🚀 Keep Watching the Skies! Science Fiction Cinema of the 1950s: The Year is 1956 — Part Two

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TO SEE 1956 PART ONE – HERE!


A MASTERPIECE OF SCIENCE FICTION OPERA, FREUD’S id AND SHAKESPEARE’S THE TEMPEST – IN SPACE.

Forbidden Planet

Earthmen on a fabulous, peril-journey into outer space!

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A month after Invasion of the Body Snatchers was released, 12 years before the studio wowed audiences with it’s mesmerizing, complex production of 2001: A Space Odyssey, MGM released their spectacular, colorful, big budget science fiction space Opera – Forbidden Planet. Replacing the threat of an alien intruder seeking to take over our minds, the enemy WAS our mind and it’s potential to manifest a subconscious monster- a cartoon animated monster from the id. Perhaps a variation of Stevenson’s horror of duality, Jekyll and Hyde set in a futuristic milieu – on another planet.

Recognizing this theme, Walter Pidgeon’s character Morbius emphasizes the duality that exists within his nature. Behind the facade of the rational mind prowls the primitive instincts and desires, now incarnate right from it’s source – Freud’s id. Morbius is in denial that he has in fact manifested the monster himself. It’s an allegory of insatiable ego, internal agony and torment and perhaps incestuous jealousy. A collection of his suppressed rage hidden behind the outwardly rational scientific mind.

Shakespeare informs Prospero  – “this thing of darkness I acknowledge mine.”  Morbius is the true villain in Forbidden Planet, embodied by a power, intensified a thousand percent from the ancient science of the exinct Krell, who brought into existence their nightmares, ultimately proving to be the end of them.

Forbidden Planet has been the benchmark of the science fiction genre for years by it’s sheer scope of its production values. MGM was the studio that had painted for us, an unforgettable daydream – The Wizard of Oz in 1939. Director John Landis referred to the studio as making pictures with ‘gloss’ and Forbidden Planet was their feature science fiction film trading in Singing in the Rain for robots and ray guns. John Carpenter says that in terms of traditional science fiction ‘formulas’ this film ‘broke it’ Carpenter also attributes Forbidden Planet to his wanting to become a director.

And John Dykstra who did the FX on Star Wars comments – “It was a serious attempt to represent a completely unique world… it’s gotta be a world that nobody knows and at the same time everyone recognizes as being alien.”

Forbiden Planet is an allegory of technological power and mortal arrogance.

After years from its initial release Forbidden Planet finally reached its cult following, and is considered the Star Wars of the 1950s with its flamboyant color scheme, Wide Screen presentation, indelible visual effects and endearingly kitsch touches. Only one other dazzling post-war science fiction space Opera of the 1950s comes to mind -Joseph M. Newman and an uncredited Jack Arnold’s This Island Earth 1955  nears Forbidden Planet’s exhilarating yet a bit tacky tone.

Historian Carlos Clarens has remarked that Forbidden Planet is “a rare flight of fancy by the earthbound MGM – it resuscitates the classical elements of the horror movie, with ultra modern decor.”

Seth Lerer from his article Forbidden Planet and the Terrors of Philology -called it Esteemed science fiction film, a blend of high cultural allusion and high camp effects.”

Forbidden Planet has the feel of a fantastical pulp tale straight out of Amazing Stories, Astounding or Fantastic Adventures Magazine. The film showcases all the great elements of a classic science fiction story. Advanced technology, space travel, furturistic tidbits like forcefields, lightning inspired laser beams, brain boosting machines, transport beams, subtarranean worlds,  – rayguns, the vast planetary energy wells, likeable robots and a terror inspiring monster that lurks and tears it’s victims limb from limb. It’s interesting to note, we see Earthmen traveling in a typified flying saucer of 1950s alien flicks instead the traditional phallic shaped rocket.

Aside from ‘The sensuousness of the color’ (Carlos Clarens An Illustrated History of the Horror Film and Science Fiction)–or the sensorial experience brought about by the lush colors, my heart used to pump and pound (and still does), when as a kid I’d await the scene where the fiery id materializes. It emerges menacing, startling, causing a delighful jolt of fear and I was thrilled to see It’s sparking outline ambushed in the force field. This iconic scene is one of the contributing joys that gave me an appetite for classical science fiction, fantasy and horror in my childhood.

Forbidden Planet was directed by Fred McLeod Wilcox with a screenplay by Cyril Hume who adapted his script from an original story by Allen Adler & Irving Block. So much has been written on how they presumably modeled the film after the fatalistic comic allegory – William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. (uncredited).

Continue reading “🚀 Keep Watching the Skies! Science Fiction Cinema of the 1950s: The Year is 1956 — Part Two”

Happy October 2021! 🎃

So drag yourself back to The Last Drive In for!

Coming up… BRIDES OF HORROR 1960s!!!

