Crime Of Passion, 1956. 7/10

Stirling Hayden, Barbara Stanwyck, and Raymond Burr star in this noirish drama of a love triangle. Bill (Hayden) and Kathy (Stanwyck) are married, but she gets bored with her apparently contented husband, and has a one-night thing with his boss, Tony (Burr). Which means trouble.

We see that Kathy is that bane of the ’50s woman mindset–she’s independent and ambitious. Nonetheless, this newspaper woman falls in love with the detective (Bill) who solves a big murder case. But hanging out with the other cops’ wives is literally no picnic for Kathy; when’s Bill getting that promotion, anyway? Who does she have to sleep with to make it happen?

With Fay Wray as Burr’s wife, Alice; Virginia Grey and Royal Dano as the Alidos, Sara and Charlie; and Robert Griffen and Dennis Cross as a couple of detectives, James and Jules.

Were in San Francisco, passing newspaper billboards featuring Kathy’s image, obviously to boost readership. Then, into her paper’s office. Her boss wants her to check on an L.A. homicide–it’s concerning a wife (Mary Dana) who killed her husband. Next thing, were in the press room at police H.Q. The L.A. cops, Alidos and Doyle, have the case that’s the hot topic.

Captain Alidos comes in with Bill; they’re so-tight lipped that Alidos’s biggest comment is that Kathy should bag it and keep house. Anyway, thanks to Kathy’s advice column, the elusive Mary surfaces; warranting another, slightly more cordial visit from Alidos and Doyle. She gives the Captain the address she has for the suspect.

But, she sends Alidos on a wild goose chase; she wants Bill to get credit himself, so she saves the straight dope for him. They’re instantly attracted to each other, so after the Dana business is wrapped up, Bill and Kathy go out to dinner. He’s got to catch his plane “I’m glad I met you. I like you.” An airport barroom kiss.

What’s this? She’s taking a new job in New York. Hey, Bill calls…can she stop over in L.A.? He fixes it so she can. He basically sweeps her off the runway, and into city hall for a marriage ceremony. Somewhat incongruously, the Captain and his wife are the best man and maid of honor (or just witnesses). Right away things are a tad underwhelming, as Kathy doesn’t seem very excited with their new place together.

Obviusly, she’s ditched her career for him. Anyway, the cops’ wives are soon hanging out with Kathy; she’s hardly even faking being interested. She doesn’t fit in with them, and can’t cross over to where ‘the guys’ are busy playing cards. Plus, Bill can’t even have lunch with his wife without being pestered by work. The next dinner party, Tony’s name comes up; meanwhile, Kathy melts down from the banality.

That night, she stays up pondering things. “Don’t call me ‘angel’! I loathe it!” She tells Bill, who looks in. “Is this what you have to look forward to? This mediocrity?!” He just want to make her happy. “I just want you to BE somebody.” Isn’t he, though?

Although the limited role for women in this era is certainly a major theme, Kathy’s out-and-out greed is something quite different. That’s not feminism, but insatiability. And, materialism isn’t the bad guy here, it’s the paltry amount of it. The well-constructed and convincing independent woman theme is more or less in the dust bin.

Anyway, she’s up to something, staging an accident. She almost hits Alice Pope, the object being to meet her, as an entre to meeting her husband, the Inspector. Soon she’s getting her nails done with Alice, and hatches a scheme (a party) to schmooze Tony. Ironically, just the sort of gab-fest that she usually can’t stand.

The party comes off; Bill even has the chance to talk up the Commissioner. Tony chats up Kathy. He basically stirs the pot by hinting that her ambition isn’t sufficiently satisfied. Rather oddly, he invites her to his office. They seem to be sizing each other up. She does admit that she’s at loose ends. She takes the big step of letting him know that she’s more or less available to discuss intriguing cases (!).

That night she tells Bill that she wants him to quit; and segue to the less-demanding Beverly Hills police. It doesn’t make sense, as he’d have to start all over again. He agrees, because “The only way to make me unhappy is to stop loving me.” All of a sudden, Tony has taken an interest in his career; so Bill won’t resign, but we know something Bill doesn’t.

Uh, oh, there’s a note questioning her commitment to Bill. She has to explain that it’s probably Sara’s doing, and fingering Tony. Well, Bill’s not a happy camper. At HQ, Charlie gets punched by Bill. Great, now Bill’s in the hot seat, with Pope presiding. Actually, Jules and James more or less cover for Doyle. In this inquiry, Pope sounds very much like Burr’s later incarnation as Perry Mason.

