Fallen Angel

In his long career, Otto Preminger directed six outstanding features and many very good ones. He belonged to that select band of directors – Orson Welles, Ingmar Bergman, Andrzej Wajda, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Elia Kazan – who could work in theatre and cinema alike, and mingle the two forms. His films show the impact of the stage practice he acquired working first for Max Reinhardt and then directing on his own in pre-war Vienna, before he made the transition to Hollywood and to cinema in 1935. During his film career, he developed a liking for long mobile takes, widescreen formats, multi-planar composition and minimal editing. In Hollywood, he became like Alfred Hitchcock a successful European director by starting to produce his own films, and by openly challenging, like his fellow Austrian Billy Wilder the censorship code of the studio system. The six outstanding films, which don’t include the likeable but overrated Laura (1944), are all ones that followed it, spaced evenly over two decades: Fallen Angel (1945), Angel Face (1952), The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), Bonjour Tristesse (1957), Anatomy of a Murder (1959) and Bunny Lake is Missing (1965). The best of Preminger takes place, we can say, at regular intervals over the course of twenty years, and more or less ends with the classical period of Hollywood itself.

This may help to explain his low profile in the annals of film criticism, but not convincingly so. There have been interviews by Andrew Sarris and Peter Bogdanovich, where Preminger was often elusive, claiming he could never remember his own pictures, and contemporaneous praise in the 1960s from the British film journal Movie, extended by one of its key critics, V. F. Perkins, in 1972 through his close referencing of Preminger in Film as Film. But apart from that, there has been little outside the Movie orbit of Ian Cameron, Paul Mayersberg and Mark Shivas until the new century. True, Preminger may have lacked the visionary powers of Welles and Hitchcock or their reflexive handle on film form, but as their contemporary during the Studio period his film style is just as distinctive, and at times he could be just as daring. Critically speaking, he became victim of the backlash against auteurism, the director-worship of Cahiers du Cinéma and Movie, and their adulation of classical Hollywood. Nicholas Ray, Sam Fuller and Fritz Lang have all survived with their cult status intact, but not Preminger. Yet Preminger’s vision is one that challenges the conceptual oppositions within film criticism made to fit the period: André Bazin’s juxtaposition of realism and Hollywood, David Bordwell’s juxtaposition of classical and art-cinema narration, Gilles Deleuze’s juxtaposition of the movement-image and the time-image that mark the transition between classical and modern cinema.

With all three critics, Preminger’s name has been conspicuous by its absence. Bazin noted in passing Preminger’s strong feel for mise en scène in the widescreen CinemaScope of River of No Return (1954). But that was it. Given Bazin’s detailed attention to deep focus composition and long takes in Welles and William Wyler, Preminger is a startling omission.

In American criticism, reference is also scanty. Bordwell barely mentions Preminger in his early books on classical cinema, such as Narration in Fiction Film, though intriguingly tries to compensate in his current work, twin studies on Hollywood (The Way Hollywood Tells It) and cinematic staging outside of Hollywood (Figures Traced in Light), where he turns the question of average shot length into a core controversy.

In Deleuze’s Cinema 1, we also draw a blank in the discourse on post-war crisis in the Hollywood action-image.

Finally, even among Preminger’s French admirers there was critical reticence. Jean-Luc Godard had always been a great fan and took key motifs from Preminger pictures he adored, but he never reviewed any of them for Cahiers as he did those of Hitchcock or Ray. The result is that one of the best critical essays ever written on Preminger came very early on in the journal from Jacques Rivette in his brief 1954 review of Angel Face.


In Laura, a suspense thriller that is also a study of obsession and the male gaze, are many of the elements that Hitchcock was later to treat with such poetic complexity in Vertigo (1958). Yet now the film seems strangely old-fashioned. Preminger had shown a clear indebtedness to Ernst Lubitsch in its mise en scène, its use of elegant interiors, sophisticated dialogue and sharp dissection of bourgeois mores. But despite its noir overlay, gay subtext and first-person voice-over from the obsessed Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews), Laura remains a very static and stagy film, a Manhattan-apartment movie that places itself safely in the first phase of classical narration preceding the widescreen formats of the 1950s.