 

Ladies in Retirement (1941) Though this be madness

I am so thrilled to be joining CMBA’s Hidden Classics Blogathon! There are many great contributions this year–  so many unsung gems for the offering! Thank you CMBA for allowing me to share this little obscure suspense yarn with all of you!

The Great Broadway Melodrama Comes to Flaming Life on the Screen!

Ladies in Retirement, with its play-bound vibe and all it’s macabre thought-processes, is directed by Charles Vidor  who did not shy away from films that manifested a gutsy imagination. Vidor is known for films that bordered on the edge of their genres, such as the 1930s horror classic The Mask of Fu Manchu 1932, the sinister obscurity Double Door 1934, and the symbol of unforgettable film noirs like the tension filled Blind Alley 1939 and the seductively arousing  Gilda 1946.

While it’s been referred to as film noir, I believe it meets the criteria of the 1940s suspense genre with a trace of — I don’t know — ‘Gothic melodrama noir’ for it’s use of light and shadow and familiar noir tropes like the focus on class, scandal (Fiske was a courtesan, Albert -thief and blackmailer, Ellen -murderess, Emily-dangerously unstable), and of course by the end fate steps in. In addition, there’s use of noir iconography, with its visual interest in staircases.

It’s also an old-fashioned horror story– not vampires or ghouls– but the haunting feeling you’d get from fog filled marshes off the Thames River, the tinny sound of a not quite tuned piano, a body behind the wall, or the disorder of insanity vs a murder of desperation and opportunity. Where as with all of Val Lewton’s startling contributions, the “unspoken and the unseen were the true sources of dread.” (Judith Crist)

The lighting particularly accents the player’s expressions as they emerge from the dark edges around their form, with merely an aureole on their face or eyes– like a lit mask. This is truly effective in bringing out the intense concentration of Ida Lupino’s beautiful eyes and Ellen’s inner turmoil. The angles in the set up of the interior are odd and sharp, once again the source of light, Lupino’s face lit from underneath used to provoke the contrast between black and a deathly pale white.

Columbia Pictures studio purchased the rights to Denham and Percy’s story with Rosiland Russell in mind for the starring role as Ellen Creed. Russell was featured as the lead Olivia Grayne in another psychological thriller Night Must Fall in 1937. But, Ida Lupino, as always, was worthy of the role and had a remarkably innate grasp of a woman torn by her strong sense of preservation. She was also married to Louis Hayward at the time of filming.

Lux Radio Theater broadcast a 60-minute radio adaptation of the movie on September 27, 1943 with Ida Lupino reprising her film role. According to contemporary articles in The Hollywood Reporter, Lillian GIsh Judith Anderson, Pauline Lord, Laurette Taylor and Helen Chandler were all considered for roles as one of the demented Creed sisters. 

Though the film is stage-bound, it preserves the feel of the original play, and has a visual moodiness thanks to distinguished and skillful cinematographer George Barnes (Footlight Parade 1933, Marked Woman 1937, Rebecca 1940, Meet John Doe, Jane Eyre 1943, Spellbound 1945, Force of Evil 1948,The File on Thelma Jordan 1949, The War of the Worlds 1953). Barnes started as a still photographer which explains the aesthetic of framing scenes like an arrangement of still lifes. He was nominated 7 times, one for his work on Ladies in Retirement, with over 200 films to his credit, he was a hard working cinematographer from 1935- 1949. 

Responsible for the art direction and interior design that won him an Academy Award is Lionel Banks (The Awful Truth 1937, Holiday 1938, Golden Boy 1939, His Gal Friday 1940, The Boogie Man Will Get You 1942, The Soul of a Monster 1944, Cry of the Werewolf 1944. He designed the South American set for Only Angels Have Wings 1939, and conjured up the turn of the century for the fantasy Here Comes Mr. Jordan 1941 and again for Charles Vidor’s lavish A Song to Remember 1945. Banks added to the stage play atmosphere of the film with it’s collection of sparce surreal, gnarled trees that look fake, fog shrouded heaths, and a heaviness to the interior as a suffocatingly enclosed space. The entire exterior scenes have a look of unreality, the outside appears like a murky dream-scape with painted clouds floating in a painted sky, where there is no departure.

Filmed mostly as a set piece in the parlor of a slowly waning old house on the marshes of the Thames Estuary some ten miles to the east of Gravesend, in 1885. The shots are set up with odd angles and the shadows create a sense of confined spaces with unseen rooms and staircases that go nowhere. Barnes and Banks even made a low stone wall of the cottage, seem to constrain the borderline of the house. 

