bad opening of Surprise Attack has Towne making a sketch of an enemy Native American village: some of Tourneur's image making. Soon, a note and maps from Towne become some of Tourneur's paper passed around.)

Costumes and Color

The men wear the spectacular Forest Ranger uniforms, copied directly from the feature film version of Northwest Passage (1940). However, leads Keith Larsen and Don Burnett are much fitter than Spencer Tracy in the original film. Both men are examples of the hunks that TV producers of the 1950's favored as Western leads.

One suspects that the green color of the uniforms has been made brighter for the TV series: it often looks fairly neutral or forest green in the original movie, but it is boldly green in Tourneur's TV episodes. The green Forest Ranger uniforms often match the lush green vegetation. They also make a contrasting color harmony with the red uniforms of the British troops. Color looks ravishing throughout The Gunsmith.

Keith Larsen is introduced with his shirt off, a common sight for 1950's Western TV leading men. It also recalls Burt Lancaster's shirtless scene in The Flame and the Arrow. Tourneur often employed macho leading men in his films. When Larsen is next seen in his Forest Ranger uniform, it emphasizes the "getting dressed up" quality of his uniform.

Northwest Passage: Break Out

Break Out (1958) is an episode of the television series Northwest Passage. It deals with an attempted escape from a POW camp. Although the series takes place in the 18th Century, Break Out has the feel of a World War II POW escape movie, such as Stalag 17 (Billy Wilder, 1953).

Hidden Identities

The POW heros hide their identities and ranks under pseudonyms. This perhaps relates to Tourneur heroes in other films who have secrets or hidden lives. Often however in these other films, such heroes' secrets are also initially hidden from the viewer. Break Out is simpler: the viewer always knows all about who the POWs really are.

The hidden identities have an eerie effect. We have a whole cast of men who are concealing their names.


Break Out has an injured character, who is sick in his bed for much of the show. Sick and injured people are a major Tourneur theme.

A life-giving substance, also a Tourneur theme, is part of this subject: his fellow prisoners reduce his fever through the use of river water.

We see a detailed progression of the prisoner's illness, through many stages. Illness and injury are often complex in Tourneur, rather than simple.

SPOILER. Here, the injured man is deliberately getting his treatment withheld, by the monstrous people who run the camp. We only learn this mid-show: it is a new complication in the situation. Other Tourneur films have medical mysteries: here there is hidden information not about the injury itself, but its lack of treatment.

The Capture on Water

The opening is a well-staged scene, in which the good guys in a canoe are captured by bad guys in other canoes. There are surreal aspects: seeing life transformed into something done while riding in canoes.

Both this opening, and later scenes gathering river water, reflect Tourneur's interest in water.


The hero uses mathematics to measure distances and progress in digging the tunnel.

Cut Objects

Much suspense ensues over the hero's attempt to get a pitchfork, and then to break off one of its tines. The breaking is staged with visual interest, in a picturesque tree stump.

Thrown Objects

The hero throws dirt at his attackers, in an attempt to escape. The clouds of black dirt are visually interesting.

Bonanza: Denver McKee

Denver McKee (1960) is Tourneur's only episode of the television series Bonanza.

Denver McKee is mainly a poor film. It suffers from central problems:

Mystery and Tracking

Denver McKee has a mystery plot: something frequent in Tourneur.

The best aspect of the mystery: elaborate scenes mid-show of the heroes tracking the villains. Tracking people is a Tourneur subject. These scenes include detailed reasoning by the heroes, trying to analyze prints left by the villains, and what they might indicate about the villains' path and location.

The tracking sections show detailed plotting: one of the more plot-rich parts of Denver McKee, which otherwise often suffers from plot thinness. Many other sections show characters standing around and attitudinizing: which does nothing to advance the plot.

A tracker is said to be "half bloodhound": part of Tourneur's imagery linking people and animals.

Against Violence

The heroine makes an interesting speech, attacking violence in the West. She questions whether the heroes are secretly in favor of violence, rather than being opposed to it.

This speech attacks violence as a "way of life". It makes an interesting counterpoint to other Tourneur films which support non-violence as a policy.

More routinely, there are conflicts between crooks who wish to avoid violence in their thefts, and crooks all too eager to kill. This debate-among-crooks is common in both Westerns and crime films.

