The Changeling (1980) “How did you die, Joseph…? Did you die in this house…? Why do you remain…?”

The Changeling 1980 wheelchairs are scary

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Here’s a blogathon that will enlighten you about many truly wonderful artists, actors, & filmmakers who proudly hail from the Great White North country of Canada! Kristina of Speakeasy  and Ruth of Silver Screenings are paying tribute to Canada… So this New Yorker is doing her part to join in with a classic ghost story that will give you the ‘pip and the whim whams!’ After all even Martin Scorsese thinks this film is one of the 11 scariest films he’s ever known!

I’m always grateful when I’m asked to join in on one of these marvelous celebrations, and my gratitude continues, so without further ado…

Door Opens Changeling

O Canada & The Changeling — IMDb trivia tid bits- The house seen in the movie in real life doesn’t and never actually did exist. The film-makers could not find a suitable mansion to use for the film so at a cost of around $200,000, the production had a Victorian gothic mansion facade attached to the front of a much more modern dwelling in a Vancouver street. This construction was used for the filming of all the exteriors of the movie’s Carmichael Mansion. The interiors of the haunted house were an elaborate group of interconnecting sets built inside a film studio in Vancouver.

The name of the history group was the Seattle Historical Preservation Society. The name of the campus where Dr. John Russell ( George C. Scott ) taught music was the University of Seattle though interiors set there were filmed at the University of Toronto in Toronto, Canada.

Though predominantly filmed in Canada, the picture was set in Seattle, USA where establishing shots were filmed. These included the Rainier Tower, the SeaTac Airport, the University of Washington’s Red Square, and the Lacey V. Murrow Memorial Bridge. Some location filming was shot in New York. Most of the movie was filmed in Vancouver and its environs in British Columbia with Victoria in the same Canadian province also used. Interiors set at the university were shot in Toronto in Canada’s province of Ontario.

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THE CHANGELING (1980)

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Minnie Huxley: “That house is not fit to live in. No one’s been able to live in it. It doesn’t want people.”

The Changeling was produced by Lew Grade who tried to start up his own production company that never quite made it, however during this time he was responsible releasing Boys From Brazil 1978 and On Golden Pond 1981 and our featured ghost story The Changeling. The story is by Russell Hunter and the screenplay was written by William Gray and Diana Maddox. Directed by Peter Medak (The Ruling Class 1972, The Krays 1990, Romeo is Bleeding 1993)

Director of Photography John Coquillon (The Impersonator 1961 The Conqueror Worm 1968 Cry of the Banshee 1970, Straw Dogs 1971, Cross of Iron 1977, Absolution 1978, The Osterman Weekend 1983) Coquillon has a magical touch of creating environments that seemed closed in whilst surrounded by the a vast natural world. Because the players are about to implode from too much twisted pathology & secret sin eating, his camera work translates a tense universe on screen so well, that it elevates the narrative to a more uncomfortable level.

WHEELCHAIR CHASE

Rick Wilkins is credited for the film’s stunningly haunting score, but that effectively poignant yet eerie music box theme was composed by Howard Blake as part of a work called Lifecycle which is a collection of 24 piano pieces using only 24 keys.

The film stars George C. Scott as John Russell as a tragic figure of loss, Trish Van Devere as Claire Norman, Melvyn Douglas as Senator Carmichael, Jean Marsh as Joanna Russell, Barry Morse as the Parapsychologist, John Colicos as Captain DeWitt, Madeleine Sherwood as Claire’s mother, and Ruth Springford as the Historical Society’s creepy secretive Minnie Huxley.

The Changeling (1980) is one of those rare masterpieces that fall into the cerebral tale of otherworldly & supernatural torments that are defined as ‘intimate drawing room’ ghost stories. Much like The Uninvited (1944), Dead of Night (1945), The Innocents (1961), The Haunting (1963), Ghost Story (1981), Lady in White (1988),  and The Others (2001) 

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The Changeling is a SUPERIOR ghost story permeated with a moody angst, atmosphere and some of the most chilling moments in classical haunting/ horror cinema. It is said that the movie is based on actual events that took place at a mansion called the Henry Treat Rogers Mansion not in Canada but in Denver Colorado. Writer Russell Hunter claims he witnessed these events while living in the house during the 1960s. IMDb trivia tells us that ‘The Chessman Park neighborhood in the movie is a reference to Cheesman Park in Denver, where the original haunting transpired.’

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I saw The Changeling upon it’s theatrical release in 1980 and believe me when I say that those ‘frightening’ jarring moments are as effective as they were 36 years ago, they can still cause that jump out of your seat reflex!. The house used in The Changeling is as imposing and chills inspiring on it’s own. “The house was totally created by set designers and you won’t forget its eerie corridors, stairway, and dark rooms.” -John Stanley from Creature Features Movie Guide. As Stanley figures, this memorable ghost story operates on 3 though I count 4 different levels.

1) as a pure ghost story 2) as the journey of John Russell’s struggle with loss 3) as a morality tale about good vs evil. And 4) a tale of murder, power and greed.

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George C Scott plays John Russell a concert pianist/ music professor is haunted by the vision of witnessing both his wife (Jean Marsh in a tiny flashback role before she is killed) an daughter die in a freak car accident. The film opens with this tragic event, in order to set the pace for Russell’s unbounded grief and inconsolable trauma. Russell decides to pack up the Manhattan apartment, including little Kathy’s red rubber ball and moves to Seattle (Canada) where he has taken a new teaching job. The atmosphere is grim and rainy, cold and alienated as we understand how heartbroken John Russell is. Waking in the middle of the night sobbing, he cannot fathom, living in this world without his beautiful wife and daughter. John needs a large house that is removed from everything so that he may compose without being bothered by neighbors. The realtor Clair Norman (Trish Van Devere- Scott’s wife at the time. This would be their 8th film together) who is an agent for the Historical Preservation Society shows him the old Chessman Park House which has been unoccupied for twelve years.

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Trish Van Devere appeared in her own ghost story, the more toned down surreal The Hearse (1980)
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Van Devere in outre creepy The Hearse 1980

John is curious about the reasons behind the house being empty for so long, but Claire being fairly new to the society can’t give him an answer, except that the society hasn’t tried to find a new tenant for the house. Curiouser and curiouser. She also explains that there had once been plans to renovate the house and turn it into a museum. She thinks the house would be a perfect place for John to compose because of it’s sizable music room. So John moves in and begins teaching at the university, his classes become a big hit, with students accepting the SRO conditions.

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John Russell: “It’s my understanding… that there are, uh… twenty-three students registered… for this series of lectures on advanced musical form. Now, we all know it’s not raining outside, and unless there’s a fire in some other part of the building that we don’t know about, there’s an awful lot of people here with nothing better to do.”

As John gets settled in, he is invited to a cocktail party/fund raiser for the Historical Society where he sees Claire again, also meeting Mrs. Norman her mother played by Madeleine Sherwood. Senator Joseph Carmichael (Melvyn Douglas) who is on the board and one of the Historical Society’s biggest donors is making a speech…

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At six a.am. Russell is aroused from bed by a loud pounding noise echoing through the house, reminiscent of the sonic assault that Clair Bloom and Julie Harris experienced in The Haunting 1963. It is one of the first moments that clue us in that something is wrong with the house. John assumes it’s the old pipes and so forgets about the incident.

John has a quartet of students over to work on a chamber piece. After they leave, he hears what sounds like dripping water, or someone taking a bath. The kitchen sink tap is running, so he shuts it off, but he can still hear running water from somewhere in the house. He follows the noise up to the 3rd floor. In a truly frightening moment. In the bathroom he sees a tub filled with water and the faucet still running. As he shuts off the water, he sees for a brief second the face of a little boy peering up at him from under the water… It is still one of THE most frightening scenes that I can recall.

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John sits at the piano working on a beautifully simple melody that he is recording on his reel to reel tape recorder. One of the keys is sticking, and with John not being able to find the rest of his new melody yet, stops playing.

The handyman Mr. Tuttle (C.M. Gamble) comes in to tell John that he’s got a replacement water heater for the one that’s been banging on the walls with cannon balls, John leaves the piano and sees to the job. the lone key that would not depress while John was playing intones as if an unseen finger has pressed it. This eerie moment is the second cue that John is not alone in the house

Claire comments while John is listening back to his composition that it sounds like a lullaby. She also finds the little rubber ball that was Kathy’s. A token of her John chooses to keep as a reminder of his little girl. Claire realizes that this has hit him hard, and so invites him to come horseback riding with her since it’s a lovely day.

John has flashback nightmares of the day his wife and daughter were killed. He wakes up sobbing. But what is peculiar that it is once again at 6am and the eerie pounding is reverberating through the house once more. Mr. Tuttle is once again called in to look the boiler over again, it’s most likely trapped air in the pipes. Tuttle tells John, “A furnace is like anything else. It’s got habits.It’s an old house. It makes noises.”

John is now drawn into the mystery of the house, the noises and the vision of the little boy. He visits the Historical Society in order to find out if there have been accounts of ghostly sightings with previous owners. Clair chalks up John’s anxiety to the trauma he’s been through losing his family believing it to be all in his head. But Miss Huxley (Ruth Springford) one of the eldest Society members pulls John to the side and lays it on the line. He should never have been allowed to rent that house, and that Claire had business circumventing the Society’s rules. “That house is not fit to live in. No one has been able to live in it. It doesn’t want people. “ Huxley just confirms John’s suspicions that there has been something tragic connected to the house and it is indeed haunted.

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CapturFiles_44 the door opens by itself
While John pushes all his weight against the door, it will not budge. Once he steps back, the door opens with ease as if by unseen hands

There is a scene afterwards where John is leaving the Chessman Park house and a tiny stain glass window blows out from the inside leaving the shards on the ground in front of him. Something is definitely trying to get his attention and hold it. So he goes back inside back up to the third floor and opens a door that at first seems to be merely a linen closet.
But he discovers that the shelves are covering up a hidden bedroom. The ungodly pounding begins once again while John hammers at the lock until it breaks, Pushing his weight against the door, he cannot open it. Once John gives up, the door creaks open on it’s own leading into a darkness that exudes a fowl shadowy heaviness.
He walks up a decrepit cobwebbed staircase that leads to a time-forgotten dust covered attic room. There he see an old fashioned wooden wheelchair small enough to be a child’s. The wheelchair seems to embody a kind of foreboding terror. Why?

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John finds a dusty old music box. Also the red glass that burst outward onto the grounds in front is subtly shown missing from the stain glass panel from this attic’s window

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Aside from the fact that everything in this child’s attic room seems petrified, the wheelchair acts as a symbol of a child who might have suffered in that house. For whatever primal spark the chair ignites in us fear chills. John finds a child’s desk with a notebook dated January 1909, which have the initials C.S.B. There is also a music box, that when open mysteriously plays the exact melody John has been wrestling with at the piano. Like an old tune he’s heard before but can’t remember the rest of the notes. He has been directed to this room, by the pounding, the window pane shattering, the vision of the little boy in the bathtub, and from the beginning the melody that underscores Johns consciousness. All trying to lead him to a dark secret that needs to get out and be exposed to the light of day.

John plays the music box lullaby for Claire swearing he had never heard the melody before in his life then he proceeds to show her his reel to reel recording of the song he thought he was composing. The two are identical… it is a poignantly creepy moment, as it somehow binds John to the house in a way that feels precious and imminent- showing how the house is influencing him in much the way certain events controlled Eleanor (Julie Harris) in The Haunting.

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Claire tells John “I agree it’s a startling coincidence” John swears he’s never heard that melody before

While the co-incidence isn’t necessarily frightening…  All the while it gives me the ‘pip and the whim whams’ ( heard David McCallum use that line in an episode of Marcus Welby. Been waiting to find a place to use it…)

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John meets with a Parapsychologist at the University played by the wonderful Barry Morse

Claire has researched the house back to 1920 but can find no record of anything significant happening that would make sense of the experiences John is having. He begins to realize that the house isn’t trying to drive people out, more importantly something or someone it is trying to reach out for help.

John shows Claire the attic room. Then the two go to the Historical Society to look up any records of the immense yet lonely house. They find out that the last people who occupied the house left there after only two years. back in 1967. That’s when the Society took control of the old Chessman Park House with a grant bestowed by the Carmichael Foundation representing Senator Carmichael ( Melvyn Douglas) Oddly, there are no files for the house prior to 1920, they are missing! So John and Claire ask Miss Huxley about the records of who lived there around 1909. She tells them that a man named Bernard lived there with his son and daughter but sold the house a year later after a terrible tragedy.

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Clara's grave

Once John and Claire go through library newspaper records they find a story about  a Dr. Walter Bernard, whose seven year old daughter Cora died from injuries sustained by being hit by a coal cart. Could the initials C.S.B. stand for Cora Bernard? John and Claire then go to the family cemetery to visit the graves of Cora, her brother and parents. John wonders if Cora is reaching out to him, because he lost his own daughter and she sees him as a kindred spirit. Claire encourages John to leave the house no matter what the reason. That his suffering is linked to the house now.

John reminisces about his lost wife and daughter by looking at old photographs. Suddenly the pounding begins again. When he goes to investigate, he see’s Kathy’s little red rubber ball, bouncing down the long staircase, thump thump thump thump. This moment is yet again, one of THE most frighteningly memorable scenes in classical horror history. On the outward level because it is inexplicable, yet it is also heart breaking because it tears at the wound John is already bleeding from about losing his little girl. Terrifying and sad is a potent combination and makes for a superior ghost story.

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John takes the little ball and drives to a near by bridge and throws the tiny object into the water below. But… when he returns home, the little red ball which is now wet from the river, bouncing down the long staircase yet again!!! The scene just amplifies the shock from the prior scene and does so in a way that isn’t cliché

The wonderful character actor Barry Morse plays a parapsychologist form the university who sets up a séance with mediums Leah and Albert Harmon (Helen Burns & Eric Christmas) Once at the house they already sense a presence there, which leads Leah who is psychic up toward the creepy attic room.

