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Article: “Murder’s Tongue: Identity, Death and the City in Film Noir” Paul Arthur Movies: The Big Heat, Out of the Past, The Asphalt Jungle, Kiss Me Deadly According to Wikapedia, film noir is defined as “a cinematic term used primarily to describe stylish Hollywood crime dramas, particularly those that emphasize moral ambiguity and sexual motivation.” Despite this standing definition, many critics provide further descriptions of what they consider the term to represent. For instance, Paul Arthur, the author of Murder’s Tongue: Identity, Death and the City in Film Noir provides not only his insights of the film noir time period, but also several characteristics that set these movies apart from any others of its time. Arthur notes specifically on the movie “The Big
Heat”, but through his analysis of this movie many of his arguments concurrently relate to characteristics of numerous film noir movies of the time. The Murder’s Tongue: Identity, Death and the City in Film Noir frequently refers to the violence illustrated in “The Big Heat”. For
example, Arthur used this movie to describe how death rarely serves a purpose in film noir. While death, dying and killing may reestablish
order and settlement in some films, Arthur argues that in film noir this is not the case; there is no re-generation through violence in these
films. Despite it’s lack in utility, violence prevails in movies, and as Arthur recognizes, “the most prevalent type of death is homicide… [and] the handgun is the primary weapon of choice” (Arthur, p.158). Along those same lines, Arthur notes that “while some films are structured around a single homicidal act, nearly two-thirds contain multiple deaths that are typically link in a chain of attribution” (Arthur, p.159). Arthur proposes that violence is widely prevalent throughout
the film by means of hand guns, and both single and multiple acts of homicide. Another point Arthur makes in his article is that women are repeatedly involved in these violent cases. He says, “while the
tantalizing figure of the femme fatale all but vanishes from film noir in the 1950s, by percentage, there are as many female victims in the latter stages of noir production as there were in the initial, critically venerated phase” (Arthur, p.159). This goes to show that women in film noir were not only present in these movies, but their character regularly played a critical role. Whether it be as the victim or even as the killer of the film, Arthur speculates that women most definitely let their character shine through in these films. One last speculation Arthur pronounces in his article concerns film noir movies as a whole. He notes that violence is often positioned as the central, pivotal episode in the plot. He says, “Approximately
two-thirds of films in my sample are resolved through the death of a
main character (the remainders invariably have final scenes featuring some form of physical combat” (Arthur, p.159). He does not mention
the titles of the films, but notes that all movies of this time centered around death, and in reality it was the death of the main character. With that being said, it is no surprise that the plot of most film noir movies are often based around violence, with several elements of killing. Arthur detects within each of these homicides a handgun is
usually the primary weapon of choice. He bases this assumption off his analysis of The Big Heat, but this concept hold true for numerous other film noirs of the time. For instance, in The Asphalt Jungle, a film noir film directed by John Huston in 1950, the protagonist of the film (Dix Handley) exemplifies exactly what Arthur imparts in that he constantly carries a handgun. In fact, he is often referred to as a
hardened killer, the gunman, or a man without human feeling or human mercy. There was one specific occurrence in which Doc brought his right hand man Dix Handley, to meet up with a man named Emmerich. Emmerich tries to convince both Doc and Dix to part with the jewels (that they previously stole) though he has no money to offer, so they refuse. A man named Brannom then interrupts and tries to convince Doc and Dix, but threatens them with a gun instead. This threat ends in a shootout in which Brannom and Dix both possessed handguns leaving Dix wounded, and Brannom killed. One of the last scenes of this movie also reiterates that handguns are the primary
weapon of choice. When Doc and Dix go their separate ways one of the last things Dix offers Doc is his heater. The heater that Dix was referring to was simply another word for handgun. This was Dix’s
principal method of protection in which not only did he use to defend himself, but also his many of his companions. Thus he offered it to Doc acknowledging that he will be without a safeguard, due to the fact he will be without him. In conclusion, as Arthur previously asserts, it is obvious that killing people with handguns is the ideal security scheme. After viewing several film noir movies, it is no surprise that a female is presumably one of the central characters in the film. While they are not the voice heard in the voice over, nor are they heartless protagonist, their existence in each film noir is vital. As Arthur
speculates, they are either the victims of death, or possibly the cause a death. Kiss Me Deadly, serves as a perfect example to back Arthur’s speculation of female characters playing the role as a victim. Christina, a female character in the movie, who is educated despite the fact she was first seen hitching a ride on the side of the road, attempts desperately to escape her past, in taking the initiative to escape her bullied imprisonment. But despite Christina’s strong attempt, she does not survive past the opening moments of the film. Kiss Me Deadly seems to make the argument that only the cynical, the corrupt or the criminal can survive, leaving Christina one of the unfortunate victims in this film.
