Saturday, June 27, 2015

Summer of Darkness: M(1931)

M. is not a film noir, but it stands as one of the great precedents of the noir movement, helmed by a director who would go on to direct many influential noir films, and an actor who would become an icon of noir himself. It's a film that bridges the gap between noir and German Expressionism, grounding the formalist styles of Expressionism with a more realist, gritty approach. M., despite its sometimes whimsical inventions(an odd phrase for a movie about the hunt for a child killer, but I hope to make my use of it clear) is recognizably set in the real and the day to day. It's clear that Lang had an understanding of his subjects, but also no real sympathy, making this a view on society that looks ugly, dirty, and always on the brink of chaos.

The opening scene sets the stage for M.'s mix of the mundane, the menacing, and the theatrical in perhaps the most straightforward manner possible. The film opens on a group of children, circled around a girl standing in the center. The girls is repeating a sing-songy chant about a child killer, and pointing at each of the children in turn. As the girl gets to a certain refrain, anyone she's pointing at is 'out' of the game. This strikes many as a morbid, foreboding scene, yet as a parent, and one who remembers his own childhood, I had a different reaction to it. Consider it from the children's point of view; they are playing a game. To the children the song and its connotations hold no sense of danger, death in this sense only means being out of the game until the next round. To children death is not the same as it is for adults, and many children's games center around the idea death either metaphorically or literally. This view of death being intertwined with child's play will come up again and again in the film.

The first sign of actual trouble is when one of the children's mothers leans out over a balcony and shouts down for them to stop singing that awful song. Something about her alarm spreads to the audience; any parent would, under normal circumstances, see this as typical playground behavior. What has changed here?

There's an interesting visual interlude here, When the mother retreats back into the apartment, Lang holds the shot for 10 seconds. After a few moments the children begin singing again, and their insubordination is presented in such a manner as to make it humorous, and yet we remain on the empty balcony. Lang cuts next to an empty stairway, and it's another 6 seconds before the mother reappears, carrying a load of laundry. 16 seconds is an eternity for a film to be without any visible focal point or activity, and it stirs an anticipation, a dread for what is about to happen.

Let's skip ahead in this analysis a couple minutes, before I stop making this a scene-by-scene description of  a film more knowledgeable people than I have dissected. The first introduction we get to the child murderer, Franz Becker, we get to it through the act of a child playing. We watch a young girl leave school, and she's so distracted with her play that she wanders into the street and is almost hit by a car. A policeman shouts for her to be careful, but he stops paying attention once she's on her way, straight to her actual doom with Becker, as it turns out. Becker first appears only as a shadow, imposed over a poster describing his crimes as the little girl bounces a ball off of it. We are made aware of the girl's eventual demise by a series of heartbreaking shots. An empty spot at the dinner table, a mother shouting down a stairway, a balloon bought for the girl now tangled in electrical wires, and the girl's ball rolling out of a bush. M. combines the playful and the tragic in a dark perversion of whimsy.

Other notes of playfulness pop up throughout the film. Becker's red pencil he uses to write to the police, the tune from Peer Gynt that he whistles until it's jauntiness becomes a stand-in for the murders, in much the same way John William's score for Jaws would become a stand-in for the actual shark. The Brechtian concept of a beggar's union, where the homeless can buy props to improve their panhandling successes, sell goods and foods they've scavenged, and are assigned streetcorners to work in the same way many office workers get their daily projects. Lang gets a few good sardonic laughs out of how similarly the cops and criminals operate.

It's interesting to watch M. with an idea of historical context and try to decode what all of the various institutions represent. M. was co-written by Lang and his wife, Thea von Harbou, and the film's symbolic meaning seems such a loaded topic when you realize this film came out in 1931, when the nazi party was on the rise(though not yet completely in power). In a few years Hitler would be in power, Fritz Lang would have escaped from Germany to Hollywood, and Thea von Harbou would have joined the nazi party. It seems unlikely that M. could seem so metaphorically rich while not signifying anything, and yet the differing political viewpoints of its authors make that meaning difficult to parse.