The actors are positioned as the primary focus on the screen back dropped by the scenery that hints only at the suggestion of dank marshes, melancholy trees and craggy rocks surrounding the house. Much of the set pieces remind me strongly of an episode of Boris Karloff’s anthology series THRILLER, titled ‘THE LAST OF THE SOMMERVILLES’ released in 1961. Elements that are similar are the exterior shots that seem unreal, depicting an  obscuring fog with fake trees and pale grays, with the interiors also as closed in spaces of an antiquated house owned by an equally flitty old dowager (Martita Hunt) like Leonora, who preens and is prone to theatrics. She is taken care of by her dutiful companion played by Phyllis Thaxter who plans to murder the old gal. This perfectly macabre installment of the series happened to be directed by Ida Lupino! Perhaps she drew her inspiration from Ladies in Retirement. The art direction for that episode is done by Howard E Johnson, set by Julia Heron and John McCarthy Jr.

Martita Hunt and Phyllis Thaxter in The Last of the Summervilles 1961

Ladies in Retirement flourishes from it’s tense and stodgy narrative more than the dark humor that Denham could have chosen. Unlike the brisk screwball comedy of Arsenic and Old Lace 1943, by director Frank Capra and screenwriter Julius Epstein which was also based on a play by Joseph Kesserling. That play inspired Denham and Percy to write their own story about a pair of eccentric older women.

The stage play in 1939 went on to receive rave reviews with 151 performances at the Henry Miller’s Theatre. The story was written by Reginald Denham who spent the main part of his career directing Broadway theater, and Edward Percy. The play starred Flora Robson in the role as Ellen. Director Bernard Girard’s psycho-sexual and often grotesque The Mad Room 1969 is a modern re-working of Denham and Percy’s play. The film stars Shelley Winters, Stella Stevens with Michael Burns and Barbara Sammeth replacing the mentally ill Creed sisters. Denham also wrote the screenplay for the 1969 movie. He penned 2 episodes of Lux Video Theatre, ‘Help Wanted’ episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents 1956, 4 episodes of Suspense 1949-1950-‘Help Wanted’, ‘The Suicide Club’, ‘Murder Through the Looking Glass’, and ‘Dead Ernest.’ Denham also directed films from 1934-1940.

Continue reading “Ladies in Retirement (1941) Though this be madness”

🚀 Keep Watching the Skies! Science Fiction Cinema of the 1950s: The Year is 1956 — Part One

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BODY SNATCHERS, MAN BEASTS AND MOLE MEN

1984

1984 (1956)

Will Ecstasy Be a Crime… In the Terrifying World of the Future?

Directed by Michael Anderson, the film is based on the novel by George Orwell that tells of a totalitarian future society in which a man whose daily work is rewriting history, rebels by doing the unthinkable– he falls in love. 1984 stars Edmund O’Brien as clerk Winston Smith of The Ministry of Truth for the Outer Party who refuses to accept the totalitarian state of 1984, where all the citizens are under surveillance at all times. When Winston meets Julia they bask in their physical pleasures outside of the watchful eyes of Big Brother but are betrayed by a member of the Inner Party, O’Connor (Redgrave). Each state functionary must adhere to their designated positions and Redgrave gives a superb performance as a proud drone who possesses a drive as he demonstrates his responsibilities to the state.

The underrated Jan Sterling plays Julia of the Outer Party, David Kossoff is cast as Charrington the junk shop owner. Co-starring in the film are Melvyn Johns as Jones, Donald Pleasence as R. Parsons, Carol Wolfridge as Selina Parsons, Ernest Clark as Outer Party Announcer, Patrick Allen as Inner Party Official, British character actor Michael Ripper as Outer Party Orator and Kenneth Griffith as the prisoner.

It was in 1954 that Nigel Kneale (writer creator of the Quatermass trilogy, The Quatermass Xperiment 1955, First Men in the Moon 1964, The Witches 1966, Quatermass and the Pit 1967, The Woman in Black 1989 first adapted George Orwell’s dystopian ordeal for BBC television starring Peter Cushing as Winston Smith.

Director Michael Anderson (who would later take on another futuristic cautionary tale, Logan’s Run 1976) unveils Orwell’s bleak vision, it’s passage of vigilance, yet it has been criticized for lacking the deeper essence of his novel and the gravity of its contributions – a premonition of things to come. The ferocious inclinations of man that creates- Big Brother. A destiny intent on tyranny, depersonalization, the all watchful eye of the totalitarian state and the loss of free will.

There were two endings made. The British release that presents Winston Smith (O’Brien) defying Big Brother and dying for his principals. The American version has lovers O’Brien and Sterling brainwashed, reconditioned and ultimately abandoning their relationship.

“Thus, in place of Orwell’s savage satire on the rise of the authoritarian state ( and specifically Stalinism), producer Rathvon and Anderson mount a vapid romance in which beefy O’Brien and mousey Sterling are clearly intended to represent the undying spirit of rebellion. Even the drabness of life in Oceania that Orwell creates so convincingly, is lost in the film which, like so many literary adaptations, centers on the slim storyline of the novel.” -Phil Hardy

 

Continue reading “🚀 Keep Watching the Skies! Science Fiction Cinema of the 1950s: The Year is 1956 — Part One”

Secret Beyond the Door (1947) Freud, Lang, the Dream State, and Repressed Poison

SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR (1947)

“Most people are asleep.”

