26 Photos - Sep 23, 2014
Photo: Photo: Photo: Shot 1 of 18. 

Duration: 5 seconds.

The first of four exterior establishing shots.

This one smacks of a painting rather than a location shot.

The SUPER spells out the setting. 

But the bridge pictured is so iconic the super is hardly necessary.

The entire opening embodies the redundancy of Hollywood cinema: working hard to get its literal meaning across, even to the guy asleep in the back row.Photo: Shot 2 of 18.

Duration: 2 seconds.

The second of four exterior establishing shots.

A sign in the shot helps underscore the location.

San Francisco's two bridges make visual and verbal appearances--each more than once--lest anyone be left in doubt about the location.Photo: Shot 3 of 18. 

Duration: 3 seconds.

The third of four establishing shots.

The Bay Bridge again, this time shorn of its super, in case a viewer earlier was too busy reading "SAN FRANCISCO" to notice the iconic piece of engineering.Photo: Shot 4 of 18. 

Duration: 2 seconds.

The fourth and nearly-last establishing shot.

Dissolves connect them all, indicating weak temporal relations. Together the montage spells out a place but not a duration.

Alcatraz is apparently a distant third in signifying "San Francisco"--behind the two bridges.

This will dissolve to the interior of Sam Spade's office.Photo: Photo: Shot 5 of 18.

Duration: 12 seconds.

The first interior shot.

The Bay Bridge is visible through Spade and Arher's window.

The window is labeled--like the city.

For detective fiction readers, "San Francisco" is synonymous with "Sam Spade"--and vice-versa.

The film signifies "San Francisco" to signify "Sam Spade," and this shot collapses the heavy underlining of the real place (sometimes signified with very artificial images, as was the practice during the period), with the fictional universe of the famous detective.Photo: Shot 5 of 18.

Duration: 12 seconds.

The camera cranes down from Spade's name to Spade himself.

The longest shot so far--by more than double.

It takes time to introduce the protagonist--but not much.

The storytelling gets to the point.Photo: Shot 5 of 18.

Duration: 12 seconds.

Throughout the scene, the cigarette will track the passage of time for us, while also unifying the scene and characterizing Spade.

The first interior camera set-up.Photo: Shot 5 of 18.

Duration: 12 seconds.

A MCU: from the chest up. Almost a medium shot (from the waist up), but the desk complicates naming the shots in this way.

Spade rolls a cigarette by hand. This was a convention in Hollywood silent westerns. It signifies the Old West. And so the denotation of "San Francisco" slides into the connotation of the Old West, the rip roarin' barbary coast, etc.Photo: Shot 6 of 18.

Duration: 3 seconds.

A MLS of Spade's secretary.

It's also an over-the-shoulder shot of Spade.

Yet there is no eyeline match.

Spade hears Effie enter, addresses her, but never looks up. Effie is a part of his ordinary world. She bears no special attention. Effie is here not just to introduce Miss Wonderly, but to contrast with her.

Even Effie's attire is common where Miss Wonderly's is elaborate, pseudo-elegant.

Wonderly will bear the brunt of Spade's gaze--and the cameras, where Effie does no such thing.

This is the second interior camera set-up. It will be re-used.Photo: Shot 8 of 18.

Duration: 3 seconds.

MCU. The same camera set-up as before. 

The shot follows the eyeline of the previous shot.

Efficiency and fluidity will mark the construction of the scene. Camera set-up's are repeated, but fluid camera movements reframe when needed. A stately style, but not stiff or clunky.

The same camera set-up as the first.Photo: Shot 7 of 18.

Duration: 4 seconds.

A classic MCU: chest up.

Effie is attractive. Her singing Miss Wonderly's visual praises arouses curiosity.

Since Sam does not even glance at Effie, one can rightly say that the story only begins when the man finds a woman to behold: and since this is a crime film, she will be a mystery he must unravel.

A third camera set-up is only seen once.Photo: Shot 9 of 18.

Duration: 11 seconds.

MLS. The same camera set-up as before.

Over-the-shoulder. The substitution of one woman for the other is nicely captured in this frame in which Effie tents Spade's unseen face for his reaction to Miss Wonderly, the "knock-out."

We get a good look at Miss Wonderly as she walks towards Spade and the camera in this long-ish shot.

Her hat, fur, and purse tell us she is A Lady.

But in this genre, we may know already to be skeptical of appearances.

The same camera set-up as Shot #6.Photo: Shot 10 of 18.

Duration: 10 seconds.

MLS. A two-shot.

The camera pans and cranes to reframe the two as they sit.

This camera set-up is only used once in the first two minutes.Photo: Photo: Shot 14 of 18.

Duration: 5 seconds.

MCU. Over-the-shoulder two-shot.

Same camera set-up as Shot #12.Photo: Shot 15 of 18.

Duration: 8 seconds.

MCU. One-shot.

The same camera set-up as Shot #13.Photo: Shot 11 of 18.

Duration: 23 seconds.

MCU. An over-the-shoulder shot. Also a two-shot.

Shot-reverse shot begins in earnest. 

The first two-shot emphasizes Spade's viewpoint.

Miss Wonderly begins to spin her yarn.

These shots of her are among the longest in the two-minute fragment: 23 seconds where the average of all shot lengths is 7.5 seconds.

Mary Astor was a renowned stage actress: from the perspective of Hollywood, a woman of class and distinction. She had also been embroiled in a sexual scandal which many in the audience would remember. (Her letters describing making love to a married playwright became evidence in the playwright's divorce trial.)

Director John Huston leverages Astor's ability to keep the audience's attention. The character's monologue is intricate. Astor plays it with a flighty nervousness: a society damsel in distress.Photo: Shot 12 of 18.

Duration: 3 seconds.

MCU. Another over-the-shoulder two-shot.

This is the reverse shot: the camera will alternate between emphasizing the interviewer and the interviewee, moving from two-shots to one-shots.

Spade's interjections are few.

Although he is the main character, Spade is visually marginal in the scene--yet his presence controls the other shots. He is the anchor for the shot-reverse shot segments.Photo: Photo: Shot 17 of 18.

Duration: 21 seconds.

MCU. One-shot.

An eyeline match from the earlier shot.

Same camera set-up as Shots 13 and 15.

The second-longest shot in the fragment.Photo: Shot 16 of 18.

Duration: 2 seconds.

MCU. One-shot.

An eyeline match from the prior shot.

A new camera set-up. Spade's first solo shot.

He is the main character, but his role in this scene is more to see than to be seen.Photo: Shot 13 of 18.

Duration: 16 seconds.

MCU. A one-shot.

A new camera set-up.

The third-longest shot in this segment again goes to Astor/Wonderly. The total of the three shots is a minute--almost half this two-minute thirteen-second fragment.

As the scene unfolds, the two-shots give way to one-shots. The spatial logic of going from far to close corresponds with a social and narrative logic of getting closer to people as we know them better, and vice-versa.Photo: Shot 18 of 18.

Duration: 2 seconds.

MLS. Classic Hollywood framing. From the thighs up--mythically so the camera could catch the cowboy's guns.

A rupture.

A sound has drawn Miss Wonderly's attention. She's looked away from Spade (screen left not right), and her glance draws us to Spade's partner Archer entering.