Ain’t Valentine’s Day

MiklitschF14Love can be hard in real life. It’s always hard in film noir. As the essays in the starry-eyed UIP release Kiss the Blood Off My Hands show, getting involved with guys and/or dames only leads to trouble, and quite often to murder, or at least insurance fraud. That’s just one small reason the book got a nom for a 2015 Edgar Award.

We considered quoting from one of the book’s many passages on doomed love to honor Valentine’s Day. What could be more appropriate? After all, we’re observing the day dedicated to a poor schlub who got his head cut off for back-talking the Romans. As the tough guys say in the movies, “Dat’s a pretty severe haircut.”

But we’re suckers. Instead, we’d like to share a sidebar to Krin Gabbard’s essay in Kiss the Blood…, called “The Vanishing Love Song in Film Noir.” It’s about a good old romantic tune called “The First Time I Saw You” from the noir classic Out of the Past. Better yet, there’s a Robert Mitchum chaser, as Bob puts prevailing notions of Fifties manhood on his shoulders and thinks about carrying the load off a cliff for love:

Just as Jeff is deciding to turn on Whit and protect Kathy, she lies to him by saying that she did not take the forty thousand dollars from Whit. She then asks, “You believe me, don’t you?” Rather than question her veracity, Jeff simply says, “Baby, I don’t care.” When Lee Server named his biography, Robert Mitchum: Baby I Don’t Care, the phrase was almost surely designed to exploit the star image of Mitchum as irreverent and rebellious, someone who didn’t give a shit.

On one level, Jeff is in fact acting in a devil-may-care manner by choosing Kathy over Whit. He can be both transgressive and sexy as he shifts allegiance from his job to his desire. But on another level, he has given up masculine control by submitting to a woman he must at least suspect of being something other than a paragon. For Krutnik, Jeff’s declaration that he does not care is part of a position that can be associated with clinical masochism. In fact, Krutnik’s reading of film noir acknowledges that in the years during and immediately after World War II, American men were in a crisis of masculinity, trying desperately to live up to impossible ideals first as fighting men and then as family men.

The men who went to see Out of the Past in 1947 could certainly identify with a character who gives up the fight and submits to a beautiful, dangerous woman. At its conclusion, Out of the Past is a moral fable about the dangers of getting too close to a femme fatale. But for a few lovely moments in the middle, the film allows the male viewer to fantasize about the forbidden pleasures of complete submission to a woman: Baby, I don’t care what a real man is supposed to do. The lyrical strains of “The First Time I Saw You” make the fantasy all the more available.