It's easy to see why Anthony Mann has such a following among noir fans. The subjective camera work in Desperate (RKO) is pushed to new expressionist heights and the locked-room intimidation scene has one of the most striking use of pracitcals as main lighting source that I've seen. The narrative - a story of an honest truck driver who gets inadvertantly caught up in a smuggling racket and framed for a policeman's murder - lacks one hallmark of noir, the femme fatale, but shares a fatalistic melodramatic narrative with Detour - Steve Randall seems caught up in a circular movement of escape and return.
Some would see the minimally motivated narrative as a positive attribute - a refusal of the purposive, humanist individualism of classical narrative. Perhaps it is. But it's worth pointing out that here the aporias of narrative causality seem to hinge on the helplessness of the woman. Steve's wife Anne needs protecting from the toughs, but at every point Steve is driven to action driven by the assumption (which the narrative does not show up as assumption) that Anne is unable to comprehend what really happened and unable to go into hiding on her own. In other words, even in comparison to the gender politics of 1947 Hollywood, Desperate seems especially regressive. Where the prestige films were at least making female subjectivity a problematic (The Late George Apley), the femme fatale trope in noirs, for all its problems, at least complicated the fixity of Wife as Blank Slate ideal.
Lillian Gish and her Halo
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