I Died a Thousand Times (1955)

I Died a Thousand Times (1955) is colour rural film noir one-last-job heist movie remake of High Sierra (1941).

Filmed in CinemaScope and Warnercolor this color film noir was directed by Stuart Heisler and features Jack Palance as paroled bank robber Roy Earle, with Shelley Winters, Lee Marvin, Earl Holliman, Perry Lopez, Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez, and Lon Chaney Jr.

The stereotypical, comedy-relief character played by black actor Willie Best in the original film was replaced by a Mexican stereotype played by Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez. The film marks the second motion picture appearance of Dennis Hopper's six-decade career, and Nick Adams makes an uncredited appearance as a bellhop.

In the aftermath of the sociocultural upheaval of the 1960s and 1970s, which appeared to surge forth from the primordial tremors of discontent captured in the early manifestations of film noir, contemporary America finds itself ensnared in a vexing quandary: its incapacity to harmonize the myriad facets of its conventional moral, sexual, gender, familial, patriotic, religious, ethnic, and societal norms with the novel and often less alluring realities confronting it today. 

There is quite a lot of this in color noir I Died a Thousand Times (1955)

 Enter "Pard" the mongrel mutt to the accompaniment then and later of cutesy music. The furry friendly creature, loyal to the last, refuses to budge from the screen to the very end.

Yet, as elucidated by the sagacious Henry James, "Humanity is vast, and reality manifests in multifarious guises; the most one can assert is that certain narratives bear the redolence of it, while others do not..." 

In a contemporary iteration of Jamesian narrative, namely the cinematic medium, one may encounter that very essence or "redolence" of reality. Film noir, garnering critical acclaim in yesteryears owing to its unvarnished candour, its endeavour to plumb the depths of human character and the shadows of the human psyche, and its unflinching confrontation with veracity, now stands poised at the nexus of a union with a genre oft denoted by modern critics as a cosmetic veneer embellishing American history.

If indeed this amalgamation has been consummated successfully, it may portend that contemporary America is at last navigating pathways towards reconciling erstwhile convictions with contemporary quandaries.

Lee Marvin and Shelley Winters in I Died a Thousand Times (1955)

During the 1920s, American optimism soared far beyond the confidence levels of the Weimar Republic. Throughout the decade, Germany grappled with the weight of World War I reparations, an onerous burden characterized by John Maynard Keynes, a witness at Versailles, as egregiously and self-servingly contrived, chiefly by the French. Keynes astutely foresaw the economic and political turmoil that would engulf Germany in the aftermath of the Great War, a prophecy that materialized with uncanny accuracy. 

Heist plan in I Died a Thousand Times (1955)

Following the Treaty of Versailles, the Weimar Republic endured rampant hyperinflation, French occupation of the Ruhr, and persistent intimidation from clandestine, predominantly right-wing factions. The collapse of Wall Street in 1929 inflicted greater hardship on Germany than any other nation gripped by the Great Depression, principally due to its reliance on credit extended by American banks, which themselves were ensnared in crisis. Germany's economic turmoil provided fertile ground for the ascent of the Nazi regime.

Authentic film noir did not emerge until the latter part of the 1930s, notwithstanding the sporadic noir-esque elements discernible in films during the early years of the decade. The hallmark distinctions, however, are discernible. True noir hinges upon the obfuscation of moral certitude (where pillars of society are revealed as malevolent, and detectives straddle the line between law enforcement and criminality), and the destabilization of certainty itself (as evidenced by voice-over narrators who, despite exuding confidence, ultimately unveil narratives rife with fallibility, as exemplified in "Dead Reckoning"). 

Films from 1929 to the late 1930s were imbued with a concerted national resolve to cling to "the old verities," albeit sorely tested by the ongoing economic crisis. The abandonment of these verities, when depicted in film noir, is a phenomenon that unfolds nationally and becomes increasingly conspicuous after 1937. 

This assertion finds support when scrutinizing films within genres recognized as precursors to noir, such as those portraying fallen women and gangsters. This all worked very well in black and white, until such time as color film noir was created and along with widescreen, a bastard screen-child was born.

Lon Chaney Jr. and Jack Palance in I Died a Thousand Times (1955)

The transition of Hollywood from silent films to sound was accomplished within a mere three years. In stark contrast, the journey towards embracing color cinematography spanned over three decades, marred by a significant downturn in the share of color productions, plummeting from 58 to 31 percent over a three-year period. 