“Wind was there and space and sun and storm… everything’s beyond the door.”

Fritz Lang’s psychological film noir, Secret Beyond the Door (1947) is suggestive of a dream state, from which the characters never quite emerge. The film draws blurry lines between what is latent and obvious desire. The doors are symbolic of the compartmental anxieties within the dark recesses of the mind. Secret Beyond the Door is steeped in metaphor, sunless and surreal, and an evocative score by Miklós Rózsa. Cinematography is by Stanley Cortez, who is responsible for another dream like milieu in Night of the Hunter (1955). It was Joan Bennett, who insisted on using Cortez as cinematographer.

The film co-stars marvelous character actor  Anne Revere  as Mark’s sister Caroline, Barbara O’Neil, Natalie Schafer, and Paul Cavanagh.

Bosley Crowther, “… Lang is still a director who knows how to turn the obvious, such as locked doors and silent chambers and roving spotlights, into strangely tingling stuff… For all its psycho-nonsense, this film is mildly creepy.”

The screenplay by Sylvia Richardson is based on Rufus King’s novel Museum Piece No. Thirteen, and also appeared in the December 1945 issue of Red Book.

Long ago I read a book that told the meaning of dreams. It said that if a girl dreams of a boat or a ship she will reach a safe harbor, but if she dreams of daffodils she is in great danger. But this is no time for me to think of danger. This is my wedding day. –Celia Lamphere

The film opens with a voice-over by Joan Bennett. Celia Lamphere, (Bennett) journeys through her surreal and sleepy addiction to her new husband, architect Mark Lamphere (Michael Redgrave). Celia’s obsessed with the suspicion that Mark is hiding hideous secrets, she plans to succumb to his murderous compulsions. But Mark is not the only one with creeping psychosis. Celia herself is driven by a troubled, neurotic psyche that initially drew her to his enigmatic nature.

Celia wanders through a corridor literally and metaphorically, first in a reverie and then a shadowy nightmare. She first meets Mark on a trip to Mexico when she is mesmerized by the power of passion which can drive two men to fight each other to the death for a woman (Donna Martell). “How proud that woman must be to cause death in the streets.” She realizes that Mark is watching her excitement in this, his eyes like fingers. At that moment, Celia has a taste for danger. Like Mark, the thrill of death represents a strong aphrodisiac for her.

Celia: Suddenly I felt that someone was watching me. There was a tingling at the nape of my neck as though the air had turned cool. I felt eyes touching me like fingers. There was a current flowing between us… warm and sweet… and frightening, too, because he saw behind my make-up what no-one had ever seen. Something I didn’t know was there.

Throughout the film Celia strays from reality and finds herself adrift within a conscious flowing daydream. Her voice-over shows she is controlled by the intense beating of her heart. She relates the feeling to drowning “When you are drowning, your whole life flashes before your eyes.”

British actor Michael Redgrave made his U.S. film debut as Mark. Initially Lang wanted James Mason in the lead role. Mark turns dark and brooding soon after he marries his new bride. He has been married before and his first wife has died under curious circumstances. Also part of the plot is his serious young son David — who blames him for his mother’s death.

There is also, his strangely loyal secretary Miss Robey (Barbara O’Neil) who wears a scarf over one side of her face having been disfigured In a fire. One thinks of Rebecca later on. The film co-stars character actor Anne Revere as Mark’s sister Caroline.

Celia: I heard his voice and then I didn’t hear it anymore, because the beating of my blood was louder. This was what I’d hunted those foolish years in New York. I knew before I knew his name or touched his hand and for an endless moment, I seemed to float like a feather blown to a place where time had stopped.

Mark: You were living that fight. You soaked it all in – love, hate, the passion. You’ve been starved for feelings – any real feelings. I thought: 20th Century Sleeping Beauty. Wealthy American girl who has lived her life wrapped in cotton wool but she wants to wake up. Maybe she can. 
Celia: Is it as hard as all that? 
Mark: Most people are asleep. 

Mark shows all the telltales signs that he is delusional, having a preoccupation with several murder rooms and one locked door #7 in his estate. He’s filled with macabre declarations, “I have a hobby collecting ‘felicitous’ rooms”, (Celia mistaking the word for happy, not ‘apt’ for murder) “the way a place is built determines what happens in it”, “certain rooms cause violence even murders.”

Mark Lamphere takes his guests on a tour of his murder rooms.

“As an architect Mark Lamphere gives particular credence to the influence of space and human lives. He repeatedly uses the word “felicitous” to describe his theory that elements of particular space make certain human actions possible. And therefor ‘apt’ for that locale.” — The Dark Mirror Psychiatry and Film Noir by Marlisa Santos

Redgrave understands how to walk that fine line between innate intensity and male hysteria — one just needs to see his performance as Maxwell Frere in Dead of Night’s (1945) segment The Ventriloquist’s Dummy, where he wrestles with his ‘dummy partner’ Hugo.

