Thread from 2016: FEMALE ON THE BEACH, "Beach Noir" and: "Joan meets the noir-o-meter"...
Posted by Don Malcolm on 6/10/2020, 7:08 am
A nice thread with contributions from several folks who are still seen around here from time-to-time, with the usual list-making mania--and followed up by a "noir-o-meter" breakdown of this glossy little trifle...which is Joan Crawford's last stand as a "glamour girl" in a hybrid style of noir that could still be made with a certain palpable panache even as its passé elements reached up to grab it.
Female on the Beach (1955)
Posted by Solomon on 8/13/2016, 11:45 am
Every time I re-watch an old noir, like this one, my enthusiasm rises. I am experiencing the same feeling when I catch up on westerns from the 50s that I've never seen before, like "Joe Dakota", "The Quiet Gun" and "Gun the Man Down". Hollywood really produced some great stuff.
"Female" is available in a beautiful new print from TCM Vault Collection. It's a full screen movie that looks simply terrific. This Universal movie is relatively neglected among noir sites and reviews, probably because it's a melodrama, not hard-boiled; maybe because it does not follow the plot patterns that are more well-known. A male-female relationship is the heart of the story, not hard-edged cynicism; but the uncertainty in this romance is overwhelming and brings to light unsatisfied yearnings for love laced with trust and mistrust. The crime in this movie that starts it up is virtually a sub-plot; we are not even sure that there has been a crime apart from a fleeting glimpse of a shadow behind a curtain. The initial death, so far ruled a suicide or accident, surfaces here and there in the form of a "soft" beach-style, rich area-type detective played by Charles Drake. He hasn't stopped investigating. It comes back in at the end and ties in with the major plot. This is a sign of good plot construction, but the whole thing has plenty of sharp dialog.
A softer kind of relationship laced with fraudulent intent engages us primarily. Jeff Chandler is a species of mature gigolo or beach boy who is kept by Cecil Kellaway and Natalie Schafer. Schafer as her usual catty character is priceless. They egg Chandler on and manage his appearances as he gets in with rich widows, and the latest to move in next door is Joan Crawford. Jan Sterling, who once had an affair with Chandler, is the real estate agent who greets Crawford. Sterling's initial appearance involves lying and keeping from Crawford the knowledge that the previous occupant, drinking heavily and despairing of her hold on Chandler, has died under questionable circumstances by plunging through a railing.
The worldly but vulnerable and unfulfilled Crawford knows how to deal with Sterling and the intrusive over-friendly Chandler. It's when Joan decides to play her own game with Chandler that the stakes mount. Her emotions are not so easy to control, and neither are his. Both Crawford and Chandler bring layers of depth to their roles that cannot be found in the written script alone.
Joseph Pevney directs, and the result is very good, very smooth, well-paced and engaging. The sets within the beach house are great, and photographed in noir style by Charles Lang.
Really, this is an amazingly entertaining movie. The IMDb vote score is a mere 6.0 with 676 votes. Maltin gives it 2/4 or 5/10. They underrate this movie, in my opinion.
Posted by Don Malcolm on 8/14/2016, 9:19 am, in reply to "Female on the Beach (1955)"
Great stuff, Mike. I agree with everything you've written here. This was a fine variation on the "woman in peril" melo-noir, and reflects the shift away from the gothic. Some amount of credit should go to the writing team of Robert Hill and Richard Alan Simmons, who were both just getting started at this time and wound up having very interesting careers.
"Beach noir" is a great little sub-category, and I think back in the day (probably when Marie used to post here) we had a pretty good list of what these films were. Obviously FEMALE ON THE BEACH is a charter member! Maybe it would be a good thing if we re-compiled a list of them now--wondering if you've already done so, Mike.
And the good news for SF folks is that this film will be screened at the Castro on Wednesday, August 24 (in tandem with WICKED WOMAN) as part of Elliot's "farewell tour." A night not to be missed.
Posted by Solomon on 8/14/2016, 11:39 am, in reply to "Re: Female on the Beach (1955)"
That list was long, wasn't it? Longer than what one might have expected. I don't have it. Many beach and ocean scenes appear in noirs tangentially, without their really being beach noirs. Quite a few 50s sci-fi movies have beach settings and/or scenes. Some possibles to get started, including some offbeat selections:
[followed by suggestions from readers]
Posted by ChiO on 8/14/2016, 3:12 pm, in reply to "Re: Female on the Beach (1955)"
Toss in "Les Salauds vont en Enfer" aka "The Wicked Go to Hell" (1955).
Posted by Mike Kuhns on 8/14/2016, 9:16 pm, in reply to "Re: Female on the Beach (1955)"
Don't forget SHACK OUT ON 101.
Posted by Don Malcolm on 8/15/2016, 8:57 am, in reply to "Re: Female on the Beach (1955)"
How about DRIVE A CROOKED ROAD? Even though the crime takes place in the desert, most of the set-up and the awfully fine denouement all take place on the beach...
