Coen brothers’ movies have featured a lot here and today’s movie is another impressive film from their extensive canon. The Man Who Wasn’t There is an intriguing film noir set in 1949 and tells the story of Ed Crane, a withdrawn barber who leads an ordinary life in a small California town with his wife, who he suspects is having an affair with his boss. I just like how this film is stylised with its moody texture in black and white. The movie just lets things happen naturally. The Cohen brothers have a reputation for the old quirks and here is no different mixing the steady noir narration with talk of haircuts and bingo makes for a strange if humorous mix. Thornton as the meekish protagonist is a great selection as he features well in the black and white shadows and his voice suits the noir narration. His face becomes a landscape of shifting shadows, while he doesn’t move a muscle. He is able to give the impression of a man at war with himself even while sitting perfectly still and staring ahead.
1949, Santa Rosa, California. A laconic, chain-smoking barber with fallen arches tells a story of a man trying to escape a humdrum life. It’s a tale of suspected adultery, blackmail, foul play, death, Sacramento city slickers, racial slurs, invented war heroics, shaved legs, a gamine piano player, aliens, and Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. Ed Crane cuts hair in his in-law’s shop; his wife drinks and may be having an affair with her boss, Big Dave, who has $10,000 to invest in a second department store. Ed gets wind of a chance to make money in dry cleaning. Blackmail and investment are his opportunity to be more than a man no one notices. Settle in the chair and listen.
The Coens began developing the idea from a 1940s haircut poster they saw while filming The Hudsucker Proxy. The plot was heavily influenced by James M. Cain’s crime novels, primarily Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice, and Mildred Pierce. The film premiered and participated in the official selection at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival, where Joel Coen won the award for best director. Upon its theatrical release, it was lukewarm at the box office. However, it was well-received by film critics.
A significant portion of the filming took place over a day in the city of Orange, which was used to represent the exteriors of the town of Santa Rosa, where the majority of the film is set. Although only one day was shot in Orange, the team worked for more than two weeks setting the streets according to the year 1949: traffic signs were replaced, facades were modified and minor street repairs were made. The exterior scenes of Ed Crane’s house were filmed in the Pasadena neighborhood of Bungalow Heaven, a popular and affordable location in the mid-twentieth century.
Presented below is the trailer to the film which effectively captures the style and feel of the movie. I really like the music in this too:
‘Sometimes the more you look, the less you really know‘
1. The Man Who Wasn’t There – wikipedia