Walter Graumen puts Olivia de Havilland in peril as a Lady in a Cage (1964) “Right now I am all *animal*” or “Oh, dear Lord… I am… a monster!”

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THE GREAT VILLAIN BLOGATHON APRIL 20-26, 2014 hosted by Speakeasy*Shadows and Satin * Silver Screenings

“She was very badly raped, you see! We were assaulted by a gang of vicious, young, hoodlums in this house! In this very room you are sitting in now! I was left a helpless cripple, but for her the agony was too great! The doctor said it was pneumonia; because it happened some months later! During a flu epidemic! The doctors told me it was pneumonia, but I knew what it was! A VICTIM OF THE MODERN AGE! Poor, poor girl!”-quote from Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971)

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James Caan- is the violent anti-social ruffian Randall Simpson O’Connell and a good choice for ‘The Great Villain Blogathon’ since I’ve covered two sympathetic antagonists, I thought it was necessary to write about a true villain in every sense of the word. He’s an *animal* as he calls himself. He is not an anti-hero, he is a sadistic, and violently wired punk a, a vicious hoodlum, a product of a modern age.

The young James Caan embodies such a sociopathic, undomesticated menacing rage that even through the cliché stocking on his face, it makes him all the more frightening. Randall is the axis of this amoral trio who are such anti-social, narcissistic degenerates that they do not evoke a smidgen of sympathy from the audience. Though he may come from trouble beginnings, his displaced rage pits him against Hilyard who represents everything he despises.

Randall is a misogynist brute who beats his girlfriend Elaine (we hear the blows from behind the door as she both screams and exults in sexual excitement), and would have probably sexually harassed Mrs. Hilyard but for the fact that he mentions how he hates his grandmother, an older and sexless figure. He is physically rough with her, feeling that she is an ‘old crow’ who is controlling and manipulative and has pushed her son to threaten suicide. Undertones of an Oedipal nature run through the plot line as Randall is raging against the devouring mother, that Hilyard represents in the story, which truly plays like a modern mythic tragedy. Randall traumatizes Hilyard until she is almost insane with fear.

Lady in a Cage is a grimy urban ordeal drenched in taboo, and inhabited by drunken derelicts, boozy dames, doped-up delinquents and a menacing cruelty that escalates until it is almost unbearable. 

de Havilland’s lovely face distorts in the reflected mirrored panel of the elevator as she begins to unravel from the brutality and captivity she confronts, all within the vanilla white tonality of her quiet house. The interior shots alternating with the outer rat race, the urban grime and modern desolation.

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Randall leers at Hilyard from under the stocking like a vicious hob goblin

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As Tony Williams writes in his chapter Trying to Survive on the Darker Side in The Dread of Difference-edited by Barry Keith Grant-where he cites Grauman’s film “The monstrous adult child product of a traumatic family situation existed in earlier decades, as works such as Curse of the Cat People 1944, Psycho, The Strangler 1963, Lady in a Cage 1964, Marnie 1964, I Dismember Mama 1972, The Killing Kind 1973.”
James Caan had made an appearance as a soldier with radio in Billy Wilder’s Irma La Douce (1963)
Randall was James Caan’s first credited feature film role after getting his start with small television parts such as The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, “Memo from Purgatory” where he plays a writer who goes undercover in a street gang so he can get inspiration for his book. Kraft Suspense Theatre in 1963, Dr. Kildare, Death Valley Days, Combat!, and the ruthless Marty Feketi in ‘Bullets Cost Too Much’ episode of The Naked City 1961 extraordinary social commentary police procedural tv series that ran from 1958-1963. I’m still working through my new dvd box set, and let me tell you, there ain’t nothing like this show with it’s incredible cast of character actors, dramatic story telling and on location cinematography in New York City in the 60s.

A snippet of the exchange between Hilyard and Randall…

Mrs.Hilyard-“You’re from an asylum?”

Randall-“Asylum? Oh no, you don’t. Reformatory. Work farm. I been inside every way there is to be inside. I been some kind of inside since I was nine years old.

Mrs. Hilyard-“Oh I see. You’re one of the many bits of offal produced by the welfare state. You’re what so much of my tax dollars goes for the care and feeding of.”

Caan, with his very ‘masculine’ hairy chest, was a much more subtle psychopath in Curtis Harrington’s psychological thriller Games 1967 where he gaslights the beautiful but emotionally delicate Katherine Ross with the help of sensual goddess Simone Signoret. BTW, I’ll be doing a special feature on the works of Curtis Harrington hopefully by the summer.

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James Caan in Curtis Harrington’s Games 1967 with Katherine Ross

Randall even takes off on Marlon Brando’s Stanley Kowalski from Tennessee William’s A Streetcar Named Desire, as he belches, shirtless (most of the film) and leers and smirks in his outre tight jeans.

This evokes “I think I’m going to be sick” from the respectable Mrs. Hilyard who voices her scorn. Randall is in control and enjoys the power struggle, sadistically amused by her indignation and repulsion, “Watch the human being be sick in a cage.” He’s looking for any excuse to lash out.

Randall says [to George Brady the bum] “We’re gonna kill you. First you, then the pig (Sade)… and then, the human being!”

It is suggested that Randall also likes to beat up on his girlfriend Elaine, as she has a black eye. As I stated earlier, off camera while up in the master bathroom behind closed doors,  it is implied that she actually vocalizes pleasure when he hits her. Elaine herself is an angry and hyper-sexual oddity, perhaps even a  sociopath as well, as she moves her body provocatively, quite aware of her seductive maneuvering. She enjoys watching violent acts and she dances to a small music box in a very sexually inappropriate way. Obviously she is wired to believe that sexuality and violence go together.

Olivia de Havilland  as Mrs. Cornelia Hilyard is terrorized by James Caan as the violent Randall Simpson O’Connell and his gang of sociopathic miscreants.

de Havilland’s Cornelia Hilyard suffers from delusions toward the climax –that Randall is her son Malcolm. First when she faints after she speaks to Randall thinking he is Malcolm and then again when he reads the letter and uses the words ‘release’ – as the screen becomes all wavy, as she self-accuses that she is a ‘monster.’

de Havilland having taken the role after Joan Crawford turned down the part of Cornelia Hilyard, and then ironically stepping in a little later that year to fill Joan’s high heels in Hush Hush… Sweet Charlotte when personalities clashed on the set with Bette Davis and Robert Aldrich.

Walter Grauman (his first film obscure B cult classic- The Disembodied 1957, writing for television Peter Gunn, Matinee Theatre, Perry Mason, The New Breed, The Untouchables, Naked City, Twilight Zone (Miniature) Route 66, Burke’s Law, Kraft Suspense Theatre, Honey West, The Fugitive , The Streets of San Fransisco and Barnaby Jones- Directing tv movie horrors like Daughter of the Mind, The Man Who Cried Wolf, Crowhaven Farm, Paper Man, They Call it Murder and The Golden Gate Murders ’79, a terrific hard to find film with David Janssen and Susannah York.

I just love Grauman’s realist style– it’s raw and captivating mise en scène and here he directs this very taut thriller, that somehow seems to elude a definitive genre category as it falls into place amongst the transgressive noir-hybrids of the 60s, it’s been linked with Grande Dame Guignol cinema, and it’s every bit a suspense crime drama but there is little written about it in any of my books on the THRILLER or NOIR film genres. Film historian Kim Newman points out that the sub-genre that was a popular psycho trend of the 1960s where “the aging actress as *monster* was inaugurated” by Aldrich’s Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

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It’s also showcases elements of the horror style rampant in the 60s and yet again, I’ve found it difficult to locate it in any index, and I’ve got a full library on that subject as you can imagine. The idea of home invasion and torture isn’t a subject that’s been missed this side of the 21st Century. It’s been a featured narrative on shows like Law and Order, Dexter and Criminal Minds comes to mind.

Gregory A Waller writes in the introduction in American Horrors: Essays on the Modern American Horror Film- “The 60′s provided a number of noteworthy horror films -still disturbing oddities like What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?(1962), Lady in a Cage (1964) and The Haunting (1964) with it’s restrained ‘adult’ major studio, quasi Victorian terror.”

The idea of the home being invaded in an era which was coming off of the industrial age of suburban comforts, ice maker refrigerators, frozen dinners, air conditioners, appliances for an easier way to be a home-maker. the notion of this once safe, comfortable and innocent lifestyle is thus shattered by the intrusion of a doomed and violent world out of control. Even more stunning is that the action happens in broad daylight.

Martin Rubin sums it up in his book Thrillers-Lady in a Cage “epitomizes modern day social decay through the predicament of a cut-off shut-in Olivia de Havilland terrorized by lowlifes and juvenile delinquents”

introducing James Caan-exteriors key to framing an atmosphere of symbolic visual entrapment

The shots of exteriors, interiors and certain objects are key to framing a visual atmosphere of entrapment.

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The script was written by writer/produce Luther Davis  The Hucksters 1047, B.F.’s Daughter 1948, Kismet 1965, Across 110th Street (1972, tv movies Daughter of the Mind 1969 with Ray Milland and Gene Tierney, The Old Man Who Cried Wolf 1970 with Edgar G. Robinson.

co-starring as Caan’s female sidekick is Jennifer Billingsly as Elaine, Rafael Campos is Essie ( very hard working character actor in the sixties and seventies, I especially loved him as Little Emanuel with one leg shorter than the other in All in the Family), William Swan as Malcom Hilyard, Scatman Crothers as the junkman’s assistant,

Lady in a Cage also includes Ann Sothern as the weary and wanton Sade, Jeff Corey as the derelict George L Brady/ who decries, “Repent, repent” the two outliers of society, taking advantage of Mrs. Hilyard’s predicament instead of helping her.

With art direction and production design by Hal Pereira who worked on such great Hitchcock thrillers as Rear Window ’54, Vertigo ’58 and Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s ’61

The evocative soundtrack of beat jazz and experimental nuances by composer Paul Glass  (Bunny Lake is Missing 1965, Five Desperate Women 1971 tv movie, To the Devil a Daughter 1976)

At times Glass underscores the world gone awry with sounds akin to the mechanism of social order having just snapped a spring, and becoming uncoiled and shorted out!

