Friday, February 22, 2013

The Noir Scene That Never Was

Today's post is a bit grim, because my subject is film noir—perhaps my favorite film genre. And mind you, not modern noirs. I mean the classic black and white ones from the 1930s-1950s.

Most noir lovers will know of 1944's "Double Indemnity" starring Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson. What most probably don't know is that the scene pictured to the right was cut out of the film. It shows Fred MacMurray's character getting ready to be executed in the California gas chamber for killing the Stanwyck character's husband. Director Billy Wilder thought it wasn't necessary and cut it.

There will be varying opinions on this, and the ending as is sort of left it up in the air and a bit sentimental. You weren't sure if MacMurray would survive to be convicted, or what the final outcome would be. While I like the way it showed the friendship between Robinson and MacMurray's characters even at such a grisly end, the gas chamber scene would have sealed the "crime does not pay" grim ending well.

Interestingly, if you remember "Angels With Dirty Faces" with Jimmy Cagney, they only showed the shadow of the electric chair when Cagney's character was being fried, with the obligatory dimming lights. That was 1938, I think. And here they are only a few years later showing the actual gas chamber with people in it. Fast forward a few years to Susan Hayward and "I Want To Live," they show Susan strapped in the chamber with the pellets dropping and the gas fumes rising, and Susan coughing in the fumes.

Don't get me wrong. I don't think death scenes need to be played out with ever more gory graphicness. But at least the shadow of it underlines the finality of evil, and the fact that it will end with certain justice . . . in the long run. If not here, in eternity.

But film noirs weren't known for too many Hell scenes.

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