Deadpan in Nulltown

 

The authors wish to acknowledge with gratitude the venues in which some version of this article previously appeared: Cinema Scope 24 (Fall, 2005), Trafic 62 (Summer, 2006), and the late and twice-lamented The New-York Ghost (Dec. 26, 2006).

In the Place of No Place

Every movie contains its alternates, phantom films conjured variously by excess or dearth: textures and movements that carry on their own play apart from the main line of the narrative, an obtruding performance or scene, an unexplained ellipsis or sudden character reversal, the chunk life of an object seizing the frame in an insert whose plastic beauty transcends its context.

Though the extremes of pure narrative economy (in which each detail exists purely for transmission of plot) or utter dispersal (in which no piece connects to any other) can never exist, we can tentatively use the concepts as limit-cases to differentiate films which make room for their phantoms (or, in the worst case, lean into slop and incoherence) vs. those which strive toward uncluttered spaces (or, in the worst case, lord it over a barren terrain where only their self-importance resonates).

On this graph, based more on temperamental affinity than concrete qualities, 1949’s Follow Me Quietly holds a paradoxical position as a narrative streamlined to a nearly generic efficiency which holds at its center an image so odd and resonant that its phantoms crowd the surface.

The film takes place precisely nowhere, in City, where the popular hangout is The Tavern, where the newspaper is The Morning Standard, which is serviced by rival taxi services: Kelley Kar Co. and Carlin Car Co. It is threatened by a serial killer—The Judge—who leaves, if anything, too many traces (cop: ‘Any other case, we’d give our eyeteeth for a shred of evidence. Here we have plenty.’). As rare examples of meaningless detail extant within City parameters, the various clues gathered from crime scenes (a hat, a glove, the concrete model of a shoe print, matches, other assorted ephemera) are held museum-like in a glass case in police HQ.

Down these blank streets a man must walk who is not himself blank,though near as dammit: the detective Grant, who lives in a one-room apartment with a foldout bed.

The film likewise carries no fat: Its brisk 59 minutes contain, in embryo, virtually every theme of the serial-killer film as it later developed, from the detective’s interior quest, indulging a dangerous empathy that borders madness in order to ‘get inside the killer’s mind’ (the concerned partner: ‘I once knew a fellow, worked in homicide, brooded over every case. You know where it got him? The bughouse!’) to a peculiar, flirtatious psychosexual dynamic between cop and culprit (here, a sweaty scene where policeman Grant confronts a twitchy crank, ‘Come on, strangle me, just the way you did her’) and a linkage between sensationalist media and a culture of violence (tabloid reporter: ‘Our readers want to know. The Judge is a menace, isn’t he?’ Cop: ‘Yes and so are you–polluting minds until some poor dope gets ideas and goes on a homicidal holiday!’), all in support of a central conceit or emblematic figure as methodologically dubious as it is symbolically rich.

The figure in question—a dummy duplicate of the killer—is put in play because the surfeit of evidence nevertheless fails to cohere into a portrait. Haunted by the lack not of a name but a face (‘Every time I shut my eyes, a blank face stares at me’), Grant concocts the dummy, which he dubs ‘Deadpan,’ as a frame for its absence. His acting assumption is that the sight of this drab manikin might prod witnesses into recognition of a killer whose every aspect is mundane (grey suit, brown hair,regulation ’40s hat, average height and weight).

The dummy is the conduit of the phantom film, the scenes in which it appears are so strange they stamp the police procedural into a tintype by contrast.

For in defense of the city Grant has created both a Golem and a voodoo doll—both figures redolent of distinctly unmaterialist notions of the relation between matter and mind. Out of the most anodyne materials, the film has opened a window to the supernatural and phantasmagoric.

