Cloak and Dagger (USA, 1946)

cloak-and-dagger-dvd-cover-07Directed by: Fritz Lang. I was drawn to this movie for two reasons: I felt like I needed to address a deficit in my Fritz Lang viewing, and I really like watching Gary Cooper do his thing. That being said, I wasn’t really bowled over by Cooper in this movie, but I really enjoyed watching Fritz Lang do his thing. For starters: is Gary Cooper really believable as a nuclear physicist? This kind of unexpected off-casting is interesting, but it maybe strains the film’s basic credibility right off the bat (kind of like Montgomery Clift as a saintly priest in Hitchcock’s I Confess). It’s disruptive, but maybe that disruption just adds to the richness of the film. Anyway, Cooper’s generally pretty great I guess, but I don’t know if his character really gets to take off in this movie until that great fight scene at the three quarter mark where Cooper tussles with the Nazi spy in a side room while Lilli Palmer keeps lookout on the busy street outside. That fight is actually fucking incredible, with the contrapuntal source music, the jovial Italian accordion music bumping along as the agent’s fingernails make bloody clawmarks in Cooper’s face. This is a serious struggle, and this scene puts this movie like 10 years ahead of its time in its maturity, its grave sensibility. I’m sure a lot has been written about this kind of non-war movie, movies about the war, and how the seriousness of it was such a game changer from the naivete of the pre-war era (and I’m sure it’s all much more coherent than this sentence), without actually showing any combat like a real “war movie”.  On the topic of believability,  how does a nuclear physicist learn how to be so good at hand-to-hand combat? It helps if he’s Gary Cooper. Either way, it’s a great scene, and it isn’t until that fight scene that Gary Cooper goes from being a piece of scenery to finally showing that Intense Gary Cooper Face I wanted to see so bad. That being said, I think that overall, to my modern sensibilities, Lilli Palmer kind of steals the show. Her character is so interesting, so cheeky, so full of depth that, relatively speaking, Gary Cooper’s character is a two-dimensional prop. Again, to modern sensibilities, it looks like a blatant piece of patriarchal ideology that elevates Cooper in this—the male lead’s centrality to the film seems so unearned, for the simple reason that it is. He is the lead because there must be a male lead, and the female lead must take second tier, even when, as it turns out, the female lead is a much more interesting character. But ultimately, this film isn’t notable for its story and acting as much as the stylistic character of the mise-en-scène, or for you non film nerds, the lighting, staging, sets, props, camera angles, and colour palette. This film, not really a NAME Fritz Lang film, really helps me see how and why Lang got the reputation that he holds to this day as a master of German neo-expressionist, American legit-noir sensibility. The story has nothing to do with what we commonly think of as film noir, but the look of it, my God! Every shot is a fucking masterpiece. That sequence on the water, at night, in the rain, obviously on a large sound studio, instead of on location with cheesy day-for-night shooting, is nothing short of a demonstration in the man’s mastery over his craft. In that sequence, Lang pays meticulous attention to the subtle art of evoking just enough light to pick up the artificial rain, just enough shadow to make the waves look menacing, just the right shades of grey and black, just the right amount of smoke blowing across the set, and does so in such a way that it’s possible to ignore it all as just a naturalistic part of the environment if you’re wrapped up in the story, but with enough of a visual feast if that’s more your appetite. I could salivate about that stuff all day, but I’ll button it up here. Suffice it to say, I’ll definitely be checking out some more Lang in the future.

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3 responses to “Cloak and Dagger (USA, 1946)

  1. Pingback: Frantic (USA/France, 1988) | Offhand Reviews·

  2. Pingback: List of Judgements, Anno Domini 2013 | Offhand Reviews·

  3. Pingback: M (Germany, 1931) | Offhand Reviews·

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