I don’t know what this is. Just a short elaboration on some thoughts.
I’ve already written about Fritz Lang’s very violent films enacting violence offscreen, in comparison to Anthony Mann’s activation of the sadistic viewer, directly attacking the camera. I’ve compared two noirs, Mann’s Raw Deal and Lang’s The Big Heat, and the moments where hot liquid is thrown directly into a character’s face. Because Lang is arguably recognised more popularly as a critically acclaimed director, the moment in his film is more renowned; but interestingly, the action happens offscreen, and we only hear Gloria Grahame’s response to having boiling coffee thrown in her face. In Raw Deal, Raymond Burr flings a flaming dish into his girlfriend’s face, and does so directly at the camera, as if enacting violence towards her, and all of us. It is a terrifying moment, trumped only in melodramatic intensity by Barbara Stanwyck’s demented face, and her tearing at Judith Anderson’s face with scissors.
In Rancho Notorious, a rogue cowboy robs a small store, and attacks the female proprietor in the process. He forces her to open the company safe, then the camera rests on his hand, greedily clutching at the safe’s protective caging as he prepares for a vile act. Lang then cuts to the exterior of the shop, and again, the audience is allowed only to experience the following via the soundtrack; a few terrorized screams, leaving us to imagine what he’s doing to her inside. Afterwards, crowds surrounding her dead body, the camera pans in to her bloodied, bullet-wounded chest, and her left hand, frozen by death as it clutched in pain. A chilling, horrifying image, resonating with the violence that caused it. Later, his partner refers to it as chasing petticoats. It’s nothing surprising that Lang does not visualise sexual abuse, nor the murder (of a woman) that follows, given the restrictions on such material that were enforced by the PCA in both script and editing stages. But there is, perhaps, a pattern here.
In The Big Heat, when Lucy Chapman is murdered and Sergeant Bannion is discussing the case with a doctor, they consider that it was probably a “sex crime”, and probably “psychopathic”. Bannion shudders at the number and intensity of the cigarette burns found all over her body.
There is so much violence towards women in Fritz Lang’s films, so much. Grahame screams uncontrollably when her face is burned, and for a long while, in The Big Heat. At the end of Man From The West, Julie London has been raped, and while her suffering is noted, and referenced, we do not linger with it. We are moved on. It’s not the violence that I have a problem with, it’s just that the violence towards men is never so physical. Or it never lasts as long, physically; men are given time to work through it, to ease it out. Or perhaps what I mean is, the violence is physical, but it is also allowed to be psychological, and in so many cases the women do not have the same space to let their pain show. In Raw Deal, Claire Trevor has opportunity; she has the entire voiceover layer to explore her thoughts. It is still, somehow, about Dennis O’Keefe’s death.
In Rancho Notorious, Mel Ferrer seems to think longingly of being hanged. “It’s a clean way to die, and as quiet as eating a banana,” he reflects. Again, it is the man whose conflicting desires and actions are given centre stage, are played out, and the woman whose abilities are limited by her surroundings, and by the men — friends, colleagues, authority figures, lovers — around her, making their choices.
“I wish you’d go away, come back ten years ago.” — Dietrich says as she and Arthur Kennedy reflect friendly and sombrely in the desert, wishing to be in love. But she, too, is confused. In the film’s final scene she jumps in front of a bullet to save Ferrier. In the end, it is he who will wear the lifelong suffering.