Noir dreams and nightmares


Murder, My Sweet.

One of the bonuses of the Big Noir Watch was getting to see just how many dream/nightmare/hallucination sequences there were in the listed films besides those I remembered from previous viewings. The dream sequence is almost as old as cinema itself but the often lurid and melodramatic nature of noir storylines makes dreams and nightmares another recurrent feature of the the landscape. Beleaguered, paranoid characters are liable to find the Expressionist roots of noir cinema lurking behind their closed eyelids, ready to tip them into an unstable world of blurred vortices and looming, underlit faces.


Stranger on the Third Floor.

Production credits referred to these sequences (when they refer to them at all) as montages, a rather confusing term when montage is another word for film editing in general. The sequences were invariably the work of people other than the director, either a montage specialist or a photographer familiar with optical printing and camera effects. Before Don Siegel became a notable noir director he was a montage creator at Warner Brothers; the sequence showing the invasion of France in Casablanca is one of his. He credited his montage work with teaching him all about cinema craft.

The following examples are all the sequences I noticed during the recent noir binge. If you know of any other good ones from the 1940s or 1950s then please leave a comment.

Stranger on the Third Floor (1940)


An aspiring reporter is the key witness at the murder trial of a young man accused of cutting a café owner’s throat and is soon accused of a similar crime himself.

Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward mark the beginning of what they term “the noir cycle” with The Maltese Falcon in 1941. But many other writers choose Stranger on the Third Floor as the beginning of the genre that would dominate the 1940s. With good reason: the film is 60 minutes of non-stop fear and paranoia photographed by Nicholas Musuraca, one of the RKO cinematographers whose use of shadows would help define the noir style. The celebrated dream sequence is almost a film in itself, with huge, shadow-filled sets in which reporter Mike Ward (John McGuire) undergoes accusation, an unwinnable trial and a slow walk to the electric chair.

Murder, My Sweet (1944)


After being hired to find an ex-con’s former girlfriend, Philip Marlowe is drawn into a deeply complex web of mystery and deceit.

The first adaptation of Farewell, My Lovely changed the title so that viewers wouldn’t think it was another Dick Powell musical. As with The Big Sleep, the adaptation mangles the plot but it has its plus points, especially Mike Mazurki as Moose Malloy, an ex-wrestler whose performance as the overbearing ex-con is definitive. It also has this great hallucination sequence. In the novel Marlowe is blackjacked by rogue cops then wakes in a mysterious clinic with a head full of drugs. The film takes us inside Marlowe’s head during his unconscious episode, the Surrealist montage sequence being credited to Douglas Travers.

Conflict (1945)


An engineer trapped in an unhappy marriage murders his wife in the hope of marrying her younger sister.

Humphrey Bogart plays the scheming engineer who finds himself besieged by accusatory faces following a serious car crash. The sequence was directed by Roy Davidson with camera work by HF Koenekamp. Bogart’s dream includes repeated shots of swirling water racing down a plug-hole, a cheap vortex effect that reappears in later sequences.

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The art of Hannes Bok, 1914–1964


Altars of Patagonia (1946)

Like the huge cache of Virgil Finlay art that turned up at the Internet Archive a couple of years ago, the pictures here are from a two-volume collection made by an enthusiast gathering together yet more illustrations from the pulp magazines of the 1940s and 50s. Hannes Bok (real name Wayne Francis Woodard) wasn’t as prolific as Virgil Finlay, but the careers of the two men intersected in the pages of Weird Tales where they both used stipple shading to compensate for the poor reproduction of pulp paper. Bok’s work tended to be more stylised than Finlay’s, with a quirkiness that makes his art easy to spot once you’ve seen a few examples.


Boomerang (1947)

The two volumes contain a total of over 300 illustrations so any selection will only be a small sampling. Many of the drawings were new to me. The first volume is mostly work from magazines such as Weird Tales and the minor SF mags; the second includes book covers, calendar illustrations and other work. As with the Finlay collections, both volumes are available in a range of file formats which include cbz files, a format I prefer to pdf for browsing image-heavy documents. For more about cbr/cbz files, see the end of this post.


Cross of Mercrux (1942)


Daughter of Darkness (1941)


Dimensional Doors (1944)

Continue reading “The art of Hannes Bok, 1914–1964”

Weekend links 730


Cover Design for ‘The Yellow Book’ Vol.I (1894) by Aubrey Beardsley.