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CapturFiles_57 “You’ve suffered a cruel loss John Russell. you’ve lost a wife and child. The presence in this house is reaching out to you through that loss"
“You’ve suffered a cruel loss John Russell. you’ve lost a wife and child. The presence in this house is reaching out to you through that loss.”

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They begin to hold the séance John, Claire and her mother and the Harmons. Leah Harmon begins to ask questions of the spirits. She begins doing automatic writing by scribbling on a piece of paper, hoping that messages will appear through the written scrawlings. “The spirit is that of a child not at peace.”
But it is not Clara who had been killed by the coal cart. It is that of a young boy named Joseph. who died in that house and is begging John to help him. Leah keeps repeating the question, “Did you die in this house? Did you die in this house, how did you die?

Leah is in a deep trance, asking the little boy how he died with no audible answer. The camera swings around the house leading from the third floor down the staircase following the invisible presence as it moves toward the gathering. It’s an effective use of camerawork as what is unseen to us is made quite palpable. A glass and a few other trigger objects such as the tin tube that are on the table, fly into the air across the room and shatters to pieces.

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Once everyone leaves, John listens back to his reel to reel tape recording of the séance and begins to hear the faintest voice of a child answering Leah’s questions. Words are imprinted on tape like -‘ranch’ ’Sacred heart”  ‘well’ ‘Can’t walk’ and “medal.” John psychically connects with past events, he sees the vision of the boy and how he came to an end in the house. A little boy is being drowned in his bathtub by his father in that attic room. The music box is playing the song until he succumbs and the box is turned over. The source of the pounding is now represented by the boy’s little fists pounding against the tub as he struggles against drowning. The last words John hears on the tape recording is “My name is Joseph Carmichael.”

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Claire listens to the tape and cries. She recognizes Sacred Heart as an Orphanage that used to operate in the area. Claire is frozen in terror, as she looks upstairs. When John goes to look, we see the child’s wheelchair at the top of the stairs. Yet another chilling moment well paced and placed.

The secretive and nefarious Miss Huxley fills Senator Carmichael in on John and Claire’s nosing around the house’s past. He’s afraid they will find out that he was born in the old Chessman Park house in 1900, his mother dying during child birth.

There is a great mystery, tragedy and evil deeds surrounding the Senator, the little ghost child Joseph. If I give away too much of it, it would spoil the story and ultimately the climax.

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LIttle Girl:Boy in the well

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Without giving away too much, another frightening sub-plot is when John and Claire track down the ranch house belonging to a Mrs Grey (Frances Hyland) whose daughter had frightening visions that same night as the séance.
She dreamt of an impish boy, almost wicked in his appearance as he tried to reach up through the floor boards and staring at her.

Mrs. Grey worried about her daughter Linda’s night terrors. She starts sleeping in her mother’s room, so she allows John and Claire to dig up the bedroom floor, which sits atop an old well. Until a few nights later, Linda in a somnambulist’s state wanders into her bedroom and sees the image of the little boy floating under the water staring at her. The Changeling continues to employ moments that are starkly frightening. John digs up the floor down to the bottom of the well, where he not only finds a little boy’s medal that comes up from the dirt like a flower shoot popping out of the mud. John also finds the bones of a child.

John and Claire call the police but only give them limited information of how they knew to look under the floorboards of Mrs. Grey’s house, and they have no suspicions as to the identity of the skeleton.

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John tries to talk to Senator Carmichael on his private jet, the police take him away thinking he is a crazy protester.
Senator Carmichael-Melvyn Douglas
Senator Carmichael-Melvyn Douglas is more than a bit worried
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Actor John Colicos plays police Captain DeWitt who is a personal friend to Senator Carmichael, and impresses upon John to leave the Senator alone… or else!

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John Colicos plays Captain DeWitt a friend of Senator Carmichael and who is dauntless in his investigation to get to the truth behind John and Claire’s meddling and what the connection between the skeleton in the well, an old medal and Senator Carmichael who thinks they are trying to blackmail him.

I’ll leave the rest of this phenomenal ghost story/murder mystery for those who haven’t seen it yet. But perhaps I’ll add just this last bit of shock treatment to entice those who aren’t faint of heart…

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HIDDEN HORROR-
written by Don Sumner for the section on The Changeling (1980) in Hidden Horror edited by Aaron Christensen and William Lustig.

“It is interesting that The Changeling should be a Hidden Horror rather than a recognized household classic. The film swept the Canadian Genie Awards, winning Best Picture, Actor, Actress and several technical awards, and returned fair U.S. box office receipts $12 million against it’s approximately $600K CAN production budget. Still, it under-performed when compared to other 1970s Canadian horror efforts and remains lesser known. than its brethren to this day… For example, that same year’s Prom Night had the benefit of rising scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis while David Cronenberg’s Scanners featured a game-changing head explosion. “

As far as I’m concerned The Changeling will forever remain one of the most captivating cinematic ghost stories that has retained it’s haunting quality after all these years.

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This is your EverLovin’ Joey saying ‘It’s been a ball’

 

It’s January 21st! The Last Drive In wishes a very fond & Happy Birthday to the lovely Audrey Dalton 82 years old today!

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Actress Audrey Dalton attends a wedding Los Angeles 1955 courtesy of Getty images photograph -Michael Ochs Archives Collection

Audrey Dalton is exquisite, dreamy, even otherworldly. When I try to find the perfect words to describe the essence that makes her uniquely beautiful these are the words that come to mind. Part of her allure includes her clear and enchantingly liquid voice, a subtle vision of classical beauty with a light that shines from her deep and mercurial eyes. Make no mistake, she is not just a pretty face, Audrey Dalton is an extraordinarily genuine actress who has been one of my favorite unsung heroines for many years. In my opinion she possesses a transcendent kind of beauty and talent that can be seen in other screen idols, Jean Simmons, Jennifer Jones, Gail Russel Ella Raines Jean Peters and Joan Bennett.

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Born in Dublin she was destined to become an actress from early on and once her family moved to London she joined the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Audrey is the daughter of Irish war hero and producer Emmet Dalton. She appeared in his film This Other Eden (1959) directed by Muriel Box, it’s the story of small town in Ireland during the 1920s who want to erect a monument to an IRA rebel, and the son of an English colonel who is against the plan. Audrey plays Maire McRoarty co-starring with fine British actor Niall MacGinnis.

It was while she was attending RADA that a Paramount executive saw her and arranged an audition for an upcoming picture The Girls of Pleasure Island (1953) She got the role as one of Leo Genn’s three daughters Hester Halyard along side the great Elsa Lanchester. Audrey also got a contract with Paramount Pictures, and so she came to the U.S. in 1952 to start shooting for “Pleasure Island’

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Audrey Dalton co-stars as Louise Kendall in My Cousin Rachel (1952) also starring Richard Burton and Olivia de Havilland

Paramount studios would eventually loan Audrey out to 20th Century Fox to co-star in the adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel (1952) with Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton and in director Jean Negulesco’s Titanic (1953) with Clifton Webb, Barbara Stanwyck’s and Robert Wagner. Dalton was wonderful in both parts, giving a richly emotional performance as Annette Sturges.

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In 1955 Audrey Dalton starred in The Deadliest Sin aka Confession a taut film noir where she plays sister Louise Nelson whose brother Mike (Sydney Chaplin) is a cold blooded thief and murderer.

She was wonderful in the romantic & feisty role as Jean whom Charles (Rod Taylor) has a hard time pinning her down for marriage. Co-starring in director Delbert Mann’s Separate Tables (1958) along side an incredible ensemble the likes of Deborah Kerr, Rita Hayworth, David Niven Wendy Hiller Burt Lancaster Gladys Cooper and Cathleen Nesbitt. Amidst the collection of wonderful characters from writer Terence Rattigan, Audrey Dalton’s portrayal of the independent Jean shines through brilliantly.

Now being a child of the 60s who earned the name MonsterGirl first as a way to tease me now I wear as a badge of honor, because I was so drawn to classical horror and sci-fi pictures, I can’t neglect the fact that Audrey Dalton starred in one of the most iconic giant creature features from the 50s-The Monster That Challenged the World (1957) where giant Mollusks terrorize a California coastline.

Not only is this one of my favorite sci-fi/horror films, Audrey Dalton brings a lot of class to the film, acting opposite the hyper-manly bratty Tim Holt ( I can’t stop thinking of him as Georgie Minafer! in The Magnificent Ambersons) This is one of the more superior giant creature films that ran amok during the 50s, and I’m sure many of Audrey’s fans will remember her as Gail MacKenzie whose little girl Sandy (Mimi Gibson) turns up the heat on one of the tubs in the lab and helps one of the giant mollusks to grow and break loose! It’s a hoot of a scene though I always find myself saying just before the monstrous mayhem, “Save the bunnies, save the bunnies!”

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Audrey Dalton is marvelous, never becoming that clichéd ‘hysterical’ woman that screams frozen in terror, too overwrought to move a muscle to help. Nope! Gail crosses that scaly beasty and takes little Sandy in her arms while the mollusk is working it’s way through the particle board door, telling her to close her eyes. That’s courage and fierce motherhood, and Audrey Dalton makes it look like monster movie poetry. She added a bit of class and benevolence to the film, which happens to be ONE of my favorites of that nifty blend of sci-fi/horror that is an above average monster movie.

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Sorry kid, that’s what you get for turning up the heat on the cooker! That’ll teach ya… oh those poor bunnies!
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Audrey Dalton and Guy Rolfe in William Castle’s truly macabre masterpiece Mr. Sardonicus (1961)

In 1961 the master of artful ballyhoo and gimmickry director William Castle cast Audrey Dalton as the woman in peril -the Baroness Maude Sardonicus who is a prisoner to the gruesome Baron Sardonicus/Marek Toleslawski played with a morbid conviction by Guy Rolfe in the Gothic Grande Guignol horror masterpiece Mr. Sardonicus.   A man who’s face has been frozen in a terrifying grimace after digging up his father’s corpse to retrieve a lottery ticket, the death mask of his father causes his facial muscles to be stricken with a Sardonic grin… Maude is used as blackmail to persuade Sir Robert Margrave (Ronald Lewis) to try his new techniques in curing paroxysms of the muscles. Audrey’s character again in the midst of terrible circumstances maintains her sophisticated composure even whilst the sadistic Krull (Oskar Homolka) tortures young girls from the village with leeches. She brings that air of class and elegance to this better than average B-movie shocker!

There are times when you love film and television so much you are able to revisit episodes or memorable scenes because they never lose their power for you. In particular, I periodically watch Boris Karloff’s anthology show THRILLER because of the confluence of talent that manages to create something so beautiful, memorable, and burned into the psyche as it gives off innate sparks of genius. A show that today is still a work of art that is original and charismatic. One of the major influencers for me constantly revisiting the show, has been due to the incredible acting and characterizations that make this fantasy/horror/thriller/noir fusion come to life, including all it’s various actors who made their roles seem effortless and memorable.

Now, I have to mention the way I came to be struck by the talent and vast dimensions of Audrey Dalton. If you know me by now, you know that I sincerely wish Boris Karloff had been my grandfather. Hosting the groundbreaking anthology show THRILLER brought to light so many incredible actors who helped create a landscape of mystery, fantasy and horror. Audrey Dalton appeared in perhaps three of the best episodes of the series. The haunting and outré creepy The Hollow Watcher co-starring Warren Oates and Denver Pyle as the brutal & sadistic Ortho Wheeler.

Appearing as Meg O’Danagh Wheeler in the rustic boogeyman piece of Americana The Hollow Watcher, Audrey Dalton proves to be a mesmerizing beauty, at times vulnerable and at other times commands the screen as a hell cat. not over the top, but a believable young woman with desires and a sense of self preservation in the midst of the confining atmosphere of a slew of hillbilly neanderthals who would possess her like a pretty doll, with not much say about her life or her own body. Dalton, transmutes those cultural chains by emerging a strong woman, without cliché and keeps herself steps away from being a victim of judgement by the symbol of falsely righteous anger, the Hollow Watcher and the men who would deem her wicked yet simultaneously objectify her while ultimately trying to keep her down.

The Hollow Watcher was not only a rustic tale of the boogeyman in the form of a scarecrow, but it also brought out a few sociological  implications, like fear of foreigners, as Meg was from Ireland, misogyny and small mindedness that leads to hate. Audrey’s character Meg, while at times plays a hell cat, okay and a murderess, though Ortho Wheeler was a belligerently evil bastard, balances this fiery role, with a delicate portrayal of vulnerability, self possession and self preservation. She gets my sympathy as an anti-heroine, and it takes true inner strength to project that perfect balance.

Beautiful and tragic, Audrey Dalton’s presence elevates the story to a higher level, than just a scary bed time story about a bumpkin boogeyman. I think the reason the episode never loses it’s potency, nor does the simplistic scarecrow appear sophomoric is perhaps the way it transforms these elements into pure revelation– that at times, the things that frighten us are truly very simple and primal fears.

In the episode The Prediction, Audrey performs with Boris Karloff in one of the few stories where Karloff doesn’t just lend his hosting prologues. Audrey plays Norine Burton assistant to stage mentalist Clayton Mace. Her father (Alan Caillou) is a drunken wretch and Clayton is more of a loving guardian to her. She wants to get married, but Clayton starts having real visions of danger and insinuates himself into the couples plans, resulting in a tragic end. Audrey is wonderful in the role, bringing that believable kindness and light that shines from her emotional eyes. I plan on covering both The Prediction & Hay-Fork and Bill-Hook as a continuing tribute to this series that was both far ahead of it’s time and timeless.

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In director Herschel Daugherty’s Hay-Fork and Bill-Hook she plays Nesta Roberts who’s husband (Kenneth Haigh)  is a Scotland yard detective trying to solve a murder in the Welsh moors where the people at The Inn of the Dark Woods are a closed community bound by superstition and fearful of witchcraft. They believe Nesta to be a witch because she is beautiful and that’s always dangerous and she has seen the elusive black dog.

