“Dead at the Center: Enigmatic Noir Femmes and Psychopaths” by Ken Hall

Such characters differ in their affect from another class of noir figures, those who seem “dead at the center,” displaying little or no genuine emotion as they proceed through the narrative. Perhaps these characters might be classified popularly as “psychopaths,” although the definition of the term according to psychological theory and practice is complex….

Film noir often features male or female characters who may display one or more of several emotions, including fear, anger, despair, confusion, and remorse. Two examples of such characters are Swede Larsen (Burt Lancaster) from The Killers (Robert Siodmak, 1946) and Mildred Pierce (Joan Crawford) from Mildred Pierce (Michael Curtiz, 1946). Both are haunted by memories of their own past actions and apprehend a fateful outcome for their respective situations.

Such characters differ in their affect from another class of noir figures, those who seem “dead at the center,” displaying little or no genuine emotion as they proceed through the narrative. Perhaps these characters might be classified popularly as “psychopaths,” although the definition of the term according to psychological theory and practice is complex (see Skeem, Polaschek, Patrick, et al.). One trait often mentioned in connection with psychopathy (although not necessarily present in all cases of the syndrome) which serves to encapsulate the noir characters under discussion, is “affective shallowness” (Skeem, et al. 106), or lack of significant emotional response. Among other instances of affectively shallow, cold and distant noir characters are Jane Palmer (Lizabeth Scott) from Too Late for Tears (Byron Haskin, 1949) and Ralph Cotter (James Cagney) from Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (Gordon Douglas, 1950).

Jane Palmer, adroitly played by underrated Lizabeth Scott, does display emotional expression, but her emotions seem manufactured, suited to the occasion as her plotting demands.[1] She panics and beseeches to get her way, smiles ingratiatingly to deflect inquiry or to lay a trap (as she does when she invites “Don Blake” [Don DeFore] into her apartment along with her sister-in-law Kathy to meet a former member of the dead Alan Palmer’s squadron so that he can uncover “Don” as an impostor who claims to have served with the man and Alan), and calmly entreats when she wants to manipulate her partner in crime, Danny Fuller (Dan Duryea).[2]

Jane normally expresses her true anger by a coldly hostile, frozen stare, which sometimes masks calculation or bewilderment. Even the masterfully cynical and vicious persona perfected by Dan Duryea, who plays her rather unwilling partner in theft and murder, appears genuine when paired with her in crucial scenes. He remarks to Jane volubly if still cynically: “Don’t ever change, tiger. I don’t think I’d like you with a heart.”  Soon enough Jane manipulates Danny into drinking the poison provided by him (against his will) for her attempt on Don’s life. Her ingratiating and calming expressions (again, manufactured from insincerity) in this scene betray to Danny nothing of her lethal intentions.

Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye

The unusual effect of such limited and manipulative emotional response is heightened in Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, a film which receives less critical attention than many other noirs. Perhaps the strangeness of the role played by James Cagney has contributed to the relative lack of attention accorded this film, as he interprets a completely psychopathic character in an oddly understated (and thus the more chilling) manner which is far removed from his enjoyably overstated manic behavior in the then-recent White Heat (Raoul Walsh, 1949).

Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye features another character nearly as unsympathetic as Cagney’s Cotter: his lover and partner in crime, Holiday Carlton (Barbara Payton),[3] as well as an assortment of grasping, cynical, heartless characters from several walks of life: corrupt cops, snobbish, snooty members of the upper class, and unapologetic thieves and mountebanks. The perspective offered on Cotter, who is dead (at Holiday’s hand) when the framing section of the film begins, is provided by some of Cotter’s former colleagues in his criminal enterprises, thus recalling the technique employed in Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941), in which the viewer must assemble the puzzle that was Charles Foster Kane from the conflicting accounts of those who knew him. Although not as complex as the slippery portrait of Kane, the criminal biography of Cotter provided in the narrative—which, unlike the Welles film, quickly dispenses with actual flashbacks from different perspectives—is frightening in its cold psychopathy. Cotter emerges as surprisingly literate, expressing his points to his marks in a deviously articulate manner. Eschewing his trademark use of strongly ethnic Irish street dialect, James Cagney provides Cotter with an educated diction that retains an edge of toughness. Despite any pretensions by Cotter regarding fair dealing with his “colleagues,” the viewer is in little doubt from the outset of Cotter’s utter and ruthless cynicism.

