The Cinematic City: “the meaning is in the shadows”

When Strangers Marry (aka Betrayed 1944)

When Strangers Marry (aka Betrayed 1944)
King Bros/Monogram 67 mins
Director: William Castle
Cinematography: Ira Morgan
Score: Dimitri Tiomkin

“as When Strangers Marry illustrates, it is precisely through the triggering of sensations that film noir speaks most eloquently. A mode of signification that privileges connotation over the denotative, cause-and-effect logic of linear narrative, the highly-wrought noir aesthetic ensures that the ‘meaning’ of the noir city is not to be found in the narrative’s surface details but in its shadows, in the intangibles of tone and mood.” – Frank Krutnik, ‘Something More Than Night’, The Cinematic City (ed David B. Clarke), p 98-99

When Strangers Marry, made by the King Brothers, an independent production team signed to Monogram, was shot in ten days for under $50,000 and marketed as a “nervous A”. But Monogram could not get a percentage deal and the movie opened as a b, doing good business and garnering critical praise. James Agee said of the movie: “I have seldom, for years now, seen one hour so energetically and sensibly used in a film. Bits of it, indeed, gave me a heart-lifted sense of delight in real performance and perception and ambition which I have rarely known in any film context since my own mind, and that of moving-picture making, were both suffi­ciently young”.

Cinematic Cities: Moon over Harlem

Moon Over Harlem (1939) (69 mins Meteor Productions)
Direction: Edgar G. Ulmer
Cinematography: Burgi Contner & Edward Hyland
Music: Donald Heywood & his orchestra

A shady gambler marries a wealthy widow to get his hands on her money – and her daughter. Moon Over Harlem, a ‘black race’ movie was shot by Ulmer in just four days for US$8,000.

New York Noir: The Heart of Darkness

Hudson River - New York

Orson Wells in 1939 under contract to RKO developed a screenplay for a film adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s novella ‘Heart of Darkness’ (1899) , which sadly was never made.

Film scholar James Naremore in an on-line article discusses the book and the development of  Welles’ script, which sets the  story in the present day and makes Conrad’s narrator, Marlow, an American.

“The screenplay opens in New York on the Hudson river, with Marlow’s voice speaking of a ‘monstrous town marked ominously on the sky, a brooding gloom in the sunshine, a lurid glare under the stars’, while a series of lap dissolves show lights being turned on across Manhattan at dusk—the bridges, the parkways, the boulevards, the skyscrapers. The camera tours the length of the island accompanied by a montage of sounds—snatches of jazz from the radios of moving taxis; dinner music from the big hotels; a ‘throb of tom-toms’ foreshadowing the jungle music to come; the noodling of orchestras tuning up in the concert halls; and finally, near the Battery, the muted sounds of bell buoys and the hoots of shipping. Next we enter New York harbor, where we find Marlow leaning against the mast of a schooner, smoking a pipe and directly addressing the camera. ‘And this also’, he says, ‘has been one of the dark places of the earth‘.”