The upshot of all this is Alicia’s is transferred, and Bill’s temporarily promoted. Next bit is someone calling on Kathy at night–of course it’s Tony. Now it’s his turn to gripe, about Alice. Same story as with Bill and Kathy; Alice is going nuts dealing with being a cop’s wife. “All those [good] years, where did they go?” he laments. Hey here’s an idea: Tony retires, Bill takes his place. A win-win?

They make out. Instead of that sealing the deal, however, Tony and Alice are suddenly reconciled. Kathy can’t have that; she and Tony arrange to meet up. He shows at the restaurant; he feels bad about their recent encounter, and out of loyalty for Bill, not to mention professionalism, the “pillow talk” deal is off. In fact, in a complete reversal, he’s putting Charlie up for the promotion.

She nearly faints in the restaurant. Next morning, she’s a complete jerk with Bill. Later, at the fights, they have to leave; same old ‘duty calls’ thing. A pretty gross shoot-out is recounted at the station. The desk sergeant mumbles about crime and murder. She leaves, but stakes out Tony’s home. “I’ve got to talk to you! It’s important!” She yells at him. Kind of carelessly, he lets her in.

She goes on and on, “I beg of you!” He’s not being magnanimous. So, she plays her last card–a gun. Boom, no more Tony. Driving furiously up in the mountains, she does finally get home. Now what? There’s Bill. She gets in bed just quick enough to fool him. Of course, Tony’s body is discovered. Meaning Bill is notified. Just now she’s the most affectionate that she’s ever been with him.

At HQ, ironically, it’s Bill giving orders about not leaving a stone unturned to catch Tony’s killer. She calls HQ (no answering machines then), as Bill looks at photo of the fatal bullet. He calls her to ask her to stay with Alice; hmm, comfort the widow of the man she’s shot? Well, Bill’s forensic skills are perfect: he IDs the bullet as from the same gun as one taken in the heist discussed earlier–in other words, it was stolen from HQ.

The cops huddle: what could’ve happened to the missing gun? Indirectly, Bill pieces everything together. At home he simply says “what did you do with the gun, Kathy?” She confesses. Well, he brings her in. To that same desk where she stole the gun. That’s it, the end.

Strangely, although the story covers plenty of territory (Bill and Kathy’s entire relationship), it goes sort of slow, especially in the middle. Had we begin with them as newlyweds, we’d have a lot more room for scenes showing Kathy’s disenchantment with married life, her the effects of her pushiness on Bill, and, especially the fling with Tony.

As it is, the beginning isn’t integrated well into the rest of the movie. It’s as though the career woman role just morphs into the trapped-in-suburban-conformity theme. Obviously the two are related, but the change is so abrupt that it’s almost like two movies lashed together.

Having cut this up that much, there’s plenty to like: the stars each give strong performances, and are very well-suited to their roles. Hayden is uncharacteristically passive, though; he never reacts much to Stanwyck’s demands, except by giving in. In fact, he never figures out what happened between her and Burr’s character. There’s no Bill and Tony face-off, and not much follow-up on Bill’s discovery of the ‘do-tell’ letters.

Tony is the most interesting one here. He’s alternatively menacing, intimidating, creepy, dishonest, and loyal. The strongest scene is his ‘courtroom’ investigation of the Bill/Charlie confrontation, in which Tony shows most of these traits.

Stanwyck has the amorality tinge of some of her other roles. Other than their initial romance, Hayden and Stanwyck spend more time avoiding each other than being cozy.

Crime of Passion takes a weighty premise and a great cast and comes up with a decent drama; it just doesn’t scope out its angles clearly enough to make a stronger impact.

Lola, 1961. 9.5/10

A romantic drama with Anouk Aimee, Marc Michel, and Jaques Hardin. After many years, Roland (Michel) runs into old flame Cecile/Lola (Aimee), a cabaret singer. She’s estranged from Michel (Hardin), the father of her son. Cecile wants Michel back; Roland wants Cecile. Making it more interesting is Madame Desnoyers (Elina Labourdette), who wants Roland, who isn’t interested in her.

Lots of longing and disappointment in store it seems. There’s also Desnoyers’ daughter Cecile (Annie Duperoux), who resembles the adult Cecile; yet another suitor for Lola, Frankie (Alan Scott), Michel’s mom, Jeanne (Margo Lion), and Claire (Catherine Lutz).