Less transparent in motivation are the characters played by Lizabeth Scott in Dead Reckoning (John Cromwell, 1947) and by Gloria Grahame in Human Desire (Fritz Lang, 1954).[4] In both films the central woman character appears to be trapped in a situation not completely, or even chiefly, of her own making. At the end of the respective narratives, both characters reveal to the noir protagonist—Rip Murdock (Humphrey Bogart) in one film and Jeff Warren (Glenn Ford) in the other—a purportedly accurate analysis of their machinations, which can be interpreted to show the completel irredeemable status of the two apparently psychopathic femmes fatales.

Dead Reckoning was released in 1947, in the latter stages of Bogart’s career, when he was attempting to broaden his scope of roles after his great successes in Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1943) and The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941) (see Macek). Rip Murdock (Bogart) is a returning World War II officer who is searching for clues about the death of his friend Johnny Drake (William Prince), becoming embroiled in a web of deception which touches in a tangential fashion Murdock’s former association with a shady operator from St. Louis. The frustrated investigator Murdock[5] comes into contact and emotional involvement with enigmatic Coral Chandler (Lizabeth Scott), widow of a wealthy man whom Drake had been accused of murdering. Although the film is a detective story like earlier Bogart films including The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks, 1945) and The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941),[6] complete with a romantic relationship between the Bogart character and a woman important to the case, it differs from the earlier films not only in the presentation of the detecting hero as an amateur forced by events into his quest, but also in its tendency to deflate the romantic elements because of Murdock’s suspicions about Coral, whose version of the death of her husband is contradicted by a gambler (superbly played in vicious unctuousness by Morris Carnovsky) and because of Coral’s tendency to shift from emotional involvement to cold distance, and from ebullience to melancholy and cynicism. The brittle careening through emotional registers in roles was a specialty of Lizabeth Scott and is fully exploited in this intriguing noir. Even the nickname applied to Coral, “Dusty,” seems to imply murkiness and inconstancy, while Rip’s impromptu nickname for her when they meet with safecracker McGee (Wallace Ford), “Mike,” diminishes her femininity in a context of masculine deception and thievery.

Dead Reckoning

Like Coral, Vicki Buckley (Gloria Grahame) in Human Desire hides the true facts of her biography and obscures her motivations until the last moments of her life. Even then, as Steve Neale points out, the accuracy of her account is open to question (Neale 196). Neale observes that the status of Vicki as a “femme fatale” is not settled given the “contexts” of the series of “accounts” related by her during the film: “All four accounts are delivered to male interlocutors in contexts that justify or motivate both what she says and the way she says it” (Neale 194). Grahame interpreted a similarly damaged character in another compelling Fritz Lang noir, The Big Heat (1953), in which her character Debby Marsh “played” a drunken gun moll for a gangster audience headed by Mike Lagana (Alexander Scourby) and Vince Stone (Lee Marvin); then, with much more sincerity, especially after her severe mistreatment by Stone, a vulnerable, trapped woman for Detective Sgt. Steve Bannion (Glenn Ford); and, for the evilly corrupt Bertha Duncan (Jeanette Nolan), a calmly vengeful killer.

