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Clash By Night

21 Oct

Clash By Night — Directed by Fritz Lang. Kitchen Sink Drama. A woman who has married a decent dullard falls for a hunk of trouble. 105 minutes Black and White 1952.

* * * * *

It is not film noir; it is kitchen sink drama of the kind that Chayefsky was writing and that was all over live TV at the time. It’s by Odets, and later even the great Rita Hayworth appeared in one of these KSDs, Story On Page One, also by Odets. This version is excellent and Bogdanovich and Lang himself do the Extra Features voice over, which is an education and a treat. We have here a strong story, well acted by Robert Ryan as the cad and Barbara Stanwyck, although not by Paul Douglas who plays it for pity – never a good idea. Marilyn Monroe as a small town girl is wonderful in all her scenes and different from the lollypop she often was shown as later; here she’s a fish-scaler in a Monterey cannery; she’s wonderful in a scene where her boyfriend tells her off. Kim Stanley, Lloyd Bridges, and E.G. Marshall made a TV version of this a little later, and it’s interesting to compare the scripts and performances. For one thing, Kim Stanley is better at playing a mother than Stanwyck because she was closer to childbearing age. But here Stanwyck is wonderful as the beaten-down, been-away-for-years failure. And why is that? Because Stanwyck is the least beaten-down person on the planet. In both versions the false naiveté of the husband stretches our gag reflex. But the piece has its power. In the case of Kim Stanley it is the power of a woman whose sexual capacity is stifled by her circumstances and has no way out but toward the arms of a rotter. In the case of Stanwyck, it is her natural power that is stifled with the same tragic result. Odets was a master at dramas of humans with no natural outlet. The ignorant armies are inside us. We are in the land of lower-class melodrama here, and in this case, I can think of far worse places to be. Fritz Lang’s work is always worth seeing.

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