A year later in 1945, Fallen Angel changed all that. It moves from the Manhattan cocktail set to James M. Cain territory, a small Californian coastal town full of drifters and opportunists where nothing is as it seems. Abandoning voice-over allows Preminger a more lucid detachment that suits his fluent and at times languorous mise en scène, and, as hustler number one in this picture, Dana Andrews gives arguably its greatest screen performance. This is a film, too, in which, working with his versatile director of photography Joseph La Shelle, Preminger unobtrusively moves the camera to precise effect in often complex sequences, putting the film’s average shot length (or ASL) up to a notable 33 seconds.

His panning and travelling shots are ones that allow the spectator to enter into the picture, an opening up of cinematic space – not subjectivity shots so much as semi-subjective witnessing shots, a more fluid version of the Jean Renoir æsthetic of La Règle du jeu (1939) and a preface to the strategies of the Italian Neo Realists. It is an æsthetic that marks much of Preminger’s subsequent work. Of course, he still used a mix of location, back-lot and sound-stage but the balance had started to swing in favour of locations. (By the end of the 1950s, Preminger had become an expert at filming location interiors with just as much finesse as exteriors.) Here, in striking sequence-shots (for 1945) we can note the following:

First is a location shot, a long backtracking two-shot of Andrews (as Eric Stanton, the drifter down on his luck) and Alice Faye (as June, the dead mayor’s daughter) takes them in courtship mode along tree-lined sidewalks past young cyclists and right past the imposing corner house with its portico porch that June shares with her possessive older sister, Clara (Anna Revere). It is a leafy, idyllic setting illuminated by bright Californian sunlight. But the pacing of it shows Preminger’s willingness to go beyond the functional shot, to let faces and bodies assume their own rhythms and speak for themselves. And he keeps in balance the bright daylight that surrounds and suffuses the sisters’ elegant town house with the dark confined lay-out of Pop’s Diner down near the beach, whose male customers circle around the glamorous Stella (Linda Darnell) like bees around a honey pot. This is clearly a noirish studio set-up. The camera has little room to track, but Preminger’s tight panning and reverse angles evoke the tension and the jostling for position around the counter as the laconic Stella wilfully plays off her suitors, Eric included, against each other.

Second is a studio shot where the long take becomes more dramatic. Eric hatches an opportunist plan to marry June for her money, then divorce her and take off with the alluring Stella. Late on his wedding night, he steals out of the sisters’ house down to the diner where Stella rejects him and closes up with another date already in mind. As the two leave the diner, the camera pulls back inside to out in front of them; then a car with an unseen driver pulls up parallel and Stella jumps in. It speeds off in the darkness, leaving Eric standing. The camera tracks forward again to a close-shot of the bemused anti-hero before he walks off out of shot, then back again beyond him to the shadows beside the diner’s entrance, out of which emerges the watching Clara, June’s sister bearing witness. The track-out/track-in recessional has a stylish symmetry. Here Preminger is not only editing within the frame for dramatic effect – the spaced double exit from the frame of Stella and Eric a cue for the unexpected entry of the spying Clara – but also manipulating off-screen space as a source of tension and revelation, a technique we are now familiar with through directors as diverse as Welles, Godard, Michelangelo Antonioni, Theo Angelopoulos and Abbas Kiarostami.

