‘Clash By Night’ at Columbia’s Film Noir Festival

Harriet Parsons co-produced Clash By Night

Clash By Night (1952) will be screened at the Lenfest Centre for the Arts at 2 pm on Sunday, March 3rd, as part of Columbia University’s 4th annual Kit Noir Film Festival in New York. This year’s theme is ‘Beyond the Femme Fatale: The Women Who Made Noir.’ The only Monroe movie with a female producer – and co-starring the great Barbara Stanwyck – Clash By Night gave Marilyn one of her grittiest roles as cannery worker Peggy. The screening will be introduced by film studies lecturer Ron Gregg.

“The cycle of crime films now known as film noir has long been associated with its male producers … But recent scholarship has helped underscore the talents of three ‘gal producers’ (as they were dubbed) who also worked within the cycle: Joan Harrison, Virginia Van Upp, and Harriet Parsons. As film historian Shelley Stamp writes, ‘Among very few women in executive positions in Hollywood during the 1940s and early 50s, it is notable that all three played an instrumental role in producing film noir.’

Of the three, Parsons was most to the manor born, the daughter of famed gossip columnist Louella Parsons … For Clash by Night, Parsons worked with the producing team of Jerry Wald and Norman Krasna, who assigned her the responsibility of supervising daily progress.

Parsons was not perhaps the most obvious choice. In adapting Clifford Odets’ 1941 play, director Fritz Lang had declared his intent to emphasise the supposed ‘problem’ of women’s proclivity for extra-marital relationships … Lang’s imperious manner on set meanwhile terrified rising star Marilyn Monroe, who reportedly vomited before almost all of her scenes.

But none of this stopped RKO from trumpeting Parsons’ role as a way of marketing the picture to female audiences. For the film’s promotional campaign, Parsons accompanied Lang and Stanwyck on a ten-city tour, during which she appeared before ‘women’s groups, women’s page editors and on radio and video shows aimed principally toward femme audiences,’ according to a report in Box Office. One wonders what Parsons made of Lang’s stated themes in her appearances.”