Humphrey Bogart as Dixon “Dix” Steele, frustrated screenwriter who’s “been out of circulation too long”
Los Angeles, Summer 1949
Film: In a Lonely Place
Release Date: May 17, 1950
Director: Nicholas Ray
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
As #NoirVember continues, we shift our sartorial focus to a seminal figure in the development and enduring popularity of film noir: Humphrey Bogart. In movies like The Maltese Falcon (1941) and The Big Sleep (1946), Bogie cemented the wisecracking private eye persona often driving the heart of this subgenre, but he did not play a detective in the suspenseful thriller considered to be among his best, In a Lonely Place.
This 1950 noir co-starred Gloria Grahame and directed by Nicholas Ray, her husband at the time, though both Bogie and screenwriter Edmund North had envisioned the then-Mrs. Bogart, Lauren Bacall, to take the role of the “sultry and smooth… striking-looking girl with high cheek bones and tawny hair” as the character of Laurel Gray was described in the North’s screenplay. While Warner Brothers refused to lend Bacall to Bogart’s Santana Productions, Bogie was able to keep the leading role to deliver one of the most explosive and authentic performances of his prolific career.
Fred MacMurray as Walter Neff, slick insurance salesman
Los Angeles, May through July 1938
Film: Double Indemnity
Release Date: July 3, 1944
Director: Billy Wilder
Costume Designer: Edith Head
What’d you think I was, anyway? A guy that walks into a good-lookin’ dame’s front parlor and says, “Good afternoon, I sell accident insurance on husbands. You got one that’s been around too long, one you’d like to turn into a little hard cash? Just give me a smile and I’ll help you collect?”
Let’s finally kick off Noir-vember with the quintessential film noir, Double Indemnity, the quotable masterpiece from the pen of James M. Cain, adapted for Billy Wilder’s screen direction by pulp writer Raymond Chandler and photographed by inventive cinematographer John F. Seitz. Double Indemnity is the one that has it all: the seductive femme fatale (Barbara Stanwyck), the wisecracking protagonist willing to murder for her (Fred MacMurray), and the intrepid investigator, though in this case it’s not a trench coated private detective but an energetic, experienced, and irascible insurance claims manager played by Edward G. Robinson at his best.
Robert De Niro as Neil McCauley, professional armed robber
Los Angeles, Spring 1995
Release Date: December 15, 1995
Director: Michael Mann
Costume Designer: Deborah Lynn Scott
De Niro’s Costumer: Marsha Bozeman
A person’s characteristics are always made plainly visible by his or her attire. Clothing gives signals that all coordinate with the person’s background, lifestyle, socioeconomic status, occupation, and personality.
In Michael Mann’s noirish 1995 masterpiece Heat, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino face off, sharing the screen for the first time (their roles in The Godfather Part II were in completely separate timelines, as you well know). De Niro plays Neil McCauley, a professional armed robber who remains cool-as-a-cucumber but can be remorselessly ruthless, and Pacino stars as LAPD Lt. Vincent Hanna, the erratic detective tasked with taking him down.
If all a person had to use were images of De Niro in the film, wearing a largely-cut gray suit and an emotionless stare while carrying a state-of-the-art firearm, it would be crystal clear that he was a hardened criminal, respected and feared by both friend and foe, but burdened with a fatal weakness yet to be determined. Continue reading