The Man Who Wasn't There (2001)
June 18, 2015 4:55 PM - Subscribe

A laconic, chain-smoking barber blackmails his wife's boss and lover for money to invest in dry cleaning, but his plan goes terribly wrong.
posted by griphus (9 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
"Neidermeyer" is so on spot for a midcentury Midwestern department store name.
posted by The Whelk at 8:16 PM on June 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Also, check out the traditional noir structure where everyone gets punished but for the wrong crime.
posted by The Whelk at 8:17 PM on June 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I've always thought this was one of the more underrated Coen Brothers offerings.

Well, maybe underrated is the wrong word. It's certainly rated well enough by critics and people who saw it. But it didn't get the audience and general recognition it deserved.
posted by Naberius at 6:29 AM on June 19, 2015

They apparently compromised on the black and white photography (which is beautiful) by shooting it in color and then converting it to B&W -- outside the U.S. It was released in color.

It's a nice genre pastiche, and it evokes the surreal gloom of the post war period but I almost feel like It doesn't learn hard enough in any one direction to outright crime noir or absurd bleakness?

Of course moody and tense moral limbo does also invoke the genre LITERATURE of the time so maybe that's totally on purpose.
posted by The Whelk at 6:38 AM on June 19, 2015

So there's apparently a bunch of referential stuff in the names:
The Coens had mined hardboiled writer James M. Cain for material on their first film, Blood Simple, but this time out they turned the Cain dial up to 11. The Man Who Wasn’t There liberally borrows themes and plot devices from Mildred Pierce (the wife’s embezzlement, the girl’s musical career) and The Postman Always Rings Twice (the car crash, the pregnancy, the protagonist who gets away with the murder he committed and is convicted of one he didn’t). But it’s Double Indemnity that gets name-checked most explicitly: The surname of the cheating wife and her unlucky husband in Cain’s novel was Nirdlinger, the name of the department store in the Coens’ film; in Billy Wilder’s 1944 screen adaptation of the book, that surname was changed to Dietrichson, supplying the name of the medical examiner in The Man Who Wasn’t There. And if Cain is not enough, it’s no coincidence that the Coens’ movie was set (and partially filmed) in Santa Rosa, California, which was also the setting for Hitchcock’s study of small-town malevolence Shadow of A Doubt.
Ed Crane is also apparently named after Marion Crane from Psycho (src)
posted by griphus at 7:02 AM on June 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

Also the real reason I posted this is can someone explain the "I'm going to take this hair and mingle it with common house dirt" line? I've seen this movie no less than a half-dozen times and that scene still puzzles the hell out of me, along with maybe a few others, but mostly that one.

Also, during the scene where Ann shows up at Ed's apartment in the middle of the night, they have the entire conversation without blinking except all the way at the end where Ed blinks and invites her in.
posted by griphus at 7:04 AM on June 19, 2015

I've always interpreted that line as Ed fulminating over the fact that there is something that comes from us, but we dispose of it like it is meaningless garbage.

I find it helps to imagine the whole film is actually a story about his experiences that Ed has written for men's magazines of the era, and he has incorporated a lot of elements from the magazines. It's a sort of collage, like a single story were jumping from a men's adventure magazine to a crime magazine to a modern science magazine to a science fiction magazine.

This film benefits enormously from what I think is, bar non, Frances McDormand's best film performance, and considering how great an actress she is, that's saying a lot.
posted by maxsparber at 8:41 AM on June 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

I like that they went nowhere obvious with Frances McDormand's character while still hitting quite a few noir tropes for both unfaithful wives and femmes fatale.

Another question: Tolliver says his wig was crafted by a Jacques of San Francisco. The piano teacher is also a Jacques of San Francisco. I've not been able to figure out why they did that as there's no implication they're the same guy.
posted by griphus at 9:02 AM on June 19, 2015

Oh hey, this movie is finally getting a US blu ray release in September. It's about time!
posted by jason_steakums at 6:25 PM on June 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

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