Deadpan is a purely liminal figure–a presence which indicates an absence—so it follows by occult logic that such an outline, once created, must find itself filled. And so it does: It is night in the police station. The dummy sits in a chair facing the window, looking out over the city, while Grant monologues: ‘It’s raining, Deadpan. Does that mean anything to you? You figure on going someplace tonight? Where are you now?’ (The ‘you’ here is indicative of both the figure sitting in the office and an unlocalized element in the world. Through his featurelessness, Deadpan has become ubiquitous.) Grant’s partner arrives to drag him away from his bughouse broodings. And then, in the deserted office, Deadpan stands up.

It is the single most memorable scene in the film, the moment where the phantom breaks the surface. It lasts only a few seconds (the dummy has not come to life. Instead, by means and for reasons known only to himself, The Judge has stashed his double behind a filing cabinet and momentarily assumed its place).

But in that brief interval a wealth of possibilities open up that bring the film to that point of indecision between the tenets of realism and those of the supernatural that Todorov calls the fantastic, in his book of that title.

It’s an extreme case of what is more or less the constant, though often retrospectively forgotten, condition of narrative engagement. Just as moviegoers spend as much time in the dark as they do in the light of reflected images, due to the intervention of the shutter between frames, so the active experience of narrative consists of the ongoing creation of hesitant tendrils of meaning to connect events and details and predict their future development. Afterwards, these rapid flickerings of consciousness, usually too tentative and indistinct to attain even the status of idea, are effaced by the totality of congealed plot and it requires either a decided effort of re-viewing against the grain of the dominant narrative’s pull or else a primary structure which houses ambiguity in its deepest constituent elements to rediscover (or recreate) them. This scene retains its resonance in recollection due to an oddity in the film’s narrative structure.

Grant’s obsession to discover the face of The Judge is not one that can yield much reward in spectacle to the audience. The revelation of a face can carry power if the hidden visage turns out to belong to a character we’ve already met yet had not expected to turn up in this guise (as in a whodunit), if it belongs to an actor who carries some external mystique over into the film (as in The Third Man), or if it is notably grotesque (as in The Phantom of the Opera).

The Judge is none of these–his utter ordinariness was one of the reasons Grant proposed the construction of Deadpan in the first place, in the hope that the frame might be remembered by witnesses even if the portrait was forgotten.

And so it proves. The Judge’s face is ordinary, human—it doesn’t convey much that’s distinctive (an actor’s mask of fear when he suspects his apartment has been infiltrated, bracketed by two perfectly neutral point-of-view shots down either side of deserted studio streets) but, unlike the dummy, it isn’t insistent in its nothingness either. Here, the placeholder subsumes the place. —B.K.

Signature and No Signature

‘I believe the film that marked my real debut as a director was Desperate [1947]…no money, 12 days to shoot, no actors,’ Anthony Mann told Cahiers du Cinema in 1957. ‘But because I had collaborated on the screenplay for the first time, the film had some quality to it, or at least that's what people said.’

Mann then co-wrote the first draft of Follow Me Quietly with Francis Rosenwald. Like the first draft of Desperate, signed by Mann and Dorothy Atlas, the Rosenwald-Mann draft of Follow Me Quietly (turned in to RKO on July 16, 1947) is a long treatment with dialogue that is a script in all but name. Follow Me Quietly was rewritten by Martin Rackin (credited on Desperate with ‘Extra Dialogue’) in drafts turned in on July 22,1947, and February 21, 1948, nearly eight months later. The final drafts of Desperate were written by Harry Essex; those of Follow Me Quietly, by Lillie Hayward.

Mann filmed Desperate six months after he and Slater turned in their first draft, but Follow Me Quietly seems to have been shelved for quite a while before being rewritten by Rackin and Hayward and finally put into production as a B picture. Mann in the meantime had moved to Eagle Lion (formerly PRC), where he made Railroaded! (1947) and T-Men (1947), his first hit. Follow Me Quietly was finally made by Richard Fleischer—whose own breakthrough film, The Narrow Margin (1952), was still a few years off—a year after the Rosenwald-Mann first draft(hereinafter referred to as ‘RM’) was turned in.

In that sense, the IMDb.com attribution of the film to Fleischer and Mann isn't far off, but the evolution revealed in the RKO script files is more complicated than that.