Two Men Raising a Child: A Gay Couple?

Widower Denver McKee and his tough foreman Miles Briscoe have raised McKee's daughter. The two men have had a close association for decades, living in the same home. My impression is that this situation is not uncommon in Westerns. Does it hint that the two men are a gay couple, at least in terms of their emotional relationship, if not physical? It is hard to tell.

American TV was full of widows and widowers, far beyond their statistical prevalence in real life. It became a source of jokes and press commentary. See Mad Magazine's (September 1969) spoof of the TV series Julia, yet another sitcom about a widow. Widows and sometimes widowers with children were common on TV. And not necessarily meant to be seen as gay. 1960's TV Westerns about widowers with children include The Rifleman, The Virginian and Bonanza itself.


Some scenes show Tourneur traditions in food: The cake oddly resembles "pieces of paper" in Tourneur: Much is made of cutting the cake: making it one of Tourneur's cut objects.

The outdoor party with the cake recalls the more elaborate outdoor Western fest in Canyon Passage. Mort, the slick-talking young man in a suit who romances the heroine at the party, is played by a young Bob Barker, later famous as a game show host. This seems to be one of his few regular acting roles.


A few passages show bright color. These might, or might not, be examples of Tourneur's visual style. They are among the more effective and atmospheric scenes in the film: The finale has Little Joe in a bright blue jacket, the heroine in a blue dress, in front of a blue house. This blue jacket might be an example of a Tourneur hero in brightly colored clothes.

The Barbara Stanwyck Show: The Miraculous Journey of Tadpole Chan

The Miraculous Journey of Tadpole Chan (1960) is an episode of the television series The Barbara Stanwyck Show.

Tourneur Subjects

The Miraculous Journey of Tadpole Chan is full of favorite Tourneur subjects and characters:

Tourneur Mystery

Bellamy has to solve a mystery: what is the origin of the silk imported by Stanwyck? At first he thinks he knows all the answers, that it comes from Communist China. He also believes Stanwyck is simply a liar and a crook. But eventually he investigates, and discovers that Stanwyck is telling the truth: the silk comes from Thailand. This is an example of a Tourneur hero solving a mystery. Like many such mysteries, the situation is full of ambiguities and unknowns at the start. The hero has to overcome his preconceptions to solve the mystery.

The viewer might not regard the silk's origin as a mystery: the viewer might simply trust Stanwyck's account. But from Bellamy's point of view, this is a mystery.

Bellamy learns lessons, and so does the viewer:


As Stanwyck's introduction stressed, Ralph Bellamy was fresh from a signature role: President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the film Sunrise at Campobello (Vincent J. Donehue, 1960). Roosevelt, among many other things was a "member of America's WASP elite idealistically engaged in public service". Bellamy's Americam Consul is not given an explicit social or class background. But one suspects that the casting of Bellamy subtly suggests his Consul is a member of America's elite in public service, like Roosevelt. This would make him "upper-middle class", maybe even "upper class".

Bellamy's Consul comes into conflict with Stanwyck's businesswoman. Stanwyck's character recalls Dick Foran's businessman in The Fearmakers. Both characters are energetic, financially successful, and good at their business tasks. But their professional ethics are dubious (Stanwyck) to shady (Foran). They are go-getters in a world that cuts corners and values money over social respectability and the straight-and-narrow. While they are both too rich to be considered purely middle class, they have the ethos of quite a few middle class business people.

Tadpole is of much lower class than Bellamy or Stanwyck. He is working class. In his talk with Stanwyck on the ferry, he depicts her as a person much more prestigious than him: of higher class, though the concept of class is not explicitly mentioned.

Hong Kong

For reasons I don't know, Hong Kong became very big on US television in 1960-1961. Rod Taylor starred in a series Hong Kong. And The Barbara Stanwyck Show has four episodes set there, three directed by Jacques Tourneur. Both series stressed glamour, sympathetic depictions of Hong Kong, and good-natured adventure, treated seriously but without grimness.

Later in the 1960's, it was fairly common for US TV spy or crime dramas to have an episode in Hong Kong.