We see a guy in a cowboy hat driving a white Cadillac Eldorado up to the beachfront (the film is shot in Nantes, on the French Atlantic coast). He dodges some U.S. sailors as he drives much too fast through town.

Roland comes into a bar, he’s late for work. The barmaid, Claire, asks him about Jeanne. He’s kind of got an Angry Young Man attitude. Michel’s mom arrives, frantic, and asks for help; something about Michel. Then we learn that it was Michel in the Cadillac; he left seven years ago, and reappeared suddenly. His mom’s in a fit because she had a premonition about his return.

She relates to Claire and Roland how Michel left his wife and infant son years ago. Jeanne leaves, and so does Roland (Claire bugs him about being a lazy whiner). When he gets back to the office, his boss is upset about his chronic lateness “you have a major fault. You’re off in the clouds.” Sounds like Claire, doesn’t he?

Incredibly, his latest excuse is that he lost track of time trying to finish a novel. While conceding that it’s a great book (apparently an existentialist novel), the boss tells Roland, in so many words, to get lost. Out on the streets now, he goes into a theatre; the group of sailors we saw earlier try out the cabaret. They’re regulars, it seems.

The dancers are rehearsing; but then they start dancing with the sailors. one, Frankie, asks for Lola. He brings her whiskey and cigarettes, and he wants to sleep with her “again.” No dice on that. They go back to her shabby place, though, while her son plays outside. With the exception of Michel, who’s been talked about plenty, but only seen at a distance, we’ve met the main characters, all of them interesting.

Another street scene: the Desnoyers are shopping. They duck into a bookstore; mom complains to the clerk about the novel Justine “scandalous!” Oh, and Roland pops in just now. He gets a hand in the conversation by telling Cecile’s mom that he has a dictionary the girl might find useful.

He tells them that Cecile looks like ‘his’ Cecile (Lola). Anyway, he arranges to bring the book around to them. Then we segue back to Lola and Frankie; he’s no fresh-off-the-boat drunken sailor type–he seems like a good guy, and his French sounds fluent. She tells him that he looks like someone she loves (Michel).

Roland finds the dictionary, then goes to the bar. He complains “We don’t know how to live anymore. Me with my boss, you with your drunks.” He says he wants to travel. Claire tries to talk him into getting another job. On the street, he bumps into…Lola. they almost instantly recognize each other. It’s been ten years.

They’re both instantly enchanted, and arrange to meet later. When he goes to see about the job, however, everything seems mysterious. There’s travel involved, but for what? From Amsterdam to Johannesburg. Must be smuggling–he’s given a fake passport. Back with young Cecile and her mom.

Roland comes calling, they chat. He tells them his dad was a sailor, but his mom divorced him. He sums everything up by telling them that he has a date with the other Cecile. It’s as though meeting the girl Cecile foreshadowed meeting the woman Cecile. “Maybe I’ll look like her later” says the 14-year-old.

The mom really wants him to come back; he agrees to come for the girl’s birthday the next night. Young Cecile goes out shopping for dinner, and runs into Frankie, who coincidentally buys the last copy of the comic book title that she likes. He gives it to her anyway, and, then, kind of strangely, he walks with her. They talk about the upcoming fair. Another coincidence: he has a sister her age, who looks like her.

She runs off. At the cabaret the dancers talk. Lola practices a song. She has to rush off for her date with Roland, but Frankie’s outside, waiting for her. She sends him on his way. She’s talking non-stop, obviously excited, maybe nervous too. He tells her “Last time I saw you, you had braids” in contrast, that is, to her dancer’s get-up.

He tells her about his various jobs–that he’s no longer ambitious “I’m the quintessential failure.” He also admits that he was in love with her. They also talk about children; he says he likes kids, but it’s hard on kids who weren’t “wanted.” She takes that to mean that he wasn’t wanted.

Anyway, at the restaurant where they have dinner, she describes how she met Michel. At a fair, when she was fourteen. Come on, we’ve got another fourteen years old Cecile, who, like Lola, meets a blond sailor at a fair (Frankie). “I fell in love with him on the spot.” Then he (Michel) left, and came back “When I told him I was pregnant, he disappeared.” She’s carrying a huge torch for him.