While it wouldn't be wrong to attribute the invention of Deadpan at least partly to Mann, the scene where Deadpan comes to life was invented by Martin Rackin. And even though it is unlikely that Richard Fleischer,whose memoirs are silent on this subject, had a hand in inventing that scene, it was almost certainly his decision to include it in the final shooting script after it had been eliminated in Lillie Hayward’s rewrites. Fleischer mentions an earlier collaboration with Hayward in his memoirs, Just Tell Me When to Cry, where he also recalls his friendship with Sid Rogell, the head of RKO’s B-movie unit,who took him under his wing and completed his education in the ferocious rituals of film production.

In fact, a look at the production reports for Follow Me Quietly shows that, B-movie or not (the budget was $65,000), Fleischer was allowed to do retakes and additional shots every day of the 12-day schedule.

He was also allowed to film a number of scenes in the rain, even though he describes Rogell publicly humiliating Group Theatre founder Harold Clurman when he made the same request (‘Rain? You know how much f-----g rain costs?’) for Deadline at Dawn (1946). So if Fleischer asked for the scene where Deadpan gets up to be restored in the final draft Hayward turned in on August 11, a week before start of production, it’s no surprise that Rogell OK’d it—even though it meant more ‘f-----g rain’ streaming down the window Deadpan is looking out of int he darkened office.

When Martin Rackin invented that scene (Scene 105 of the draft turned in on February 21), he was carrying the idea Mann and his collaborator imagined—Deadpan as Golem—farther than they had, but the context they had created made the moment work.

The scene remained in Lillie Hayward’s first draft, dated May 27,which was still the script for a much more ample film, but when she was ordered to cut it down (in drafts dated June and July of 1948), she eliminated not only Scene 105, but much of the narrative context that informed it. Fleischer, by restoring the scene in a greatly pared-down context before he shot the film in August, created a phantom, the onscreen representative of a phantom film that can only be read through the successive layers of a palimpsest. —B.K.

Thing and No Thing

The detective story carries an emptiness within (Borges: ‘A mystery is always more satisfying than its solution.’) That emptiness can itself be seen as a sign, or symptom, of a pervasive cultural nostalgia for the speaking object, a concept which reveals itself differently under two, possibly opposed, lights.

One conception is fundamentally religious. Victoria Nelson, in her book The Secret Life of Puppets, sets out to demonstrate ‘the way the larger mainstream culture, via works of imagination instead of official creeds,subscribes to a nonrational, supernatural, quasi-religious view of the universe: pervasively, but behind our own backs. Although the transcendental has be enforced underground…it has found a distorted outlet outside the recognized boundaries of religious expression.’ In pop culture products ranging from Poe and Lovecraft on to Puppet Master and The Matrix, she believes ‘a subtle paradigm shift is now under way: Western culture is on the verge of adjusting its dominant Aristotelian mode of scientific materialism to allow for the partial reemergence of Platonic idealism.’

Within a culture which integrates the spiritual in its constituent elements, matter is both a potential gateway to apprehension of the divine order (as in the Renaissance conception of the Book of the World) and pliable to the actions of humans, who reenact the workings of Creation on its elements. Mind and matter exist in parity,as expressions of spirit. For Nelson,mummies and idols both are products of‘the dual goals of Western Late Antiquity’s religions–to ensoul matter and make the human divine.’

‘It’s raining, Deadpan. Does that mean anything to you?’

Nelson designates the counterforce ‘Aristotelian’ and sees it as the clear precursor to modern scientific materialism. When the split occurs, the idols fall silent, or, surviving in debased form as puppets or ventriloquist dummies, can speak only in our own distorted voice.

As the collection of clues in the glass case refuse meaning until they are mobilized in the frame of the dummy. At its revelation, Grant literally voices the figure, which is presented to the assembled detectives on the line-upstage, with its back to the audience. An assistant reads the questions of a catechism of identity, which Grant answers as The Judge through a microphone, which repeats the paradox of localization/omnipresence.

