Highlights: Film Noir, Sexism, & WWII 📂
All information came from "Blackout: World War II and the Origins of Film Noir" by Sheri Chinen-Biesen. Her critiques on female strength and sexuality were particularly good. This is a film nerd moment LET ME LIVE
- •James M. Cain & Cecil B. DeMille both served as air raid wardens in Los Angeles right after Pearl Harbor.They drove up and down the streets in the hills of Hollywood reminding people to shut their curtains and turn off their lights because Los Angeles was believed to be the next target.
- •Wartime rationing played a huge role in the production of films during that time - electricity cutbacks, restricted location shooting, smaller budgets, etc.This was evidenced by the usage of lesser-known actors, dark sets, low lighting, less on-location shooting, and the general feelings of anxiety felt in most films. Coastal filming was only allowed at night, and filmmakers had to notify & get permission from the army and the navy.
- •Joan Fontaine wrote Hitchcock a telegram begging to be considered for "Suspicion." When Darryl F. Zanuck found out, he sent her a wildly condescending 9-page letter telling her she owed him for hiring her when "no one else" would.He credited himself with all of her career successes, and only ended up paying her a salary of $17,833 for her work. Zanuck called her "difficult" and expressed that he just wanted Joan to "stay in line." He felt her direct communication with Hitchcock was an example of her overstepping her bounds (it wasn't). 😒
- •The shift from the simplistic pretty/mean femme fatales to strong, multifaceted women happened in the middle of WWII. This was due to the fact that women were being given more power behind the scenes, and filmmakers wanted to reflect women's experiences more authentically.Women were moving outside of the home, working, and experiencing a new kind of freedom. Studio heads knew they had to reach those audiences in order to stay afloat. Examples of the "new" femme fatale included: Gene Tierney in "Laura," Rita Hayworth in "Gilda," and Joan Crawford in "Mildred Pierce." They were dynamic, smart, and far more complex than their predecessors.
- •Publicity departments loved to tell stories of actresses being "roughed up" by their male costars onset to generate more publicity for the films & to attract more "masculine" audiences.In the press book for "Phantom Lady," there's a story about Ella Raines coming back to set the day after a fight scene with her costar. Allegedly, she had 21 bruises that had to be covered up by the makeup department. The story was not true, but similar tactics were used in the promotion of other noir films, like "Scarlet Street" and "The Woman in the Window."
- •To achieve the look of a dusty, sunlit Los Angeles home in "Double Indemnity," Billy Wilder and his crew blew illuminant particles into the air. This made the particles look like dust falling into the prisms of light.
- •Joseph Breen wanted restrictions on Phyllis during her entrance scene. He asked that she have a towel that extended below her knees and pajamas that were "adequate."Billy Wilder ignored these requests 😎
- •The studio asked plainclothes detectives & OPA (Office of Price Administration) officials to patrol the set of "Double Indemnity" on the day they shot the grocery store scene.They did this to prevent theft of items by the cast & crew, as food was hard to come by during this period.
- •Joan Harrison (writer, "Phantom Lady") was considered conventionally attractive so media outlets always stressed her "ah-inspiring legs" and beauty every time they mentioned her work.Harrison resented it. She just wanted to be recognized for her artistic output. Joan was a long-time associate of Hitchcock, and she worked alongside both he and his wife Alma on multiple projects. Later in life, with less and less opportunities coming her way, Hitch hired her again to write for his tv show "Alfred Hitchcock Presents."
- •Howard Hawks & Charles Boyer owned an independent production company where they groomed, manufactured, and sold actresses' contracts to studios to make a profit.Ella Raines was signed by Hawks and Boyer at age 22. The next woman to undergo this "treatment" was 19 y/o Lauren Bacall. Hawks didn't speak to her for months after he introduced her to Bogart, feeling as if she had "betrayed" him by falling for Bogart. Howard Hughes was yet another man who profited off women's careers in a similar fashion (i.e., Jane Russell, Faith Domergue).
- •The heightened eroticism of women's costumes in noir films were largely due to rationed materials during the 1940s. Most notably, there were major girdle and nylon shortages.Lana Turner's outfit in "The Postman Always Rings Twice" worked because it was both sexy and economical. Gilda's simple black dress in the striptease scene in "Gilda" was cleverly draped and sewn in such a way that it hid Rita's torso, as she had just recently given birth.
- •James M. Cain DESPISED the film version of his book, "Mildred Pierce." He wrote it as a melodrama that showcased the inequality of women in society, and he hated that the studio made it into a formulaic murder-mystery.Cain wrote a note to the studio about his objections. He stated: "'Mildred Pierce' is one woman's struggle against a great social injustice - which is the mother's necessity to support her children even though husband and community give her not the slightest assistance." He begged for them to change it back. But Jack Warner was a total misogynist, and stubborn as hell, so he ignored Cain's comments.
- •Catherine Turney worked on the script for Mildred Pierce. She was one of the first women writers at Warner Bros., despite Warner's hatred of women writers.Turney loved Cain's story the way it was written, and she immediately recognized Warner's altered story for what it was: a fear of a strong woman's narrative onscreen. Cain recommended Margaret Gruen to add to the script, so she was hired, but a man was then hired to revise Gruen & Turney's script. The film was given a "moral" ending, where Mildred is portrayed as a negligent mother who gets what she deserves for abandoning her motherly duties to work outside the home.
- •Virginia Van Upp worked as a producer-executive on both "Gilda" and "The Lady from Shanghai," thanks in large part to Rita Hayworth, who had a close friendship with Van Upp and pushed for her friend to be hired.Van Upp also wrote on "The Lady from Shanghai," but it was uncredited. Her lofty role as an exec at the studio negatively impacted her personal life, so she left the position to focus on her marriage when her husband came back from war. Instead, her husband decided to pursue his own career in film, and they ended up divorced. Van Upp was never able to reach the same status in the film industry ever again.
- •Publicity for "Gilda" blamed autonomous women for men's violence. In the press book, it said: "After leading Glenn Ford on a torrid chase through most of the picture, she finally enrages him to the point where he hauls off and lets her have it."The same press book also refers to women as the "previously so-called 'fairer sex.'"
- •In the press book for "The Woman in the Window," film frames were captioned with lines like, "Movie Shows How to Slap a Girl in the Jaw." The book also mentioned that Joan Bennett was "Mauled and Slapped for Picture Thrill."The promotion and glamorization of violence against women was disgusting.
- •"Laura" portrayed the disconnect between a woman's actual lived experiences and the (inaccurate) narratives & stories men build around her.
- •Howard Hawks hired Leigh Brackett to adapt "The Big Sleep" because he assumed he was hiring a man. He called her agent asking for "Mr. Brackett," and was very annoyed to find out that Leigh was a woman.He hired her anyway. Humphrey Bogart noticed that, despite William Faulkner's credit on the script, Brackett's lines were the meatiest and toughest. He started asking her to add more grit to his lines, abandoning his allegiance to Faulkner.