Mark is fascinated by the connection between the action of murder and the significance of his locked rooms as psychological theatre. The film utilizes production design by Max Parker (Chandu, the Magician 1932, Arsenic and Old Lace 1944) who creates a dreamworld of disruptive psychosis. It’s within this fairytale steeped in misogyny that Redgrave wants to act out his fantasist murderous impulses. Secret Beyond the Door is a retelling of Bluebeard, the archetype of the serial killer who desires to annihilate women who dominate him. We see a hint of Mark’s roiling demons when he takes a group of party guests on a tour of his rooms as curios — original replicas of historic murders. One of his guests, a psychology major, associates the murder of a wife or lover to “unconscious hatred for the mother.”

Celia confronts Mark, “It was the way you immersed yourself in those stories you were almost happy about their deaths.”

“Probably the most overt Freudian depiction of noir psychosis is found in Secret Beyond the Door, a film that features various re-castings of fairy tale patterns bound up with the psychoanalytic interpretations of childhood trauma and sexual relationships. From the start, the film makes no artistic attempt to submerge its psychoanalysis frame […] all of Celia’s fears and desires are open for scrutiny from the time that she first encounters Mark.” — The Dark Mirror Psychiatry and Film Noir by Marlisa Santos

She takes a subconscious journey both surreal and substantive as she navigates her new relationship with Mark and her awakened death wish.

During their honeymoon Celia unleashes Mark’s sinister urges when she locks the door to their room. This catalyst brings his childhood trauma to the surface. As a young boy he perceived a painful transgression by his mother. His recollection of this seemingly insignificant incident turned into hatred of all women, that has carried throughout his life. These machinations bring him to homicidal delusion. His memories are locked away just as his morbid rooms are show pieces.

Celia embraces her husband’s impulses, setting herself up within the replica frozen in time of the death room #7 meant for her. But she desires to unlock Mark’s subconscious as well as his locked room.

Celia- “This is my room, waiting for me”

She waits with lilacs, waiting to trespass on the madness that has led him to this dark place. The link between love and death becomes interwoven as Celia prepares to sacrifice herself to Mark if she cannot save him from his tortured sickness. Kelly Oliver and Benigno Trigo cover Freud’s fascination with Eros/Thanatos in in their analysis of Secret Beyond the Door, drawing this connection between love and death. Which “according to the film’s logic, death is love’s uncanny double.” 

“Inasmuch as closed space can be interpreted as ‘cave’, ‘the grave’, a house, woman… entry into it is interpreted on various levels as ‘death’, ‘conception’ ‘return home’ and so on: moreover all these acts are thought of as mutually identical”.-Teresa de Lauretis

Mark’s voice-overs wrestle with the urge to strangle Celia if left alone with her. He imagines what he will say when asked if the murder was premeditated. Redgrave is framed within the scene by the prominent energy of his twisting a scarf as if he is preparing to strangle Celia. Holding the scarf, the murder weapon from Don Ignacio’s room, his voice-over gives us the sense of the film’s prowling subconsciousness.The darker counterpart to Celia’s dream-like twists and turns.

Mark: There’s something in your face that I saw once before in South Dakota. Wheat country. Cyclone weather. Just before the cyclone, the air has a stillness. A flat, gold, shimmering stillness. You have it in your face – the same hush before the storm and when you smile it’s like the first breath of wind bending down the wheat. I know that behind that smile is a turbulence that… 

Mark’s Freudian Oedipal struggle with hatred for his mother and all women with latent murderous desire is never quite explored as deeply as it could be in the film. In flashback we understand that he has been shut out of his mother’s affection in one scene. Though here, murder seems to be an expression of male exasperation, one wonders if this was consequential in creating such a conflicted and disturbed monster?

“The symbolism of shutting Freud’s psychological door is present yet after all the Freudian iconography, the basic motivation lies still in the darkness, with one door closed, leaving us outside the ‘Interior turmoil.’” (Marlisa Santos)

*From Women in Film Noir Edited by E. Ann Kaplan

“In the threatening family mansions of the gothic, or in The Haunting’s evil old Hill House, a door, a staircase, a mirror, a portrait are never simply what they appear to be, as an image from Fritz Lang’s paranoid woman’s film’ Secret Beyond the Door. The title sums up the enigma of many of these films in which the question about the husband’s motives becomes an investigation of the house (and of the secret of a woman who previously inhabited it.) 

Freud believed dreams were masks that disguised wish fulfillment. They are metaphorical inroads that point to our subconscious desires. And dreams— like folklore and images in art— are used as symbolism manifesting these unconscious emotional conflicts. Director Fritz Lang very often infused his films with an appetite for expressionist symbolism. With recurring iconography of doors and corridors, Secret Beyond the Door is perhaps one of his most pronounced visions of Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams cloaked in the cinematic vogue of film noir.

