“No Escape: Three Noir Executions” by Matthew Sorrento

They live on to die, forever.

Double Indemnity (Bill Wilder, 1944),
Scarlet Street (Fritz Lang, 1945),
The Killers (Robert Siodmak, 1946)

Resting as he awaits to be killed, the Swede thinks of Kitty, but the memories break up into darkness. This mobius-strip moment in The Killers goes back to the beginning: the diner, tie-ups, the warning. It all reels past once we see the thunderclap of shooting.

Contained doom, like the deleted finale of Double Indemnity: Walter Neff in the gas chamber, his friend/betrayed boss, Keyes, there looking more forlorn than disgusted. Fates possibly better than Robinson’s later role, as Chris Cross in Scarlet Street, forever chased by the souls of those he killed. Like him, they live on to die, forever.

I thought again of the Swede, imagining what comes post mortis – his ghost finding Kitty as she enters the gas chamber, the Swede wanting her still, even if her touch was one of death. Come and get me, he wants to say, as she looks through the glass, and right through him. A guard holding her arm steady, she looks to the ghost, mouthing, Try and get me!

Matthew Sorrento is Editor-in-chief of Retreats from Oblivion and Co-editor of Film International. A critic and poet, he teaches film and media studies at Rutgers University in Camden. His latest book is David Fincher’s Zodiac: Cinema of Investigation and (Mis)Interpretation (co-edited with David Ryan; FDU Press, December 2021).

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