Having viewed the moving image sequence in ‘The Untouchables’, I will now analyse the extract and look at how suspense is created. I intend to do this by examining key factors such as camera angles and sound effects.
By watching the short extract, it is evident that the film is of the gangster movie genre, and is set in the 1930s. In this extract we are shown Elliot Ness who is a cop, arriving with his partner, Stone at a large station. It becomes apparent that they are there to collect a man known as ‘The Book-keeper.’ However, they are not successful in doing this, as there is a shoot out at the end of the scene and ‘The Book-keeper’ is escorted away by someone who we can assume is a gangster.
By examination of scene 1, the viewers discover that there are two men, Elliot Ness and Stone in a car. We can tell that the two men are law enforcers, and that Ness is Stone’s superior as Stone refers to him as ‘sir’.
The opening shot of the sequence is a close up shot of first a bonnet of a car, and then a close up shot of a wheel spinning. This was used in the period when this film was made to convey to the audience that people were travelling in a car a long distance. The next shot is a medium close up shot of Stone, which then pans over to Ness in the driver’s seat. This is effective in making sure that the viewers focus on Ness and Stone, and are not distracted by the background or the scenery. This also puts across to the viewer that whatever the men are talking about is serious, and needs all their attention.
Little colour is used. The scene is not bright at all, but dull. The shots mainly consist of dark blues and blacks. The colours indicate that the filming is taking place late at night. The colours are used to make the scene seem as though everything is tense and serious.
At this point there is no non-diegetic sound, such as the car radio, which is not on. The only diegetic sound comes from Ness and Stone’s voices. Stone says to Ness, ‘we need to be at the station at 12’, and Ness replies, ‘we’ll be there’. This is the only dialogue in this scene, which is spoken, in short sharp sentences. Ness and Stone do not engage in any unnecessary conversation, but exchange only a limited number of words, which are straight to the point. This shows us, that they are very focused on what they are about to do, and it also builds up curiosity for the viewers who wonder why Ness and Stone need to be at the ‘station at 12’.
Ness and Stone’s body language tells us a lot about how they are feeling. They are both sitting very rigidly in their seats, with Ness hunched over the steering wheel. They are both looking straight ahead, and when they speak they do not even look at each other. Ness is clutching the steering wheel with what looks like a dead grip. As the viewer watches this, they can almost envisage the whiteness of his knuckles, and it makes the viewers wonder why he is so on edge. They both have no expression on their faces, as they stare straight ahead.
At the end of the first scene the film is edited. The motion quickly moves from the scene in the car to the next scene.
The next scene is of Ness and Stone walking to the station entrance. The shot is a close mid-ranged shot, which unlike the close up shot in the first scene includes some background. This shot is used so that the audience can see that the law enforcers have arrived at their destination, Grand Central Station.
In the following scene, the law enforcers enter the station. The shot used is a mid-ranged long shot. As a result of the chosen shot, this becomes the first occasion on which we are able to see Ness and Stone’s clothing in full. They are both wearing suits of different colours. Ness’s suit is blue, and Stone’s is beige. Along with this they both have matching hats, which conveniently disguise their faces. This brings warmer colours into the shot, which may tell us that the storyline is now underway.
Ness and Stone enter the station simultaneously from separate doors beside each other.
When they enter, we are shown a long shot of the whole station. From this shot, we are able to see the entrance of the station, and the large clock above it. This is the first time we see the time on the clock, which is 23:53, and from this the viewers can observe that there are seven minutes before the expected arrival of ‘The Book-keeper’. This creates suspense, as the viewer is now aware that midnight, and ‘the Book-keeper’ is approaching.
This first shot is used to establish the equilibrium of the station, which is quiet and peaceful as it is nearly midnight. The same continuous shot shows Ness and Stone go down one section of the stairs, where Stone reports to Ness that he will ‘take the south entrance’. At this point, Stone carries on down the stairs to the bottom, while Ness turns to the left and takes his position on the balcony.
The diegetic sound comes from Ness, Stone’s and the few other people’s footsteps on the floor. There are also sounds of trains in the background, and Stone’s voice. These noises emphasise the loneliness and emptiness of the station, and this also increases a sense of unease, that if any unusual or dangerous events occurred no one would know.
As they walk, we can see that Ness and Stone’s faces are almost hidden by their tilted hats. This creates suspense, as the viewers would like to know why they would want to disguise themselves.
Next, we are shown a panoramic shot, which travels from the bottom of the stairs up to the balcony where Ness is now positioned with a large gun.
When the camera shot stops on Ness, we can see that the camera shot is a low angle shot. This shot indicates that Ness is important and in control of the situation.
In the following scene, we see alternating shots of the clock, and of the rest of the station and the people in it. These shots are used to build up anticipation, as the audience are constantly reminded that time is ticking away, and that the entrance of the ‘Book-keeper’ is approaching. These shots are all from Ness’ perspective, and are used to show Ness surveying and monitoring the people and the atmosphere of the station. These particular shots cause us to empathise with Ness, as now we have seen the situation from his eyes, it seems as though we are also at the station and are facing the same dangers as he is.