Angel Face

The film also keys in three motifs linking style and theme, image and emotion, conjoined motifs – obsessions almost – of space and sensibility threading through his best work: the outside balcony, the binary setting and the incest taboo, or what we might call virtual incest. The steps and balcony leading to Stella’s apartment in a seedy area of town, the scene of her murder, are forerunners of the outside balcony of the Beverly Hills Mansion that opens Angel Face, the open terrace surround of the summer home in Bonjour Tristesse along which his camera constantly tracks, and the deck and outside steps of the mews flat off Trafalgar Square that Ann (Carol Lynley) is renting in Bunny Lake is Missing. As binary opposites, Fallen Angel sets Stella’s apartment and the cramped space of Pop’s diner against the bright elegant townhouse of the two sisters. Angel Face contrasts the cosy flatlands apartment of the girlfriend of paramedic Frank Jessup (Robert Mitchum) with the vast lonely spaces of the mansion up on the hill where Frank falls for the nineteen year-old Diane Tremayne (played by a twenty-year old Jean Simmons). Anatomy of a Murder contrasts the easy-going frame house-cum-office of defence lawyer Paul Biegler (James Stewart) with the formality and staged drama of the trial’s vast courtroom. Bunny Lake sets the Hampstead mansion in which Stephen (Keir Dullea) resides against the cramped flat his sister is renting in the West End. Preminger plays simultaneously on public openness and personal secrecy. Fallen Angel cues in the unrequited (and unspoken) desire of a clinging sister for a loved one who then marries beneath the family’s social status to escape her. The Electra-like enigma of the daughter-father liaison between Diane and Charles Tremayne (Herbert Marshall) in Angel Face is magnified through the many fond embraces of the teenage Cécile (Jean Seberg) and her loving father, Raymond (David Niven), in Bonjour Tristesse, while incest between murder victim and his adult daughter is a key trial revelation in Anatomy of a Murder. In Bunny Lake, Preminger shifts gear in a way that is equally unnerving: brother and sister appear at first sight to be the parents of the missing child and, in the privacy of her tiny flat, Ann supplies cigarettes for brother Stephen in the bath, perched on the bath’s rim, agonising over Bunny’s absence as he chain-smokes and reassures her – as if he were either husband or lover.

This incongruous motif-triangle permeates Preminger’s film form. His vision of social difference merges with his camera’s spatial probing of outside-inside boundaries, cueing the fragile divide of public and private in the realm of modernity. This in turn impacts on the violation of the moral code, or rather our sense of it, of which the supreme violation, incorporating our very sense of the public/private divide, is that which is normally the most hidden of all: incest. Incest is the supreme unspoken and Preminger plays upon its elusiveness. When does affection become love and love become desire? And how do we know? After all, affection within the family is normal, blood ties respected. What better place to start, and finish, in showing the human propensity for the crossing of the line? As the studio code weakens, the incest theme becomes bolder. Anatomy of a Murder in 1959 has the reference as fully explicit, though very much a back-story. Elsewhere it is left to the viewer as something possible but never proven. Bunny Lake is more thus veiled yet also more daring: one feels from the start something very wrong in its opaque sibling relationship, its adult brother and sister hunting a lost child but also acting like enfants terribles. They appear married but are clearly not; they seem normal at first sight, unjustly treated by the school and the police who drag their feet over the missing daughter. But in the end, as we come to see, they inhabit a world which is not really of this world. Virtual incest, recurrent intimations of incestuous desire, are part of Preminger’s confrontation with the studio code that he pursued in other films by other means, equally provocative. Carmen Jones (1954) was for its time a defiant act, exclusively an African-American story that he set in the wartime segregated south with its black Home Army camp and munitions factory filmed on location in a Mexican migrant camp east of Los Angeles. The Man with the Golden Arm was another 1950s first, showing in candid detail the heroin addiction that afflicts its haunted hero, Frankie Machine (Frank Sinatra), on the South Side of Chicago. In 1962, Advise and Consent dealt openly with the politics of homosexual blackmail in Washington, something Hitchcock could only hint at, a decade earlier, in Strangers on a Train (1951). As the studio code weakens, a process to which Preminger hugely contributed, the director gets bolder and yet he remained for most critics firmly within the template of classical Hollywood. Why?