These mercurial female roles, in which the emotional affect is not always genuine, contrast with several important male noir roles with little affect of any kind despite the violence underlying the seemingly calm surface. In addition to the Cotter example, these roles include Sid Kubik (Larry Gates) in The Brothers Rico (Phil Karlson, 1957), Earl Connors (Robert Emhardt) in Underworld U.S.A.. (Samuel Fuller, 1961), Professor Charles Rankin (Orson Welles) in The Stranger (Orson Welles, 1946) and Tim Foster (Preston Foster) in Kansas City Confidential (Phil Karlson, 1952). These characters are all organizers of or participants in criminal enterprises, some very large concerns (Connors and Kubik), and others smaller (Preston) or, in the case of Rankin, defunct (Nazi Germany). The Connors and Kubik characters reflect the 1950s image of organized crime as highly corporate and competent—constructed along business lines, as Michael Corleone never tires of insisting in the two sequels to The Godfather. The corporate, organizational image derived at least in part from the Kefauver Committee hearings in the 1950s. Commenting on 711 Ocean Drive (Joseph M. Newman, 1950), Ronald W. Wilson observes:

A feature of the film that would become more prevalent as the decade progressed is the depiction of gangsters as businessmen. Dapper, well-dressed Otto Kruger portrays crime boss Carl Stephans as if he were the CEO of the syndicate: overlooking board meetings, traveling by plane, issuing assignments to “special departments.” (Wilson 75)

Although this film falls more into a procedural category than does a strong noir like Underworld U.S.A., it does illustrate the cold offhandedness of this type of character, portrayed even more chillingly by inimitable Robert Emhardt in the Fuller underworld film.

Earl Connors is an especially sinister character because of Emhardt’s deceptively genial appearance, his misleading soft flabbiness accentuated by a capstone baby face whose smile is anything but warm and friendly.[7] Most of the scenes with Connors holding court are set at a swimming pool (as in a YMCA). Sam Fuller commented that the themes of “cleanliness” and dirt or filth were important to him:

I . . . tried to get a contrast wherever I could between the cleanliness of the head of National Projects [Connors] and the discussion he’s carrying on about narcotics and prostitution and murder. That’s why I picked the swimming pool location. . . . I wanted to get that contrast to what they’re talking about: it’s so vile and low. (Sherman and Rubin 159)

Connors does display some emotion, but even his anger at supposed treason by his associates is controlled and understated. His general demeanor is affable, breezy, businesslike.[8]

Interestingly enough the only criminal character to display genuine anger and hatred is Tolly Devlin (Cliff Robertson), whose father was beaten to death by three Connors associates. The film is the story of his revenge planning and execution; as Fuller notes, he drew on a famous Romantic source for the narrative:

I figured I’d do Monte Cristo; . . . . With one exception: instead of getting even with the guys personally, he uses the Law to knock off the people he doesn’t like. I thought that was a pretty good approach to the story. (Sherman, et al. 158)

In fact Tolly does kill Connors “personally,” resulting in his own death. Comparing Tolly to Skip (Richard Widmark), the pickpocket from Pickup on South Street (Samuel Fuller, 1953), Lisa Dombrowski classifies Tolly as “more of a sociopath, characterized by the clenched, twisting fist he makes first in reform school, then as a safecracker, again when he is out of jail, and finally in death” and who “dies with the same anger that propelled him through his whole life” (Dombrowski 132–33).[9]

Underworld, U.S.A.

Like Connors, Sid Kubik (Larry Gates) in The Brothers Rico is the no-nonsense, rather breezy leader of a criminal enterprise. Even more than Connors, Kubik presents a hypocritical face to his subordinates, pretending friendship to the hapless hero of the film, Eddie Rico (Richard Conte) while scheming to kill his brothers Gino (Paul Picerni) and Johnny (James Darren), both considered loose ends who might reveal facts about the organization—particularly its recourse to murder. Kubik launches the trusting Eddie on a search for Johnny, ostensibly to help Johnny escape the country because of his criminal involvement, but in fact to aid Kubik’s goons in finding and killing Johnny. When Kubik’s avuncular mask finally comes off, he is shown as ruthlessly cold and finally as a snarling killer whom the screaming Eddie calls an “animal.”