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Hay-Fork and Bill-Hook is another mysterious piece from THRILLER. Dalton plays Nesta  a new bride to a police inspector who stumble onto a horrific murder case on the Welsh moors where there is a suspicion of witchcraft about. Nesta not only doesn’t sit idly by like a complacent pretty wife waiting to be protected by husband, Kenneth Haigh. The couple come upon the clues, and contend with the villagers frightened by superstition. Nesta assists her detective husband to solve the uncanny events, like the vision of a strange black dog and confronts the mystery head on, exuding a sense of smarts.

Dalton in all three episodes of THRILLER possesses a range of emotion that make her a perfect heroine, with a dimension of emotional fortitude, vulnerability and perseverance.

In Douglas Heyes’ Kitten With a Whip (1964), Audrey Dalton manages to avoid all that tawdry exploitation orgy that her husband John Forsythe gets tangled up when he befriends psychopath Ann-Margaret. She lends her lovely portrait to the film as counter-balance to Margaret’s wildly amoral Dvorak Jody who marks up the photo with lipstick by drawing a sloppy pair of lips mocking her lovely mouth. Audrey also lends her worried minute to a phone call that turns chaotic on the other end. Audrey is too classy to be mixed up in this mess Forsythe has got himself into…

In 1965 Audrey appeared with Dan Duryea in the gritty spaghetti western The Bounty Killer.

Audrey Dalton appeared in various television dramas and westerns to name a few, Kraft Suspense Theater, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Dragnet, The Wild Wild West, Bonanza, Wagon Train, episodes of Police Woman.

Audrey Dalton in Wagon Train 1958
Audrey Dalton in the television series Wagon Train 1958

“Acting always seemed honest and straightforward. The characters portrayed had a purpose, and I loved the unspoken communication between the actor and his audience” -Audrey Dalton

Well that explains why every one of Audrey Dalton’s performances appear honest and with purpose. She manages to give a bit of herself with every role. Never the same, she taps into the part and becomes that person with grace and ease of movement. We can see it in her expressive eyes and with that candid smile of hers.

I get excited to see her every time I’m watching one of her films or television performances. It’s like seeing an old dear friend.

Actors like Dalton who frequented THRILLER , popular television shows and major motion pictures make us feel comfortable because she’s easy to like and appears to be a ‘real’ person, authentically accessible and believable.

A tremendous thank you to her daughter Vickie who was gracious enough to take the time to comment on my blog with kind words from she and her incredible mum!

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With deep affection & admiration, wishing her a very very wonderful birthday- love Joey

James Cagney’s Mass-Produced Theatre

As part of the Backstage Blogathon hosted by Movies Silently and Sister Celluloid, you must read this snappy review of Footlight Parade. It’ll make you want to watch it ASAP! Cagney Keeler & Blondell…. could it get any
better..

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James Cagney...while Ruby Keeler takes notes. Image: James Cagney and Ruby Keeler doing glamorous theatre work. Image: The Toast

Modern movie audiences are getting ripped off.

Get this: In cinema’s earlier days, audiences were presented with live musical performances, known as prologues, before the feature film. So, instead of the in-theatre advertising we endure today, audiences enjoyed genuine musical theatre that introduced the film.

According to Vaudeville Old & New: An Encyclopedia of Variety Performers in America, Vol. I, prologues were meant to add hype to a feature film, especially if the it didn’t contain an “A List” celebrity. These prologues played in movie theatres all over the U.S.

The most industrious producers of prologues were Fanchon and Marco, who created prologues each week from 1923-1934. “Their success was due to talent, organization and branding their product” (Vaudeville, p. 368).

The delightful 1933 musical, Footlight Parade, looks at the business of grinding out weekly prologues, by a team who may have been modelled on Fanchon and Marco. This…

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The Backstage Blogathon 2016: Kim Novak- Fallen Idol double bill “You’re an illusion… without me you’re nothing!” *

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Here’s a truly compelling Blogathon hosted by two of the most insightful bloggers you’ll ever find! Fritzi of Movies Silently and Sister Celluloid ! They’re featuring a subject that is endless in it’s offerings. The Backstage Blogathon 2016!

What is most challenging, eye opening and delicious for me is what I discovered not only about the films I chose that have a ‘Backstage’ theme, but how in fact, I uncovered the volatile backstage world within the backstage world. The back story of both screen & stage sirens, Kim Novak and Jeanne Eagels, the directors -particularly Robert Aldrich who made ‘Lylah Clare’, and the artists involved in molding the historic perceptions of all of it!

I’m thrilled to have been invited to join in, and couldn’t resist the temptation to do yet another double feature, cause I’m a child of the 60s & 70s & and I like it like that…!

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This time spotlighting three? legends, one a symbolic artifice of that intoxicating mistress that is… celebrity’ and two true legends– both portrayed by Hollywood goddess Kim Novak in The Legend of Lylah Clare (1968) & Jeanne Eagels (1957) with a little bit about the real tragic legend Jeanne Eagels herself.

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Director Alfred Hitchcock and Kim Novak in the an earlier film where Novak plays an eerie dual role, a story of fixation & fear of heights in the classic thriller Vertigo (1958)
Kim Novak - Vertigo - 1958. Restored by Nick & jane for Doctor Macro's High Quality Movie Scans website: http://www.doctormacro.com. Enjoy!
Kim Novak Vertigo (1958) courtesy of Nick & Jane at Dr Macro’s

[on her role in Vertigo (1958)] “I don’t think it’s one of my best works, but to have been part of something that has been accepted makes me feel very good…{..} They’ll always remember me in Vertigo (1958), and I’m not that good in it, but I don’t blame me because there are a couple of scenes where I was wonderful.”-Kim Novak

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Novak as Judy in Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958)
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Kim Novak as Madeleine -Scottie (James Stewart’s obsession) in Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958)

Kim Novak ‘The Lavender Girl’ like many Hollywood hopefuls went to L.A to become an actress, discovered by an agent who got her a screen test with Columbia Pictures who signed her to a contract. Harry Cohn marketed her as a ‘sex goddess’, something she resisted from the beginning.

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“I think it will be helpful to people because I know the expectations that are put on you as a sex symbol, and how MarilynMonroe suffered and so on, and I was able to get free of that.” –Kim Novak

She made her first motion picture at age 21, getting the lead in the film noir gem Pushover (1958) co-starring Fred MacMurray. Novak received a Golden Globe nomination for “Most Promising Newcomer” in 1955.

That year she made three successful pictures, Otto Preminger’s controversial film about drug addiction The Man With The Golden Arm (1955) starring Frank Sinatra as a strung out junkie and Novak as Molly.

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Frankie Machine: “You got any money, Molly?… I feel so sick. I hurt all over”Molly:“Jump off a roof if you’re gonna kill yourself but don’t ask me to help ya…”

Then she received critical acclaim starring along side William Holden as the girl next door- Madge Owens in Picnic (1955), While Novak was surrounded by an incredible cast that includes Betty Field, Susan Strasberg, Cliff Robertston, Arthur O’Connell, Verna Felton, Rita Shaw, Nick Adams, Elizabeth Wilson AND Rosalind Russell as a painfully cliché old maid school teacher. The film didn’t seem to jive for me, and I felt it didn’t do anything to showcase Novak’s acting ability. 

She then followed up with Pal Joey (1955) again co-starring with Sinatra.

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Bill Holden and Kim Novak dance in director Joshua Logan’s Picnic (1955) adapted from William Inge’s play, boasts as great cast!
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Kim Novak as prostitute Mildred Rogers in Of Human Bondage (1964) image courtesy of The Red List
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Kirk Douglas and Kim Novak smoke on the screen in Strangers When We Meet (1960) image courtesy of Dr Macro

Sadly with the way Columbia hyped their young star, she continued to make box office flops that halted her career, playing the other woman in love with Kirk Douglas in Strangers When We Meet (1960) then cast as prostitute Mildred Rogers in the remake Of Human Bondage (1964) with co-star Laurence Harvey, and Billy Wilder’s Kiss Me, Stupid (1964). Novak made several films with director Richard Quine with whom she dated, was married to actor Richard Johnson for one year, still remaining friends afterwards. But Novak never truly fit into Hollywood, was disillusioned by the pressures & politics of being framed as a sex goddess and not really getting film roles that were to her liking.

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“I don’t feel that I was a Hollywood-created star.”-Kim Novak

“The head of publicity of the Hollywood studio where I was first under contract told me, “You’re a piece of meat, that’s all”. It wasn’t very nice but I had to take it. When I made my first screen test, the director explained to everyone, ‘Don’t listen to her, just look’.”-Kim Novak

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Pyewacket and Kim Novak in 1958 Bell, Book and Candle

She never quite broke through and lived up to her potential. With various cameo appearances and a few stints on television, she gave it up for good– married a veterinarian and lives in Oregon with her horses, her love of nature and animals. Kim Novak still the goddess!

Kim Novak the sultry lavender haired beauty is well known for Hitchcock’s beautiful mirror image as Madeleine Elster & Judy Barton in the psychological thriller Veritgo (1958), but I’ll always have a thing for her portrayal of Lona Mclane in Richard Quine’s noir film Pushover (1954)

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Kim Novak as Lona Mclane in Richard Quine’s film noir Pushover (1954) co-starring Fred MacMurray

She was great as Kay Greylek in 5 Against the House (1955). And though it possesses a terrific cast of stellar talent, I’m less enthusiastic about Novak (not her fault) cast as Madge Owens opposite William Holden in Joshua Logan’s Picnic (1955). Other notable films featuring Kim Novak are as Molly in Otto Preminger’s Man With the Golden Arm (1955), Marjorie Oelrichs in another George Sidney film biopic The Eddy Duchin Story (1956), Linda English in Pal Joey (1957), My favorite as Gillian Holroyd in Richard Quine’s Bell, Book and Candle (1958), Betty Preisser in Delbert Mann’s Middle of the Night (1959), She was excellent as the conflicted ‘Maggie’ Gault in Richard Quine’s Strangers When We Meet (1960) She is wonderful as Mrs.Carlyle Hardwicke in Richard Quine’s hilarious romantic comedy with Blake Edward’s screenplay, The Notorious Landlady (1962) with lovable Jack Lemmon , Polly the pistol in Billy Wilder’s Kiss Me, Stupid (1964) Mildred in Of Human Bondage (1964), Moll Flanders, and in Terence Youngs’ The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders (1965).

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Jack Lemmon and Kim Novak in The Notorious Landlady (1962)
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Kim Novak as Jeanne in the biopic Jeanne Eagels (1957)
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Kim Novak with director Robert Aldrich on the set of the 60s deviant trashy melodrama The Legend of Lylah Clare (1968)

“The same characters that keep reappearing bigger than life, find their own integrity in doing what they do the way they do it, even if it causes their own deaths.” Robert Aldrich

Over his extensive career director Robert Aldrich has always pollinated his film world with losers, outcasts, deviants and ego maniacs, that collectively form a certain archetypal group which goes against the grain of a ‘civilized’ & ‘moral’ society. One just has to think of his eternal cult hit What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? (1962)

Betty and Joan Baby Jane?

Dark Romance: Sexuality in the Horror Film- by David J Hogan –“In the sixties director Robert Aldrich released a number of pictures that popularized Grand Guignol, and shaped Hollywood myths into stylish decadent burlesques. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) is the best-known, but The Legend of Lylah Clare (1968) is the most grotesque. Peter Finch played a washed-up film director whose chance for a comeback is a biopic of his ex-wife Lylah Clare, a German actress whose wanton bisexuality and taste for high living led to her accidental death. The director is amazed when he meets (Elsa) Kim Novak), a young actress who is the image of Lylah. Elsa is cast in the role and gradually assumes the dead actress’ personality and voice. Her relationship with the director grows more brutal and pernicious as Lylah’s influence becomes stronger…{…}

… it is tacky, vulgar and full of improbable circumstances. Lylah’s odyssey to stardom began in a brothel; her death occurred on her wedding day, and was caused by a fall from a staircase during a struggle with a female lover. Her reincarnation, Elsa inspires a number of sexual advances-lesbians and otherwise-from people who had known the actress. Lylah consumes Elsa, and finally assumes control of her body. Kim Novak’s blankness of demeanor perfectly expressed Elsa’s suggestibility. An un-credited actress provided Lylah’s throaty Germanic voice, and though the effect is hard to swallow at first , the film’s campy tone makes the device seem appropriate. In this gaudy movie, anything is possible.”

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‘Lylah Clare’ presents us with a few cliché characters you’d find in the industry. Aldrich places them within the narrative “that is fragmented into contradictory possibilities.” The symbol of Lylah Clare dies twice in the film, that is to say she is destroyed in various ways. “The original death has been sentimentalized, sensationalized, fantasized in the course of the film. All these elements have been brought together in a way that can only suggest the triumph of savagery and vulgarity.” – Ursini & Silver

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Here’s a snippet of historian/writer Alain Silver’s interview with filmmaker Robert Aldrich who is perhaps one of my favorite non-Hollywood directors… talking about Lylah Clare & Kim Novak.

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Silver: Some years after the fact, are you still dissatisfied with The Legend of Lylah Clare?

Aldrich: I think it has a number of flaws. I was about to bum rap Kim Novak, when we were talking about this the other day, and I realized would be pretty unfair. Because people forget that Novak can act. I really didn’t do her justice. But there are some stars whose motion picture image is so large, so firmly and deeply rooted in the public mind, that an audience comes to the move with a preconception about that person. And that preconception makes “reality’ or any kind of myth that’s contrary to that preconceived reality, impossible. To make this picture work, to make Lylah work, you had to be carried along into that myth. And we didn’t accomplish that. Now, you know you can blame it on a lot of things, but I’m the producer and I”m the director. I’m responsible for not communicating to that audience. I just didn’t do it.

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Novak as Elsa/Lylah in The Legend of Lylah Clare (1968)

Many of Aldrich’s explorations deal with the acidic nature of Hollywood with forays like his cult classic – What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), The Big Knife (1955), and the The Killing of Sister George (1968)

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Robert Aldrich on the set of The Killing of Sister George (1968) starring Beryl Reid and Suzannah York

Just a brief discussion about another Aldrich film that bares it’s frenzied teeth at the entertainment industry The Killing of Sister George (1968), which possesses the same problematic themes that emerge from show-biz which are transferred to June Buckridge (Beryl Reid) a middle-aged BBC soap opera star named Sister George who happily rides her bicycle  throughout the town helping the quaint folk. She is quickly being phased out of the show, in other words she is going to be killed off! 