—What’s your name?
—I am The Judge.
—That’s a nickname, where’d you get it?
—I was ordained to sit in judgment on sinners.
—You know what you’re charged with?
—Wrongful homicide.
—What are the weapons you use, Judge?
—My hands, I use both my hands.
—But the notes, why do you leave notes?
[The camera begins to track in on the dummy.]
—I want people to know. I enjoy being talked about.
—Tell us about the rain.
—Rain makes me restless. I get excited.
—What do you do when you get excited?
—I KILL!
[Thunder chords as the figure spins around—an initial uncanny coming to life which plants the seed for his later rise. The camera moves quickly in on the empty face.]

In the notes and satellite essays surrounding his unfinished Arcades Project, Walter Benjamin opens another avenue of approach to the unspeaking object. Mass production has alienated the thing from the life (and life story) of its maker, capitalism has rendered its use value arbitrary, advertising has molded it into a token and receptacle of the phantasmagoria of displaced desire. Its lines of connection are severed in the attempt to substitute novelty for history (an attempt continually thwarted by the historically contingent forces which shape any particular dream image, but continually renewed as another cycle of the new commences).

‘Fashion stands in opposition to the organic. It couples the living body to the inorganic world. To the living, it defends the rights of the corpse. The fetishism that succumbs to the sex appeal of the inorganic is its vital nerve. The cult of the commodity presses fetishism into its service.’

As ‘dead pan’ describes the visage of a corpse and as the city—itself an abstraction, apart from a couple brief stock shots and a neat shoot-out at the gasworks at the end, the studio distillation of an urban environment in which every detail is both discrete and self-effacing, emblems of the typical—is further abstracted into the stage of the lineup, which becomes the detective’s theater, a world divorced from living connections and devoted solely to data. He arranges suspects in line with his dummy, organic and inorganic equal against the graph, under the harsh light. He finally secures a name, password to the hollow epiphany of the face, when he imports a table, a chair, the minimal props of a restaurant, which enables a waitress to recognize the habitual posture of a regular customer.

Stripped of the resonance of a living contact with the utopias of Nelson’s ancient history (when materialist and spiritual expression existed in balance)and/or Benjamin’s primal history(classless society, the experience of which is stored in an un-Jungian collective unconscious), the detective story can only mime the movements of revelation.

It is the narrative form most intrinsically concerned with objects, but its objects speak only death.

In the classical detective story, with Agatha Christie a representative practitioner, the act of murder crystallizes a moment and locks the objects into a pattern. Once the detective has traced the pattern and properly understood the univocal message the objects convey, the story, having completed its circuit, shuts off, with little reverberation.

With Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, the moment of murder recedes in importance, or is absorbed into an atmosphere of putrefaction. A semi-independent poetry of objects begins to reassert itself (opening Chandler’s The Little Sister at random: ‘the shaft of sunlight moved away from the ice pick toward his left ear.’ ‘To the lining of the toupee a piece of orange-colored paper was fastened by Scotch tape, protected bya square of cellophane.’)

The early work of Alain Robbe-Grillet marks the terminal point of this progression. With the stated goal of dehumanizing objects, ridding them of any patina of psychology, he naturally uses the detective story as a model in his first novel, The Erasers. In so doing he establishes (or continues–perhaps there are earlier examples) what has become a standard Modernist trope, Oedipus as the primordial gumshoe, the detective whose quest ends by implicating himself. This is materialist myth, another closed circuit, and the gulf between organic and inorganic has become absolute.

Follow Me Quietly’s position in this rough and questionable schema is as paradoxical as its location in the phantom spectrum described earlier. Clearly in the hard-boiled line, its atmosphere denies particularity, breathes programmatically. Its clues are sealed in glass, the very image of the hermetic structure of classical mystery, but fail even to speak their single truth. Psychology is evoked and denied almost in a single breath (‘I once knew aguy who cut off cats’ tails. He didn’t like cats. The Judge cuts off people’s wind. He doesn’t like people.’). But Deadpan remains, fluctuating between meanings:avenger of objects and sentry on the border of the organic and inorganic worlds, an emissary from the modern nowhere. —B.K.