The opening credits are framed with the use of bar like graphics symbolic of not only the literal plot entrapment but the atmosphere of being caged in as well. The linear graphics that interplay with the rolling list of credits remind me of the work of title designer Saul Bass.

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The titles are reminiscent of Saul Bass

Ann Southern as Sade

Leon Barsha takes care of the tense editing. Barsha knows how to create a claustrophobic chaos as he did with Joan Crawford in Sudden Fear 1952, Midnight Lace 1960, editing a few of the most outstanding episodes of The Twilight Zone– A Penny For Your Thoughts ’61, The Grave ’61 and Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up ’61.

Rudolph Sternad production designer/art director-died a year before the film was released. Just to mention a few of his credits-(Dead Reckoning 1947, Walk a Crooked Mile 1948, The Member of the Wedding 1952, High Noon 1952, The Wild One 1953, The Defiant Ones 1958, Inherit the Wind 1960, It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World 1963) Set designers were Sam Comer and Joseph Kish.

Cinematographer Lee Garmes has some list of credits, having started as a painters assistant and prop boy. He lensed some of the most beautifully visual films,  The Garden of Allah 1927, Lilies of the Field 1930, Scarface 1932, Call Her Savage 1932, Strange Interlude 1932 then later uncredited for Gone With the Wind, Guest in the House 1944, and of course some of my favorite films, Nightmare Alley 1947, The Paradine Case 1947 and Portrait of Jennie 1948 onto noirs, Detective Story and The Captive City.

Garmes sets up certain shots that give the impression of a brutally grotesque modern masquerade fête of social misfits on a rampage in a woman-in peril film.

With various close ups on the players faces, in particular de Havilland as she begins to lose it. Often the trio are framed at angles where they look over Mrs. Hilyard who appears like a trapped animal in a cage, as they taunt her from above. She seems smaller and helpless. de Havilland begins to lose her coiffed appearance as she devolves, her hair becomes unkempt and she is drenched in perspiration. It’s quite visually disturbing and graphically unnerving. As these good shockers often are as Grauman and Garmes use extreme close ups of de Havilland’s mouth when she screams for help. The emphasized shots of the alarm bell ringing to no avail, reminds of the detail that cinematographer Ernest Haller paid toward elements of communication and non-escape (the myriad shots of the phone, the stairs) in Aldrich’s What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?

director of photog Lee Garmes

Emphasis on anonymous hands blasting car horns all modern lines of communication that are chaotic and used in an audibly offensive way-dehumanizing noise.

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To show the indifference and cruelty of the world, a little girl runs her roller skates along a bums leg…

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As voyeurs we see Malcolm through window blinds, peering through the bars of his private world- He writes a letter to his mother-”Darling”

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Malcolm is a coded gay character of the film

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Malcolm’s misadventure with the car sets off a chain reaction of horrific events to follow–fate is in the driver’s seat.

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throughout Lady in a Cage Lee Garme’s camera focuses on objects of communication or the lack thereof… Modern conveniences and bourgeois trifle

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Twenty First Century Desolation

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Lady in a Cage -Hal Pereira’s set is more modern, sterile and streamline, inharmonious and unwelcoming. There are many disturbing scenes with the subtle distinction of this hostility and inhumanity like the girl who runs her roller skates over the leg of an unconscious man, an evangelist spouts off about the evils of the world on the radio, a dog hit by a car that drivers keep passing by without stopping.

The date is the 4th of July, it is extremely hot day, people’s nerves are more sensitive and agitated during these heat waves which usually leads to more crime. There are exploding garbage cans in the street to mark the holiday.

Garmes focuses on Mrs Hilyard through the bars on her cage and the reflections in the mirrored panel. We begin as voyeurs. Malcolm is writing his letter, addressing his mother as ‘darling.’ Perhaps a little undeveloped sub-text to be discussed in a different kind of post. Considering that this one is in a series of ‘love notes’ he writes to her. “Darling” Hhmm???

It is made apparent though not explicitly, that Malcolm is in fact gay, and his mother’s domineering personality is at the source of his homosexuality, which is what films of the 60s & 70s would tend to illustrate.

de Havilland has a screen presence that is quite sophisticated and almost imposing with her sense of stylish intellect and decorum. This puts de Havilland’s Mrs. Hilyard in an interesting position on the graph of class struggle, as Randall and his gang aren’t just fighting amongst their own contemporaries, he is challenging an upper class society lady and mother figure to attack back.

Ironically what sets off the sequence of actions that ensue is Malcolm whose car hits a ladder, that tears out wires that short out the power lines. He causes the accident that creates the electricity going out leaving his mother stranded in her gilded prison. He is yet another character in the film who is distracted by his own agenda, self-absorbed carelessness and indifference. Played out like a tragedy, it is at the chance moment when Malcolm causes the power outage that his mother wearing a sheer negligee gets into her elevated cage locking herself inside like a sitting canary. The ‘cage’ has a mirrored panel by the buttons, that allow for de Havilland/Mrs.Hilyard to be seen from various angles and expressions.

With her in her gilded trap is a transistor radio, which is reporting about the uncovered murder victim, a woman who has been decapitated!

Mrs. Hilyard (Olivia de Havilland) is a poetess and a wealthy widow who lives in a stifling bourgeois mansion with her son Malcolm (William Swan) Cornelia, though she is never actually called by her first name, has had an elevator installed in her mansion after she breaks her hip. We see Malcolm writing a letter to his mother as he is about to go away for a weekend, leaving his mother all alone in the house. Malcolm appears to be stifled by his mother’s overbearing love, even to the point of her insisting that he drink his orange juice. As he leaves in his car, he backs into a ladder which nudges a wire that short circuits.

Through this subtle set of events triggering a negative chain reaction causing a power outage, it only sparks the larger series of violent circumstances that begin to spiral out of control. Of course Cornelia Hilyard is now trapped in her gilded cage of an elevator. She has an emergency alarm, which she uses while the electricity is out, but only one person is aroused by the alarm. A derelict wino named George L. Brady (Jeff Corey) hearing the alarm in the alley he ignores her cries for help, and instead helps himself to some of her things. Brady feigns muteness while he rummages around her things, as she is helpless to do anything about it. In desperation she tries to bargain with him to help her, “I will build a shrine to you.”

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The use of white is so vanilla–like Mrs Hilyard

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Repent is tattooed on Brady’s hand

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Much like Joan Crawford’s Blanche Hudson whose entrapment was because she was wheelchair bound, the camera would often focus on the distance between the phone that was always out of reach. The lines of communication had been a constant hurdle to invoke the sense of dread and captivity

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Randall and his little band of riff raff wonder where the old bum stumbled onto a $40 toaster and packs of cigarettes

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Brady shows up at Sade’s apartment, telling her about the house filled with so much loot!

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But Brady is only the first character who will prey on the weakness and vulnerability of Mrs Hilyard. The ferocious and unsympathetic opportunism is a theme that will carry through the film’s story telling. And none is likable and no one is safe from harm. While we might feel slightly ambivalent toward the poor souls who are down and out on their luck, or the proper and uptight Mrs Hilyard who is the central sufferer in the piece, the narrative doesn’t allow much time for us to feel compassion which only illustrates that the message of nihilism translates with an authentic sting. Mrs. Hilyard is every bit part of the testimony of elitist apathy and arrogance that comes along with a hypocritical and so-called civilized modern society.

The film begins to escalate with a real sense of urgency and smothering atmosphere of dread. The derelict Brady fences the goods and then pays a visit to his slovenly dame Sade (Ann Sothern). This sets off yet another ripple in the threatening current that is building in the narrative.

Following Brady from the junk dealer to Sade’s apartment the vicious trio learn about Mrs Hilyard’s house. The savage bunch of hoodlums Randall, Elaine and Essie hang back and wait for the right time to strike. The three lowlifes follow George and Sade to the mansion wearing stockings to obscure their identities, as they start ravaging the place. Eventually they kill the old bum George L Brady who is in a way the second catalyst for the crime of invading and tormenting the trapped Mrs. Hilyard. Hypocritical too as he decries, ‘repent’ though he not only ignores her pleadings for help, he engages the mechanism of ill-fate-he must also be the first to be disposed of. And although we do not see any of the gory details when they stab him to death, the murder is still quite gruesome, as the force of violence still permeates the screen with Paul Glass’ use of music box nuance to create contrast between the two experiences.

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When the phone rings, it startles both Sade and Brady.

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As Mrs.Hilyard yells into the phone after it rings she knocks it off the hook, but Sade rips the wire out of the wall. Hilyard starts to lose it, calling out for help, calling out ‘emergency’. Sade creeps up the stairs while Hilyard hangs in mid air in her cage. Hilyard tells her “this is my house, my sons and mine. I broke my hip and am somewhat incapacitated.”

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Sade coldly ignores Mrs Hilyard’s pleading for help “Haven’t you ever needed help?” but Sade stops and only thinks for a split second and continues to walk away.

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“Perfume, is that perfume? A woman, are you a woman?… Listen, Hello my name is Hilyard. I am Mrs Hilyard.” The bum Brady creeps around the stairs and cage. As if the house has been invaded by termites come to pick it clean. Hilyard continues to try and make contact with her intruders “What’s your name. Won’t you answer me. Please answer me” She moves around the inside confines of her gilded prison calling out for them to answer her. With no success.

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“Please help me get out of this horrible cage. Please, please PLEASE!!!!”

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Suddenly the moment is broken with a horrifying wail, as the three hoodlums rush the stairs wearing stocking masks. It’s a immobilizing stunner in the film, that breaks the initial inertia of Hilyard’s entrapment and the circular photography that creates a whirlpool effect. At first an mind numbing monotony and then a blitz of chaos.