Reid gives a startlingly painful performance as the belligerent June– a lesbian and a raging alcoholic. Abrasive, vulgar and absolutely a challenging anti-heroine to like as she will cause you to cringe yet at times feel sympathy for. Her internal conflict, volatile, poignant, alienated and transversing a heteronormative world as a nun on a popular television show of all things is quite a concoction. The conflict between the character on television and the actress’ personal life both connect as they renounce the morally & socially acceptable code that is splintered by the queerness, the vulgarization of her actual self, which is daily eclipsed by the illusion of her cheery onscreen persona as George, the bicycle riding do gooder tootling about town in the popular series, as a nun –this mocks June’s private life.

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She’s a belligerent vulgarian, foul mouthed, domineering alcoholic who has a vein of sadism she inflicts on her infantilized lover Alice ‘Childie’ McNaught (Suzannah York) who is ultimately set free from her present overpowering lover, only to be seduced/abducted by another strong Sapphic figure, Coral Browne. At the end, June is left to sit and reflect on the sound stage as she is about to play the cow in a children’s show, she yields to her professional and personal demise as she ‘moos’… a pathetic coda, yet a telling one about the industry. Aldrich creates a satirical version of Hollywood within the television workings of the BBC with all it’s trifling regulations and intolerance that can drive anyone to ‘moo.’ at the end.

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actress Beryl Reid learning to smoke a cigar for her role in the play picture-courtesy of Getty Images.
No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only Mandatory Credit: Photo by Everett Collection / Rex Features ( 534946B ) THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE, (ctr) Susannah York, Beryl Reid, Coral Browne - 1968 FILM STILLS
Photo by Everett Collection / Rex Features ( 534946B )
THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE, (ctr) Susannah York, Beryl Reid, Coral Browne – 1968
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The loneliness of Sister George- Beryl Reid as June who plays Sister George on the popular BBC soap opera. The last moments of the film, sums up her alienation as she reflects back on the sound stage. As James Ursini & Alain Silver point out the location in Aldrich’s Hollywood vision is a place where his characters find most comforting and ‘real’ from Charlie Castle to Jane Hudson.

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The Killing of Sister George  emerged during the fury & flutter of Queer Cinema that was experimenting with putting gay characters in the main frame of the narrative. These films took the subject of homosexuality and lesbianism head on… Head on as in a head on collision with homophobia!… For each character ultimately met with some kind of fatalistic & dire end. Figures either predatory, alienated, lonely or desperate. Doomed to die or eternally alone, by way of murder, suicide, violent death or unrequited love. All shown to either be mentally ill, or homicidal. For example: Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour (1961) Otto Preminger’s Advise and Constent (1962). Films like director Edward Dmytryk’s salacious Walk on the Wild Side (1962), Basil Dearden’s Victim (1961), Robert Rossen’s Lillith (1964) Gordon Douglas’ The Detective (1968), Claude Chabrol Les Biches (1968), Mark Rydell’s The Fox (1967), John Hustons’ Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967), Radley Metzger’s The Alley Cats (1966)Thérèse and Isabelle (1968), Estelle Parsons in Rachel, Rachel, (1968) , The Sargent (1968) starring Rod Steiger who gives a gripping performance as a self hating homosexual.

And, including this post that includes lesbianism/bi-sexuality in The Legend of Lylah Clare.

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Elsa“She’s dead and I’m alive so you’ll have to get used to me.”Rossella- “That can be arranged.”

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Lylah Clare is an unnerving journey, with very unattractive show-biz types… And it’s supposed to be. Aldrich wants you to despise everyone who inhabits the Hollywood chimera, inhabited by outliers and egocentrically driven characters.

From the beginning of the film the ‘legend’ is set up by revealing to us, flashbacks, slides, a grand portrait, and vocal recordings of Lylah’s speaking style, wardrobe archived, fashion sense, body language and attitude.

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The dangerously iconographic staircase, that tells the death of Lylah Clare in three separate yet altered flash backs

Aldrich himself an outsider to Hollywood has made a name for himself as an irreverent auteur who creates high melodrama germinating in the realm of show business, stage & film. With cut-throat, and malignant sorts, parasites who feed on the desperately narcissistic, delusional and addictively determined to succeed.

There isn’t anything poignant or warm-hearted about Aldrich’s view surrounding any of the characters in the narrative itself as seen through the lens of The Legend of Lylah Clare. It’s imbued with noxious gasoline– giving off fumes just waiting to be thrown onto the smoldering fire, as he depicts this love/hate story about the myth and the illusion that is Hollywood.

You’ll start to feel the bile rising from your stomach, as every predatory, cynical and egomaniacal neurotic seeks to feed off the dreams of others trying to do the very same, like a snake devouring it’s own tail. It’s a quite unflattering look at fleeting power, bottomless fame, self-worship and the seduction of celebrity… deviant cannibalistic & venomous.

THE LEGEND OF LYLAH CLARE (1968)

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Novak plays both the fictional screen siren Lylah Clare and her doppleganger Elsa in Robert Aldrich’s toxic orgy of Hollywood indulgences in The Legend of Lylah Clare (1968)
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Rosella Falk plays the sapphic Rossella obsessed with both Lylah and Elsa as the reincarnation of her lost love… Lylah.

The Legend of Lylah Clare is one of director Robert Aldrich’s crassest indictments of Hollywood, using brutal symbolism -exploring a visual narrative of an industry that is narcissistic, chaotic, duplicitous, superficial, devours the soul, and cannibalizes it’s own.

From James Ursini & Alain Silver’s wonderful book, What Ever Happened to Robert Aldrich?“Real emotions and real events are clouded in ambiguity. Elsa and Zarken are not ‘simple-minded stereotypes’, they are the expressive components of The Legend of Lylah Clare which begins in setting up a standard genre expectation then they goe to consciously excessive lengths to frustrate and altar those expectations.”

As pointed out in Ursini & Silver’s insightful biography, Aldrich is one of Hollywood’s rebels & great auteurs, they also point out that Zarken (Peter Finch) & Elsa’s (Kim Novak) are industry victims by their own doing and because of the cut throat nature that permeates within its closed universe. They both come to an end by death, physical, emotional & career. “Their fates are as fixed as that of Joe Gillis, floating face down in Norma Desmond’s pool.”- Ursini & Silver- (they are referring to Sunset Boulevard 1950)

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Kim Novak as Elsa filming the final scene in the film within a film’s biopic film about the life and death of Lylah Clare.

Kim Novak stars as Lylah Clare /Elsa Brinkmann/ Elsa Campbel, with Peter Finch as egomaniacal director/ Lewis Zarken/Louis Flack, Ernest Borgnineis the studio bigwig. Barney Sheean,wonderful character actor Milton Selzer is agent Bart Langner and Jean Carroll plays his wife Becky. Giallo queen & 8 1/2 star Rossella Falk is Rossella, Lylah’s lover, the dreamy Gabriele Tinti plays Paolo the Adonis gardener, Valentina Cortese is fashion designer Countess Bozo Bedoni and Coral Browne who was incredible in The Killing of Sister George that same year, does her thing as the scathing, acid tongued film critic and virulent gossip mongering columnist Molly Luther. Ellen Corby has a small part as the script woman.

Teleplay by Robert Thom and Edward DeBlasio, with the screenplay by Hugo Butler, and Jean Rouverol
Music by Aldrich regular Frank De Vol… Filmed on location at Grumman’s Chinese Theater and MGM Studios. Aldrich consistently used masterful Cinematography by Joseph F. Biroc

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George Reeves with cinematographer Joseph Biroc Biroc served as cinematographer on the “Adventures of Superman” He also received several Emmys for his work and in 1989 received a lifetime achievement award from the Society of American Cinematographers.

The camera work in Lylah Clare is perhaps one of the standout aspects of how the film is skewed & washed over by reality vs illusion. Here’s just a few of the amazing films credited to Biroc… a master at film noir, fantasy & suspenseful landscapes. Joseph F. Biroc has lensed some of my favorite films.

The Killer That Stalked New York (1950), Cry Danger (1951), The Glass Wall (1953) Vice Squad (1953), Donovan’s Brain (1953), Down Three Dark Streets (1954), Nightmare (1956), The Amazing Colossal Man (1957), Born Reckless (1958), Home Before Dark (1958), The Bat (1959), 13 Ghosts (1960), Toys in the Attic (1963), Kitten with a Whip (1964), Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), Enter Laughing (1967), Tony Rome (1967), The Detective (1968), The Killing of Sister George (1968), The Grissom Gang (1971), Emperor of the North (1973), Blazing Saddles (1974), The Longest Yard (1974)

William Glasgow who had worked on Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) and Kiss Me Deadly (1955) is responsible for the stunning art direction.

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Overnight, she became a star…Over many nights, she became a legend.”

Elsa:Lylah

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“The entire film might be classed as a reincarnation fantasy or murder mystery”  Alain Silver & James Ursini; What Ever Happened to Robert Aldrich?

It could also tantalize us with a hint of the supernatural theme of ‘soul possession’ within the Hollywood Exposé It is never clear whether Lylah is possessing Elsa or if Elsa just goes mad!

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Agent Bart Langner (Milton Selzer) who is dying of cancer wants to finally produce a film before he dies. He discovers Elsa Brinkmann (Kim Novak) a meek horned rimmed glasses wearing movie fan who is the spitting image of the dead screen goddess Lylah Clare, a legendary actress who died 30 years ago in 1948 by mysterious means on her wedding night to director Lewis Zarken. Her husband/director has vowed that he’d never direct another picture again.

But when Bart brings Elsa (Novak) to the egocentric who ‘lifted his name from a Hungarian magician who slit his own throat’ director Lewis Zarken/Louis Flack (Peter Finch) who has been isolating since the death of his star/wife, he begs Lewis (Finch) to come out of hiding, so they can make a movie about the life and death of the legendary Lylah Clare. Bart has been tirelessly molding Elsa (using slides and voice recordings of Lylah) into the personification of the dead starlet to entice Zarken to make the picture.

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Milton Selzer as Bart is running through a series of slides with his wife Becky, showing Elsa bits and pieces of Lylah’s past.
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A slide shows the image of brooding ego-maniacal director Lewis Zarken played by Peter Finch

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The wedding of Zarken and Lylah Clare
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Becky Langner shows Elsa Lylah’s dress
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Elsa lacks confidence to take on such an intimidating role.

Kim Novak inhabits two roles, the title of the film which is the ‘dead’ screen goddess Lylah Clare seen in various flashback. And, her other character, that of Elsa Brinkmann who starts out as a shy star-struck neophyte, clumsy and appearing frightened at times until she emerges from her cocoon. The film almost alludes to the idea that Elsa is either a   ‘reincarnation’ of Lylah Clare or is under a spell, like soul-possession.

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Bart Langner to Elsa –“You can’t imagine what a big star she was, I mean really big Everybody loved her, worshiped her.”
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Elsa-“She had a strange kind of appeal didn’t she.”
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The Legend of Lylah Clare uses many touches of Neo-Noir as part of it’s flare. This is outside Elsa’s lonely motel room

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Elsa starts the circular pattern of the film, starting out walking down Hollywood Boulevard looking at famous star footprints and winding up in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater. The film will end in front of the landmark

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In Lylah Clare, Kim Novak portrays the flip side of two women once again…  Elsa Brinkmann a star struck timid girl who is discovered by agent Bart Langner. The brash studio head who represents the business end of the world, is played by Ernest Borgnine who calls Bart (Milton Selzer) a ‘lousy ten-percenter.’

Because Bart knows he is dying of cancer, and  his days are numbered he figures that introducing Elsa to the world as the second coming of the legendary actress Lylah Clare a sort of Dietrichesque screen goddess who died 30 years earlier shrouded in mystery will allow him to leave his legacy as a film maker and not just a crummy agent.

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Finding Lylah’s doppelgänger would give him the opportunity to finally produce a picture, putting Elsa on the big screen in a biopic version of the legendary Lylah Clare.

Elsa goes through an evolution from insecure fan whose bed is cluttered with movie magazines, to the vigorous narcissist who embodies the passion and recklessness of the dead starlet. However the catalyst… Elsa becomes TRANSFORMED into either a surrogate Lylah or the real deal. Of course Zarken and Elsa become lovers, but it is not made clear whether he is in love with the new actress or living out old patterns with a replica . Elsa however has fallen for the director and is tortured by the conflict Lylah’s memory/incarnation that has been rekindled.

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Peter Finch, Kim Novak

She begins to feel her own ascendance beyond Zarken, who utters the line, “You’re an illusion. Without me you don’t exist!” In response she shows Zarken to himself who was originally Louis Flack a hack magician. Shouting in defiance, Elsa holds up a make-up mirror that distorts his reflection. “Look you are a God… and I’m created in your image!”

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“Look you are a God… and I’m created in your image!”

Let’s turn the reel back a bit… Bart brings Elsa to meet Lylah’s director/lover Lewis Zarken who has been in seclusion since the tragic death of his protege Lylah Clare. Once Lewis sees Elsa and watches the time she’s put into studying her guttural  accent which she intermittently uses as cackles with other throaty Germanic utterances that is eerie and off putting. This is to give her a streak of supernatural irreverence. Zarken sees a spark of potential to resurrect not only his own career, but to bring back from the dead, his lost love and world wide idol or perhaps just his art piece to mold and exploit once again… or a combination of all of the above.

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The camera shows only Zarken’s back To Bart. Setting up the idea that Zarken is a deity in his own mind, unreachable force who commands deference and obedience. 
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Portraits and memorabilia of the enigma that is Lylah Clare are all around Zarken’s house, like a shrine to the dead goddess.

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Zarken sits in his swivel chair with his back to us and the camera spouting his arrogant and cryptic sense of humor, which already alienates us from his character right from the beginning. As Ursini & Silver point out, it also sets him up as a mythic figure himself. He is congratulated and warned about having a second chance. “You’re getting a chance to live a part of your life all over again… Lewis be careful with this girl… remember, it’s not everyone who gets two chances.”