Part of the answer lies in the Preminger style of invisible narration, which downplays its innovating force at the edge of classicism. Angel Face keys in a core element here in the camera’s roaming of the Beverly Hills mansion towards the end of the picture. It is Preminger’s stress upon the essence of place it is achieved here through the very absence of its constituent elements. Father and stepmother are dead, the servants have been paid off and Diane’s new husband, falsely implicated in her murder crime and now disenchanted, may never come back. As she retraces her steps through the empty mansion, she is also retracing the life that has left it. The camera glides along corridors and peers through the open doors of the rooms into which she wanders: the empty drawing room with her piano; her father’s chess room; her stepmother’s bedroom, site of the near-fatal gas poisoning that was Diane’s first murder attempt; and, finally, the garage apartment where Frank, paramedic-turned-family-chauffeur, had briefly stayed. Here the camera lingers as she finds his empty suitcase, caresses the shirt she finds on his dresser and sleeps all night in his jacket on the armchair outside his bedroom door. The roaming lens evokes two emotions inseparable in the acquitted killer – loss and obsession – the mourning of her dead father and physical obsession for her duped husband who knows she is a killer and has decided to head off to Mexico without her. Her predicament is impossible, her isolation absolute and, like Fritz Lang’s M (1931), the film taps in, as it nears its end, to some deep reserve of sympathy that we can still have for a dangerous and disturbed killer who also suffers for their crime.

The sequence is a fluid edit that extends the classical range of continuity cutting and its modes of meaning, achieved here by stressing absent presence without freezing movement. (Here we can think back to the absent presence of the disappearing Laura (Gene Tierney) with her portrait on the wall that fixates McPherson or forward to the missing Bunny Lake whom we never see in the nursery and may well be a figment of Ann’s imagination). On the soundtrack is the signature tune in Dimitri Tiomkin’s haunting score that Diane had played on the piano at the start of the film, luring Frank to his fate, and again later in the moments before her parents’ fatal crash. Preminger opens up the tensions and contrasts of filmic space as forms of social space. Not only does he juxtapose the darkly shadowed mansion to the places below – the girlfriend’s bright apartment – but also to her lawyer’s airy sunlit offices and the local diner, to which Diane wilfully follows Frank after his first visit to the mansion. The flatlands are sites of normality but compared to the mansion on the hill, somehow banal. The tension is such that viewers yearn to return to the estate in the canyon, to the enigmatic gaze of Diane and the site of disaster where Preminger repeats the car death that follows the plunge from a great height. The cliff-side plunge of the reversing car, twice over, the second time with Frank and Diane, is an indelible image of fall that Hitchcock echoes later in Vertigo, through the ‘body’ of Madeleine (Kim Novak) twice plunging from the Mission tower.

The Man with the Golden Arm

If Hitchcock may have echoed the power of repetition in Angel Face, then Preminger may well have noted the power of the single set in Rear Window, when he was preparing The Man with the Golden Arm. Preminger had deemed it too complicated to use Chicago locations. So he designed something quite close to a Weimar street movie, in which a single street acts a conduit for all the places and spaces in the action, the bars and dingy apartments all off the same street. His camera glides through the space of the studio back-lot capturing grey interiors through window shots – another Preminger favourite – moving in and out with consummate ease. This, for sure, is a one-dimensional movie with a knowable neighbourhood into which Frankie returns after his gaol stretch, familiar surroundings which trap him once more. Preminger makes the set a site of staged exits and entrances, filming a living theatre of poor white hustlers seeking a lucky break. This is a classical Hollywood melodrama of sacrifice, suffering and redemption, but its naturalism is turned alchemically into artifice and its narcotic through-line was consciously high risk, transgressing as it pushed against the power of censorship. The tight closure of social space in which everyone knows everyone else, and filmed with probing camera goes forward to Lars von Trier’s Dogville (2003) where the artifice is even more attenuated but, unlike Preminger, all humanism is extinguished as revenge replaces redemption in its bloody finale. Yet the mise en scène is uncannily similar and both films use shock effects within the rubric of the familiar to challenge the viewing conventions of their spectators.