Uh, oh, there’s that white Eldorado, parked right by the tobacco shop. “He’s probably fat and bald by now” Roland tells her. She thinks that’s hilarious. But he doesn’t waste time getting to the point; she says, however “don’t bother about me… I’m just a silly girl.” She starts sobbing, reminiscing, taking stock of her life all of a sudden “It’s all crashed down on me. It’s so stupid.”

She still thinks Michel is coming back–well, he has. Roland says goodbye in front of the cabaret. In the morning, Michel pulls up there too. She’s still with Frankie. As if by a signal, Michel takes off just as Lola and Frankie leave. Meanwhile, Roland goes to the bar and tells Claire about his furtive mission “A mysterious deal with a briefcase.” He tells her he doesn’t want to go through with it because he’s found love.

Roland wants to scout out the crooked hair saloon operator, but is distracted by seeing Lola with Frankie. His curiosity, if not his jealousy, is piqued, and he follows them back to her place. Oddly (not so much for this movie), Roland brings her son the same toy that Frankie did. Roland walks with her and the boy, as she talks in general terms about the sailors at the club.

He tells her that he’s not going after all, because he’s in love with her. He tells her, very romantically, how he’s thought about her all these years, and is overwhelmed on meeting up with her again. “You gave me a reason to live.” She says, however, that she doesn’t love him; it’s hard to know if they were even close as kids, as she says that she hardly knows him.

“I’ve never had a male friend, just guys chasing after me.” Good point, but he’s upset when she says that she’s going off with the sailor–and that the story about Michel might be just–a story. He won’t wait around for her to explain, and leaves. Now, at home, there’s Frankie, who says that he’s shipping out. (She did make up a story all right, but not about Michel). Frankie just says that he “really liked” her, and simply goes.

Segue back to young Cecile. Frankie happens to be walking by; she wants to give him the comic book back. Anyway, she decides to go to the fair with him. Hmm. Shouldn’t she ask mom? Guess not, more trusting times sixty years ago. The other thing is, like other motifs in this movie, the fair has more than casual meaning for the characters. They try the bumper cars, and other rides.

There’s some slow-motion as he lifts her out of a ride. It’s charming…nearly romantic. They’re hand-in-hand, running, then walking. Abruptly, though, he brings her up short; he’s after all shipping off soon and won’t see her again. It’s a poignant scene, but more symbolic of other partings in the movie than sad in itself.

Her mom’s a bit upset–where has she been, etc. She admits that she saw Frankie “My daughter out partying with serviceman!” mom wails. As planned, Roland comes for dinner. He’s obviously preoccupied, and tells moms the reason, that his love left with another man. He seems to have accepted it, at least to keep things pleasant for his hosts. Cecile asks him to explain about first love, and how it’s special and different.

Now it’s mom’s turn to feel bad, losing her husband, being stuck raising a daughter alone. He takes his leave; he’s departing on his journey too. He tells Jeane the situation. What’s this? Police and a crowd around the underground hair salon–diamond smuggling? Gee! Well, his timing’s good, as he’s still clean.

He sees Lola; they both apologize. She admits that she made up the thing about leaving with Frankie. “I thought you’d forgive me [for not loving him] if there were someone else.” She’s going to Marseilles. “We’re alone. And we stay alone.”

She playfully taunts “You think I should throw myself in your arms and and thank you?” He says: that would be a “miracle.” She says “it may happen.” She’ll be back in two months, and they’ll go from there. One last non-coincidental coicidence–young Cecile has gone to Cherbourg, ostensibly to her uncle’s, but we know it’s to intercept Frankie. Actually, her ‘uncle’ is her real father, which Cecile doesn’t know.

Well, no surprise to see that Eldorado again–Michel better be quick, as seemingly everyone is off to somewhere–Lola to Marseille, Cecile, and then her mom to Cherbourg, and Roland, still on his mission, or something. Finally Michel lands, so to speak, coming into the bar. He tells his mom that he’s come back to marry Michel. Next, of course, Roland just happens to pop in; he gets the lowdown on Michel’s return.

Roland says that he doesn’t want to stick around to meet the happy reunited couple; obviously they don’t know that it was Lola whom he was in love with. She’s taking her leave at the cabaret. And, viola! here’s Michel. Her co-workers are a more than a bit taken aback. He has his excuse ready-made, naturally: broke, stuck in the colonies, but “…if you still love me…” She does.