The animalistic nature of expatriate Nazi Franz Kindler, masquerading as Professor Charles Rankin, is conveyed with more nuance than the unmasked viciousness of Kubik. Welles plays Rankin with an urbane, professorial geniality, but his feral nature, including his fear of discovery, is just beneath the surface. Welles conveys this fear with darting eye movements and rapid shifts of his head—that is, with subtle body language—when confronted with possible discovery, and as the narrative progresses, his hidden identity begins to surface, one layer at a time. His vicious ruthlessness surfaces early in the narrative when he murders Konrad Meinike (Konstantin Shayne), a former Nazi who has found religion, has been released from custody by government agent Mr. Wilson (Edward G. Robinson), and thus cannot be trusted to assist Rankin. The ruthless violence of the murder is colored by Welles with Rankin’s frightened rush to conceal the body in the woods when he hears some students approaching. As his cover, and his composure, begin to deteriorate, he resorts to increasingly cruel acts, including poisoning his wife’s dog, fearing that he might discover Meinike’s body, and callously revealing parts of his background—and finally the entire truth of his identity—to his trusting wife Mary (Loretta Young), until he dies impaled on the sword of a figure on the town clock.

Kansas City Confidential

Tim Foster (Preston Foster), the mastermind of the robbery in Kansas City Confidential, a noir with some generic Hollywood admixture (the “happy ending”), is an operator on a smaller scale than Rankin, Kubik, or Connors. He displays a granite face, giving away little emotion except for his affection for his daughter Helen (Coleen Gray), and, as if to add to his stony demeanor, he wears a mask for a significant portion of his screen time. He insists on masks for his heist crew so that the crew members (excepting Foster, of course) will not know the identity of anyone involved. When the heist is pinned unfairly on Joe Rolfe (John Payne in a standout performance), he pursues the crew to Mexico. Foster, a retired policeman, succeeds in concealing his identity as the heist leader until the inevitable confrontation at the end of the film, which ends in a union of Joe and Helen.

The passionless affect of the sociopaths in the classic noirs discussed here has been continued, and even exaggerated, in the neonoir yakuza films of Kitano Takeshi. Kitano, as director and actor, has acquired a near-patent on depictions of frozen-faced hitmen, most recently in his Outrage trilogy,[10] to an extent nearing the realm of mechanical comedy much like that practiced by the great master Buster Keaton, of whom Tom Gunning observes: “His astonishing moments of sudden action, control, and physical grace present a contrast to his previous awkwardness, but at the price of becoming machinelike, a billiard ball in thrall to the laws of physics, a cog in a wheel” (Gunning 16).[11]

Works Cited

Ben-Yehuda, Omri. “The Face: K. and Keaton.” Mediamorphosis : Kafka and the Moving
Image. Ed. Shai Biderman and Ido Lewit. New York: Wallflower Press-Columbia
University Press, 2016. 279–94.

Cochran, David. America Noir: Underground Writers and Filmmakers of the Postwar Era.
Washington: Smithsonian, 2000.

Cromwell, John, dir. Dead Reckoning. 1947. Digital Videodisc. With Humphrey Bogart,
Lizabeth Scott, Morris Carnovsky, Marvin Miller, and Wallace Ford. Columbia-Sony, 2002.

Curtiz, Michael, dir. Casablanca. 1943. Digital Videodisc. With Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid
Bergman, Claude Rains, Paul Henreid, Conrad Veidt, Dooley Wilson, and Sydney
Greenstreet. Warner, 2003.

—, dir. Mildred Pierce. 1945. Digital Blu-ray Videodisc. With Joan Crawford, Bruce Bennett, Ann Blyth, Jack Carson, Zachary Scott, and Eve Arden. Warner Brothers-Turner-Criterion, 2017.

Dombrowski, Lisa. The Films of Samuel Fuller: If You Die, I’ll Kill You! Middletown:
Wesleyan UP, 2008.

Douglas, Gordon, dir. Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye. 1950. Digital Videodisc. With James Cagney, Barbara Payton, Ward Bond, Steve Brodie, Luther Adler, and Rhys Williams. Cagney Productions-Republic-Artisan, 2002.

