Filed under: film | Tags: barbara stanwyck, clash by night, fritz lang, marilyn monroe, paul douglas, robert ryan
The two previous American Lang films I had seen, Human Desire and The Big Heat, didn’t leave much of an impression on me. However, I would like to revisit both. Clash By Night on the other hand, had me at hello. Opening with stormy seas, it is as much melodrama as it is noir. The screenplay by Clifford Odets captures the best of both worlds, full of snappy dialogue and sexual intrigue. It concerns a woman who has had some tough breaks in life coming back home to live with her brother, “Home is where you come when you run out of places” she says. She meets a nice man and ends up marrying him, only to be tempted by his troubled friend.
The cast is fantastic, coming in I was excited to see Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Ryan and Marilyn Monroe in the same film. Imagine my surprise that Paul Douglas, who I had only seen in Angels in the Outfield, ended up really impressing me. He has a very unique character, and it’s a shame he wasn’t used more. Stanwyck is her usual fantastic self and Marilyn Monroe is really good. I think she is undervalued as an actress these days and viewed as nothing more than a sex symbol. Even later in her career she seemed to get a lot of roles that demanded little more from her than being cute or sexy. Robert Ryan is very convincing in his role, he’s despicable, and the combination of him and Stanwyck, who it would seem sees much of what she doesn’t like about herself in him, is explosive.
Lang’s direction is as strong as ever. I was particularly taken by how much he says with his shot compositions and cinematography. He uses very suggestive lighting and blocking to get his points across. There is one shot late in the film with Barbara Stanwyck in the center of the shot in the background with the imposing figures of Robert Ryan and Paul Douglas in the foreground on either side of her. Imagery like this seems to be a forgotten art, obviously Lang does it better than most, but during Hollywood’s golden age it seemed to be more or less a given. It’s rare these days to see images composed with such thoughtfulness. As long as we can see the actors it’s all good.
The ending isn’t as dark as I was anticipating. When in the projection booth Robert Ryan was talking about how he’d like to cut up the faces of pretty women I assumed it was foreshadowing a violent ending. Though I’m grateful that wasn’t the case. As dark as the film is, it is nice that the ending has a modicum of hope, if it isn’t an outright happy ending. Paul Douglas’s character is so kindhearted it would’ve been painful to see anything less. It can be a cruel world, but it helps when there is still room to hope.