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Randall makes Sade his pick up truck

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Hilyard soaked in sweat and crazed has already been driven half mad. Now she is terrified.

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Randall appears at the stair case looming down on her. His face concealed by the stocking mask. Grinning at her he smacks his fists together. A show of brutish force.

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“Who, what monsters… Do you stink… get out…. steal and get out. What sort of creatures are you? Randall slithers over to her and pounds on the top of the cage. “Oh even animals would have more civil compassion than you” Randall -“What… what you. You’re something holier than thou? Huh… You’re something ah. You ain’t no animal?” Hilyard- “I am a human being… a thinking feeling creature” He belches in her face. she winces. “Ah well me I”m an animal. Right now I am all animal. Lot of times I can’t even make animal. A lot of times I’m what do ya call, an inmate. But animal’s better.” Hilyard-”What do you mean inmate… asylum… you’re from some asylum?” He says-“Asylum…(tisk) Oh no you don’t. hahaha… reformatory. Work farm. I been inside everywhere there is to be inside. I been some kind of inside since I was a, 9 years old.” Hilyard with contempt in her voice-”Oh I see… you’re one of the many bits of offal produced by the welfare state. You’re what so much of my tax dollars go to the care and feeding of.” Randall answers her-”Well a, I don’t know from offal, but yeah… yeah. And I sure do want to thank you ma’am for all them tax dollars. The food is lousy though… belch, haha” He begins to literally rattle her cage.

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This image of the ‘outside world’ gazing at us– the audience while they are confronting Hilyard creates a chilling moment that is truly indicative of a horror film– We too become voyeurs looking in on society as it implodes from violence and apathy The four intruders watch her with their masks on. As the monsters watch their prey lose control she cracks within her captivity. They study her. We study them watching her. The entire plot closes in on itself in that moment. The world turns –inside out from outside in.

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She begins an inner monologue “The world must have ended. Someone on one side or the other must have pushed the button. Dropped the bomb.” She puts on her little transistor radio… She hears...”Ladies and gentleman, here stands before us, the man of tomorrow” the radio spouts its media dogma. Modern experimental music underscores the insanity of the moment. The complete loss of rational thought. Civility and safety. Applause The sounds of haywire, slipped cogs and shorted fuses. the noise of chaos. She laughs and drops the radio out of the elevator it lands on the floor and smashes. She begins to laugh heartily. She has lost it.

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They lock Sade in the closet never to be heard from again–not before they rough her up a bit, pushing her into a mirrored dressing table, where she cuts herself. George Brady’s fate is much worse.

At this point Randall sets his sights on Mrs.Hilyard who is trapped as the lady in said cage.

Mrs. Hilyard becomes less consequential at the moment the vicious trio arrive, as she is a symbol of the weakened society–the raw meat for the predatory wild animals, the more vulnerable of the modern jungle which will get picked off first. As Shelley so aptly notes, it’s very ‘Darwinian’ and the survival of the fittest. Mrs. Hilyard as much as refers to the city as a jungle.

Mrs. Hilyard-“I am a human being. A feeling, thinking, human being.”

Randall-mocking her- “Okay. I am *all* animal. Sure beats the hell outta being an inmate…”

Mrs. Hilyard ” … inmate?… Asylum?

Randall begins tormenting her, by playing head games. He shows her a note from her son Malcolm telling her that he’s about to commit suicide because of her overbearing motherly love. “Release me from your generosity. Release me from your beauty. Release me from your love.”

The entire film’s universe is filled with deviant and transgressive characters. Sade is a self-hating woman who demeans herself because of her weight. Her ability to escape the chaos hampered by her greed to take part in the looting of Mrs, Hilyard’s house. To add to the queasy touches, Sade wears a jeweled head band givimg her an odd-ball air of eccentricity. She would again play a similar type of character as Thelma Lambert in Curtis Harrington’s The Killing Kind 1973-another mother who loves her son too well, he becomes a lady killer…

The pawnbroker Mr. Paul only has one-eye. perhaps this is symbolic of a skewed vision of the world that surrounds him. He is also an opportunistic figure. Brady and Sade are afflicted with alcoholism. 

As Peter Shelley says in Grande Dame Guignol Cinema the film is “A disturbing indictment of the amorality of 1964 American society, as well as a nightmare for those suffering from claustrophobia and vertigo, this film introduces Olivia de Havilland to the Grande Dame Guignol subgenre.”

Walter Grauman creates an atmosphere of deafening nihilism that is so harsh and brutal it is almost hard to watch it at times. An indictment of modernity, opportunism and the industrial age, the use of sound with the car horns blaring in clusters of traffic, the sounds from the streets that invade Mrs. Hilyard’s closed in world is exhausting. The film delivers a sense that all of life is a furious, insensitive rhythm of hostility and discord. There is no empathy toward the individual and people are merely anonymous faces making the strident and shrill noise and disturbing the quietude of civilized life.

What makes this a suspense/noir hybrid is the environment of entrapment and flawed characters, with Lee Garmes camera angles and Leon Barsha’s razor sharp editing that keeps the pacing at an uncomfortable beat. Even the graphics that follow the credits representative of bars of a cage symbolized the narrative’s imprisonment. Cinematic bars were deftly used in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? as Aldrich wanted us to feel at ever turn the same sense of captivity that Blanche as well as Jane’s state of mind, and the landscape of the old Gothic mansion which felt like it was desolate and decaying.

And much like What Ever Happened to Baby Jane’s use of the outer world excursions Jane would take that would constantly throw light into the closed in universe of the Hudson’s mansion, Grauman and Garmes utilize shots of the ever turning world outside Mrs. Hilyard’s captivity to emphasize this contrast visually reinforcing the horror that is taking place within the confines of the house that is shut off. We feel that every frame has a sense of intrusion.

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The film has so much cruelty in it… it’s an exercise in Nihilism

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Outside the house, the world goes on spinning, the paper boy delivers the news on an ordinary street

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Essie finds the letter. “Darling Mom… “Hey how bout that it sounds real a …. gay” Mrs Hilyard asks Essie-“What is that that you’re holding? Where did you get it?” Essie-“What am I holding, a letter that was on the desk upstairs, do you want to hear it?” Randall tells Essie-“Ah, let her die curious.”

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Randall asks her-“Is your little boy married?”

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“I bet you had him at it til he was about twelve didn’t ya?… kept him sucking” She slaps him hard across the face. He grabs her violently, pushing his arm across her throat.

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He begins to taunt her with the letter. “Darling Mom,” She tries to grab it away from him. He slams her hard against the wall of the cage. with his forearm pressed against her neck. His hairy sweaty chest exposed, like he’s a pirate, his white shirt tied at the waist. Randall continues reading the letter from Malcolm -”I’ll be thirty next Wednesday, and I won’t have many more chances in life.”

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Mrs Hilyard confused says-“What, what”Randall continues to read- “Every time I try to leave you, you add a room or dress up the house, or charm me…”

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He looks straight at her. She looks horrified. “No…” Randall says-” I thought you only had him at it til he was twelve. But you still got him at it… How do you charm him baby” He pulls her back by her hair… “I had a holier than thou old crow of a grandmother. She tried to keep me at it too. I’d a killed her if she hadn’t died… Like she was trying to kill me. Like you kill this um what’s his name… uhm Malcolm.” Mrs Hilyard begs, “No, no this is his too you know he decorated it himself. Complete freedom to come and go he wanted to stay here. Why would he write me a letter? We’re as close as…” She pauses and looks into Randall’s eyes. He smiles quietly at her as she begins to have an awareness. Randall asks her again, “He’s not married is he? Does he even have a girl?” “He has many women friends” “Oh yeah yeah yeah, all his friends are from public shower rooms I bet” She struggles but he continues to hold her up by her hair. It’s barbaric. He continues to torment her with her son’s letter. “Uhm, give me my half of what’s in the living room safe. What safe!!!!!!!” He repeats that line again…”Release me from your generosity, release me from your beauty, release me from your love.” Now she has truly begun to confuse reality and fantasy after she hears him say the word love. She says “Oh love” and touches his face as if it is Malcolm’s. “Oh love, love you could have your half any time you wanted. My half too for that matter.” Essie interrupts. “Read her the P.S. it’s got what they call some real buck shot in it… real loaded. Read it to her” Randall finishes the letter-“P.S. Think it over. I’ll call in a little while. Please make it yes or quite simply I’ll kill myself.”

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The interplay between Caan and de Havilland is utterly realistic. A volatile and primal confrontation between young and old, civil society and the disillusioned masses, paternal and maternal law. fear and compassion.

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She passes out and slides down the wall of the cage. Essie calls up to Randall-“You didn’t kill her?” He tells him-“No…Fainted, lying on the floor like a pile of old clothes.”

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Elaine and Essie go to look for the safe. Randall is left alone in the cage with Mrs.Hilyard who has fainted. For a brief moment it almost appears as if Randall feels sorry for her. He touches her face and neck. He looks the most thoughtful he’s been. He whispers to himself. “Old crow baby.” A hint at Randall’s mother issues which does not excuse his violent abuse of women.

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The film was refused a cinema certificate in the UK by the BBFC and remained unavailable until 2000.

Reviews courtesy of Paul Shelley’s Grande Dame Guignol Cinema- The picture was released on July 8, 1964

“Lady in a Cage adds Olivia de Havilland to the list of cinemactresses who would apparently rather be freaks than be forgotten … a grande chance to go ape. Attagirl, Ollie“- Time, June 19, 1964

“…{S}ordid, if suspenseful, exercise in aimless brutality… A discerning viewer is left curious and repelled… Olivia de Havilland as the trapped ‘Lady’ does project a sense of fear and self-appraisal … a surface, somewhat obvious portrayal.” -A. H. Weller, The New York Times, July 11, 1964

“…{A} noxious, repulsive, grueling experience… Davis’s sensationalistically vulgar screenplay is haphazardly constructed, full of holes, sometimes pretentious and in bad taste. {de Havilland} gives one of those ranting, raving wild-eyed performances often thought of as Academy Award oriented. {She} does about as well as possible under the dire circumstances.” Variety May 25, 1964

 Right now I’m all *MonsterGirl* Hope you’ve enjoyed this post for The Great Villain Blogathon!


