‘Clash By Night’ at the BFI

Clash By Night will be screened at the BFI Southbank in London on February 23rd and 25th, as part of a retrospective for leading lady Barbara Stanwyck.

“In Lang’s imaginative adaptation of Clifford Odets’ play, Mae Doyle (Stanwyck) returns home to a small fishing town after an extended stay in New York. Defiant, cynical, disenchanted, she soon finds herself unexpectedly caught up in a tangle of relationships. Stanwyck’s mature, complex characterisation is one of several excellent performances, which include Monroe’s memorable portrayal of a trusting young woman.”

Clash By Night: Marilyn’s Female-Led Noir

Over at Vulture, film critic Angelica Jade Bastien names  Fritz Lang’s Clash By Night (1952) in a list of ’10 Female-Led Noirs’. Some might argue that Clash isn’t a classic noir, as it’s not set in a major city and no serious crimes are committed – but for me, its gritty treatment of post-war discontent, and repressed sexuality and simmering violence place it firmly in the canon. (I would argue that Don’t Bother to Knock and Niagara also partially qualify, thanks to Marilyn’s gripping scenes with Anne Bancroft and Jean Peters, respectively.)

“What happens when the woman people view you as isn’t who you really are, nor who you want to be? Clash by Night poses this question by beginning where most noir ends. Mae Doyle (Stanwyck) has grown accustomed to a decadent life, but is forced to return to her hometown of Monterey, California, after that life falls apart. Soon, Mae settles into a life in which she’s uncomfortable, navigating marrying a gruff fisherman (Paul Douglas) and having a daughter quickly after. She finds herself drawn to the far more exciting, equally restless Earl (noir stalwart Robert Ryan). Clash by Night is a domestic noir bolstered by its rich insight into the ways women feel confined by society, as well as by its amazing direction by the legendary Fritz Lang and its performances, including a magnetic supporting turn by Marilyn Monroe. But it’s Stanwyck’s performance as a woman of temerity who is far too bold and yearning for the prosaic existence she finds herself trapped within that earns it a spot on this list.”

American Goddess: Gillian Anderson as Marilyn

As reported here last summer, Gillian Anderson has appeared as Marilyn for her ‘Media’ role in ‘Lemon Scented You’, the fifth episode of American Gods, a new sci-fi series on the US Starz channel. While Gillian may not resemble Marilyn physically (I was reminded of another Hollywood icon, Barbara Stanwyck) her performance has been praised by both critics and fans of the show. Morit Chaplynne  reviews it on Culturess:

“The two best things about this episode are Gillian Anderson and Gillian Anderson. Sure, Shadow —and us along with him — manages to learn a little more about his new weird reality, and that’s definitely interesting. But Gillian Anderson appears as both David Bowie (in the teal Ziggy Stardust suit with the short red hair) and as Marilyn Monroe (in the iconic white dress from The Seven Year Itch) and it is everything.

Back at the police station, they lock Shadow and Wednesday in an interrogation room … Someone unlocks the door. It’s not the cops. It’s Marilyn Monroe.

Media floats into the room and speaks to them in a breathy whisper. Shadow asks Wednesday to tell him it isn’t real. He does not. The mysterious Mr. World enters the room, all overcoat and fedora, apologizing to Wednesday for not reaching out ages ago, but he hadn’t seen him.

Wouldn’t you like an upgrade? A brand new lemon-scented you?

Media gives an extensive sales pitch. Wednesday wants no part of it. He smells a con. When he laughs in Mr. World’s face, Media blows him a high-powered kiss that knocks out his two front teeth and leaves his mouth bloody.”

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Gillian talks about her multifaceted role:

“I didn’t know all that much about Marilyn as much as we all know what’s in the greater consciousness: the key pieces of her death and her struggle and her marriage and all that. And actually, I was surprised at how easy I found it to immerse myself in that and how much fun it was. She was definitely the one I had the most fun doing, just because there’s an imminent joy to her. There is also with Judy [Garland], but there’s something so delightful and delicious about Marilyn that was a lot of fun to jump into. And there’s a mechanism that we used to get her floating — I was on this robotic contraption that had been built with fans in it so that my skirt was constantly moving, even though they were going to recreate and enhance some of that in CGI. So for the majority of that scene, it was me being driven around via remote control with fans blasting vertically up my dress. So, that was fun.

The fact that [Media] does manifest as male and female and however Bowie might identify himself… I mean, certainly, you say ‘worship,’ and Michael Jackson was worshipped as much as any female icon we’ve ever had. Actually, we discussed Michael Jackson at one point as a character I might do, and Prince. But to me, what was important for Media, male or female, was that we got to see that the women, the female gods, and the females in general are and can be as powerful as the male gods and the men [on the show]. That they are equal. I guess it makes sense that one of the most powerful gods in the story is embodied as female.”

A Night With Marilyn in Monterey

A scene from Clash by Night (1952)

On St Valentine’s Day, Armen D. Bacon shares a romantic encounter with Marilyn – as told to her by 89 year-old George Blair – in an article for the Fresno Bee.

“Pedaling back through time, he began telling us a story that had taken place 65 years ago. Freshly graduated from Stanford University, newly employed in San Francisco, his first assignment was taking him to Monterey’s famed Cannery Row.

One night, while dining solo at the Monterey Mission Inn, he recounts spotting a beautiful woman also sitting alone in the restaurant. The heart is a lonely hunter.

‘In those days, I was petrified of women and very immature,’ he added. But mustering his nerve, he asked the waiter to offer the young lady a drink. To his surprise, not only did she say ‘yes,’ she invited him to join her for dinner.

Which, of course, he did. They talked. He was in Monterey selling chlorination equipment to fish canneries. She was an aspiring actress breaking into the film industry.

‘Very, very attractive,’ he reminded us with verbal repetitions that mirrored a double set of pull-ups. By now, audible heavy breathing filled the gym, excessive calories being burned by overheated imaginations.

Why was such a beautiful woman having dinner alone, we all wondered.

He delighted in answering that her co-star, Barbara Stanwyck, was hosting a birthday party for her maid that night, and she didn’t want to go.

He stopped here for a moment, a sheepish grin covering his face, all of us gasping for air – awaiting the big finish. But according to George, the pair went their separate ways after dinner. She had to be back on the set at 5 a.m. He had to return to San Francisco.

On the set of Clash by Night

The following morning, he drove past what looked like a movie set with lights and camera equipment surrounding an old Monterey residence on the outskirts of town.

He pulled over. There she stood on the porch. Clad in cut-off denims. I could tell by the look on his face that the vision remained crystal clear in his mind’s ageless eye.

And then, he drove off.

Five years later, he spotted her photo on a matchbox. Marilyn Monroe. Yes, that Marilyn Monroe. The movie was Clash by Night, which premiered in June 1952.”