This perplexing adoption trajectory prompts an in-depth investigation, utilizing meticulous data encompassing 7,022 movies released between 1940 and 1959.

Analysis of these comprehensive data sets reveals nuanced factors hindering the swift proliferation of color technology within the industry. 

Shelley Winters and Jack Palance in I Died a Thousand Times (1955)

Notably, disparities in studio magnitude and the intricate interplay between film genres and colorization acted as impediments to rapid diffusion. Furthermore, the data underscore the phenomenon of disadoption, a consequence precipitated by lackluster returns stemming from a surge in color releases, stimulated by the advent of a cost-effective colorization process.

Heist scene in I Died a Thousand Times (1955)

In essence, the convoluted dynamics underlying Hollywood's transition to color during this period reflect a complex interplay of technological, economic, and artistic factors, elucidated through rigorous empirical inquiry.

Aligned with conventional models of technological adoption, which underscore the significance of divergences among potential adopters, our analysis delineates two pivotal sources of heterogeneity that hindered Hollywood's swift transition to color. 

Firstly, smaller studios encountered limitations in wide film distribution, constraining their capacity to recuperate the substantially amplified fixed costs associated with color film production. Utilizing difference-in-differences estimates, we discern that the resolution of the Paramount case in 1948, which terminated block-booking practices and granted smaller studios access to larger theaters, augmented the likelihood of minor producers (e.g., Columbia and Universal) venturing into color cinematography by a notable 9.0 percent.

Moreover, Hollywood's adoption of color technology was impeded by the predilection for genres that exhibited minimal enhancement from colorization. Genres such as adventures and musicals garnered tangible benefits from color's intrinsic association with fantasy. Conversely, comedies and dramas, constituting nearly two-thirds of major studios' output between 1940 and 1959, derived greater aesthetic value from black-and-white cinematography, evoking a sense of realism.

In the period preceding the introduction of an enhanced Eastman film stock in 1952, a striking 84.8 percent of adventures, musicals, and westerns produced by major studios were filmed in color. In stark contrast, merely 22.7 percent of comedies, dramas, and mysteries were subjected to colorization. Subsequently, between 1952 and 1954, the availability of the more economical Eastman stock prompted major studios to elevate the proportion of comedies, dramas, and mysteries filmed in color to 73.1 percent.

There's too much of this in I Died a Thousand Times (1955)

However, financial metrics from MGM and Warner Bros. underscored tepid returns for this surge in color comedies and dramas, precipitating a phase of disadoption. Between 1954 and 1955, the premium associated with filming in color, as evidenced by the disparity between the average returns on color and black-and-white productions, plummeted from a noteworthy 22.4 percent to a staggering -77.9 percent. 

This downturn underscores the intricate interplay of economic incentives and artistic preferences that shaped Hollywood's journey towards embracing color cinematography during this pivotal era.

The term "film noir" is purportedly credited to French film critic Nino Frank in 1946, although antecedent references may exist in earlier French critiques of films such as La Bête Humaine (1938).

This suggests that the delineation of "film noir" is contingent upon the interpretation espoused by Frank and his contemporaneous French film critics in the late 1940s. While there exists consensus regarding narrative elements—manifesting as lost innocence, doomed romanticism, hard-edged cynicism, desperate desire, and shadowy sexuality—that constitute the essence of "film noir," discord arises concerning the significance of cinematic techniques such as dark and oppressive lighting, asymmetrical composition, deep focus, high contrast, extreme camera angles, and intense close-ups in defining the genre.

Scenic rural roadways of color film noir in I Died a Thousand Times (1955)

The pivotal inquiry arises regarding the efficacy of employing these cinematic techniques solely in black-and-white cinematography. If affirmative, then the original query — can a colour film be deemed "film noir"? — may be negated.

However, numerous color films adeptly encapsulate the thematic essence associated with "film noir." Consequently, the term "neo-noir" was coined to delineate such productions, wherein the foundational plot elements remain intact albeit with potentially heightened explicitness in depictions of sex and violence.

This nuanced distinction precipitates the quandary surrounding films made post-mid-1950s, which adhere to the narrative tropes of "film noir" but adopt contemporary settings and thematic motifs. Herein lies the debate: Are these films categorized as "film noir" or "neo-noir"? Personal nomenclature preferences may diverge, akin to my penchant for referring to the literary antecedents of classical "film noir" as "noir" fiction, despite the uncommon usage. 

This parallel can be observed in designating the 1943 novel by James M. Cain, the basis for the 1944 film Double Indemnity, as retroactively labelled "roman noir" by virtue of its cinematic adaptation.

