Steel Train Angels – An Analysis

A short play on the theme: "Persistence of Vision"

by K. Brian Neel

© 2007, K. Brian Neel, all rights reserved

 

 

14/48 — July 21, 2007

PLAY # 1

 

CHARACTERS: 

George Narrow – Private Eye

Boris Black – Normal Joe

Laura Harper – Sweet Gal

Pearl Zee – Femme Fatal 

Professor Stellner 

 

 

Open on the climactic scene from the old film-noir classic Steel Train Angels. Mr. Narrow, private dick, has Boris and Pearl cornered. Innocent Laura is caught in the middle—helpless. They’re dressed in overcoats and talk a mile a minute. 

 

NARROW: Don’t you sometimes hate yourself, Mr. Black?

BORIS: Constantly. And call me Boris. 

NARROW: I like Mr. Black. Cause over there’s the pot and the kettle.  

PEARL: Don’t listen to him Boris, he ain’t got nothing on us. 

NARROW: Now it’s ‘us’ huh?

PEARL: I mean… 

LAURA: Detective Narrow…

NARROW: Mr. Narrow. I ain’t a detective no more, sweetie. 

PEARL: And she ain’t sweetie, Narrow. 

NARROW: Looks like names are all mixed up these days. 

LAURA: Let him go. He didn’t do nothin’. 

NARROW: Cut the perfumed jabber. You’re coming with me, Boris. You got a fitting for a striped shirt. 

BORIS: I didn’t mean to do it, Mr. Narrow. 

 

PEARL: Shut up, Boris. 

 

BORIS: We were on the train, and Pearl’s husband found out about me and her, and he went nuts. Said that if he couldn’t have her, no one would. He was gonna kill her. I acted in self defense.  

 

NARROW: It’s not self-defense if he was gonna kill her, you poor sap. 

 

LAURA: (pulling a pistol) That’s enough! 

 

PEARL: Laura!

 

NARROW: Well, well. 

 

LAURA: You were looking at the wrong girl, Narrow. Guess you’re not as smart as you thought. 

 

NARROW: Just a little shorter, I guess. 

 

LAURA: Boris killed my father, choked him in the train car. Then threw him out. 

 

NARROW: Yea, that’s about as far as I got. But now there’s a sweet angel pointing cold steel at my gut. 

 

LAURA: Pearl here would never fall in love a washed-up door-to-door shoe hawker like Boris. She’s too savvy for that. 

 

NARROW: (realizing) So Boris here was gonna take the fall. And you gals were gonna take an all-insurance paid trip to a sandy beach. 

 

PEARL: Laura, why're ya spillin' the chickpeas? Narrow was fallin' for it. 

 

LAURA: He knew, Pearl. No, not the private dick. He’s been on our fish hook ever since we planted the spatz on the Great Northern. Boris. Boris knew. He knew you didn’t love him. He knew we were gonna kill him tonight. He needed out, and his only choice was to get taken in. Sell one last gum shoe. Ain’t that right, Boris? 

 

BORIS: You gotta save me, Narrow. They’re a couple of fruits. 

 

NARROW: Yea, and they’re rotten. 

 

In the audience, Professor Stellner rises from her seat and talks over the film. 

 

PROF. STELLNER: (together) Alright. Alright. That’s enough. 

 

PEARL: (together) You dug deep, Narrow. You should have dug deeper. As deep as we’re gonna be digging. Let’s go. Outside, boys. 

 

PROF. STELLNER: (together) Okay, let's stop it now. 

 

The film stops = flicker to still frame. 

 

PROF. STELLNER: Thank you (Name of Light Board Operator). You can rewind it now. 

 

The film rewinds in fast motion. Professor Stellner takes the stage. She addresses the audience, reading from note cards at times. 

 

PROF. STELLNER: So. That was the climactic scene from the 1942 film “Steel Train Angels.” Perhaps not one of the classic examples of the noir genre, like Double Indemnity, or The Third Man, or Sunset Blvd. Great films. But I wanted to select something a little less prominent for my analysis here today. My book, which is on sale in the lobby by the way, and I’d be glad to sign any newly purchased copies, cites examples from many great films of the forties and even into the fifties. (Grandly changing the subject, beginning her diatribe.) Film. What is film? Film is the source of movies. And by that I mean motion pictures, or more specifically, the motion of pictures which is called frame rate. Frame rate is the measurement of the frequency at which an imaging device produces unique consecutive images called frames. The frame rate is related to but not identical to a physiological concept called the flicker fusion threshold. Light that is pulsating below this rate is perceived by humans as flickering; light that is pulsating above this rate is perceived by humans as being continuous. So, the shutter in projection devices, such as what we have up there in the booth, and let's give thanks to our projectionist (Name of Light Board Operator)... The shutter interrupts the light two or three times for every frame. In this fashion, the common frame rate of 24 frames per second produces 48 pulses of light per second. (Name of Light Board Operator), let's go to the top of the scene and hold it there. 

 

Lights rise on the first frame of the scene. 

 

Old technology, it's marvelous, so rich and vibrant. So, here we see one still frame. And here's what you've all come here for: (very important) I've discovered within the frames, subliminal images, or sub-flickers, hidden between or, more accurately, behind the apparent images in American films of the forties and fifties. Play it. 

 

The scene comes to life. 

 

NARROW: Don’t you sometimes hate yourself, Mr. Black?