When the Spider Woman Looks: Two Glorias- “Wicked Love, Close ups & Old Jewels”- The sympathetically tragic villainesses of Sunset Blvd (1950) and Dracula’s Daughter (1936)

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This is part of the Great Villain Blogathon hosted by Speakeasy* Shadows and Satin & *Silver Screenings from April 20th – 26th 2014

“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.”- T.E. Lawrence

“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.”- Mark Twain

IT’S ALL IN THE EYES! -THE LEGACY OF GLORIA SWANSON/NORMA DESMOND & GLORIA HOLDEN/COUNTESS ZALESKA

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Gloria Holden as Dracula's Daughter

Are these wicked women? Do they exemplify the monstrous feminine? I dare say NO! They are sensual yet tragic figures!

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Gloria Holden’s Countess Zaleska is a victim of her bloodline (literally)–her father Dracula’s legacy, desperately seeking out redemption and’ release’ from the torture of her relentless desires. (lesbianism in the form of blood lust) And Gloria Swanson‘s enduring Norma Desmond an aging silent screen star pushed out by talkies-a victim of a punishing Hollywood institution that forces older women into self-delusion. Though her beauty did not fade, the praise and recognition has.

Both women are-literally immortal!

Ironically without realizing the connection there are two threads of synchronicity that revealed themselves after I decided to pair both Glorias. A) Both women have male servants who show a stoic undying co-dependent worship of their mistress and B) Hedda Hopper appears in both films….

“She gives you that weird feeling!” -tagline from Dracula’s Daughter

Two Glorias, two dynamic forces on screen- Written about endlessly, on the surface spider women, vamps and villainesses perhaps… but to the thoughtful observer and film fanatic like myself… they are sympathetic figures in a cruel world…

“Cast out this wicked dream that has seized my heart.”- subtitle from one of Gloria/Norma’s silent films.

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First let’s begin with our ‘close-up’- on Gloria Swanson as the eternally mesmerizing Norma Desmond in Billy Wilder’s masterpiece! Norma is in actuality the one trapped in an orbit of ambivalence about her own primacy which ultimately devolves into a vulnerable, needy, discontented and brooding personality whose dependency upon men and (one opportunistic man in particular) is self-destructiveness turned outward.

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Written and directed by auteur Billy Wilder (Double Indemnity 1944, The Lost Weekend 1945, Ace in the Hole 1951, Stalag 17 (1953), Witness for the Prosecution 1957, Some Like It Hot 1959, The Apartment 1960 which won for BEST PICTURE that year, beating out ELMER GANTRY!).

Considered the last motion picture in the film noir cannon. The first being Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity 1944  with his notoriously sexified femme fatale Phyllis Dietrichson who’s got a great pair of gams showcasing that diamond ankle bracelet, dark sunglasses and Barbara Stanwyck’s cool exterior. And Wilder’s last noir Sunset Boulevard that unofficially marked the end of classical noir’s heyday. Sunset Boulevard truly pushing the conventions of noir to it’s limits.

Written for the screen by Wilder and Charles Brackett (The Lost Weekend ’45, Edge of Doom, ’50, Niagara ’53).

Music by Franz Waxman  (Magnificent Obsession ’35, The Invisible Ray ’36, A Day at the Races ’37, The Man Who Cried Wolf ’37, Gone With the Wind -uncredited, Humoresque ’46 I Married a Monster From Outer Space, Home Before Dark, there’s so much more– see IMDb profile). Waxman’s score is superb, from the exhilarating opening sequence that accompanies the flurry of police and newsreel camera trucks racing to the crime scene, the vibrant strings and strident horns that accentuate modernity to the more subtle poignant moments that underscore Norma’s internal agony.

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John Seitz is responsible for the evocative and quirky noir-esque cinematography (Sullivan’s Travels ’4I, Double Indemnity ’44 , The Lost Weekend ’45).

The use of light in key frames showcases Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond who exults whenever she is either watching herself or is thrust into sudden illumination renders her as somehow lost. The use of shadows and oddly lit spaces evoke the sense of her tragic misconstruction of reality. 

Bruce Crowther on- Cinematographer Seitz who helped to define some of the memorable images of Sunset Boulevard- “Rarely does full light intrude upon this movie… Seitz handles the often cluttered sets using lighting to direct the eye to each scene’s key areas. Even when light is used fully, as when Norma steps into the beam of her home movie projector or when a lighting technician at the studio turns the spotlight on her, it serves a dark purpose… Here it shows with appalling clarity the incipient madness that will eventually destroy Norma.”

Arthur P Schmidt, the film editor, died at age 52 (worked on Ace in the Hole and Some Like it Hot with Wilder).

Art direction by Hans Dreier and John Meehan, fabulous mise-en-scéne by set designers  Sam Comer Ray Moyer who both worked on (Read Window 1954, Vertigo 1958, Breakfast at Tiffany’s 1961) Which arranges the landscape of Norma’s world with Art Deco style furnishing, elaborate candelabras, wrought iron scrolled staircases, tapestries and ornate lighting fixtures. Norma’s bedroom is something out of a Gothic fairytale with it’s superfluous ruffles and claustrophobic pageantry.

Wilder and his artistic design team create an atmosphere of decadence and decay. Using an ornate baroque visual style that puts emphasis on the surroundings which are careful set pieces of time-worn opulence. The scenes are filled with a cluttered and suffocating mise-en-scéne. Sunset Boulevard reveals the conflict of the old grandeur of the silent era with the hollow clamor of modernity, as a ‘clash of styles and eras.’

Once Joe walks in from the brightly lit Los Angeles hustle and bustle, the tone turns darker, as he steps inside the confines of the mansion crowded with the serpentine wrought iron staircase, large yet dim light fixtures and ancient looking columns that appear to be disintegrating in small scattered parts. Set against the crispness of Max’s white gloves and Norma’s black sateen lounging pajamas, it offsets the sense of a perishing house in an odd and creepy way. Again this is where noir meets horror by the elements combined in the visual style.

Most effectively is the central character of Norma Desmond who’s electrifying intensity and melodramatic flare projects an other-world style in contrast with the biting and cynical, dispassionate humor of the younger screenwriter from the age of talkies.

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According to Sam Kashner and Jennifer MacNair many of the film’s props came from own Swanson’s home and scrapbooks. “One shot pans across the table covered with Swanson’s film stills, the photographs in old frames capturing her young face and heavily painted eyes.”

The portrait in Norma’s living room was painted by Geza Kende. Wilder also borrowed a film clip of “Norma” in her prime from a Swanson film Erich Von Stroheim directed, Queen Kelly 1929.

From Foster Hirsch’s The Dark Side of the Screen- he cites Amir Karimi in Toward a Definition of the American Film Noir as the true period of noir beginning with Wilder’s Double Indemnity and ending with the same directors Sunset Boulevard 1950. He goes on to say that Wilder’s noir drama’s contain “the biting social comment, the stinging disapproval of the American way” Sunset Boulevard “transfers noir psychology to a novel setting, the decaying mansion of a once-grand film star. Wilder’s portrait of the megalomaniacal Norma Desmond is etched in acid; she is the embodiment of Hollywood’s rotting foundations, its terminal narcissism, it’s isolation from reality.”

Norma’s sensational costumes were created by prolific designer Edith Head who resurrected Swanson’s silent era look, the exotic and exaggerated costumes and fashions of an ex-screen Goddess, which point back toward Swanson’s past. She wears a hat, adorned with a peacock feather in the scene where she is reunited with Cecil B. DeMille. This is a visual homage to a headdress she wore in Male and Female 1919 one of the first films he directed her in.

The silent movie queen Norma Talmadge is reportedly “the obvious if unacknowledged source of Norma Desmond, the grotesque, predatory silent movie queen” - Dave Kehr,An independent woman, nobly suffering in silents”, New York Times, 11 March 2010.

Sunset Boulevard could not have been cast with anyone better than the dynamic and grande actress who in 1919 was signed to a contract by Cecil B. DeMille. With this, her come-back role Gloria Swanson ignites the screen with her eponymous Norma Desmond -star of the silent screen -Norma Desmond, the tragic central satellite of the story who herself is dreaming of a comeback. Swanson’s performance is as much transfixing as it is exquisite.

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The intoxicating beauty of Gloria Swanson from the silent era

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Swanson herself was a very hard working actress in 1910s and 1920s with Mack Sennett before joining Paramount studios. She started her own production company in the mid ’20s but only made a few talkies in the 1930s. She made six silent films with Cecil B. DeMille.

As Leo Braudy says in his insightful book- The World in a Frame: What We See- Aesthetically, Swanson faces into the film as the fictional character Norma Desmond and faces outward toward us as the star. He calls her role a ‘meditation’ on her screen image and the relationship between the old world of silent films and the new world of 1950s Hollywood. He refers to the other actors who were her contemporaries playing themselves as ‘embalmed’ with her in the past, losing their relevance to the audience and ultimately their power.

Billy Wilder’s film is as James Naremore says in his book More Than Night- Film Noir in its Contents- is an “iconoclastic satire” and “a savage critique of modernity.” Much like Aldrich’s The Big Knife it is a condemnation of Hollywood in the cycle of films released in the 1950s, also notable The Bad and The Beautiful 1952. Naremore points out these films coincided with the blacklist, and the decline of studio owned theater chains summoning the end of an era. Norma’s character is a casualty of changing times.

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Co-starring as the ill-fated gutless unemployed screenwriter who becomes Norma’s gigolo, is smooth and sexy William Holden as Joe Gillis. Erich Von Stroheim plays Norma’s devoted butler and ex-hubby Max Von Mayerling. Erich Von Stroheim who had directed Swanson in Queen Kelly ’29 is perfectly suited to play her servant/ex-husband/devotee.