In the United States, the emergence of film noir signifies a quest to redefine individualism through the medium of violence, serving as a cinematic language of defiance. The protagonists within this genre are devoid of historical context, geographical ties, familial bonds, or any substantial affectionate connections. However, they staunchly believe in their own agency and autonomy. 

Jack Palance in I Died a Thousand Times (1955)

Mark Bould aptly coins this central conflict within noir as "determinism without predictability," contrasting it with the more rigid naturalism prevalent in its French precursor. For instance, Fritz Lang articulates his cinematic vision as a relentless struggle against destiny and fate, wherein the significance lies in the act of fighting itself rather than its ultimate outcome. 

Oddly, the credits of I died A Thousand Times (1955) read "Written by W.R. Burnett," implying it's an original script, rather than the correct "Screenplay by W.R. Burnett, based on his novel High Sierra." Apparently Warner Bros. was trying to pretend it wasn't a remake.

While noir protagonists may falter in their endeavors for "regeneration through violence," their symbolic resistance against the dehumanizing effects of industrialized society, anonymity, and the technological onslaught resonated deeply with audiences sympathetic to the genre's quest for alternative models of individualism and redefined notions of "freedom" itself.

In the late 1930s Hollywood milieu, noir emerges as an introspective examination of a fractured national ethos. The prevailing mythos of American industrial capitalism was encapsulated in the Horatio Alger narrative, wherein perseverance and hard work ensured upward social mobility. Nathanael West, reflecting in 1940, remarked on the enduring appeal of the Alger narrative, equating it to the cultural significance of Homer's epics for the ancient Greeks. 

Despite the palpable disillusionment with the work ethic amidst the depths of the Great Depression, American audiences were reluctant to abandon this myth. Instead, the Alger narrative underwent a metamorphosis, with the ethnic gangster archetype epitomizing the rise from rags to riches, as seen in films like Scarface (1932) and Little Caesar (1931)

By replacing the virtuous businessman with a renegade criminal protagonist, the gangster film introduced a narrative of vengeance into the Algerian formula, providing a cathartic release for those disenfranchised individuals who felt cheated of their financial security, aspirations, and future prospects, all while preserving the illusion of upward mobility within society.

The proponents of the "dark cinema" movement - - le cinema noir - -  the endarkened screen --- film black -- black cinema -- hardly - - film noir  - - emphasized aesthetics, narrative complexity, and genre fusion while displaying minimal regard for historical context. 

They perceived this emergent cinematic trend as a fusion of three distinct genres prevalent in the 1930s: the gritty gangster film, the chilling horror film, and the intellectually stimulating deduction-based detective film. This amalgamation of disparate elements was attributed to the profound influence of wartime experiences on artistic expression.

Colour film noir is a place of no fear, no depth and rambling low key story telling that appears at face value with little ambiguity or craziness to pep it into doom.

Regarding its reception, these proponents posited that the American audience of the early 1940s harbored a weariness toward the prevalent comedic and melodramatic fare. Consequently, around the pivotal years of 1941 and 1942, a discernible shift occurred as ambiguity and ambivalence permeated the landscape of psychological dramas. This marked departure from conventional storytelling tropes underscored a societal yearning for narratives that reflected the complexities and uncertainties of the contemporary human condition.

Bosley Crowther of The New York Times did not like the remake, specifically the screenplay and its inadvertent message, and wrote 

"Somehow it isn't quite as touching as it was fourteen years ago. Not by a lot-—and the trouble is not wholly Mr. Palance...But the reason this film is not so touching is because it is antique and absurd—-the kind of glorification of the gunman that was obsolescent when High Sierra was made. It is an insult to social institutions and to public intelligence to pull this old mythological hero out of the archives and set him on a mountain top again. The pretense is so blunt and sentimental that it makes the whole thing a total cliché. And the acting does not greatly improve it...It is obvious that High Sierra has come to pretty low ground."

 Crowther, Bosley. The New York Times, "Total Cliche; I Died a Thousand Times' at Globe," film review, November 10, 1955. Accessed: January 29, 2008.

I Died a Thousand Times (`955) helmed by director Stuart Heisler and scripted by W.R. Burnett based on his own novel "High Sierra," boasts a stellar cast including Jack Palance, Shelley Winters, Lori Nelson, Lee Marvin, Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez, Lon Chaney Junior, and Earl Holliman. 