The US Civil Rights movement was in full operation in 1960. A Hong Kong setting offered the chance for Asian and white characters to interact in modern society. It was not surprising that Hong Kong attracted directors noted for their sympathetic, non-stereotyped treatment of minorities, such as Budd Boetticher on Hong Kong and Tourneur on The Barbara Stanwyck Show.

Cut Items

Stanwyck's shoe heel breaks off, leading to a bit of business.

Tossed Items

Later, Bellamy crumples up a receipt and throws it in a waste basket: some of Tourneur's tossed items.

Paper: Passed from One Person to Another

A key Tourneur motif is the piece of paper passed from person to person. There are simple examples in The Miraculous Journey of Tadpole Chan:

The Barbara Stanwyck Show: Ironbark's Bride

Ironbark's Bride (1960) is an episode of the television series The Barbara Stanwyck Show. It's a Western, set in 1882. An anthology series like The Barbara Stanwyck Show had a wide variety of settings.

Tourneur Subjects

Jacques Tourneur likes subjects that get full play in Ironbark's Bride:

The Barbara Stanwyck Show: Dear Charlie

Dear Charlie (1961) is an episode of the television series The Barbara Stanwyck Show.

Black Comedy

Dear Charlie is a black comedy. It is not very good: labored and unfunny. It does occasionally have an individual approach or feel: a good thing, and why one should not dismiss it out of hand.

Tourneur would soon make another black comedy, for theaters: The Comedy of Terrors (1963). Like Dear Charlie, it would center on a man committing murders to make money.

Some of Tourneur's films have pleasing moments of comedy, such as The Flame and the Arrow. But he rarely directed out-and-out comedies. Like Fritz Lang and Joseph H. Lewis, he stuck to more solemn toned fare.

The Barbara Stanwyck Show: Dragon by the Tail

Dragon by the Tail (1961) is an episode of the television series The Barbara Stanwyck Show. It is one of the best episodes Tourneur directed for this series.

It is one of three episodes Tourneur did, in which Stanwyck played Josephine Little, an importer-exporter in contemporary Hong Kong. A fourth such Josephine Little episode Hong Kong and Little Joe was directed by Richard Whorf. These Josephine Little episodes were like a "series within a series", a separate show nested within The Barbara Stanwyck Show as a whole.

A Political Period

Tourneur made several films in this period with political content: Great Day in the Morning, The Fearmakers, Timbuktu, The Giant of Marathon, Dragon by the Tail. This is perhaps a "political period" in his work.

Tourneur's films from this era are not much discussed by most film lovers. This makes Tourneur's political cinema less known.

To be blunt, one also suspects that many film historians don't like the anti-Communist viewpoint of The Fearmakers and Dragon by the Tail. Films like these are unfashionable politically. But if one can't criticize the Chinese Communists for attempting to build an atomic bomb, as Dragon by the Tail does, when can one criticize them?

Ingmar Bergman would soon be expressing deep anxiety over the Chinese bomb project in Winter Light (1963; filming started October 1961).

Tourneur Subjects

As is common in spy films, some of the characters turn out to have secret lives. This is also a Tourneur subject.

The Barbara Stanwyck Show: Confession

Confession (1961) is an episode of the television series The Barbara Stanwyck Show.

Confession is a crime thriller. Stanwyck's introduction suggests that the film is in the tradition of her earlier Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944). There are certainly plot similarities: wife married to older man and her adulterous lover plot against him. So Confession might also be a late attempt at creating film noir.

Despite being directed by Tourneur, an expert on noir, Confession seems to me to be mainly lifeless. It is a disappointment.

However, a second viewing suggests that Confession is perhaps not trying to be film noir. Instead, it resembles Experiment Perilous. Both films have a wife trapped in a marriage to a control-freak man. Both have an outsider try to free the wife. However, the schemes used in Confession are themselves evil, and suggested by a villain, rather than by a hero in as in the earlier film.

Tourneur Subjects

Confession centers on that ubiquitous Tourneur subject: a romantic triangle.

Confession shows Stanwyck hiding out in Marvin's apartment. Tourneur characters frequently stay in someone else's home. A massive police search for her fails to find her there. This is another portrait of ineffectual police or private detectives.

Stanwyck is another Tourneur heroine who shoots.

A radio news story plays a prominent role. Tourneur films are full of newspaper stories; a few have radio news.