The film also co-stars Nancy Olson (Union Station 1950) as Betty Schaefer, Fred Clark as Sheldrake, Lloyd Gough as Morino, Jack Webb as Artie Green, Franklyn Farnum as the undertaker, and special appearances as themselves, Cecil B. DeMille, Hedda Hopper, Buster Keaton, Anna Q Nilsson, H.B. Warner, and composers Ray Evans and Jay Livingston.

The film is a Gothic, poetic nightmare in noir that so often evinces a sympathetic lens toward the forgotten characters who engage the audience like apparitions of another time in Hollywood. The unorthodox narrative that embraces a vividly unstable noir identity that dwells within the constructs of an American life, pushing the limits of social and sexual convention to a dark place of obsession and excess. Although Wilder scripted this as a black comedy, the noir stylization that had by now ran through it’s re-occurring patterns still manages to create the incessant mood of bleak cynicism and a distant vulgarity.

Bruce Crowthers Reflections in a Dark Mirror- ”Of the other German emigres who worked in Hollywood the most significant contributor to the film noir is Billy Wilder, whose Ace in the Hole perhaps the most cynical movie ever to come out of Hollywood, Double Indemnity with it’s mesmerizing manipulative spider-woman and Sunset Blvd with it’s atmosphere of brooding baroque insanity are classics of the genre.”

“Wilder introduces a creepy atmosphere of eccentric ruin that’s strange and destroys lives, yet hypnotically alluring and seductive from a lost indulgent age.”- Alain Silver & James Ursini from The Encyclopedia of Film Noir-The Directors

Wilder wanted stark reality and realism to pierce the veil of illusion and fantasy that was the dream factory of Hollywood 1950s. He portrays a corrupt landscape of used-up people, conniving agents, writers hustling to get their scripts sold, and the loneliness and alienation that permeates a world of broken dreams and perpetual struggle. Andrew Dickos in Street With No Name calls Wilder’s noir films “visions are steeped in cruel and corrosive humor, distinctive in its own right and its ability to function apart from the noir universe.”

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In this provocative masterpiece Billy Wilder masterfully evokes a shudder in us, “by emphasizing it’s verisimilitude, though, Wilder reveals the hidden truths of the world’s cruelest company town- from the isolation of forgotten celebrities to the crass efficiency of producers. Not only a thrilling and strange piece of entertainment, the film also is an indictment of Hollywood.” -Kashner & MacNair

Louis B Mayer, at a private screening of Sunset Boulevard, was furious with Wilder for his cruel portrayal of the industry that supported him. At the party before the various celebrities, he reproached him, “You have disgraced the industry that made and fed you! You should be tarred and feathered and run out of Hollywood!” Wilder kept the script hush hush using the innocuous code title A Can of BeansWilder and Brackett fearing that Hollywood would respond negatively to their damning portrayal of Hollywood.

He offers us the very typified archetypes of classical noir with his doomed anti-hero, the dangerous femme fatale, and the good girl redeemer. Also present are the familiar themes of entrapment, claustrophobia, instability, corruption, flawed character, psychological crime melodrama and even the police procedural with it’s thrilling opening sequence as the newsreel camera’s and police cars, their sirens blaring, tear up the streets as they speed toward the murder scene.

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The inimitable Mae West turned down the part of Norma Desmond

Originally Billy Wilder wanted the legendary & incomparably sexy and suggestive writer/actress Mae West to play Norma. West declined because she found the story to be ‘too dark’. She also didn’t want a film that portrayed the relationship between an older woman and younger man that reflected itself as hideous. The two approached Greta Garbo who also declined the offer. Wilder also approached Mary Pickford who was appalled by the offer, they had to apologize to her. It was George Cukor who suggested Gloria SwansonWilder asked Gloria Swanson to screen test for the part in 1949 and she almost said no. She had worked with Wilder who had adapted the screenplay for her film Music in the Air 1934. Norma is a larger-than-life film character though an exaggeration of reality considering Swanson wasn’t ancient she was only fifty at the time!

Wilder had contracted Montgomery Clift to play Joe Gillis. Clift left the picture finding it too uncomfortably close to his own life, because of the younger man relationship- he allegedly had an affair with Libby Holman a popular singer of the 20′s whose career was ruined by scandal surrounding the shooting death of her husband. Clift had spent time with Holman who also lived in a sprawling mansion much like Norma’s. Wilder worried that the age difference between Swanson and Holden wasn’t big enough, Swanson was fifty and Holden was thirty one. Wilder hadn’t been impressed with some of Holden’s more mediocre films of the ’40s, even though he had starred in Rouben Mamoulian’s Golden Boy (1939) with co-star Barbara Stanwyck. Sunset Boulevard made William Holden’s career. While I find Joe Gillis to be a dismissive smarmy ass who sort of had it coming to him, in this picture, I let it be know that I’m a huge fan of William Holden!- he did a superb job of playing it cagey, opportunistic and sarcastic as hell.

Wilder mirrors Joe Gillis’ from his own start as a shaky Hollywood writer having moved from Germany to America after Hitler’s rise to power, He used to be a ‘taxi dancer’ who would dance with any unattached older women who were willing to pay for his services.

One of the most iconic scenes from Sunset Boulevard, aside from the film’s fever dream climax where Norma descends the grand staircase, plunging into her gathering madness, is the scene that illustrates the withering passage of a lost era. The three fading silent film stars play bridge in the parlor of Norma’s decaying Gothic mausoleum. During the scene with the old stars playing bridge, the collectors come and take Joe’s car away, the only passport to freedom he has.

‘The wax works’ cracks wise, struggling snarky screen writer Joe Gillis, referring to Norma’s bridge party guests. Wilder envisioned this scene as purposefully macabre or as Kashner and MacNair call it “ghastly.” To see figures gathered around the table, as the sequence unfolds, it is revealed that these actors are actually playing themselves. Silent screen actress Anna Q. Nilsson, H.B. Warner who had played Christ in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1927 picture The King of Kings. And Legendary actor of silent cinema Buster Keaton is there too. Kashner and MacNair describe “his features ravaged by alcohol abuse.” Even Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond in a way is paying tribute to herself recalling the bridge game in the parlor scene- “Came close to giving us all the creeps.”

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Like the bridge guests DeMille plays himself with scenes shot on the real set of his 1949 motion picture Samson and Delilah. Erich Von Stroheim himself a once great director, Wilder uses him poignantly as Max who mourns his former life. Wilder touching on the fact that Stroheim in real life had a rough time with his career often going over budget and ultimately making box office flops.

As I’ve pointed out here in this piece for The Great Villain Blogathon, I am using Norma Desmond to argue that she isn’t the psychotic spider woman or villainess that she’s been referred to, and that the film neither makes fun of her, yet creates a sense of sympathetic apology to this grande dame mostly revealing her as quite a tragic figure. I neither see her as washed up nor grotesque, but a beautifully powerful women possessed of intensity. She is the one who is ‘trapped’ in the web of an unforgiving culture that demonizes women for their sexual primacy. Norma is possessed of desire. The desire to still be adored. The desire to make a ‘return’ to motion pictures. The desire to be loved as a great star. The desire to be loved by Joe.

It’s Joe Gillis that is not a very likable guy, who is uncaring, weak, too shallow and powerless. Let’s face it he’s a self-acknowledged heel. Ironically, sadly it is Norma’s story that is being told through this guys voice and perspective yet another way that her character is silenced, her personae distorted and perverted through the male gaze.

Once again Silver & Ward point out eloquently-

“Norma herself as portrayed by Gloria Swanson is a tragic figure. imbued by Wilder with powerful romantic presence… A woman obsessed, she clings to her vision with a tenacity that must ultimately be granted a grudging admiration and she is the only character in the film with the possible exception of Erich Von Stroheim’s fanatically loyal Max, who inspires genuine sympathy. Watching herself on screen in an old movie, she leaps into the projector’s murderous blast of light and cries, ‘They don’t make faces like that anymore!’ It is difficult for the viewer to favor Joe’s cynicism over her fervor, however misguided or self-centered it may be…”

THERE’S A MONSTROUS FEMALE IN OUR MIDST- SOME CHARACTERIZATIONS OF NORMA:

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From The Bad and the Beautiful: Hollywood in the 1950′s by Sam Kashner and Jennifer MacNair-Chapter- The Waxworks: Mae West, Gloria Swanson, and Sunset Boulevard which opens with-
 “Hollywood has never been kind to older actresses…”

Here are just a few of the negative & unwarranted cursory examinations of Norma Desmond’s persona, put here -not because I agree, but to point out how cruel & misguided critics have been.

David Kehr of the New York Times refers to Norma as “predatory and grotesque.”

Alain Silver and James Ursini from The Encyclopedia of Film Noir- The Directors- refer to Norma as “delusional eccentric, past her prime.” and a “washed up misfit.” “femme fatale who embodies unstable noir psychosis.”

Foster Hirsch spells it out like this,  “Her fate was monstrous” calling her the “ultimate spider woman hibernating behind closed shutters in a swoon of alcohol and self-deception…{…} her loss of fame and fading beauty turn her into a psychopathic recluse.”

Hedda Hopper describes Norma descending the great staircase at the climax of Sunset Boulevard as her being in- “ a state of complete mental shock!”

Bruce Crowther-Film Noir: Reflections in a Dark Mirror actually uses the word ‘demonic’ he says “Yet, in Sunset Boulevard (1950), she succeeded in bringing to demonic life Norma Desmond, an old-time movie star who is on the most grotesque of all femme fatales.”

Janet Place chapter The Spider Woman from Women in Film Noir- “with her claw-like hands.”

Actress Mae Murray a contemporary of Swanson’s, was offended by the film and commented, “None of us floozies was that nuts.”

Forster Hirsch calls her -”megalomaniacal.”