Breaking it down a bit, M. has four major groups that almost every character falls into. We have The Law; the cops and detectives who hunt desperately for Becker. We have The Criminals, whose search for Becker is a means to an end, as it will get the cop to stop hassling them so much. There's The Public, who live in fear and descend into mob mentality at the merest hint of suspicious behavior. Finally there are The Beggars, who have formed their own shadow society largely unseen and unnoticed by the other three groups. They have no stake in the search, but The Criminals use their societal invisibility to make them the perfect eyes and ears in their search for Becker. Taken together, the four groups hang in almost perfect symmetry, with Becker, the only distinct character not belonging to any other group, occupying the center everyone else revolves around.

So, who does Becker represent? What is he a stand-in for? The outsider? The other? The very idea of a society led astray? Certainly he seem monstrous beyond belief, but he's also given more moments of sympathy than many other characters. He's seen early in the film prodding his face in a mirror, pulling skin to make hideous faces as if he's just gotten around to noticing he has one. Or, as Roger Ebert puts it, is he trying to see the monster inside that others see? Becker has a speech at the end of the film, as he faces a crowd of accusers, where he expounds on his impossible to ignore compulsion that he neither controls nor understands. Certainly this strikes a chord with the lifelong criminals who are slave to their own uncontrollable compulsions.

Becker is a virus in this film, or perhaps more accurately, a cancer. A threat that grows within the carefully structured organism, unnoticed until it's too late. But he had to have the opportunity to grow. It takes a blinded society to allow a man like Becker to not only develop, but flourish. If there were any real justice in the film's world, Becker would have been treated or helped long before his first murder occurred.

It can be hard to tell who the film expects us to sympathize with. At certain points everyone on screen will become sympathetic, but often that is due only to their station. We sympathize with the parents because they have lost their children, but the film points out that they would not have lost their children had they been paying attention to them. We root for the cops because we want Becker stopped, but they behave thuggishly and with an entitled snobbery that is continually offputting. Our sympathies grow for the criminals, as we see how the cops mistreat them in their search for Becker, but the film never shies away from letting us know these are not good men. The only ones to really escape any sort of blame are the beggars, who have made their abandonment from society a mutual affair, with their own separate society and their own governmental systems.

In my initial conception, I believe that the scenes concerning the plans of the cops, and the plans of the criminals, with their symmetrically framed smoke-filled rooms and speeches that echo each other, represent the shadowy forces that conspire to focus on a highly visible threat so that they may pursue their true ambitions without public scrutiny. The Public, with their tendency to fire-and-pitchfork witch hunts and mob mentality, represents a population eager to allow that subterfuge in exchange for a sense of security. That's a notion that would have seemed powerful in the early thirties, and it's surprising that the nazi censors let it pass. It's also an idea that should seem pretty powerful to modern audiences.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Summer of Darkness: Nightmare Alley(1947)

Here we are, folks, Nightmare Alley. The noirest of the noir, one of the darkest films to ever come out of the classic studio system, featuring one of the ballsiest cases of career self-immolation I can think of. This film is proof that the Hayes Code was great at keeping explicit sex and violence off of theatre screens, but completely ineffectual at protecting audiences from the depths of human depravity and degradation.

Nightmare Alley opens with the question 'What makes a geek?' The Geek, the lowest rung of any travelling carnival. The almost subhuman creature who decapitates live chickens with his teeth. The geek is looked down on with derision and disgust, and would never be found in any reputable carnival. The question of what makes a geek is one the film will circle back around to at the end, but for now it's mostly deployed as background flavor. It sets the tone of desperation that permeates the film.

Tyrone Power plays Stanton "Stan" Carlisle, a carnie who helps Madame Zeena(Joan Blondell) with her mentalist act, largely taking the place of her husband Pete, who lives in a drunken stupor and is too consistently wasted to do much more than menial behind-the-scenes work. Pete and Zeena once had a big time show, based around a complicated verbal code that allowed Pete to convey information about certain audience members to Zeena. Pete's alcoholism renders him useless for that function, however, so they joined the travelling circus and perform a less complicated, less impressive act. The code is apparently enough of a secret that Zeena refuses to teach it to Stan, planning instead to sell it off at some future date to provide for her retirement.

Once Stan hears about the code, he can't get the idea of performing in a big time show out of his head, and begs Zeena to teach it to him. She refuses, at least Stan accidentally kills Pete by handing him a bottle of grain alcohol by mistake while Pete's on one of his drunken benders. Now, this death is clearly an accident, but also not out of the realm of possibility that Stan would subconsciously try to kill Pete. He's clearly shocked by what he's done, but he also quickly removes any evidence of his involvement, and he's more than happy to benefit from the man's death. Stan and Zeena revive the old act, and Stan proves remarkably adept at it, causing them to quickly become the biggest act in the circus. Of course, that isn't enough for Stan, who we're beginning to see is driven completely by ambition. Soon his drive finds him forced into a shotgun wedding with Molly(Colleen Gray), and exiled from the circus.

That's what makes Stanton such a vile character; he's not evil. He has the capacity for love, friendship, even kindness, yet he ignores those tendencies in order to further his own ambition. He's aware enough to know that what he does in this film is wrong, but zealous enough to not care. Stan never seeks to hurt anyone, but he's more than happy to do it so long as it benefits him in some way. His downfall comes when he finally comes across someone with more brains, and somehow fewer morals. Stan finds himself separated from Molly- the only person who cares about him at all- broke, and wanted by the police for murder. If the film had ended there, it would be impressively bleak, but shockingly there's further for Stan to fall.

Stan becomes a drunk himself, living in a tiny motel room subsisting entirely on alcohol and room service. And then the money runs out, and he finds himself as a hobo, drinking cheap wine around campfires and reminiscing about his glory days and fighting for the last drop of alcohol. Stan's descent into destitution and alcoholism is presented via a brisk montage of sequences, each scene a lower rung Stan is climbing down. This stops when Stan wanders into a carnival seeking a job, a prospect the carnival owner clearly views skeptically, as by this point Stan is severely marked by his fall from grace. His face is lined, his eyes are dark, and his clothes are stained and torn. But the man invites Stan into his office, sits him down, and begins to talk about an available job. Not a glamorous job, but a job. A ground floor job that would give Stan a place to sleep and a bottle a day. And anyway, it's only temporary, only until they find a real geek. Stan looks up, smiles, and repeats his oft-stated phrase: "Mister, I was made for it."

"Mister, I was made for it."

Nightmare Alley seems to have found the bleakest note possible to end on, but then it still has one more scene to go. It's easy to see this scene, where Stan and Molly are reunited and Molly promises to take care of Stan, as a cop out happy ending. A studio or censor mandated relief from the grime and soul sickness that has come before. But look a little closer, and you'll see the happiness is false, an ironic mirroring of the relationship between Pete and Zeena earlier in the film. Stan may have avoided rock bottom as a geek, but he's found a level just above that, one that will keep him comparatively comfortable, but one that also lacks the ability to rise. Stan has sunk as far as he can without the capacity for hope.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Summer of Darkness: Johnny Eager(1941)

Robert Taylor and Lana Turner.

Let me just start off with my final judgement on this film; Johnny Eager is one of the most purely fun films I've seen as part of this project. It moves with a briskness of pace, it's plot is tightly wound, and its characterizations are enjoyable throughout. It may not break ground in the area of cinematic arts, but it doesn't need to. Johnny Eager sets out to entertain audiences with a gripping crime tale, and embraces the cliches of the genre instead of trying to skirt them. Though it does, in a way, subvert some of them, as I'll get to later. Johnny Eager is a pre-code crime film wrapped up in Hayes Code-era film noir trappings. A film noir variation on Public Enemy or Little Caesar, films whose 'crime doesn't pay' messages are undone by how much fun they make being a criminal appear.

Johnny Eager, the character this time, is not exactly a new invention. He's the criminal with a moral code, the smartest man in the room at all times. A man who uses his brains to destroy his enemies more than he uses his guns. He's a man who can be cruel and merciless, but is also kind and loyal to his subordinates, until they start thinking of crossing him. It's easy to run through a list of Johnny's crimes in this film and come to the conclusion that he's a heartless monster leaving nothing but tragic loss in his wake, but as played by Robert Taylor he becomes sympathetic to the point that the audience may find itself justifying his crimes in their minds. It's true that he kills those who threaten him, but it's also true that he'll find non-lethal solutions if given the chance. Johnny Eager typifies the sort of anti-hero criminal that would come to populate the crime pictures of the 60s and 70s, and at times feels like a prototype for the films of Martin Scorcese, Francis Ford Coppola, and Abel Ferrara.

Johnny Eager, the film, revels in the life of crime in a way that a lot of Hayes Code pictures wouldn't allow themselves. Johnny's life looks fun. By day he pretends to have put his criminal past behind him, working as a cabdriver and living with his sister. But at night, away from the eyes of his parole officer, he heads up a sprawling gambling syndicate with influence in nearly every social institution. The film that repeatedly came to mind as I watched this one was King of New York. Johnny Eager and Frank White have a lot in common, in both their ruthlesness and their implied moral code. Replace the hospital Frank is concerned with with the dog track Johnny Eager hopes to open, and King of New York could be a very(very!) loose remake.