In the Context of No Context

The material from the RM draft that is missing from the shooting script of Follow Me Quietly is mostly detail that would have made this Mann's first psychological study of a manhunter who doesn't always have both oars in the water. (That character already appears in rudimentary form as the crime lord played by Raymond Burr in Desperate; like Budd Boetticher, whose first wife-avenger was the psycho played by Wendell Corey in The Killer Is Loose, Mann first encountered his archetypal hero in the form of a villain.) Since Deadpan is–among other things–the first image in cinema of the Profile, the keystone of the conceptual edifice of the serial killer genre,we need to put him back in that context,even if the latter now exists only in a file at UCLA Arts Special Collections. Filling in the detail will ground Deadpan in history and psychology, without making him unavailable for metaphysics.

Films about serial killers had been made before Follow Me Quietly. Sticking to the immediate context, Chaplin released Monsieur Verdoux, based on the real-life activities of the French Bluebeard Henri Landru, at the beginning of 1947; Douglas Sirk re-made a French serial killer film by Robert Siodmak as Lured the same year;and Siodmak had filmed The Spiral Staircase the year before.

But Follow Me Quietly is the first film to focus on a cop whose obsession with catching a serial killer could well be his ticket to the bughouse.

In the RM draft of Follow Me Quietly the hero is named Garant. The French sounding name, which would later be Americanized as Grant, is in fact French for ‘bail,’ and when one finds a cop named Garant pursuing a serial killer who calls himself The Judge because he think she’s righting all of society’s wrongs, it is not too far-fetched to assume that the francophile half of RM (whichever half that might be) was familiar with Feuillade’s Judex (= Judge), a cloaked crimefighter from the early silent days whose adventures had been remade in the ‘30s by Maurice Champreux as Judex 34. In fact, that seems the likeliest explanation for one of the killer’s cancelled exploits: dressing up in the black cloak and mask of the magician hired to entertain customer sat a department store—one whose window contains a dummy just like Deadpan—The Judge slays the store manager.

Two cancelled speeches by Garant actually propose a theory of the origins of serial killers. The first, made to his superior, situates The Judge historically in the aftermath of World WarII: ‘The Judge is not an ordinary criminal–he’s a by-product of our times—like the train-wrecker Matuschka, the woman butcher Landru [who] followed in the wake of the First World War—a man setting himself up as a judge in a world he no longer understands.’ ‘His tough luck,’ says the superior.

The two cases Garant cites associate social and individual pathology, which is how Chaplin had recently explained Verdoux, the apotheosis of predatory capitalism: ‘He should express the feeling of the times we live in—out of catastrophe come people like him.’ Sylvestre Matuschka bombed trains for sexual pleasure but was freed from prison by the Germans because they needed demolition experts during WWII. And the RM authors would have had to be aware that the young man convicted the year before of being Chicago’s Lipstick Killer (The Judge writes one of his murder notes in lipstick) collected Nazi memorabilia.

Garant’s seconds peech evokes another figure from silent cinema, the Golem, a clay figure brought to life by a rabbi in two films by Paul Wegener. (Like Judex, The Golem was not that distant a memory in 1947: the silent versions had been remade by Julien Duvivier in 1935.) Garant says to his partner: ‘Psychiatrists have linked The Judge to a cycle—a postwar phenomenon—our own brand of Golem—reflecting a world gone berserk.’After seeing Garant soliloquizing with the dummy, the partner dubs it ‘Garant’s Golem.’

So the RM draft adds to the intuition, which still haunts the film, that Deadpan is a modern Golem, the idea that The Judge is a Golem too—a destructive being who was not born of woman, but created by the madness of World War II.We never learn how this happened, but the creation of ‘Garant’s Golem,’ which parallels the creation of serial killers by history if we take the journey of the word ‘golem’ in the RM draft seriously, is shown in some detail.