Driving away, she sees Roland walk by, and takes a last, full look at him. Not without a touch of regret in her eyes, she tells Michel, who noticed her sudden, odd reaction, that it was “nothing.” That is, nothing but first love, memory, longing–the theme of the film.

Lola is an incredibly romantic movie. It’s essentially about love–mostly unrequited love. It shows how the element of chance, and timing (very appropriate for the existentialist mind-set) can influence our most intense emotions. For example–if Roland had a shot at Lola before Michel came along (and, although it was in youth, he did). If Cecile (the younger) were in fact a bit older, then Frankie would take her more seriously.

If Roland were a bit older, he might be interested in Cecile’s mom. If Michel hadn’t returned, or came either before or after, he might’ve missed the boat with Lola. Frankie falls between two stools–two Ceciles, to be specific. The oddest thing is that the Michel/Lola relationship, which does ultimately work out, seems the least rewarding of all the other possibilities.

Maybe that’s a function of Michel’s character. He’s almost a blank slate, not really emerging until the very end, and not showing a great deal of personality even for that bit. We seem instead to root for Roland; nothing would be finer than for things to play out after she gets back from Marseilles. But then, of course, Michel torpedoes that.

Luckily, though, Roland has become a bit more resilient, both in love, and in life. I think the point is that everyone, even innocent Cecile, will be ok. In a mythic sense, the various journeys the characters embark on are as much psychological as physical. Actually, Roland’s Johannesburg thing can’t be taken literally anymore, because the heist had been nipped in the bud.

Lola is as complicated as Roland; she has three men more or less in her life, and only wants one. That being Michel, who’s virtually a ghost for most of the time. She’s in the unenviable position of attracting too much attention; which, in a sense just makes work for her. Even Roland, who genuinely loves her, is needy and demanding much of the time.

The maze of plot overlaps and motifs (the sailor, the 14-year-old girl, the fair, the absent father figure, the two Ceciles, all the journeys and departures) are maybe a bit too clever. The script is heavily psychological without the almost dreamlike layering of characters and scenes. On the other hand, the strong emotional content plays out within a very palpable atmosphere that’s anything but remote or escapist.

Everything fits, if we buy this magic realist tone. It’s something like recounting one’s life on a psychiatrist’s couch, from multiple perspectives. A character-driven movie if there ever was one, full of life, and therefore full of surprises. 9.5/10

Clash By Night, 1952. 9/10

A love triangle energizes the plot in this drama. Barbara Stanwyck is Mae Doyle D’Amato, back in her hometown after a long fling with a married man back East. She gets acquainted with both Earl Pfieffer (Robert Ryan), a local bad-boy, and nice guy Jerry D’Amato (Paul Douglas).

Meanwhile, Mae’s brother Joe Doyle (Keith Andes) makes time with Peggy (Marilyn Monroe). Jerry’s dad is Papa D’Amato (Silvio Miniciotti), and there’s his Uncle Vince (J. Carrol Naish).

We start with a picturesque Monterey Bay panorama; seals, gulls, a fishing fleet. And, Peggy waking up. Geez, she works in a cannery. Meanwhile, Mae gets off the train by the pier. Sauntering into a bar, she perches on a stool.

Jerry comes in to sort of rescue his dad, who’s miserable. “Hey, ain’t you Mae Doyle?” Asks Jerry, as Pops bumps into Mae. She’s sort of ‘yeah, whatever’ when Jerry tries to reacquaint himself with her, even though he mentions that her brother works for him. Anyway, Peggy gets off work, meeting up with Joe.

“When I want you to kiss me, I’ll let you know!” Peg tells the aggressive Joe. Oh, well. Mae greets them at the old homestead. It’s been ten years. What, no entourage for Mae? “There isn’t any car, there isn’t any husband.” In other words, her game folded up. Joe grudgingly welcomes sis home.

Peggy tells Mae that Joe wants to marry her, but she’s not so sure she wants to. Segue back to the docks. Joe and Jerry talk about Mae; Joe encourages him to ask her out. Next thing we know, Jerry is all dressed up for a date with her. He, Vince, and Pops verbally joust.

So, Jerry comes calling on her. He talks about how “everything was easier in the old days.” He mentions Earl, the movie projectionist. After the movie, they visit with Earl. He’s got an odd comment on the movie, that it would be better if the actress were “cut-up a little bit, [because] she’d look more interesting.”