Some Men Destroy What They Love Most!

This is your EverLovin’ Joey saying, there are no secrets between us, here at The Last Drive In! See ya soon!

Lee Grant Interview now with Audio!

Come spend some time with me and Lee Grant, while we both enjoy an informal chat about her legendary career and life in general!

LEE GRANT at the 63rd annual Writers Guild Awards
at the AXA equitable Center 2-5-11-Photo by John Barrett/Globe Photos

 

“Out Loud” Part 2– My Extraordinary Conversation with the Legendary Lee Grant…

YourEver Lovin’ Joey sayin’ I love ya Lee, you’re fearsome !

 

The Film Score Freak Recognizes: Jacqueline Susann’s two tawdry tales-

Valley of the Dolls (1967) & Once is Not Enough (1975)

When you think of lurid melodrama you think of the gloriously gaudy, flashy & trashy Jacqueline Susann! I’ve been sort of in the mood to watch my guilty pleasure filled with flaming divas, drugs, tragic love, screaming in an alley and walking away with your head held high! Valley of the Dolls works as an exposé of three aspiring beauties who each in their own way are catapulted to stardom, but ultimately pay a price…

Considered a film to walk away from in shame, it was the Gay community who resurrected this showy gem and delivered it to cult status!

Valley of the Dolls (1967) directed by Mark Robson and stars the enigmatic raven beauty Barbara Parkins (who suggested Warwick to sing the tearjerker of a theme song), Patty Duke whose performance as Neely O’Hara is a tour de force, Sharon Tate whose tragic fate is eerily played out in her role as Jennifer North,  Susan Hayward and the extraordinary Lee Grant. See my interview here:  LEE GRANT INTERVIEW

I can’t help getting that exquisite punch in the gut feeling when Dionne Warwick sings the 1967 theme song by André and Dory Previn, composed for the film version of the Jacqueline Susann best-selling novel.

All I see when I hear the theme song is Anne Welles (who could only have been portrayed by Barbara Parkins who falls down the rabbit hole of ‘dolls’ and crawls back out, empowered!) her face gazing out the window of the train, envisioning a new sense of self and freedom, we’re also transported by the power and poignancy of Dionne Warwick’s immortal voice. “Gotta get off, Gonna get. Have to get off from this ride.”

Next, another guilty pleasure of mine, is Susann’s more obscure little potboiler Once is Not Enough (1975) directed by Guy Green and screenplay by Julius J. Epstein (Casablanca 1942, Arsenic and Old Lace 1942, The Man Who Came to Dinner 1942). This sensationalist slice of cake stars Kirk Douglas, Alexis Smith, David Janssen (that’s all I need to know) George Hamilton, Greek siren Melina Mercouri, Brenda Vaccaro and Deborah Raffin as January. Filled with incestuous overtones, clandestine lesbian trysts, a May/December romance and the ambiguity of love and ownership, Once is Not Enough is like a cheap wine that still tastes pretty good.

The theme song with a melody that hauls my heart over a melancholy  mountain of emotion is written by prolific composer Henry Mancini.  Hearing it now, still gives me that shiver of nostalgia for everything wonderful about 70s overwrought romantic fiction.

January (Raffin) returns home to New York from Europe. She indulges herself in the subculture of the city and winds up falling in love with writer Tom Colt (Janssen) a jaded older man who replaces the love she feels for her father, Kirk Douglas.

Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the dolls sung by the leading light of pop & soul Dionne Warwick… scored by Andre Previn lyrics by Dory Previn

Jacqueline Susann’s Once is Not Enough score by Henry Mancini

This is your EverLovin’ Joey saying I’m Verklempt at The Last Drive In!

The Film Score Freak – “like a circle in a spiral”

THE WINDMILLS OF YOUR MIND

One of the composers who has always been able to trace my heart to that sentimental place and transport my soul to a romantic kind of ache is Oscar-Winner Michel Legrand.

Norman Jewison (The Cincinnacti Kid (1965), In the Heat of the Night (1967) a gritty racially-charged detective story set in the South starring Sidney Poitier beat out Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate at the Oscars! Another of Jewison’s visually moody films set as nihilistic cautionary tale is Rollerball (1975), And Justice for All (1979), Moonstruck 1987.) directs The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) which is Michel Legrand’s first American soundtrack and includes The Windmills of Your Mind with lyrics by Marilyn and Alan Bergman, performed by Noel Harrison (son of Rex Harrison). It’s an example of the moody romantic melodies you’ll discover in any of Legrand’s soundtracks.

I couldn’t help post this little flavor of music to sample, as I’ve been singing it all morning to my Siamese cat Daisy, while dreaming of the way the 60s decade in film flickered like a pale yellow haze, dreamy, sexy, languid, just for “Kicks” and romantic in it’s more subtle sensuality.