Zarken, originally named Louis Flack a professional magician plays like he’s a megalomaniac in the vein of Svengali. Elsa winds up living in the shadow of the ‘myth’ of a great mysterious woman much like Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca feeling as if she is NOT nor will ever be the late great idol of passion.

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Zarken aggressively pulls up Rossella’s sleeve to show the track marks on her arm. Each character in The Legend of Lylah Clare has obsessions and demons of their own making.

Now living isolated in his decadent old mansion (reminders of the Hudson sister’s house in Baby Jane?) he shares the isolation with friend Rossella the beautiful Italian dialect coach and Lylah’s lover who is a dope addicted lesbian. She inhabits her scenes with a love/hate relationship toward Zarken as she haunts the house like part of his conscience for both characters the memory of Lylah won’t rest.

Zarken is a psychopathic megalomaniac who lives in the odd mansion like Norma Desmond. He plays life/death tricks with a gun, and is an abrasive egoist, and an elitist, A maudlin auteur from the first moment we meet him. After Bart works with Elsa, playing recordings of Lylah’s Voice and teaching her the walk etc. Bart is ready to bring Elsa to meet Zarken.

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Zarken makes Bart play the gunshot trick/game with him. He is impervious to bullets. A God like man…

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Elsa arrives at the mansion and begins walking up the staircase looking at the extravagant portrait of Lylah.

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As Elsa is paraded in front of Zarken he depersonalizes her.
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The 1st flashback which suggests Lylah was assaulted by a crazed fan with a knife. There is a struggle. The use of red to soak the screen in blood.

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Both Lylah and her assailant wind up dead at the bottom of the great staircase.
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“We’re moving like a deeply offended Tibetan yak!” Lewis tells Elsa as he watches from below the absurd staircase that plays a very significant role in the film.
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Lewis Zarken: [Talking about choosing a stage name for Elsa] Elsa Brinkmann. “John Foster Brinksmanship.” It’s horrible. We’ll have to change your name.” Elsa: “Thank you, but I’m happy with the name I have.” Lewis Zarken: “Well, I’m not! And neither will the public be! Anyway, what’s in a name? Why are you so sensitive? If it’s any consolation to you, I rejoiced in the name of “Flack.” Louie Flack, F-L-A-C-K, Flack. How does *that* grab you? Then one day I saw this magician: “Zarkan the Magnificent.” He was a terrible act. I think he finished up cutting his throat in a Hungarian boarding house. Anyway, I lifted his name. Sounds a bit like a Transylvanian pox doctor, but it serves to impress the natives. We’ll do the same for you.”
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Lewis Zarken: “I’ve never seen a woman yet who didn’t have a whore locked up somewhere deep inside her.”

As Elsa is paraded in front of Zarken he depersonalizes her. Zarken is offensive and rude and down right abusive. Eventually Elsa is imbued with the essence of the dead actress and the possession, or the spell Elsa falls under begins to manifest the abrasive more bravura persona that apparently was Lylah, losing Elsa all together. She falls in love with Zarken of course, but is he in love with Elsa?, or the image of Lylah that has been molded as if by Madame Tussauds, or intoxicated by the idea of being able to control Elsa/Lylah all over again, creating her image on screen for the sake of art and his supposed genius. Lewis tells Elsa in his preachy condescending way. Lylah has died under very curious circumstances on their wedding night, that only begins to unfold as the film’s flashbacks start to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

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Elsa sits in the screening room watching old film’s of the dead goddess Lylah Clare.

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Valentina Cortez plays the costume designer Countess Bozo Bedoni
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Ernest Borgnine is studio head/producer Barney Sheean.
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It is the premier coming out party at Zarken’s mansion where Zarken has invited the press and industry people to meet his new Lylah Clare protégé
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Molly Luther: “Free food, free drinks, free press.” Molly Luther: “She’s tame enough now, Lewis, but will she turn into a slut like the last one?”

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Jean Carroll as Bart’s wife Becky Langner, Valentina Cortese as Countess Bozo and Rossella Falk as Rossella are gleefully admiring their make over –an anti Pygmalian transformation. No grace, no grammar just guts and glamour

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Elsa is created to look like a carbon copy, down to the rose and blonde hairstyle as the huge portrait by the staircase.
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Coral Browne as the cynical and acerbic  Molly Luther is lying in wait to offend & grill the young actress!

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Elsa must past inspection by the harpy like critic Molly Luther played by Coral Browne. Elsa manifests Lylah’s contemptuous maniacal laugh and nasty tongue. Demeaning Luther by almost molesting the disabled woman’s private parts by putting her cigarette out in the ashtray on her crotch. Then banging her leg brace with her own cane in front of the crowd of party guests.

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Molly Luther–I presume you know what kind of an establishment Lewis’ last performer came from? Are we to take it that your background is equally unfortunate? Oh come along child, surely you’re not retarded. I am asking you Do you sleep with him?!”
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Elsa (Manifesting Lylahs throaty German voice) “Why you miserable son of a bitch. What makes you think that because once Yes Miss Luther just once (she puts her cigarette out in Luther’s lap) you spent a cozy hour with Lew Zarken… that you have the right to be jealous of him…”

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“Do you really believe that you have a license to ask any dirty question that slides into that snake nest between your ears… And nobodies jealous of you why! Because they’re gentleman? NO… I’ll tell you why. Molly Luther’s magic wand. (Elsa holds Molly’s cane in her hands) It keeps her safe from (smacking Molly’s leg brace) dragons!… (she cackles) Luther’s personal guarantee that she has the right of God almighty… Now get out and don’t come into this house again!”

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Elsa ultimately professionally and psychotically reincarnates or uncannily manifests herself as Lylah. She seems almost possessed by the spirit of the dead screen goddess. This suggests an element of the supernatural perhaps that the films doesn’t bother to dissuade or convince us of. Elsa’s intermittent vocalizations arise at times as M.J Arocena says in their IMBd review —“talks with the grave tones of a hybrid, part Lotte Lenya part Mercedes MacCambridge. Outrageous!” I remember reading that Mercedes MacCambridge had done the voice of the demon possessing Regan (Linda Blair) in William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973).

Once an agreement is set with the studio to allow Zarken to make his picture and Lewis Zarken agrees that he can mold Elsa in the image of Lylah and cast her in an epic biography about the lost screen goddess and her tragic mysterious death, we meet the mouthy studio head ’ Barney Sheean played by Ernest Borgnine. Who is wonderfully belligerent and not all too enthusiastic to revisit another Lylah Clare with auteur Zarken helming the project.

Barney Sheean (Ernest Borgnine) is invited to come to the unveiling, where Elsa is coached even how to walk down the long staircase at Zarken’s mansion to greet her public and more importantly the press, in particular that harpy-like gossip columnist Molly Luther played by brilliantly by Coral Browne, as the archetypal scandalmonger in the vein of the great  Louella Parsons.

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Molly asks what Lewis has to say about being thrown out by Elsa. “I’ve always been told that a director should never under cut their actors big scene. I’m afraid I must ask you to leave!”
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With Lewis Zarken taking sides with his new actress, Rosella and Countess Bozo do their version of a spit take! Rosella drinks to it and Countess Bozo gags on her cigarette smoke!

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Bart, in a panic chases after Molly making excuses “she’s really a nice girl” pleading with her to wait for Barney (Ernest Borgnine)

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Molly- “She’s a degenerate swine!”

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As she descends the oddity that is Zarken’s high and open ended staircase symbolically a decent with no safety bars attached, Elsa seems bent out of joint by Molly’s questioning so rather than succumb she assaults her using that thick throaty German Lylah voice in order to make the intimidation more grandiose!

On the day of Elsa’s big unveiling, she manages to conjure Lylah so well that she has a cat fight with columnist Molly Luther (Coral Browne) who calls her a ‘degenerate swine’ in which she inappropriately mocks and attacks not only her physical disability, but her identity as a woman  by banging her own cane against her leg brace to demean her in front of the gathered crowd at the party. Elsa goes as far too call her a ‘freak’.

Director Lewis Zarken’s Svengali like preoccupation with molding Elsa in Lylah’s own image creates a sort a Monstrous Feminine, a beautiful Frankenstein who begans to desire it’s own primacy rather than be mastered, while he is trying to re-create what he has lost, he loses all control over his creation yet again.

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Lewis Zarken: [Upon nearing a large greenhouse, while giving Elsa a walking tour of his estate] “You might say that that greenhouse is something of a memorial to her. We had a Japanese gardener that used to look after it. Nice little fellow – quiet as a cherry blossom. Worked out here the best part of ten years, then suddenly one day we were at war. And the Government – who know a dangerous man when they see one – gave him a few hours to pack up before they shipped him off to some god-forsaken concentration camp in the middle of a desert. Lylah was so upset, she came down here to say good-bye to him. You can take my word for it, that gardener had the most *unexpected* going away present he ever had in his life.” Lewis Zarken: [pauses, noticing that Elsa looks somewhat taken aback] “Don’t look so shocked… She wasn’t married at the time.”
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Barney Sheean: “Films”? “Films”? What the hell ever happened to movies? What do you think you’re in, the art business?
I make movies, not films!

Under the shadow of the great Lylah, Elsa is driven hard to bring forth the same enigmatic persona by Zarken. During the film we’re not even sure if Elsa is either, becoming possessed by the dead star, truly talented at stepping into character or absolutely mad. Is she driven by a desire to be a great actress, or is she trying to please her lover Lewis who only sees her as an object, and the subject that is ‘Lylah’.

What’s like a rollercoaster ride is how Elsa suddenly bursts into one of Lyle’s vulgar tirades perfect pitch German accent, once when Lewis tries to grab her she spews venom at him shoving him away, “keep your filthy hands off me!”

I’ve read that Novak’s voice was dubbed post-production as a last minute idea- something that purportedly caused the actress much embarrassment at the film’s premiere. This was based supposedly on the idea that Aldrich realized that Elsa could not have known so many private details of Lylah’s intimate life and so the idea of ‘possession’ became more viable when she would manifest the guttural laugh and tirades she would go off on in that German accent. But due to this maneuver after the film was shot, the possession scenes come across as even more surreal or otherworldly and off-putting & creepy.

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The 2nd flashback a different version of the assailant/lover is revealed to be a woman played by a very young Lee Merriwether

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Along the for the ride in this ensemble excursion typical of an Aldrich narrative, is Rossella Falk, who plays assistant Rossella, Lyle’s heroine addicted lover.

There aren’t any characters that have an attractive, compelling or empathic role, as they are all in this mission to resurrect the dead Lylah for an agenda each one has. Zarken desires to destroy the woman all over again, Bart just wants to produce one great film before the cancer kills him, and Rossella is still hopelessly in love/lust with Lylah, which she easily transfers to the now well groomed Elsa.

During the exhausting studying down to each movement and inflection, Elsa begins to lose her identity slipping more and more into Lylah’s personality off the film set.

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Elsa kisses Bart on the cheek, even his wife Becky is starting to see the transformation and the shy Elsa is becoming more flirtatious like Lylah Clare
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Even Bart’s wife Becky sees the change in the mild mannered girl who is now flirting with her husband.
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I doesn’t escape me, the use of the re-occurring iconography -the use of ‘the mirror’ to represent the splintering of personalty

The film becomes an almost surreal fruit salad of moments that are a journey for several archetypal figures who are destined for self-destruction in the literally dog-eat-dog world of show-biz. Also a film within a film within a film.

What’s hard to know or what is not meant to be discovered is whether Elsa becomes possessed, whether Lewis is using Elsa to resurrect a woman that he might have also driven crazy or in fact killed, and the strange romance between the two. It’s hard to define it as a love relationship rather than one of opportunity obsession and need.

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Zarken is re-shooting the death scene on the staircase where Lylah was either attacked by a true assailant, a female lover playing dangerous foreplay with a knife, or in fact if the fall was caused by the jealous & possessive Zarken.

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Ellen Corby plays the script woman. Watching the volatile scene on the staircase

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One plot line concerns the actress and her possession by the spirit of the late Lylah Clare, and the other subplot concerns the romance between the actress and the director, and the burgeoning promiscuity (hearkening back to Lylah) as Elsa begins to explore sex with Rossella the voice coach and the hunky gardener played by Tinti.

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An interesting confluence, Kim Novak’s character Lylah too suffers from vertigo as did James Stewart character in Hitchcock’s film. In flashback we see three possibilities of what happened the night that Lylah Clare died, but it doesn’t unfold until it has been strained through a few different psychedelic versions to get to the likely truth behind her death. Photographed by the great Josef Biroc he creates a mesmerizing color palate that reminds me of some of the best Giallo films from Italy.

At the climax of the film when Elsa is filming the last scene as Lylah, she is up on a trapeze being able to still capitalize on Lylah’s fear of heights (a scenario that never happened but Lewis envisions this campy exhibition as a metaphor to her real death, also signifying that Hollywood is a circus!), Elsa shouts to Zarken, “All right, Lewis we will see if I am an illusion!”

Lewis Zarken is one of Robert Aldrich’s typical film megalomaniacs, with a measure of psychopath added to the mix. Bart (Milton Selzer) berates Zarken, “You think you created her, can create her again!” The combative Zarken tells him- “The public will continue to believe what we tell them… We make the legends and the legends become truth!”

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Bart is getting increasingly disparaged by Zarken’s controlling ego trip and mistreatment of Elsa.

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This maxim that the illusion becomes the reality is re-articulated in Aldrich’s The Killing of Sister George (1968) as June (Beryl Reid) tells her lover ‘Childie’ (Suzannah York) about her quaint & extremely popular soap opera gig, “It’s real to millions of people, more real than you or I.”

Once the filming begins the blustering studio head Barney Sheean (Ernest Borgnine) begins to oversee the picture and vocal coach Rossella (Rossella Falk) and staff, designers etc are on board. Novak starts embodying the very essence of Lylah’s persona as she further immerses herself into the character. Is she possessed?, or merely going mad from the pressures. Everyone begins treating her as if she is the late screen goddess to tragic results as history repeats itself again…

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Elsa as Lylah Clare: “Just tell ’em Lylah’s coming, soon as she gets her harness on… Lylah Clare: [to Barney Sheean] Squat and wait!”
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The 3rd flashback gives more of an impression that Zarken either caused or purposefully made Lylah fall off the staircase when he finds out that her lover is a woman.