Garant, we’re told,was put on The Judge case because of his imagination, and it’s driving him crazy. ‘I know the Judge so well I almost live with him,’ he tells his partner. ‘Sometimes I wish I didn’t.’ The glass case full of Judge relics that is treated more sparingly in the film is displayed one piece at a time in the RM draft by Garant, who handles each clue ‘like a priceless piece of art.’ (Much is made, for some reason, of a photograph of ‘a cushion The Judge sat on.’)

Garanthas even developed sympathy for his prey,which he expresses in the speeches portraying The Judge as a creation of historical forces. He reveals this to Anne,the reporter for the sleazy true crime magazine who wants him to give her the inside story: ‘How The Judge kills—and why—and what it feels like to be a multiple murderer—spicy isn’t it?…Ever thought of this Judge as a human being?’Anne: ‘He’s a menace.’ Garant: ‘So are you.’ It’s clear that Garant is ‘getting involved’…and not with Anne. (‘The love story has no romance, but that doesn’t matter,’ observed an anonymous commentator on the RM draft, who clearly understood what made it special.)

The clues in the glass case enable Garantto construct the faceless dummy, but his template is himself. Giving instructions to Pop, the artisan, he indicates that the dummy should be ‘about my height and weight.’ When his superior, impressed by the result, asks where he got the dummy’s clothes, Garant says: ‘They belong to me.’The dummy is still headless when we first see it, and Garant’s partner is stuffing the head with newspapers. He stops and reads the headline — ‘Judge Strikes Again’ —then comments to the head: ‘Hope this doesn’t give you any ideas.’ But the idea of journalism causing crime is being sent up with this comically literal image. The script has a more dramatic equation to propound: the dummy mediates a merger of personalities between cop and killer.

This process includes telepathy, already introduced into serial killer cinema by Shadow of a Doubt (1943).

On a rainy night when The Judge is likely to strike,mysterious instinct leads Garant to check into a cheap motel a few blocks from the even cheaper motel where The Judge does in fact kill someone; on another rainy night, that same intuition leads him to the department store with its own Deadpan in the window just in time to find the manager’s body. (‘The scenes based on Garant’s instinct are hard to swallow,’ that early reader of the RM draft reasonably observed.) The scene where Garant orders the nut who has made a false confession to strangle him also depends on instinct in this version: he knows the suspect is a fake from the way the man’s fingers feel on his throat.

Sexual kinks come into play in two scenes that would never have gotten past the Production Code office. In the scene where Anne comes to Grant’s apartment, the film barely entertains the notion that he might take her up on her flirting as quid pro quo for giving her the story, but in the RM draft a fade to black when Garant tells her to turn off the light leaves the matter open. A few days later,when Garant visits Anne at her publisher’s office, a cover shoot is in progress with Anne as the victim and an actor playing The Judge strangling her,while a professional model with ‘fake breasts pushing through her torn, bloody blouse’ looks on. As Garant exits after making some unkind remarks, the model says: ‘I’d like you to strangle me sometime.’

In the scene after the visit to the tabloid’s office, Garant drinks himself into a stupor. Suddenly, the bottle he’s looking at becomes the dummy, which he sees walking away in three sequences taking place in three different kinds of weather,the image of its back mocking its obsessed pursuer. At the end of the drunken vision Deadpan is walking on a far-off snowy horizon, leaving on the ground ‘an endless trail of footprints from nowhere to nowhere.’ Cut to target practice: Garant is shooting at a cardboard target that turns into Deadpan. He freezes. ‘If only I could see his face,’ he mutters, ‘I could pull the trigger.’

When Garant finally tracks down The Judge with Anne’s help, he breaks into the suspect’s empty apartment and finds a closet full of murder mementos—the killer’s equivalent of the glass case back at police headquarters. Areal chase in the snow follows, prolonged by a French Connection-style race between Garant’s squad car and the subway that’s carrying The Judge to the end of the line. Complete with fireworks for New Year’s Eve, this section drew a laconic comment from its first reader: ‘This is going to be expensive to shoot.’

