Cheating wife faces the music…
Clash by Night (1952) from Fritz Lang transcends film noir in a neo-realist melodrama that turns the film noir motif upside down and inside out. Sexual abandon and existential entitlement are put on trial and found empty.
Lang and veteran noir photographer, Nicholas Musuraca, team with Paul Douglas, and noir regulars, Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Ryan, in a deep story grounded in simple lives and normal passions, from a screenplay by Alfred Hayes and David Dortot, based on a play by Clifford Odets. A very young Marilyn Monroe is also well-cast.
The realist feel is established in the long opening sequence which simply and eloquently documents the start of the working day in the fishing community of Monterey, but only after the impending drama is telegraphed in the opening scene with waves crashing on coastal rocks at night accompanied by a portentous and strongly emotive score from Roy Webb.
On one level, the picture is pure melodrama: sexual frustration, infidelity, deception, selfishness, and betrayal. On a deeper level it is about the possibility of redemption and the power of forgiveness. A female protagonist confronts the disastrous consequences of the false choices she has made. A tour-de-force performance from Barbara Stanwyck, who in her role as Mae, delivers a profound critique:
Earl Pfieffer (Robert Ryan)
Mae Doyle (Barbara Stanwyck)
Earl: You feel guilty? That’s the way they want you to feel.
Earl: The world! All the people who haven’t got guts enough to do what they want to do…
Mae: All my life I’ve walked away from things.
Earl: And what’s stopping you now? Responsibility? … I told you somebody’s throat has to be cut!
Mae: But it’s never our’s, is it Earl? It’s always someone else’s – why?
Earl: Because they’re soft.
Mae: And we’re tough, we’re hard? And if someone suffers because of us, that’s just too bad? That’s the way life is? Huh. How many times have I told myself that. Nothing counted but me. My disappointments, my unhappiness… I thought I was being honest. I thought I wasn’t lying, but I was. I said to the world, this is what I am, take me or leave me, so that it was always on my terms that they had to accept me. But it was a trick. Can’t you see Earl? It was a trick to avoid the responsibility of belonging to someone else.
Earl: What are you giving me? An hour ago you were in love.
Mae: I don’t know what the word means anymore. Not the way we use it.
Earl: You knew yesterday…
Mae: Love because we’re lonely, love because were frightened, love because we’re bored.
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