So what, exactly, is the public domain? In a nutshell, it's where all of those works, be they books, sound recordings, movies, television shows or whatever, which are no longer or perhaps never were copyrighted, now reside. It is a vast treasure chest filled with all of the creative gems and nuggets of our combined cultural heritage. Most importantly of all, though, it is a treasure chest which is owned by all of us. That means that all of the treasures that it holds are ours to republish, rework, take from or add to in order to make our own as we wish. One of those gems is the one I'd like to share with you today, a shining diamond with a heart of blackest coal, a film noir gem called Detour.
There are a lot of differing opinions on just exactly what constitutes a film noir. For some it's simply a phrase used to describe any crime or police drama from the early '40s to the late '50s. The police procedural He Walked By Night, which was the predecessor for the TV show Dragnet, is a fine example of this. For others, film noir is all about the lighting and the camera angles. We've all seen the prototypical noir shot of the character with his face shaded by the blinds on his window or the bars of his cell so that only his eyes shine out from the darkness. Some would argue that the presence of a femme fatale is vital — that woman who inevitably leads our protagonist farther down the road to ruin. A good example of this type of noir character is Barbara Stanwyck's character Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity who leads Fred MacMurray's Walter Neff down a path that leads inevitably to murder. For me, however, while a good noir may contain all of those elements, in the end it is all about what I call the "inevitable downward spiral."
There are basically two types of protagonists in a true noir. One is the good person who makes a bad choice that inevitably leads him down the path of ruin. The other is the person who starts out bad yet can't seem to resist making things worse for himself. In either case, once the events have been set in motion, it seems there is an invisible guiding hand of fate that steps in and makes sure that once our lead is on the path to destruction there is no escape.