The Drive-in That Ate the San Fernando Valley

Crime of Passion movie poster
Recently we watched (for the third or fourth time) Barbara Stanwyck‘s final picture that might be considered film noir: Crime of Passion (1957).

In it, she plays a columnist for a San Francisco newspaper who rather impulsively gives up her career to marry a Los Angeles police detective (Sterling Hayden). She moves into his home, which is situated, as a passage of dialogue reveals, in the San Fernando Valley.

In two or three brief scenes set outside the newlyweds’ home, we see in the background the hulking screen of a drive-in theatre towering over the neighborhood. So prominent is this screen tower that it seems almost ominous.

Each time we’ve watch this picture, we’ve been struck by this choice on the part of the filmmakers because not a word is said about the screen. No one refers to it in any way. But it’s such an imposing element in those exterior shots that we can’t help but wonder why director Gerd Oswald didn’t shoot from the other direction, so that the screen tower didn’t appear.

Mind you, we’re glad he didn’t—as a drive-in aficionado, we enjoy seeing the screen in the background when we watch the movie—but it’s undeniably a distraction.

It does speak, we think, to how relatively ubiquitous drive-in theatres once were that Oswald didn’t balk at including that huge screen in the scenes in which it appears. Who knows, it may be that someone viewing the film in 1957 wouldn’t have even given it a second thought.

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