How can these starkly contrasting performances all be “essentially” noir? Like jazz, film noir could be hot or cool, and often it managed to be both at once. The complex formula evolved over time. In the forties, the hard-boiled style valorized masculine reserve—Bogart’s dry, parrying skepticism; the haunted stoicism of Dana Andrews; the nonchalant underplaying of rough-hewn men like Mitchum and Sterling Hayden, who suspected acting was phony and effeminate. These defenses walled off psychological horrors that erupted in surreal nightmares or surging melodramas. In the later fifties, darkly romantic dreamscapes gave way to fractured portraits of a dehumanized, explosively violent world (Touch of Evil, Blast of Silence). Instead of a lacquered surface that hides corrosive anxiety or aching loss, there is a frenetic burlesque of action concealing a freeze-dried hollowness.

Dark Passages: Tough and Not-So-Tough Guys


Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) dir. Stanley Kubrick

“Okay, I’ll get your money for you. But if you don’t get the President on that phone you’ll have to answer to the Coca-Cola Company.”

Happy birthday to actor Sterling Hayden, born March 26, 1916 in Upper Montclair, NJ.  At age 16, Hayden dropped out of school and took a job as mate aboard a schooner. After several voyages, he took jobs on fishing boats, ran a charter yacht, and worked on a steamer, sailing the world multiple times.  Hayden was awarded his first command at age 22, sailing a square rigger from Massachusetts to Tahiti. By the late 1930s, Hayden was land-based, working as a model for magazine publications, which eventually led to Hollywood introductions, and in 1941 he was cast in his first film, Virginia.  Hayden fell in love with, and married, costar Madeleine Carroll.  After making a second film with Carroll, Bahama Passage (1941), he left Hollywood to join the Marines, where he became a decorated OSS agent, seeing action in Italy, the Balkans, and Croatia.  Hayden returned to Hollywood in 1947 and embarked on a prolific film career that spanned five decades and included over 50 films.  Westerns were his mainstay in the 1940s and 50s, but he also appeared in eight classic noirs during this period:  Manhandled (1949) with Dan Duryea, The Asphalt Jungle (1950) with Jean Hagen, Crime Wave (1953) with Gene Nelson, Suddenly (1954) with Frank Sinatra, Naked Alibi (1954) with Gloria Grahame, The Come On (1956) with Anne Baxter, The Killing (1956) with Coleen Gray, and Crime of Passion (1957) with Barbara Stanwyck. In later years, Hayden was known for his roles in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), Hard Contract (1969), The Godfather (1972), Winter Kills (1979), and 9 to 5 (1980).  Hayden continued to sail the seas throughout his life.  Most notably in 1958, after winning custody of his children in a bitter divorce from Betty Ann de Noon, he defied a court order and took his children on a sailing trip from San Francisco to Tahiti.  Near the end of his career, Hayden would say that acting was merely a way to pay for his many sea-going adventures.  He wrote about his life and passion for sailing in his 1962 autobiography, Wanderer.  Hayden died of prostate cancer in 1986 at age 70.