John McCarthy- Movie Psychos and Madmen calls her “a monster”

Marjorie Rosen (Popcorn Venus 1973) & Molly Haskell ( From Reverence to Rape 1974) -“a despairingly lonely serpent…” whose predicament is “reduced and trivialized because the source of her misery is merely growing old” -cited by Brandon French, who feels they miss the point by merely reducing Norma to a victim of Wilder’s satire.

Brandon French -On the Verge of Revolt- “these fictional villainesses unable to discover-or accept-an autonomous creative expression of their power are made monsters by it, to one degree or another…{…} Her ludicrous existence as a middle-aged child.” 

From Chapter -Women in Film Noir- by Janet Place- The Spider Woman

In discussing the powerful returning motifs and patterns in film noir, Place talks about the dangerous power of the sexual woman, and how it is visually expressed. She states,

“Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard is the most highly stylized ‘spider woman’ in all of film noir as she weaves a web to trap and finally destroy her young victim, but even as she visually dominates him, she is presented as caught by the same false value system. The huge house in which she controls camera movement and is constantly center frame is also a hideous trap which requires from her the maintenance of the myth of stardom;the contradiction between the reality and the myth pull apart and finally drive her mad.”

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A caption that goes with the photo of Norma with head scarf and dark glasses smoking a cigarette “emphasizes the perverse, decaying side of film noir sexuality, with her claw-like hands, dark glasses and bizarre cigarette holder.”

She goes on to add that these ‘visual cues’ are a characteristic iconography of the “dangerously explicitly sexual and often violent noir female.” Using signals like cigarettes and their trails of wispy smoke are linked with immoral feminine sensuality and the forces of darkness. The specific use of heavily defined make-up, eyebrow pencil and full contoured lips, the dark glasses etc. Even the animal print that Norma wears. The power of these particular women is expressed in the visual style by “their dominance in composition, camera movement and how they are lit.”

From Mary Beth Haralovich- Chapter-Movies and Landscapes in-American Cinema of the 1950s Themes and Variations edited by Murray Pomerance“A character’s mental landscape is written on the mise-en-scéne in the film, the bodies of the actors and in their subjective visions, in their responses to settings that give them solace and to settings that they fear.”
As Joe Gillis comments to Betty Schaefer in Sunset Blvd-“Psychopaths sell like hotcakes.”

In fact like the silent cinema which was once her world, Norma is a ghost there, an empty shadow of the past. Now Norma is in a lonely place because the industry that once supported her has forgotten her completely.
“Sunset Boulevard is cast with doppelgangers, fictional counterparts of actual Hollywood players, Paramount’s actual silent star Gloria Swanson plays Norma Desmond, “Paramount’s Silent Star” Like Norma, Swanson’s screen career did not transfer over to sound films until her remarkable performance in the Sunset Boulevard.

One issue that is suggestive of lensing Norma as a monstrous female is the prevailing mood of ‘male anxiety.’ Centered around not only her age, (for crying out loud she was only 50), but threatening was also her vivid sexual impulses and desires.

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Mary Beth Haralovich points to critic Sarah Street “Sunset Blvd. describes the overwhelming male anxiety about age, morality and career” -from her Mad About the Boy”; Masculinity and Career in Sunset Boulevard 1995

Haralovich points out that in Sunset Boulevard Joe works well with Betty at the studio -it’s a space where creativity can flourish, after hours and is a collaborative effort with Betty for the screenplay first entitled Dark Windows but the new draft is called Untitled Love Story. It shows that energetic youth is taking over the staid and faded ways of the old world.

I defer to Brandon French once again because of his insight and compassionate stance on the character of Norma Desmond, as I also see her. He writes, “In numerous films of the fifties such as All About Eve (1950) The African Queen (1951), The Rose Tattoo (1955), All That Heaven Allows (1956) and Autumn Leaves (1956) middle aged women are shown to be sexually attractive. What renders Norma less than desirable is her neurosis not her age.”

So you could argue that Wilder’s film is not only a condemnation of the failed system of Hollywood but also how it marginalizes it’s older stars, more specifically women. As French puts it, “a protest against Hollywood’s institutional policy of human discard, Wilder put the spotlight on Swanson.”

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The film showcases society’s anxiety about sexual women especially those who have aged out of their place of ‘desirability.’ It’s this repulsion against older women that turns them into screen ‘monsters.’ It only follows that Norma would fall into an orbit of madness, when she had once flourished in an industry that co-nurtures narcissism, then punishes their women stars when they no longer have the advantage of claiming that egotism as an earned right. These stars are primed to be egotistical and then damned for it once they no longer serve a purpose for the industry cronies who make pictures.

Again, it invokes, Bette Davis’ performance of Baby Jane Hudson and her self-delusion caused by years of growing neglect and the cruel reversal of attentions that were once foisted on her. These accolades taken away, creating  stars that are relics left in a lonely place. Perhaps Wilder’s script did not make his import obvious or more compassionate through the narrative which would more easily coax the audiences sympathies and not necessarily gear them toward repulsion of the central tragic figure that is Norma Desmond. 

Norma Desmond was the prototype for the Grande Dame Guignol films that were to follow… of course the actresses would be faced with the same dilemma– of being given a script that would challenge them not to be type cast or appear monstrous.

It is then up to us to redeem Norma ourselves and see her as the victim and not the ultimate noir spider woman, psychopathic megalomaniac, deranged and deluded horror movie queen.

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The story should work in a way that sheds light on the anxiety surrounding women who aren’t in their twenties or thirties, not framing the narrative or focusing the visual cues on their age as if they are uncanny and dangerous. To tell the story of alienation and madness yes but lens it in a way that doesn’t promote revulsion of the older woman’s sexuality and power. A beauty standard where women can’t grow older and be beautiful at the same time. As people describe Norma as ‘grotesque’ All I see is a very beautiful lonely woman who is yes, filled with a growing delusion. Norma’s misguided fervor is only fueled by her co-dependent side-kick Max as he shelters her from the truth instead of helping her gain awareness through his companionship.

“The attention that Norma Desmond pays to herself, as opposed to the man, is the obvious narrative transgression of Sunset Boulevard.” -Haralovich

Not that Hollywood hasn’t created narcissism in their stars, or that it’s truly a crime for a woman to value herself above all else. Norma gazes at her own reflection in mirrors and in her old motion pictures. As Writer Place points out that the narcissistic independence that the femme fatale seeks is ‘fundamentally and irredeemably sexual’ in noir. Combined with both aggressiveness and sensuality, the dangerous woman becomes the central ‘obsessive’ focus of the narrative. She represents the man’s own sexual freedom, which she must control, repress or ultimately destroy him.

Norma insists on Joe participating in her life rather than being interested in his life. He dreams he is her pet chimp and he actually does become her victim. The victim of Salomé-

From Brandon French’s On the Verge of Revolt-Women in American Films in the Fifties- Chapter 1 The Scarlet “A” Sunset Boulevard (1950) “Sunset Boulevard is a film about ambition and what it allegedly does to the human spirit…{…} On the other hand we harbor a gloomy suspicion that ambition corrodes the soul. America’s negative attitude toward ambition had a critical influence on the transitional woman of the fifties. An Ambitious woman not merely violated the domestic female image; she became a receptacle for America’s most distorted fantasy projections about ambition; a soulless monster of selfish manipulation without moral restraint.”

This was the type of female who film noir had manifested during the forties and fifties. French so aptly points out that ambition is ‘as deadly as the scarlet “A” that is born of our puritan consciousness’. Sunset Boulevard is a perfect example of how a woman who has more drive and ambition, even more than Joe Gillis, evokes an image of her as a “fallen Eve seducing Adam into sin.”

In Sunset Boulevard French views as do I, Billy Wilder’s depiction of Norma as not a typically “just plain rotten” noir villainess. The film yields a thoughtful perspective on the ambivalence of what French calls ‘the transitional woman in the fifties.” Because Wilder complicates the issue of the typified noir evil predatory woman, misunderstood trapped man, innocent ingenue redeemer. Norma is therefore much more nuanced than a sad tragic figure.

Another sentient point that goes to the entire source of Norma’s ambivalence and state of mind begs the question… who’s responsible for her state? DeMille who doesn’t take any culpability for his own contribution to Norma’s decline-blames the press agents who worked overtime focusing on Norma, creating her goddess like megalomania. Demille does not come to Norma’s rescue and help her ‘return’.

Sunset Boulevard Norma and de Mille

DeMille fondly recalls Norma’s talent in terms of her as “a lovely little girl of seventeen.” But unlike ‘men’ in the film industry who don’t have to qualify themselves by their age and appearance, they don’t have to suffer the effects of a punishing system of skin-deep values. Also it’s this atmosphere that nurtures and places value on youth and the function of beauty that have given rise to a Norma with an arrested development, living in the past obsessed with her ‘self.’

His girlfriend Betty types while he dictates the script they try to write together. Joe loves that Betty smells like a brand new car or freshly laundered handkerchiefs, and not tuberoses. Betty is ambitious too, she dreams of his career and is content to be behind the camera instead of in front of it. “Self-interest, over devotion to a man is the original sin of the film noir woman.” -Haralovich

In John McCarthy’s Movie Psychos and Madmen- Chapter- The Female Psycho, McCarthy talks about Gloria Swanson’s faded movie queen in Billy Wilder’s biting attack on Hollywood. He frames Norma as trapped by her delusions-”the delusion that her glamour has not yet faded.”

I disagree. I think that Gloria Swanson/Norma Desmond is STILL glamorous. Perhaps led by the majority who have profiled her as a has been beauty queen and here again, the value judgement has been sworn against her, not just as a character trapped by self-delusion and that her career has ended, but that her desirability is an illusion as well…

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Gloria Swanson is beautiful as ever as silent movie queen Norma Desmond

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Given the immense narcissism which goes along with Hollywood, Swanson  in my opinion does not look like a caricature of her former self nor is she Norma Desmond’s doppelganger. To me… she just looks a little older but still quite sensual and beautiful as ever!