After watching a five hour rough cut of the film, composer Michel Legrand took a six week vacation during which he wrote 90 minutes of music. The film was then reedited to the music, instead of the other way around. If this experiment had failed, Legrand would have written a second score in the traditional way free of charge.

Windmills is an exquisitely evocative melody with lyrics like poetry that shares an intimate partnership with the story, dancing alongside the stunning Faye Dunaway featuring her gazillion fashion changes (Theodora Van Runkle who designed the costumes for Dunaway’s Bonnie and Clyde 1967) and Steve McQueen with his restrained spirit in an arousing stylized cat & mouse heist caper. McQueen plays an independently wealthy bank robber and Dunaway is the insurance investigator on his tail, literally.

Hopefully you’ll vibe on this a bit of Legrand’s genius, and I dare you to listen just once and be able to get it out of your head the rest of the day! Like a circle in a spiral…

Your EverLovin’ Joey sayin’ circle back to The Last Drive In again!

Quote of the Day! My Darling Clementine (1946)

MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (1946)

“Mac, you ever been in love?”– Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda)

“No, I’ve been a bartender all my life.”– Mac the Barman (J. Farrell MacDonald)

 

I’ve come late to the party, but I finally got my formal introduction to legendary director John Ford by good friend and notable blogger Aurora at Once Upon a Screen. While I’ve always felt that The Grapes of Wrath (1940) to be a cinematic triumph with memorable performances–  one such is the ubiquitous John Carradine as Jim Casy who also appeared in Ford’s Stagecoach is one of my favorites– I didn’t really focus my attentions to the director himself.  My first real exposure to John Ford was through his immensely beautiful film of pure visual poetry How Green Was My Valley (1941), the poignant story by way of voice over reflected upon through the eyes of young Huw played by Roddy McDowall. The narration is told by a now grown up Huw, recounted using the voice of actor/director Irving Pichel, who tells of the lives of a resilient and decent family in a Welsh mining town, who struggle to get by in the midst of often brutal hardships. It is truly one of the most aesthetically moving films I’ve ever seen.

Donald Crisp, Roddy McDowall and Sara Allgood in How Green Was My Valley (1941)

Ford on the set of My Darling Clementine (1946)

Recently we celebrated Ford’s work by watching an exciting western themed double feature, Stagecoach (1939) and My Darling Clementine (1946). Both are striking in their composition as I’m learning how Ford frames everything we see with explicit detail and thoughtful determination. What strikes me as another essential style of Ford is how the peripheral characters –particularly notable in Stagecoach (1939)– fill out the visual narrative with their presence and their valuable expressions as akin to the material faces found in a classical painting. Character actor Jane Darwell who plays Ma Joad in Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath (1940) makes an appearance in My Darling Clementine.

Jane Darwell plays dance hall owner Kate Nelson, which was her second appearance in a John Ford film. Before Clementine, she previously worked with the director who used her as a voice over actor along side Henry Fonda in the war documentary The Battle of Midway (1942). Darwell worked with Ford in 3 Godfathers (1948) as Miss Florie and was cast in several other of his films. Her last appearance as a Ford regular was in The Last Hurrah (1958).

My Darling Clementine deserves a more thoughtful eye and I can see why it is considered one of the greatest movies of all time. I read that this was his last collaboration with Darryl F. Zanuck at Fox, who unfortunately chopped off a half hour of the film. It is included in the AFI’s list of the 400 movies nominated for the Top 100 Greatest American Movies.

Ford paints each scene of his poetic, folkloric romanticism with vast open spaces and fantastical clouds for miles, that are in contrast and simultaneous to intervals of intimacy in shots that appear like still life. If we are not bathed in the bright sky, we witness carefully orchestrated motion or transfixed images through frames within frames lit by glowing sources of light, like fireflies it enhances figures silhouetted in the darker spaces.

each frame, a photograph…

Ford and MacDonald bring about a fairy tale like realism that is meticulously designed to draw your eyes to each frame, capturing a sense of thoughtful contemplation.

While both Stagecoach and My Darling Clementine are considered his masterpieces, the unhurried pacing of Henry Fonda’s Wyatt Earp leads My Darling Clementine through an astonishingly blithe journey, for such a dark story. Fonda’s quietly measured self-assurance and nonchalant humor works as a buoy to ensure that the film is never bogged down in gloomy spirit.

Ford took liberties with the re-telling of the legend of Wyatt Earp -Doc Holliday partnership and the infamous feud between Marshal Wyatt Earp and the ornery Clanton clan (a young John Ireland as Billy Clanton, Grant Withers as Ike) led by monstrous and malicious patriarch Old Man Clanton (Walter Brennan) whose expressions and mean as spit sparse commentary are as potent as a snake bite.

