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USA 1952
Directed by
Fritz Lang
105 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

Clash By Night

Legendary director Fritz Lang brings little of distinction to this 50s melodrama about destructive passions (heavily metaphorized in the pounding seas and shots of animal life in the opening sequence). Based on a Clifford Odets play, its often literary dialogue (Ryan, for instance claims a desire to get "unborn") sits uneasily with the working class context of the story and Lang keeps to a theatrical mise-en-scène with the players entering and exiting the plywood sets on queue, their projections firmly directed to the house.

Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Ryan (who had played the role on stage opposite Tallulah Bankhead) provide the main libidinal axis as two people, Mae and Earle, trapped a small town milieu and sexual frustration. Whilst Stanwyck delivers a typically effective performance, she is way too classy for her role as a woman who has so few options that she marries a simple-minded bore (Paul Douglas). Ryan fails to bring much conviction to his rather sketchily drawn character, let alone the kind of base Stanley Kowalski-like allure that is supposed to derail Mae's commitment to playing wifey to her fisherman husband.

In the latter respect Douglas is particularly annoying as the big lug, and eventually, cuckolded husband whilst in the minor roles  an improbably cast Marilyn Monroe as a canning factory worker and Keith Andes as her boyfriend look like they should be in a beach party movie. There is an unusual amount of attention given to the relationship between male sexual power and physical violence, with, it seems, an over-riding message that women need and want a firm hand to keep them in line. Yet if in its detail the film is wanting, it has enough star power and intermittent flashes of lightning between Ryan and Stanwyck  to make it worth watching.




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