Posted by Livius on 8/15/2016, 4:45 am, in reply to "Re: Female on the Beach (1955)"
The Reckless Moment, maybe.
Posted by Solomon on 8/17/2016, 4:30 pm, in reply to "Re: Female on the Beach (1955)"
alphabetized + female on the beach
711 Ocean Drive (1950)
A Stolen Life (1946)
Battle Shock aka A Woman's Devotion (1956)
Brighton Rock (1947, UK)
Cap d'Esperance (1951, France)
Criss Cross (1949) [ending?]
Dangerous Crossing (1953)
DRIVE A CROOKED ROAD (1954)
Edge of Fury (1958)
Female on the Beach (1955)
Forbidden Cargo (1954) (beach for smuggling)
Hell Bound (1957)
Hell's Half Acre (1954)
Hell's Island (in passing)
High Tide (1947)
High Tide at Noon (1957)
Highway Dragnet (1954) (ending)
House by the River (1950)
Johnny Allegro (1949) (Macready vs. Raft)
Key Largo (1948)
Kiss Me Deadly (1955) (ending)
L'arme a gauche (1965, France) aka The Dictator's Guns (sand bar)
Les amants du tage (1954, France)
Les Felins (1964, France) (nearby)
Mélodie en sous-sol aka Any Number Can Win (1963, France) (casino near beach, final scenes)
Les eaux troubles (1949, France)
Les Salauds vont en Enfer aka The Wicked Go to Hell (1955, France)
Mildred Pierce (1945) (beach house)
Night Tide (1961) (mermaid, amusement park, beach)
My Gun Is Quick (some?)
NO PLACE FOR A LADY
On the Waterfront
Os Cafajestes aka The Unscrupulous Ones (1962, Brazil) (an absolute must; mostly set on the beach)
Out of the Fog (1941)
Outcast of the Islands (1952, UK)
Panic in the Streets
Pier 5, Havana
Pool of London
Purple Noon aka Plein soleil (1960, France)
Rumble on the Docks
SHACK OUT ON 101 (1955)
Slightly Scarlet (1956)
Such a Pretty Little Beach (1949, France)
THE AMAZING MR. X (1948)
The Big Boodle (sort of)
The Brothers (1947)
THE COME-ON (1956)
The Dark Man (1950)
The Decks Ran Red
The Floating Dutchman
The Gun Runners (3rd version, The Breaking Point, To Have and Have Not)
The Lonely Violent Beach
THE LONG GOODBYE (1973)
The Long Memory (1952, UK)
The Night Runner (1957) (definitely)
The Raging Tide (1951)
The Reckless Moment (1949)
The Sea Wolf (1941)
The Second Woman (1950)
The Stranger's Hand
The Third Voice (1960)
Thunder Island (1963)
Tormented (1960) (beach, lighthouse)
Voice in the Wind (remotely)
Woman on the Beach (1947)
Noir-o-Meter for FEMALE ON THE BEACH (1955)
Posted by Don Malcolm on 8/27/2016, 3:48 pm
NOIR-O-METER FOR FEMALE ON THE BEACH
It was fun to see this film on the big screen at the Castro earlier in the week, where the real star of the film (Charles Lang’s photography) can be seen bringing it into the realm of film noir. In fact, Lang’s work and the heavy use of noir plot devices push FEMALE ON THE BEACH to a 5/10, or exactly 100 points out of 200, smack dab on the “dividing line" according to the noir-o-meter.
We’ll run through the elements quickly to keep you “in practice”...
Homme fatale/femme fatale or “peril-inducing” character: 4/15
Jeff Chandler’s character is named “Drummy,” not a promising appellation for an homme fatale. The film is very cagey about who might be responsible for the lifeless body (Judith Evelyn) we encounter in the first couple of minutes, and as a result it builds very little tension for this element.
Morally ambiguous protagonist(s): 4/5
“Morally murky” might be a better term for it. Much of this is played for comedy in the second act, when the couple who are “stage-managing” Drummy (Cecil Kellaway and Natalie Schafer) are verbally routed by Joan Crawford.
Alienated protagonist: 2/5
Joan has an ax to grind, and she starts out as a pretty serious ice queen. But the level of “alienation” is low…mostly confined to Chandler’s intermittent sense of shame about being a gigolo.
A dupe or a fall guy: 0/5
Violence with respect to character development/interaction: 4/10
We have almost exclusively emotional violence in FOTB, a slow-boiling war of words, manifested in a sequence of over-righteously indignant scenes from Crawford. The film begins with its most graphically violent image and builds all its remaining action around the mystery of what it was all about, keeping the “violence” in the low-wattage range.
Characters trapped by past events: 7/10
Chandler’s character explains his past life several times, and it qualifies as what we might call a “line of least resistance” type of personal entrapment. He also has some past issues with Jan Sterling’s real estate agent, which (eventually) reveals her back story. Thus this element is relatively strong, but much more yoked to the needs of the plot than something more organically placed into the character interactions.