I suppose due to the visual cues by director Wilder and cinematographer Seitz Norma is presented or we are made to believe that she is grotesque like Bette Davis’ Baby Jane whose make up, hairstyle and mannerism truly were an exaggeration of a farcical youth that Davis purposefully plays as campy in order to illustrate her detachment from reality and the attachment to a past life that doesn’t translate well in the modernity of Los Angeles in the 60s. Aldrich’s film pushed the boundaries of convention even further by implementing an even more claustrophobic universe in conflict with the outside world, that engenders madness.

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Though Norma has been referred to as having snared Joe in her web. She didn’t go out and set a trap for him, he wandered into her world, she didn’t force him to stay, he stayed because he saw ‘a cozy set up’. and money in it for him, he was hiding and was morbidly curious about the ex-screen Goddess as if he saw her as a side show freak… if the house was a web, he put his own foot on the silk chord and set off the tremor that signaled the spider to pounce. Joe even remarks via voice-over while he’s being led up to his room over the garage, “I dropped the bait, and she snapped at it…”

It’s a tragedy of psychological entrapment and neurotic purgatory that she desires to be loved for herself by the down on his luck screenwriter Joe Gillis whom she has turned into her kept man. Tragic that she believes her fans continue to remember and write to her, and finally that the Hollywood she helped build is still anxiously awaiting her return. McCarthy says “unlike the use of her trap of delusion as a vehicle for comedy as in Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) about two dotty women… Norma’s psychological entrapment is a tragedy.”

That Norma’s entrapment is as real and not just that of Joe Gillis’ is a tragedy, I would entirely agree. But McCarthy continues by calling her a ‘monster.’ And yes through the lens of Grande Dame Guignol cinema of which Sunset Boulevard appears to be seedling the screen for the sub-genre, with the decaying mansion and dreary atmosphere, and the theme of ‘the monstrous feminine’ Norma has been perceived and written about as having evolving into a monster. Though I’ll never see her that way.

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And I dare say she did not create this transmogrification herself. She was created by Hollywood, the fictionalized concept that Wilder attacks and by the actualization of the character by Wilder who framed her that way. As a result of her delusion, much like Davis’ Baby Jane Hudson– her madness leads to murder. As McCarthy says, “broken dreams leading to a broken mind” He brings up one good point. That Sunset Boulevard could almost be a horror movie/film noir hybrid. Much like Aldrich’s similar rebuke of Hollywood with his seminal What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? it is a psycho-sexual thriller that breaks apart conventional narratives. And much like Norma Desmond, I will never see Bette Davis’ role as Jane Hudson through the lens of the monstrous. They will always be sympathetic figures to me.

Plot

“A Hollywood Story… This is it … the most compelling dramatic story ever unfolded on the screen .. a tale of heartache and tragedy … love and ambition … told against the fabulous background of Hollywood.”

Told in flashback by a dead man-set against the blaring sirens of racing police cars to the crime scene, the film opens with police cars speeding down Sunset Boulevard. They’ve been called to a mansion where the body of a man, Joe Gillis (William Holden) is floating face down on the surface of the swimming pool with his eyes wide open-(camera used a mirror underneath to catch Holden’s face from underneath). The dead man begins to narrate the story of what led to his death in flashback noir style. This is truly a spin on the term, “ghost-writer.”

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“Yes, this is Sunset Blvd… the homicide squad complete with detectives and newspaper men. A murder has been reported from one of those great big houses… You’ll read all about it in the late editions… You’ll get it over your radio, and see it on television because an old-time star is involved, one of the biggest. But before your hear it all distorted and blown out of proportion, before those Hollywood columnists get their hands on it, maybe you’d like to hear the facts, the whole truth… If so you’ve come to the right party.”

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Repo Man-“There’s gonna be fireworks” Joe Gillis- “You Say the cutest things!”

It leads us back- Six months earlier. Joe Gillis is an out of work screenwriter with only a few B-movies to his credit. He tries to persuade Paramount Pictures producer Sheldrake (Fred Clark) to buy one of his scripts, but reader Betty Schaefer (Olson) administers a harsh critique not realizing that Joe can hear her. Carrying a folder of papers, she puts them on Sheldrake’s desk not noticing Joe Gillis standing by the door. Referring to Joe’s script Sheldrake-”What’s wrong with it?” Betty- “It’s from hunger… just a rehash of something that wasn’t very good to begin with.” Sheldrake-“I’m sure you’ll be glad to met Mr. Gillis. He wrote it.”

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Betty is embarrassed, she would like to ‘crawl into a hole and pull it in after her.’ She says to Joe, “I’m sorry, Mr.Gillis but I just don’t think it’s any good. I find it flat and banal.” He asks “Exactly what kind of material do you recommend? James Joyce? Dostoyevsky?” She tells him, “I just think pictures should say a little something.” Gillis- “Oh, you’re one of those message kids. Just a story won’t do. You’d have turned down Gone With the Wind.”

First Joe is typing at his apartment when two collectors show up looking to repossess his car. He manages to elude them once but they spot him on the street at a traffic light. Gillis spots the men who are going to repossess his 1946 Plymouth convertible while sitting at an intersection. They begin chasing him and he gets a blow out.

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the car hidden behind Rudy’s Shoeshine Joe comments about Rudy-“he’d just look at your heels and know the score”

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Trying to hide out Joe turns onto a Sunset Boulevard driveway and stumbles onto an old garage crumbling by the side of a gloomy yet grandiose deteriorating, dying mansion with a little formal garden all gone to seed.

“If ever there was a place to stash away a limping car with a hot license plate.”

When Joe starts his monologue describing Norma’s house, it’s as if he is giving us a portent, describing Norma’s state of mind as the mansion is an extension of her projected identity.

Gillis’ voice-over “It was a great big white elephant of a place. The kind crazy movie people built in the crazy twenties. A neglected house gets an unhappy look. This one had it in spades. It was like that old woman in Great Expectations –that Miss Haversham in her rotting wedding dress and her torn veil, taking it out on the world because she’d been given the go by”

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Suddenly he hears, “You there!… why are you so late!”

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The ever brooding Max

Living in this opulent ruin, is the reclusive and long forgotten silent film star Norma Desmond. She alone inhabits this fading estate with her faithful butler Max (Erich Von Stroheim), who also happens to be her ex-husband, who was once a great director and plays a wheezing organ. Both lost relics of a bygone era. The interior shots of the grand hall, great staircase, Norma’s ‘waxwork’s’ parlor, her bedroom and the Gothic baroque style mansion in general evoke an atmosphere of bleak desolation and mystification.

The great hall is grandiose and grim, described in the script as exhibiting portieres that are drawn before all the windows, and “only thin slits or sunlight find their way in to fight the few electric bulbs which are always burning.”

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As Norma Desmond first makes her entrance she stands like a ghostly figure down the corridor in front of a doorway that allows the intrusion of a flickering light. She is small in stature, yet she exudes an electrifying presence, wearing black house pajamas and high heeled pumps. Like many femme fatales she wears dark glasses, a scarf and turban patterned in leopard print.

The undercurrent is gloomy and dust covered. The room is hung with white brocade which is tattered in places and has become mucky from years of neglect. Sam Comer and Ray Moyer’s set design fits the mood perfectly as the scene also showcases a great unmade gilded bed, the gold peeling off as to symbolize Norma’s decomposing love life. The curious set piece is in the shape of a swan.

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The gondola bed in her boudoir is ornately carved with cherubs that Norma sleeps in was actually owned by dancer Gaby Deslys who died in 1920. It had belonged to Universal’s prop department who bought it after Desly’s death. It appears in Lon Chaney’s The Phantom of the Opera (1925). Joe in one of his voice-overs describes it as a gilded row boat. “The perfect setting for a silent movie queen. Poor devil still waving proudly to a parade which has long since passed her by.”

All these little details just add to the sense of realism built into the visual narrative with its accoutrements of Hollywood’s “world of illusion.” Clothes and negligees strewn about the room, which is graced with photographs of fading stars of yesterday. There’s a baroque style fireplace book ended by two ornate candelabras. Set out like an Egyptian prince on her massage table is the shrouded monkey in repose under a shawl.

Norma begins to direct Gillis believing him to be the undertaker (Franklin Farnum) from the funeral home. Joe plays along with a morbid fascination. She tells him,  “I’ve made up my mind we’ll bury him in the garden. Any city laws against that?” Joe says, “I wouldn’t know” Norma continues, “I don’t care anyway. I want the coffin to be white. And I want it specially lined with satin. White, or deep pink.”

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When she picks up the shawl, a small stiff arm falls out. Joe is a little stunned by the tiny hairy arm. “Maybe red. Bright flaming red. Gay. Let’s make it gay.”      

When Joe looks closer at the small body under the shawl he sees the very pitiful, bearded face of a dead chimpanzee. It’s a startling scene, odd and curious. Norma seems to have made her little friend almost a surrogate child.

Joe says to her, “I know your face. You’re Norma Desmond. You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big.” Norma replies with a stately languor, “I am big… it’s the pictures that got small…”

Gillis in his smug manner, “I knew there was something wrong with them.”

Norma begins her brusque tirade “They’re dead. They’re finished. There was a time when this business had the eyes of the whole wide world. But that wasn’t good enough. Oh, no They wanted the ears of the world, too. So they opened their big mouths, and out came talk, talk, talk…”

Joe Gillis quips, “That’s where the popcorn business comes in. You buy yourself a bag and plug up your ears.”

Norma chastising- “Look at them in the front offices — the master minds! They took the idols and smashed them. The Fairbanks and the Chaplins and the Gilberts and the Valentinos. And who have they got now? Some nobodies….”

Joe Gillis- “Don’t get sore at me. I’m not an executive. I’m just a writer.”

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Norma- “You are! Writing words, words! You’ve made a rope of words and strangled this business! But there is a microphone right there to catch the last gurgles, and Technicolor to photograph the red, swollen tongue!”

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Joe- “Ssh! You’ll wake up that monkey.”