Looking back, we must be tempted to cast a reflexive eye over the casting of Sinatra as Frankie. You feel this Frankie is a pawn in the hands of unscrupulous others, of the local drug dealer who feeds his habit and also runs him as a card dealer in his illegal gambling joint, just as we now know the other Frankie (addicted to Ava Gardner, not heroin) was concurrently being run as a famous singer by the Mob in the new gambling joints they owned in Las Vegas. Hadn’t Preminger wanted to cast Sinatra again a decade later as Don Corleone in The Godfather, and even promised him to take the character of the singer (allegedly based on Sinatra) out of the script? When Sinatra passed on the part, Preminger passed on the film, and the rest is history. In Man with the Golden Arm, it had of course been the reverse, with Preminger casting Sinatra ahead of Marlon Brando and never regretting it. In the cold-turkey sequence, the ceiling shot done in a single take from a high angle within the bedroom of Molly (Kim Novak) where Frankie is hiding out, the singer at his skinniest stakes his claim as the most plausible addict in film history. Preminger’s refusal to cut and his rejection of the close-up in favour of the long shot are quite pitiless. This for the culture of its time is as powerful and shocking as the slow-motion massacre that ends Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967) a decade later. Sinatra is naked, exposed, vulnerable, never allowed to be larger than life. If this is Preminger at his most compassionate, it is still a scene in which his camera placement makes few concessions to sentiment.

If his version of Nelson Algren’s novel takes its place alongside the new psychodramas of the 1950s, Bonjour Tristesse is more opaque, more ambiguous and more ambitious. It transforms the noir themes of Fallen Angel and Angel Face into an existential fable that captures the spirit of Françoise Sagan’s novel but does much more. The film shows Preminger’s powers of widescreen composition at their height and draws in the earlier triad of motifs. Binary settings and balcony sequences explore the porous boundaries of the public and the private, and virtual incest cues the presence of the hidden and forbidden. At times, as discarded lover Elsa (Mylène Demongeot) notes, Raymond and Cécile are less like father and daughter and more like a married couple that don’t need proper sentences to communicate. (This chilling defiance of role is echoed in Bunny Lake is Missing where Ada (Martita Hunt), the reclusive headmistress of the school from which Bunny has disappeared, tells Ann and Stephen they are acting like the girl’s parents, and not like brother and sister.)

Bonjour Tristesse

The Preminger binary here is a double contrast of time and place. Cécile narrates her summer of sadness on the Côte d’Azur from the standpoint of an autumnal Paris. Locations at Le Lavendou are in glorious colour; Paris is in black and white. On the coast, Cécile and her group join revellers in a joyous snake dance (filmed in long fluent crane shots) in the town square. In Paris, she is down in a jazz cellar, isolated, the episode fragmented, fought over by two guys for whom she feels nothing. In contrast to his enclosed Paris apartment, the rich eligible Raymond has a bright summer house overlooking the coast with wrap-around terrace on two floors. All rooms and windows open onto the terrace so characters move in and out between them (and the camera fluently follows) as if the house were both a stage set with no closed doors and a film set with spatial transparency. The mise en scène is an arena of performance and this, acting-wise, is the most performative in style of all his films.

Preminger’s frame placement is fascinating. It starts with father and daughter at the centre of the frame as they pay a morning visit to the room of Raymond’s current lover Elsa and gently mock the lobster effect of her sunburn. Preminger does not include Cécile in the frame with Raymond in the sequences where he confronts his rival lovers, the ditzy Elsa and the sophisticated Anne (Deborah Kerr), a fashion designer who arrives by car from Paris. Several sequences start with intimate talk between father and daughter before Preminger adds other characters to the frame. The meaning of intimacy in the film is framed by the discourse of father and daughter. All holiday conversation, animated and bursting with fun, is undermined by a spatial positioning within the frame to show Cécile’s desire for closeness to Raymond. This changes abruptly one morning at breakfast when, hung-over, Cécile arrives late on the terrace. She discovers Anne and Raymond already there, seated close together. They confess their intention to marry. In this three-shot, Cécile is now at the edge of the frame, and Preminger suddenly interrupts his long take through reverse field cutting between the loving couple and the distrusting daughter with much closer shots to stress separation, and Cécile’s consternation. From now on, Cécile will be positioned closer to the edge of the frame in the ensemble shots which Preminger uses to such good effect. Where previously she seemed to dominate them, she is now cast to the side, and thus plots to oust her rival and return to the centre of things. This she does, but only later in Paris where she is once more at the centre of things and sadder than ever. The car death of Anne has destroyed her happiness just as much as the death of the father has destroyed the mind of her teenage predecessor in Angel Face.