Degree of character triangulation: 6/10
Most of these are implicit in the developing narrative, and don’t tend to drive any of the scenes. But it’s strong enough that we sense a tug of war that eventually clarifies into our envisioning one specific triangular situation that explains the film’s violent opening.
Character element score: 27/60 (4.5 out of 10)
The characters are somewhat noir-ish, but (as a certain wag once said...) not necessarily so.
Black and white cinematography: 10/10
And quite nicely done, by the highly estimable Charles Lang (the third consecutive Crawford film he lensed in the mid-50s). Lang’s noirs earlier in the 50s aren’t too shabby: THE BIG HEAT (1953) and SUDDEN FEAR (1952).
Low angle shooting/expressionistic techniques: 2/5
A little here and there.
A sense of fatalism (either spoken or visual): 8/20
Strong at the outset, with the death of Evelyn’s character, but it quickly dissipates into “moral repartee” which loosens us from any sense of danger or peril or “lack of control over the universe.”
Use of extreme mise-en-scene (claustrophobic/barren): 6/10
Moody, cramped indoor shots dominate, but not to the point where we are overwhelmed by their presence. Even the shots on Chandler’s boat are cramped…
Use of mise-en-scene to portray alienation: 2/5
Primarily in the way Chandler is photographed, odd angles that tend to diminish him…also Lang does some evocative work in the flashback sequences where the events in the Chandler-Evelyn affair are recounted.
Odd camera angles or other visual effects/sequences: 3/5
There seems to be a good bit of foreshortening in the lens work, and Lang (or Pevney) favored using two-shots with movement, probably to keep the audience from getting too lulled by the somewhat-too-frequent moral lecture scenes where Crawford gets to do some “MGM acting.”
Mise-en-scene element score: 31/55 (5.6 out of 10)
An urban setting: 0/10
Exotic/remote/barren location setting: 5/5
Clearly a studio film, but shot to emphasize its beach (“exotic”) setting.
Nightclub/theatre/gambling setting: 0/5
Setting element score: 5/20 (2.5 out of 10)
Overall visual element score: 36/75 (4.8 out of 10)
Again, noir-ish...not quite over the line, though the mise-en-scene is clearly copping from noir visual conventions.
Convoluted story line: 4/5
Robert Hill and Richard Alan Simmons do a good job of re-energizing the story via the placement of the flashback near the center of the film. For our purposes, the term “convolution” has to do with how much the film makes us conscious of the plot, and this one definitely makes itself evident.
Use of flashbacks: 5/10
In the past I might have made this 10/10, but it seems to make more sense to grade on a curve due to length, placement and intensity of the flashback sequences. This one is pivotal to the story, but doesn’t result in any sudden dramatic shift or crescendo...so I’m giving it 5/10.
A murder or heist at the center of the story: 5/5
A mysterious death, for those who haven’t yet watched and don’t want to necessarily know what exactly happened.
A betrayal or a double cross: 5/5
The question here is how essential to the action the betrayal is. We have to work with the fact that Chandler has betrayed Evelyn, even if it is at the behest of Kellaway and Schafer; regardless of what the actual circumstances regarding Evelyn’s death turn out to be, his actions caused pain and suffering. Therefore it’s a full score despite its peripheral visibility in the actual on-screen action.
Story told from the perspective of the criminals: 0/5
Crawford is a kind of “investigating moralizer” and she is central to how the action is defined; what the audience finds out about Chandler’s actions and his relationship with Kellaway/Schafer ahead of her "investigations" is not detailed enough to constitute “storytelling” on their part. The "goofy grifters" remain peripheral to the on-screen action throughout the film.
False accusation or fear of same: 5/5
As Crawford begins to suspect foul play in Evelyn’s death, she shifts suspicion (and, in keeping with her character) moral judgment onto Chandler. That becomes palpable in the film’s third act.
Sexual relationships with respect to plot development: 9/10
Three women and one hunk...’nuff said.
Plot element score: 33/45 (7.3 out of 10)
Clearly the characters are thrust into a noir situation by the way the writers have constructed the story...
A spoken narrative: 0/5
Hard-boiled dialogue/repartee: 2/5
Crawford has a very tart tongue here and she spreads it around in many of her exchanges with most of those with whom she interacts.
Degree of bleakness of denouement: 2/10
Sadly, wrapped up neat as a bow. You’d kind of like to see a sequel where Crawford and Chandler are off somewhere on their boat and face a truly wrenching test of their love, but that never happened.
Screenwriting element score: 4/20 (2.0 out of 10)
So the “overlay” elements for the story were mostly ignored by the writers, who used plot devices to inject noir into the narrative.
Overall plot/screenwriting element score: 37/65 (5.6 out of 10)
“Melo” score: 168 (average noir: 110)
Definitely a 50s melo-noir with little or no use of the psychological components from 40s melo. Moralizing replaces psychoanalysis, which does seem on the mark for the mid-50s time frame.
As noted, Lang is really the star of this one, though Joan’s wardrobe (which must have been half the production budget...) is a close second.