Yet as Arthur declares, female characters are not only victims in film, but often times they are killers. One specific film that justifies this proposal is Out of the Past. This film features Kathie Moffet, a femme fetale who is involved in several killings in this film. Her foremost
killing was in San Francisco with Jeff, when she shot a man named Jack Eels. Whit had planned this murder, and with Kathie's help, hoped to frame Jeff for it, but the audience knows the truth, in that Kathie Moffet was in fact the cause of Jack’s death. Also, towards one of the last scenes in the movie Kathie realizes Jeff has double-crossed her, and in turn, we witness her kill another man. She shoots and kills him Jeff, calling him “a double-crossing rat.” This was one of the most
gruesome female acts of killing, and goes to prove Arthur’s point that women in film noir are in actuality, the minds behind the violence in several plots of this time period. Due to violence playing such an intense role in film noir movies, it is no wonder that Paul Arthur claims that, “approximately two-thirds of films in my sample are resolved through the death of a main character (the remainders invariably have final scenes featuring some form of physical combat” (Arthur, p.159). Movies such as The Asphalt
Jungle, and Out of the Past, just to name a few, most definitely have their main characters die by the conclusion of the film. For example, in the Asphalt Jungle, Dix Handley plays a role of one of the main characters. Due to the numerous human beings this gunman has
injured, wounded and killed throughout his life, it is ironic to note that he dies the same way. Handley’s wound from a previous gunfight is what costs him his life. In a clash with Brannom, he gets shot, and it worsens over time. Despite this pain he's determined to make it home to Kentucky. Doll helps him get away, and Dix finally arrives at the family farm and collapses in the field surrounded by the grazing horses, and he dies. The main character of Out of the Past does not make it past the end of the movie either. Jeff Baily, otherwise known as Jeff Markham in his previous life, narrates this film as he tells the tale of his mysterious past. He also dies at the conclusion of the film. As previously
mentioned he was shot by Kathie Moffet due to her thought that he was double-crossing her. Several viewers of Out of the Past may have considered Kathie Moffet the main character of the film as opposed to Jeff Baily, but regarless of this opinion she also dies in the end. These examples prove Arthur’s point that film noir movie conflicts are resolved through death of the main characters. While Paul Arthur’s anylization was designed specifically
towarded The Big Heat, many of his ideas proved to be relevant in numerous defining aspects of film noir as well. For starters, his point made on homicide being the most prevalent type of death, with the handgun being the primary weapon of choice, held true in the movie, The Asphalt Jungle. Next, Arthur commented on how the role of
women can in these films can differ; he declared either they are the victim or the one doing the killing. This idea was justified in both Kiss Me Deadly, when Christina was the victim that did not survive past the opening moments of the film and also in Out of the Past , as Kathie Moffet dangerously murdered two men: Jack Eels and Jeff Baily.
Lastly, Arthur commented on the fact that predicaments throughout the film are often resolved through the death of a main character; both The Asphalt Jungle, and Out of the Past justify this idea as well: both of these movies main characters are killed off by the conclusion of the movie. Overall, it can be said that Arthur has an observant eye for not only critiquing specific films, but for his overall surveillance of detecting familiar traits in numerous film noir movies.
Article: “Murder’s Tongue: Identity, Death and the City in Film Noir” Paul Arthur Movies: The Big Heat, Out of the Past, The Asphalt Jungle, Kiss Me Deadly
Lindsay Frasco Com321 Paper II Rich Potter
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