Flaig, Paul. “Bergson’s Boffo Laughter.” JCMS: Journal of Cinema and Media Studies 60.2 (Winter 2021): 4–31.

Fuller, Samuel, dir. Pickup on South Street. 1953. Digital Videodisc. With Richard Widmark, Jean Peters, Thelma Ritter, and Richard Kiley. Twentieth Century Fox-Criterion, 2004.

—, dir. Underworld U.S.A.. 1961. Digital Videodisc. With Cliff Robertson, Robert Emhardt, Larry Gates, Dolores Dorn, Richard Rust, and Beatrice Kay. Globe Enterprises-Columbia-Sony, 2009.

Gordon, Marsha. “‘What Makes a Girl Who Looks Like That Get Mixed up in Science?’ Gender in Sam Fuller’s Films of the 1950s.” Quarterly Review of Film and Video 17.1 (2000): 1–17.

Gunning, Tom. “Buster Keaton or the Work of Comedy in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Cineaste 21.3 (1995): 14–16.

Haskin, Byron, dir. Too Late for Tears. 1949. Digital Videodisc. With Lizabeth            Scott, Dan Duryea, Don DeFore, Arthur Kennedy, Kristine Miller, and Barry Kelley.         Cardinal Pictures-United Artists-St. Clair Vision, 2004.

Hawks, Howard, dir. The Big Sleep. 1945. Digital Videodisc. With Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Martha Vickers, and Dorothy Malone. Warner Brothers, 2000.

Hiller, Arthur, dir. “The Ominous Outcast.” 21 May 1960. Digital Videodisc. With Raymond Burr, Barbara Hale, William Hopper, Jeremy Slate, Robert Emhardt, Walter Burke, Willis Bouchey, and Denver Pyle. Perry Mason. Vol. 3.24. Twentieth Century Fox-CBS, 2008.

Huston, John, dir. The Maltese Falcon. 1941. Digital Videodisc.With Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Elisha Cook, Jr., Barton MacLane, Ward Bond, and Walter Huston. Warner Brothers, 2000.

Karlson, Phil, dir. The Brothers Rico. 1957. Digital Videodisc. With Richard Conte, Larry Gates, Dianne Foster, Kathryn Grant, and James Darren. Columbia, 2010.

—, dir. Kansas City Confidential. 1952. Digital Blu-ray Videodisc. With John Payne, Preston Foster, Coleen Gray, Neville Brand, Lee Van Cleef, and Jack Elam. Associated Players and Producers-The Film Detective, 2016.

Kitano, Takeshi, dir. Beyond Outrage. Digital Blu-ray Videodisc. With Kitano Takeshi, Nishida Toshiyuki, and Miura Tomokazu. Office Kitano-Magnolia, 2014.

—, dir. The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi. 2003. Digital Videodisc. With Kitano Takeshi and Asano Tadanobu. Bandai Visual/Tokyo Film/Dentsu/TV Asahi/Saito Entertainment/Office Kitano-Miramax, 2004.

—, dir. Outrage. Digital Blu-ray Videodisc. With Kitano Takeshi, Shina Kippei, Kase Ryo, and Miura Tomokazu. Office Kitano-Magnet, 2012.

—, dir. Outrage Coda. With Kitano Takeshi, Nishida Toshiyuki, and Nakada Tatsuo. Office Kitano-Magnolia, 2017.

Lang, Fritz, dir. The Big Heat. 1953. Digital Videodisc. With Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Lee Marvin, Alexander Scourby, Jocelyn Brando, Jeanette Nolan, Peter Whitney, and Willis Bouchey. Columbia Pictures, 2001.

—, dir. Human Desire. 1954. Digital Videodisc. Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics II.

With Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Broderick Crawford, and Kathleen Case. Columbia Pictures, 2010.

