The Man I Love
connection of this film to the noir genre is through its depiction of the jazz music milieu. This is more than
simply a novel item of content: breaking somewhat with the glossy Hollywood
artifice of previous showbiz musicals, and anticipating the looser, more
experimental forms of John Cassavetes’ jazz films, Shadows (1959) and Too Late Blues (1961), The Man I Love exhibits a truly genial
looseness, a hipness that is more casual than the occasional descriptions of
its “crackling hardboiled wit” recognise.
general tone of this Warner Bros. production is set by the disarming opening
scene, a relaxed after-hours performance of the George Gershwin theme tune by Petey (Ida Lupino) and her muso pals.
Raoul Walsh is a director celebrated for his (frequently virile) ethos of
action, comedy and romance, but The Man I
Love offers a rare expression of melancholia in his career – and is angled largely
from the women’s viewpoint.
well, alongside the films soon to come from Nicholas Ray or Lupino herself as a director in the 1950s, The
Man I Love explores a more supple and complex model of character psychology
than American cinema had hitherto permitted.
the story touches on the problems of post-war masculine trauma (especially via
the character of the invalid Roy played by John Ridgely),
its portrait of the difficulty of intimate relationships in the modern world
seems more rooted in general societal changes: the first stirrings of a Beat
era counter-culture (alcohol here gingerly standing in for other intoxicating
substances), and a massive shift in the way women consider themselves.
Jean-Pierre Coursodon has observed in a Positif essay
(no. 482, April 2001), every woman in this tale is defined in terms either of
her independence from or understandable difficulty with the traditional
wife-and-mother role: where Petey is the wisecracking
outsider to such convention, her sisters and their friends struggle with often
oppressive obligations and restrictions. In its focus on women’s freedom –
lived, glimpsed, or thwarted – the film also resonates with the Simone de
Beauvoir-style existential feminism of its era.
what makes the movie so poignant, ultimately, is the heartache it locates in
the gap between this dream of freedom, with its Utopian ideal of a truly
reciprocal relation between men and women (such as we intuit in the exchanges
between Petey and San played by Bruce Bennett), and
the old, entrenched attitudes, responses and behavioural patterns – a gap
caught in the subtle contradiction between Petey’s avowed tough attitudes and the abject, masochistic yearning encapsulated in the
classic lyrics she sings.
in this story is deliberately rather tentative, de-dramatised, incomplete,
unfulfilled – an ambience immortalised in Walsh’s beautiful mise en scène of New Year street
celebrations, where Petey’s traditional expectation
of a kiss, even from a stranger, is met by a brisk and deflating rejection.
once a muted “woman’s melodrama” and an unusual film noir whose centre of interest is cannily displaced from
external action to internal feeling, The
Man I Love is an under-appreciated, little-discussed work, marking a
crucial historical transition (on several levels) in American cinema.
MORE Walsh: White Heat
© Adrian Martin 2008