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Up on the trapeze the final flashback -one of the dream sequences be it real or fantasy of Lylah’s death, the predatory male suitor with a knife is now a young woman who is shot by Lewis falling off that ridiculous staircase with no railing—it is Lee Meriwether (Catwoman in Batman 1966) and former Miss America. — playing a lesbian suitor/lover dressed in male drag wielding a knife as deadly phallic weapon or just s&m foreplay–all of it that precipitates Lylah’s fall to her death.
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Elsa looks down, and winds up missing her cue, as she too falls to her death for real, not just written into the script as a feature.

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Ironically the film premiers at Grauman’s Chinese Theater, the very place that Elsa playfully walks around in the very beginning of the film.
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Rossella waits… she loads a gun. Will she kill Lewis Zarken? That is left up for grabs…
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Molly Luther at the premier of the ‘degenerate swines’ movie… Life goes on in Hollywood
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Zarken reflects on what has happened
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Zarken is interviewed about the film, but it is quickly cut to a Barkwell dog food commercial…

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In the end, Elsa in a struggle of power to maintain her identity falls to her death from the trapeze, dying in an eerie similarity to Lylah. She might as well have slipped inside Lylah’s skin.

The filming catches every nuance. The extras gather around her body. It is a bizarre scene… until Aldrich leads us out with the dog food commercial freeze framed under the rolling credits. We are also left to wonder if Rossella will finally shoot Lewis in a jealous rage for having caused her beautiful lover to die yet again… Molly Luther shows up to the premier of Zarken’s film at the legendary Grauman’s Chinese Theater smiling as none of this scandalous affair has tainted her career and Zarken himself  brooding & reflecting about the premier while being interviewed by a reporter until he is cued away on television to a Barkwell dog food commercial, phasing out Zarken’s soliloquy in front of Grauman’s Chinses Theater. All is back to normal in the world of Hollywood and with its short attention span syndrome.

Aldrichs’ way of ‘vulgarizing Hollywood showing that nothing is sacred, nothing lasts. The camera pulls away and goes to the commercial. The symbol of the dog food (incidentally used in Baby Jane? when the dog food ad interrupts one of Blanche’s classic films re-run on tv) is a grandiose show of contempt as a pack of wild dogs pile into a kitchen through a dog door and in a frenzy, sharp fangs bared, tear each-other apart over a bowl of meat. Leading out to the final freeze frame of the snarling teeth, as De Vol’s theme song for Lylah plays over the rolling credits.

An ugly Grand Guignol Guilty Pleasure stylized by Aldrich’s animosity toward the film industry-wonderfully vulgar in the same way as was his What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? (1962). It’s another poison love letter to Hollywood that is perhaps even more absurd, and almost as grotesque as What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

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The two iconic ideals of the vulgarization of screen goddesses worship and ruination, as the Hudson sisters Blanche and Jane. Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. The exemplar of Grande Dame Guignol theater.

The Legend of Lylah Clare (1968) was a failure in the sense of a box office hit it could have been, even with the collaboration of Novak’s star quality, the studio MGM’s money machine, the successes Aldrich had with The Dirty Dozen in 1967 and the stellar casting, it came across as an convoluted oddity.

Aldrich created a quirky uncomfortable campy indictment of Hollywood, and not a grand action adventure or high melodrama that never sank too low in decadence for it’s audience.

a similar film theme that precedes Aldrich’s film by 16 years!
Tagline: from THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL (1952)“The story of a blonde who wanted to go places, and a brute who got her there – the hard way!”

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Kirk Douglas and Lana Turner star in The Bold and The Beautiful (1952) directed by Vincent Minnelli.

Aldrich gathered his usual ensemble of outliers in a world gone mad and literally let the dogs loose. If people are looking for his edgy noir touch he used in Kiss Me Deadly, or the gang of men fighting against all odds in The Flight of the Phoenix (1965), or The Longest Yard (1974), the taut melodrama of the older woman loving back to sanity a younger psychotic male like his Autumn Leaves (1956) starring Joan Crawford and Cliff Robertson, they will not find this kind of linear style of story telling in Lylah Clare.

The film does fit somewhere in the realm of pulp like- Jacqueline Suzanne’s Valley of the Dolls (1967) or other auteur Robert Altman’s Brewster McCloud (1970).

Unfortunately what was to be Novak’s return to the big screen, wound up being her swan song, because the film was not the critical success she had hoped for nor a flattering dramatic exercise for the actress.

But the film also acts as a corollary for the glamorous days of Hollywood and the death of the industry that was a dynasty. The late 60s didn’t deal with dreams anymore, but brutal realism and social awakening to a different kind of story on screen and backstage…. In that way, the film itself is a queer swan song to those golden days, much in the way Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard was in 1950.

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In Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) Novak also was called to embody the roles of two separate yet identical archetypes of the enigma that is ‘the male gaze’ of the ‘objectified female body.’

Aldrich’s film will immediately grab you as something campy with a bit of that offbeat vulgarity that he’s known for. Peter Finch who plays the Svengali like director Lewis Zarken who tries to transform Elsa both physically and psychologically into the very being that was his actress/star/wife Lylah Clare.

Amidst the transformation in the film we are shown three different versions of how Lylah met her death. The flashbacks are psychedelic with a hazy focused lens using bold color washes and weaves of slow motion and blood splatter on screen to obscure what we see.

When Elsa is seemingly channeling Lylah it sort of works as a reincarnation piece draped in the mod quality of the late 60s and the make-up job by veteran William Tuttle and Robert J. Schiffer create the look of Nancy Sinatra, Karen Dors or Mamie Van Doren which are all good things but it’s not quite the look of the Golden Age glamour of Jean Harlow and Marlene Dietrich.

It’s also never clear within the story whether Elsa is rational or descending into madness. Similar to Jack Palance’s actor Charles Castle in The Big Knife (1955) who is a victim of his own inflated ego subject to box office ratings, betrayal and his fear of failing. Betrayal, which was also at the turbulent core between the Hudson sisters in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

“The film has moments of self-conscious ‘parody and stylization.’… whether she merely continues to act at being Lylah off the set or is actually ‘possessed’ by her. The Legend of Lylah Clare is neither pure satire nor pure melodrama, but a difficult integration of real and unreal.”Silver & Ursini.

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on set Elsa (Kim Novak) is playing Lylah Clare in the story of her life and death… a film within a film…
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Jack Palance and Ida Lupino in Robert Aldrich’s very intense film The Big Knife (1955)

The Lavender haired actress is wearing a more mod 60s icy white coif and velvety pale pink lips and Twiggy style eyeliner that just doesn’t say screen goddess of a bygone era. More-so cheesecake, groovy, and eerily out of place, perhaps this is what Aldrich intended as he is apt to vulgarize what he touches.

Lylah Clare might also be said to contain fragments or composites of great actresses of long ago, Joan Crawford, Tallulah Bankhead, Garbo, Dietrich and Harlow. all icons of the 1930s.

Aldrich also didn’t miss his commentary on the struggles of studios to make the almighty buck, clawing to get that money making actress, and film. The conflict between the studio system and the directors who want to make art. And the servitude they must surrender to– the media and piranha like Molly Luther who can immortalize or annihilate with their power of the press. Ernest Borgnine as the studio head Barney Sheean says in one scene, “I don’t want to make films. I want to make movies. What do you think we’re making here, art?”

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Kim Novak too remains a legend shown here in this iconic allegorical imagery from Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958)

The ending is irreverent, trashy, campy and is the lead up to the cynical climax. Absolutely the weirdest of all Aldrich’s dark show-biz operas, as Lylah Clare and Kim Novak both remain a legend.

IMBD TRIVIA–Although this was her first film in three years, Kim Novak found that she had little enthusiasm for her character. Director Robert Aldrich found it increasingly difficult to elicit a viable performance from her. This was Kim Novak’s last starring role in an American-made feature film. When Kim Novak walks along Hollywood Blvd, a theater she passes by is playing The Dirty Dozen (1967), a film Robert Aldrich made a year earlier, and whose commercial success made it possible for the director to start his own production company and make movies like this.

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When MGM executives finally screened the film, they decided to market it as being “deliberately campy”, but audiences in 1968 were not yet ready to embrace the idea of going to see something trashy on purpose, and the movie proved to be a box office bomb despite this trend-setting marketing ploy. This film is listed among the 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made in Golden Raspberry Award founder John Wilson’s book THE OFFICIAL RAZZIE® MOVIE GUIDE.

 

Continue reading “The Backstage Blogathon 2016: Kim Novak- Fallen Idol double bill “You’re an illusion… without me you’re nothing!” *”

Announcing the “Movie Scientist Blogathon!”

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Classic TV Blog Association celebrates with A Very Merry MeTV Blogathon 2015!

CLASSIC TV BLOG ASSOCIATION: Presents! – A VERY MERRY MeTV BLOGATHON!

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The Andy Griffith Show

Season One episode 11– Aired on December 19, 1960

Santa Fife

THE CHRISTMAS STORY:

A VERY DICKENSEAN MAYBERRY CHRISTMAS!

On the eve of Christmas when Andy and Barney are planning on celebrating Christmas with Aunt Bea, Opie and Ellie, Andy is setting his mind to allowing both cells full of prisoners who were disturbing the peace (the basic holiday drunkeness) to go home for Christmas!

Andy’s sweeping up and apologizing to the prisoners about there being the only kind of pillows they got for the cells. Often Andy’s jail seems as homey and welcoming as most towns people’s homes. What with Aunt Bea’s hand made Doilies and bringing supper consisting of chicken and dumplings, sweet potato pie, johnny cakes, (no worries –not those bad ole home pickles– them kerosene cucumbers! They’re scattered all the way from Seattle to Nova Scotia) At the jailhouse there’s always breakfast, lunch and dinner, and it’s always a feast for either wayward prisoner, or Otis sleeping off a snoot full….

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Greeting from State Prison

Barney comes in in a particularly jovial mood with a package of Christmas cards. More people seem to remember them this year than any other!

And boy Andy does love to get and open up Christmas cards more than anything he knows of.

Barney opens up a card from the Hubacher Brothers.

Just a note: We rescued 3 little feral tabby kittens last year. Of course we named them the Eubacher brothers. Sadly we lost Mikey to a horrible virus a few months later, but Archie and Sidney are doing well! And whenever the show mentions those Hubacher brothers, it tickles us thoroughly.

Barney tells Andy “They always send such nice family pictures.”

Andy asks where they are right now. Barney matter of factly answers,  “Up in State Prison.”
Andy enjoyed the picture they sent last year more. It was more “outdoorsy and Christmasy feeling” Barney tells him, “They was all working out on the County Road then.”

“Merry Christmas from State Prison” Barney smiles “I think it’s just wonderful that they’re all together on Christmas.” Then Andy finds one for Barney marked personal. You know he’s about to poke fun at him royally about either Hilda May or later on in the show it will be… the unseen Jaunita over at The Blue Bird Diner.

Barney reads the card and giggles to himself. “That’s sweet.” When he realizes that Andy is watching him he quickly shoves it in his pocket, looking like a boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

Andy answers the phone all toothy and grinning. Aunt Bea is on the phone. “Oh Hey Aunt Bea Yeah, I got the doodads for the tree…” He tells her he doesn’t want to be Santa Claus again this year. “I was last year….”

Andy is so excited about the Christmas Party, and he tells Barney that he’s gonna be Santa Claus this time, but Barney says no… because he isn’t gonna be there since he’s going to be on duty minding the prisoners in the cells.

Andy says “Oh yeah, well that does make a problem then don’t it” Barney tells him… “You know with a little practice I could have done a very mean Ho Ho Ho Merry Christmas!”

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Andy is figuring on what he has them boys in the cells for anyways. Barney thinks he means what law infractions. Like disturbing the peace. But that’s not what Andy is driving at. “We got em in there to kind a teach them a lesson, ain’t that right?” Barney reluctantly goes along at first. In one of Andy’s crafty rationals he figures that it makes the prisoners sort of like students, making he and Barney teachers and the jail house sort of like school! So when it’s a holiday what else can you do…?

Only one thing to do, right! Let all them students go home for Christmas!

Barney tries out a hearty Ho Ho Ho!

Acting in this Christmas play is the modern day Ebenezer Scrooge, the crotchety department store owner Ben Weaver (Will Wright) who’s ill-tempered swagger injects his mean spirited humbuggery into the gaiety around the prison.

Weaver barges into the jail like a grizzled old bounty hunter with Sam Muggins (Sam Edwards) gripped in one hand and a jug of hard cider in the other.

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Weaver, the miserly, curmudgeon wants Sheriff Taylor to arrest Sam for moon-shining and lock him up in a cell on Christmas Eve! That man has got all the meanness in town…

Weaver’s caught Sam red handed and shows him the jug as evidence. Andy takes a sniff and his eyes roll back in his head. “Well I’ll have to admit… it ain’t exactly Sarsaparilla.”

Andy pleads his case to Weaver… Sam Muggins really only just made “a batch, to merry up Christmas… Ben”“Now you heard me Sheriff lock him up!” urging Andy to do his duty. Andy tries to convince Ben Weaver that Sam didn’t make the spirits to try to sell and after all, tomorrow being Christmas, and Sam being a family man Christmas being a family holiday.

Andy- “If that ain’t the meanest, orneriest, low-downiest man” Andy apologizes and puts Sam in the cell. Poor Sam feels so bad about spending Christmas in a cell without his family and his youngins having to spend Christmas without their Pappy.

Andy tries to reason with the miserly Weaver, “I was just wondering if…” Ben snaps at Andy- No sir! I’d like to see how forgiving you’d be, if you had a store that sold spirits and half the county was cutting in on your sale by making their own. Agin the law!”

