PAUSE IT: What do you see? A camera slowly tracks from right to left as actress Audrey Totter paces forward. A duel has commenced in Director Allan Dwan’s Woman They Almost Lynched (1953). In this scene, Dwan shows us how a simple camera move can be used to heighten the tension of a moment. Just off camera, Totter’s target, actress Joan Leslie, paces forward in the opposite direction while town onlookers gather to witness the impending bloodbath. What the attentive viewer will want to observe is how Dwan achieves such an effect. By moving the camera from right to left in medium close-up our eyes are drawn to Totter. What is she doing? In most circumstances the Western eye has been trained to move across the page from left to right. When conversely, an actor, or prop, or camera move, as is the case above, motions in the opposite direction it does so conspicuously, almost self-consciously. For the audience, the threat of danger is clear. Totter dominates the frame as she aggressively strides ahead and we, like the townspeople surrounding the scene, are held in suspense.

Woman They Almost Lynched (1953)
Director: Allan Dwan
Photographed by: Reggie Lanning
Cast: John Lund, Brian Donlevy, Audrey Totter
Available from Olive Films on DVD and Blu-ray.

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