Posted in: by Rick Hermann, Contributors, Film Reviews

Review: The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe

[Originally published in Movietone News 33, July 1974]

An undercurrent of black humor flows just beneath the comic surface of Yves Robert’s genuinely and—for the most part—unpretentiously funny movie, but it never quite manages to rise above the laughter, not even when the spy game gets out of hand and people are lying around with bullet holes in their heads. Even though there are killings—five of them, in fact, all toward the end of the story—we are left not so much with a feeling of death as of encroaching madness. Maurice, the protagonist’s friend and colleague who sees and hears everything but understands nothing of what is really going on, feels he is simply going insane; for him, that’s the easiest way to explain the disappearance of some of the dead bodies from François’s apartment. The slow-motion treatment of the shootout scene itself, in which the opposing government agents handily exterminate one another, underscores the dreamlike quality of their deaths; moments later, the surviving thug shoots one of his superiors, then remembers himself and returns the man’s gun to him, whereupon victim promptly shoots his assassin—a clearly absurd transaction it is difficult to take very seriously. Throughout this movie, Robert plays intriguing little games, both with his characters and with us. The whole spy vs. spy premise around which the plot revolves is, initially at least, just an enlarged practical joke: Louis, the head man whose position is being undermined by an ambitious Lieutenant (rather in the fashion of corporation VPs civilly cutting one another’s throats) simply wants to teach the usurper Milan a lesson, not to bring about his death. The “lesson” involves setting up a booby trap with François Perrin (Pierre Richard), an unassuming concert violinist, the piece of cheese. Milan, Louis observes correctly, will build his own cage in the course of snatching the bait. Until the very end, Perrin remains unaware that he is at the focal point of Milan’s eavesdropping cameras—he’s supposed to be a master operator—and this becomes, on the surface anyway, the basis for the main thrust of Robert’s humor.

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Posted in: Film music, Film Noir

Keeping Score – Musique Noir: Investigating the Sound of Film Noir

The sound of noir—plaintive sax solos, blue cocktail piano, the wail of a distant trumpet through dark, wet alleyways, hot Latin beats oozing like a neon glow from the half-shuttered windows of forbidden nightspots. You walk the sidewalks of big, lonely towns, with no destination in mind, following only the sounds, guided by them, wondering where they come from, what hurt souls cry out with such tones.

No one invented the sound of film noir. It grew over seven decades, teased and shaped by the touch and mood of particular composers, particular films, particular times.

The Film Scores of Adolph Deutsch

You need to start somewhere, and the best place is probably with Adolphe Deutsch. Though capable of creating melody, Deutsch indulged in his noir scores a tonal experimentation that suggests the influence of Schönberg—an appropriate choice for a film genre so heavily indebted to the look and feel of German expressionism. With scores for The Maltese Falcon and The Mask of Dimitrios, Deutsch laid the foundations for a language of film noir with specific tonal gestures evocative of foreboding, suspense, surprise, high action, the shock of sudden recognition. And with Dimitrios especially (my vote for the first great noir score), he began building the orchestral sound of film noir.

The same year as Dimitrios, however, Miklos Rosza played a different card in his score for Double Indemnity. Rosza, an unapologetic romantic and exemplar of the Wagnerian strain in film scoring whose love of big melody made him the go-to guy for epic spectaculars in the 50s and 60s (and persona non grata for most of the remainder of his career), created in Double Indemnity a wondrous score, a suite of which was recently made available as an extra on Disc 3 of Tadlow’s magnificent complete El Cid. Billy Wilder gave Rosza both light and dark to work with, and Rosza rose brilliantly to the challenge. To the mood-pinned underscorings of the Deutsch approach, Rosza added melody, and threw the noir sound decisively forward. The spectacular, ominous main theme blankets the film with the sense of doom of a guy who knew all along he should have known better; the resigned, almost despairing love theme points toward his celebrated music for Hitchcock’s Spellbound two years later.

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