Noir films have a very distinct feel about them. Whether it may be the black and white tint or the use of intense lighting and shadows, these films provide a different look on cinema. Comparing and contrasting two crime films from different decades gave me a unique way of interpreting how time has changed this genre and what we might be able to expect in the future of noir films.
The first film I watched, Touch of Evil, released in 1958, follows the story of a recently married couple on their honeymoon. While Mike, the main character, gets tied up in his work life, he leaves his wife, Susie, unattended who eventually gets kidnapped by his enemies. The second film, The Man Who Wasn’t There, released in 2001, tells quite a different crime story. The main character, Ed, lives a very quiet life with his wife Doris. From the beginning, you can tell something is going on with her and her boss Dave. This doesn’t seem to really bother Ed and he even states, “it’s a free country, she can do whatever she wants.” This laid back attitude he has is prominent throughout the film. After a business deal goes bad, Ed has no choice to kill her boss but she ends up going to jail for it. Both of these films fall under the genre of crime noir films even though there is little similar about them.
Often when you think of crime films, you think of a lot of action, blood, fighting, and even death. In Touch of Evil you definitely get a good amount of this. At the four-minute mark, the audience is already exposed to a car explosion and two deaths. This immediately adds suspense to the movie because of how early we are exposed to the action. This then carries on throughout the movie. The way this opening scene all allows to set the tone for crime gives the audience an idea of all that they can suspect from the rest of the movie. Unlike The Man Who Wasn’t There, there is little to no action throughout the movie. The first bit of crime we are exposed to is at the forty-minute mark where Ed kills the boss Dave. This scene goes into great detail and spends quite a bit of time showing the death. The audience at this point is finally exposed to some action with the stabbing and struggling of Dave bleeding out. While this scene appears about half way through the film, it is the only bit of action we see. This is also the only point in which we see Ed, the main character, reacting to a situation. This fighting scene is so significant because it compares so easily to the fight scene in Touch of Evil, at the seventy-three-minute mark the main fight scene begins. Similar to the other fight scene, this action provides the audience with an extreme feeling of suspense. With quick cuts and the use of lighting and shadows, this bit of action sets the tone for the rest of the movie. The quick cuts, as discussed in class, is an extremely beneficial way to film a fight scene. Both of these films did a great job of really setting the tone of this crime scene. This is one of the few ways these films seemed to be achieving the same idea of suspense.
Although these two films were released about fifty years apart from each other, they share more similarities in sets than you would think. Throughout Touch of Evil, the ability to use lighting and shadows adds to the idea that they are living in a very dark and dim time. For example, the way the shadows always seem to be covering Captains face and features allow him to put off a mean and dark persona. This is then prominent when little to no shadows are shown on Susie, who is kind and always adding a sense of humor. This is as well seen in The Man Who Wasn’t There. Ed, a very laid back man who is always seeming to keep to himself, has very little to no shadows on his face making him seem very unthreatening. His face is constantly being lit up with natural high lighting, similar to Susie’s. Contradicting this, boss Dave’s face is often covered with shadows similar to Captain’s.
Contradicting the similarities in lighting, the sets were extremely different. While Touch of Evil primarily took place at the night time, or at least portraying the look of night, it added to the idea of suspense and a scary feeling. This fit the film well because of the amount of action, crime, and suspense being portrayed throughout. This set would not have fit the idea for The Man Who Wasn’t There because of it happening mostly during the day with little to no action scenes. Besides the fight scene mentioned above, there was no significance or draw to the idea that this was even a crime movie. Therefore, the constant light with no shadows supports the idea that the audience will not be startled with a sudden car explosion or death like in the other movie.
The idea of suspense was also prominent throughout Touch of Evil because of the use of background music. Similar to horror movies, background music often gets louder when something intense is about to happen. As well in action movies, this music would often get louder before Ed was about to make a move, before Captain would get angry, and before fight scenes. Contradicting this idea of suspense, there was little to no music being played in the background of The Man Who Wasn’t There and instead there was a voice over of Ed throughout the entire movie. Because he never seemed to really get angry or upset about things, his soothing voice never seemed to add suspense to the film or give off the idea something was about to happen.
Character portrayal is extremely prominent in both of these films. As previously mentioned in class, the idea that women are seen as sexual objects for their men are both obvious in these films. In Touch of Evil, Susie waits for her husband to get done with his work in a hotel room. Not only is she sitting and waiting, but she awaits in revealing underwear. She doesn’t go off on her own but instead stays waiting for his arrival. This idea portrays the idea that she lives for her man and that’s it. This is relevant in The Man Who Wasn’t There as well because of Doris working for the undergarment company. The first time the audience is exposed to her, she is lying seductively on the bed, pulling up her stockings. It is obvious her man is there and that she is trying to turn him on. These images the women portray carry on throughout the movie in different scenes. The way these women are shown so similar in both films reiterate the idea that women are shown sexually for the pleasure of men.
As previously mentioned, it is apparent how these two films have quite a bit in common but even more not. Whether it may be the fifty year difference of the story line, these two films both take crime noir films and go in different directions. Not saying one way is better than the other, but their similarities and differences are obvious. From the sets and lighting, to the characters motives, the films both touch base on the idea of what it takes to supply the audience with the right amount of suspense needed for their stories. I found the way the shadows highlighted the characteristics of each character a neat way to portray their image. This idea is not often seen in cinema anymore. I think this allows the audience to have a different perspective of what makes each character unique and induvial without only relying on their actions to do so. As well as the use of shadows and lighting to portray the characters motives, both films use the women to give off a sexual persona. The women in both films are quite similar in the sense that they wear extremely revealing clothes and are seen by all men in a way that shows them to be living only for their well-being. I really enjoyed comparing these two films and contrasting what they both have to offer. Because they were both released in different decades, it was fascinating to see how this specific genre had changed over time, and they stayed the same. It is obvious that lighting, character portrayal, and the use of sets allows these two stories to go in two completely different directions yet stay similar at the same time.
Touch of Evil scenes referred to:
The Man Who Wasn’t There scenes referred to: