Feeling wretched at having let my one film a day rule slip into a shameful and degraded lack of film watching I decided to rectify this (with extreme prejudice) last week. And I’ve been doing ok so far (though today I slipped back into old non-habits). During this enthusiastic spell I watched two particular films over the course of two days and was really struck by some coincidences between them. The films were Where Danger Lives (Farrow, 1950) starring Robert Mitchum as Dr. Jeff Cameron, and Fritz Lang’s The Blue Gardenia (1953). The only commonalities I was aware of beforehand were the fact that they were both made in the 50′s and that they’re both considered to be film noirs. I knew that at least one scene in Where Danger Lives was set in a Tiki bar, and this is part of the reason why I was attracted to it, but more on that later….
Both films are about respectable members of society, one a doctor, the other a telephone operator who waits patiently for the man she loves to return from military service in Korea (though this love verges on the obsessive when she has a candlelit dinner with his photograph). Anne Baxter plays the tormented, infatuated Norah brilliantly.
Both films see these characters falling in with a bad influence – in Jeff’s case the typical femme fatale, in Norah’s the hard-drinking womanising girl-hunter Harry Prebble, played by Raymond Burr. So far so similar, but not enough to warrant real attention. In fact the real coincidences are probably just that, but I find them intriguing enough to make me want to understand why they’re there.
1. Both films feature significant scenes in Tiki bars. I knew this about Where Danger Lives, but was totally surprised by the extended Tiki bar scene in The Blue Gardenia, as well as its discursive play with the names and images attached to exotic rum-based cocktails like the Polynesian Pearl-diver and the Mermaid’s Downfall (the crude playfulness of the latter foreshadows what is about to happen).
Mitchum enters Pogo Pete’s in Where Danger Lives.
Mitchum insists on having more cocktails, when the house limit is only 2 (he already has four in front of him).
Baxter and Burr get their Polynesian Pearldivers at the Blue Gardenia Cafe.
The Tiki bar plays a pivotal role in each – it is the site of excessive drinking of those exotic cocktails, leading to a loosening of the the protagonist’s grip, a heightening of their emotional state , and a freeing of their inhibitions that is necessary for what happens next. Which is…
2. Firepoker based violence. Both films feature the malicious wielding of a fire-poker as a weapon. In their inebriated states our naive protagonists make bad decisions. Norah ends up steaming drunk in Prebble’s bachelor pad and we know what his plans are… She ends up fighting him off with a firepoker, lashing out with it in her stupor, then falling unconscious in front of the fireplace. Jeff rolls up to his fancy woman’s sea-cliff mansion to have it out with her ‘father’ only to find that he’s really her husband (played snooty and slimy by Claude Rains). Violence ensues and Jeff gets whacked on the head with a poker. Lannington (Rains) wields it like a whip, raining blows down on a mostly offscreen Jeff, who finally retaliates with a single blow, knocking Lannington unconscious, stretched out in front of the fireplace.
But the similarities don’t end here…
Continued in part 2.