"NON-THEATRICAL WITH DREAMS OF THEATRICAL": Paradoxes of a Canadian Semi-Documentary Film Noir

Article excerpt

Resume: Le contexte de production et la complexite formelle du semi-documentaire de IONF File 1365 : The Connors case (1947) refletent l'angoisse de la guerre froide et, en particulier, l'inquiecutetude des employes de IONF qui etaient constamment sous surveillance policiere a l'epoque. Ce film presente un amalgame typiquement canadien de campagne de recrutement pour la GRC, de documentaire sur les procedures policieres et de film a suspense. En faisant reference au film noir semi-documentaire hollywoodien, l'auteure suggere que File 7365 est un documentaire noir. Bien que ses exces esthetiques et son contexte politique aient relegue ce film aux oubliettes, son hybridite formelle exprime plusieurs des questions sociales et politiques les plus importantes de cette epoque laissee-pourcompte de l'histoire canadienne.

Perhaps as a balm to the bruises already inflicted on its august body by Hollywood and the musical comedy stage, the RCMP has got together with the National Film Board and has seen to it that a workmanlike and informative film has been made about its work. There's no glamour and no hi-de-ho in the short film called 'File 1365,' but there's more common sense and down-to-earthiness in it than in most treatises on the scarlet-coated gendarmes.1

There was a pervading sense of fear which permeated the film board nght after the war. The fear was worse than the actions taken because a great number of people expected the RCMP to tag them any minute. We were worried when we went down to protest things like the atom bomb. When the RCMP was campaigning to dig all the Communists out of the film board, I kept waiting for somebody to tap me on the shoulder. But nobody ever did.2

Here are some images from a forgotten film: A woman walks down a staircase in the dead of night, a single source of illumination casting ominous shadows (Figure 1). She creeps to the phone and calls the police to report her husband missing. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) begins an investigation, indicated by a montage of close-ups of people being interviewed. The body of the woman's husband, Walter Connors, is found in a haystack. Mrs. Connors sobs as she listens to the bulletin on the radio. The hunt for the murderer begins. An RCMP officer consults the national "master files" compiled on people the narrator describes as "the chislers, the swindlers and thieves and killers who try to get what they want the easy way. " Using the latest scientific methods for pinpointing criminal profiles, the RCMP match clues about Connors's murder with the file of known criminal William Fenn. The police follow Fenn from Winnipeg to Montréal and finally to Halifax, where there is a dramatic exchange of gunfire before the fugitive is captured and brought to trial. As the camera dollies out of the courtroom the invisible narrator, an RCMP officer voiced by John Drainie, concludes,

There are plenty of William Fenns waiting for a chance to take advantage of good faith and repay human kindness with brutality. Nobody could trust a stranger. No traveller would be safe. An honest citizen would scarcely dare walk down his own street without carrying a pistol if the community did not have its policemen to stand on the corners and search through the dark alleys, to patrol the highway and the sea coasts and even the open wilderness.

The thirty-six-minute Don Mulholland film, File 1365: The Connors case (1947), described above is a unique amalgam of recruitment film, documentary, film noir and police procedural. Presented as an informational film about the usefulness of a national police force, it can be read as an expression of the anxieties of the Canadian postwar security state. From the disembodied voices heard over the telephone and on the voice-over track to the focus on the murder committed in Connors's automobile to the dumping of the body in a huge haystack to the final shoot-out on the abandoned docks, File 1365 speaks to a sense of urban, industrial alienation discussed in postwar sociology and expressed in film noir. …