Lyons, Arthur. Death on the Cheap: The Lost B Movies of Film Noir. N. p.: Da Capo Press, 2000.

Macek, Carl. “Dead Reckoning (1947). Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style. Ed. Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward. 3rd ed. Woodstock: The Overlook Press, 1992. 85–86.

Neale, Steve. “‘I Can’t Tell Anymore Whether You’re Lying’: Double Indemnity, Human Desire and the Narratology of Femmes Fatales.” The Femme Fatale: Images, Histories, Contexts. Ed. Helen Hanson and Catherine O’Rawe. Houndsmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. 187–98.

Newman, Joseph M., dir. 711 Ocean Drive. With Edmond O’Brien, Joanne Dru, Otto Kruger, Don Porter, and Barry Kelley. Frank Seltzer Productions-Essaness Pictures, 1950.

O’Dowd, John. Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye: The Barbara Payton Story. 2nd ed. Albany, GA: Bear Manor Media, 2015.

Renoir, Jean, dir. La Bête humaine. With Jean Gabin and Simone Simon. Paris Film, 1938.

Sanders, Rupert, dir. Ghost in the Shell. Digital Blu-ray Videodisc. With Scarlett Johansson, Kitano Takeshi, Michael Carmen Pitt, and Juliette Binoche. Dreamworks-Paramount, 2017.

Scott, Lizabeth. Interview. Robert Porfirio, interviewer. Film Noir Reader 3: Interviews with Filmmakers of the Classic Noir Period. Ed. Robert Porfirio, Alain Silver, and James Ursini. New York: Limelight Editions, 2002. 191–202.

Sherman, Eric, and Martin Rubin. “Samuel Fuller.” Interview. 1969. The Director’s Event: Interviews with Five American Film-Makers. Ed. Eric Sherman and Martin Rubin. New York: Atheneum, 1970. 123–91.

Silet, Charles L. P. “Through a Woman’s Eyes: Sexuality and Memory in The 39 Steps.” A Hitchcock Reader. Ed. Marshall Deutelbaum and Leland Poague. Ames: Iowa State UP, 1986. 109–21.

Siodmak, Robert, dir. The Killers. 1948. Digital Videodisc. With Burt Lancaster, Edmond O’Brien, Ava Gardner, Sam Levene, and Albert Dekker. Mark Hellinger-Universal, 2003.

Skeem, Jennifer L., Devon L. L. Polaschek, Christopher J. Patrick, and Scott O. Lilienfeld. “Psychopathic Personality: Bridging the Gap Between Scientific Evidence and Public Policy.” Psychological Science in the Public Interest 12.3 (2011): 95–162.

Sperber, A. M., and Eric Lax. Bogart. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1997.

Stewart, Garrett. “Keaton Through the Looking-Glass.” The Georgia Review 33.2 (Summer 1979): 348–67.

Walsh, Raoul, dir. White Heat. 1949. Digital Videodisc. With James Cagney, Edmond O’Brien, and Virginia Mayo. Warner Brothers, 2005.

Welles, Orson, dir. Citizen Kane. 1941. Digital Videodisc. With Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore, Everett Sloane, Ruth Warrick, and Ray Collins. RKO-Turner Entertainment-Warner Home Video, 2001.

—, dir. The Stranger. 1946. Digital Blu-ray Videodisc. With Orson Welles, Edward G. Robinson, Loretta Young, Richard Long, and Konstantin Shayne. United Artists-Kino Lorber, 2013.

Wilson, Ronald W. “Gang Busters: The Kefauver Crime Committee and the Syndicate Films of the 1950s.” Mob Culture: Hidden Histories of the American Gangster Film. Ed. Lee Grieveson, Esther Sonnet, and Peter Stanfield. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2005. 67–89.


[1] Sperber and Lax note that Scott’s “high cheekbones and shoulder-length hair led columnists to dub her ‘The Threat’” (Sperber and Lax 331), in line with publicity about actresses associated with mysterious, femme fatale roles. As the author of a Wikipedia article on Scott observes, however, her performances have been positively re-evaluated since her heyday in noir, emphasizing the haunting effect of her work (Wikipedia 9).