Earl tells Mae that his wife is in burlesque, in St. Louis. Hmm. Then he muses “a man without a woman has nothing.” About his wife, he says “some day I’m going to stick her full of pins!” A voodoo doll? Mae doesn’t like him. Back home, Peg and Mae are hanging a clothesline. They talk about guys, Mae says “I’m tired of looking after men. I want to be looked after!”

I’d say that she and Earl are equally bitter, but in different ways. Jerry wants to go to the Pavilion at Earl’s invitation. She tells Jerry, a bit disdainfully, “you don’t know a thing about me.” She figures that he’s in love with her; but she’d be “bad” for him. But he says that he’d do “anything” for her. Hmm.

Joe and Peg are clowning at the beach; they cruise into a nice place. Earl, who seems to know everyone, starts complaining about the service. Peg tells Joe that Earl looks “kind of exciting, and attractive.” Joe doesn’t like that, and, not so playfully chokes her with a towel. Earl’s not the only jerk, then.

When Joe goes on an errand, Earl comes on to Peg; then Mae and Jerry slip in. Joe and Peg go out for a walk, so Earl shifts his attention to Mae. When they dance, Earl basically tells her that Jerry’s a great guy, but, y’know, he’s Jerry. “You’re like me,” he tells Mae. Jerry’s gone missing.

Now Earl’s wife is in Pittsburgh. Time for a song, and a smoke. Jerry reappears (another Pops crisis). She more or less tells Jerry to buzz off for being overly solicitous. More bitter talk with Earl. She: “Last time I looked you had a wife.” He: “Next time you look, maybe I won’t.” He moves in to kiss her, but she demures. He retorts “I know a bottle by the label.” Slap.

Back inside, Joe whisks Peg away from Earl. Then Earl gets stiffed by Mae all over again. She unexpectedly says that she will marry boring old Jerry. So, there’s an Italian-style wedding (Jerry being about the least Italian-looking guy possible). Naturally, Peg makes a spectacle of herself, and Pops gives a genuinely salutary speech.

Of course, Earl insists on kissing the bride. Anyway, things start off swimmingly for the newlyweds; Mae’s had a baby already, Gloria. Strangely, Vince needles Jerry about Mae; the jist is that she’s too controlling. Anyway, some more domestic bliss for the little family. Meanwhile, it seems that Earl has finally got his divorce.

Funny thing is, Jerry feels sorry for Earl. Well, look who’s calling, drunk as a skunk? Earl. He’s only had “two tiny quarts.” As drunks will do, he gets philosophical “Divorce is like the other person dying.” Ok, but what’s this? Mae looking out the window at the sea.

Next day, Jerry sets off to the boat; that leaves sleep-it-off Earl in the house with Mae. “How did I get here?” She tells him. Pop pops in; he gives Earl a quick dirty look and says “you don’t like work, heh?” Of course, Earl gets down to brass tacks with Mae immediately, asking her if she’s happy. He’s certain that she isn’t.

He doesn’t respect the fact that she’s married. “Don’t you know I love you?!” For all his machismo, Earl is weak and needy. Peg comes by–she’s showing off her ring–she and Joe are engaged. Earl rolls out some demeaning quips. When Peg leaves, Mae tries to get rid of him; but he grabs her, after some struggling, they embrace and kiss.

On the boat, the crew gets the news that there’s another Pops crisis, and that Mae’s gone to the fair with Earl. Vince claims he didn’t know anything about Pops going bezerk in the bar. But Vince mentions Earl…is word seeping out about Mae carrying on with the lout? Yep, that’s it.

Jerry quizzes his dad about the fight; the fact that Pops just cries confirms the cuckolding situation. Not only that, but Jerry finds some stuff that only Earl could’ve given her. At that point, Earl returns with Mae. Well, Earl’s busted; he tries to pass the gifts off as little doodads, but Jerry is livid.

He tells Earl off. Basically, Mae feels bad about it; but she’s defensive, giving Jerry the line that married life is boring. This is a long, powerful scene. Turning on his wife and Earl, Jerry lambastes them with “what are you, animals?!”

A segue with clouds and landscape. Here’s Earl and Mae on the beach; “this is my last shot at happiness” he says. Ditto for her. Earl is so delusional, saying that Jerry “can’t take care of himself.” Earl has no idea who he is, or what he wants to do; and Mae’s not much different. They talk about the baby like it’s a bargaining chip, if not just a nuisance.