I had so much fun watching Johnny outsmart his enemies that I forgot for awhile I was watching a Hayes Code film. It was entertaining watching Johnny get the upper hand on adversaries who continually thought he was down for the count, or who had seriously misjudged his deviousness, that I secretly hoped the film would find a way to skirt the restriction of the times that required all criminals to be brought to justice, or at least punishment, in the final reel. I knew his downfall was coming, but I didn't want to see it. Johnny was so much smarter than everyone else that to see him die in a hail of bullets seemed to be anticlimactic. Luckily, the film invests a bit more into it's finale than might be immediately apparent.

Yes, Johnny is punished for his crimes, but in the end it's his good deeds that lead to his fall from grace. It isn't the murders he's responsible for, it isn't the multiple crimes he's committed throughout the film, he's punished only once he tries to make amends to someone out of love. In the world of Johnny Eager, crime does pay, and it pays very well. As long as you remain clever and ruthless, as long as you form no meaningful attachments... well, in the words of the Geto Boys....

So, I realize now that I've not spoken about the plot at all, or even mentioned Lana Turner or Van Heflin. It should be clear, though, that I enjoyed the film quite a bit. But let me just add that Van Heflin, as Johnny's always-drunk Jiminy Cricket figure, deserved his Best Supporting Actor win.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Summer of Darkness: The Set-Up(1949)

The Set-Up is not a traditional film noir, in that it doesn't feature many of the hallmarks of the genre. It's not something people would watch and immediately associate with noir. The film owes more to the naturalistic realism often associated with the French New Wave than it does to noir's most visible precedent, German Expressionism. Consider this a suburb on the borders of Noir Country, where the capital's influence is muted and often negligible.

Robert Ryan plays Stoker Thompson, a boxer in the midst of a long losing streak, at a point where everyone seems to have lost faith in his abilities. So convinced are people in his status as a has-been that his manager and trainer accept money to make sure he loses an upcoming match, and don't even tell him about it. They just assume he'll be fine at losing on his own. The opening of the film shows that his wife, Julie(played by Audrey Totter), has tired of the routine, as well, as she announces her intentions to not attend the big fight, because she's tired of seeing him beaten. Julie is the only main character in the film to show any faith in Stoker, and she's clearly losing the energy to believe in and support her husband. Stoker takes her ringside absence as a bad sign for their marriage, and indeed Julie does spend the night wandering the city, apparently considering leaving, but in the end she returns to their hotel room to prepare dinner.

Stoker eventually learns about the fix as he's about to enter the final round of what has been a remarkably brutal fight, but by then it's too late. His mind is made up. He can't sell himself out so his manager can pocket a measly fifty bucks, not when he's so close to proving his worth to the audience, to his peers, to his wife, to himself. And so he pushes himself, he goes all the way, and the epic fight ends, incredibly, in his favor.

It's likely that the fight scenes, full of quick cuts and closeups on sweaty, pummeled faces, were seen as the centerpiece to this film. The scenes are fine, action packed and well shot, but the real heart of The Set-Up lives in the shared locker room where the fighters prepare. No rivalries extend to this room, and the fighters await their bouts with honest camaraderie and good cheer. They help each other prepare, share anecdotes and dreams, and band together when one of them returns from the ring with serious injuries. These scenes have an enjoyable sense of reality that give the film a real lived-in feel. It's fun being a fly on that wall, as the evening progresses in almost real-time.

As I said, the noir elements of the film aren't very pronounced, and are mostly relegated to a handful of scenes involving the gangster, Little Boy, who paid for Stoker's dive. He's present at the fight, offering some quiet, smug menace to the proceedings, but he only becomes a real threat in the finale, when Stoker must find a way to escape the arena without falling into his clutches. In these scenes the shadows loom larger, and the movie's world seems ready to tip into the void. When the reckoning does come for Stoker, it's leavened by his new found confidence and the love of his wife.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Summer of Darkness: 99 River Street(1953)

Ernie Driscoll is having one hell of a bad night. It gets off to a bad start when a televised repeat of one of his old boxing matches ignites an argument with his wife. It gets worse when he finds out his wife is seeing another man, continues to worsen when an acquaintance comes to him for help in disposing of the body of her would-be rapist, and hasn't even reached its nadir when his wife's diamond-thief lover tries to frame him for her murder. Yes, Ernie is having a rough night, and his simmering rage threatens to explode at any moment.

