In this essay, I will be showing how a feeling of suspense is created in the station scene in the film, ‘The Untouchables’. The three areas that I am focusing on are camera effects, lighting and sound. The scene itself is set as the dramatic climax for the entire film, and is made to be recognised as such by the audience. The film is set in 1930’s Chicago. A time when life was hard and corruption ruled. The film follows the story of Elliot Ness, a Treasury officer put in charge of enforcing the prohibition law, and ridding the city of the Mafia boss, Al Capone.
The scene I will be focusing on is the Station Scene. The Station Scene is where Ness and Stone are awaiting the arrival of the Bookkeeper, to intercept him and have him serve as a witness against Al Capone. There are two main character elements in this scene that create suspense, the mother with pram and the bookkeeper. The mother is struggling with her bags at the bottom of the steps, almost to show how Ness is torn between what to do (namely his job to protect the bookkeeper or to help the mother).
The bookkeeper is vital, and Ness’s place in this station is to make sure he is kept alive and taken to testify. Ness and Stone contrast to the others as the people who are just overlooking the entire scenario, they could be seen as the mediators for the rest of the happenings. The use of camera effects in the scene greatly attributes to the amount of suspense that is created. There are many forms of camera effect that are used for different events. For example, a Long Shot (LS) would be used to show the way a character was behaving in the surroundings.
Whereas the director would choose to use an Extreme close-up (ECU) to show just face or eyes of the actor, to enable the audience to see the characters facial reactions. The types of shots used are mainly still shots from either a high-angle (around 66 shots) or a low-angle (around 39 shots). High-angle shots can be used to make the audience feel more dominant than over the subject. In the scene for example, high angle shots are mainly of Ness’s perspective, looking down at the woman with baby.
This could show how the director is trying to make the audience realise that the woman is more of a hindrance to Ness, and that Ness is so much more important, so he need not bother with helping her. The use of camera movements can be seen to add suspense, for example, when Ness turns around, the camera swings in time with Ness to create the effect of the audience seeing the situation from Ness’s perspective. The lighting effects used in this scene help to convey that the scene is at night-time.
Ness and stones’ entrance to the station show us this, as when they enter through the main doors, there is darkness behind them. The main use of lighting helps to set a contrast between the good and the bad, where realist lighting subtly makes areas of the station darker. For example, when the gangsters enter the station, the two end doors (far left and right) are shrouded in darkness, whereas when stone and Ness enter through the main doors, they are lit to convey that they are “the good-guys”.
The more specific effects are used for sections where there are ECU’s (Extreme Close-ups), and lighting has been used to cast shadows across the face of the gangsters (for example when the gangsters enter the station and there is an ECU of one of their faces). Or another circumstance could be with the baby in the pram, where there is a comforting light, to make it feel that the baby represents innocence. The harsh bright lighting used on the stairs helps show the audience that it is the central focal point of the action that is about to take place, and helps to attribute to an element of suspense.
Other areas of the station are also bathed in a dim light, like the area that Stone runs to, which is given a sinister dim glow from the small amount of overhead lighting. The sound used in the scene greatly affects the amount of suspense created. Small SFX (sound effects) areas include sounds like the footsteps of people walking around the station, but in the case of footsteps, they become more amplified with regards to who is walking. So when Ness is walking around the footsteps are louder than those of one of the gangsters or a person walking down the stairs.
Another element in creating suspense in this scene is the use of the dramatic music in the background, which is overlaid, with the sound of the lullaby music, creating almost an ambience that the audience can understand would create suspense. The use of this layering of sound means that the ambient sounds like the quiet chatter of people in the background and the sound effects, all become merged into the background noise for the station. And even with all this, certain sound effects are amplified more than the rest of the sound, meaning that the audience is drawn in and is able to feel what the station would really sound like.
As well as this, the non-diegetic dramatic music building up to a point of climax, which inevitably is where the feeling of suspense reaches its highest point. At some points, the sounds are selectively used. An instance of this is where the baby’s pram starts to roll down the stairs, and the mother leaps forward, and whilst you see her say what appears to be ‘My Baby! ‘ you do not hear it, yet you hear the sound of the pram wheels on the stairs. Another point where the sound is used differently is where the pram is rolling down the stairs, and the sound of the pram wheels merge with the sound of the gunshots.
I feel that with the points about the cameras creating suspense using ECU’s and Long shots, as well as the lighting with realist effects and the sound with the dramatic music, a successful feeling of suspense is created in the station scene. The suspense could have been improved if, there were more discerning lighting effects, and coupled with the dramatic music, would have perhaps created a better feeling of suspense. How is a feeling of suspense created in the station scene, from the film ‘The Untouchables’?