 

BORIS: Constantly. And call me Boris. 

 

NARROW: I like Mr. Black. Cause over there’s the pot and the kettle.  

 

PEARL: Don’t listen to him Boris, he ain’t got nothing on us. 

 

NARROW: Now it’s ‘us’ huh? 

 

PEARL: I mean… 

 

LAURA: Detective Narrow…

 

NARROW: Mr. Narrow. I ain’t a detective no more, sweetie. 

 

PEARL: And she ain’t sweetie, Narrow. 

 

NARROW: Looks like names are all mixed up these days. 

 

PROF. STELLNER: Freeze there. Okay, now we're going to play the next frames at exactly 8.1278 frames per second, and filtered through a special device I've designed. Go.

 

The "image" transforms in slow-motion. Overcoats are parted to reveal provocative bodies in a sexual writhing bacchanal of pleasure. Naughty words can be discerned through moaning. 

 

PROF. STELLNER: And stop. The first time I viewed this footage, I catalogued my feelings and thoughts: (She reads.) Stomach curled and aching as if about to vomit. Tingling sensations throughout the extremities. Fogged vision, as if Vaseline were smudged on the periphery. Hot and wet vaginal area. (Stops reading.) I've had those feelings at other times, but this was recorded for science. Resume the film normally, please. 

 

It does so. 

 

LAURA: Let him go. He didn’t do nothin’. 

 

NARROW: Cut the perfumed jabber. You’re coming with me, Norris. You got a fitting for a striped shirt. 

 

BORIS: I didn’t mean to do it, Mr. Narrow. 

 

PEARL: Shut up, Boris. 

 

BORIS: We were on the train, and Pearl’s husband found out about me and her, and he went nuts. Said that if he couldn’t have her, no one would. He was gonna kill her. I acted in self defense.  

 

NARROW: It’s not self-defense if he was gonna kill her, you poor sap. 

 

LAURA: (pulling a pistol) That’s enough! 

 

PROF. STELLNER: Slow it down. 

 

The "image" transforms again, this time with violent, torturing content -- clamps on nipples, forced open eyes and mouths, hateful growling sounds, etc. Stellner speaks over.

 

PROF. STELLNER: So, here we can discern terror, violence, hate, suffering. It's... hard to even look at. (to projectionist) Take it back to normal. 

 

The scene resumes. Stellner talks over the scene.

 

NARROW: Well, well. 

 

LAURA: You were looking at the wrong girl, Narrow. Guess your not as smart as you thought. 

 

NARROW: Just a little taller, I guess. 

 

LAURA: Boris killed my father, choked him in the train car. Then threw him out. 

 

NARROW: Yea, that’s about as far as I got. But now there’s a sweet angel pointing cold steel at my gut. 

 

LAURA: Pearl here would never fall in love a washed-up door-to-door shoe hawker like Boris. She’s too savvy for that. 

 

NARROW: (realizing) So Boris here was gonna take the fall. And you gals were gonna take an all-insurance paid trip to a sandy beach. 

 

PEARL: Laura, why're ya spillin' the chickpeas? Narrow was fallin' for it. 

 

LAURA: He knew, Pearl. No, not the private dick. He’s been on our fish hook ever since we planted the spatz on the Great Northern. Boris. Boris knew. He knew you didn’t love him. He knew we were gonna kill him tonight. He needed out, and his only choice was to get taken in. Sell one last gum shoe. Ain’t that right, Boris? 

 

BORIS: You gotta save me, Narrow. They’re a couple of fruits. 

 

NARROW: Yea, and they’re rotten. 

 

PROF. STELLNER: Yes, sir, I see your hand. I already know your question. I'm not here to discuss the highly debated issues surrounding subliminal imagery. I'm simply uncovering a truth. I'm a Detective of sorts, just like in the film. I've uncovered an insidious plot which has undermined our world of entertainment. (ramping up to a tirade) And if you look at the movies coming out of our system right now, we can agree the schlock is rampant with violence and sex and, 

 

(The important moment is here.) Okay... Let's slow it down and run the machine here and just see what's next… 

 

The "image" transforms into a writhing sex and torture scene with religious symbology such as crucifixes, pentagrams, the star of David, and likenesses of Tom Cruise and John Travolta. 

 

PROF. STELLNER: Religion. This is the crux. Combine all the debauchery and hatred and pain with religion and what do you have? Corrupt cinema influencing not only our movie going experience, but also our minds. I mean if I want sex and profanity and debauchery I can go to (Insert infamous local theater company) and see a play and feel good about it. But add religion that I can’t perceive and evaluate and control—that’s a spiritual violation at the base of my existence, pounding at my brain, causing guilt and fear, and with all that I just want to rent some blockbuster shit. But unknown to me, something else is going on here...

 

The film resumes normally. Stellner turns and watches with the audience.

 

PEARL: You dug deep, Narrow. You should have dug deeper. As deep as we’re gonna be digging. Let’s go. Outside, boys. 

 

LAURA: Do you hear something? 

 

PEARL: It's the cops!

 

LAURA: He set us up! 

 

NARROW: They don’t allow shovels where you’re going, girls. 

 

LAURA: Why you… 

 

Laura erects the gun at Narrow. Narrow pulls Pearl in front of him as a shield. Boris, still in love with Pearl, jumps in front to shield her. The gun goes off. All three--Boris, Pearl, and Narrow—fall dead. Laura gasps. Blackout. 




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