This CinemaScope/Warnercolor production, lensed by Ted McCord and featuring music by David Buttolph, offers audiences a visually sumptuous experience.

The decision to remake the acclaimed High Sierra (Raoul Walsh, 1941) may provoke debate as to its necessity or desirability among 1950s audiences, particularly given Walsh's own reimagining of the tale as the splendid Western Colorado Territory in 1949. However, when evaluated on its own merits, taking into account the lavish production values and Burnett's personal adaptation, I Died a Thousand Times emerges as a moderately enjoyable cinematic endeavour.

Lee Marvin in I Died a Thousand Times (1955)

The narrative unfolds with elegant simplicity, as it follows Roy "Mad Dog" Earle (Palance) on one final heist before endeavoring to turn over a new leaf. Yet, as Earle's aspirations for redemption unravel, so too does the heist, with his destiny ultimately inscribed in blood amidst the majestic mountain landscapes. 

Heisler and Burnett adeptly position Earle at the forefront, inviting audiences to scrutinize his character with a delicate balance of sympathy and apprehension, all while preserving his imposing physical presence. The pervasive aura of fatalism permeates the narrative, leading to a climactic finale staged with palpable excitement by Heisler.

The performances of the ensemble cast are commendable, even if they may not reach the heights of iconic portrayals by luminaries such as Bogart and Lupino. Moreover, the Warnercolor palette is resplendent, enhancing the film's visual allure, particularly amidst the picturesque backdrop of the Alabama Hills in Lone Pine.

While "I Died a Thousand Times" may not ascend to the same echelons as its esteemed predecessors "High Sierra" and "Colorado Territory," it nonetheless warrants attention and appreciation, particularly for viewers unfamiliar with the aforementioned classics. For those well-versed in the cinematic canon of Walsh's masterpieces, inevitable comparisons and echoes of déjà vu may arise, yet the film's merits are substantial enough to captivate audiences and justify their investment of time and attention, independent of any preconceived benchmarks.

This film serves as a literal replication of Bogart's seminal work, 'High Sierra,' right down to the very roads, towns, and geological formations where its predecessor was filmed. Remarkably, it adheres to a scene-for-scene recreation, evoking a profound sense of déjà vu for the viewer throughout its duration. The replication is so precise that it borders on the uncanny, offering a unique viewing experience steeped in nostalgia.

Nevertheless, there are notable highlights to appreciate. The widescreen production and vibrant color palette to Lone Pine and the Sierras, and adds a layer of visual splendor to the proceedings, elevating the overall aesthetic appeal. The performances, while subjective to individual taste, are commendable and arguably on par with the original. Lon Chaney Jr. delivers a standout portrayal, effortlessly commanding attention alongside the typically scene-stealing Jack Palance. Additionally, Lee Marvin delivers a quintessential brute thug performance, further enriching the ensemble.

Furthermore, the inclusion of talented young actors such as Nick Adams, Dennis Hopper, and Perry Lopez adds depth to the ensemble and enhances the overall viewing experience. In essence, while the film's fidelity to its source material may prove polarizing, its visual allure and strong performances make it a worthy cinematic endeavor, particularly for those captivated by the allure of its picturesque settings."

High Sierra is a post-depression era film, a look at some desperate years and for all its individuality and masculinity is an upward lesson in the new exisetnial crimes of the 1940s.

Ultimately, the semantic distinction between "film noir" and "neo-noir," particularly in post-mid-1950s productions, may hold nominal significance for enthusiasts like ourselves who derive pleasure from this cinematic milieu.

The burgeoning popularity in the early 1930s of the notion that poverty, immorality, and crime are sociological phenomena can be elucidated by considering the evolution of liberalism from progressivism. Sociology, as an academic discipline, was still in its nascent stages in the early twentieth century, gradually introduced by luminaries like Durkheim and Weber. 

By the 1930s, social science had attained a level of confidence in its ability to comprehend and manage social problems. Politically, this translated into a belief that such issues could be effectively addressed by governmental intervention. What had hitherto been perceived as immutable conditions, such as ghettos and poverty, were now viewed by liberals as challenges amenable to resolution.

This shift is encapsulated, paradoxically, by the critique levelled against Hoover — derisively dubbed "the Great Engineer" by neoconservative Paul Johnson — for his perceived liberalism, particularly his purported failure to control the economy and so the country . . .

I Died a Thousand Times (1955)

Directed by Stuart Heisler

Sub-Genres - Crime Drama  |   Release Date - Nov 9, 1955 (USA)  |   Run Time - 108 min. 

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