falderal : a moving images blog
Clash by Night ; 1952  ·  Posted by Tallulah

Director: Fritz Lang
Actors: Barbara Stanwyck, Marilyn Monroe
Country: U.S.A.

I adore Fritz Lang’s work in Germany such as Metropolis, Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse (The Testament of Dr. Mabuse), and M, thus I was excited to watch one of his Hollywood films. I could definitely see why Lang is considered to be one of the biggest contributors of film noir because the story, lighting and editing were very much like one. I adore Barbara Stanwyck and was happy to see her as a femme fatale in this film, but I am just really unsure about how I feel about her character, the story, etc. What I am sure about is that I thought the cinematography, for the most part, was pretty good, but I would say that it isn’t as great as M. The film set the mood of the film pretty well for the most part and the cinematography and acting went hand-in-hand. I sometimes didn’t understand the point of some shots, such as the shots of seals and fish, and there were parts of the story that I didn’t understand. Maybe it’s because I am watching this film through modern day glasses, because I could not understand why Peggy (Marilyn Monroe) stayed with her boyfriend or why Mae (Barbara Stanwyck) would even want to be with Earl (Robert Ryan).
So here is the gist of the film:
Mae comes back from New York after leaving her hometown for years to find a rich man to marry. She ended up falling in love with a married man, who died and left Mae some money, but her lover’s family took her to court and she ended up poor thus she returns home. Mae wants a man who makes her feel confident, and she seems like a woman who has her own thoughts and cares about herself. She marries Jerry (Paul Douglas) because she knows that she’ll have security in her life, but she isn’t happy with her plain life as a mother and housewife. Jerry’s best friend is Earl and Earl is pretty much a misogynist due to suspecting his wife, who is in show business, of cheating on him. Earl has a temper, isn’t nice to Mae at all and even insults her. Despite all this, Mae and Earl fall in love, which is what I don’t get. I’m assuming that Mae likes adventure in her life and security is something she considers drab. In the end, she realizes that she can’t be with Earl because he does not want to have Mae’s child with them, thus she goes back to Jerry.
I’m assuming that the film is saying not to trust women since even Peggy has a wandering eye for a bit, but in the end comes back to her boyfriend, Joe (Keith Andes). Joe is abusive to her, even getting to the point of strangling her, but she stays with him anyway. Mae also returns to her boring life and stays with her husband and child. There are so many mixed messages because Mae leaves a child and adoring husband because of her own wants, yet maybe her actions are excusable since she does tell Jerry that she is not the woman for him. But then both women in the film come back to their husband/fiancé, thus I wonder if the point of the story is that women are meant to be wives and never live the life they want. It was upsetting that Peggy decides to be with a man who is willing to beat her and that Mae returns to her husband. At the beginning of the movie, there are hints that she isn’t a “moral” woman since she did have an affair with a married man, but she seemed like someone who could think on her own. When Earl does an imitation of a Chinese man, Mae seems to be genuinely repulsed by it and it seems like she doesn’t mind being single. But then she ends up with Earl, probably for some fun in her life, but in the end, she returns. I guess it’s nice that she returns since I did feel bad for her husband, but why did she have to marry him anyway? Probably to get the story going.
So I guess I ended up ranting since I’m not too sure what to think about the film in general. I felt that the cinematography wasn’t all that bad and the acting was pretty good by all characters, particularly Barbara Stanwyck, but I felt like something was missing. Maybe I was just irked about some parts of the film, but it had nothing to do with any technical aspects. Maybe I’m just nostalgic for the Thea von Harbou x Fritz Lang films, but something was just weak about this film. I should watch more of Lang’s American films and then decide if I favour towards his earlier works or his later works, but that might not be a good idea either since I should accept that things change due to various reasons. Social reasons, artistic movements of that time, and political reasons could affect films and of course, Lang’s tastes could change based on what is going on in his surroundings. But of course, I’m someone who likes to live in the past, thus most likely, I’ll be partial to Lang’s earlier films (boo on my part).
Conclusion: I have mixed feelings about this work! Nonetheless, I believe that Lang remained a good director, but the script was a tad weak (and had some really bad lines). But then again… WHY DID HE HAVE TO DIRECT THIS FILM?! Maybe under contract? Maybe he wanted to? I don’t know. Nevertheless, I do believe that it is a film one at least give a go, especially for people who are interested in film noir, people who adored Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity, and people who like Fritz Lang’s films.

IMDb link: Clash by Night
Where to buy: Amazon.com

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