Combustible Celluloid Review - Clash by Night (1952), Alfred Hayes, based on the play by Clifford Odets, Fritz Lang, Barbara Stanwyck, Paul Douglas, Robert Ryan, Marilyn Monroe, J. Carrol Naish, Keith Andes, Silvio Minciotti
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With: Barbara Stanwyck, Paul Douglas, Robert Ryan, Marilyn Monroe, J. Carrol Naish, Keith Andes, Silvio Minciotti
Written by: Alfred Hayes, based on the play by Clifford Odets
Directed by: Fritz Lang
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 105
Date: 06/15/1952

Clash by Night (1952)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Something's Fishy

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Only a year after the sensation of A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), RKO probably ordered something similar when they assigned Fritz Lang to direct this Clifford Odets play. Though Clash by Night doesn't have Brando, Lang was twice the director that Elia Kazan was and manages to stitch together a moving, nervously effective film.

The great Barbara Stanwyck appears at the height of her powers as Mae, a restless, wandering soul who returns to her hometown, a fishing village, when she runs out of places to go. Once there, she meets the simple bear-like fisherman (Paul Douglas). He falls in love with her, and they marry. Unfortunately, Mae also meets a hardened, world-weary movie projectionist Earl (Robert Ryan) and begins an affair with him. The love triangle culminates in a vicious verbal blow-out as only Odets could doit, with his punchy, highly stylized dialogue.

Some critics grumbled that this crackly dialogue felt out of place in a fishing village, especially when Lang begins the film with a terrific documentary montage about fishing and canning. Additionally, Douglas -- a former stage actor -- sometimes comes across too large for the camera. However, Lang uses plenty of sustained shots, while establishing a specific visual style and physical space, thereby avoiding the trappings of the stage-bound material.

The story works beautifully not as realism, but as a representation of loss and fear. The actors, including Stanwyck, Ryan and J. Carrol Naish, are all superb, but Marilyn Monroe is especially astonishing in an early role as a feisty cannery worker; she's already a star.

Warner Home Video has released Clash by Night as part of the new Film Noir Classic Collection, Vol. 2 (also including Point Blank, Crossfire, Dillinger, The Narrow Margin and Born to Kill). Peter Bogdanovich provides an insightful commentary track, complete with excerpts from his 1965 interviews with Lang. Other extras include the theatrical trailer and optional English, French, and Spanish subtitles. Warner Archive released a Blu-ray in 2023.

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