The boundless, dusty panorama of My Darling Clementine is striking with its haunting skies, incomparable rocky buttes and the vast open isolation of the Old West filmed in Monument Valley, Utah. Cinematographer Joseph MacDonald (Panic in the Streets 1950, Pickup on South Street 1952, The Young Lions 1958, Walk on the Wild Side 1962, The Carpetbaggers 1964, The Sand Pebbles 1966) paints a melancholy landscape depicting the American wilderness of the late 1800s.

Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda) and his brothers Morgan (Ward Bond) and Virgil (Tim Holt) head into the unruly fatalism of Tombstone, leaving their younger brother James to watch over their herd of cattle. When they get back to the site, the cattle has been stolen and they find James murdered, shot in the back. Wyatt winds up accepting the job of Marshal, with his brothers as deputies. He is determined to hunt down the men who killed his brother. Shortly after taking over as Marshal he meets the bad tempered Doc Holliday (Victor Mature) who drowns himself in booze, has an unrelenting cough and spreads his brooding disposition around Tombstone. Regardless of Doc Holliday’s heavy-hearted yet sympathetic personality, the two become allies.

each frame, a picture…

From the beginning Wyatt strongly suspects the ruthless Clanton gang of killing his brother, especially after he finds James’ medallion on Doc’s current lover, the sensuous saloon gal Chihuahua (Linda Darnell).

Clementine Carter (Cathy Downs) Doc’s former fiancé comes all the way to see her beau but sadly discovers  he has moved on. Wyatt falls in love with the sweet mannered girl while he sets out to quietly avenge his youngest brother’s murder, culminating in the iconic shoot out with the Clantons at the O.K. Corral.

IMDb Trivia

John Ford, who in his youth had known the real Wyatt Earp, claimed the way the OK Corral gunfight was staged in this film was the way it was explained to him by Earp himself, with a few exceptions. Ford met Earp through Harry Carey.

Walter Brennan disliked John Ford so much that he never worked with him again. One time when Brennan was having a little trouble getting into the saddle, Ford yelled, “Can’t you even mount a horse?” Brennan shot back, “No, but I got three Oscars for acting!”

John Ford wanted to shoot in Monument Valley, UT, which had proven to be the perfect site for Stagecoach (1939) and would quickly become his favorite location and the landscape most closely associated with his vision of the Old West. The real town of Tombstone, AZ, however, lies at the southern end of the state, closer to the Arizona-Mexico border. So he had a set for the complete town built at a cost of $250,000. Ford also chose Monument Valley because he wanted to bring some business to the economically depressed Navajo community there

Jeanne Crain was scheduled to play Clementine. Studio head Darryl F. Zanuck ruled against her, writing in a memo that the part was so small that Crain fans might be disappointed by not seeing her in more scenes. That’s how contract player Cathy Downs got the part instead.

Walter Brennan, John Ireland, and Grant Withers were required to do their own riding and shooting in the scene where the clan rides into town during a dust storm. John Ford used a powerful wind machine and told the actors to fire their guns close to the horses’ ears to make them ride wild.

Vincent Price was considered for the role of Doc Holliday.

The movie was featured in the TV series M*A*S*H episode M*A*S*H: Movie Tonight (1977). It was said to have been the favorite movie of Col. Sherman Potter.

Henry Fonda was John Ford’s first and only choice to play Wyatt Earp.

Tyrone Power was an early possibility for Doc Holliday, but for some unknown reason his name was dropped from consideration early in the pre-casting stage. John Ford was enthusiastic about Douglas Fairbanks Jr., telling Darryl F. Zanuck in a memo, “He might be terribly good in it. He would look about the same age as Henry and as it’s a flamboyant role it is quite possible he could kick hell out of it. Think it over well.” He was not happy with Zanuck’s choice, Victor Mature, and he began pressing for Vincent Price instead. However, after meeting with Mature, Ford told Zanuck he was not at all worried about the actor’s performance. He was never very happy, however, with Linda Darnell as Doc’s Mexican spitfire lover.

Sam Peckinpah considered this his favorite Western and paid homage to it in several of his Westerns, including Major Dundee (1965) and The Wild Bunch (1969).

Two actresses considered for the part of Clementine were Fox contract players Anne Baxter and Jeanne Crain. Instead, John Ford was given Cathy Downs, who was an unknown at the time.

This is your everlovin’ Joey sayin’ I’m not lost and gone forever my darlings! See ya soon back at The Last Drive In…

A Brief Intermission at The Last Drive In

Hey folks! Joey here.

The Last Drive In has been quiet for quite a while. I’ve immersed myself in music again, currently working on my new album, Lady Grey the Watcher.

I will be back at ‘The Last Drive In’ shortly, so don’t go away. Here’s a fun Drive In commercial while you wait. I miss you all, but I’ll be back with lots to come!

Your EverLovin’ Joey saying ‘see ya soon.’

Here’s a little interlude with me and my beloved companion – the piano  -From a live performance way back when at Hofstra University (2000) The original song is- ‘Island’  featuring Linda Mackley on drums.