Ben tells him he’s gonna keep an eye on him. Andy gives his word that right after Christmas he’ll arrest him and try him strictly according to the law. “And if this here moon-shiner ain’t in that cell every minute of the time, I’m gonna report you to the state officials for being derelict in your duty. and you know I’ve got enough pull up there to make it stick.”

Barney has the notion and asks Andy if they can’t just dismiss school again… He’s worried that Ben could actually make a whole lotta trouble. Barney was sure looking forward to playing Santa Claus he starts to sing Jingle Bells to himself. Andy gets that grin on his face like he’s got another one of those shrewd ideas! “No by dog there’s more than one way to pluck a buzzard. Yes Sir!!!!”

Ben sees Andy bringing the whole Muggins family in the police car. Jingle Bells is playing as he escorts the family out of the car and into the jailhouse.

In Andy’s witty, wise and resourceful manner he often figures out ways around the befuddlements of human nature, and so to appease mean old Weaver he arrests Sam’s entire family, wife Bess (Joy Ellison) and even toothless little Effie (Margaret Kerry) and little Billy.

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Andy sees this as a way the Muggins family can celebrate their Christmas all together. So with his home spun cunning and wit, charges Effie and the children as “accessories before, during, and after the fact.”

Andy engages Eleanor and Aunt Bea to help watch over the prisoners Muggins. And of course they need to eat, so the party festivities are re-directed to the jailhouse. The feast and all the fixings are brought there. Even the beautifully festooned Christmas Tree is now at the jail ready to be decorated with tinsel, fringe and ball lights. The festivities continue, lots of roast turkey and egg nog, Andy on the guitar and caroling and the warmth of friendship and kindness abounds.

Weaver’s face appears as if soaked in vinegar as he watches from outside the jailhouse window, a sad lonely man. The old coot becomes embittered while everyone else is full of the joy of Christmas. Weaver does everything he can to get himself arrested. Secretly wanting to be a part of the celebration but soaked in too much pride and cantankerousness to admit he’s lonely.

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Yes Andy’s jail is good enough to host Christmas, with all it’s warmly decorated, folksy Christmas singin’ and carols, good home cookin’ (kerosene pickles aside) and hearty atmosphere of good will to all…

But Ben Weaver the old curmudgeon doesn’t think so. He’s got no holiday spirit in his creaky old body draped in black like the harbinger of doom who Andy refers to as ‘instead of dying’“He’s just going to nasty away.” Bony fingers and hawk like nose Ben Weaver would be a marvelous Ichabod Crane…

Ben Weaver blows his stack when Sam Muggins gets to put his own little Christmas Tree in his cell. “It’s disgraceful that’s what it is… disgraceful a prison is for punishing not for picnicking”  Andy responds- “Now I always thought that a prison was to help wrong doers get back on the path.”  For Ben Weaver tis definitely NOT the season to be jolly.

He does everything he can to disturb the peace so he can be arrested and be included in on a little Peace on Earth at the Mayberry jailhouse…

Andy finally figures out Ben Weaver’s unruly behavior and arrests him so he can be part of the Christmas celebrating! Ben brings his heavy suitcase in, but it’s not filled with his personal items, it’s loaded down with presents for everyone, even toys for the children from his department store. He cleverly pretends that he has no idea how these things have gotten in his suit case, handing out the gifts as if he’s got no use for them himself. Guess he’s got a secret kind spot in his his gnarled looking heart after-all…

Barney gets to play Santa Claus and all is right with the world– Mayberry style….

From all of us here at The Last Drive In… we’re wishing you and yours a very Happy Holiday and Peace on Earth….

 

 

 

 

Nothin’ like spending Thanksgiving day with Ida Lupino!

Wishing you and yours a wonderful day of overeating, avoiding that string bean dish that nobody eats, family squabbles and lots of traffic!

Your EverLovin’ Joey

Happy Birthday Boris Karloff: The gentlest soul to inhabit ‘Terror’ stories!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY BORIS KARLOFF!

Boris never liked to call those pictures ‘Horror Films’ he preferred Terror films instead. Either way you see it, Boris created a lifetime worth of memorable roles, while maintaining such dignity and kindness through the darkest of masks… I never get tired of saying this. Dear Boris, I wish you had been my Grandpa! Hope you’re celebrating with friends, lighting up a good cigar and listening to a fiddle being plucked!

Annex - Karloff, Boris (Bride of Frankenstein, The)_06

Annex - Karloff, Boris (Bride of Frankenstein, The)_04

Annex - Karloff, Boris (Bride of Frankenstein, The)_08

Annex - Karloff, Boris (Boogie Man Will Get You, The)_01

With so much love and admiration, your little MonsterGirl Joey

What a Character! Blogathon 2015: Agnes Moorehead- The Lavender Lady

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Agnes
Ages from the famous ‘boiler scene’ as the tormented Aunt Fanny in Welles’ superior to Citizen Kane’s The Magnificent Ambersons. Fanny to the self-obsessed & spoiled Georgie “It’s not hot!!! it’s cold, the plumbers disconnected it… I wouldn’t mind if they hadn’t…!  I wouldn’t mind if it burned!!!”
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A simple and wholesome beginning… Agnes Robertson Moorehead was born on December 6th, 1900 in Clinton, Massachusetts. Her mother was a mezzo-soprano and her father was a Presbyterian minister whose work eventually moved the family to St. Louis, Missouri. She started her acting career on stage at the age of 3, and by the time she was 12 she was active in the St. Louis Municipal Opera as a dancer and singer. She went to college for biology at Muskingum College in Ohio, but remained active in acting. After college she moved to Wisconsin (her family was now in Reedsburg, Wisconsin), taught drama and English at local schools. She earned a Masters in English at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Agnes eventually would earn a doctorate from Bradley University.
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My partner Wendy and I happened to have lived in Madison for a wonderful 8 years while she was in grad school at the University of Wisconsin. I wrote my favorite album Fools & Orphans while living on Starkweather Creek on the East side of town. So Agnes’ presence there is all the more sweet to me…
To earn the money she would need, not only to eat but to build toward her dream of heading to New York City and acting school, she taught English, Speech and Ancient History at Centralized High School in Soldiers Grove. Teaching was something she maintained a strong affection for.
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When she eventually saved enough money to get to New York City she audition for the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in the summer of 1926- she was accepted. I’m reading Charles Tranberg’s wonderful book, she talks about starving herself, being grateful for enough loose change to buy a buttered roll from the Automat  …
Afterward she moved to New York City and enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Agnes studied with Charles Jehlinger at The (AADA) American Academy of Dramatic Arts, where he taught people ‘imagination’ is the key!
Not making it on Broadway during the 30s, she used her marvelous voice to make a name for herself in the media of radio. She began performing as many as six shows each day. During her radio performances she met Orson Welles, and Joseph Cotton and the three formed the famous Mercury Players Theatre. Agnes made her film debut in 1941 in Orson Welles’ ‘Citizen Kane’. She went on to play vital, high-spirited saucy & strong female roles in film and television eventually landing the iconic role as “Endora” on the popular & timelessly beloved television show “Bewitched” (1964-1972). She was married twice but eventually lived alone, enjoying solitude. She died quietly away from friends and the public, from lung cancer that had spread from her Uterus, she succumbed in 1974 in Rochester Minnesota. With Agnes’ work ethic she had maintained a busy schedule though drained and tired from the illness, performing hours on the stage and doing television appearances until she could no longer manage.
IMDb tidbit- Agnes’ death from cancer is often linked to other actors and crew members who worked on The Conqueror (1956). Including Susan Hayward, John Wayne and director Dick Powell, to name a few. The conspiracy theory behind the strong beliefs are that they were exposed while on location at the site which received heavy fallout from nuclear testing at the (then) Nevada Proving Grounds.

Fiercely private. Considered not beautiful because of her ‘hawk like’ face. I would boldly beg to disagree. Agnes Moorehead has a beauty that transcends the quaint and lovely upturned nose. She has a regal beauty as if royalty run in her veins, with a sage otherworldlyness and a voice like a chameleon that can change it’s tone and tenor to fit her myriad characterizations. I wish she and hope she knew that although she was THE consummate character actress for the ages, she too was as beautiful as any other leading star with a deep & fiery magnetism that draws you in ~

young agnes

Agnes had that spark in her, since she was a very little Agnes, embodying, manifesting & emoting like the characters from the books she read and from theater. Her adoring father or mother would find her re-enacting scenes in her room!

Here’s a beautifully written snapshot of Agnes Moorehead by The Red List– data base by Romuald Leblond & Jessica Vaillat

“Wanting to become a comedian from a young age – her mother had become accustomed to discovering her daughter in her imaginary world and often asked her: ‘Who are you today, Agnes?’ –  Agnes Moorehead appeared regularly on Broadway stages during the late 1920s.  She rapidly became a celebrated radio actress and joined Orson Welles’s Mercury Theater on the Air from 1940. In 1941, Orson Welles offered the ‘Fabulous Redhead’ her first film role in Citizen Kane as the cruel and bitter mother of the lead role. The part soon shaped the other roles Agnes Moorehead would be offered while they privileged heartless authoritarian or neurotic women such as the menacing aunt of Johnny Belinda, in 1948. In 1943, on the radio, the American comedian delivered one of her most legendary performances in Sorry, Wrong Number for which she created an exhausting and dynamic presentation – ‘radiant and terrifying’. In 1964, she was cast as Samantha Steven’s sarcastic and buoyant mother, in Bewitched and, although she disliked the rapid pace of television series, the show helped install the actress in the pantheon of American pop culture icons. Quite an irony for a woman who didn’t ‘particularly want to be identified as a witch.”

Agnes Moorehead went on from her imaginative childhood musings to play some of the most colorful characters on stage, radio, film and television- perhaps her persona had been ‘shaped by Citizen Kane’ but Agnes obviously had a range of emotions and archetypes she could readily tap into as she is a natural, authentic artist… making her a cultural icon recognized by so many people & a even a new generation of avid fans!

004-agnes-moorehead-theredlist-Agnes Moorehead, 1920s

Agnes -[commenting on the “Method” school of acting] “The Method school thinks the emotion is the art. It isn’t. All emotion isn’t sublime. The theater isn’t reality. If you want reality, go to the morgue. The theater is human behavior that is effective and interesting.” –from Charles Tranberg’s book I Love the Illusion: The Life and Career of Agnes Moorehead

Tranberg’s book is a wonderful read, he discusses from the beginning, the wealth of material he found at the historical society at the University of Wisconsin’s Historical Society. It’ is a marvelous place with marble floors warn down by years and the warm & musty smell of by-gone years, the building holds the archives to so many historical documents and films. For Agnes Moorehead, 159 boxes of material to be precise. He was not just a fan of Endora but her performances on old time radio in which she really shined. His book hints that her fire and brimstone Rev. John Moorehead with his sermons had a bit of the frustrated actor in the man, and why Aggie felt drawn to theater in the first place. He also read Shakespeare to the children. Her mother Molly was the boisterous outgoing flamboyant one who lived to be 106 and died in 1990… always saying what was on her mind, unless it was a strictly personal subject… sound familiar?

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He also writes about Agnes’ spirituality and religious devoutness. That is ‘wasn’t a gimmick or publicity stunt’ she really was a devoted Christian. It might cause heads to tilt, how such a fundamentalist woman would pick a career where she would be surrounded by creative types, often gay people that would become her friends. And though she was not thrilled with the idea of playing a witch, she certainly conjured the most iconic embodiment of the vexing & colorful Endora.

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Elizabeth Montgomery and Agnes Moorehead publicity shot Bewitched -courtesy of The Red List

“Lavender is just pink trying to be purple” she paraphrased Proustby Quint Benedetti from his book- (My Travels with) Agnes Moorehead: The Lavender Lady: (more BEWITCHING than Endora)– he goes onto to say, “And now I can see all the hues of her personality in that statement: the royalty, the naivete, the selfhishness, the piercing intuition and sometimes the astonishing lack of it  (her two marriages), the phoniness and the irrepressible humanity it contained, the coldness and the longing to be warm and sometimes the warmth, the insecurity and the yearning to be loved, the human simplicity touching greatness. Agnes Moorehead in a way did what so many actor and actresses never did. She left her mark on society both as an actress and as a person.” Benedetti knew Agnes Moorehead for ten years and was her personal assistant for five of those years.

In her long & unforgettable career – Agnes Moorehead’s film debut as Charles Foster Kane’s picture of stoic motherhood, the bitter and icy cold Mary Kane.

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Stoic Motherhood-Mary Kane in Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941)

Citizen Kane

She went on to play the emotionally tortured Aunt Fanny in what Charles Transberg rightly refers to Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons as ‘a mangled masterpiece’ I would give anything to see the footage that RKO hacked to pieces… and the ending that should have been, where Fanny is playing cards in the boarding house with the other old maids. The more nihilistic coda that RKO feared would turn the public off in the midst of WWII.