Lee Marvin

Confession shows Barbara Stanwyck becoming attracted to and sleeping with Lee Marvin. Today, most film fans think of Marvin in terms of his truly sinister performances as screen villains. I confess I cringed seeing Stanwyck romancing Marvin.

But in 1960, most viewers would have associated Lee Marvin with his TV series M Squad (1957-1960), in which Lee Marvin played a good guy, a tough Chicago cop. His cop character was tough as nails, and linked to the seamy, ugly side of life. But still, he was a good guy and a "leading man" actor in that role.

Animal Imagery

Marvin is another Tourneur villain linked to animals, in his case horses: Stanwyck also gets an animal statuette. She gets matches from what looks like a dog figurine.

Tracking: Using the Phone Book

Stanwyck originally finds attorney Marvin through the phone book. At first she lies about this. Tourneur often gets characters to change their story about events.

Later, neighbor Josephine Hurchinson tracks down Marvin, and almost Stanwyck too, through a combination of her phone bill, and some "reverse usage" of the phone book. She shows both cleverness and determination. Tracking is a Tourneur subject.

Links to Night Tide

Confession startles by being set in an identical location as Night Tide (Curtis Harrington, 1961). Both are set in the building housing a Merry-Go-Round at Santa Monica Pier. And in upstairs apartments over the Merry-Go-Round.

The Wikipedia says that Night Tide was filmed in 1960, and released in 1961. I have no idea which film came first: Night Tide or Confession. Or if one influenced the other. Harrington and Night Tide have always been seen as strongly influenced by Tourneur's 1940's horror films such as Cat People. But the shared setting between Night Tide and Confession is rarely discussed.

The Twilight Zone: Night Call

Night Call (1964) is Tourneur's only episode of the television series The Twilight Zone.

Night Call shows Tourneur's interest in woman's work: the three on-screen characters are all female, and two of them are shown at work.

The mail the housekeeper gives the heroine is perhaps a simple example of the paper passed around in Tourneur.

Technology and Mystery

Night Call is perhaps mainly a supernatural tale. But screen writer Richard Matheson sometimes fused supernatural and science fiction elements, and there are technological aspects to Night Call, especially the use of telephones.

Tourneur himself is interested in communication devices, such as phones and switchboards.

Like other Tourneur films, there is a mystery, that only yields after very detailed, multi-stage investigation. This mystery has both technological and supernatural elements. Like other Tourneur mysteries, it is frighteningly hard for the characters to solve. They need to go through many stages, and experience failure along the way. The technological aspects are perhaps analogous to the medical mystery in so much of Tourneur.

Links to Experiment Perilous

Night Call shares imagery with the opening of Experiment Perilous:

Cut Objects

The telephone line is one of the many cut objects in Tourneur. The shot of it hanging on the grave is one of the best images in Night Call. It is constantly swinging a little, presumably in the wind: wind being a Tourneur motif.

Geometric Worlds

The bed area is one of Tourneur's geometric worlds. The bed frame is made up of repeated rounded shapes. The table contains both a clock and a telephone, made up out of rounded geometric forms. There is another of Tourneur's geometric lamps. And a bedspread with lines and squares. Nearby is the heroine's wheelchair, with a patterned afghan back made up of zig-zag chevron shapes. This chair is moved into other locations as well, throughout the show.

The cemetery has aspects of a geometric world, especially in the shot of the telephone pole and the grave. The cemetery is full of tombstones, each in a different pure geometric shape.

The switchboard operator's headset is full of geometric forms.


The house has a porch with a small portico over part of it. Neither of these Tourneur motifs play any role in the story.

The house has no grass or separate lawn outside, just dirt. This gives it an aspect of the ruins in other Tourneur.

The cemetery is entered by a gateway between two posts, although there are no actual gates. It has a sign. Gates and signs are common Tourneur motifs.

Flat Wall Shots

The camera shows the heroine and her whole bed, parallel to the screen frame, at a climactic moment. It is an intriguing variation on a Tourneur "flat wall shot".

T.H.E. Cat: The Ring of Anasis

The Ring of Anasis (1966) is Tourneur's only episode of the television series T.H.E. Cat.

A Final Film?