Ernie Driscoll is a noir hero who doesn't know he's living in a film noir, and in fact wants desperately to avoid that fate. His wife is the one in the film noir, his acquaintance wants to be in a film noir, but Ernie wants to live in a simple slice of life melodrama. He wants to live quietly, driving a cab while reminiscing about his golden years as a boxer. Regaling friends and coworkers with his plans to open his own filling station. Enjoying the camaraderie of an all-night diner and his fellow cabbies, buying chocolates for his wife and trying for children. It's only when the complications pile on too high that Ernie embraces his inner two-fisted hero and begins spouting lines like "There are worse things than murder. You can kill someone an inch at a time."

Yes, it turns out Ernie was born to be the world-weary hero of a film noir, and he takes to it naturally. To the film's credit, and what makes its plot work, is that the film never lets Ernie completely off the hook through his dark night of the soul. Sure, Ernie is the victim here, but it's easy to sympathize with the wife of a man so disappointed in his own life, who is so bottled up and quick to use his fists on the people who don't deserve it. The film never implies that Ernie ever beat his wife, but living with a man that full of rage couldn't have been a cake walk. It's easy to see why she might find comfort and romance in the arms of another man, even one as dangerous as Mr. Diamond Thief.

The film takes some twists and turns and features dozens of complications I haven't mentioned here. The film's surprises are worth experiencing on their own, and my sympathy for Ernie quickly turned into surprised laughter at how much punishment the film kept throwing his way. Ernie's journey from aggrieved hero of a melodrama to two-fisted hero of a film noir is so smooth, and seems so natural a fit for the character, that it becomes a bit difficult to buy into the film's convenient happy ending. It's hard to believe Ernie will be a success with his new wife and filling station, not when we've seen how comfortable and, dare I say, content he was pummeling men to within an inch of their lives. Not when we've seen what became of his previous marriage. Ernie may have consciously switched genres, but the shadows of Noir Country have a long reach.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Summer of Darkness; Hollow Triumph(1948)

Noir films have their fare share of behind-the-scenes superstars, names that come to mind when people think of the genre. Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammet for their two fisted detective novels, Fritz Lang for his expressionistic, formalist visual styles, and Howard Hawks for his concise, direct style of storytelling. One name that seems a little unsung, however, is John Alton. Film buffs know his name, and he gained recognition for a book he wrote on cinematography(Painting With Light), but most casual fans will probably say they've never heard the name.

That wouldn't quite be true, for as cinematographer John Alton lensed an impressive 102 movies, one short film, and the pilot for Mission: Impossible over a 40 year career. He was director of photography on one film I've covered so far this summer(Woman on the Run), and his name will pop up several more times before I'm done. Many of the films he worked on throughout the 40s and 50s would today be classified as noir, and John Alton did as much as anyone else you can think of to help define and codify film noir in the eyes of the public. His frequent use of chiaroscuro lighting, off center framing, and juxtaposed facial profiles embodied what we imagine when we think of the term film noir.

Hollow Triumph is a film that owes a great debt to the skills of John Alton. His framing and lighting enforce the metaphorical subtext of the scenes, in many cases adding a dramatic weight that otherwise might not come through. Take the shot below, taken from a pivotal moment in the film where John Muller(Paul Henreid) first gets the idea to steal another man's identity. Voice over plays through his head as he studies his own reflection, which is metaphorically apt enough. Probably a bit cliche, even at this point in the late 40s. But then notice that he's looking at his reflection through his own shadow, which is prominently figured in the shot. The mirror outside of his reflection is streaked and obscured by the light, but in the reflection his face is clear, though maybe blurry in this screengrab. This shot takes a somewhat cliche image and adds another visual layer to it, to make it more engaging to the eye, but also to add more depth to the metaphor.