The colours of the scene are still dull, but now, we can see there is a lot of grey and white, which give the station a sterile feel.
At this stage, the diegetic sounds come from the slamming of the entrance door of the station. Each time the door slams as someone enters the station, we see Ness look quickly and anxiously at the entrance. This builds up anticipation as each time Ness looks towards the door we expect to see the long awaited entrance of ‘The Book-keeper’.
From Ness’ facial expressions, we can see that he is very anxious and alert, as his eyes seem to miss nothing as he observes the station. His expressions and body language are effective in making the viewer every bit as anxious and tense of the ‘Book-keeper’s’ arrival as Ness is.
In the successive scene, we see that a mother and baby have entered the station.
Firstly we are shown a high angle shot of the mother, as she pulls a pram, which holds her baby. Other shots in this scene are of Ness peering down at them from the balcony. The high angled, and bird’s eye view shots are effective in making the mother and her baby look vulnerable and exposed in the station. Another reason why this bird’s eye view shot is used is that, the viewers are now able to see what the baby looks like. We can see that the baby, who is a boy, has blonde curly hair, big blue eyes, and rosy cheeks. This would be referred to as ‘cute’. By making the audience think of the baby as ‘cute’, they may start to care about the fate of the baby. This would make viewers interested and curious about the end of the sequence.
As Ness looks at them, there is a close up shot of his face, which is in juxtaposition with a close up shot of the clock. This increases the suspense as the audience are once again reminded that time is passing and ‘The Book-keeper’ will be arriving in a matter of minutes. We see a shot of a man walking with a newspaper down the stairs. When the man reaches the bottom of the stairs, we see a mid ranged shot of him leaning against a pillar reading his newspaper. All the while, Ness watches him, scrutinizing his every move.
This is because the man looks like a gangster and would fit the description of one perfectly, as he is wearing a dark suit, with shoes complete with toecaps. Here, a red herring is created, as we are led to believe that this man is definitely ‘the Book-keeper’. However, when we see a young woman meet him, embrace him, and then the two of them walking away together, we find that this is untrue, and this man is in fact not ‘The Book-keeper’, but merely an ordinary man who has come to meet his girlfriend. This is successful in creating even more suspense, as now, the viewers are effectively back to square one and not knowing who ‘The Book-keeper’ is and what he looks like. As well as creating suspense and anticipation, the audience also feel a sense of discord, that why would as man meat his girlfriend this late at night, and why would a mother and baby be by themselves at this time at night.
In this scene the colours used are still very dull, but for the first time, the colour red is introduced. This has an immense impact on the sequence, as red is a colour which signifies danger, blood, and war. The Film Maker could have done this deliberately to convey that there would be danger and blood in the following scene. If this were the case then this would create curiosity in the sense that the viewers would be made curious of when there would be bloodshed and danger.
In this scene there is both diegetic and non-diegetic sound. The diegetic sound comes from the baby crying, and from the mother who tries but fails to comfort him. She says ‘ don’t worry darling. We’ll be home soon, everything’s alright.’ This is ironic, as obviously everything will not be all right, as we can tell by the size of the roll of the mother and the baby that they play a large roll in the end. Her words show how oblivious of the pending situation she is, and how vulnerable she and her child are. This builds tension; as we are now aware that if anything dangerous were to happen, the baby and the mother would perhaps get hurt. Diegetic sounds also come from the inaudible conversation of the people in the station, and from the tannoy which announces the arrival of the 12:00 train will be in a couple of minutes. This builds suspense, as this is the train that ‘The Book-keeper’ is on, and so we discover that the train will be arriving in a matter of minutes.
The non-diegetic sound comes from a musical box, or ice cream van style tune, which is happy, and immediately makes us think of babies. This music is used to mirror what the baby represents in the sequence, which is innocence and purity. There is also non-diegetic which can be described as high pitched, and may be played by stringed instruments. The music gives an eerie and unsettling atmosphere to the station, as it is menacing, and unsettling. Whereas the musical box music represents the baby in the sequence, this music from the stringed instruments represents the gangsters who are ‘bad’.
Ness facial expressions tell us exactly how he is feeling. When Ness spots the mother and her baby, his face becomes agitated at once. As this scene goes on, we can see that Ness becomes more and more anxious by the second about the position of the mother and the pram, and we can tell by his facial expression that he wants them out of the way. An expression of irritation comes over his face, as he sees the mother’s feeble attempts at taking the pram, the crying baby, and the two suitcases up the stairs.
In the following scene, Ness becomes so agitated at the time the mother is taking at trying to get up the stairs, that he resorts to helping the mother up the stairs himself.
The shots used are firstly, a close up shot of Ness’ face. From this shot we can see Ness’ expression, which is one of extreme impatience and anxiety. Then there are mid ranged shots as he helps them up the stairs. Also, there is a close up shot of the baby, who we see is not actually a baby, but he looks old enough to be around one or two years old. As Ness is looking down at the mother from the stairs, his expression clearly conveys to the audience that he wants the mother and her baby out of the way. When a flock of people enter the station, his expression relaxes slightly because he thinks that surely on of these people will help her. But the people simply walk on past the mother and all her luggage. As this happens, we see Ness in what seems to be a mental struggle in which he looks at the clock, the mother, and then the clock again. Finally, he makes up his mind and walks at a fast pace down the stairs to help her.