The sequence where Cécile has set up the trap for Anne to discover Raymond in flagrante with Elsa is framed as series of sweeping long-shots with Cécile furtively tracking Anne from the edge of the frame and watching her watch the evidence of betrayal, the couple themselves off-screen, their voices uncomfortably close. A series of long panning shots then traces Anne running back to the house in despair with Cécile in pursuit, again at the edge of the frame. The flashback return centres Cécile once more, talking up sadness as remorse in front of a mirror in the jazz cellar – still an unreliable narrator not so much of events themselves as their true meaning, like Ruth Grandfort (Anne Baxter) in Hitchcock’s I Confess (1953). The Cahiers critics’ adulation of Preminger’s coastal mise en scène soon translated into New Wave practice. We can see here some of the elements that will emerge in the coastal sequences of Jules et Jim (François Truffaut, 1961) and Pierrot le fou (Jean-Luc Godard, 1965), not to mention the vacation films of Eric Rohmer. The inside-outside formula of the terrace is taken over by Godard in the balcony-apartment sequences in Pierrot where Ferdinand (Jean-Paul Belmondo) and Marianne (Anna Karina) murder Karina’s lover. But with his time-looping and discontinuity shots, Godard bides farewell to classical narration forever. It is he, not Preminger, who signs its death warrant. But it is Preminger who has enabled him to do it.

Anatomy of a Murder

The opacity of motive that had marked out Diane in Angel Face and all three women in Fallen Angel deepens with Cécile into something more complex, and challenges the character-knowing conventions of classical narration. The confessional mode of the flashback should reveal all but here it does the opposite. We feel we know less about Cécile at the end of the film than we do at the beginning. Just as the confessional mode flatters to deceive, so the revelatory mode of Anatomy of a Murder two years later seems to achieve the exact same effect. The tawdry life of married couple Frederick (Ben Gazzara) and Laura Manion (Lee Remick) is dragged out theatrically during his trial for the murder of her alleged rapist, but only in glimpses, for at the end when he is acquitted on the dubious grounds of ‘irresistible impulse’ we’re really none the wiser about the context of the killing or what, in fact, their true relationship is. Preminger plays on the ineffable core of the personal and casts two stars from the Actor’s Studio not to parade their character’s souls, but the very opposite: to veil and evade and conceal. The contrast with their legal team could not be greater. The straight talking lawyer (backed up drunken sidekick and stoic secretary) is played by James Stewart as a regular small-town guy, the very opposite of his obsessive role in Vertigo. He does not get involved with his clients and, at the end of it all, will happily go fishing again, not caring that he never gets to know the full story.

Anatomy is thus classical narrative with no pay-off and with more daring substance than ever: the medical details of rape adduced in court and the hapless discovery of incest both up the ante for the Studio code which is already by this time in trouble. But the plot’s failure to deliver any punch-line or any core revelation is more profound and, like Preminger’s other great films, wholly outside of melodrama. Its ambiguous objectivity, beautifully sustained throughout, dispenses with simplification and excess. Indeed, the film may well stand a kind of document, a shrewd, prescient assessment of the American legal system as such. We can think ahead from 1959 to the celebrity murder trials of Claus von Bülow, O. J. Simpson and Robert Blake, all acquittals where in the end, despite massive media exposure, we never get to know the truth either.