Paul Henreid here is playing John Muller, a career criminal recently released from prison and on the run from a gangster he's robbed. He also, for a couple of brief scenes, plays Dr. Bartok, a psychoanalyst whose life he covets as a possible escape route. Muller is released from prison to much fanfare from the warden concerning his intelligence, and several characters remark throughout the film on Muller's intelligence, but we never see much evidence for it. He joins Gene Hackman's character in The Conversation in the pantheon of 'experts' who aren't very good at their jobs. Muller's brilliant scheme for robbing the casino owned by a widely-feared gangster with global connections(on his first day out of prison, no less) is to basically turn off the lights so no one sees him run away in the dark. This plan is foiled almost immediately when someone simply turns the lights back on.

Muller's lack of foresight extends even further, when he begins to actively plan to steal Dr. Bartok's identity. Bartok is a psychoanalyst, which is convenient because Muller has some schooling in the subject, but beyond that he's primarily clueless. He searches Bartok's office, looks over some patient files, but doesn't bother to look into Bartok's personal life, or discover if the man has any loved ones or a girlfriend(he does), or what his habits are. Bartok has a prominent facial scar, and Muller is smart enough to give himself an identical scar before making the switch, however he's caught in the act partly because he puts the scar on the wrong side of his face.

Steve Sekely's direction, combined with Alton's cinematography, is consistently inventive, making good use of semi-abstract montage and elliptical editing. Yet something in the film failed to grab me. It could be a problem of character motivation, as no one's actions ever really feel believable. What good will it do for Muller to steal another man's life when he still looks the same and is recognizable by the gangster's henchmen? Or maybe it was the way the airless way the story unfolded, which left no room for tension or emotion. The film ends on a great note, which would have made O. Henry proud, but getting there was never much fun. At the risk of channeling Gene Shalit, Hollow Triumph felt a little hollow itself.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Summer of Darkness: Crossfire(1947)

The classic period of film noir, as it's generally understood, came of age in the postwar years, counteracting the optimism most Americans seemed to be feeling with the fatalistic cynicism of a country who had just seen hell. Sure, things looked bright and cheery now, but it's hard to forget the nightmares and atrocities so recently committed. It's no coincidence that many of the early film noir directors were refugees from Hitler's Germany. Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder, Robert Siodmak all fled to Hollywood prior to the war, and their styles and preoccupations came with them. Almost all film noir, however, carried those weights with them, in either literal or more ethereal stylistic ways. Few, however, are as direct in their dealings with the horrors of World War Two as Crossfire.

That is not to say that Crossfire is a searing and nightmarish depiction of a world at war. Quite the opposite, actually. The film bears very little in the way of the trademark stoicism and resignation traditional to film noir, and instead embraces the optimism of post war America while also acknowledging the presence of the shadows. Crossfire deals with the attempts of police detective Finlay(Robert Young) to piece together the brutal killing of a Jewish man, where the only three suspects are servicemen back from the war. Mitch(George Cooper) is the initial prime suspect, having been seen last with the dead man, and being blind drunk to boot. Montgomery(Robert Ryan) plays a faintly antisemitic soldier who attempts to defend Mitch, and Sgt. Keeley(Robert Mitchum, rounding out the trifecta) lends his even handed judgment to Finlay's attempts to find the killer. 

Crossfire is a message movie, and handles it's subject matter bluntly and directly. Joseph Samuels was killed simply because he was Jewish, and the film's goal is to let us know why that's a tragedy. It would be easy today to look back and poke apart the film's simplistic moral, it's heavy handedness, or the direct way it conveys it's points, but it's important to remember when this came out. Crossfire premiered less than two years after the end of WWII, when much of the audience would have been returning soldiers, or their families. The worries presented here would have been very current, and it's easy to see why the filmmakers felt so compelled to impart this wisdom.

But again, this film isn't a miserablist bit of finger wagging. The film believes in the innate goodness of people. OK, of the innate goodness of Americans, at least. The military and other authorities are all depicted as morally upstanding and kind, with only Montgomery acting as the rare bad apple. The audience stand-in is most likely the character of Leroy(William Phipps), and as Finlay lays out the films grand statement, that bigotry and blind hatred are as dangerous as bullets in a gun, he speaks directly to us, the audience, through Leroy. Leroy is us; maybe a bit dull, but generally wishing to do good and follow the path of righteousness, but also too eager to follow the wrong leader at times.

The film may begin and end in the shadows, with a brutal killing on both sides, but in the middle comes the day. As Finlay reaffirms the ideals of America just after the nightmare of a worldwide war, the Declaration of Independence is framed just over his shoulder, and behind him the large windows show the sun shining on the Capitol Building.