The Films of Joseph H. Lewis
Publication Year: 2012
Published by: Wayne State University Press
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Foreword: Joseph H. Lewis, 1907–2000
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The last time I saw the man who directed Gun Crazy (1950), we had lunch on the terrace of the Del Rey Yacht Club. It was the summer of 1999 and he was a small, trim man, ninety-two years old, who walked very tentatively, as if he were afraid at every step of falling. He had actually taken a fall a few months ago, he said, and still needed to go in for therapy two or three times a week. ...
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These essays and the resulting anthology would have been impossible without the insights and hard work of all of the contributing essayists, each of whom I would like to thank. A number of other persons have also assisted on this volume, ranging from providing intellectual support to offering important illustrations. As a result, I also would like to extend great appreciation to Mark ...
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It was a beautiful day in Southern California in the spring of 1996. Working with a camera crew, I had just spent over one week in the Los Angeles area shooting interviews for a documentary film, but in many ways our work in Marina del Ray that afternoon promised to be the most interesting, and not just because it was our only shoot scheduled aboard a ship. It was because ...
Part I: Texts and Contexts
1. Style Development and Product Upgrading: Monogram Pictures, the Ambitious B Movie, and the East Side Kids Films Directed Joseph H. Lewis
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In his reference book Joseph H. Lewis: Overview, Interview, and Filmography (1998), Francis M. Nevins observes that “for the vast majority of film scholars Lewis’s career begins in 1945 with My Name Is Julia Ross and ends in 1954 with The Big Combo or at latest in 1958 with Terror in a Texas Town.”1 The last of these bookmarks (1958) leaves out Lewis’s significant television ...
2. Partition and Desire in the Films of Joseph H. Lewis
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Released in 1945, Joseph H. Lewis’s breakthrough film My Name Is Julia Ross begins with real temerity, forcing the viewer to contemplate, at great length, the back of a woman’s head.1 It is a rainy afternoon in London and a female figure in a trench coat walks unhurriedly across a dim street. As she drifts into the background, the camera cuts closer, tracking her from behind as she proceeds up six steps to the front doors of a rooming house. ...
3. The Joseph H. Lewis Nobody Knows: The Television Films
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Joseph H. Lewis’s feature film career ended in 1958, but his filmmaking career had only reached its midpoint. By that time, Lewis had made roughly 40 of his 106 known films. The rest of his career would be in television, an area that has been all too often ignored in studies of his work. His television era represents an unbroken extension of his film career; his television ...
Part II: Individual Works
4. “A House Where Anything Can Happen and Usually Does”: Joseph H. Lewis, Bela Lugosi, and (The) Invisible Ghost
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Writing in the May 1, 1941, issue of the Hollywood Spectator, a film critic noted his displeasure at attending the premiere of Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane (1941). “After the first half hour, I began to wonder what the story was all about,” he complained. “From there on, I was more bored than entertained.” In years to come, of course, his view proved to be in the minority. ...
5. B Is for Belief: Joseph Lewis’s Experiments with the Mad Doctor of Market Street
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The phone book of cinema has numerous entries under mad doctor. The listings include some of the most eminent names in film history: Caligari, Frankenstein, Mabuse, Rotwang, and lesser luminaries such as Phibes, Moreau, Soberin, not to mention their numerous “assistants.” Our affinity for the figure of malpractice can be explained by the way he overcomes divisions in the film production process: he combines the activities of director ...
6. Joseph H. Lewis, Anna May Wong, and Bombs over Burma
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When Joseph H. Lewis received the task of writing and directing Bombs over Burma in early 1942, his work was influenced by several factors above and beyond simply the setting of World War II. First, there was a whole tradition of movies over the previous decade depicting conditions in China, both as impacted by paramilitary groups and in terms of the life of the people. ...
7. “People Can Think Themselves into Anything”: The Domestic Nightmare in My Name Is Julia Ross
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Joseph Lewis is marked, as Andrew Dickos points out, by his “noir sensibility, among the strongest in its appeal to violence and sex as the raison d’être in noir filmmaking.”1 Years prior to films such as The Big Combo (1955) and Gun Crazy (1950), however, Lewis began flexing his noir muscles on more subtle films, such as So Dark the Night (1946) and My Name Is Julia Ross (1945). ...
8. “A Matchless Stylist Exercise”: Joseph H. Lewis and So Dark the Night
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No study of Joseph H. Lewis’s career would be complete without an appreciation of So Dark the Night (1946). While it is perhaps a minor work in comparison to his best-known films, Gun Crazy (1950) and The Big Combo (1955), it should nevertheless be seen as “the first major film in the Lewis canon” and the one which premiered the director’s fully developed style.1 ...
9. The Undercover Man and the Police Procedural
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Although the main preoccupation of John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle (1950) is the planning and execution of an audacious heist by a variegated group of professional criminals, the film includes a significant scene with a police inspector (John McIntire) who switches on a phalanx of police radios simultaneously, so that gathered reporters will be reminded of the ...
10. The “How Big Is It?” Combo: Noir’s Dirty Spectacles
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The Big Combo (1955), Joseph H. Lewis’s film noir narrative of criminal intrigue, expressive and repressed sexualities, and their causalities, appears toward the end of the film noir’s primary cycle in American production history (1941–58), yet this film remains curiously underappreciated, especially when compared with two competing noir narratives released in 1955, Stanley Kubrick’s Killer’s Kiss and Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly. Lewis’s The Big Combo particularly suffers when critically evaluated alongside his ...
11. The Halliday Brand and Terror in a Texas Town: Western Allegories of the Blacklist
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The epigraph, from a recent book aiming to defining cinematic practices more precisely than has been the case in the past, also relates to two films by Joseph H. Lewis. Constraint and opportunity may also involve creative interaction with not only stylistic practices operating within an industry at a particular time but also social and historical factors. ...
Part III: Gun Crazy
12. Rejecting Everything: Gun Crazy and the Radical Noir of Joseph H. Lewis
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In the heart of Joseph H. Lewis’s cinematic art flows the aesthetic allure of contradiction. Although he never finished high school, Lewis became a respected Hollywood director. Unlike peers who worked in other visual arts or mass mediums, Lewis’s art was restricted to film; nevertheless, he was a dynamic stylist. ...
13. Music, Masculinity, and Masochism in Gun Crazy
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Gun Crazy, as its admirers and detractors invariably note, was a B movie. Pauline Kael provided one of the most celebrated assessments of the film when she said it was born of a “fascinating crumminess.”1 How then did a cheap film financed by notoriously thrifty producers Frank and Maurice King get a musical score from Victor Young, an A-list composer, whose career was anything but crummy? ...
14. Ethos and Ethics: Reconsidering Gun Crazy
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The culture of noir, fictive and cinematic, cuts a wide swath of expression. Joseph H. Lewis’s Gun Crazy does and does not fit common stereotypes of crime drama. This electrifying film has all of the usual staple elements of noir—crime, sex, surrender to baser instincts, familiar camera angles, lighting and shadows, and of course a riveting femme fatale, the sine qua non of noir. Yet Gun Crazy is also a confrontational original treatment of ...
List of Contributors
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Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2012
Volume Title: N/a
Series Title: Contemporary Approaches to Film and Media Series