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Norma yells- “Get out!” as Gillis starts down the stairs, he answers her, “Next time I’ll bring my autograph album along or maybe a hunk of cement and ask for your footprints.” Halfway down the stairs she stops him, “Just a minute you!”

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Joe-”I didn’t know you were planning a comeback”

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“I hate that word!” (clenched teeth)

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“A return… to the millions of people who have never forgiven me for deserting the screen”

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“Salomé” (Norma whispers to herself)

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She is drawn to Joe, and offers him a job helping her prepare the script for her ‘return’ (she hates the word ‘comeback’) in the film Salomé.

Norma tells Joe, “It’s the story of Salomé I think I’ll have DeMille direct it” Joe humors her. “We’ve made a lot of pictures together.” Joe asks, “And you’ll play Salomé?” “Who else?” “Only asking, I didn’t know you were planning a comeback” “I hate that word… It is a ‘return.’ A return to the millions of people who have never forgiven me for deserting the screen!… Salomé, what a woman! What a part! The princess in love with a Holy man. She dances the Dance of the Seven Veils. He rejects her, so she demands his head on a golden tray, kissing his cold dead lips.”

Max wheels in a tea wagon with Champagne and caviar. Norma sits in her chair smoking from her curious cigarette holder that is a gold ring with a clip. She dumps another batch of pages from the script on Joe.

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Joe “It was a cozy set up”

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“That bundle of nerves Max… that dead monkey upstairs and the wind wheezing through that organ once in a while”

“Well- I had no pressing engagement and she’d mentioned something to drink… Sometimes it’s interesting to see just how bad, bad writing can be. This promised to go to the limit. I wondered what a handwriting expert would make of that childish scrawl of hers. Max wheeled in some champagne and some caviar. Later I found out that Max was the only other person in that Grim Sunset Castle, and I found out a few other things about him… As for her she sat coiled up like a watch spring, her cigarette clamped in a curious holder… I could sense her eyes on me from behind those dark glasses, defying me not to like what I read, or maybe begging me in her own proud way to like it. It meant so much to her.”

Joe admits- “The place seemed to have been stricken with a kind of creeping paralysis, out of beat with the rest of the world, crumbling apart in slow motion… I knew there was something wrong… it sure was a cozy set-up.”

He dismissively mocks her when she tells him that she’ll have DeMille direct, and that she will play the part of Salomé.

“Salome… what a woman what a part. The princess in love with a Holy man She dances the dance of the seven veils. He rejects her and she demands his head on a golden tray… Kissing his cold dead lips”

Okay perhaps there’s a hint of Norma having a little pent up rage toward men… Still, she’s adorable!

Seeing that Joe is broke and a bit of a schemer, he accepts the job and moves into the guest room over the garage. Joe is weak-willed, gutless and a cynic who wields mocking witticisms at every turn. And soon he becomes Norma’s lover, a kept man, a gigolo.

The undertaker arrives with the tiny coffin… Max greets him at the door and leads him up the long winding staircase.

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CapturFiles_34 Silly hodge podge of melodramatic plotz however I started concocting a little plot of my own

Joe’s voice over-“Silly hodge podge of melodramatic plotz however I started concocting a little plot of my own”

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Joe tells Norma-“Maybe what it needs is a little more dialogue”

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“What for I can say anything I want with my eyes!”

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“You know I’m pretty expensive”

Wilder visually suggests how Joe is being drawn into Norma’s world at first when he goes to his room above the garage, the camera focuses on the gnarled dead branches that invade the space as he climbs the dark stairs to his room. Joe is too smug in his new cozy set-up, having no clue of the dangerous path he’s about to embark on.

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“So I let him (Max) unpack my things. I wanted the dough, and I wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible. I thought if I really got going, I could toss it off in a couple of weeks. But it wasn’t so simple, getting some coherence into that wild, scrambled melodrama she’d concocted. What made it tougher was that she was around all the time–hovering over me, afraid I’d do injury to that precious brain child of hers.”

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Joe-“Say… She’s quite a character that Norma Desmond” Max– fixated on his mistress-“She was the greatest of them all. You wouldn’t know… you’re too young… In one week she received 17,000 fan letters. Men bribed her hairdresser to get a lock of her hair. ….there was a maharjas who came all the way from India to beg one of her silk stockings… later he strangled himself with it”

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Joe’s voice over-“Crumbling apart in slow motion -the whole place had a sort of creeping paralysis out of beat with the rest of the world”

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“the last rights of that hairy chimp as if she were laying to rest an only child”

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“it was all very queer…”

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“was her life really as empty as that?”

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While daylight seeps through the blinds, he lies on top of the shabby quilt, the script strewn about him. As he awakens to these strange surroundings he narrates in voice over for us once again-, “That night I had a mixed up dream. In it was an organ grinder. I couldn’t see his face, but the organ was all draped in black and a chimp was dancing for pennies. I opened my eyes the music was still there… Where was I?… Oh yes, that empty room over the garage. (the organ playing beneath his voice-over) Only it wasn’t empty anymore. Somebody had brought in all my belongings. My books, my typewriter, my clothes… What was going on?” He puts his jacket on and heads toward the pipe organ–Max (Von Stroheim, white gloved close up is actually playing) Bach’s widely used baleful Toccata and Fugue in D-Minor.

Not too long after he finds that Norma has told Max to move his belongings into the house. Joe is weak and resents having to rely on Norma’s affections to support him. Norma argues with him about him needing her financial support, that he’s a proud boy who is in difficulties.

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Joe dumps a scene ‘cut away from me?’

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Joe’s voice-over-“I didn’t argue with her. You didn’t yell at a sleepwalker–he may fall and break his neck. That’s it, she was sleepwalking along the giddy heights of a lost career– plain crazy when it came to that one subject: her celluloid self, the great Norma Desmond. How could she breathe in that house, so crowded with Norma Desmonds? More Norma Desmond, and still more Norma Desmond!”

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“How could she breathe in that house so crowded with Norma Desmonds”

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Max lifts the painting that reveals the large movie screen

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Norma is entertaining her cynical ‘lover’ who is coasting on ennui. Trusted Max is a constant enigma of stoic devotion, as he watches from the projection booth, the light from the bulb shimmers on his somber face.

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Joe finally begins to accept his role as Norma’s found boy-friend. He spends time with her, working on the script while Norma dressed in one of her lounging pajamas autographs photos of herself. Joe begins to realize just how unaware she is about how much the world has passed her by. Norma isn’t gracious about any criticism, she forces him to watch her old movies. Joe’s smug voice-over-

“She’s sit very close to me, and she’d smell of tuberoses, which is not my favorite perfume, not by a long shot. Sometimes as we watched, she’d clutch my arm or my hand forgetting she was my employer becoming just a fan, excited about that actress up there on the screen… I guess I don’t have to tell you who that actress was. They were always her pictures, that’s all she ever wanted to see.”

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Swanson delivers her dialogue with an intrepid vehemence which cuts at the heart of being a forgotten silent star gazing at the clip of an actual Gloria Swanson/Norma Desmond film they made, “Still wonderful, isn’t it? And no dialogue. We didn’t need dialogue. We had faces…! There just aren’t any faces like that anymore… Well, maybe one… Garbo.”

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Swanson delivers her dialogue with an intrepid vehemence which cuts at the heart of being a forgotten silent star gazing at the clip of an actual Gloria Swanson/Norma Desmond film they made, “Still wonderful, isn’t it? And no dialogue. We didn’t need dialogue. We had faces…! There just aren’t any faces like that anymore… Well, maybe one… Garbo.”

Standing in the ghostly beam of projector light Norma avows- “Those idiot producers! Those imbeciles! Haven’t they got any eyes? Have they forgotten what a star looks like? I’ll show them. I’ll be up there again, so help me!”

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“Norma is caught between challenge and panic. Her neurotic solution is to buy a man, which establishes her power and control, and then make a pretense of a girlish vulnerability. Her suicide attempt is emblematic of her ambivalence since it is both an assertion of power and an act of self-diminution.” -Brandon French-On the Verge of Revolt-Women in Films of the 1950s

Continue reading


Coming to The Last Drive In

THE GREAT VILLAIN BLOGATHON- SUNSET BOULEVARD, DRACULA’S DAUGHTER & LADY IN A CAGE

When the Spider Woman Looks: Two Glorias-”Wicked Love, Close ups & Old Jewels”- The Sympathetically Tragic Villainesses of Sunset Blvd (1950) and Dracula’s Daughter (1936)

Gloria:Norma climax mirror

Walter Graumen puts Olivia de Havilland in peril as a Lady in a Cage (1964) ” Oh, dear lord… I am… a monster!”

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OBSCURE SCREAM GEMS, THE UNKNOWN TERROR (1957)–NIGHT CALLER FROM OUTER SPACE (1965)–THE FLESH EATERS (1964) AND KRONOS (1957)

Night Caller from Outer Space

Don’t attempt to adjust that dial, we have taken over your television set: The Transendental fancy of The Outer Limits 1963

THE BELLERO SHIELD–A FEASIBILITY STUDY–BEHOLD ECK–MAN WITH THE POWER–THE ARCHITECTS OF FEAR

Behold Eck-The Outer Limits

Robert Siodmak’s noir masterpiece The Killers (1946) The first 12 ‘Killer’ minutes!

Lancaster -Siodmak's The Killers

Shelley Winters: ‘Bloody Mama -The Voluptuous Diva of Cinematic Psycho Drama’

winters-bloodymama

60′S CINEMA: Ship of Fools–In Cold Blood–They Shoot Horses Don’t They–Mother Joan of the Angels–Lolita–Blow Up–Psycho and– The Swimmer!

Blow Up

Continuing 150 Days of MonsterGirl’s Classic Horror

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Quotes… Trailers AND…!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

MonsterGirl’s 500th anniversary post

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THE HAUNTING- ‘There’s nothing to see…In the dark, in the night… Robert Wise’s enduring masterpiece!’

Robert Wise The Haunting-cast

See you at the snack bar!


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