Fritz Lang’s 1952 quintessential film noir “Clash By Night” offers the great Barbara Stanwyck a role that fits her like a silk glove: a harsh, wounded fallen woman, capable of expressing her venom and snarls at the slightest provocation.
Lang’s film is based on Clifford Odets’ “kitchen sink realism” stage play, in which Tallulah Bankhead played the lead, but the German director imbues it with his own stylistic devices and it’s hard to tell its theatrical origins.
Disillusioned by big city life, Mae Doyle returns to her hometown of Monterey, California, after a long absence. Her look and sophisticated air attracts the attention of Jerry D'Amato (Paul Douglas), a simple, good-natured fisherman she knew in her youth.
Mae's brother Joe is dating Peggy (Marilyn Monroe), a young, sexy femme who’s uncertain about the kind of relationship she would like to have with him. Peggy longs to live with the freedom and independence that she thinks mark Mae's life.
Enter Earl Pfeiffer (a terrific Robert Ryan), a cynical movie projectionist, who's immediately drawn to Mae, but their harsh cynicism prevents the development of any bond. On a weak moment, Mae decides to marry Jerry and the two bear a daughter.
But this domesticated life is too uneventful for a restless woman like Mae, and weary of her lifestyle, she begins an affair with Pfeiffer. However, just when she decided to go off with Earl, Jerry disappears with their baby. Disgusted by Earl's cynicism and feeling that the child would be a burden for him, Mae goes back to Jerry, determined to assume mature responsibility as a wife and mother.
Stanwyck is perfectly cast as the fee-living woman, with a dubious past, who cuckolds her hubby (well played by Pual Douglas).
But it is Ryan who delivers the film's most anguished performance as an alienated man, whose pain flickers beneath his sardonic mask. Ryan conveys a complex, troubled man whose misery is expressed by brutish cruelty toward others. Earl coldly states that in every situation, "somebody's throat has to be cut." But when he cracks down, he cries in anguish, "help me, Mae, I'm dying of loneliness."
Marilyn Monroe, just before becoming a major star, makes a strong imporession as the indpendently-minded Peggy, and proves she can act and be much more than a sex symbol.
The opening of the film depicts in graphic detail the day-to-day work of fishermen and cannery laborers. Fritz Lang referred to this documentary approach as "three hundred feet of introduction. It situates the film firmly in a naturalistic reality that conveys the working class alienation of its characters.
Mae Doyle (Barbara Stanwyck)
Jerry D'Amato (Paul Douglas)
Earl Pfeiffer (Robert Ryan)
Peggy (Marilyn Monroe)
Uncle Vince (Carroll Naish)
Joe Doyle (Keith Andes)
Papa D'Amato (Silvio Minciotti)
Produced by Harriet Parsons
Executive Producer: Jerry Wald (Wald-Krasna Productions)
Screenplay: Alfred Hayes, based on the play by Clifford Odets
Camera: Nicholas Musuraca
Art Directors: Albert S. D'Agostino, Carroll Clark
Set Decoration: Darrell Silvera, Jack Mills
Editor: George J. Amy
Special Effects: Harold Wellman
Sound: Jean L. Speak, Clem Portman
Music: Roy Webb
Song: "I Hear a Rhapsody," by Joe Gasparre, Jack Baker, and George Fragos, sung by Tony Martin.
Running Time: 105 Minutes.