Working up to a wild denouement, I think. Anyway, when she gets home, Jerry says he’s willing to forget the past, if they can have a future. She just says that she’s going to leave the next day with Earl. What a dummy. He offers to sell the boat so that they can “go away.” When he tries to force his affections on her, she threatens him.

He’s so pissed when she says that she’ll take Gloria, that he pushes her out. Vince tells him that he should take her back, whether she likes it or not. “Blow his brains out!” urges Vince, Earl’s brains that is, if he has any. Joe walks in on Peggy and Mae–his turn to tell Mae off. And then, to the impressionable Peg, he talks about what marriage means to him “you’re just as much responsible as I am!” Sounds reasonable.

Earl is back in the projection room; doesn’t that make him an easy target? It’s not Mae that comes up, it’s Jerry. Uh-oh. He’s definitely out for blood; they struggle, Jerry nearly strangles Earl, but Mae intervenes just in time. No harm done, legally. That night, Mae swings by to pick up the baby and say goodbye to Jerry.

But Pops says that Jerry has split with the baby; and tells off both Earl and Mae. Earl calls Gloria “that kid.” She wonders if she should follow through and leave with Earl. He calls responsibility a “trap.” It’s obvious that he could care less about the baby. “Somebody’s throat has to be cut.” For once, she realizes that Earl’s attitude is selfish. Now she doubts that she loves Earl.

He’s possibly right that her new personality makeover is a phase of some sort “you played me for a chump!” Another apt comment: “you may lose both of us.” She goes to the boat; Jerry’s not exactly calmed down. “I wasn’t your husband, I was nothing!” She admits that she’s not a safe bet. Finally, Jerry says “I have to trust you…you got to trust someone, there ain’t no other way.” So, they each give in, to make another go of it. The end.

I was very surprised that no one was killed. That’s definitely a hint that character, and not action, is our focus here. We’ve stepped up from melodrama to the more sophisticated, nuanced level of drama. Both Jerry and Mae change significantly; Jerry’s heightened awareness shows up much sooner than Mae’s, who realizes, only at the very last minute, that Earl is an immature schemer and dreamer.

Earl, Mae, and Jerry are presented as very different, and very distinct people. Jerry’s uncomplicated and easily satisfied (as exemplified by his dad, who thinks things should be set in stone). Earl is the exact opposite: rootless, restless, and unappreciative. Mae is pretty much a female version of Earl, and attracts men as easily as Earl attracts women.

Its good that Jerry seems like such a ‘big lug’ compared to kool-kat Earl; otherwise his nebulous, almost beatnik-like non-conformism would seem useless next to the practical, down-to-earth (down to the sea?) Jerry.

Peggy and Joe make an interesting reflection of the married couple. Joe is somewhat like Jerry, but he has his Earl-like bossy, even abusive moments with Peggy. In their case, Peggy is actually more like Jerry, just wanting someone who will love her without telling her what to do. In fact, it would make a sort of poetic justice if Joe winds up with May, and Peggy with Jerry.

What connects the two couples is the predatory Earl. He certainly lives up to the cliche which posits that the ‘bad boys’ get the ladies. The script kicks him to the curb, ultimately; he ‘gets’ nothing, in fact, the town probably gets rid of him.

Joe’s bit about the responsibility in marriage being mutual really gets at the heart of the theme. This is fairly progressive stuff for the era, and belies a lot of the misogynist posturing and actions by both Joe and Earl.

The performances of the main characters are outstanding. And well cast: Stanwyck does her alluring, world-weary indifference so well; Ryan pretty much is one of his film noir anti-heros–minus the crime; Monroe is vulnerable, but resilient and deeply sensuous; Douglas’s role is enigmatic, the guy who gets wise to himself.

The beautiful locale helps to sort of set off, even amplify the characters’ issues. It doesn’t need to be stated that this is a natural paradise, with a village-like charm. So why are all these folks in turmoil? In a way, the setting mocks the drama, as though it’s a veneer of a civilization–which Pops seems to think–is already lost.

Actually, there’s some truth to looking at both facets of Monterey. Or anywhere, really. Some folks can blend in, as Jerry does; or, like Earl, and for the most part, Mae, they can be outliers. There’s another possibility too, as Peggy seems to show; one can be restless, but accept the situation that they’re in at the moment.

Clash By Night makes us think, an indication of an interesting, well-made movie. 9/10.