Agnes as Aunt Fanny Magnificent Ambersons

I know what you're gonna do... you're gonna leave me in the lurch
Aunt Fanny-“I know what you’re gonna do… you’re gonna leave me in the lurch…”
008-agnes-moorehead-theredlist-Tim Holt and Agnes Moorehead in The Magnificent Ambersons directed by Orson Welles, 1942
The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) directed by Orson Welles co-starring Joseph Cotton. Agnes Moorehead plays poor Aunt Fanny-Image courtesy of The Red List
Fanny Georgie and Uncle Jack- The cake and milk indulgence scene. Jack tells Georgie " can't think of anything aggy does have except her feelings for Morgan"
Georgie (Tim Holt) , Uncle Jack (Ray Collins) and Aunt Fanny- The milk and cake indulgence scene. Jack tells Georgie later after teasing her “Can’t think of anything Aggie does have except her feelings for Morgan.”
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Fanny-Can’t you see that I approve of what you’re doing?” Georgie (Tim Holt)-“What the heck is wrong with you” Fanny- “Oh you’re always picking on me, always… every since you were a little boy.” Georgie- “Oh my gosh” Fanny- “You wouldn’t treat anybody in the world like this, except old Fanny Old Fanny you say nobody but Old Fanny so … I’ll kick her! Nobody will resent it. I’ll kick her all I want to and you’re right, I haven’t got anything in the world since my brother died. Nobody nothing.”
026-agnes-moorehead-theredlist-Agnes Moorehead in Mrs. Parkington directed by Tay Garnett, 1944
Agnes Moorehead in Mrs. Parkington directed by Tay Garnett, 1944- courtesy The Red List
044-agnes-moorehead-theredlist-Humphrey Bogart and Agnes Moorehead in Dark Passage directed by Delmer Daves, 1947
Humphrey Bogart and Agnes Moorehead in Dark Passage directed by Delmer Daves, 1947
024-agnes-moorehead-theredlist-Agnes Moorehead in The Women in White directed by Peter Godfrey, 1948
Agnes Moorehead in The Women in White directed by Peter Godfrey, 1948-courtesy of The Red List
020-agnes-moorehead-theredlist-James Stewart, Agnes Moorehead and June Allyson in The Stratton Story directed by Sam Wood, 1949
James Stewart, Agnes Moorehead and June Allyson in The Stratton Story directed by Sam Wood, 1949- courtesy The Red List
001-agnes-moorehead-theredlist-Agnes Moorehead for Government Girl directed by Dudley Nichols, 1943
Agnes Moorehead for Government Girl directed by Dudley Nichols, 1943-courtesy The Red List
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Agnes Moorehead as Countess Zoe and Hedy Lamarr as Princess Veronica in Her Highness and the Bellboy (1945)
013-agnes-moorehead-theredlist-Agnes Moorehead for The lost moment directed by Martin Gabel, 1947
Agnes Moorehead publicity shot for The Lost Moment directed by Martin Gabel, 1947
092-agnes-moorehead-theredlist-Selma Jacobson, Edward G. Robinson and Agnes Moorehead in Our Vines Have Tender Grapes directed by Roy Rowland, 1945
courtesy of-theredlist-Edward G. Robinson and Agnes Moorehead in Our Vines Have Tender Grapes directed by Roy Rowland, 1945
028-agnes-moorehead-theredlist-Agnes Moorehead with Moira Shearer in Story of Three Loves:The Jealous Lover directed by Gottfried Reinhardt, 1953
Agnes Moorehead with Moira Shearer in Story of Three Loves:The Jealous Lover directed by Gottfried Reinhardt, 1953
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Rock Hudson, Jane Wyman and Agnes Moorehead in All That Heaven Allows 1955 directed by Douglas Sirk
012-agnes-moorehead-theredlist-Agnes Moorehead and Tallulah Bankhead in Main Street to Broadway directed by Tay Garnett, 1953
Agnes Moorehead and Tallulah Bankhead in Main Street to Broadway directed by Tay Garnett, 1953
032-agnes-moorehead-theredlist-Vincent Price and Agnes Moorehead in The Bat directed by Crane Wilbur, 1959
Vincent Price and Agnes Moorehead as mystery writer Cornelia Van Gorder in The Bat directed by Crane Wilbur, 1959
033-agnes-moorehead-theredlist-Agnes Moorehead and Tyrone Power on the set of Utamed directed by Henry King, 1955
Agnes Moorehead and Tyrone Power on the set of Untamed directed by Henry King, 1955-courtesy of The Red List
010-agnes-moorehead-theredlist-Agnes Moorehead and Kim Novak in Jeanne Eagels directed by George Sidney, 1957
Agnes Moorehead and Kim Novak in Jeanne Eagels directed by George Sidney, 1957
046-agnes-moorehead-theredlist-Agnes Moorehead and Eleanor Parker in Caged directed by John Cromwell, 1950
Agnes Moorehead as the kindly Warden Bond and Eleanor Parker in Caged directed by John Cromwell, 1950 One of THE best women in prison films :courtesy of The Red List
Aggie as Velma
Agnes Moorehead as the irascible Velma Cruthers in Robert Aldrich’s Grand Dame Southern Gothic follow up to What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? (1962)

Stage: Agnes began touring in George Bernard Shaw’s Don Juan in Hell (1951) & revival 1973, Gigi 1973 co-starring with Alfred Drake.

Don Juan in Hell Boyer, Moorehead and Hardwicke
Charles Boyer, Agnes and Sir Cedric Hardwicke in the stage production of Don Juan in Hell
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Agnes Moorehead in Don Juan in Hell on Broadway, 1952- Image courtesy of The Red List
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Agnes Moorehead in Don Juan in Hell on Broadway, 1952-Image courtesy of The Red List
042-agnes-moorehead-theredlist-Alfred Drake and Agnes Moorehead in the stage version of the musical Gigi, 1973
Agnes Moorehead in the stage version of the musical Gigi, 1973-image courtesy of The Red List

Selected Radio:– Mercury Theater founded with Orson Welles- Mysteries in Paris, The Gumps, The New Penny, The March of Time (1967-38), The Shadow (1937-39), The Mercury Theater of the Air (ensemble) The Campbell Playhouse, The Cavalcade of America (1938-41), Mayor of the Town

049-agnes-moorehead-theredlist-Lionel Barrymore and Agnes Moorehead for The Mayor of the Town, NBC Radio, 1943
Lionel Barrymore and Agnes Moorehead for The Mayor of the Town, NBC Radio, 1943

(1942-49), Suspense (1942-1960.) And of course in 1945 she played the women-in-peril-(in bed) Mrs. Stevenson in the CBS radio mystery program Suspense- Sorry,Wrong Number, which became “radio’s most famous play.” 

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According to Charles Tranberg, Agnes was offered a supportive role in the film version starring Barbara Stanwyck, saying that she wisely turned it down, coming to understand that she would always be considered a ‘character actress’ and not a leading lady. This would influence her decision to focus more on the stage, beginning with her affiliation with the acclaimed Don Juan in Hell and later her very popular one-woman show.

one woman show

On December 10, 2008 Celebrating Moorehead’s 108th anniversary on Turner Classic Movies- Moira Finnie writing for Movie Morlocks published a wonderful interview with Tranberg when asked if Agnes enjoyed both the mediums of radio and stage, he answered “I think she liked the challenges offered by all he mediums she worked on. The stage because it’s proximity in front of an audience. Radio because she had to create a complex characterization without being seen and could use her voice in many different ways. Film because it offered her the opportunity to visualize a characterization. Television because of its intimacy.”

Aggie Radio

Aggy in Dracula with The Mercury Theater
Agnes Moorehead and Orson Welles with The Mercury Theater’s radio production of Dracula

Moira Finnie’s piece is wonderfully insightful and witty. While watching David O Selznick’s Since You Went Away (1945) “It struck me for the hundredth time that the presence of Agnes Moorehead in many classic and not so classic films was often what gave a movie a spine.”

“She proved her versatility throughout her career. She arranged her aquiline features accordingly  to convey a believable briskness, sometimes comforting, sometimes disapproving. She most often appeared as a pragmatic presence in many films that have etched themselves on our collective memory.”

Moira Finnie aptly says it perfectly, honing in on the essence of what truly makes Agnes Moorehead such a powerful performer, “The actress could shift her characterizations easily from vinegary disapproval to warmly compassionate to richly detailed portraits of good and evil women.”

034-agnes-moorehead-theredlist-Agnes Moorehead on CBS Radio, 1945

Selected FilmsCitizen Kane 1941 (Mary Kane), The Magnificent Ambersons 1942 (Fanny), The Big Street 1942 (Violet Shumberg), Journey into Fear 1943 (Mrs. Mathews), Jane Eyre 1944 (Mrs.Reed), Since You Went Away 1944 (Mrs. Emily Hawkins), Dragon Seed 1944 (Third Cousin’s Wife), The Seventh Cross 1944 (Mme. Morelli), Mrs Parkington 1944 (Baroness Aspasia Conti), Our Vines Have Tender Grapes 1945 (Bruna Jacobson) Dark Passage 1947 (Madge Rapf) The Lost Moment 1947 (Juliana Borderau), Summer Holiday 1948 (Cousin Lily), The Woman in White 1948 (Countess Fosco), Johnny Belinda 1948 (Aggie MacDonald-nominated best supporting actress) The Great Sinner 1949 (Emma Getzel), Caged 1950 (Ruth Benton progressive Prison Warden), Captain Blackjack 1950 (Mrs. Emily Birk), Fourteen Hours 1951 (Christine Hill Cosick) , Showboat 1951 (Parthy Hawks), Magnificent Obsession 1954 (Nancy Ashford), All That Heaven Allows 1955 (Sara Warren), The Left Hand of God 1955 (Beryl Sigman), The Revolt of Mamie Stover 1956 (Bertha Parchman), Jeanne Eagels 1957 (Nellie Neilson), Raintree County 1957 (Ellen Shawnessy), The Story of Mankind 1957 (Queen Elizabeth I), Night of the Quarter Moon 1959 (Cornelia Nelson), The Bat 1959 (Cornelia van Gorder) Pollyanna 1960 (Mrs. Snow), Twenty Plus Two 1961 (Mrs. Eleanor Delaney) How the West Was Won 1962-(Rebecca Prescott), Who’s Minding the Store? 1963 (Mrs. Phoebe Tuttle), The Singing Nun 1966 (Sister Cluny)

Nominated four times for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), Mrs. Parkington (1944), Johnny Belinda (1948) and of course as Velma in director Robert Aldrich’s Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)

velma and charlotte
Velma Cruthers and Charlotte Hollis in Robert Aldrich’s Grand Dame Southern Gothic thriller Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte 1964

agnes and bette set

It is the vitriolic, cantankerous yet loyal & righteous companion Velma to Bette Davis’ tragic southern Gothic has- been belle Charlotte that won my heart. Moorehead brought to life a raw and rugged plain quality of humanness that touched me so deeply, as did Davis’ incredible performance.

How impressed I was with her pantomime in The Invaders credited as ‘The Woman’ in Rod Serling’s sociological anthology fantasy series Twilight Zone… Moorehead had no dialogue in the episode yet she demonstrated so much art and emotion from her ‘primal woman’s’ body language.

The Woman 2

The Woman the invaders
Credited as The Woman… here Agnes plays The Primal woman in Rod Serling’s The Invaders episode of The Twilight Zone aired on Jan. 27 1961
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Moorehead’s use of body language and her knowledge of pantomime brought to life a primal undomesticated women from ‘a’ planet terrorized by invaders who didn’t need to speak one word to convey her fear or instinct self preservation.

She did win a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress -Laurel Award 2nd place for Top Supporting Performance for Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte 1964.

For many people she will be remembered as Endora, Samantha and Darrin Steven’s (the fabulous-Dick York) caustic ill-provoking mother-in-law from the netherworld? who hands down the legacy of being Bewitched… from 1964-1972. Initially Moorehead had turned down the role of Endora, and it wasn’t until Elizabeth Montgomery herself asked the actress to join the cast, never expecting it to last more than one season!

Elizabeth and Agnes color 2

Agnes Moorehead, Elizabeth Montgomery, and Dick York in Bewitched.

Moorehead did her string of horror films in the 70s that featured many fine actresses who had played fine ladies in their day, only to find Grand Dame Guignol roles waiting for them on the other side of fabulous fame…

What’s The Matter With Helen 1971 Curtis Harrington’s wonderful horror of personality psycho-drama where Aggie plays a Aimee Semple McPherson type character called Sister Alma co-starring with friend Debbie Reynolds and the incomparable Shelley Winters!

What's+the+Matter+With+Helen_Agnes+Moorehead-1971

What's+the+Matter+With+Helen_Shelley+Winters_Debbie-Reynolds-1971

Dear Dead Delilah
Here’s Aggie as Delilah the ill-tempered heiress who’s relatives all want their grimy hands on her millions! It’s a 70s horror gem

And then there’s always the campy & gruesome Dear Dead Delilah 1972 she plays Delilah Charles, appeared in Night of Terror 1972 a tv movie of the week& Frankenstein: The True Story 1973.

frankenstein the true story tv films

frankenstein The True Story

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Some very special clips of the immortal Aggie!

The much talked about ‘boiler scene’ Agnes as Aunt Fanny from The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)

Mary Kane the picture of stoic motherhood in Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941)

Agnes as Baroness Conti in Mrs. Parkington (1944)

Agnes as Aggie MacDonald in Johnny Belinda (1948)

Agnes as Warden Bond with poor Eleanor Parker in prison noir classic Caged (1950)

Agnes as mystery writer Cornelia Van Gorder in The Bat (1959)

Agnes as Madame Bertha Parchman in The Revolt of Mamie Stover (1956)

Agnes as Mme. Morelli in The Seventh Cross (1944)

Agnes as the indomitable Velma Cruthers in Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)

Agnes as The Primal ‘Woman’ in a short clip -The Invaders ep. of The Twilight Zone 1961

Agnes as the vexing but always colorful Endora in television’s popular series Bewitched

Beautiful Agnes

With all my love & admiration, Agnes Moorhead… You are one of a kind! -Love, Joey

Criterion Blogathon: Day 3 Recap

Day 3 recap of the mega event that is #CrterionBlogathon! So many good reads

Silver Screenings

It’s already Day 3 of the #CriterionBlogathon!

This is an incredible blogging event, due to the knowledge about – and insightful analysis of – a variety of film subjects. You want to read some of the smartest writing on film? You’ve come to the right blogathon.

Today we’re focusing on English-language films from 1947-1980. You’ll be impressed by the collection of essays below – we guarantee it.

But first, we’d like to hand out today’s awards:

Awarded to Film Dirt for EraserheadAwarded to Film Dirt for Eraserhead

Awarded to Micro-Brewed Reviews for Fiend Without a FaceAwarded to Micro-Brewed Reviews for Fiend Without a Face

Awarded to Cinema Versus for The BroodAwarded to Cinema Versus for The Brood

Awarded to Plot and Theme for MacbethAwarded to Plot and Theme for Macbeth

USA

Speakeasy – In Cold Blood (1967)

Old Hollywood Films – Red River (1948)

Film Ruminations – The Third Man (1949)

Mildred’s Fatburgers – Shock Corridor (1953)

billwhite1951 – All that Heaven Allows (1955)

Mike’s Take on the Movies – Jubal (1956)

That Other Critic – 12 Angry…

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