Short stories about my scarfs, written by writers who love what I do.
In her dream she is smiling, ever so slightly, like an American girl of the 1950s.
White and black with many, infinite, shades of grey. Eyes light in colour, large, nice.
In a long shot, she crosses the street, lost in thought. She’s wearing a sober trouser suit and a red scarf with indistinct black spots. She makes her way with agile step.
It’s cold in New York, snow is falling in flakes, on which the movie camera focuses. She’s simple, placid, indifferent to the world in my movie-like dream. The music is the counterpoint, tranquil, catchy, sweet, but it’s the music that imposes the psychological score of the film.
Here comes a violent, brutal contrast and, in a long shot, an apparently unjustifiable detail appears to define the drama about to take place — the page of a book blowing in the wind and the face of an old man running around a corner.
She’s standing in front of a shop window, looking for another scarf and, in a reverse angle shot, from inside the shop, an insolent salesman with a moustache invites her in.
He has bat ears, like Clark Gable, a shambling gait like James Stewart and an enigmatic gaze like Humphrey Bogart. She… she’s only an extra, one of the many walk-on actresses destined to save the cinema in her scrapbook. She has to make way for the fatal heroine, the sex symbol, a woman built in the image and likeness of the public’s fantasies.
What I’m describing is a secondary scene of the film.
The director hasn’t even decided whether to keep it, reduce it, or cut it completely. The impression of the producer, smoking one cigar after another and wrapped in an overcoat with a fur collar, is that the anonymous extra is interfering with the cadence of the tragedy the film is about to reveal. “Come on,” the producer said to the director, “Come on, don’t waste any more time. Here’s where we put in Lauren Bacall, or Marilyn if you like…”
The director had thought of that and was almost sorry to cut those few frames. He was sorry because… he didn’t know the because! But the film had already premièred and was a hit both with the public and the critics, and now he’s looking at a copy of it.
This is just when the old man turns the corner while the page of a book makes its way through the snowflakes. And this is when the police inspector makes his appearance, after two shots fired in quick succession. One whips the scarf away, revealing the identity of the black spots, a la Alfred Hitchcock.
The other strikes the back of the pretty extra’s head, which ‘disappears’ while the murderer leaves as a trace the airborne page of a book. It’s a sophisticated crime story in which the hero, the astute detective with his deductive reasoning, is a kind of Orson Welles, acutely intelligent, a disquieting gaze, one of those you would imagine against livid sunrises, the mist confused with the smoke from cafés on the outskirts of town, while a recklessly driven car crosses the street and he doesn’t move a muscle, except for knotting his tie or wrapping himself in the Hitchcock scarf, quite professional, moving straight forward. He has an idea about how to catch the murderer who has already killed three prostitutes, all blonds, all at least six feet tall, all the same age, twenty-two, and zodiac sign, Scorpio.
The plan is to use the Lauren Bacall of the moment as bait, a woman with a turbulent past, a big heart and exciting perfect legs, made just for sublime garters of an intense violet or Hitchcock red. Orson had met her in a night club when with a well-aimed punch, he’d dissuaded a dude who wanted to get her into bed. She’s a prostitute too, but what of it – she chooses her customers.
The mysterious murderer had killed a friend of hers in a closeup of a dark scene, one that suddenly becomes purple, blood red. Lauren wants revenge and is more than willing to do the job once she overcomes her initial mistrust of the policeman, a kind of dislike that will turn into love. They will catch the maniac, but at the risk of her life and everything comes out right at the last minute. I don’t recall who the maniac was, maybe the old man who had turned the corner, who looked a little like Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘Man of the Crowd’, the man moving frenetically amongst the people and stoking the flames of his malice with the vital energy of those around him.
In all this, what do the pages of the book and the lanky twenty-two-year-old prostitutes have to do with the story of the policeman and the prostitute? The director no longer remembers it since, at the time of the two pistol shots in rapid succession that would eliminate the pretty extra and the police-like scarf, an extraordinary thing takes place in the final, exciting action-packed scene. The film goes on by itself, the pretty extra takes over and becomes the heroine. Clark Gable, with his ‘come-hither’ glance from the other side of the shop window comes out and proposes to her.
Love at first sight, she with a complex character, who plays dumb like Marilyn, but who is also as determined as Lauren. She exchanges glances with an old man who’s reading a book and who in the original is the murderer. In this version, he’s an extra who has the habit of suddenly opening his raincoat and is arrested by the detective of the vice squad, alias Orson Welles.
The femme fatale this time is also an extra whose role is to act in a scene of soulless hysteria. Meanwhile, the extra-now-heroine prepares for the wedding, as in a film with Spencer Tracy, where the problems are those of Liz Taylor, passion and neurosis.
She puckers her lips and cheeks into a nice smile, in black and white. For the first time, the director sees his film and has the sensation of having put together a mediocre product, with neither ignominy nor glory, with many scenes of poor taste.
But it is a film of his memories which coincide with the clean face of an American girl of the 1950s, a girl with infinite shades of grey. And a bizarre red and black scarf with the disquieting smirk of the maestro of the thriller.
Attilio Gatto can also be found HERE.