In this scene, at the beginning, there is only diegetic sound of the dialogue spoken by the mother as she thanks Ness for helping her in an exaggerated way. She keeps on telling him ‘how kind’, he is, and ‘is there anything I can do for you?’
As she talks to him, Ness pays nearly no attention to her, but merely nods in her direction. The fact that he fails to even make eye contact, demonstrates just how focussed he is on what he is doing, and how serious the situation must be if Ness is that dead set on making sure that the mother and her baby are out of harm’s way. Here, the audience do not know what will happen that will cause them to be in harm’s way in the first place, which builds tension.
In the middle of the scene, a group of people who look like gangsters enter the station. As soon as they enter, we see Ness visibly tense. This shows us that he thinks that they may be gangsters. As they walk past him, Ness looks at each of the men. As he does this there are camera shots from his perspective, which dart back and forth between the faces. This builds suspense, as Ness does not seem to be sure if the men are gangsters, and if they are, he doesn’t know which of these men is ‘The Book-keeper’ because the shots are from Ness’ perspective; his uncertainty and confusion are transferred to the viewers. We can now empathise with Ness, which increases the tension.
When shots of the gangsters are shown from Ness’ perspective, there is non-diegetic sound. This sound is of a double drumbeat, which may be used to imitate Ness’ heart beating faster than normal. If this is the case, then this makes the viewers consider the fact that if Ness’ heartbeat is altered from its usual rhythm he must be intensely anxious and tense. It could also signify what could be Ness’ fear at the sight of the gangsters. The sound of Ness’ heartbeat makes the scene more frightening and intense for the audience.
In the last scene, Ness has his foot on the top step, when he looks up, and sees a man with a broken nose who we can straight away tell from the his appearance is a gangster and may be the leader or chief of the group. Ness and the gangster simultaneously pull out their guns, and there is a shoot-out.
The scene opens with Ness looking up, and seeing the man. As Ness looks at the man, there is a zoom in shot from his perspective from which we see the gangster’s face head on in a close up shot. From this shot, the audience anticipate that there will be some kind of fight, or confrontation, which creates tension. Next there is an extreme close up shot of Ness’ fingers on the pram handle letting go in order to get his gun out from his coat.
In this scene, the sound of Ness’ heartbeat builds up to a crescendo. This music is successful in letting the viewers know that a major event is about to take place, but the viewer does not know what it could be. Throughout the shoot out scene, there is only diegetic sound of shattering glass and of gunshots. This sound is successful in cutting the viewers off from anything else going on, and makes the viewers focus all their attention on the shooting. As the pram is falling down the stairs, we see a close up shot of the mother, who screams ‘my baby!’ The scream is soundless, which indicates her insignificance at that point in the scene. With the scream being soundless and the gunshots sounded, it stresses how the baby going down the stairs is not important, and that no one seems to care about the fate of the baby, but only care about shooting the gangsters. The fact that only diegetic sound is used, makes the scene become more realistic, as if the audience are there also.
This scene contains a lot of editing, when the shots are all cut together to form one continuous action scene. The editing results in the scene looking more chaotic and fast in action. The fact that the shots change so fast makes the viewers aware of how ruthless the shooting is.
In this scene we see shots filmed in slow motion. The shots where this is used are the shots of the pram rolling down the stairs. Slow motion is also used when there are shots of gangsters being shot. This allows the audience to see the gangsters dying in extreme detail. This accentuates the violence of the shooting. From the close up shots used of the baby previously in the beginning of the sequence, the audience now think of the baby as innocent and cute. If this is the case, then the pram rolling down the stairs creates suspense, as there is shooting going on all around the baby, and we do not know if the ‘cute’ baby will survive the fall down the stairs, and all the shots form the guns. Slow motion is used so that the pram going down the stairs can take longer, and prolong the tension and suspense felt.
As, Ness notices the pram going down the stairs he moves to save it. As he does this, he shoots the gangsters, and miraculously does not get shot once. At this point the facial expression on Ness’ face is one of complete determination, which builds up suspense, as the viewers don’t know if his determination will pay off, and the baby will be saved. As the pram is going down the stairs and is about to reach the bottom, Ness’ bullets run out, and he is stuck with an empty gun. But equilibrium is restored, as Ness’ partner Stone runs in, and throws a gun to Ness. At this point there is tension, as the audience wait to see if Ness will catch the gun, or if he will drop it, and be shot dead by a gangster. Ness does catch the gun, and he shoots the last gangster, as Stone slides underneath the pram just in time to stop it hitting the floor.
The last shot of the sequence is of the baby smiling and laughing which conveys to the viewers know that he is all right and survived the fall. The music that accompanies this shot is the again the non-diegetic music of the musical box. This music indicates that equilibrium has been restored and everything is all right again.
Having viewed and analysed this moving image sequence from ‘The Untouchables’, it is clear that suspense is created in a detailed and sustained way.