Chris Fujiwara describes The Ring of Anasis as Tourneur's last known film. This careful description is admirable: no one knows of any later television (or film) credits for Tourneur. So apparently it is his last work. But much is still unknown about the credits of TV series. So theoretically, there is a small possibility that some later, unknown Tourneur work is lurking within some little-studied television series.

There is a parallel to the great director Joseph H. Lewis. Lewis' last known work is also a TV episode from 1966, The Man from Nowhere episode of The Big Valley. Both of these masters of classical Hollywood cinema found their careers coming to an end, in the same year of 1966: perhaps the last year of classical filmmaking before the rise of New Hollywood in 1967.

Links to Night of the Demon

Both the basic situation and the two central characters of The Ring of Anasis recall Night of the Demon.

Both films center on a man who is suffering under a supernatural curse that decrees his doom. Both dooms have a deadline: a calendar date in Night of the Demon, the night of the exhibition in The Ring of Anasis. Both fates seem implacable and inescapable. Tourneur creates a powerful atmosphere of doom in both works.

Both films have villains who believe in the supernatural. Both have been given huge worldly success by evil forces of the supernatural. Both live in fabulous mansions that symbolize this success. While both have both supernatural power, success and wealth on their side, both the men themselves, and the supernatural forces that aid them, are seen as evil. The powers with which they align themselves are real and immense - but also evil, and something no man should deal with or collaborate with.

The villain's mansion has a black-and-white checkerboard floor in both works. It symbolizes the villain's lavish-but-sinister home. Tourneur uses these floors to create forceful, striking visual imagery.

The hero is a skeptic in both films: he does not believe in the supernatural, and thinks the universe runs according to scientific laws. One has to suspect that both of these films disagree with him: it is hard to see how all these things would happen to the villain, unless the supernatural powers he invokes are actually real.

However, balancing this is the fact that this hero is morally good: he is not a corrupt ally of evil like the villains.

Both heroes are also virile, sexually attractive leading men: while the villains lack this sex appeal. This too gives the heroes more substance, in films that otherwise suggest the heroes are deluded skeptics who lack the villains' wealth and supernatural power.

Tourneur films often contrast an upper middle class man with a middle class man. In both of these films, the villain can be seen as upper middle class, and the hero as middle class.

Links to I Walked with a Zombie

I Walked with a Zombie is echoed:

Links to Other Tourneur films

Other Tourneur films are echoed:

The Visual Arts: Statues, Murals and Museums

The villain's home is full of statues. Statues are an image that run through Tourneur films.

The villain's home is structured like a museum, filled with statues and artifacts on display. Several Tourneur films have actual museums in them: Cat People, The Leopard Man, Experiment Perilous. This home is not a public museum in the strict sense. But it sure looks like a museum. It can perhaps be considered a "private museum".

The home also has masks on display. Masks too appear in other Tourneur works.

Murals are behind both the band, and the hero, in the final night club scene. The mural behind the band looks vaguely psychedelic; the mural behind the hero recalls Op Art. This invokes two great art crazes of the 1960's.


Tourneur films refer to mathematics. The hero and villain have an interesting discussion about what the laws of probability say about the reality of the alleged supernatural forces in the villain's life. This discussion is highly quotable: one wishes it were invoked as a Tourneur Statement about the subject. Although it might likely be the work of writer Herman Miller.


Tourneur films sometimes look at alternative economic systems. There is dialogue about tribesmen providing food, furs and skin to a young man selected to be their "god".

Rich collectors also trade with tribesmen, according to dialogue accounts. This is not "alternative economics" though. The villain seems to have bought the tribesmen's statues with money: about as modern and standard a form of economics as one could imagine!

Still, the way the tribesman are lined up, selling the villain their ancestors' statues en masse, recalls the big trade in "gold claims" run by the villain in Great Day in the Morning.

Tossed Items

The film has some of Tourneur's tossed or thrown items:

Confused Anthropology

Geographical regions in The Ring of Anasis are wildly confused. It mixes together aboriginal and tribal groups that are utterly separate and different in real life: All of this is absurd, as anthropology and art history.

However, it all works as story telling, one has to admit.

Tourneur films often show people from the North visiting the tropics. Such visits are much talked about in The Ring of Anasis, but not actually shown on screen.