• “[Dorian Gray’s] version of Decadence filled the popular imagination when Decadence became an ostentatiously stylish zeitgeist—stylish being the operative word. For Decadent style encapsulated the attitude of being hellbent on thrilling experiences.” The danger of Decadence is also its value. We need more of it, says Kate Hext.

• At Swan River Press: Of Wraiths, Spooks and Spectres. Robert Lloyd Parry, in an interview with John Kenny, talks about the researches that led to the compiling of his latest ghost-story collection, Friends and Spectres.

• The latest pictorial accumulation from DJ Food is a collection of late-60s concert posters by Jim Michaelson, an artist whose designs look like Mad magazine going fully psychedelic.

• Old music: Future Travel by David Rosenboom; new music: Taking Shasta Mountain (By Strategy) by John Von Seggern & Dean DeBenedictis.

• At Public Domain Review: Hunter Dukes on Rückenfiguren, views of the human back as a subject in the history of art.

• In a week when Adobe has been in the news for pissing off its users, a list of alternatives for Adobe software.

• At Spoon & Tamago: Hokusai-inspired erasers reveal Mt. Fuji the more they get used.

• At Unquiet Things: A celebration of Annie Stegg Gerard’s enchanting worlds.

• Mix of the week: DreamScenes – June 2024 by Ambientblog.

• At The Quietus: The Strange World of…Diamanda Galás.

Wraith (2002) by Redshift | El Wraith (2002) by Amon Tobin | Wraith (2015) by John Carpenter

Friends and Spectres


Presenting my latest cover illustration for Swan River Press, and another story collection edited by Robert Lloyd Parry:

Friends and Spectres is a companion volume to Ghosts of the Chit-Chat (2020), an anthology of ghost stories by authors who had been members of the Cambridge University Chit-Chat Club along with M. R. James. Here the associations with MRJ are less formal, but stronger and more enduring: for it is the bond of genuine friendship that ties these writers to him.

The majority of pieces here were originally published under pseudonyms, and over half appeared first in amateur magazines or local newspapers. All deal with the supernatural, and several of the stories are themselves spectres—or more properly “revenants”, only now re-emerging into the light after decades of oblivion. There are rediscoveries here of “lost” tales by Arthur Reed Ropes, E. G. Swain, and the enigmatic “B.”

My cover for the earlier volume showed an imaginary interior for one of the meetings of the Chit-Chat Club where James first read his own ghost stories. The new cover shows a more accurate exterior view of the grounds outside the King’s College Chapel. Given the quantity of pictorial reference I thought this might be relatively easy to do but I had a problem finding a view that matched the one I had in mind, a twilight view of the west end of the chapel seen front-on rather than at a sharp angle. Views of the chapel from the banks of the river have been standing as an emblem of the university itself for a very long time but the majority of these are angled views. My solution was to work from a collage of three different reference photos in order to have enough drawing to fill out the spread of the jacket.


Friends and Spectres is another of Swan River’s small hardbacks which in this case is limited to 500 copies. Given the following that Mr Parry has accumulated via his readings of James’ stories I imagine this one will go quickly, so anyone interested is advised to pre-order now.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Ghosts of the Chit-Chat

Weekend links 728


Composition: Cones and Spirals (1929) by Edward Alexander Wadsworth.

• “Repeating items over and over, called maintenance rehearsal, is not the most effective strategy for remembering. Instead, actors engage in elaborative rehearsal, focusing their attention on the meaning of the material and associating it with information they already know.” John Seamon on the vicissitudes of memory, and how actors remember their lines.

• “Mary McCarthy described it as ‘Fabergé gem, a clockwork toy, a chess problem, an infernal machine, a trap to catch reviewers, a cat-and-mouse game, and do-it-yourself novel’, among other things.” Mary Gaitskill on the pleasures and difficulties of Nabokov’s greatest novel, Pale Fire. Also a reminder that I ought to read it again.

• New music: Movement, Before All Flowers by Max Richter; A Thread, Silvered And Trembling by Drew McDowall; Unspeakable Visions by Michel Banabila.

• Among the new titles at Standard Ebooks, the home of free, high-quality, public-domain texts: Ulysses by James Joyce.

• The latest cartographical design from Herb Lester Associates is Facts Concerning HP Lovecraft and His Environs.

• At the Daily Heller: A look back at the craze for poster stamps.

• Mix of the week: A tuning mix for The Wire by Tashi Wada.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Michael Lonsdale Day.

Annie Hogan’s favourite music.

Clockworks (1975) by Laurie Spiegel | Tin Toy Clockwork Train (1985) by The Dukes Of Stratosphear | Clockwork Horoscope (2008) by Belbury Poly