[2] Lizabeth Scott commented on the innate qualities of the character which were enlisted into the service of the “‘corruption’” of the character:

Here, you’re talking about a film I made in which the woman is calculating. . . . To take the woman in Too Late For Tears, there was a great deal of femininity and softness to be able to draw the man to her. When a woman like this is corrupted, she would surrender to that corruption. Money would become her delight and her total obsession, and she would then kill for it. (Scott 194)

[3] For Payton’s tragic life story, see the biography by O’Dowd and the brief summary in Lyons 70–71.

[4] Human Desire was a remake (or a revisioning) of the Jean Renoir film La bête humaine (1938), starring Jean Gabin and Simone Simon, based on the novel by Émile Zola.

[5] A significant portion of the film is narrated in voice-over by Murdock to a Catholic priest who tries to help him understand his difficulties. Murdock is pursued by the police and by gambler Martinelli (Morris Carnovsky) and his sadistic henchman Krause (Marvin Miller), recalling the double pursuit plot notably employed by Hitchcock: “the innocent man pursued by both police and criminals” (Silet 109). Later in the narrative the voice-over section yields to events shown in progress.

[6] The screenplay for Dead Reckoning features an explicit gloss on Spade’s peroration to culpable Brigid O’Shaughnessy (Mary Astor) in which Spade (and Murdock in imitation of him) remarks on the need for him to “do something about” the death of his partner and tells his love interest that she must pay for her actions (also noted by Robert Porfirio in his interview with Lizabeth Scott [Scott 192]).

[7] Emhardt was particularly effective at conveying such deceptive affability, as in his appearance as private detective J. J. Flaherty in the episode “The Ominous Outcast” from the Perry Mason television series (Hiller).

[8] Fuller’s interviewers also note the “lack of emotion” in the criminal organization in this film (Sherman, et al. 161).

[9] For the “clenched fist,” see also Sherman, et al. 159–60. Marsha Gordon comments on Tolly’s closed, vengeful nature:

Tolly’s character . . . lacks humanity in general. His almost rote drive for revenge makes him insensitive to anything but this single-minded plot. (Gordon 15)

See also Fuller’s comments quoted in Cochran 147.

[10] Kitano, Outrage; Kitano, Beyond Outrage; Kitano, Outrage Coda. The appearance by Kitano in Ghost in the Shell (Rupert Sanders, 2017) echoes his mechanistic demeanor in the yakuza films but adds some human warmth to his interactions with Major (Scarlett Johansson), the unfortunate but empowered cyborg whose “ghost” or soul has been transplanted forcibly into a cybernetic body.

[11] Gunning also refers to the comedian’s “stiff-limbed gestures and his widely-expressive eyes conflicting with his frozen mouth” (16). As Omri Ben-Yehuda observes, “The fact that . . . he keeps a dead-pan facial expression has earned him the nickname The Great Stone Face” (Ben-Yehuda 280). For Keaton and the mechanical, see also Flaig and Stewart. Kitano’s demeanor (and his work) partake of the comically mechanical, both in his yakuza films, as noted above, and perhaps most noticeably in his Zatoichi film The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi (2003).

Ken Hall (Ph.D., University of Arizona, 1986; MA, University of NC-Chapel Hill, 1978) is professor emeritus of Spanish at ETSU, where he had taught since 1999. His publications include Professionals in Western Film and Fiction (McFarland, 2019), John Woo: The Films (McFarland, [1999] 2012), John Woo’s The Killer (Hong Kong University Press, 2009), Stonewall Jackson and Religious Faith in Military Command (McFarland, 2005) and Guillermo Cabrera Infante and the Cinema (Juan de la Cuesta Hispanic Monographs, 1989). His essay, “Femme Fatale Assassins and the Time Clock” was published on Retreats from Oblivion on Nov. 17, 2021.

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