So in the movie we get a shoot-out at the gasworks and lose the suggestive scene where Garant confronts The Judge for the first time in the empty subway car. ‘The shock is tremendous. Not much of a face. A very ordinary face. Gray hair, bluish circles under the eyes. The man catches Garant’s eye and smiles wanly, hoping his smile will be returned.’ When Garant says, ‘Follow me quietly,’ the man goes berserk and almost kills him. Then Garant, who has been dropping hints throughout the RM draft that his quarry will not live to stand trial (‘No psychiatrist is gonna...’), shoots the man in cold blood, although the RM draft notes that it’s ‘justifiable homicide’and dissolves to a rather downbeat last scene at the bar to keep us from actually seeing the final transformation of cop into killer.

How did Martin Rackin (who is portrayed unflatteringly in Fleischer’s memoirs because of an encounter at Foxin the 50s) hit on the idea of Deadpan coming to life? He must have been inspired by the description of Garant’s first glimpse of The Judge (still seen only from behind) among the New Year’s merrymakers before the chase begins: ‘Then the dummy comes to life’ and takes off, with Garant in pursuit. To stress a visual idea that would have been important to Mann had he directed the film, the line is repeated: ‘The dummy has come to life.’

In Rackin’s second draft,the scene where Deadpan does come to life appears for the first time, ending on an exchange about L.A.’s San Fernando Valley between Grant and his partner,who has overheard his speech to the ummy. ‘Funny thing,’ says Grant. ‘He’s never struck in the Valley.’ ‘Maybe he don’t like it over there,’ says the partner,who specializes in absurd explanations for The Judge’s behavior. ‘Some people don’t.’ Rackin then cuts to Grant going on the prowl in the rain, and only after setting up that scene does he cut back to show the dummy rising from the chair.

Rackin also failed to supply The Judge with a reason for invading Police Headquarters. That and the crucial decision not to cut to an exterior sequence before the dummy gets up were Lillie Hayward’s contribution to the scene in her first draft: when Garant unexpectedly returned to the darkened office, the megalomaniacal Judge, who had come to read his own file, was obliged to take the dummy’s place in the chair to avoid being caught. After Garant exits at the end of Hayward’s Scene 111, The Judge gets up,replaces the dummy in the chair, ‘picks up the file from the table (his file) [and] puts it back in the filing cabinet’ before slipping out. When the scene was reinserted before the start of production,however, the bit of business with the file was not included. As much as anything, this curious omission sealed Deadpan’s status as an uncanny image.

Like war, like capitalism—socially approved activities that have spawned modern Golems, the serial killers—Garant’s pursuit of his quarry results in the creation of a second Golem in his own image, but Fleischer’s film, where the psychological and causal links that made this idea plausible have been eliminated, delivers up the idea in the form of a phantom which,for all its materiality, threatens to float off like Elsie’s balloon in M, causing an outage that could plunge City (already imperiled by that fracas at the gasworks)into darkness.

Subsequent serial killer films (Fleischer made three of the best)would explore the historical and social causes of the phenomenon and link it, for our understanding, with the more graspable, small-scale phenomenon of the obsessed profiler, just as Anthony Mann and his partner had done in the RM draft of Follow Me Quietly. But when the paradoxes of the serial killer as boundary figure and faceless integer, as sacred scapegoat and as nameless Thing, finally took center stage after the Aristotelian form of the genre had flowered and decayed, this un-authored phantom in a film that Richard Fleischer seems to have forgotten he ever made would already have pointed the way. —B.K.

Responses

4 responses to this post.  Join the discussion

  • .

    Fascinating.

  • zenSolo

    Great multi-authored essay! I’m a noir fan, yet this is new to me, am I redfaced! Thank you.

  • Ray Davis

    A splendid mix of archival research and personal reflection — I can’t imagine a better treatment.

  • James·

    Great piece. I hope we can look forward to more B.K. [& B.K.] writing being published on MUBI.

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