This slim volume is essentially a detailed and nuanced philosophical examination of three classics of American film noir, all from the very fateful 1940’s: Jacques Tourneur’s Out of the Past, Orson Welles’s The Lady from Shanghai, and Fritz Lang’s Scarlet Street. Though Pippin pays some attention to specific techniques of meaning-making in film, such as montage, framing, camera angle, and mise-en-scene, his primary focus is on eliciting clear accounts of what on the human level is actually going on in the films he examines, in terms of action, thought, and feeling, and then articulating philosophical perspectives on the human condition — or at least that in post-war America — that the films can be seen as exploring, or even advancing.
Pippin skillfully demonstrates that complex relations among ideas such as those of action, character, intention, self-control, and self-knowledge are undeniably part of the content of these strangely gripping cinematic tours de force, as is more overtly, the idea that the main characters in these claustrophobic scenarios are in some sense fated to do what they do. He convinces us that these films raise, if without definitively answering, questions about how these various notions are related, in what circumstances, and to what degree . . . [Keep reading]