And the couple whose marriage is in the dock are something else, too. Even in their cool distance from each other in the courtroom is embedded that incestuous kinship of an inscrutable pair with which elsewhere Preminger’s father-daughter and sibling relations are also endowed. There is something tight and tense and secret and unspoken, where the female role in the couple is vital. For Preminger’s women are as ambiguous and enigmatic as Ingmar Bergman’s woman in the films of the 1960s and ’70s. While Bergman has earned the appellation ‘modernist’ for this achievement, Preminger has been overlooked. For sure the Swede is more abstract, more oblique and more Kammerspiel in his mise en scène. His reverse-angle close-ups, slightly off kilter, often extreme, are stylistic signatures just as much as Preminger’s graceful panning and tracking shots. Preminger, by contrast, reserves the close-up as a kind of money shot for special moments – moments of crisis and violence. We can think of Anne’s sudden anguish on hearing from Cécile that Elsa is a ‘guest’ in Raymond’s summer house or in Bunny Lake the unnerving track-in on Stephen’s beaming eyes as he burns Bunny’s doll (and the last evidence of her existence) in the basement of the toy repair shop. Preminger saves his first reverse-field close-up for this late sequence when he cuts to Ann at the foot of the stairs watching in horror and dashing towards his demented brother. (The near-symmetry is perfect: medium shot of Stephen, track in to close-up, cut to Ann in close-up, pan to medium shot.) Later he repeats single matching close-ups for the siblings in the mansion garden: Stephen beside the shallow grave wielding the spade that can either used to bury Bunny or kill Ann – or both; the reverse-angle cut to Ann’s look of terror as the desperate look of a mother thinking on her feet about how to survive disaster. Preminger embodies so much in a single cut because he uses the close shot so sparingly, a talent that now seems like something from a Golden age.

Bunny Lake is Missing

Bunny Lake is the second major break with the classical after Bonjour Tristesse, but this time more complete, done in the company of Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960), Peeping Tom (Michael Powell, 1960) and Repulsion (Roman Polanski, 1965). For Stephen could be Norman Bates’ younger brother. Preminger as a foreign director in London uses Victorian Hampstead with the same uncanny eye for space and place that Michael Powell showed in his Soho locations, Joseph Losey in the Chelsea setting of The Servant (1963) and Roman Polanski in South Kensington. Like all of them, he gives us no anchor of the humane or the normal. The film blocks identification. The teachers are eccentric, the police dilatory. By the time we realise that Ann is not talking of an imaginary child, it becomes clear that she is totally child-like and vulnerable herself. By the time we realise that all is not right in Stephen’s flaunting of Yankee know-how at dilatory London coppers, we start to realise that everything, just everything, is wrong with him. The film lies at a key moment of rupture with classical narration in film history and you sense after seeing it that the clock can never turn back. It is with some foreboding, therefore, that we await the Reese Witherspoon remake scheduled for next year. For Preminger at his best is something no remake could ever capture.

Works Consulted

B. Baker, “Fallen Angel”, in Ian Cameron (Ed.), The Movie Book of Film Noir (London: Studio Vista, 1992), pp. 184-90.

André Bazin, translated by Hugh Gray, What is Cinema: Volume 2 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971).

Peter Bogdanovich, Who the Devil Made It? (New York: Knopf, 1997).

David Bordwell, Narration in the Fiction Film (London: Methuen, 1985).

Davis Bordwell, Figures Traced in Light: On Cinematic Staging (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2005).

Davis Bordwell, The Way Hollywood Tells It (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2006).

Ian Cameron, “Bonjour Tristesse”, in Movie, Vol. 2, No. 11, 1962.

F. Camper, “Bodies in Motion: Bonjour Tristesse”, 1992 (accessed 20 March 2006).

Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 1: the Movement-Image (London: Athlone, 1986).

E. Gallafent, “Angel Face”, in Ian Cameron, op. cit.

John Gibbs and Douglas Pye, “Revisiting Preminger: Bonjour Tristesse and close reading” in Gibbs and Pye (Eds), Style and Meaning; Studies in the detailed analysis of film (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005).

V. F. Perkins, Film as Film (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972).

Otto Preminger, Preminger: an Autobiography (New York: Doubleday, 1977).

Andrew Sarris, Interviews with Movie Directors (New York: Bobbs Merrill, 1972), pp. 339-49.

Mark Shivas, “Anatomy of a Murder”, in Movie, Vol. 2, No. 23, 1962.

About The Author

John Orr is Professor Emeritus at the University of Edinburgh, the author of Contemporary Cinema (Edinburgh University Press, 1998) and Hitchcock and 20th Century Cinema (Wallflower Press, 2005), and co-editor with Elzbieta Ostrowska of The Cinema of Roman Polanski (Wallflower Press, 2006).

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